Thinking Out Loud

October 16, 2011

Rob Bell Pens Response to the Responses

In keeping with our policy of all Rob Bell news all the time, here’s the latest:  HarperCollins will release a paperback response to the critics in February 2012 simply titled The Love Wins Companion.

Bit of a cover similarity, don't ya think?

Here’s the 411 from the publisher:

For anyone who wants to delve deeper into Rob Bell’s bestselling Love Wins, the expansive and accessible Love Wins Companion offers scholarly support and critiques, resources for individuals, groups, and classes, and brand new material by Rob Bell himself. As Love Wins continues to become a touchstone for thousands of readers worldwide, controversy surrounds the book’s arguments. Author Brian D. McClaren wrote that with Love Wins “thousands of readers will find freedom and hope and a new way of understanding the biblical story,” yet USA Today observed that “Bell has stuck a pitchfork in how Christians talk about damnation.” Here, in The Love Wins Companion, Rob Bell offers commentary on the positive and negative attention his groundbreaking book is receiving, delivering a crucial supplement to one of the most important books since the Bible.

For those looking to go deeper with Rob Bell’s bestselling pioneering book Love Wins, this companion offers:

  • Insights and commentary by theologians, Bible scholars, scientists, and pastors
  • Deep analysis of all relevant Bible passages on heaven, hell, and salvation
  • Detailed chapter summaries, discussion questions, and Bible studies for individuals, groups, and classes
  • Excerpts from works throughout Christian history illustrating the variety of teachers also debating the issues Bell wrestles with
  • New material by Bell on his mission for the book and how people can take the next step
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July 15, 2011

The Last Word on Hell

What an interesting time this is for Christian publishing.  Children’s experiences of heaven top bestseller lists (The Boy Who Came Back From Heaven, Heaven is For Real, A Message from God) while the adults — sparked by Rob Bell — debate the existence and/or nature of hell.

The last word on this subject may belong to a book I’m currently reading.  It’s far too early for me to begin anything resembling a review, but Hell Is Real (But I Hate to Admit It) by Brian Jones (David C. Cook Publishing/August 1, 2011) seems to me to relate better to the misgivings many people, including Christians, have on the subject of hell.  At 272 pages, it’s also a much longer treatment of the subject than the current bestseller in the refuting-Rob-Bell department.

Jones is senior pastor at Christ’s Church of the Valley in Philadelphia, a rather edgy east coast church.

July 6, 2011

Wednesday Link List

Wednesday link kangaroo

A kangaroo walks into a bar.

“Wow!” the bartender says; “We don’t get many kangaroos in here.”

“Yeah,” says the Kangaroo, “And at these prices, you’re not going to get many more.”

…I know it’s pathetic, but that’s always been one of my favorite jokes, and the link list seemed the best place for it.

Click the image above to see 226 more pictures from North Carolina's Wild Goose Festival in June by photographer Courtney Perry

  • If you missed the Wild Goose Festival, photographer Courtney Perry has 227 pictures; you can even purchase copies.
  • John Starke nails it on How to Write a Great Book Review (Or How Not to Write a Bad One).
  • Speaking of which, Benji Zimmerman does a great review of Francis Chan and Preston Sprinkle’s Erasing Hell the response to Rob Bell’s Love Wins. (Easier to read with a Javascript Black/White swap app.)
  • And Chan himself sits down with Mark Galli at CT for what appears to be an interview but is really more of a dialog.
  • Stephen Brewster was one of many syncrobloggers who joined together in June to talk about blocks to creativity.  He links to some of the other writers, too.
  • Frank Turk digs into the can of worms being opened by New York’s new marriage law.
  • Craig Groeshel, the guy with the .tv web domains, is now suggesting individuals and families take a few nights off each week to unplug.
  • A few days late for the 4th, but for our American friends, Louis Giglio reflects on the Declaration of Independence with Chris Tomlin on camera and some cheap shots at England’s Matt Redman.  (HT: Worship Blog)
  • Matt Rawlings brings his twice yearly top five books list, and his top 62 “geek” books list.
  • Also on books, Jon, our academic book-watcher on the left coast wants you to know about Christians at the Border: Immigration, The Church and the Bible.  Basically this is a Guatemalan professor of Old Testament studies discussing social policy.  Here’s the publisher’s 411, and a 9-pg .pdf preview.
  • Adam Young, aka Owl City, has a new video, packed with footage from the Back to the Future movies.  Check out Deer in the Headlights.
  • But we can take the animal video linking thing further with this Charlie the Hamster audio file. (HT: Stuff Fundies Like.)
  • Anne Jackson, transparent as ever, has reactivated her blog which has been dormant since March.  You can read her posts from June 17th and June 24th.
  • No link here, but my son Chris put this on his Facebook page:
    .
    The Parable of the Dry Stick
    .
    I was out for a hike a while ago and there was a stick on the path.  I gave it a kick, and all the bark broke off and scattered, leaving only the bare, white wood.
    .
    God then said:  “The world is full of people who will completely change, who are just waiting to be prompted, quietly hoping someone will disrupt their daily ennui.”

