Posts Tagged ‘love wins

02
Aug
11

erasing hell review

I promised to write a review of Francis Chan’s book Erasing Hell. I shall keep my promise, even though I don’t feel like writing about it. I just returned from a trip to Nigeria, where I had the privilege of speaking to approximately 80 pastors and leaders in two different leadership conferences about Christ-formed Leadership. I greatly enjoyed this second trip to the wonderful country of Nigeria, and I couldn’t help but noticing the difference between the Nigerian believers’ attitude towards the Word of God compared to the climate we have in many evangelical circles in the Western world today, which makes Love Wins a book that can confuse people and cause many believers to start believing things they  wouldn’t believe if they knew their Bibles very well.

The Nigerians we met love God, know and understand the importance of encountering God – through his Word, through him speaking directly to them, through nature, through whatever..! But they understand a piece of truth that so many have lost in 2011: God will never ever reveal something or speak something that will contradict what’s already written in the Bible! We are all called to be like the Bereans in Acts 17:11 who searched the Scriptures, and examined what Paul was saying to them to see if it was true or not.

I loved that the Nigerian pastors and leaders kept asking us questions from the Bible. I loved that they would ask questions when we taught something that seemed to contradict what they know from the Bible. And I loved that they were open and teachable to allow God’s Spirit to show them new realities, truths and bring them to a greater degree of freedom.

Enough about the Nigerian believers, and back to Francis Chan’s book. I guess there is not that much to say. It’s a good, short, well-written book that clearly spells out what the Bible teaches about Heaven, Hell and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived. Chan writes from a position of humility. He is not out to attack anyone who might disagree with him. He is not on a crusade to hurt anyone. But he loves God enough and respects his authority to allow him to have the final say about what will happen eternally with people on Planet Earth, he is the creator of all things and all people after all. Chan writes with pain about the many people who will end up in Hell. Chan echoes the pain of C. S. Lewis who wrote this in The Problem of Pain:

There is no doctrine which I would more willingly remove from Christianity than this (the doctrine of Hell), if it lay in my power. But it has the full support of Scripture and, specially, of our Lord’s own words

I share his pain. And so does every other soft-hearted believer. No-one, if they truly know Jesus Christ, will rejoice in the fact that evil will have eternal consequences. It’s by no means a pleasant thought. In fact it’s tremendously unsettling, but as Francis Chan keeps saying in Erasing Hell: we simply cannot afford to be wrong about what we believe about Heaven and Hell and who will end up where. We have to ask God, and we have to be open to listen to his revelation about those realities. And then we are to go and be the vessels that Jesus will love people through and bring them to himself. Not just for salvation, even though that’s obviously the main point of this book, but also for Life – life today, and life forever more!

I appreciate Francis Chan’s effort to write this book in a humble, pastoral way. He obviously cares for people. I felt cared for and pastored through reading it.

I pray that we as believers will see more of the truth of who God is, and what he has done for all people. Jesus hung on the cross and cried out: “It is finished!”. It is finished. Salvation is available. And Jesus wants to tell other people about this miracle through us. The Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20) is not something for us as believers to do. It’s something Jesus is doing through us.

And as I was finishing up reading Erasing Hell, I was, once again, reminded of the verse from Romans 2:14 that talks about that it is the kindness of God that leads us to repentance. God’s kindness. Not his wrath. Not his judgment. I hope that’s what people see when they look at my life. The kindness of God.

I definitely saw kindness in Francis Chan’s book Erasing Hell despite the difficult nature of the topics discussed in the book.

Blessings, Torben

17
Apr
11

the god of paradoxes

I wrote a blog entry about Rob Bell’s book Love Wins, where I found God to be described in terms that may have made perfect sense to Rob Bell, but in my opinion is far from the more complex picture of God that we find described in the Bible:

God is love, but he is also holy.

Jesus is the lamb of God, but he is also the Lion of Judah

Life comes from death

The first shall be last

If you want to be a leader in the kingdom, serve

The real leader uses a towel to dry peoples’ feet not a stick to control people

God wants for all people to choose him as their God, and he has made provision for that to be possible through his son Jesus’ death on the cross, but he is also aware of the tragic fact that some people will not choose to receive the free gift of life and righteousness that he is offering them

Blessed are those who mourn…

These are just some of the many examples of the paradoxes of who God is, and what he is up to. I can’t figure him out completely. I don’t understand a lot of the things he does or chooses to not do. I just don’t.

