Summary of “Love Wins” by Rob Bell

Let me first say I know very little about Rob Bell. I’ve watched a couple of minutes of a NOOMA video, and that’s about it. Then the promo for Love Wins came out, and I was intrigued. I say this to say I am not a big Bell fan defending him because I think he’s so great. My point in writing this is to say that he is not advocating universalism. Feel free to slam him for his beliefs, just don’t slam him for those beliefs (which he denies) that are attributed to him by others.

I read the book this morning and wrote a summary on Facebook, and I have been getting friend requests all day by people who have wanted to read it, so I am posting it here:

So I know some of you have spent some blog time and Facebook time discussing Rob Bell’s possible universalism. I just finished Rob Bell’s Love Wins for those of you who don’t want to take the time to read it. What’s he believe? What’s debatable? I’ll hit the big points. I also have 7-8 quotes from his book that I sent over from my Kindle. You can find them on my wall if you want to read Bell’s words.

1. Jesus alone saves. People are not saved by their belief or their works, but through Jesus.

2. God’s will will be done on earth as it is in heaven. The Gospel will transform the world on this side of heaven/Resurrection. (Bell is here strongly influenced by NT Wright’s Surprised By Hope.)

3. Hell exists, and people experience it by their free will both here on earth and in the afterlife.

4. The gates of the heavenly city are open, and people can come when they choose life instead of death. This also goes for those who have died outside of Christ. After death, we can still choose Christ. He leaves open the possibility that all will eventually leave Hell for Christ, but doesn’t think it likely because some will continually choose Hell.

5. Many who did not consciously confess Christ on earth, including those from other religions, will be with Christ in Heaven/Resurrection. They did well with what God gave them, and they will come to the Father through Jesus.

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Lent and Death

Something Rachel and I wrote as filler for the church newsletter, but we didn’t end up needing the filler:

For most people, Lent is about what they have to give up. It is a season of monotony where we yearn desperately to wear our new Easter clothes and hunt for plastic eggs. But Lent is so much more. Lent is a special time, set apart by the Church, to accept the reality that we do just about everything we can to ignore, escape, and evade God. All the while, God calls us to die to ourselves so that we may live to Him. For the Church, Lent is a time in the rhythm of life in which we concentrate on dying to ourselves. We practice this self-denial through the Christian disciplines of repentance, meditation, prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. As we die with Christ each day, the goal is that the pattern of Jesus’ life—death to self—becomes the pattern of ours – that, like Jesus, we will journey into the wilderness and utter the words, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Mt. 4:4).

If we learn to slow down the whirlwind of life and realize its powerlessness over us, monotony will be transfigured into peace. Sadness will be transfigured into a realization that we must recover what we have lost, what is all around us and yet so distant—God’s presence.

Some of us choose to give something up for Lent, whether it’s chocolate, television, or some other luxury we normally enjoy. All of us should take on new or additional disciplines – like the traditional practices of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. The point of this is not to punish ourselves, nor is it to be “super spiritual.” The point is acknowledging that we must die—to live. Alexander Schmemann once wrote,

“We simply forget all this – so busy are we, so immersed in our daily preoccupations – and because we forget, we fail. And through this forgetfulness, failure, and sin, our life becomes ‘old’ again – petty, dark and ultimately meaningless – a meaningless journey toward a meaningless end. We manage even to forget death and then, all of a sudden, in the midst of our ‘enjoying life’ it comes to us: horrible, inescapable, senseless.”

And each time we fail, we realize that we have alienated and exiled ourselves from God. Drifting from God, we lose our joy, our soul, and our life.

We practice self-denial in both Lent and life because we know it leads to eternal life. Just as death is not the end, so too, Lent is not the end. Death ends in resurrection, and Lent ends in the festival of life – The Great Three Days (Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, Easter) – where we celebrate that Jesus Christ has trampled down death by death.

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I thought that if I just threw a post out, it might get my blogging flowing again. I’ve been trying to figure out if I really have anything to say. I thought maybe I could write something about Lent, but I feel like I’ve already talked about Lent a lot on here. Rather than blankness, the word “dirt” keeps coming to mind. So, why not? Dirt is kinda Lenten. I mean, after all, Lent is when we remember that we are dust and to dust we will return. So, we’ll start with dirt.

