Archive for March, 2011

Love Wins – Preface: Us Vs. Them

26 Mar

I received my copy of the book Love Wins by Rob Bell today. Right now the kids are napping so I had to take a break from the home projects I was working on to give them some peace and quiet. Here’s my reaction to the preface:

My reaction so far is not positive.


Bell explains why he wrote the book – for those who don’t approve of the gospel being taught in the evangelical church[1].  Is it a problem with the message that people see it as foolishness? The Bible says that’s going to be people’s reaction to it[2], and Paul lived this out, being repeatedly beaten, threatened, and jailed by unbelievers in various cities where he shared the gospel – clearly if it was worth beating up the messenger, the people didn’t consider it “good” news[3]. Should Paul have changed the message to make the good news seem “good” in their eyes?

Bell explains that he those on his side (those who disapprove of the gospel taught by the church) have become aware of the truth that Jesus’ story has been hijacked. If you teach what Bell disagrees with, you’re a spiritual terrorist, hijacking the gospel. Here on the first page of text Bell sets the tone to be clearly Us – the enlightened disapprovers of the church vs. Them – the hijackers.


Bell talks about scripture in three different terms: “sacred text,” “stories” and “ongoing discussion.” Neither of these terms are exclusively applied to the Christian cannon of scripture, however. Anyone can tell stories, anyone can discuss things. There’s no indication that scripture is any different from anyone telling a story or having a discussion today.

Sacred Text:

Rob specifically addresses “the sacred text” once in the intro:

The ancient sages said the words of the sacred text were black letters on a white page – there’s all that white space, waiting to be filled with our responses and discussions and debates and opinions and longings and desires and wisdom and insights.

I can’t figure out who ever said this. Clearly by calling these people “sages,” Bell thinks they carry authority in the discussion. But who are they? It was at this point that I realized there’s no footnotes. No endnotes. Bell doesn’t cite a single source. Who said this? What makes them a sage? Why are they worth listening to? Google was no help. The closest I got was a quote by the anti-religious Proust who wasn’t writing about sacred text.

What Bell is promoting is the idea of eisigesis – pushing our own ideas and opinions into a text, and considering that to be what the text really means. This is the opposite of exegesis, a process in which we seek to discover what the text means in itself, and try to hold back our own opinions and pre-conceived theology. I value exegesis, and believe that my ideas should change in response to the text, rather than changing what the text means by filling in the white space and amending scripture to mean whatever I want it to.

I’m troubled by this perspective from a pastor who in the intro to his book strips scripture of it’s authority, placing the authority instead in his own opinions that he is free to force onto texts – and commanded to by anonymous sages that somehow escaped being filed by Google.


Bell says Jesus isn’t interested in telling the stories that he disapproves of, and they have “nothing to do with what he came to do.” Clearly, Jesus must have never told those stories. Right? On page 1, I don’t know what stories he’s referring to, but it’s clear that Jesus is not interested in the stuff being said by the hijackers. I’m troubled by the emphasis on story – stories are told as a way to communicate truth. Truth is best communicated by the story. But the emphasis is not on the story itself, but on the truth it communicates. If something is just a story, then we should not expect any truth behind it. That idea strips the authority of the truth that good stories communicate.

Bell says it’s time to reclaim the lost plot about what Jesus came to do. If the plot was lost and must be reclaimed, I’m relying on Bell to show how Jesus, the disciples, and the early church showed the true plot, and that all of these groups never told the stories that he disapproves of in the church today. I’m curious to see where he believes the gospel of the church today came from.

Ongoing Discussion:

Is scripture divine? Well, kind of. Discussing important stuff is divine.

What qualifies as “important”? Who decides? Is all discussion equally divine? Are all words of everyone divine?

This all brings up another question: If all of the discussion is divine, is every participant equally authoritative?

No. Not all voices are equal.

So far, this is the one question Bell answers. Not everyone is on equal footing in the discussion, and you may not be welcome here.

Bell takes a very strong stand on who can and who cannot participate in worthwhile discussion. He expands the Us vs. Them attitude from page 1, that the spiritual terrorist hijackers are misguided, toxic, and subversive to Jesus’ message. Bell, on the other hand has the truth of love, peace, forgiveness, and joy.

Not a charged atmosphere at all – as we enter this book, if you agree with Bell you’re in favor of love, peace, forgiveness and joy. If you disagree, you’re a misguided toxic terrorist hijacker subverting Jesus.

Which side do you choose?

