Better late than never I almost never say but…
I just finished Rob Bell’s book, A Book About Heaven, Hell, and The Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived: LOVE WINS, and want to add my two cents to the review type conversations the book stirred up. LOVE WINS is definitely post-modern both in style and content which stylistically this old lady English teacher had a little trouble embracing. Yet both made it a fairly quick read. (I came to the table late because I was in the middle of the end of school: final projects for me and concerts, award banquets, performances, and picnics for my children).
Half way through LOVE WINS I began scratching my head, “Is this really what all the hullabaloo was about?” I mean if a bunch of evangelical preachers were not jealous of the fact that Bell pastors a congregation of 10,000 people would they have even read his book? Nothing Bell wrote is particularly earth shattering. Personally, I have seen most of his points, and their counterpoints, all of the scripture references, many of the story interpretations, and very similar examples in multiple blogs and on-line dialogues since 2006 when I joined the conversation. And, I know 2006 was not the beginning of any conversation.
Post-modernism hit the art world nearly a half century ago. The evangelical world is just now experiencing the shift. The reason they are only now figuring out that something has changed is that while Institutionalized Christianity has experienced a slow leak for years, AKA people have been walking out the door, that leak was always written off by the institution as “the back slidden”. Lately, as in the past fifteen to twenty years, those outside the Building have reached large enough numbers and net worked with one another enough to know for most their “faith” is still somewhat intact. God was not left in the building. Compassion for the widows and orphans was not left in the building. Relationship was not left in the building. An understanding of sin and evil and pain and suffering was not left in the building. In fact, for most of us who left the building these details of our faith were more easily found outside the building.
Personally, I think Bell himself more so than his book is what unnerves traditional evangelical leadership. I could be wrong. I have never been to Mars Hill, the fellowship he pastors. I do not actually know how it functions. But, the things I have read and the stories I have heard excite me. When a Sunday morning offering can be winter coats for kids who do not have adequate clothing my ears perk up and my heart skips a beat. Those kinds of stories give me hope that God truly is going to build His Church. When I left the particular building I was a part of I left legalism and a controlling religious spirit. I left a male dominated expression of Christianity that sees others (outside of leadership) as less than. I suspect Bell’s hold on his fellowship is considerably less tight which is probably what really got him “in trouble” with his fellow pastors.
As vehemently as traditional evangelicals say science does not have the answers, they themselves cling to the modern scientific method as a means to define and defend their version of the Christian faith. Bell may fit the evangelical definition of heretic. But for the post-modern heretic has become the predictable punchline in the evangelical comedy hour. Majoring on personal morality and believing the correct doctrines the Institutional Church has taken on the role of the Pharisee. But, no matter how they choose to couch it–The Bible says. Scripture is clear. We have believed the same thing for 2000 years–our finite minds cannot comprehend the absolute truth of an infinite God. Bell not only acknowledges but embraces that limitation to our understanding and in so doing comfortably invites more voices to the table.
If his book is any indicator, the most frightening part for traditional evangelicals is that Bell understands the post-modern mind-set and is not opposed to it. Nor does he find any reason for Christianity to be opposed to it. As far as I can determine, Bell does not see his role as pastor to be that of fun police or keeper of the Book. Instead, I think Bell sees his role as pastor as part messenger–love wins–part care taker–walk it out. Bell’s on-line messages and Nooma videos are meaty and challenging. Like many of Christ’s parables, Bell’s stories, illustrations, and books pose questions. He expects us to consider them, wrestle with them, and then act accordingly. He encourages us to focus our attention outside ourselves, our methods, and our thinking, and he asks us to trust God. Actions speak louder than words, for Bell. And his actions and the corporate actions of his fellowship are worth watching. Bell does not insist anyone take his word for anything but rather he expects each of us to own our own faith and then walk it out–today, tomorrow, and the next day.
The overall message of Bells book: GOD’S LOVE WINS. And to the degree we embrace His love as we walk out our faith we also choose between heaven and hell.