One doesn’t have to go very far before seeing dirt in the Scriptures. In the first chapter of Genesis, God separates the waters by an expanse, or firmament, and then gathers the waters under the firmament, so that dry land appears. What we’re left with is dirt and water (where the Spirit hovers): “And God saw that it was good.”

By the second chapter of Genesis, “the LORD God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature.” So human beings are basically piles of dirt infused with “the breath of life” (i.e. the Spirit of God). “Adam” literally means “of the dirt.”

God sets Adam, a pile of dirt, in a garden (a place where life springs up from dirt). This garden is on another huge pile of dirt—a mountain. We can discern that the garden is on a mountain because of our other prominent element—water (Spirit), which flows down in four rivers.Since four rivers went out from Eden, it is safe to say that Eden was elevated, and that the garden, though not at the top of the mountain, was on the mountain.

Furthermore, mountains play a significant role in the Scriptures, for they are where God meets His people. As James B. Jordan points out, “Abraham offered Isaac on Mount Moriah (Genesis 22:2); Moses received the law on Mount Sinai (Exodus 19-24); Elijah defeated Baal on Mount Carmel (1 Kings 18) and received his commission renewed on Mount Sinai (1 Kings 19); Jesus preached His definitive sermon on a mount (Matthew 5), was transfigured on a mount (2 Peter 1:16-18), and gave his final great commission on a mountain (Matthew 28:18-20).”

In addition, Jerusalem is set in the Judean Mountains, Mt. Zion is God’s holy hill, the Church is a city on a hill, and St. John views the New Jerusalem coming from above while “carried… away in the Spirit to a mountain great and high.” In contrast to the Judeo-Christian faith, false religions offer “high places” to replace God’s true meeting places. In short, mountains are ladders to heaven—points where heaven and earth intersect, and God meets us.

Moreover, altars are little mountains and ladders to heaven: “Abraham’s altars were probably just pillars made up of stone and earth, but what they symbolize is set out for us in an important vision in Ezekiel 33.” Ezekiel describes a pyramid with the top part literally called, “the Mountain of God.” Throughout the Old Testament, these altars grow until they fill the whole earth. As such, the whole sacrificial system is about meeting God and communing with Him—a movement from earth to heaven—and heaven eventually overtaking earth.

In the same vein, Moses builds an altar at the foot of a mountain. This altar serves as a gateway to God. The sacrificial order set out in Leviticus 1-3. An adam brings the bloody sacrifices near, and in union with the animal goes up to God, offering the Tribute through his accepted soul (nefesh).

The Mosaic Tabernacle structure also serves as a type of heavens and earth. The Holy Place would symbolically be the midpoint of the mountain where the elders (lampstand/Aaronic priesthood) would commune with God in a meal (facebread). Only the high priest would be allowed to enter the Most Holy Place, the top of the mountain. The Temple at Mt. Moriah would have similar connotations. Mountains are about worship. Dirt is used for worshipping.

We are homo adorans – worshipping man – precisely because we are dirt. We are ladders to God. We are altars—living sacrifices. We are tabernacles, where God dwells. We are temples, and the Holy Spirit is in us. We are part of the Holy Mountain, the Sacrifice, and the one true Temple. So we are dust, and to dust we shall return…but only for a little bit.

That’s all the dirt I got for the moment.

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More on GAFCON

Fr. Jerry Cimijotti gave me a book earlier this week called The Way, the Truth, and the Life written by the “Theological Resource Team of GAFCON” in the time preceding the conference.

After reading the 89 page book, I have a fuller understanding of GAFCON. The opening chapter gives a brief, but very full history of the relationship between Canterbury and GAFCON leaders, particularly in the Global South. This history clearly shows how Canterbury has consistently gone against the will of the Primates. (Perhaps one of the most interesting assertions was the belief that, in unwittingly adopting an Orthodox view of discipline, we have left ourselves defenseless.) The expense of these battles along with the distraction they have caused for spreading the gospel have caused leaders to desire a quicker measure to restore authentic Anglicanism.

The second section seeks to define authentic Anglicanism. It gives a robust and broad view of the Scriptures, the nature of Christ, and the purpose of worship.* While I found the work on sacraments lacking, it was broad enough to encompass a wide range of views. I also received the worship guide for the services that took place during the week of GAFCON. The worship definitely looked more evangelical in tone, with the use of more alternative services—which is personally not a negative, but makes me wary of the introduction of poor liturgical forms.

