March 10, 2011

Love Does Win

As some of you have heard, there is controversy brewing over Rob Bell's upcoming book release, "Love Wins: A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived." There are some who are labeling him a heretic because they believe he is teaching the doctrine of universalism.

I honestly debated whether to write anything about this or not as I have not read the book and therefore feel as though labeling him a universalist is not fair. I will say however that Scripture seems pretty clear in regards to the existence of heaven and hell but that's not what I want to discuss.

Throughout this whole controversy I've found myself thinking a lot about the idea that "Love Wins." Chapter 4 of 1 John tells us that God is love. This does not mean that God does things that are loving, it means that everything God does is the very definition of love. And in this way I agree with Bell, Love does win.

I wonder though, is it possible that God's love is so profound, so infinite, so mysterious, so vast that we might not fully understand the ways in which He loves His creation? So much so that even the very existence of hell is loving? I'm not saying this necessarily makes sense but when did we ever think we could fully understand God. If we believe the words of Scripture, then we know that God wins and if God is love, then it looks like Love does win.


Craig L. Adams said...

See: Hell And God's Love: An Alternative, Orthodox View

Jeffrey DeBolt said...

Matt, nice post. I am actually anxious to hear your thoughts on the book if you do indeed read it. I've actually been feeling and thinking something similar to what this book is saying for a little over a year or so now(I have not read it, plan to, but haven't yet so my understanding is only based on reviews and excerpts). I'm really excited to read the book because I am hoping that it helps me better understand my current feelings and thoughts, yet I know based on my upbringing it certainly collides with one of the major pieces of my original Christian understanding. Anyway, thanks for your posts, I often check them out. Stay cool.

Matt Lipan said...

Craig L. Adams: thanks for the read and for sharing the link. i enjoyed it.

Matt Lipan said...

Jeffrey DeBolt: thanks for the read and comment.

i'm not sure i'll get a chance to read it any time soon. so really, i might be interested in what you think of it as you'll probably read it first.

when you say that you've been "feeling and thinking something similar," what exactly does that mean? the idea of universalism?

thanks again for stopping by and being willing to share.

Alison said...

So, in the midst of my insomnia today (justification for my posting this at 4 a.m.), I started noticing others' Facebook posts about Rob Bell's book and remembered that I saw your blog post show up on my newsfeed last week...

I'll try not to say too much about the book itself--I'm with you that it's not okay for anyone to "take a side" concerning his text without having read it (and on that note, I might question whether the authors of the seeming hailstorm of Internet posts have all read the book in the three days since it's been released).

I really appreciate that your post focuses on this concept of "Love Wins." (I mean this more as a "thank you," but I'm worried that it comes off as a "good job"--I'm not a bearer of gold stars, after all.) Your discussion definitely serves to "check" all of us who might have the urge to get combative when it comes to issues in which we are deeply invested. And I also feel that this is Christianity--it's all about love; but at the same time, it's other Christians' disregard for loving others that pulls me away from the faith, that keeps me from settling on a church home, that makes me distrusting of pastors who show the slightest leanings towards exclusivity or ignorance. (And I realize that makes me a hypocrite--we're called to love those that we find it most difficult to love. I understand that I need to come to terms with this, too.)

But I don't mean to make this all about me... Part of me is excited over the controversy surrounding Bell's book; as a global community, we need dialogue right now. His text seems to already be sparking this dialogue, though it's unfortunately sparking hateful exchanges of words at the same time. (Irony, anyone?) It sounds like it's a book that could challenge readers to think more closely/critically about where they find themselves standing, whether or not they agree with Bell's approach/ideas. I mean, if we're only reading the works of people who we agree with, are we really getting anywhere? Contention is necessary for progress, and from my perspective, the Church (and all of us who consider ourselves a part of it) has a long way to go before we can really claim that "love wins."

To be continued...

Alison said...