    .
     If you know one of those people, give them a proverbial kick.  Tell them their life can amount to something.  Invite them to join the adventure of discovering God.

Separated at Birth (and by a few generations) — Lyn Cryderman, author of Glory Land, republished as No Swimming on Sunday and Colton Burpo of Heaven is for Real fame.  The Cryderman book is a bit of a hard-to-find collector’s item but an excellent document capturing growing up in America in the Free Methodist denomination.  “I gotta home in Glory land that outshines the sun…Way beyond the blue”

May 24, 2011

Francis Chan on Erasing Hell

The hot topic of the spring of 2011 will forever be recorded as “Heaven, Hell and the Hereafter,” but probably the response of Francis Chan will be noted as one of the more heavyweight contributions, given the huge ongoing popularity of his first book Crazy Love.   The ten minute video clip below initiates that response and also serves to promote the July 5 release of Erasing Hell: What God said about Eternity and the Things We Made Up from David C. Cook.  I’ll get to that in a minute.

But first let me pause and point out a serious liability of the whole video upload thing.  Unlike a blog, where I have control of whose comments are posted, it would appear that YouTube selects “featured comments,” in this case choosing one for which I’m sure the uploader would not approve.  So let me encourage you to watch the video here, and to link your friends back here, not because I need the stats, but just to avoid a lot of nonsense.

I think what’s going to happen with this book is that a lot of people who are down on Rob Bell are going to say, “Finally, here’s a book to stop Love Wins in its tracks.”

And in case you miss it, I think what Francis Chan is saying is that we’re fighting over doctrine and missing the point that this is about the souls of real people some of whom we interact with on a daily basis; and saying basically, how dare you trivialize this or reduce this to a doctrinal debate.

May 11, 2011

Wednesday Link List

How about changing the name to “Linkerama”?  Just kickin’ around some ideas.  Looks like the links lynx is back!

  • What is about church life that gives us so much material for everything from Christian satire sites to cartoons?  This one is from Tim Walburg at ToonFever.com aka Church and Family Cartoons:

April 30, 2011

Eugene Peterson Defends Endorsement of Love Wins

Tucked away in a corner of the blogosphere since mid-March — until CT unearthed it this week — is this little interview with The Message translator Eugene Peterson on the blog Love and Judgment, a blog created to highlight perspectives on the Love Wins controversy.   Since Peterson is a highly respected Hebrew and Greek scholar, his take on Rob Bell’s newest title surprised many.   Here is the link to the article, as well as, below, some highlights:

…I don’t agree with everything Rob Bell says.  But I think they’re worth saying.  I think he puts a voice into the whole evangelical world which, if people will listen to it, will put you on your guard against judging people too quickly, making rapid dogmatic judgments on people.  I don’t like it when people use hell and the wrath of God as weaponry against one another.

I knew that people would jump on me for writing the endorsement.  I wrote the endorsement because I would like people to listen to him.  He may not be right.  But he’s doing something worth doing…

…There’s very little Christ, very little Jesus, in these people who are fighting Rob Bell.

April 9, 2011

Billy Graham: The Generation after the Next Generation

Oh yeah! People come up and say, “The years of mass evangelism are dead,” and I say, “I don’t believe in mass evangelism,” and they’re like, “That’s what you guys have always done.” I say, “No, we don’t. We do personal evangelism, but we do it on a massive scale.”

~Will Graham, son of Franklin Graham

Christianity Today sits down Will Graham, an associate evangelist with his grandfather’s BGEA and assistant director of The Billy Graham Training Center at The Cove.

