Reflections On “Love Wins”

Love Wins: A Book About Heaven, Hell and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived

Is Bell’s Universalism
Worse Than Calvin’s?

Rob Bell’s book, “Love Wins,” recently hit the market, or maybe I should say the fan, based on the maelstrom that followed. It’s really making people think.

Not “believe” but think and I’m certain that’s a good thing. Only a thinking person can believe, right?


Even before the book was released the flurry of accusations, disavowals and condemnations – proclaimed, of course, with “hear I stand” affirmations of Rob’s unquestionable infidelity – made one think the anti-Christ had surely arrived. And these responses were based on nothing more than a pre-release video ad.

The ad was provocative, yes, but not the basis for laying criminal charges.

That didn’t matter though. With little evidence and no identifiable crime, stake burning mobs began gathering.

And after the release? Whooooooooooa! The barrage of heated acrimonious remarks was enough to melt glaciers.

I try to avoid universal everybody’s-doing-it statements but it definitely seems like “everyone” took aim at Rob. For all the right reasons, naturally. I don’t doubt a few hangers-on will keep the firestorm fueled for some time to come.

The question is how do you make sense of all the noise?

Providing a list of every naysayer or attempting to analyze every contrary remark would take an endless amount of time so I won’t go there. I will, however, focus on one review for discussion purposes. The writer is Kevin DeYoung who is reformed (lower case “r” for me – talk more about that just now). His remarks are representative of the negative reactions so he is a good place to start.

His first response – I feel more might be coming – was posted on The Gospel Coalition and I will excerpt a few remarks to illustrate the presumptuous ranting manner in which Bell’s ideas are being attacked.

My purpose, by the way, is not to encourage anyone to agree or disagree with Bell or DeYoung. These two men don’t represent the opposite ends of the good vs evil spectrum. Thankfully, one isn’t absolutely right and the other absolutely wrong.

There are more than just two possible conclusions and according to what Bell said in the book he understands that. The problem is DeYoung doesn’t. He and those like him allow for no divergence on certain ideas and assume Bell must be “completely” wrong because he opened up discussion on ideas that are “absolutely” fixed. Like so many others, his write-up is laced with the language of assumed-understandings from beginning to end.

His title reads: “God Is Still Holy And What You Learned In Sunday School Is Still True…”

And to mimic Rob’s approach to such absolutist remarks…

Really? Which Sunday School is that? The American one, the English one, the Scottish one, the Irish one, the Italian one, the German one, the one in Switzerland or Spain or the Eastern Orthodox one? Was it the Stone Age one or the Iron Age one or the Middle Ages one?

Let’s be clear. From what I understand some of those Sunday schools agree with Bell.

Truth? DeYoung, like so many others, speaks from a very narrow, near history perspective – mostly opinion – and quotes people who endorse that perspective. I’m being generous to call it perspective, a word that implies a long broad view.

His introduction provides a very generalized, hazy rendering of Rob’s primary point and includes a summary of his accusations, on which he expands in the interminably long exposé that follows:

The theology is heterodox. The history is inaccurate. The impact on souls is devastating. And the use of Scripture is indefensible.

I’ll talk more about it later but for the record, long winded statements are typical of reformed teachers and there is good reason for it. The heart of their teachings is so irrational, illogical and flaky they resort to long drawn out twist-and-turn, hard-to-follow discussions just to give the appearance of intellectual superiority. Taking this approach diverts attention from their senseless confusion to what seems to be excessive cerebral activity.

Who can argue against that?

However, not only is the good news better than that, as Rob would say, it really isn’t so complicated either.

DeYoung repeats or alludes to his accusation points ad nauseam throughout the article but only as assertions. Any proof he offers is from people whose opinions mirror his. At one point he says:

If Bell is right, then historic orthodoxy is toxic and terrible. But if the traditional view of heaven and hell are right, Bell is blaspheming. I do not use the word lightly, just like Bell probably chose “toxic” quite deliberately. Both sides cannot be right.

Several thoughts come to mind, if you’re thinking:

  • Can’t both sides be wrong? DeYoung assumes he must be right if Rob is wrong. Even his use of terms like “historic,” “orthodoxy” and “traditional” assumes history is on his side, as if “truth” historically ran on only one track and it happens to be the one he is on. Sorry Mr. DeYoung. I’m not sure Rob is absolutely correct but it is certain you are neither absolutely right nor orthodox.
  • Therefore, his choice of the word “blaspheming” is silly if not stupid and typically ungenerous, arrogant even. Exactly what you would expect from someone with a toxic mindset.

