Monthly Archives: March 2011

Rob Bell Live: Love Wins?

Last night I attended Rob Bell Live, which was an interview by his publisher for the release of his book Love Wins. I went on a tweet binge dialoguing his thoughts and wanted to share my opinion from being there. I’m glad I was there. It was a mixture of supporters & dissenters, people who enjoyed the way Rob describes his ideas & those who have no idea if he even said anything even though he answered questions for an hour.

His book is about “Heaven, Hell and the fate of every person who ever lived” according to the subtitle. I have not read the book, but I’ve read plenty about it. Kevin DeYoung has a thorough review of the book, which I would recommend because he quotes directly from the book and evaluates it with scripture.

According to many reviews & alluded to in video interviews prior to the release, Rob Bell argues, discusses, or converses that because God is love, ultimately everyone will be in heaven, whether they figure out how to get there in their present life or if they eventually see the beauty of God after they die and come into “the party” post-mortem.

Since I haven’t read the book, I want to focus specifically on the interview.

The interview was put on by his publisher, Harper Collins, who used one of their other authors, Lisa Miller, as the interviewer. Lisa did a good job of asking pointed questions and attempting to keep Rob Bell on task & even tried to point out a contradiction of his. She also asked really difficult questions. You can read some of the transcript here.

The interview started by Lisa asking Rob “Are you a universalist?” Rob said no, but then proceeded to redefine universalist so he didn’t fit the definition. I highlight this because this is kind of how the night went. Rob would be asked a question, he would use poetic language to bring up the complexity of the question, tell a story about his church or people he interacts with and then leave the question with more confusion & complexity. Some of what he said was true, a lot of what he said left the question unanswered or at best fuzzy in definition.

I left thinking, the church could learn a lot from Rob Bell, but there’s no way he and I read the same bible.

What the church should learn from Rob Bell?

His love for people truly impacts him. The stories he told were more than smoke screens to the questions, he genuinely cares for people. All too often the church has not empathized with people who ask difficult questions, questions that confront orthodox beliefs, or people whose personal tragedies and difficulties often cause them to question God. Unfortunately, Rob’s empathy appears to have led him to redefine God to make people feel better, rather than pointing to the truth about God in the scriptures who desires to heal, who loves people passionately, as evidenced by Christ laying down His life for our sins.

Questions are ok, but uninformed answers are not. Rob Bell asks questions that our world is asking, & they are difficult. They are questions about how a loving God can punish people, how can God help people who deal with cutting themselves, etc. Unfortunately, the church can be seen as a place where you have to at least pretend to be perfect to be a part of it, instead of a place where you can ask tough questions, share some of the messiness of your life, and explore with a community answers & solutions.

Rob Bell’s answers are poetic, but uninformed by scripture & consist of new definitions of love, heaven, & hell that veer from the bible, church history, & most evangelical churches. The church needs to be more comfortable with difficult questions, compassionate when they answer them, and informed by the scriptures that point to a loving God in Jesus Christ.

Storytelling communicates ideas in really effective ways. Rob Bell is an excellent communicator, diffuses audiences with humble statements, and connects his ideas to the human heart through personal storytelling & poetic language. The church is often great at communicating head knowledge and even hand-knowledge (how to apply it), but has had difficulties articulating truth to profoundly impact the human heart. As Jesus used parables to provide convicting & profound truths that pierced & inspired hearts, the church could learn from Rob Bell’s current communication styles, yet follow Jesus in using them to exalt God. Language matters and Rob’s poetic language connects with the creative class & the church should not abandon his use of poetic language or storytelling, but redeem it.

What bible is he reading?

Rob Bell referenced and quoted scripture in the answers he gave to some of the questions. Unfortunately, they were picked out of context to best prove his point. He redefined hell as something we experience now when we choose greed or other evil ways, heaven as something we experience now when we choose peace and generosity. While there is an already experience of what heaven, or God’s kingdom, will be like, it is ultimately experienced when Christ returns as the scriptures clearly indicate a heaven with Jesus & a hell with punishment.

When asked if God could be both love & just, he does not point to the cross where Romans 3 says that God is just (punishing sin through Jesus’ death) & the justifier (saving people in love) for those who have faith in Jesus. He didn’t even talk about Jesus & the cross, he spoke about a tension of justice & love, references a “city with gates that never shut” in Rev. 21 showing that God wants everyone to be saved, but then ignores Rev. 22 that there will be people outside of the city.