My major concern after reading the booklet was the interpretation and nature of the Articles of Religion (though I have been directed to further discussion on the issue). While I still have questions about whether GAFCON will be proposing a long-term solution, the description of the future re-alignment has given me a renewed hope that this is a long-term solution. While I have heard some of these plans through a couple of GAFCON attendees, I see very little written on these future plans, which I think lends itself to the understanding that GAFCON isn’t offering an alternative to what we already have in place. It is.

Moreover, my reading of the short book has also given me confidence in the competence of GAFCON leaders to create something that works.

GAFCON, Wright, and bearing false witness

Matt Kennedy wrote this article on Stand Firm: Responding to Bishop NT Wright part 1: Mystifying Vitriol. In the article, Kennedy quotes Wright:

‘AS FAR AS ENGLAND IS CONCERNED, it is damaging, arrogant and irrelevant for GAFCON leaders to say, as they are now doing, ‘choose you this day whom you will serve’, with the implication that there are now only two parties in the church, the orthodox and the liberals, and that to refuse to sign up to GAFCON is to decide for the liberals. Things are just not like that. Certainly not here in England.”

After citing this, he writes, “Bishop Wright comes very close to bearing false witness here” because GAFCON leaders have not said this. While I disagree with Wright about things not being as bad in England as GAFCON says, Wright’s “vitriol” has to do with the issue of polity. The GAFCON “recruitment” was done at an Orthodox parish in a conservative diocese. Why does GAFCON choose a parish under a conservative who has yet to sign on to GAFCON? Kennedy writes,

I do not know why he takes offense. The Jerusalem Declaration was clear in expressing support for interventions only in those places where bishops with jurisdiction presume to depart from orthodox Christianity. Once a bishop, or any ordained leader, presumes to contradict or overturn apostolic teaching, he is anathema, his authority is null and void.

So long as bishops in the Church of England remain faithful to apostolic doctrine and so long as those bishops who do not come under discipline and those parishes under the authority of heretic bishops are given refuge and succor by the wider church, then there need be no fear of intervention.

Really? You can’t understand why he’s upset? If GAFCON is “recruiting” signatures in an Orthodox diocese, I can very much understand Wright’s perspective. If this was in my diocese, I would think that GAFCON was trying to turn my parishioners against me. Bishop Wright may be off in his analysis of England’s orthodoxy (as he may be in his analysis of his own orthodoxy), but I think Wright’s reaction is understandable. If I was in Durham or London, I think I would fear that GAFCON was trying to turn my diocese into Australia.

Random (Anglican-related) thoughts…

I was able to speak with Fr. Jerry a bit this morning about GAFCON, and after learning more about the future plans, my fears are somewhat allayed. I still have questions about how confessional an eventual new province might be. My fears probably because I spent time being Lutheran (LCMS) and Presbyterian, which can get pretty awful from the standard of subscribing to a confession. I know Anglicans don’t typically tend to be this way, but I am a bit paranoid. I fear things like swinging too far to a receptionist eucharistic position or communion for only the confirmed. But my fears are more of an evangelical overthrow, which I would hope didn’t happen.

On the way to church this morning, we passed an Anglo-Catholic parish, and when Rachel inquired about it, I made some flippant and probably uncharitable comment about it being a “lair of spikery.” The term was on the tip of my tongue because of an article I had read yesterday on “homosexuality and the Anglo-Catholic subculture.” The best thing about this article is it’s short summary of Anglo-Catholicism and its various branches. It shows just how complex “Anglo-Catholic” can be. It also distinguishes between High Church and Anglo-Catholic, which is relieving to me. As I’ve said here before, I would consider myself somewhat high church in that I believe we should sing/chant most of the liturgy, but I am NOT Anglo-Catholic. Nobody seems to believe that you can be high church and not Anglo-Catholic, though.

No Place for My Faith

The recent GAFCON statement has my head twirling a bit.

I am not sure what this will mean for Anglicanism, but I am a bit concerned. I share some of the concerns that Archishop Williams and Bishop Wright, as well as others, have voiced (see some responses to GAFCON here).

Anglicanism has always had great diversity, and while I agree that communion needs to be broken with classic liberals, I worry that this is not just Anglican-style schism. One of the most beautiful things about Anglicanism is that it is quite diverse. Now I realize there are limits to this diversity, but I wonder where the limits will be drawn. I don’t want Anglicanism to become another evangelical denomination. Evangelicalism is just one strain of Anglicanism, and while in many ways, I am in that strain, I find much of benefit in the Anglo-Catholic and latitudinarian strains.

