Sunday, 22 May 2011

Love Wins

Lots of preaching dates coming up, so I have been thinking a lot about weightier matters of late. One of the current ‘hot topics’ has cropped up in a number of conversations with friends lately.

"I have long wondered if there is a massive shift coming in what it means to be a Christian," Rob Bell says. "Something new is in the air."
rob bell

You can read more of his ‘Time’ article here.

To put it in a very simplified nutshell, Bell, a pastor in the USA, has suggested [in his book ‘Love Wins’] that a God who is Perfect Love would not condemn anyone to the eternal punishment of hell. And all the ‘sound’ pastors are up in arms, saying he is a ‘Universalist’ – that if ‘everybody is going to be saved what is the point of evangelising? and Jesus believed in Hell, so we do too’ and that Bell is a ‘false teacher and a heretic’ [and therefore, presumably, condemned to Hell]

I don’t ‘do’ what you might call ‘heavy theology’. 99% of the time, I stick with the simpler stuff [Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so] I accept that these deeper questions do need to be wrestled with – but I am saddened that the debate has gone into the Public Arena, and the world is looking on and saying “These Christians, how they hate one another!” [The exact opposite of Tertullian writing c.200AD] It all gets in the way of the business of sharing God’s love with those who have yet to know it.

Stan & HildaAnd I suddenly feel very old, and somewhat amused by people who tell me this is an important new discussion. I treasure a love letter, written from my Dad to my Mum, on 17th March 1949, in which he discusses this exact same debate!

He was still finishing his course at theological college [hers was shorter, and she was back in Essex] and he sent her a Bible Commentary for their 1st Wedding Anniversary – this letter went with it, and it is partly full of words of love and partly theological debate!

Dad concludes the ‘Hell’ section with these words

“2 things are certain – [a] God will never refuse a soul who truly repents … [b] God is going to ultimately triumph, and at the name of Jesus every knee shall bow.

These are the answers of faith, based on God’s Word, God’s Nature, and Christ’s Cross – how they can be reconciled with the whole host of teaching about Eternal Punishment, or WHETHER they can, is quite another matter.

I am fast coming to be sure that we must hold BOTH truths – Eternal Punishment AND also God’s Ultimate Triumph. But more of this later, darling – I’d like to know what you said to Mrs Green at Salem!”

I confess that I have not read Rob Bell’s book – but ‘Love Wins’ sounds very like ‘God’s Ultimate Triumph’ to me. As I never found the letter in the book till after Dad’s death, I shall never know how my parents’ discussion ended – I so wish they were around now to talk about it all. I feel so blessed to have had them as my parents.

[The picture shows them as very happy newlyweds]


  1. I've read the book, and really didn't understand what all the fuss was about. Rob Bell is not a universalist, he argues very much that if someone chooses hell then God will respect that choice. What he does argue is that God keeps loving and maybe this means he keeps opportunities for returning to himself open (even after death). In other words, it's not a case of die, judged, eternal torment with no chance of escape.
    It's not new theology, I've certainly read the same in CS Lewis. And Bell isn't giving dogmatic answers either, just asking alot of questions that bother some non-Christians as well as some Christians.
    I'm more disturbed by the vitriolic reaction there has been to the book, and the insistance that God loves, therefore he must condemn most of his creation to everlasting torment...

  2. You look like your mother, Angela. The picture is wonderful. I sense their deep sense of purpose, the calling on their lives.
    Jesus did talk about hell and Satan A LOT and I continue to marvel at the mystery of His love. I like your Dad's words very much.

  3. I haven't read the book, but two weeks ago we (Chris and me) were having the very same discussion. I ended up with more questions than answers.
    Jane x

  4. First, thanks so much for sharing the picture of your parents--how delightful they look!

    I'm about half-way through Bell's book and thoroughly enjoying it. It would be a great book to give a nonbeliever like my brother, who finds Christians themselves to be highly problematic in the way they so often seem unloving and highly judgmental.

    (In my most recent conversation with my brother, he said, "I think what I do is Christian, even though I'm not a Christian." This is a huge breakthrough, believe it or not! And given that his work involves educating inner city children, I think he's right.)

    As pastasmissus points out above, much of what Bell says can be found in C.S. Lewis. It's not new, as witnessed by your father's letter, and I doubt it's heretical, though I've read some fairly convincing arguments that Bell's translation of scripture is not always spot on.

    For me, the joy of the book is Bell's unrelenting belief that ultimately God is always loving and always just, and his determination to get this message to nonbelievers and believers alike. Amen!

    I do believe that there will be those who will reject God even as they stand before him, and I think we live in a culture that fosters their position. "What do you mean 'bow down'? I don't bow down to anyone!"

    Anyway, I appreciate this post; glad you wrote it!


  5. Angela

    Many years ago I had discussions with your father on this very topic and found him most helpful and a lot more positive than most evangelicals I knew at the time about who would "make it" into Heaven. My memory is not as good as it once was so I can't now recall the exact details of our conversations but I am hopeful that in Heaven I will see my Hindu friends who, like Mahatma Gandhi, respect Jesus but never become "born again" Christians, partly because of the behaviour of some of the Christians they actually know. I'm a bit of a post-evangelical/ pseudo Anglican these days but have fond memories of your father's ministry despite his views on alcohol and a few other issues where we parted company. He baptised myself and my husband , dedicated my children, spoke at my elder daughter's baptism and prayed at Brian's funeral. His example and commitment to pastoral visiting is sadly missed in this day and age.

    I am currently reading the Rob Bell book and can't quite understand the fuss either although it seems that a lot of the criticism is coming from some rather dominating (male) leaders in the USA who see no conflict in their style of Christianity with their support of the 21st century tea party brigade and all the political and social injustices that movement stands for!!

    Ann Johnston, Dereham.

  6. Thanks for all these comments - especially yours, ann - I know Dad was so fond of you and Brian, and respected you both enormously because of the way you thought through the issues and didn;t make snap judgements of glib responses.
    P'sM, & LHH, I am impressed you've both read the book. One of these days I may get round to it!
    PP & J&C - you too seem to have similar thoughts.
    He is nt saying anything 'new' hat's the fuss?

    in the end, Love Wins!


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