Rob Bell ended the night by saying he is not a scholar or theologian. Unfortunately when you write 5 books about your views on God, you will be seen as such whether you want to be or not. Besides, we are all theologians (people with beliefs about the nature of God), we are either good theologians or bad ones.

What I left with

I left disappointed.

Hell is and never will be popular, it doesn’t sound like good news or that a loving God has anything to do with hell when it becomes a topic to be addressed on its own. But God isn’t just waiting to send everyone to hell, and we know this because of Jesus. But Rob Bell didn’t talk about a Jesus who died for us, he talked about a Jesus who modeled life for us. There’s more to the story than people heard from Rob last night.

Jesus put on flesh to walk this world as a human, to live the life we were supposed to live before God, to die the death, pay our penalty, accept our punishment for our sins, and resurrected by the power of God to give us His righteousness by the power of the Holy Spirit. And the good news is that’s given to us by grace through faith in Jesus Christ as Lord.

I left with a desire to have more compassion on everyone & a desire for that compassion to lead me to share Jesus’ life, death, & resurrection with them because that is where love wins, not in the re-imagining of God to make people feel better.

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6 months ago, God sold my house

We’ve been in NYC for almost 6 months now and it has been truly amazing. I still have moments where I walk around the city marveling at the fact that this is my home. We are thankful the transition has been so smooth and I’m personally thankful to be serving as a pastor with a great community. It has been a challenging, encouraging, and an immensely growing experience.

Yesterday was Ash Wednesday, but it also marked the 6 month mark of when we closed on our house. When we put our house on the market on June 24th last year, we prayed for 2 things. 1) That God would sell our house & 2) that God would bring people into our home that loved our neighbors as much or more than we did. If I’m honest, my main prayer was for the sale, but I had seen houses turnover on our street to people who did not care for the neighborhood, and I didn’t want to see that happen.

Only 2 people looked at the house in the first month, so things were not looking good. So we decided to have an Open House and that’s the day that God decided to answer both prayers and sold our house.

We had sold a lot of our stuff and had decided to use the cash to escape the stress of selling a home to go to Sea World during the Open House, but immediately after getting on the freeway, we discovered we didn’t have the cash. As we turned down our street to return and get the cash, there was someone pulling a flyer from our For Sale sign. We waited cautiously as they exited the cul-de-sac, but I waved them down and informed them about the Open House that would be starting in 15 minutes. Inside the car, 2 couples responded that they would return.

We decided to wait for our realtors, but at the start time of the Open House, they were not there, but the car we had just seen had just pulled up. Frantically & a little frustrated by the situation, I called the realtors & we came to the conclusion that I would be opening the house and letting them look at it while the realtors were on their way. I let them in and waited anxiously across the street. When they came out, my wife lovingly said “Go sell our house!”

I approached the 2 couples and began to talk to them about the house, our history in the neighborhood, why we loved it, a little about the neighbors, etc. I discovered that one couple was living close by in Round Rock & the other visiting from Dallas. They had mentioned that they had seen the house online & loved it, that it looked spectacular (all my lovely wife’s doing) and wondered why and where we were moving.

I shared with them about New York City & the opportunity to become a pastor at a church there. The couple from Dallas asked what church and we soon discovered that they had recently heard JR, lead pastor at Apostles, preach at their church in Dallas, the Village. We then discovered the wife of the couple from Round Rock knew Amber’s old roommate who worked at the Village since she had moved from Dallas.

We immediately began discussing our local church involvement and began to see that we were very like minded in our desire to love our neighbors as Jesus had loved us. They said they had been praying for a place where the previous owner had cared for their neighbors (see prayer #2 above) and hoped to continue caring and loving the neighbors well. They asked when we had planned on moving, to which I replied that we would be moving when we sold our house. They said “Well, hopefully we can help you out with that.” About that time, our realtors arrived and exchanged information. A little while later we finished talking and headed our separate ways.

On our return trip from Sea World, we received a call with an offer on our house from the couple we had just met. The next day, we had accepted the offer. Over the course of the next month we sold over half of our stuff, talked to the future owners about the house & neighborhood, we met them for dinner & then on Sept. 9th, we closed on the house.

The circumstances of the day were not merely a matter of fate, but a clear work of God to sell our house. We were sad to leave our home, we had started our family there, made friends with our great neighbors, and loved the community. But we left knowing the family that was replacing us would love our house, our neighbors, and our community even better than we did.

Because of that, I’m thankful that 6 months ago, God sold my house.

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