Wednesday, March 30, 2011

For Further Reading

As a follow up to my last post, I just wanted to toss out some links for further reading.

While not writing about Rob Bell or Love Wins, the latest post on Craig Blomberg's blog, through Denver Seminary, offers insight to a belief in Hell. Blomberg is one of the leading New Testament scholars in the nation. He's also just pretty rad.

The second is a blog written my friend Dianna, who studied theology with me at USF. Dianna generally has a way of articulating the very thoughts jumbled around in my head in a much more patient, elegant way. Check it out.

Also, here's Rob Bell's introduction to his book. It's essentially him quoting a portion of the first chapter.


  1. Melisa! It's Jeff, your old buddy. I read all your blog posts and I very much look forward to reading your short stories. And I don't know what your view is on this(it could align with mine and you know I'm always right, all the time of course) but I have to say that Rob Bell is a charlatan. He is a charlatan in the way that Joshua Harris was a charlatan 15 years ago and the same way that Benny Hinn is a charlatan.

    Offering a belief system wherein all people who ever lived will experience eternal happiness in an invisible ether if they "embrace Jesus after they die or if they maybe kinda love Jesus unknowingly or if they kinda sorta exemplify Jesus in their daily lives" is nice and all, but it's utter nonsense. I mean, don't get me wrong, I would love to believe it, but the problem is it that is no different than other Christian theology as it relies on the existence of Jesus and thus negates anything pluralistic, or anything "love winning" that Bell would like to represent. Not to sound draconian, but at least people like Joshua Harris are unafraid to tell you where they stand, as in, all people are going to burn in everlasting pain in an invisible ether if they don't believe that a man died and came back to life some thousands of years ago.

    Don't get me wrong, I don't want to be lumping myself in with sociopaths like Joshua Harris. Personally, I believe it most reasonable to assume that it is "just darkness" after we die. In assuming that(I don't have to 'believe' anything), I don't have to worry about "maybe, possibly, kinda sorta, halfway, almost, believing Jesus" or, oppositely, having outright assurance that everyone who doesn't believe in the doctrine of "The Way" is going to a place of eternal suffering. I think it's a freeing way to live.

    And I think it's the kind of freedom Bell is reaching for in his book(I haven't read it! nice book review Jeff), but he can never get to that kind of "love based religion" still hinges on the existence of Jesus. Maybe he should have called the book, "Love Wins, but Sometimes Other Love Wins Too, Though, In the End it Will be Jesus' Love that Wins the Most, but Don't Worry, as Long as You're Pretty Good and Love Stuff, You'll Have a Chance at Eternal Happiness."

    Perhaps that's a bit wordy though.

  2. Jeffrey -

    It may be helpful to read his book before you spout off and call him a charlatan.

    My blog entry (linked above) gives a fuller picture of what Bell has to say, and places him in modern Christian tradition. What Bell actually says in the book is no different from what CS Lewis said in many, many of his works.

    If Bell's a charlatan, so is Lewis.


  3. Hi Dianna, nice to meet you. A friend of Melisa is a friend of mine so I hope we can be friends. As well, I apologize to Melisa if what I have done is "spout off." That said, please allow me to respond.

    In reference to your blog and your writing on Bell and his "sermon," as you put it, I did read it. Perhaps my post didn't clearly demonstrate this, but I am familiar with the modern emerging church and its theology, Miller, McLaren, others. And unless I am mistaken, Bell is expounding on their ethos, "Love wins," as they would say. Or, as I would posit, "We don't like being so black and white, like our modern Christian brethren are, the misogynist, draconian cretins like Marc Driscoll and Pat Robertson and Joshua Harris, but we still like the idea of there being a place of happiness after we die, so here's this opposite, more cuddly, theory on what happens."

    I am very familiar with it and it always made me uncomfortable. Again, the emerging Christian movement still relies on The Gospel, as you put it, and not just "love" in general. Yes, they borrow from the hedonistic-love is all you need-Energy Source tradition of thinking(which goes back far before Jesus' time) wherein no God is needed at all to achieve everlasting happiness when we die. They borrow, but theologically liberal minded ones always stop short. The prefer to add instead that "yes, it's important to have love, but not without Jesus because in this place of everlasting happiness, Jesus will be there, and yes, we all will be rejoicing with Him, because about 2000 years ago he died for you and rose from the dead and loves you more than anything." And if that is true, if Jesus really did do those things, than I find ourselves at an impasse again, and it actually brings me to your mention of Lewis.

