So, Rob Bell came out with a book a couple of months ago. I'm not sure if you've heard about it. It's created quite a conversation.
Here's the link to the video that caused all of the controversy:
Important Conversation? Yes.
Questions people are asking today? Absolutely!
Now I must give an obligatory warning like every preacher gives. Do I agree with everything in this book? No. Do I agree with everything in any book? No.
OK...now that that's done let me get real with you.
I have read the book (important distinction because many who have critiqued Bell failed to read his book before doing so). I have listened to him speak on two occasions on his book tour. I heard him speak and he answered one of my questions at his book signing at the Tattered Cover Bookstore in Highlands Ranch. I also heard him speak at Denver Seminary the following day. I've been a Rob Bell fan for quite a while. And I'm still a fan!
He's willing to tackle questions that most aren't willing to touch. And while he might come off as a shallow, emergent, trendy preacher with dark-rimmed glasses, he's got some theological depth to him.
I appreciate his first century Jewish background work and how his relevant messages reach a postmodern crowd.
There are people who disagree with what he says, but I think most are unknowingly more upset with how he says it. He writes for a postmodern crowd that appreciates the right questions more than the right answers. And Rob asks questions that must be asked.
His view of the new heavens and the new earth are spot on. His chapter entitled "Does God Get What God Wants?" is worth the price of the book.
Some have labeled him a universalist, which is absolutely incorrect if you've read his book closely. He's certain some individuals will choose hell even though they have the opportunity to receive God's grace.
I guess my question comes down to practice. Most of us would reject the descriptor of universalist were it used to describe us. And on a theology paper I would reject that title as well.
How many preachers are practical universalists when it comes to preaching funeral sermons? (I say this knowing some of you have likely heard a few preachers condemn people in the coffin.) In practice, when it comes to the moment of death most of us are either universalists or agnostic at worst.
And even if you're ready to send people to hell at funerals, most of us at least are generous enough to let God be the judge in the end. And most people I know are this way. If asked who is going to hell, they will back away from answering and admit, "Well, I'm not the judge. God is the judge."
The truth is, we don't know and we aren't the judge.
But the scary thing is that I think some of us desire for hell to be more populated than heaven. And that is not God's desire. God "wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth." (1 Timothy 2:4) Perhaps we should want the same thing!
The truth is C.S. Lewis wrote some of the very same things that Rob Bell has written (perhaps parable form is safer). And he is the poster child of the same conservative evangelical critics who condemn Bell as a heretic.
I like how Rob described what he was doing in his book while he was at Denver Seminary. And I think we should be after the same task.
He said, "This books sits on the edge between urgency and possibility. It's my intention for it to sit there."
In other words, we should live our lives with all urgency and passion to welcome the kingdom of God to earth. Rob's book isn't a call for complacency while we wait for God's grace to invade our dispassionate lives. In fact, I would argue the escapism of evangelicalism's traditional story about heaven and hell lacks more reasons for urgency about life on this earth. So, we are urgent to proclaim and live the good news welcoming God's kingdom on earth as it is in heaven.
On the other hand, we hope for the possibility that God's grace might just be larger than our box often allows him to be. We live with urgency, but we leave open our judgment to the Great Judge who happens to want all people to be saved and come to a knowledge of the truth.
But perhaps what concerns me most is the angry response of Christians to Bell's book. My question is this: If claiming too many people will go to heaven is heresy, why don't we consider it heresy to claim too few people will go to heaven?
I want to live with urgency as I welcome the kingdom of God to come in its fullness on earth as it is in heaven.
I also want to live with the possibility that God might be more gracious than our imaginations can fathom.
I want love to win! Do you?