Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Book Review: Love Wins+my own musings

Warning: The book I'm about to discuss is controversial in nature; the narrow-minded need not read this post.

So far in my #bookaday challenge, I have managed to read 2 books in 2 days. I finished Beauty Queens today, which I will get to in a post tomorrow (I know, the perpetual 1 day behind cycle!) but today I want to talk about something a little...deeper.

A friend of mine mentioned the book Love Wins to me in a google buzz post. She said she had marked it as "interesting." I wasn't familiar with the text so I looked into the reviews on Amazon and was a) taken aback and b) immediately fascinated. I ordered the book right away, just dying to get into it. Here's why:

One reviewer called the author " A Hell-Believing Universalist"
Another said "Sadly, Bell has embraced heresy"
And the controversy continues with "Christian? I don't think so"
And yet another of my facebook friends called Rob Bell a heretic and more or less condemned him to Hell. Yikes. You know I couldn't wait for that book to show up on my door!

So I've read it. There were a lot of things in the book that I had considered before on my own and in conversations with my mom and my husband. Rob Bell argues, but don't quote me as his spokesperson, that there's more to God and the Jesus story than what any one church can filter it into for the sake of human consumption. This much I can agree with. It doesn't make sense to dwindle the expanse of God down to one set of ideas that will get you "in" or leave you "out". There are as many question remaining at the end of the book as there were in the beginning; they are just different questions. Rob Bell uses a LOT of Biblical references to make his case, and as someone who studied early Christianity in college I appreciate the direct reference to the text. The language flows nicely; Bell has a very poetic style and the text reflects that visually as well.

Another term I stumbled across in reading the various reviews of the text was "Universalism." Hm, doesn't look like a terribly difficult word to decipher, but it's being used in a derogatory context. Let's investigate.

First: Dictionary.com defines Universalism as "the religious belief that all men are predestined for salvation" Well, that puts an interesting spin on it. Why would that be such a bad thing? For one, it defeats the idea wholeheartedly that God is a vindictive distributor of punishment at the drop of a hate while the rest of the time He's benevolent, giving, loving and the like. An idea like that definition would paint God without his wrath, if you will.

Second: Looking deeper, there's Christian Universalism which suggests that yes, there is a Heaven and yes, everyone will go there without the worry or threat of Hell. You can read about their basic belief system here. Some of these beliefs do in fact line up with what Rob Bell says about the inclusivity of God, and how it is the influence of man that has caused this idea of Jesus as a rescuer from a harsh, violent God. Is that really the picture the Biblical text paints? I found this passage most interesting because of a new angle on the Jesus story. Why does God have to be villainized as the bad guy so Jesus can swoop in and rescue us? That's not the picture I want, and Bell goes on to say that image instills violence in people, too. Because "We shape God, and God shapes us." What a sense of agency!

Why does this idea of Universalism bother so many Christians? I don't consider myself qualified to truly answer that, but I have some theories of my own. For one, Universalism doesn't get caught up in the who's who of Christianity. There are no works attached to this gift from God. Now, I know there are lots of churches around who say "God doesn't need your works," and this is true; He doesn't. But you're kidding me if you try to say those same churches don't "keep score" based on who is there how often and what they do to contribute to the "work of the Church" in the name of God.

Rob Bell doesn't say this, but it seems implied to me: people have messed up religion by putting their hands in it. Muddy water requires dirt; this same idea applies here. If the message, then, is clear as claimed, then it only gets muddy when dirt (people) get too involved. Overall, Rob Bell makes some pretty great points when it comes to human understanding of the vastness of God and His love for His creation; these ideas I can get on board with completely. There's just no way that if God is as loving as He says He is, and as others say He is, that he can just toss people that He created in His image away for some infraction that other people who are not God say He said is wrong.

What about grace? Love? Mercy? Do we really have the right (audacity?) to claim to know the heart and mind of God so well that we can distill it down into something everyone can memorize and pray to be "saved"? One more Bell point and I'll wrap this up: Heaven is here, now. People who work to right the wrongs in the world are creating Heaven on Earth. People who work to end social injustice, who fight poverty, racism, sexism, discrimination based on sexual orientation; those people are doing God's work, too. However, being part of God's plan for humanity cannot rest on someone else's shoulders; what if they fall down on the job? What if the missionary who was supposed to tell you about Christianity had the flu on your day to receive eternal life? Is the same God who promises that eternal life going to fault you for the events in the life of another? How does that make any sense?! Bell says God offers you the freedom to embrace His love or reject it. That's how much freedom you have as His creation. Hell, then, is when that love is rejected and the consequences that arise from being out of sync with God, so to speak. But it can be righted, and not just prior to death. There's so much to think about and chew on that I can't say it all here.

There is plenty of talk inside and outside of the Christian community about the text. I don't want to say too much more here because I don't want to a) spoil the book or b) influence your thinking on the matter; I'm no expert. I would, however, encourage EVERYONE in any faith or without one altogether to read this book and decide for yourself.

Tomorrow, a lighter read: Beauty Queens by the hilarious Libba Bray.

With love,

No comments: