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March 15, 2011

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The Seeking Disciple

Leave no doubt about it, Rob Bell wanted this "controversy" because the bottom line is that he wants to sell books to make money. Many people are trying to paint Bell as the victim (and Bell is setting himself up this way even in his book) but the reality is that Bell and his publishers knew that to sell this book, they had to stir up the debates before the book would be released to generate sells.

One thing you can bank on, Bell will never debate this book. He will not debate with any Christian theologians on this issue. That is a fact you can take to the bank.

Chris Johnson

I knew him as the front man for a decent college band in my Wheaton days, and would wonder from time to time what happened to him. Then I see the links on Facebook from some other (more cool than I) Wheaton friends to the upcoming book, and find out he's been doing quite a bit since college! Obviously we haven't kept in touch.

I'm eager to read the book, and thank you for your thoughts, as the Bible isn't nearly as clear on this issue as many people think it is. I hope it ignites a great discussion.

RyanDDobson

The Lion and Lamb thing is a metaphor?? I was so excited for their offspring - Liambs, I've been calling them - very soft, very cute, maned sheep with uber sharp teeth.

Well, at least I still can look forward to lots of children sticking their hands in adder dens. You can't take that away from me.

John Hawthorne

I hesitate to comment in that I haven't read the book either. But I did read this wonderful commentary the other day by Cathleen Falsani. She reflects on knowing Rob Bell when they were students together at Wheaton. It's a very interesting piece: http://cathleenfalsani.com/2011/03/14/godstuff-heretic-shmeretic-love-wins/

This reminds me that when we are concerned with knowing others, we give the benefit of the doubt but also help them find the best ways of explaining their positions. On the other hand, when our defense of Positions makes us label People we really don't know, it seems the Church loses its commitment to balancing Grace and Holiness. What would Luther have done if his writings and actions were confronted with random internet comments?

Patrick O

Moltmann has refined that quote a little in recent years. I've heard him answer the question about being a universalist several times this way. "I am not a universalist because there are some people that I don't want to see again. But God may be, because God created them."

I think a big bit of trouble that comes from Bell's pre-book quotes and subsequent controversy is how similar sounding doctrines are assumed to be the same exact thing. This is the case with a lot of emerging church stuff too, which to many people sounds a lot like what early 20th century social Gospel folks were saying, which came out of a very liberal theological position. Only, it isn' the same.

So too with Bell, I think, and Moltmann, I know. Universalism can be different kinds. There's the very liberal, sort of wishy washy everyone will be saved approach that highlights human achievement, ultimate goodness, and otherwise seeks to raise humanity into all of us deserving salvation. This is the older version, which such theologians like John Hick still promote.

But Moltmann's isn't like that at all. His approach isn't based on the goodness or capability of humanity, nor on God's wishy-washiness. Rather, his is a sort of extreme Reformed position that makes God's sovereignty the key issue. God will save all, because God is God, and, ultimately, what he intends he will achieve. He brings all back into relationship with him, because he seeks all to be in relationship with him. If he loses even one, he's not really God (according to Moltmann). The issue, then, of universalism becomes one of God's sovereignty rather than human capability.

A great interview with Moltmann is here: http://www.trinitywallstreet.org/webcasts/videos/conferences-classes/interviews/gods-unfinished-future-jurgen-moltmann-interview

Connie Morrow

What a great discussion on the most important ultimate things, God's love and our life with God here and in eternity. The question of eternal destiny is at the bottom of so much anxiety and depression in all people not just Christians. It is helpful for those of us with with pastoral teaching responsibilities to remember that we have responsibility only for the care of souls, God alone is responsible for the cure of souls. But that still leaves us with the quandary - is teaching "God is love" without also teaching "God is truth" really caring for that soul? Don't we need to have the courage to clearly state the biblical truth as we understand it? Jesus never separated God's love and God's truth and while we can't balance them as well as he did for me that is still his command when it comes to modeling and teaching wholeness/holiness. "Go and teach all that I have commanded you.."

Steve

I actually have recently read Bell's book (along with Robert Farrar Capon's The Fingerprints of God), and do not believe he is taking a traditional universalist position. The gist of his and Capon's argument is that we give God's grace too little credit despite the repeated witness throughout the scriptures of the fact that Christ's sacrifice on the cross was for all humanity (and in fact was part of his plan from the beginning to renew all creation). I would call their position "near universalism" (not a term I invented), in that they would say that because of the cross, the default setting is "saved". However, neither author rejects the concept of hell - they would just question the idea that God would condemn people to it. The vision of hell they present is more of a "pity party" of the damned, who choose to remain outside of God's grace despite the fact that he continues to invite them to the eternal banquet (and never gives up - even after their death).

In any case, I highly recommend Bell's book, even if you reject the premise, because he raises some important questions and follows in Capon's footsteps in presenting the outrageous, unacceptable grace that defines our God.

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