Christianity is rich with diversity.
It means that Christians will never agree. On the nature of God, on what constitutes Christian living, on heaven, hell or whether Jesus was human or divine. Pretty much anything anyone has ever believed about Christianity has been believed to be wrong by somebody else.
But it also means that God is big. Like really, really big. God is big enough to love us all, to claim us all. It just doesn’t seem right that God would only choose to save the literalists, or the Mormons, or the humanitarians. Somehow God has the capacity to allow for all of us and our wildly restrictive beliefs about who God is.
In his new book, Love Wins: A Book About Heaven, Hell and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived, Rob Bell presents a controversial argument about the loving nature of God. Essentially Bell argues that a loving God does not condemn people to an eternal hell based on what they believed, how they acted, who their friends were, or which prayer they recited. God does, however, love us all enough to grant us free will. Our decision to use that free will against God’s will, is the same as living in hell. And in heaven – wherever and whenever that is – those people who have denied God will be really uncomfortable because everyone else will have clean hearts. To use Bell’s example: can you imagine being a racist at a table in heaven full of the people you’ve always hated? And they love you.
Bell allows that God will, even after death, allow those who have denied God on earth to change their minds. God is big enough to cleanse our hearts even after we’ve died. And God is loving enough to give us the chance to do so.
Love Wins isn’t your everyday sermon, that’s for sure. But as Bell points out in his preface, he’s not the first person to believe this. And remember, his beliefs are a part of our diversity.
So why did so many people jump at the chance to critique this new book? John Piper, a well-known Baptist leader, even tweeted, “Farewell Rob Bell” before the book was even released. Where’s the Christian love in that?
I’m sure Bell is exhausted by now. Since the book’s release he’s been under constant fire. He’s been critiqued, accused, ridiculed and interrogated. MSNBC’s Martin Bashir wouldn’t even let Bell get in a full sentence as he labeled him a universalist. Now, let’s be honest. At first glance Bell’s argument does seem a bit like universalism, but did Bashir actually read the book? Bell makes some very clear distinctions between his argument and universalism. And his book is full of important questions and provoking points. He can’t condense the material into a short interview. He wrote 200 pages for a reason.
We may not agree with every word in Bell’s new book. But it’s certainly worth a read. You might even find some of his conclusions fascinating. At very least, please (please!) don’t critique it until you’ve read it. After all, it’s a part of the Christian story. And shouldn’t we all respect the others in our story? Don’t we believe in the kind of God who wants us to embrace and appreciate diversity instead of restrain and condemn it?
At very least, let’s agree that we don’t want a God who would allow love to lose.