I often find myself agreeing more with Jim Wallis than with Os Guinness. Will that mean that I will be labeled as a liberal within the new regime because I am more liberal in the areas of economics, the environment, and politics? I find myself agreeing more with the sacramentality of Schmemann, Waterland, and even Pusey than with Stott. Will I be labeled as a Catholic? (Catholics seem to be tolerated, and if you’re in San Joaquin, slightly lauded, but how long will that last?)

My reading of the Scriptures often has me agreeing more with liberals than with evangelicals when it comes to the way of Jesus. How much latitude will there be to follow the Scriptures wherever they go—even when that leads away from evangelicalism?

I am finding it increasingly more difficult for my faith to have a home.

Free market or freeing the poor?

Most of my friends are Ron Paul fans, and I have to admit I find the guy fascinating. I watched his fundraising drive last year closely, and I have somewhat followed his campaign. I’ve known about him since college through my friend Nathan and through Scary Gary’s work in his campaign. I think he might be just what this country needs—a start at a big change. That said, I think I want that more for shock value. I like a lot of what he says, but I also find much with which to disagree.

Let’s just say I’ve been rethinking economics over the past five years (incidentally, about the time I joined the blue party). Rachel and I were discussing Ron Paul this evening, which led into a conversation on socialism vs. capitalism (along with some communism and fascism). I was mostly talking about the problems I see (biblically) with a “free market.” Lo and behold, I came home to see Doug Jones had blogged some of these things in a critique of Sowell’s economics. I haven’t had the chance to read Jones’ other critiques of Sowell, but this hits it on the head. The free market will work great in the resurrection, I’m sure, but sin will always mess it up here.

For me, one of the biggest problems I have with the libertarian way of thinking is its focus is on me. My rights. We have certain rights, and the government is taking them away. Okay, sure. I understand the sentiment. The recent bans on spanking and homeschooling in California drive me up the wall. As the Five Man Electrical band sang, “Hey! what gives you the right!” But, I question if the “American Dream” is a really a “right” we should have. Don’t get me wrong. I strongly desire those things: the perfect car, home, and job, but do I really have an “inalienable right” to pursue wealth at that level?

As I said to Rachel, the platform of the Republicans is “You can be rich!” I really like this idea. The problem is that the way to get there will often trample the poor.

The Democrats say to the poor, “You don’t have to be poor!” So who does their plan screw over?—well, the rich, and…me…and a lot of you. People that aren’t poor—we say we are, and we all have our financial problems, but we aren’t homeless, and in America, you always have the ability to pull yourself out of poverty. This isn’t Bangkok or Bogota.

I don’t want democratic style socialism. My middle class living might go down to lower middle class. That would be annoying. I would feel even more poor (such a relative term).

But is it such a bad thing to sacrifice my potential wealth for the sake of the poor? If Jones’ is right in his exposition of James, and I think he is,* that’s exactly what we’re called to do.

* I know, I too am shocked I’m finding so much common ground with Doug Jones lately.

Moscow Trip/Biblical Nonviolence/Christian Socialist Economics

On Friday, we went to Moscow to spend some time with Isaiah. We enjoyed a terrific Italian dinner at the home of Lisa Jackson, and we met some new friends, as well as some old friends. Throughout the course of the night, our old friend Davey Henreckson mentioned that he has been interested in political theology, and he asked me about my recent reading of Caputo’s What Would Jesus Deconstruct? As we discussed the book a bit, I mentioned that I had been shifting toward a biblical theology of nonviolence over the past several years. I was shocked to find out that Douglas Jones has been doing work in this area. If you haven’t checked out the Biblical Theses on Violence, I highly recommend it.

I also found out something interesting at church today. After the service, I started talking politics with Bishop Cavalcanti. It turns out that he was a political science professor before becoming a bishop. After this discussion Fr. Jerry mentioned that Bishop Cavalcanti was a major player in South American politics, but we know little of him since he doesn’t write in English. A search on Amazon confirmed this as his name pops up in many books on evangelicals in politics in Latin America. One of them calls him a “leader of the evangelical left,” which I find a funny term since those are almost exclusive adjectives in America (though I would probably throw myself under a title like that).

An interesting weekend to say the least.