This review is long overdue. As I mentioned a few days ago, the skeleton of this review was put together for weeks, however, it seemed that every time I was ready to push it out … some other article presented itself, TIME ran a cover story, or there was another internet response to digest. Knowing that the flow of information on this topic likely would never cease, it’s time to push out what I have. The review is broken up into two parts, the good, and the not so good. I also do not aim to reinvent the wheel, and will provide you all direct links to references that I used to help sort out some of the information. I hope you will find this review, and the supplied links useful as well.
To the point, then:
In overview, I enjoyed reading Love Wins. The style of writing, while at times unconventional, lent itself to my interpreting and imagining the story being told from a pulpit, or in an auditorium somewhere, either of which I think would have been Bell’s purpose, in part, not to write a dry, non-engaging book, but to have something that kept the reader going, and would engage them from the front cover to the last page. I mean, for full disclosure purposes, I finished in three days, probably less time, had I not had to work.
1. The power and importance of questions.
Bell presents (especially in the first chapter) a frustration in the modern church about those that ask questions towards the status quo. This is evidenced many times in the work, and is something I adamantly agree with. A strong faith is a faith that questions. Many times in scripture we are told to seek, knock, test, among countless other metaphorical and literal directives that describe that part of faith is asking questions of the one that has all the answers. And I will agree with Bell in that too many times, the church (on a side note – let me say this: I do not intend to over generalize, so please, when you hear me say “the church” it is not in a context to be inclusive of all Christian churches or denominations, but more of a statement that within at least part of the community of faith that reports allegiance to Christ, such and such exists …. Now back to the points) chastises and shuns those that ask questions. Maybe not overtly, but how about guffaws towards people that “dare to question” the major tenets of the faith …. not to exclude the very topics in this work: heaven, hell, and the life and work of Jesus Christ?
The sad fact about this is that the problem is not in the people asking the questions, it is in the people that are being asked. Too many in the church (*once again, see my note above) are unstudied, unknowledgeable, or inexperienced with their faith and understanding of the redemptive work of Christ and how it relates to the history of mankind … that they can give only insufficient answers to those that have genuine questions about how evil can exist in the world with an omniscient and omnipotent God, why sin exists in the first place, how one gains access to the inheritance of Christ, or how to explain the existence of seemingly random and devastating world events (most recently the tsunami in Japan, and even more recently the violent storms and flooding locally here in the United States). The people tasked with responding to these questions too often provide answers that are cold, uninformed, and impersonal. They are simply regurgitations of what has been told before. This is akin to knowing when World War II occurred (the dates) but failing to understand the factors that led up to the war, and the worldwide implications of the conflict on a global scale. The first answer gives only a fact … the second answer demonstrates meaning and understanding.
Asking questions is not heresy, in fact, biblically, it is encouraged. The state of the church however, has ceded its relevance to a book that attempts to share meaningful answers to some of life’s hardest questions. And for those paying attention, Jesus didn’t write a book (or, I guess it would have been a series of scrolls) to spread his message, his teaching was face to face, person to person, at it’s core based in his relationship with twelve men and several women … who, by the way, asked him A LOT of questions.
2. The Kingdom of God is in the here and now.
Another thing that I am absolutely in agreement with Rob Bell is the need to bring the activities of the Kingdom to the here and now. I don’t share the cynical view, however, that the “majority” of churches are so consumed with the afterlife that they neglect the here and now. At least, it appears the church as a whole is moving in the right direction, working to exact mercy and peace here and now, not wishing and hoping for a speedy return of Jesus to whisk us away from this steaming pile of evil and pain.
I don’t really blame people. It is an easy comfort to simply say when faced with hardship, tragedy, pain, disease, sickness, poverty, rape, murder, evil, depravity … or any other collection of characteristics of the sinful turn that creation has taken, to simply say that we will get a “do-over”, a mulligan, or that this place is “not our home”.
While I believe that those statements are true (I do believe in, and am convinced the Bible speaks of a literal heaven), it ignores one of the principle messages of Jesus while he was here on earth. The message that brings us all the way back to Genesis. Jesus reminded us of our first mission once we left the garden: “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground” (Genesis 1.28) – We were built to take care of this planet and the people that inhabit it. Jesus mentions as well in the parable of the sheep and the goats the vital importance of distributing mercy, kindness, and compassion …. to act as if the Kingdom of God was present, and to work hard to build a community on this earth that would mirror the heavenly kingdom.
On that Rob Bell and I agree. We spend much time working to convert people over fear of hell and promise of heaven. Much more than we spend sharing the transformative power of Christ to then replicate ourselves to change the very face of this planet in the here and now. As my old Pastor once said …. “if it was always about getting saved and heaven only, then the Lord would strike you dead the moment you accepted Jesus”.
It sounds silly, but the point is valid. We aren’t recreated in the image of Christ to simply die and go to a better place. We are re-tasked by Christ to make a difference here, to demonstrate the actions of Christ through our own hands and feet. In other famous words, we better get busy living, or get busy dying.
Next, Part 2: the struggles. Coming out Thursday, May 12th.