It’s worth a look.  For example, here’s a change from everything you’ve been reading lately on hell:

I can’t speak for what Rob Bell talks about, but most people I come across still believe in hell. Now the idea of what hell is, that’s changing, but there are a few things we do know that the Bible says. One, that there is a place called hell. Just as heaven is real, so is hell. The whole reason God came to search out man was to save us from hell. The Bible says hell was never created for man. It was created for Satan and his angels that rebelled against God. Since man has decided to rebel against God, they were going to spend eternity in hell totally separate from God.

He also talks about other aspects to crusade evangelism, some new initiatives the organization has started, and comparisons to both is father and grandfather.

Read the whole piece at CT Online.

March 27, 2011

Howard Jones: What is Hell Anyway?

Earlier this week, I decided to go out on a limb on Christianity 201, my devotional blog, and introduce a few readers to Greg Boyd, pastor of Woodland Hills Church in Minneapolis, Minnesota.  But before I embedded Greg’s sermon on Hell — spread out over three videos — I decided to write what was probably the largest disclaimer I’ve ever done.

For that one however, I skipped the Howard Jones reference.   But if someone’s got the time, I think “What is Hell Anyway” would be a timely song parody…

Unless you’ve been living in a cave for the past three weeks, you’re well aware that a popular Christian author has caused there to be much discussion on the doctrine of hell.   Sample topics include, but are not limited to:

  • Is hell a physical reality or is it figurative language?
  • What determines who goes to heaven and who goes to hell?
  • Is hell eternal; does it last “forever?”
  • Are there people who initially reject Christ who will somehow “accept” Him after death?
  • How is the concept of hell consistent with the loving, gracious nature of God?

…and so it goes.

Who engages in these discussions?  Again, the list includes, but isn’t limited to:

  • People who have their minds made up, and militantly defend their position and refute all other views;  some of whom view themselves as somewhat ‘contaminated’ by merely listening to other viewpoints.
  • People who simply like a good argument; people who enjoy the endorphin release that comes with lively, passionate debate, or enjoy the ‘game’ of just asking the awkward questions.
  • People who are genuinely seeking answers; people new to faith; people confused by the variants of doctrinal positions.
  • People who are relatively established in their faith, but are interested in exploring how others interpret scripture and how that affects their beliefs in other doctrinal areas.
  • People who don’t regard their views on secondary doctrinal matters as
    “set in stone” and would be open to reconsider their position of the points raised by those of different opinions were persuasive.

I think we need to ask ourselves, “Which kind of person am I?  Do I just like a good fight?  Or am I truly seeking for some answers?  Or am I simply open to hear how those with different takes reconcile other doctrinal matters?”

At that point, I introduced the videos, which you’re welcomed to watch.  T.O.L. readers can leave comments here at this post.   Link here for the sermon videos.


March 24, 2011

TSK on Bellgate

Filed under: books, theology — Tags: , , , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:57 am

A couple of assorted Rob Bell related sentences from Andrew Jones aka Tall Skinny Kiwi:

  • Sometimes I wonder whether the Christian church in our western countries has become, quite regrettably, a book club.  (March 18)
  • Tweeted by someone else:  “More offended by the ugliness of the Evangelical response to Rob Bell than by anything he’s ever written.” (March 17)
  • Rob Bell at 18 months: Universalist tendencies visibly apparent

    “Farewell Rob Bell” has probably become the most famous Christian tweet of all time, even though no one really knows what John Piper meant by it. T-shirts will be made. Bumper stickers. The Farewell Rob Bell Bible?  (March 13)

  • Becky Garrison:  I am commending HarperOne for a brilliant marketing plan that got their product out there in a very horrible market.  (Comment on post March 13)
  • They [the new generation of Christians] will desire a view of the end times that moves beyond a Jack Chick hell, a Left Behind rapture, and a Hal Lindsay burning-planet-ecology. (March 17)
  • Becky Garrison (again!): I’d like to mention that HarperOne has a slew of books coming out on this topic – Evolution of Faith (Philip Gulley), Desmond Tutu (God is Not a Christian), Speaking Christian (Marcus Borg) and whatever NT Wright is cranking out…  (Comment to March 17 post.)
  • It will be interesting to see how they [Bell and N. T. Wright] differ, if they differ at all. I notice that Wright’s book remains quite unchallenged by critics compared to what Rob Bell is about to put out. Maybe its weaker theologically and therefore an easier target. (Comment to March 9th post).

