Monday, February 28, 2011

Heaven, Hell and Rob Bell

Love Wins: A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever LivedThe internet is buzzing with controversy as Rob Bell (prominent pastor and writer) has released a teaser video to promote his new book, Love Wins.  As is usually the case with Christian controversy, trenches have been dug.  Some are writing off Bell and doing everything short of preparing kindling at the base of a stake.  Others are vehemently attacking any brother or sister who so much as gently questions Bell's theology.

At the center of the debate, Bell's questions about sin, salvation and eternal punishment.  As believers, we can't deny the importance of the issues in question.  Regardless of where Bell lands on the issues, he isn't talking about worship styles or the use of certain gifts.  These are not fringe issues.  Bell is addressing the central doctrines of the Christian faith.  Have a look at the teaser, which by the way is very creative:

Since the book isn't available until the end of March, I don't know what Bell is going to say about heaven and hell.  It certainly seems that by questioning the love of a God that condemns people to hell, he is implying that (because God is loving) He will not ultimately send everyone to hell.  Bell is known for implications.  Is he teaching universalism (everyone will go to heaven) or inclusivism (everyone who believes in something will go to heaven) or just sparking controversy to sell books?  Until I read his book (and knowing Bell probably even then) I can't speak with certainty about his belief on the subject.

However, in the teaser video Bell models a prominent theological method that I'd like to bring into question today.

Bell is right to say that our view of heaven and hell reflects our view of God, and our view of God is absolutely central to our faith.  I would argue that there is another "question behind the question" namely, "How do we know God?"  Historically, there have been two methods: 
  1. We define Him according to our own understanding.
  2. We know Him as He reveals Himself to us.
With brevity, let's have a look at each method.  

According to our Own Understanding:
Bell's question: "How can that God be good?" reflects a theological method that puts the knowing subject at the center of knowledge.  Since the Garden of Eden, humanity has defined or judged God according to our own perception of what is good.  During the enlightenment, theologians applied Rene Descartes' "I think, therefore I am" principle, which puts oneself at the center of knowledge, to the the study of God.  The epistemological (study of knowledge) method of the Enlightenment and Liberal theology was to reject all authoritative truth claims, except ones that come from one's own questioning.  In other words, I am the only person who can know anything about anything, and I know things because I question.  I trust no one and no thing to give me answers.  This means ruling out God's own revelation about Himself in favor of human reason.  

As He Reveals Himself:
In contrast to human tendency, enlightenment philosophy and liberal theology of the Schleiermachrian ilk, stands God's redemptive self-revelation.  Each of us have the choice to make our own speculations about God and His nature or trust His revelation of himself.  This is not to say we suspend rational thought.  It does mean putting God at the center of truth about Himself as opposed to ourselves.  

Our Choice:
There is one vital reality to know as we consider our theological method: God is not of this world.  He is infinitely beyond it.  Human knowledge is inherently tied to four-dimensional space-time.  Our logic is limited and bound to it.  Consider this: God created space and time.  He is not limited to it.  He is outside it, and therefore outside the limits of human knowledge and reason.  The only way we can know anything about Him is if He reveals Himself in our space-time universe.  This is why Christ came (Matthew 11:27John 1:18).  It is why the Word of God was written (Luke 1:1-4, 2 Timothy 3:16-17, 1 John 5:13).  We only know God as He reveals Himself.  Everything else is just an earth-bound guess.  

Don't believe me?  Try making a statement about God absent of any of His revelation: no Christ, no Bible, no universe.  I would say that you would only be left with yourself and your guesses, but since you are created in the image of God that rules you out too.  Without God's revelation, we have nothing.  

God's self-revelation does not always align with our limited views of love and justice.  The question is: What trumps?  Does God's revelation top my mortal opinion, or do I think I know love and justice better than God? Let's have a look at some of Bell's questions in light of God's revelation:
What makes this hard is that our perception seldom lines up with God's revelation.  This is the crux of the matter.  I readily admit that it doesn't seem loving that Ghandi might be in hell despite all his good works, because he didn't surrender his life to Christ (Isaiah 46:6, John 14:6) .  However, the reality is that my view of love is broken and His is perfect.  

