Wednesday, January 18, 2012

The Allusive Nature of Rob Bell’s Alleged Universalism

I was wondering if you would be able to help me.  It has been some time, as I suspect it has been for many of us, since I have read Love Wins.  As the dust has settled and everyone has actualized their deep need to let everyone know what they thought of it, a lingering question remains for me?  Does Rob Bell explicitly embrace or objectively state something that necessarily makes him a universalist in the book?

As I surfed the tide of the world wide web via youtube I found this video in which Rob says that he does not think that God is like that.  “That” being someone who would upkeep the punishment for 17 million years of a 17 year who rejected Christ and then died.  The video ends before the answer is completely unpacked.  Perhaps Bobby Conway is more accurate when at the beginning of this video he suggests that Bell is a “post-mortem nuanced purgatorial inclusivist.”  How he would explain that I do not know because I turned the video off after the first few minutes when he prayed God would correct Bell. 

What I should do is reread the book and scan it with this specific question in mind.  What I did do was quickly scour the chapter “Does God Get What God Wants.”  In that chapter I found this statement:

“Will everybody be saved,
or will some perish apart from God forever because of their choices?

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, and so we simply respect them,  creating space for the freedom that love requires.” (p. 115)

This statement only reaffirms my first impression about the book.  Love Wins is not about universalism. It is about participationist soteriology.  It argues that choices we make actually form us and that the sum of the choices make us someone who is either compatible or incompatible with heaven or more explicitly the kingdom described and embodied by Christ.  So will some people who make Christ conforming choices without knowing Christ be in heaven?  “Those are questions … we simply respect.”

But with your help I could see something I did not before.  So if you would be willing and you remember reading something that renders universalism undeniably present in the book, please share and include a page number.  Would be much obliged for the help.


Monday, January 16, 2012

Jesus/Religion Guy

In response to this,

all of this from Rachel Held Evan's blog:

"Best Response to Jeff Bethke’s Jesus/Religion Video:
I read a lot of fantastic responses the now-famous “I love Jesus, but I hate religion” video. But I must say, my favorite response of the week came from Bethke himselfIn an email exchange with Kevin DeYoung, Bethke responded to DeYoung’s criticism with this: 
“I just wanted to say I really appreciate your article man. It hit me hard. I’ll even be honest and say I agree 100%. God has been working with me in the last 6 months on loving Jesus AND loving his church. For the first few years of walking with Jesus (started in ’08) I had a warped/poor paradigm of the church and it didn’t build up, unify, or glorify His wife (the Bride). If I can be brutally honest I didn’t think this video would get much over a couple thousand views maybe, and because of that, my points/theology wasn’t as air-tight as I would’ve liked. If I redid the video tomorrow, I’d keep the overall message, but would articulate, elaborate, and expand on the parts where my words and delivery were chosen poorly… My prayer is my generation would represent Christ faithfully and not swing to the other spectrum….thankful for your words and more importantly thankful for your tone and fatherly like grace on me as my elder. Humbled. Blessed. Thankful for painful growth.” 
A guy who can respond to criticism with that much openness and that much humility gets nothing but respect from me."

I found this both inspiring and convicting.  Hope I can respond this way if I find myself in a similar situation. 

Long Live the King

Those close to me know that since my seminary journey concluded I’ve drifted towards and have become convinced by the New Perspective on Paul.  Of the many things that it has changed in my thinking is my former belief that Paul’s primary soteriological agenda is to get individuals to merely put their faith in Jesus so that He can save their souls. 

Because James’s Dunn has argued, I think convincingly, that Paul speaks of “works of righteousness” not as the moral effort referred to by James chapter 2, but rather ethnic boundary markers erected by an identity barren postexilic Jewish faith, this has liberated me to ask deeper questions about the nature of the participationist faith Jesus calls us to.   Instead these works of righteousness refer to the (chiefly) circumcision, Sabbath observation, and food regulation.  So when Paul condemns works of righteousness, he is not attacking the moral effort that forms us but specific identity markers that Jews had put in place to remind gentiles that they were insufficiently Jewish.

Alas a large problem for the early church of mixed ethnic backgrounds was the looming question what exactly does it mean to be the people of God?  Do the gentiles need to be circumcised?  Do gentiles need to follow kosher food laws?  You can imagine the racial tension that might have crept up in those early communities. 

Two things consistently strike me as I now read the epistles.  1. How often when Paul speaks of “works of righteousness” “being saved by faith”—immediately this discussion is followed by questions of ethnic relationship.  Thus faith in Jesus is not a magical confession leading to double imputation, but rather a confessional starting point that justifies and begins our journey of participation in the community of God. 2.  How often Paul moves from this discussion to a call for the church to be whole, one, unified or most popularly “reconciled.” 

Thus as we theologize about the New Testament and more specifically Paul we must confess that one of the loudest themes of the cross and primary objectives of atonement is not just the salvation of the individual sinner, but also the reconciliation of God’s good creation—played out in the instance of the church between the ethnic relationship between Jews and gentiles. 

So on this, a day when we remember the Reverend Dr. MLK, I thought it appropriate that my devotional reading from Ephesians should yield this, 

So on this day we celebrate a saint who practiced the reconciling vision of the cross better than most.  Long live the vision of the King.  Double entendre intended.