Well, here we are again, how is everyone?
Just thought I'd take this chance to expound a bit on my previous rant concerning Rob Bell and friends newest books. I'm not going to write a thorough critique seeing as others already have and have done a far better job than I could have. I have recommended one in particular in my initial post, so check it out if you haven't already.
Instead, I am simply going to take what I find to be Bell's most basic error and respond as best I can. Then, in my next post, I'll give some other thoughts concerning the Church in general today. Hopefully it will tie in with this post a bit.
At the start of Bell's book, he says that his starting point where he builds the book is the fact that God is love. Sounds good right? How could one disagree? The very title of the book is disarming. Clearly, if you say anything negative about a book with a title so positive, you can't be a loving person. This is definitely the vibe one gets after a thorough reading of the book.
I find that there is one common feature in pretty much all Emergent Liberal literature. That would be the false dichotomy fallacy. Have any of you ever taken a basic philosophy class, or heard the basic fallacies? You may have also heard it referred to as the false dilemma or the false choice. You will often feel forced, while reading many of these leaders, to choose between two absolutes. Either Christianity is a matter of the mind or it is a matter of the heart. Either faith is just a dead set of beliefs, or it is a living breathing lifestyle. Either we are to be hateful bigots towards homosexuals, or we are to openly embrace their lifestyle. Either Church is a meaningless, religious, exclusive institution, or it is an all inclusive, all loving, never judging family that makes no issue with what you believe.
You will often find yourself forced to one of two sides after finishing one of these books. It's ironic that a movement whose goal is to be so inclusive and gracious ends up making some of the most exclusive claims of all. They are so convinced that the strong assertion of a particular doctrinal truth at the expense of another is a terrible mistake, that they exclude all those who would make them.
At the root of "Love Wins" we find yet another of these false dilemmas. Either God is love and would never be glorified by someone being sent to hell for eternity, or he is a vindictive tyrant who is gracious one moment, yet cruel and condemning the next. How can one reconcile such different pictures? Bell seems to think you can't. Hell could never bring him glory. If he desires all to be saved and all are not, then he's clearly not sovereign. Therefore a sovereign God who is love would obviously take the time to soften every heart. Real love would never put an expiration date on our choices.
There's his point in a nut shell. As I said in the last post where I wrote about this, many may think I'm oversimplifying his thoughts. If you are unconvinced, then by all means read the book. It is never my desire to scare you away from any writer. I would much prefer you read what I refer to so that you can better appreciate my critiques... whether you agree with them or not.
So what is my response to this dilemma as set up by "Love Wins"? I will simply begin by pointing out a thought that I had while at work yesterday. It was spurred on by some thoughts from a recent conversation I had with Stacy Cline from Elim Bible Institute. How does one classify love? Everyone knows that there are different kinds. There is brotherly love. There is romantic love etc. Not only that, but love is expressed by different people in different ways. Don't worry, I'm not simply going to say that one of the ways that God expresses love is by sending people to Hell. That would be cheap. Rather, I want to point out that all love, whoever it is expressed by, is subject to a greater and more primary attribute of the person who expresses it. Love that is not submitted to another attribute has no definition.
What I am saying is that Rob Bell's foundational thesis to his book is flawed. You cannot start with the assertion that God is love, in spite of the fact that it is explicitly mentioned in scripture. Before you say that God is love, his love needs definition. What is God's primary goal? What is his primary attribute?
Simply stated, everything was created for the glory of God. That is his goal, and that is our chief end. Do a word search of the phrase "glory of God" in a Bible program and you'll be shocked at how prevelant it is. Secondly, what is God's primary attribute? I propose that it is his holiness. God is love, certainly, but he is Holy as well. Not only is he called Holy in scripture, he is called Holy, Holy Holy. Yet, when he is called "love," the word "love" is stated once.
Three is a number of perfection, and his love which is very real, is subject to this perfect holiness. That is the pressing question that determines the narrative of the entire Bible. How can a holy God dwell among an unholy people? This explains the fall of man. This explains the need for sacrifice which is ultimately expressed in Christ. God's love is therefore defined by his holiness. The only love that wins, as Kevin DeYoung says, is holy love. God shows wrath toward that which is unholy, therefore showing justice. He shows love towards that which he makes holy.
When love is placed in our minds as God's primary attribute, it can take on any form we like. When it is subject to his holiness, we take on the form that he likes. Think about it. Love in a marriage relationship is subject to the marriage partner's faithfulness. Yet, if love is the primary attribute of the marriage, what's to stop the married couple from loving a number of other partners? Wouldn't that all be love too? Certianly, but it wouldn't be love of the nature that creates a marriage. What about the love between a mentor and a pupil? Isn't it subject to the attribute of trust? What if the mentor shared his wisdom with any kid who approached him on the street? Would that be love? Sure, but not the love that makes the mentor/student relationship unique.
Real love, in all it's forms, is made real by it's boundaries, not it's universality. Does God love the world? Sure. But he loves his church because they are the bride of his son. He is perfectly justified in judging in any way he sees fit. Yet, when his love is bound by nothing but our own biases, we get to form God's right's of judgment into whatever we see fit.