Yesterday I posted 5 things that I likedÂ and appreciated about Rob Bellâ€™s â€œLove Winsâ€ after reading it, reviewing it, and discussing it with many friends. But here I want to ask 6 strong questions that I would love to pose to other readers to thinkers out there.
[please note: these questions DO presuppose that you read the book and know its flow].
- What did Jesus do? In â€œDying To Liveâ€ (ch. 5), Love Wins sets the table for talking about Godâ€™s atoning work in Jesus but puts very little on the plate. Rob runs through an affirmation of classic atonement imagery and then talks about the cross and resurrection as a kind of cosmic principle and paradigm of dying-living. Thatâ€™s followed by our own dying-living – I take him to say thatâ€™s how we receive kingdom life in line with God. BUT â€“ I think that before we can get to emulation and following Jesus, we need real talk about what He has done for us. We at least need more talk of Christâ€™s identification with us/us with Him and, even better, our incorporation into Him through participation in his death and resurrection. The way Rob talks about it, the cross/resurrection loses some of its shine as a decisive personal action by a personal God in the face of sin, death, and evil. That leaves him hard pressed to say what exactly Jesusâ€™ death and resurrection deliver us from. Sin? Death? Evil? Ourselves? Maybe he didnâ€™t want to wade into the atonement wars or at least look for a new way to speak about it to the bookâ€™s audience, but Robâ€™s unclear here at the very moment he needed to shine a clear light.
- Are we all â€œin?â€ Most interesting to me, Rob hints at what I would call universal redemption (if thereâ€™s a technical term for this, help me!). Itâ€™s that Jesus died for the sin of all people, all times and places, and by his death and resurrection â€“ all *have been* saved and redeemed and restored to the Father (Rom 5, 1 Cor 15, etc.). This isnâ€™t exactly orthodox Christianity, but itâ€™s not unheard of. His best writing in ch. 3-5 presses this case. So then, you live into it or you live against it. Hell, then, would be provisional (a kind of sub-reality we create) and penultimate (always next to last) when God truly is all in all. He kind of goes here â€¦ but that brings up:
- Why this kind of love? Rob comes down really hard on the kind of love that God is and does: â€œlove, by its very nature, is freedom. For there to be love, there has to be the option, both now and then, to not love â€¦ God has to respect our freedom to choose to the very end, even at the risk of the relationship itselfâ€ (104). So Rob puts us in the spot of completely autonomous individual agents with free will. Really? Thatâ€™s a pretty one-sided, modern, neutral view of freedom â€“ and frankly, I think Augustine or Aquinas or Calvin or Arminius have a much better handle on this discussion and just how the kind of love God is/has gets what God wants and we do or donâ€™t get what we want. And it simply doesnâ€™t take account of how broken and damaged we are by sin.
- What kind of God do we get here? In LW, we come close to getting a God who hopes you will be saved and a God who (we hope) might get what God wants. But if in the end â€œLoveâ€ really â€œWinsâ€ and in effect, conquers all â€“ if that love overwhelms the hardest heart and breaks down the strongest defense so that last of the guilty come in to the new city â€¦ how we have not just undercut the â€œfreedomâ€ Rob so eloquently defends in #3 above?
- Whereâ€™s the Spirit? Rob talks an awful lot about God and Jesus, but the Spirit is strikingly absent from the book. I especially noticed this in the beautiful â€œThere Are Rocks Everywhereâ€ (ch. 6). I think that has the effect of making God the distant and powerful one, and Jesus the loving and immanent expression. But then Rob tries to hang on to Jesus as the real dying/rising one who has reconciled and redeemed all creation AND call him the â€œsupracultural mysteryâ€ present everywhere, all the time, drawing people to himself. â€œJesus is both near and intimate and personal, and big and wide and transcendent.â€ True. I know what heâ€™s getting at, but I think his argument is bad theology that confuses the person and work of the Son and the Spirit. It is the Spirit who empowers witness and who draws all people (by whispers, dreams, signs, and yes â€“ preaching) and points them to the risen Son who is ascended with the Father. There is a lot of generous theology down the ages that articulates this way better. A careful read of Acts would do a ton to strengthen ch. 5-6 â€“ clarity on the cross and resurrection of Jesus, generosity in Godâ€™s witness to Jesus to all people in all places, even every creature under heaven.
- Why me, and why not God? Rob comes out here with a mashup of free-will theology and realized eschatology (the End has already Begun). I can roll with that â€“ I donâ€™t think itâ€™s the best expression of Christian faith (my Reformed roots leave me leery of the first part) but I can recognize it as in the family. But he stresses it so hard that in the end he is more confident that we get what we want than that God gets what God wants. Really? Oh Rob, do you really want to say that the better question, â€œthe one absolute we can depend onâ€ (116) ISNâ€™T whether God gets what God wants, but â€œdo we get what we want?â€ By God it is not! After a gorgeous chapter of building the case that Godâ€™s plans, intentions, purpose will stand and cannot be thwarted â€“ how can you go and throw our confidence not onto this marvelous God, but onto ourselves? Thatâ€™s to put it in the wrong place! Please God, let it not be about what I know or donâ€™t know that I want, but what God wants! To say that God honors my desires and I will get what I want â€“ some want heaven, some want hell – is way too thin an account of human wants. Remember sin, Rob – I am broken and bent, I do not always know what I want, I want good and bad, heaven and hell. â€œWhat a wretched man I am! Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!â€ God rescues me from my wants â€“ not accedes to them. Itâ€™s not me and my love that wins â€“ itâ€™s God, and Godâ€™s love wins.
grace and peace – Andy