A few differences between Bell’s book (so far) and my reaction:

  1. When I ask questions, they’re real questions. I’d love to know the answers. I’m just just being cool and questioning things.
  2. Given how much I wrote about the preface, my reaction may be longer than his book. But hey, the discussion is divine! (Well.. unless I disagree with him, in which case I’m a toxic spiritual terrorist hijacker –  in other words, you are not to listen to anyone else that disagrees with Rob. They’re toxic, and Jesus isn’t interested in what they have to say!)
  3. Look! I’ve cited my sources with footnotes!


[1] – I’ve written this book for all those, everywhere, who have heard some version of the Jesus story that caused their pulse rate to rise, their stomach to church, and their heart to utter those resolute words, “I would never be a part of that.” viii

[2] “For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” 1 Corinthians 1:18. This passage is also very clear that there is a difference between those who are perishing (which seems to mean in the state of perishing but the perishing is ongoing and not yet in it’s fullness) contrasted with those who are being saved (in the state of being saved, but the saving is ongoing and not yet in it’s fullness)

[3] 1 Corinthians 11:25 “Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, a night and a day I have spent in the deep.”


Love Wins: Part 1, First Impressions

21 Mar

Rob Bell, pastor, author, and speaker in the popular Nooma video series, has just published a book called “Love Wins.” The book is a challenge to Christians to re-think our views of hell, heaven, and salvation.

I haven’t read the book, and I’ve only watched some of this video interview so far – what Bell is communicating, and how he’s communicating it was driving me crazy and I had to take a break. I’m not (as of yet) as troubled by the view of hell – there have historically been various takes on the concept. I’m troubled by what is communicated by at least the first parts of the interview. From my first impressions, which may be far from accurate:

  1. The foundation for theology is no longer “solo scriptura” but “God is Love” (whatever that means). Salvation, while through Christ is no longer connected with faith, so “solo fidei” is gone as well. The discussion has decisively moved outside of reformation/protestant theology.
  2. Bell says that the conversation he’s joining is about ‘what really matters’ (such as, heaven, hell, and flavored coffee syrups, I suppose, depending on your perspective) has been going on for thousands of years. Rob also says that the image of heaven as a place with streets of gold and everyone driving a Ferrari is an inaccurate cartoon image – of course streets of gold comes from scripture, and he adds sports cars to make the biblical perspective seem absurd and then denies it. Given that the foundation for thought is whatever he thinks “God is love” means, it isn’t a surprise that he’s saying his book is simply another addition to the conversation, as were the gospels and John’s Revelation.

    I’m curious about Bells views on canon – what makes a writing part of the Bible? Is the canon open, still being added to today? Is Bell’s book as authoritative as the Bible? is the Bible authoritative, or just some other voices about stuff that “matters”?

    That would help with everything – if scripture isn’t inherently any more authoritative than any other voice, then we can disregard scriptural teachings as just suggestions that we can pick and choose from as we build our part of the discussion.

  3. The idea communicated to me so far that we all experience “hell” every day on earth is packed so full of presuppositions – it presumes that “hell” is simply synonymous for “thinks I don’t like” or “things I think are awful.”

    Regardless of how we’ve now redefined “hell,” the statement means that God has sentenced his people to live in hell as much – or more than those rebelling against Him. This is all in order to make God more like what we consider “love” to mean in “God is love.”

  4. I’m a bit confused, because it doesn’t seem like a loving God would sentence 12 million people, including many Jesus-followers, a worse hell than Hitler. There is no real justice in this life. If God is love, if God is just, if God is holy, suddenly having real, direct consequences for evil makes sense – and there’s no real, direct consequences for evil in this life, or Job’s friends would have been right, and Job’s suffering was because of his sin – but one point of the book of Job is that they were wrong.
  5. I also disagree with Rob’s statement that Jesus was more concerned with heaven on earth than heaven later. “Your kingdom come” is in the Lord’s Prayer, certainly. We are to be a force for good in this world, and God’s kingdom is here, among us. But looking at the parables and the sermon on the mount, it’s largely based on storing up treasures NOT on earth, but somewhere else which is contrasted with this life. The parables are often about punishment/reward at the end, after all action is complete. Jesus also talked about how things are different in heaven than they are now – such as not marrying. The already-not-yet tension of the Kingdom being here in some ways but not in others is a strong theme throughout the New Testament.

    If this hell (per Bell’s view) is the best heaven we ever get, then to follow Jesus’ teaching is to forbid marrying. It also means there is no hope for resurrection or future life. No wedding feast. No “then we shall see face to face.” This all, of course, would be to contradict other very clear teachings in the Bible.