    I don't know about your other readers, but I am familiar with The Great Divorce. I am also familiar with The Screwtape Letters, which, though it was written early in Lewis' career, is more indicative of what he is truly presenting(even if it is a satire) and it is this, "If you make choices on Earth, they will have consequences in a mystical afterlife."

    And that is where I am diverging from you Dianna, Lewis(who is the most commonly sited inspiration for all emerging theologians, followed closely by Chesterton and Buechner) is offering us something that is, at its core, similar to what any conservative preacher is going to tell you, "there is an invisible being, somewhere, and He is aware of each one of your actions. Be wary"

    Now, whether that means, as Bell offers, that even if we screw up and don't believe in Jesus the right way we may still be going to paradise with Him after all or, as a Driscoll type might offer, if you didn't believe in Him the right way here on earth, you're going to burn in sulfur. Either way, it's the same, He's up there and He's watching you.

    Furthermore, and not to digress too much, but isn't Lewis even more famous within theological circles for his trilemma? In where he states that Jesus was one of three distinct choices, Lord, Liar, or Lunatic?(I would offer a fourth L, Legend, but that's beside the point? Those three choices Lewis presents seem to very distinct to me and leave little room for movement. And it is that very movement which Bell craves and is searching and is trying to drag along every other searching Christian with him.

    To be completely honest, I hope Bell does find it. And when he does, I hope he writes that book and finally gives lost souls like me some answers. That would be better than just continuing to offer more questions, which is what the Christian faith, and all faiths for that matter, can ever offer.

  4. First, thanks, guys for reading and commenting.I really appreciate it.
    Second, I feel I should make some sort of contribution to your comments, but a feeble contribution it will most likely be, at least in the case of theological convictions. In fact, my lack of theological convictions is pretty vast, and thus, I think, where I'll start.
    Somehow, and I think by no small miracle, I am still a Christian. Many I know have either given up the Faith or never really paid any heed to it in the first place, and I can fully understand why. Somehow, I am not one of them, pretty much simply because I can't be. At least, when it comes down to the basic Christian belief of Father, Son, Spirit, I can't walk away. Not because at times I don't want to. My faith, at least at the core of a triune God and the physical body/death/resurrection of Jesus on Earth in first century Israel,stays with me whether I like it to or not. Outside of these basic doctrines,I'm pretty much out. There's a whole shopping mall of versions to choose from, and I've given up trying to choose. From what I can see, they pretty much serve to be divisive anyway.
    However, I can't help but think about them. Oh, Lord, how I wish I could!! So whether they be charlatans or the unknown voice of God, I end up paying attention to them and then fretting over them for far too long.
    I posted the last two posts pretty much simply because they echo stuff I can't help but wonder about, but am pretty much still out about, and have only a vague inclination to sort out. It makes me a piss poor theology student, I'm aware. (Fortunately, they already gave me the diploma.) :) Those of you more firm in your convictions, theological or a, I applaud you, and in some ways envy you. Me, however...for now I will attempt to be content in the notion that at the core, I can call myself a Christian, and will consent to leave it at that.

  5. Melisa - I'm with you in this. I don't have all the answers, and I don't care to, and I'm fine to leave it with the trust that Love wins out in the end.

    Jeffrey - Again, read his book. He is not a univeralist, and he does not propose that Hell does not exist. His main points are 1. Jesus didn't talk about Hell as much as modern American Christianity says he did. 2. Putting such an inordinate emphasis on Hell is a bad idea when it comes actually getting people to stick with the faith. 3. Hell is created by barriers WE put up between us and God, not from God banishing and punishing us (more on this in a minute). 4. There isn't an indication one way or the other that death is the end of our choices in life. 5. Hell exists, but there is not really anything to say that we don't have a choice after death and that the 13 year old who hasn't made a decision yet will suffer a punishment completely out of alignment with the crime (which is not justice). 6. In the end, God is a God of love, of forgiveness, of redemption and restoration - it's incredibly important to remember that God is all about restoration and redemption.

