Tag Archives: Rob Bell

Love Wins or the Great Divorce?

C. S. Lewis's Great Divorce

Yesterday I finished Rob Bell’s book, Love Wins.  I understand how evangelical can be upset with him, but as a Lutheran I don’t feel such judgement.   If I could use one word to describe God it would be Gracious.   God’s grace is infinite and total and I see it extending beyond this life.   Like Bell, I don’t understand how God can condemn someone to eternal, infinite punishment if they never had the opportunity to hear the gospel of Jesus Christ.  I remember conversations I had with fellow students at Fuller Seminary where some thought that the church had the obligation to proclaim the Gospel to keep people from going to hell.  They believed that we HAD to preach it or else unbelievers would burn, even those in distant lands.

I do believe in proclaiming the Good News of Jesus Christ, but not as some cosmic obligation to keep people from hell.   I preach the good news because I am in love with Jesus, the creator of the universe and I am excited to have others experience that liberating love as well.  I am a participant in the new creation with Jesus and I am humbled that God can use someone like me to accomplish God’s will.  

Rob Bell does a great job of describing the incredible, awesome, overwhelming love of God for us.  However I do have qualms with him, such as how he misquotes Martin Luther as if Luther was a closet universalist.  Carl Trueman, Departmental Chair of Church History at Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia, has written a length blog post on this very subject. See http://www.reformation21.org/articles/easy-virtues-and-cruel-mistresses.php.  Then again I disagree with Carl Trueman’s comparison of Love Wins with Dan Brown’s Da Vinci Code.  But disagreements are part of  a healthy theological conversation.

In an earlier post, I wrote that I have been rereading parts of C. S. Lewis.  When I finished Bell’s book, I discovered that he had a section for further reading.  His second reference is this: “On hell, see C. S. Lewis’s The Great Divorce.”  Later in the acknowledgments he thanks his parents for suggesting that while in high school he read C. S. Lewis.   I must agree.  I appreciate both writers, but the better IMHO is C. S. Lewis.  Next week I will move on to other topics.

What writer or artists has best help you see the magnificent love of God?

Images of Heaven

Is this a Scriptural Image of Heaven?

Since it is still snowing in Minnesota, I need a brief glimpse of “paradise” to give me hope.  Many of us tend to recreate the new heaven and earth in our own favorite images and struggle with the images that scriptures uses.   Rob Bell in Love Wins has a comical reference to this:

Think of the cultural images that are associated with heaven: harps and cloud and streets of gold, everybody dressed in white robes. (Does anybody look good in white robes? Can you play sports in white robes? How could it be heaven without sports? What about swimming? What if you spill food on the robe?)

All of our images of heaven are somewhat speculative since they are describing something beyond our present ability to comprehend.  All language is symbolic, especially when it comes to God.  C. S. Lewis wrote a wise sermon, called The Weight of Glory.  In it he categorizes the Scriptural images of heaven:

The promise of Scripture may very roughly be reduced to five heads.  It is promised, firstly, that we shall be with Christ; secondly that we shall be like Him; thirdly, with an enormous wealth of imagery, that we shall have “glory”; fourthly that we shall, in some sense, be fed or feasted or entertained; and, finally, that we shall have some sort of official position in the universe — ruling cities, judging angels, being pillars in God’s temple.  The first question I ask about these promises is: “Why any of them except the first?”  Can anything be added to the conception of being with Christ?  . . . . I think the answer turns again on the nature of symbols.

Lewis goes on to describe how we each turn our perception of “being with Christ,” into our own version of what friendship or camaraderie or human love is like here on earth.  Lewis concludes,  

The variation of the promises does not mean that anything other than God will be our ultimate bliss; but because God is more than a Person, and lest we should imagine the joy of His presence too exclusively in terms of our poor experience of personal love, with all its narrowness and strain and monotony, a dozen changing images, correcting and relieving each other, are supplied. 

What image of heaven most surprises or unsettles you?  What could that say about you?

I can’t lose.

Yesterday I posted on hell; not fun to write.  Today I promised heaven and wonder if it will be as difficult to create.   I certainly can write about “longing” for heaven. 

Life Wins!

Today a cold rain continues to fall with the promise of snow tomorrow.  The calendar says spring, yet my physical  surrounding says “not yet.”  I long for the green and warmth of spring, for the hope of life renewed.

I think yearning for heaven is an appetite within us.  C. S. Lewis wrote extensively about this yearning or desire in his autobiography, Surprised by Joy.   Lewis argued that just like a man in a desert longs for water, so we, as creatures made for heaven, yearn for God’s joyful presence.  This yearning is an indication that we are not just material creatures, but have a spiritual dimension.   How could this spiritual yearning have developed out of only material longings?  We are spiritual beings seeking our spiritual home.

 Rob Bell argues in Love Wins that Jesus came to reconnect heaven and earth.

What Jesus taught, what the prophets taught, what all of Jewish tradition pointed to and what Jesus lived in anticipation of, was the day when earth and heaven would be one. The day when God’s will would be done on earth as it is now done in heaven.  The day when earth and heaven will be the same place.  As it’s written at the end of the Bible in Revelation 21: “God’s dwelling place is now among people.”

Lewis and Bell both believe that Jesus accomplished the reconnection in his life, death and resurrection.  Though we do not fully experience heaven on earth, we do have a taste of the heavenly joy while living in this life.  We begin to become what God created us to be.   And in death we become even more alive in God.  Paul writes about this letter of joy, Philippians 2:21. “To live is Christ, and to die is to gain” or as Eugene Peterson translates it in the Message “Alive, I’m Christ’s messenger; dead, I’m his bounty. Life versus even more life! I can’t lose.”  

In what ways have you tasted heaven here on earth?

Intersecting Hell

Where do you dwell?

My recent readings have intersected.  I have been reading a series of lectures on C. S. Lewis by a Dr. Louis Markos as well as reading Rob Bell’s Love Wins: A Book about Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived.   Bell starts with Jesus’s word for hell, Gehenna.  Gehenna was an actual valley outside of Jerusalem that was used as the city dump, where fires burned constantly and animals gnashed teeth as they fought for scrapes.   Gehenna was not desirable real estate. 

Lewis wrote about hell in The Great Divorce.   His image of hell: dirty, grey mean streets of a city slum where it is always dusk and always raining.  Scholars think Lewis was using London during a smog alert.  (I might be tempted to use a picture of Minnesota in March, when snirt (snow/dirt) never leaves and spring never comes. )   Lewis’ basic definition of hell is the absence of God: where God says to those who reject Him, “your will be done.” 

 Both Bell and Lewis agree that hell is not only a destination to be avoided after death.  It can be our reality right now.  Hell emerges when we allow our sinful nature to dominate our lives.  It can be drugs, alcohol, ambition or greed.  Or it can be something simple like grumbling.   C. S. Lewis wrote,

Hell begins with a grumbling mood, always complaining, always blaming others . . . but you are still distinct from it. You may even criticize it in yourself and wish you could stop it. But there may come a day when you can no longer. Then there will be no you left to criticize the mood or even to enjoy it, but just the grumble itself, going on forever like a machine. It is not a question of God ‘sending us’ to hell. In each of us there is something growing, which will BE Hell unless it is nipped in the bud.

The Good News is that God has come to rescue us from hell.  Jesus’ life, death and resurrection carries all who believe into his kingdom of heaven.  Tomorrow I will post on their intersection in heaven.

Do images of hell help or hinder your faith in God?