Continuation... (Please blame the insomnia for my mess. And, for the record, I'd still be interested in this if I weren't up in the middle of the night.) :)

And now for a question... and this might betray 1.) my role as a teacher of rhetoric and 2.) the huge gaps in my knowledge in terms of theology. Matt, you say that you "have not read the book and therefore feel as though labeling him a universalist is not fair." And, like I mentioned before, I'm totally with you concerning not making judgments about a text without reading it. But it seems like you're saying that if you were to call him a universalist, it would be "bad." Maybe I'm just reading too much into this. Rob Bell aside, why might universalism be conceptualized as "wrong?" I mean, I think I get that it might be problematic to be a Christian pastor and be a universalist, but is it possible for one to be a Christian and be a universalist? As someone who cares deeply about inclusivity and equality, about acceptance/coexistence/communication among people of diverse faiths, ethnicities, races, genders, sexualities, I have trouble with this. I appreciate your first line of the last paragraph, explaining that perhaps we don't "fully understand" God's love for his creation, and I also don't believe it's up to me to know who "goes to heaven." But it continues to be Christians who seem to have the hardest time "getting it." I feel like Christianity is the only major world religion (again, apologies for potential gaps in my understanding) that seems to insist (vehemently, for some of its practitioners) this idea that there is only one way to "get into heaven"--I keep putting this in quotations because I feel like what I mean is "live one's life in a way that's pleasing to God/Allah/however you may call him/her." What can we as individuals do to work against this sometimes publicly-proclaimed notion that “heaven is for Christians only” without being universalists or “untrue” to Christianity in some way?

So...maybe in the end, I did make this a little too much about me and my personal concerns with the Church. But maybe others are grappling with these things too? I'm going for dialogue--not monolgue--here. Really. I promise. (And apologies for writing a response that exceeds the length of the actual post.)

Dale Schultz said...

I just bought the book; haven't yet begun to read.

Without criticism intended, I'm curious: What compelled you to write about about a book that you hadn't read?

I ask as one who is often inclined to want to respond to trending topics.

I look forward to your answer.

Matt Lipan said...

Alison: thanks for the read & comment(s).

lots of good thoughts. i'll try to respond to just a couple.

-i agree that central to the message of Christianity is love as understood through the person of Jesus Christ. i believe the tension comes in our understand or perhaps definition of "exclusive." if an individual is offered a gift but decides they do not want said gift that does not mean s/he has been excluded from receiving the gift, rather s/he simply doesn't want the gift. exclusive would be giving the opportunity to receive the gift to everyone else but a certain individual.

-i agree w/you 100% that conversation is a must if we hope to grow in any aspect of our lives. how we converse with each other can be another story altogether.

-to your question in your 2nd comment: the trouble w/universalism as a Christian, on a basic level, is that it makes the death & resurrection of Jesus a moot point. if everyone is going to be saved irregardless of their knowledge/relationship of or with Christ then the whole story of Easter becomes a sort of sideshow act with little to no meaning other than to have Jesus say, "look what i can do." this is why i struggle with the doctrine of universalism.

-i think it would be hard to argue against the inclusiveness of Jesus. the story of the Gospel is creating a place for those who have no place, though the Church fails often in conveying that message because the Church is made up of people.

-i'm glad that the love of God is beyond our comprehension and i think this becomes a place where conversation can begin and grow. in conversations like this, we take the things that are easier to understand and use them to illumine the more difficult.

great thoughts & questions! not sure i helped at all but i had fun w/the conversation.

Matt Lipan said...

Dale Schultz: thanks for the read and comment.

good question, ha! i don't feel as though i wrote so much about Rob's book specifically as much as 1) the conversation that was growing around it and the accusations being leveled against him and 2) the opportunity to speak to a trending topic, as you mentioned. these seemed to provide an opportunity to engage others in conversation.

i have still not read the book and am not sure if/when i'll get the chance. i'll be interested to hear your thoughts.

thanks for asking.