    On number 3: The point Bell touched on in his work that stuck out most to me is that God is the one punishing and sending us to Hell. What this does, in practical use, is it creates in the mind this separation between Jesus and the Father God. Jesus the Son died to save us from God the Father.

    This sort of theology draws a stark line through the middle of the Trinity, rending Father from Son. The message that gets translated is: "Jesus died to save us from his Father. Jesus died to save us both from himself and to himself."

    Which makes no sense, and creates an image of God as a vindictive character who, as you say, "is always watching," implied part being, "waiting for us to mess up."

    For me, personally, it creates a God I can't identify with. I see a Jesus in the Bible who spends most of his time talking about the poor, talking about how we treat our inferiors, and who actually spent his time with those who the religious leaders of the day despised. Then I walk into a church in America and I hear that this same Jesus is the Son of a vengeful, wrathful Father who..basically, wants to send his Son's friends to Hell. And that's untenable; it doesn't jive. And that's Bell's point - we're losing people from the faith, from the church, because we have put FAR too much emphasis on hell. And that's what I discussed in my blog.

    On the Lewis connection: I would suggest re-reading Screwtape. TSL does not, in fact, contradict any part of my thesis concerning Lewis' vision of Hell. Lewis believed that every decision we made was working to create either a heaven or a hell in our lives. This is evident in the way Screwtape instructs Wormwood in dealing with the patient's mother, or his discussion of how the Christian focuses on his neighbors. I'd suggest a re-reading, keeping an eye for how Lewis handles the patient's sense of free will and his relation to community.

    Did Lewis believe there was evil in this world? Oh yes. Did Lewis take care to separate the actions of evil from the actions of God? Oh yes. And that is where modern Christianity fails.

    If Lewis doesn't work for you, though, check out the works of Stanley Grenz, NT Wright, Jurgen Moltmann (particularly his works on death), and, oh hey, Karl Barth. And that's just going back to 1900. As I said, Bell is not alone in his responses - not answer, responses - to questions that have been in the Christian church for centuries.

  6. Dianna,

    If you were born in India, would you be a Hindu?

    Not trying to change the subject - I think your answer will be instructive and enlightening. I enjoyed your comments to Jeff and am curious where you stand.


  7. Matthew,

    In all likelihood, yes, depending upon what area of India (they also have a large Muslim population). Maybe I would have found my way to Christ eventually. Maybe not. It's more likely that I would have, had I been born in India, been raised as a Hindu, lived as a Hindu, and died as a Hindu. To some extent, we have to realize the accident of birth and determinism of location in our religious choices, which is why I can't say with certainty that all the choice we get is 70 or less years on earth. I simply can't.

    Hope that helps clarify things? Or maybe it just muddies the waters. Whichever.


  8. Thanks Dianna,

    You're right, I didn't reference the 13.4 percent of Muslims in India. The question would of course apply to any religious affiliation.

    You acknowledged your lack of true "choice" to be a Christian (given the accident of your birth and the determinism of your location).

    Of the approximately 6,775,000,000 people alive today, two-thirds are not Christians. What percent of that fraction do you think might make the right choice (and therefore be heaven-bound), before or after their 70+ years are up?

    (Note: no need to add the disclaimer that only God knows this. We can both agree to that fact. Just curious what your random gut feeling is. Please take a stab at it - I won't hold you to it.)

  9. Dianna,

    We need you. Please come back.

  10. Dianna disappeared, just when she was about to reveal the mysteries of salvation. Sad.

  11. Melissa,

    I didn't mean that to sound sarcastic - I had hopes for some additional insight into Dianna's theology. Sad that it seems we won't get to hear it.


  12. Ahahha, sorry 'bout that. I don't have follow up emails set up here.

    I'm really not sure how to answer your question there, Matthew, and really, that's not something I think about all the time. I'm much more into social justice action before evangelism, to be honest. People aren't going to want to listen to your testimony if their stomachs are growling, so I don't spend a lot of time thinking about soul-winning/conversion/numbers in that respect. I figured I can just love on people and let God do the rest, and that's my honest answer.