Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Love Wins

Some books are dangerous because they are subversive. Some because they can be misunderstood easily by the careless or uninformed. Some are dangerous because they make us think about things we thought we already understood. It seems to me that one or more of these dangerous labels must be applicable to the book Love Wins by "celebrity" pastor Rob Bell. This book has a rather grandiose subtitle of "A book about heaven, hell, and the fate of every person who ever lived". Even before this book came out, there was a storm of controversy surrounding the author's pre-publication teaser. He seemed to be espousing universalism, a philosophy that says that everyone eventually gets to heaven to be in the presence of God. The heretic label was thrown about by pundits and pontificators. As for me, I have very much enjoyed and embraced each of Bell's previous works, and I felt the need to push all of the rhetoric to the side and let what Bell actually says allow me to form my own opinion.

Bell asks the question directly, "Will everybody be saved, or will some perish apart from God forever because of their choices?". Bell's answer is "Those are questions, or more accurately, those are tensions we are free to leave fully intact. We don't need to resolve them or answer them because we can't." But, in fact, he makes it clear that his belief is that, yes, everyone will eventually be saved at some point because God always gets what he wants and His love for us will always, eventually, win out.

The Bible is a complex book, written over a period of nearly 2000 years, many, many centuries ago. A different time, a different place, a different world. It contains passages of literal narratives, allegories, hyperbole, poetry, parables, and prophesies. One must be very careful in its interpretation to ensure the context is fully understood. Furthermore, we must be careful to appreciate that we are reading translations of the original greek and aramaic languages. It's possible there are things that we have come to misunderstand over time. To be sure, the statements of many renowned Biblical scholars are seemingly orthogonal on some points. From Augustine, to Martin Luther, to Billy Graham. However, on the keystone ideas they belt out the same tune.

The truth is that a fully literal interpretation of the Bible is imprudent. Banking on what you have heard in Sunday school or church as 100% fact is almost certainly indefensible. Claiming that a just and loving God would banish billions of people to an eternity of torment and untold suffering for choices that, in many cases, were cultural or circumstantial, requires a careful defense. Nobody alive on this Earth can claim that they know for certain. They may believe. They may have faith. But they don't know for sure. This is one of Bell's points. All we can do is to help ensure that love wins. Here and now.

What you believe isn't the full issue. What somebody else believes isn't the full issue. What you need to be able to do with a philosophy or decision on which, perhaps, your entire limitless eternity rests, is to ask honest questions and seek reasonable answers that hold up to probing and questioning. It's the only truly responsible thing to do. Whether or not you believe Bell's statements or conclusions, at least let it drive you back to the Scriptures. Just be careful what you read and which sources you claim as accurate. So, seek the rose along the way, just beware of the thorns.