God is God, and I’m not. He created me in his own image. I have a spirit that has come alive when everything in me that was against God was crucified and buried with Christ (Galatians 2:20). So I am joined to God and rest in the fact that nothing and nobody can ever change that (Romans 8). I rest in the fact that my faith doesn’t have to make perfect sense. I rest in the fact that a lot of it makes sense anyway, but I’m not inclined to desperately try to make sense out of the paradoxes that are in the Bible. These paradoxes cause me to wonder, think, chat with God, and essentially worship him.

A Christianity without paradoxes is flat, weak and ultimately very uninteresting. It may feel good for a little while, if I can explain away the things in Christianity that I don’t understand or agree with, but it has a very short shelf life, because it’s not founded in the truth of who God is. Lots of people throughout the ages of the Church have tried to explain away the paradoxes about God that they are uncomfortable with. There is nothing new under the sun, when that happens.

I will end this blog entry by quoting an excerpt from an excellent review of Love Wins from Christianity Today:

“This brings us to the other problem with liberalism: Ironically, its passion to make Jesus more accessible to the contemporary mind ends up making Jesus less interesting. To be fair, many people become Christians as a result of hearing the liberal gospel. And one suspects that Bell’s book will have this effect for some. But liberalism has never been able to win a large following for Jesus. Too often, its Jesus sounds like an ideal people already believe in, so why bother? (…)Most Christians grasp that to demythologize one doctrine is to make the others less coherent. They recognize that a Christianity that teaches about “a God without wrath [who] brought men without sin into a kingdom without judgment through the ministrations of a Christ without a Cross” (H. Richard Niebuhr’s classic summary of liberalism) does not reflect the thickness of biblical revelation nor lived reality. And they see that when all is said and done, there is no painful contradiction between the love and justice of God. That in the end, not only does love win, but justice, too.”

So, I guess, at this point in 2011, I land in an interesting, and seemingly small camp in terms of what I believe: I am a young(ish) man who is too liberal for the conservatives, and too conservative for the liberals 🙂

Blessings, Torben

09
Apr
11

a small god

Dear blog readers!

I wonder if there are still any of you out there after this very extended hiatus for my blog. Anyway, it’s not that I’ve been without thoughts, questions, insights, struggles, victories, sorrows and even some smiles these last months, and we’ll see what I end up choosing to write about these coming months.

It’s not often that I find myself reading something that’s truly hot and the thing lots of people talk about. I tend to have the perspective that I wait until the initial noise and fire is over, and then I’ll decide if it was something that was worth looking into. (And yes, I’m aware that some of you after reading that statement are tempted to write me off as a 74-year old who is out of touch with time, but in reality, I’m still only 34 🙂 )

But last week I did actually decide to pick up mega-church pastor Rob Bell’s latest and hotly debated book, Love Wins. I read it, and I’ve decided to share some of my thoughts on the book and some of the topics it talks about.

I studied at a very postmodern-focused university in Denmark, and I have studied postmodernism at length, and I’m well aware of that for a postmodern reader (which most younger, Western people are) the very fact that I choose to write my comments and choose to disagree with large portions of Rob Bell’s book means that I’m judging him. Let me make it clear from the get-go: I’m not Rob Bell’s judge. I have no intention or desire to judge this man that I’ve never met. And just because I disagree with some of the things he’s writing, does not mean that I judge him or think that everything I’m saying myself is perfect and beyond reproach. However, in order for us to be able to converse about what we believe, we also have to be honest when we disagree with what other people are saying when we find that it touches on something that’s precious to us.

Sometimes when I read or hear about somebody saying something about God or his kingdom that I don’t think is true, I think: “I think he is wrong. I hope he is right. What are the consequences if he is wrong?“. I don’t have the same thoughts after reading Love Wins. “I think he is wrong. I actually don’t hope that he is right. And I think there are very severe consequences for many people if he is wrong” are more along the lines of my thoughts after reading the book.