“Blaspheme” doesn’t really apply anyway. We use it to characterize actions or words intended to impugn God’s name or affront His person. Bell might be attacking ideas but he clearly isn’t defying God. He believes the Bible and works from it not around it. However, in the heat of the moment, with so many egging him on, how could DeYoung resist.

The history DeYoung learned, which he assures us Bell got wrong, is an interpretation sanitized by the religious institutions of the American west, which not only trained him but continually monitor his acceptance.

Does anyone who knows how the system works think he can be entirely honest? Even publicly considering a different – not new – idea, would immediately trigger disbarment proceedings. His (their) interpretations of history and the Bible are “inspired” and therefore set. There is no room for discussion.

But, for me, here is the real issue. DeYoung is a dedicated “calvinist.” So dedicated in fact that his seminary peers referred to him as Calvin’s clone.

For those who may not be aware of it, calvinism – not the Bible – teaches that God preselected certain individuals to go to heaven while assigning everyone else to hell and these selections were made before the universe was created. In case you didn’t know, “calvinism” is slang for “reformed.” [Read more…]

The Devil Serves God Too!

If God is so powerful…how does the Devil exist?

This question was originally posed by an agnostic/atheist type (Agath) and sent to me by a Christian friend but it’s a little bit confusing. No explanation was offered so you have to analyze it a bit to get a handle on what is really being asked.

After reading the question, my first thought was, “why shouldn’t the Devil exist?” I know he’s not the nicest guy around and I don’t like him any more than the next person but does that constitute a reason to X him out?

And, yes, God does have the power to dispose of him but if God were to annihilate him, who else should He blot out and by what rule would He decide who goes and who stays? Should I expect Him to eliminate every person I don’t particularly like?

Quite honestly, I’ve never met the Devil or tangled with him directly – at least not that I know of – but I could give you a long list of people who have aggravated me to no end. What about them? Should they be on the death list also?

Aside from personal issues, however, what other reasons could justify the Devil’s elimination? Should we expect God to blot out any person who does wrong and, if so, aren’t we all in danger? No one is entirely without sin so everyone could be on the list. Solomon said…

“There is not a just man upon earth that does good and sins not.” (Ecclesiastes 7:20)

And only an argumentative or delusional soul would disagree with that point.

So the next question is, would we expect God to exterminate only those who commit particularly egregious crimes and, if so, who gets to decide where acceptable crimes end and egregious ones begin?

Obviously, Agath’s original question spawns many more sub queries making it difficult to fully resolve the issue. Maybe before we demand God eliminate the Devil’s miserable soul we should take a look at what the Bible actually says him. And the first observation to note is… [Read more…]

Natural Disasters – God’s Fault?

Is It Reasonable To Expect
God’s Omni-Capabilities
To Override Natural Law

A friend recently sent me an email posing an assortment of questions about miracles. The questions originally came from an agnostic/atheist type (Agath) – my friend is neither – and were intended to discredit God and belittle believers.

A summary of each question is included for your reference. I summarized them because unedited they were quite long but I was careful to retain the essence:

  1. If God is omniscient, omnipotent and omnipresent, as the Bible claims, why does He allow people to die in floods and tsunamis or children to die of cancer?
  2. Why are miracles reported less frequently and in fewer numbers in modern times?
  3. If God is so powerful why does the Devil exist?
  4. Why are the Ten Commandments so shallow/narrow? Why do the commandments say nothing about children’s rights, mathematics or the internet?
  5. Why doesn’t God heal amputees (restore lost limbs)? Why does God only heal things that have a statistical possibility of healing on their own, e.g., cancers?
  6. Doesn’t the conflict between Christian, Muslim and Jewish beliefs cancel each other out? If one is right wouldn’t the others be considered atheists?

I can’t say whether Agath is genuinely open to real answers or not but he apparently won’t accept fluff. According to my friend “God works in mysterious ways” won’t do, hence this post.

Disasters, Diseases And Miracles – Accusations vs Issues

I’ll discuss only the first two questions in this article. The others will come later but since the first two are closely related and Agath offered an answer for each they seemed like a good place to start. [Read more…]

Sovereign Choice: Jacob And Esau

Calvinism Implies God
Is Partial

Unfortunately, God’s dealings with Jacob and Esau are often used to bolster the claims of Calvinism, the idea that God elects certain people for salvation and sends everyone else to hell. Admittedly, God made three very interesting statements relative to these two men that on the surface seem to support a Calvinistic view.

This post, however, is written in an effort to rethink Jacob and Esau and offer a different perspective. It isn’t a final answer on God’s sovereignty but is a different interpretation on these two fellows and God’s relationship to them.

It is my contention that the names “Jacob” and “Esau” were used, in most cases, as references to nations not individuals. In other words, the name of the person, Jacob, is used to represent his posterity, Israel.

