Love Wins - rethinking the gospel

Saturday, April 23, 2011

I'm reading through Rob Bell's new book Love Wins and am loving it so far. He begins the book in the preface by saying its good to ask hard questions, that God wants us to ask them, and then proceeds in the first chapter to ask a bunch of hard questions about the "good news" of the gospel that can sound like bad news:
God loves us.
God offers us everlasting life by grace, freely, through no merit on our part.
Unless you do not respond in the right way. Then God will torture you forever.
In Hell.
Is God really going to torture people you love forever in hell because they didn't accept his love? Is that how love acts? is that what grace looks like? Is that what justice looks like? Is that what holiness looks like?

Hell no.

Isn't God the one who teaches us to forgive and love our enemies? So if that's true, then why would God act the opposite? I'm sure you've heard people say it is because he takes sin so seriously, but really doesn't that in fact trivialize sin? Doesn't it make God look petty and unjust? That is one of the biggest reasons people leave the faith, that and all the suffering and injustice in the world. In short, the major reason people leave Christianity is because of moral outrage, because sin--real sin, the kind that deeply wounds people, the kind that destroys lives--is not being taken seriously enough.

What about rape? What about abuse? What about all the violence and oppression in our world? That's the kind of thing that I think God cares about, and he cares because these things are killing us, and he loves us. God is not concerned with his "glory" because God is not egotistical. God is love, and that means that what God really wants, what it truly means to love him, is to love each other. That's a point you will find being made over and over in the NT.

The heart of the gospel is that God does not come to judge us (even though he hates these horrible things we do to each other), he comes to save, he has come to pull us out of that world of hurting and being hurt. That's what real justice is about, making things right, and that is what Jesus was all about.

That way of making things right--the gospel--begins with God entering into our hearts and lives and showing us what it means to be loved. I'm taking here about being born again, about having a personal relationship with God where you come to know God's loving grace first hand, where God just pours his love out on you until it completely changes who you are.

One place I disagree with Rob is when he says that the phrase "relationship with God" is not in the Bible. Of course it is not there verbatim, but then a lot of things are not which are still truly biblical. Like the Trinity for example. The question is whether the concept is there, and I think it clearly is (both the Trinity and relationship with God). Loving God, Jesus says, is the "greatest commandment." But as I said, it can't stop there. If we really love God, if we really know grace, know what it means to be loved unconditionally, then this can't help but spill out into all of our life. We will feel compelled to live out that grace with others, to love like Jesus did.

That is the urgency that Jesus preaches: stop hurting each other, stop with your stupid wars and killing in God's name, stop with all the condemnation and hatred! Learn the way of the cross, the way of overcoming evil with good, the way of enemy love. That is a way that is not just some trivial religious concern which seems so tangential to life, it is about real stuff, life and death stuff, quite literally.

Living in that is the gospel. The gospel is absolutely inseparable from love of enemies. In other words, the gospel is about radically loving everyone. That means that we have to care about poverty and starvation (Jesus certainly did!), we have to care about human trafficking and war and corporate abuse and a host of other social causes because belonging to Jesus means we care about people.

That's the gospel: being loved by God so that we can know love and walk in the way of love--knowing grace firsthand so we can show that grace in a world that desperately needs it.

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