There are two kinds of people in the world: those who classify people into two kinds and those who do not. Rob Bell is one who does not. But his new book, Love Wins: a Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived, has revealed division.
Bell claims to be teaching within what is orthodox Christianity. But he is openly challenging historic orthodox beliefs with provocative questions and coyly evasive answers. To those who view God as harsh and unloving, Bell says that there is hope even for those who do not consciously believe in Jesus. He also thinks that hell is probably only a temporary place of punishment that will lead people to repentance.
The Bible assures us that God is love. But God is also many other things. To say that in the end, “love wins” is just as wrong as saying, “power wins” or “justice wins,” or “holiness wins.” In seeking to give people hope on one hand, Bell takes it away with the other by misrepresenting God.
Others have shown that Bell has mistranslated the Bible in key passages. For example, he suggests that the Greek word for “eternal” in Matthew 25:46 could mean merely a period of time. In blog exchanges, Emergent Church leader Brian McLaren and theologian Al Mohler are engaged in a helpful debate that is making the issues clear. This debate is extremely important. But there is something else just as important that is in danger of being neglected.
What we do with what we believe is just as important. In one way Christians are like everyone else. God will hold us accountable for what we do with what we know.
Bell is right about this: many people have had painful experiences that led them to turn from God and adopt a do-it-yourself theology. Some have heard the Gospel and flatly rejected it. Others are unsure of what to believe. They know that there is more than this life. But they are wary of God and His goodness. In some cases they have turned away from a “gospel” distorted by the deeds or words of professing Christians.
There is good news. The apologetic of a life faithfully lived by God’s grace is a potent antidote, but only if we seek those who need it. Are you seeking to make non-Christian friends? If not, I urge you to go make some. Jesus went out of His way to talk to a woman in Samaria. We must go out of our way to seek and make similar opportunities.
Are we ready to respond to challenges and questions without fear or embarrassment? Listening will give us the opportunity to understand and appreciate others for who they are. It will also give us the opportunity to learn what is standing between Jesus and our non-Christian friends. They must also know that we love them with no conditions, even if they never come to Christ.
We must communicate the Gospel as clearly and truthfully as we can in deed as well as word. We must “preach the Gospel and when necessary use words.”
Christians understand and accept that some questions will not be answered in this life. But even non-Christians sense that if the Bible really is the Word of God, then some answers must be clear. One of those is the answer to the question: How can I know that I will live with God forever in Heaven? God gives us only this life to give His answer to all who will receive it.