And this isn’t just my opinion. Interchanging related words in this manner is a well accepted rhetorical device – otherwise known as metonymy – which is often used in the Bible. Most references to “Jacob” and “Esau” are references to their descendants and that is particularly true in Romans 9.

Figures of speech aside, however, you don’t have to be grammatically astute to recognize that any direct statement to or about “Jacob,” after the death of the man, in every case is a reference to his descendants.

Most references fall into that category. The conversation with/about Jacob and Esau, lasted almost two millennia. Obviously, most of what God had to say was said after they were dead.

What that means is, God’s choice of and discussions about Jacob or Esau was national. It was focused on the larger picture. He was choosing a community, a nation to work with. He was selecting Jacob’s posterity not just Jacob and this choice had nothing to do with personal, individual salvation.

Now, with that understanding in mind let’s note some facts and make some general observations about the Romans 9 passage.

God made the following critical statements:

  • The elder (Esau) will serve the younger (Jacob). Genesis 25:23 and Romans 9:12
  • I have loved Jacob but Esau have I hated. Malachi 1:2-3 and Romans 9:13
  • I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion. Exodus 33:19 and Romans 9:15

Although all three statements were repeated in Romans 9 they were originally recorded in the Old Testament and were separated by hundreds of years.

  • The conception of Jacob and Esau, 1800 BC (+/-). Genesis 25
  • The Exodus, 1400 BC (+/-). Exodus 33
  • The Book of Malachi, 400 BC (+/-). Malachi 1.

Paul added some explanatory remarks to these statements which seem to further endorse Calvinistic ideas:

  • Paul said God’s choice of Jacob over Esau was based on His elective purpose.
  • He pointed out that this choice was made before the boys were born and, therefore, before they had done anything good or evil.
  • He said the choice was based on mercy and not human desire or effort – not of him that willeth or runneth.

Everyone admits these statements were made in the context of Romans 9. Not everyone accepts the Calvinistic interpretation imposed on them. I offer the following arguments as the basis for a different opinion. [Read more…]

Unrestricted Choice? Don’t Kid Yourself!

Choosing Not To Choose
Is A Choice

“Choice” has been relevant to every person in every era and is part of everyone’s daily life. You can’t get out of bed in the morning without making choices.

Life’s pathway is not pre-scripted. Moving from start to finish involves many electives and the ultimate outcome for each person is the sum of those choices.

Unfortunately, choice-making isn’t fun and games. The difficulties associated with the exercise was illustrated best in Hamlet’s “to be or not to be” speech and every major philosopher has added their two cents as well. Clever sayings abound.

Choices are the hinges of destiny.

Attributed to both Edwin Markham and Pythagoras

Hindsight is 20/20

Author unknown.

And choices come in all shapes and sizes: easy, obvious, hard, intentional, blind, well thought out and so on.

You really can’t escape it. You can ignore the issue but that requires a choice, a poor one. You can choose to rely on “chance” or live “under” the circumstances but that is like choosing not to choose.

“Choice” is an essential part of human nature and history shows that it cannot be bound. Humans go places, do things, learn through experience, expand their understanding, overcome obstacles and become qualified, and all of this growth is fueled by choice. One way or another humans will exercise their abilities to choose.

Unquestioned Authority Opposed

“Choice” is the reason the Protestant Reformation came about. People refused to accept what they were told without explanation or obey bastions of authority unquestioningly. Trading our ability to reason for blind compliance is a choice human nature doesn’t easily swallow.

During the reformation the idea that authority was right simply because it was authority was rejected. Society came to realize that no one has the right to think, believe or understand for the rest of us and they chose to protest.

Tradition Rejected

The Modernist and Post Modern eras began in the mid 19th century and are characterized by the tendency to question traditional ideas in every form: religion, politics, art, and on every level. No ideas are considered sacred.

The individual became more significant and personal taste, feelings, perspectives or inclinations became dominant factors in the choices we made. The democratic approach in the extreme.

“Individualism,” the ultra antithesis of tradition, does more than just question tradition. It endorses and encourages unbounded free thinking. Now we attempt to move the boundaries to accommodate whatever choices a person happens to make.

The fixed values of tradition are no longer accepted only because “it has always been done that way.” Everything is subject to individual inspection.

The Question

But the question is: just because authority and tradition are no longer seen as guiding lights must all the choices they recommend also be recategorized?

Because authority figures couldn’t give reasonable explanations or didn’t allow for individual tastes does that mean the choices they recommended were wrong?

Should we throw out recommended choices or would it be better to vigorously investigate the reasons behind these choices? [Read more…]