Tall Skinny Kiwi.  Bookmark it.  Visit often.  A breath of fresh air guaranteed.  (But maybe Becky should get her own blog.  Oh wait…)

March 1, 2011

Rob Bell — Straying From Traditional Evangelicalism: How Far is Too Far?

On January 21st, I mentioned that through a series of circumstances I had obtained a very advance copy of Rob Bell’s new book, Love Wins: A Book About Heaven Hell and the Fate of Every Person Who Has Ever Lived (March 29, 2011, HarperCollins, Hardcover.)  In that brief article, I suggested that by the end of March, social media are going to have a field day with this title because of its controversial subject.

I was wrong.

According to this article posted at Christianity Today over the weekend, the fur has already started flying even before key players are getting their hands on advance print copies of the book (something I’ve been told to expect in my mail within the next two weeks.) In fairness, I need to say that I doubt any of this has come as a great surprise to Rob Bell himself. I don’t see him sitting at his computer in Grand Rapids saying, “Oh, look at this! These guys apparently don’t see it this way.”

On the other hand, many of those entering into the discussion are doing so solely on the basis of the brief publisher blurb online.   Well, actually that’s been online for awhile. The weekend brought the promotional video, which you can view at Justin Taylor’s February 26th post, along with an update that the topic of  Bell’s book — and a discussion of Bell himself — has been added to the agenda of The Gospel Coalition’s April national conference, a constituency whose orthodoxy is rarely questioned, but a constituency that is probably among the easiest to offend. (They probably considered burning him in effigy, but couldn’t get the local fire department to grant a permit.) Apparently Bell has been official designated a “problem” to be dealt with.

First of all, for the two or three of you who don’t have Flash Drive and can’t watch the video clip; and the two or three hundred of you who didn’t bother to  click, here is the text of the video that’s causing the stir, plus a few extra paragraphs:

Several years ago we had an art show at our church. I had been giving a series of teachings on peacemaking and we invited artists to display their paintings and poems and sculptures that reflected their understanding of what it means to be a peacemaker. One woman included in her work a quote from Gandhi, which a number of people found quite compelling.

But not everyone.

Someone attached a piece of paper to it. On the piece

of paper they had written: ‘Reality check: He’s in hell.’

Really?

Gandhi’s in hell?

He is?

We have confirmation of this?

Somebody knows this?

Without a doubt?

And they decided it was their responsibility to let the rest of us know?

Of all the billions of people who have ever lived, will only a select number ‘make it to a better place’ and every single other person will suffer in torment and punishment forever? Is this acceptable to God? Has God created millions of people over tens of thousands of years who are going to spend eternity in anguish? Can God do this, or even allow this, and still claim to be a loving God?

Does God punish people for thousands of years with infinite, eternal torment for things they did in their few, finite years of life?

This doesn’t just raise disturbing questions about God, it raises questions about the beliefs themselves-

Why them?

Why you?

Why me?

Why not him or her or them?

If there are only a select few who go to heaven, which is more terrifying: the billions who burn forever or the few who escape? How does a person end up being one of the few?

Chance?

Luck?

Random selection?

Being born in the right place, family, or country?

Having a youth pastor who ‘related better to the kids?’

God choosing you instead of others?

What kind of faith is that?

Or more importantly:

What kind of God is that?

And why is it that whenever someone claims that one group is in, saved, accepted by God, forgiven, enlightened, redeemed-and everybody else isn’t-why is it that the people who make this claim are almost always part of the group that’s ‘in?’

Have you ever heard somebody make claims about a select few being the chosen and then claim that they’re not one of them?

I recently heard a woman tell about the funeral of her daughter’s friend, a high school student who was killed in a car accident. Her daughter was asked by a Christian if the young man who had died was a Christian. She said that he told people he was an atheist. This person then said to her: “So there’s no hope then.”

No hope?

Is that the Christian message?

“No hope?”

Is that what Jesus offers the world?

Is this the sacred calling of a Christian: to announce that there’s no hope?

~ Rob Bell, from an unedited copy of chapter one “What About the Flat Tire?” from Love Wins

Since I intend to return to this a few more times in the next few weeks, I’ll just point out a few of the other comments from the weekend:

Aaron Armstrong (after whom the 1.5V batteries are named)  at Blogging Theologically writes:

In his previous books and tours, Bell has often been… squishy regarding his take on the wrath of God (even going so far as to reinterpret God’s wrath as a feeling of grief mixed with a desire to reconnect and restore). Indeed, he’s been so ambiguous that it’s caused a great many pastors and theologians to ask the question: Is he a universalist?