    But then again, if the scripture is simply some old fashioned blokes with childish cartoony ideas that we’ve outgrown, then disobeying what Jesus and his apostles taught isn’t a big deal, and we are free to do and believe as we see right in our own eyes. (This is what the people of Noah’ time were exterminated for by God in the flood, but again it’s not relevant if the Bible is no more relevant than anything else.)

I’m not condemning Bell or anyone else. As I stated, this is just my first impression and may well be wrong. I know people who have condemned Bell unjustly for some time. I think people ought to have a chance to correct themselves and clarify miscommunication. I think we ought to be gracious with each other, and point out error in order that correction may take place rather than just going around condemning people we dislike, misunderstand, or disagree with.

It may be that I have a problem with how he communicates, and he’s not actually overwriting the Bible with his idea of what “God is love” means (and I wonder what it might mean when separated from the biblical context) – it may be that he’s not exalting himself (and you and me) to be on par with scripture (which is self-described as God-breathed).

I’m generally concerned with what the foundational principles and logic are, and what the logical end is when those ideas are carried out. I’d like to see what Bells ideas are, and what they open his followers up to.  I appreciate Bell’s ability to make people re-think, re-consider, challenge presuppositions. When this is done however, the question must be asked: what direction are we heading in now, and under the same re-consideration, is it better or worse than what was previously believed?

At this point I’m hesitant to give Rob Bell money by buying this book, but it’s likely not available cheap and used yet – any suggestions?


Sidewalk Prophets – You Can Have Me

09 Mar
YouTube Preview Image

Some time ago I wrote on the false view of loving God as “falling in love” from the Jason Gray song in which says he has determined that faith must be more like “fallin’ in love” than the biblical concept of love – belief, commitment, obedience. I have no personal criticism of Jason Gray, and I don’t think he believes what his song communicates by itself.

I just heard this song by Sidewalk Prophets on the radio yesterday and was shocked by the honesty of what it means to love Christ, and that it’s shameful that our concept of love is that it has become unmoving and unconsuming.

As I’ve taught about what it means to really love God, a student said to me “I’ve been going to churches all my life and I’ve never heard this before. But I’ve checked, and it’s all biblical. I guess that’s not the message of having to give up everything to follow Christ is not what fills the seats in the church.”

He’s right. I’ve sat in churches where the preacher invites people to invite Jesus to be the CEO of their life and then they have a promise of a happy life, chock full of fun. Contrast that with what Jesus said:

Large crowds were traveling with Jesus, and turning to them he said: “If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even their own life—such a person cannot be my disciple. And whoever does not carry their cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.

“Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Won’t you first sit down and estimate the cost to see if you have enough money to complete it? For if you lay the foundation and are not able to finish it, everyone who sees it will ridicule you, saying, ‘This person began to build and wasn’t able to finish.’

“Or suppose a king is about to go to war against another king. Won’t he first sit down and consider whether he is able with ten thousand men to oppose the one coming against him with twenty thousand? If he is not able, he will send a delegation while the other is still a long way off and will ask for terms of peace. In the same way, those of you who do not give up everything you have cannot be my disciples.

This was Jesus’ style of “altar call.” It was no promise of happiness. In fact, Jesus promised suffering. Why have we changed the message to be about seeking emotional highs and happiness rather than giving everything up in seeking Christ?

Here’s the lyrics to “You Can Have Me” by Sidewalk Prophets that speak to this same issue:

If I saw You on the street
And You said come and follow me
But I had to give up everything
All I once held dear and all of my dreamsWould I love You enough to let go
Or would my love run dry
When You asked for my life 

When did love become unmoving?
When did love become unconsuming?
Forgetting what the world has told me
Father of love, You can have me
You can have me

If You’re all You claim to be
Then I’m not losing anything
So I will crawl upon my knees
Just to know the joy of suffering

I will love You enough to let go
Lord, I give you my life
I give you my life

When did love become unmoving?
When did love become unconsuming?
Forgetting what the world has told me
Father of love, You can have me
You can have me

I want to be where You are
I’m running into Your arms
And I will never look back
So Jesus, here is my heart

When did love become unmoving?
When did love become unconsuming?
Forgetting what the world has told me
Father of love, You can have me
You can have me

When did love become unmoving?
When did love become unconsuming?
Forgetting what the world has told me
Father of love, You can have me
My Father, my love
You can have me

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