We are really dealing with two issues here: 1) Heaven and Hell and 2) How we know God.  So, I recommend we give Rob Bell a chance and read his book.  But, first let's answer the question behind the question.  If you are ready to address the issue of truth, have a look at Has God Said by John Douglas Morrison. 

Questions for the Week:
Where do you get your truth about God?  Is there something about His revelation of Himself that makes you uncomfortable?  What do you find hard to believe about God, and how do you reconcile that with what seems true? Let's discuss this.  

Friday, February 25, 2011

Small Things

Lesser MenWhere: In a comfortable chair next to a window while watching the snow fall.
Drinking: Starbucks Vienna
Listening to: Abel -Lesser Men

Father, today is a day of hope and still there is grief.  I have concerns and hopes.  Do I live in obedience?  How much of my day is spent in surrender?  I do what comes before me, what I believe You want me to do. I don't ask what you want enough.  Don't let me waste time, let my moments be unto Your will and for Your glory.  Speak to me through Your Word.  Make this a day of joy as I delight in you.  Let Your peace come over my house and my family.  Glorify Yourself today.  Just let me watch and obey.  In Christ, Amen.


Mark 4:21-41; Psalm 27:7-14


(Ask, Analyze, Apply)

I'm intriguer by the investment language in Mark 4.  In these parables about the Kingdom, Jesus seems to reflect themes of disclosure and multiplication.  I get the idea that part of Kingdom living is investing by obeying.  We do what God asks of us when it seems insignificant and unpopular.  We may even be tempted to hide our Kingdom obedience.  God will bring what is secret into light.  He will multiply our obedience for a Kingdom harvest.


In the Kingdom of God, small things are never small for long.  He makes the widow's penny into all that is needed.  He is the God of multiplication and hope.  Nothing good is small in His eyes.  I look forward to the wonder of His harvest.


Today, I am looking to do very small things with very great purpose, knowing that every moment must be to His glory.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Psalm 24

Where: My living room
Listening to: Mumford and Sons Sigh No More
Drinking: Twinings Earl Grey


 1 The earth is the LORD’s, and everything in it,
   the world, and all who live in it;
2 for he founded it on the seas
   and established it on the waters.

 3 Who may ascend the mountain of the LORD?
   Who may stand in his holy place?
4 The one who has clean hands and a pure heart,
   who does not trust in an idol
   or swear by a false god.

 5 They will receive blessing from the LORD
   and vindication from God their Savior.
6 Such is the generation of those who seek him,
   who seek your face, God of Jacob.

 7 Lift up your heads, you gates;
   be lifted up, you ancient doors,
   that the King of glory may come in.
8 Who is this King of glory?
   The LORD strong and mighty,
   the LORD mighty in battle.
9 Lift up your heads, you gates;
   lift them up, you ancient doors,
   that the King of glory may come in.
10 Who is he, this King of glory?
   The LORD Almighty—
   he is the King of glory.

--Psalm 24

God, you know the things that trouble me, the conflicts, the tasks, the opportunities.  I wish I was powerful to make all things new, but I am weak and broken and foolish.  I cannot make things right.  I can only obey.  The earth and everything in it belongs to You, that includes my troubles and fears.  You own my fears.  You have beaten them.  They fear you.  If I am to come close to you, I must forsake the idols of my own abilities and comforts.  You are the only One in whom I can trust.  Today, I'm going to seek You and let You accomplish Your will.  Anything that you don't do today is simply something you don't need done.  I just want to obey today.  So, I am going to lift up my head today, not in my own confidence, but having confidence in You.  Miracle my life today.  Miracle my work.  Miracle this community and all You want to touch today.  

(Ask, Analyze, Apply)

I seem to have a common them in my devotions of late: I want to trust in myself.  I work so hard to be productive, creative and interesting...I fail on my own.  The truth is, trusting in my abilities apart from daily reliance on God is idolatry.  Today, I'm seeking Him.  I am lifting my head in great expectation of His miraculous work.  

I'm going to go to some meetings, share what God gives me, and hopefully write some plans for Serve Elyria 2011!