In a sense there is little point to writing my thoughts on this book by +100,000 Facebook fans pastor Rob Bell. Who cares what I think? If I disagree with him, I risk being ostracized as being ‘negative’, ‘judgmental’, ‘legalist’, ‘hateful’ or whatever the term might be. Couldn’t I just leave it to people to make up their own minds about his book and issues of salvation, Heaven and Hell? Sure, and I don’t have any illusions about my opinion being particularly relevant to other people, but I do believe that Rob Bell touches on some things that are dear to me, and where I do find it important enough to voice my concerns.

I don’t think that Rob Bell purposefully is trying to deceive people with his theology. I believe he believes what he believes. I am, however, troubled about some of his opinions and his ways of sharing it.

I enjoy books by authors such as W. Paul Young, who wrote the bestseller The Shack, and C. S. Lewis with his many books touching on issues of eternity including The Great Divorce, The Chronicles of Narnia and others. These are all works of fiction. And how I wished that Rob Bell would’ve written his book as fiction. Because, quite frankly, a lot of it is a lot more fiction than theology! C. S. Lewis writes in his preface to The Great Divorce: “I beg the readers to remember that this is a fantasy…the transmortal conditions are solely and imaginative supposal: they are not even a guess or a speculation at what may actually await us. The last thing I wish is to arouse factual curiosity about the details of the afterworld“.

Rob Bell, however, writes Love Wins as a book of theology. He is asking lots of questions, and he gives what he says are biblical answers to these questions. Some will read it and be relieved. Some will read the book and be happy. Some will just be utterly confused.

I read the book and came away with the thought: “that sounds like a very small God“.

Everyone of us stand in immediate danger of falling into the trap that the French philosopher, Jean-Jacques Rousseau described like this:

God created man in his own image. And man, being a gentleman, returned the favor

I felt I read 200 pages about a god created in Rob Bell’s image. I didn’t find that god very attractive.

I could write lots of examples of why I didn’t find the god or even the world presented to me very attractive. I just don’t think that serves a point. I do want to make a comment about the usage of the Bible in the book. I found it troubling that even though it’s in perfect line with a postmodern understanding of how we view literature and meta-narratives where we believe we can pick and choose and respect the context when it works for us, and ignore it when it doesn’t, it was sad to see how that’s how I saw the Bible being used in Love Wins.

Whenever the context of the primary hearers and readers was useful to stress a point it was used, and whenever the context would complicate matters or even disprove the point that Rob Bell was trying to make, the context was ignored or misunderstood. That I find troubling.

We already live in a day and age where most Christians know the Bible very poorly. I remember a couple of years ago where I asked long-term Discipleship Training School Leaders at various Youth With A Mission missionary training centers in Asia, Europe and North America the same question: “what is the biggest difference between Discipleship Training School students today and 10-15 years ago?” Every single one of these missionaries answered in a similar way: “the students know God and the Bible less and less, and we have to almost start from scratch and assume that they simply don’t know the God they claim to believe in, or the Biblical truths that they claim to follow

We know the Bible less and less, and that’s where I find it troubling when pastors, leaders and authors exemplify pick-and-choose-Bible-reading. It is, after all, part of our calling as leaders to be responsible about not misleading people we have a position of authority over.

If you want to read a long review that talks about some of the many questionable points in Love Wins, you can read Kevin DeYoung’s blog here. I disagree with some of his points, and some of his tone is a bit too harsh, but especially some of the points are spot-on and very important aspects to consider (see point 2 – Historical Problems, point 3 – Exegetical Problems, and point 7 – A Different God).

I hope Love Wins will cause the readers of the book to chat with God about who he really is and what he really does have to say about salvation, Heaven and Hell. I have fears that people will be mislead. I have fears that there will be sad consequences for buying into some of the messages of this book. But at the end of this blog and at the end of each day, I choose to believe that God is still strong, and his Spirit is alive and well in all his children and will help them discern what is Truth which will set them free (John 14:6, John 8:32), and what is just wishful thinking-theology, which we are all in danger of buying into.

I want to know Christ deeper, and if the conversation about these questions lead people who don’t know Jesus at all as their Savior and Friend to get to know him and experience life in him here and in the afterlife, and if it leads people who know Jesus already, but don’t know him well to get to know him better, I rejoice. If that’s not the case. And I fear it’s not. It makes me sad.

Blessings, Torben – I’ll write another blog entry about why it’s problematic when we create a god in our own image, and why a God that makes perfect sense in my eyes, and is without any paradoxes, is a small god




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