Monday, April 25, 2011

Where is the love of God? The question I'd want to ask Rob Bell.

Over the weekend I listened to Justin Brierley's radio show on Premier Radio in which he interviewed Rob Bell with Adrian Warnock. Both are preachers and authors, and Adrian is part of the same family of churches as I am, and is a friend. The show is worth a listen. Now, I'm firmly on Adrian's side of the fence in this whole thing but... Bell is infuriating and smart and this important debate doesn't have a simple solution.

1. Questions about questions.
He has question asking down to a tee. I wonder if he's read Randy Newman's Questioning Evangelism?  I'm impressed by his apparent commitment to only answer questions after he'd asked the questioner what they thought the answer was. His most common answer was "Do you?" This is a clever way to approach direct questions. It's also really frustrating because he barely gave a single answer in an hour of interview. I'm not persuaded by his conclusions but there are things he and I would agree on, and from which I think I can learn. Adrian was gracious and patient and generous - though you could argue he was a bit 'on the attack' from the start. He reflected that Bell talks a lot about the love of God, challenging him to speak of God's holiness and wrath too. It's a good question, and important question but not the one I find myself asking. Everything is starting to sound like the aftermath of that Steve Chalke book a few years ago, and I fear people are making the same misstep as last time... It's ok to ask about wrath but when was Wrath the opposite of Love, and when did we need fear of hell to motivate... etc. I'm not sure that's the wrath question gets to the heart of the issue. I have a different question.

2. Where is the love of God in Love Wins? 
I know the whole book is about the love of God but where is the passionate love of the Father for his beloved Son (and his son's bride)? Where is the love that sends the son into the world? Where is the love that wont be contained and restrained? Where is the love that is jealous? Where is the love that burns against those who oppress his son (as we see in Exodus) or against those who would seduce his son's bride (as in the letter to Thyatira in Revelation 2)? What I find in Bell, and I fear in evangelical responses to him, is the dispassionate love of God that let's people walk away, though it desires to win them back. Mere Agape. Yet, Jesus fought for his people in Exodus, and he fought for them in Revelation, and he fought for them on the cross and in his resurrection - against sin and the devil and against death.

This whole debate is about the love of God. Do we believe in a God of lukewarm love or one whose love burns hotly for his Son and his people, and against their enemies? Does my God care enough to get wrathful or is he ambivalent and indifferent to evil?

It's about who God is. It's about Trinity. It's about whether salvation is about who gets into heaven and hell, or whether it's about Christ. It's about God's desire to save, and about whether everyone get's saved, and how and what that is...  and we need a winning and attractive and faithful answer. And I think it might be about whether Anders Nygren was right to say God's love is only Agape and not Eros.

I think James, one of our Relay interns, nails this issue better than most - and I have to say I'm thrilled to hear him having caught this vision of the gospel. Listen to James Watts on  Jesus' Letter to Thyatira at Emmanuel Baptist Church, Falmouth in April 2011 (mp3). (or similarly, Rich Carding on the Letter to Thyatira at St Neots Evangelical Church, August 2010.)