With this book it seems we might have an answer, in much the same way Brian McLaren dropped his pretense of trying to remain orthodox in A New Kind of Christianity.

However, I don’t know if it’s safe to say that for certain because, well, the book hasn’t been released yet. Because the material is in Bell’s typically ambiguous style so it can be taken one of two ways:

  1. He is playing “Devil’s Advocate” (oh, how I loathe that term) and presenting legitimate questions
  2. The trajectory he’s been on for years has reached it’s destination and he’s outright abandoned the gospel

Meanwhile Jeremy Bouma writing at Novus Lumen and living himself in Grand Rapids hasn’t received his advance copy yet, but decided to revisit some of Bell’s earlier works. He writes:

While some have speculated that it is universalism through and through—I have on good authority that this is the case—a recent re-read of Bell’s first book, Velvet Elvis, suggests this has been his trajectory for at least 7 years.

He includes a couple of quotations from that book that are worth re-examination through the filter of recent developments.  His article also links to the blog Signature Entertainment, which has a more tempered view of things:

I’m not sure if Rob is going to take it as far as “hell is non-existent”, but the one thing that Bell seems to do well is walk the line of controversy, yet remain a consistent voice that challenges the Evangelical community. The best example of this is in Velvet Elvis where Rob Bell uses the example of questioning the Virgin birth to make a case for deconstructing one’s faith, even though he doesn’t actually make the claim that Jesus was not born of a Virgin.

I would agree that Bell loves to tease his audience. The following may or may not be part of the final manuscript, but certainly causes the reader to wonder which afterlife is up:

The apostle Paul wrote in one of his letters to the Corinthians that ‘the Day’ the prophets spoke of, the one that inaugurates life in the age to come, will ‘bring everything to light’ and ‘reveal it with fire,’ the kind of fire that will ‘test the quality of each person’s work.’ Some in this process will find that they spent their energies and efforts on things that won’t be in heaven-on-earth. ‘If it is burned up,’ Paul wrote, ‘the builder will suffer loss but yet will be saved, even though only as one escaping through the flames.’

Flames in heaven.

And while we’re teasing you, here’s a direct copy of two sentences in the version I have:

Do I believe in a literal hell?

Of course.

…But I need to tell you that I’ve cut and pasted that totally out of context. (I mean, you don’t want a bunch of spoilers, do you?)  And in case you’re wondering, yes, Chapter Three, “Hell,” does address the story of we know as “The Rich Man and Lazarus.”  It’s a different response than you’ve heard in other sermons to be sure, but at the end of the day, Bell does indeed affirm “… the very real consequences we experience when we reject all the good and true and beautiful life that God has for us.”

Chapter Three is in many ways the cornerstone of the entire book, and I’m reluctant to provide more of it here; and frankly, once the book is in the stores, I hope others won’t excerpt bits of it either. I say that simply because Bell’s argument has a rhythm and cadence of its own, and to just edit bits of it for a review is akin to editing a few bars out of a symphony. I’m not saying that I agree with all its conclusions, or even that its conclusions are overt and plain, but there is a passion to this particular argument that you need to experience in its full context.

You’ll probably not agree with everything, but you won’t be the same after you’ve finished reading.

Note to the 99.99% of people who won’t get an advance review copy of the book:  All of this discussion is valid and needful. But make sure it stays focused on the issues. Some of those who you will read online have come into this discussion with their minds already made up about Bell and have been looking for an opportunity to run him, figuratively speaking, out of town. The issue of Christian Universalism is a very serious and crucial issue and we need to stay on that issue, and not allow the personality or preaching style of an individual pastor to sidetrack us from gaining deeper understanding of what the Bible might be saying.

Other pre-reading comments: Josh Reich at Missional Thoughts, the blog Episcopal Café, the blog Arminian Today which sees Bell as deliberately provocative and publicity-seeking, and Maggie Dawn who relegates Bell to someone “engaging people with Christianity at entry level.”

Related post: John Shore uses an XtraNormal text-to-video to bring the conflicting views into sharp focus.

This blog post contains elements of an early version of the book which may not be part of the final copy.

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