If you go online and type in Love Wins, you will get host of blogs, articles and reviews. I don’t need to add to the noise to it, but wanted to follow-up on this book since I mentioned it in the sermon on March 20. As I said in the sermon, “His peers have called him a Universalist, a Heretic, or the worst possible insult, a Mainline Protestant like us.” The story I told was of an interview between Martin Bashir and Rob Bell (the author of the book), and you can watch the clip on YouTube if you like: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Vg-qgmJ7nzA
Also, before I make any other comments on Bell’s book, I want to lift up the work of a friend, colleague and classmate from Luther Seminary, who serves as Pastor of Good Shepherd Lutheran Church in Fayetteville, Arkansas. Pastor Clint Schneckloth is insightful as he is poignant and has a great blog I recommend reading called Lutheran Confessions: http://lutheranconfessions.blogspot.com/p/about.html
On Sunday, Clint gave his own review of the book, which I also recommend reading, titled, “NO DOG IN THE FIGHT”: http://lutheranconfessions.blogspot.com/p/about.html
“The reason I say I don’t have a dog in the fight is because Lutherans (or at least the kind of Lutheranism to which I subscribe and confess) simply doesn’t think about salvation and heaven and hell in the way the evangelical world does.”
I think his assessment is true. Here is my favorite part of his idea of what to believe, think and do about it:
“We (Lutheran Christians) preach election. If you wonder whether you are saved or not, let me say to you again, “You are justified by faith in Christ.” Then, the very word you hear has power because it is the word of God, and creates faith (in the Spirit) where there wasn’t faith. Which is to say, the solution to the problem of the fate of every person on earth is to preach the gospel. God’s word will really do something. If you ask, What about those who haven’t heard the gospel yet? I ask in response, why don’t you go tell them they are just, for Jesus’ sake? I bet they’d love a bit of good news. To which you say, But are they saved? To which I say, Why don’t you go tell them they are. Better yet, why don’t we go together and tell them!”
I believe that is really the crux of the matter. If we are left to our own devices to choose God or ourselves, we choose ourselves. Yet God gives us a Word from outside ourselves that not only takes us to task, but also gives salvation to us. Luther called that the Law and the Gospel. This Word comes not as dogmatic system or a Bible verse to quote verbatim, not as a prayer to recite or a ritual to enact, nothing that we do or don’t do to earn that Word or make it happen. God’s Word is a gift, a pure gift. God gives us a living Word that raises us from the dead, that is, our heavenly Father gives us Jesus, the Word himself. Through the Spirit God blows faith into us to believe it, because on our own, well, we are in serious trouble.
I’m not going to disagree with my friend that we have no dog really in this fight, but will expand on his last comment that says, “We are walking different dogs, but we are walking in the same dog park.” Here are a couple of reasons I think we should join the conversation, and let the dogs play together a little bit.
1. Evangelicals play a very significant role in American culture at present. Perhaps in the same way that we Mainline Christians used to enjoy but somehow advocated over the last fifty years, they are on the top of media outlets, politics, and cultural understandings of what Christians believe, think and do. (Perhaps Lutherans never truly enjoyed that place, but that is another topic for another time.) From an outsider’s perspective that has no relationship with Christianity, Evangelicals seem to be the mouthpiece for Christians in America, and where we can agree, disagree, and clarify our own confession of faith, we should do just that, respectfully of course, for the greater mission of the church.
2. We should preach, teach and confess what we think, believe and practice about these things. For the same reason that outsiders look to Evangelicals for answers, a great many insiders do too. That is not to say what they are saying is wrong, but different Christians often use the same words to mean different things, or go about similar things in different ways, and if we are not clear on our own word usage, starting places, or practices, how can we engage thoughtfully, carefully, and faithfully?
3. Love Wins is a significant book. That is not to say that 100 years from now people will still be talking about it or that it will be chronicled in the library of Christian classics. But I have not seen a Christian book with this much buzz around it since Rick Warren’s, Purpose Driven Life of a few years ago (2002), and it is not a bad thing to have at least some contact with it – whether you agree, disagree or find yourself somewhere in the middle about it. Your friends in other churches might have some contact with it too, and to be able to have something to talk about is rarely a bad thing. Rob Bell is pastor of a large church in Michigan, and will likely be around a long time (he is a few years older than I am). A generation ago it would have been worth knowing at least who Billy Graham was, let alone what he said and did. I suspect Bell will be that kind of person in years to come. Different to be sure, but as culturally significant a figure.
So that is it. Even if you never pick up the book, or read its contents, the title is great. Love Wins.
I will leave you with a quote from the book,
“We believe all sorts of things about ourselves. What the gospel does is confront our version of our story with God’s version of our story. It is a brutally honest, exuberantly liberating story, and it is good news. It begins with the sure and certain truth that we are loved. That in spite of whatever has gone horribly wrong deep in our hearts and has spread to every corner of the world, in spite of our sins, failures, rebellion and hard hearts, in spite of what’s been done to us or what we’ve done, God has made peace with us. Done. Complete. As Jesus said, ‘It is finished.’ We are now invited to live a whole new life without guilt or shame or anxiety.” (Rob Bell, Love Wins: A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Has Ever Lived. [New York: HarperOne, 2011], 171-172.)
Or to put in language we can understand, “You are just for Jesus sake.”
Let us remind one another of that Word and cling to it forever and always,
P.S. Many thanks to Pastor Clint Schneckloth for your ongoing thoughtfulness. Keep writing Clint!
“You did not choose me, but I chose you. And I appointed you to go bear fruit, fruit that will last.” (John 15:16).