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Saturday, November 26, 2011

Squabbles in the Family of God

Christians are a lot like oil companies—we all think our brand is the best, even though any one of them will get us where we want to go, whether we’re talking about fuel to get our cars to the grocery store, or faith to get our souls to heaven. But once in a while we get all in a dither about the specifics of our beliefs and when that happens, the greatest arguments usually come, not from those who are farthest apart, but from those who are closest. A recent example is the book Love Wins, by Rob Bell, former pastor of Mars Hill Bible Church near Grand Rapids, Michigan.

The media, who love Rob Bell, jumped on his latest book and the fact that he is a bit wishy-washy about whether or not anyone will go to hell. His rationale for questioning this is that the Bible makes it clear God does not want anyone to go to hell, so Rob’s thinking is that since God is God, he can always get whatever he wants and since he wants all people to be saved, maybe they will be. His conclusion is that since the Bible talks a lot more about grace than eternal damnation, maybe we should preach more about grace and eternal damnation, not so much. The media then acted as if Pastor Bell didn’t believe in hell and as if he were a Universalist, who believes that everyone can be saved in any religion. (Sort of like how it would be if our cars would run on any liquid instead of just any gasoline.)

The biggest criticisms seemed to come from Rob’s Reformed “friends”, such as Dr. R. Albert Mohler, Jr. who has been quoted as saying Bell’s “Love Wins” book was “theologically disastrous”. While his Reformed and Calvinist friends seem to think Bell is a heretic, we Arminians have always thought God was more about salvation than condemnation (even though our preaching has not always made that clear) but when Rob says God wants all people to be saved, we say, “Welcome to the Wesleyan-Arminian world of Christian theology.”

The problem, of course, is that if you accept the concept that God wants all people to be saved (as is clearly stated in 2 Peter 3:9 which tells us God doesn’t want anyone to perish, but instead, wants everyone to come to repentance. Or, I Timothy 2:1-4 where we are urged to pray for everyone because God wants everyone to be saved. Then you begin to have serious reservations about “unconditional election”, the concept that before the world was created God chose some people to be saved and others to be eternally lost with no hope of salvation. I don’t know if Rob Bell considers himself to be among those with this Calvinist-Reformed theology, but I think they have always claimed him and now this revelation in “Love Wins” stirs up a plethora of  squabbles among our Calvinist brethren. It will be interesting to see where it leads, if it goes anywhere at all, or if it just flutters out and disappears.

Rob’s writing also suggests we need to be open to the possibility that an opportunity for salvation may exist after death. He sees this as a possibility that can be found in scripture rather than an anti-biblical heresy. On the Mars Hill website they have FAQs about the book “Love Wins” and it is written “Love Wins helps us have a biblical imagination that leaves room for the hope of the redemption of all while recognizing humanities free will to continue to reject God.” That definitely requires imagination, but I’m not convinced it is biblical.

What I do know is that our faith should be big enough for us to love each other even when we don’t fully agree on the details. I thank God for all those in the family and out because I believe we are all created in the image of God and all valid subjects of His amazing grace and love. I thank God for Rob Bell even when I’m not sure I fully agree with him. I even thank God for those Christians with whom I greatly disagree. As Bill Gaither wrote, “There’s plenty of room in the family” and I do greatly love the family of God even in the midst of and in spite of our family squabbles.

I'm Rick Blumenberg . . . and that's My View from Tanner Creek.


Dee said...

Thanks for the reminder. In my daily life I am in need of being reminded that that grace is not only for me.

Joe Allison said...

Rick, I fully agree. We need to let God be God. The extent of His Kingdom depends only on His grace, not on our neat little systems of theology. That's why Kierkegaard called Christianity the "absurd" religion.

Laryssa-5 said...

We definitely need a Savior. =) While I am ALWAYS glad I'm His...I'm not always so happy with my 'family' member's behavior. lol Their probably not always happy with mine either. However, sound doctrine & catechism, tempered with an abundance of love in our homes, is sorely needed in our day & time...the evidence for this need lies with the mass exodus of the church's youth as a whole. Homeschooling does help aleve this, but only if u put Jesus 1st...I'm guilty of focusing on academics more than bible many days. =( Thank goodness His mercy is new every morning. =) It's good to hear from you. Blessings!