Sunday, May 8, 2011

Love Wins

“...I believe that Jesus’s story is first and foremost about the love of God for every single one of us. It is a stunning, beautiful, expansive love, and it is for everybody, everywhere.

"That’s the story.
'For God so loved the world . . . '
That’s why Jesus came.
That’s his message.
That’s where the life is found."

That’s the start of Rob Bell’s controversial, brilliant, very engaging new book, Love Wins. As he continues:

There are a growing number of us who have become acutely aware that Jesus’s story has been hijacked by a number of other stories Jesus isn’t interested in telling, because they have nothing to do with what he came to do. The plot has been lost, and it’s time to reclaim it.

"I’ve written this book for all those, everywhere, who have heard some version of the Jesus story that caused their pulse rate to rise, their stomach to churn, and their heart to utter thos resolute words, 'I would never be a part of that.'

"You are not alone.
There are millions of us.”

As I've read and thought about what Bell has to say, I'd have to agree: the good news of Jesus has come to sound like bad news for almost everyone, for those who don’t endorse right wing politics, those who weren’t born in our “Christian” nation, those who like to ask difficult questions, those who struggle with gender identity, those who have trouble expressing their faith in the exact formula endorsed by their particular denomination.

Bell goes on to explain that his book is meant to “question some of the dominant stories that are being told as the Jesus story.” He notes “Some communities don’t permit open, honest inquiry about the things that matter most. Lots of people have voiced a concern, expressed a doubt, or raised a question, only to be told by their family, church, friends, or tribe: “We don’t discuss those things here.’”

Right again. Assumptions abound – about whose side God is on, about whose agenda he endorses, about how we know what’s true, about how we read what the Bible says. It’s far too easy to be branded liberal, heretic, non-believer, "universalist," just for wondering why Christians embrace one passage and ignore another, or embrace one issue, while pretending others don’t matter.

So, Bell sets out to reexamine “the Jesus story,“ and the good news Jesus proclaims, to open space for questions that can’t be resolved by anyone this side of heaven, and finally, to demonstrate the breadth of the “historic, orthodox, Christian faith. It’s a deep, wide, diverse stream that’s been flowing for thousands of years, carrying a staggering variety of voices, perspectives, and experiences.”

There are plenty of responses to Love Wins. Fuller President Richard Mouw’s endorsement of Rob Bell’s orthodoxy; maverick Brian Mclaren’s musings on interpretation, communication, and the difficulties in our labeling of Christian liberal and conservative; a very detailed analysis from Reformed pastor and co-author of Why I’m Not Emergent, Kevin DeYoung, detailing what he considers Bell’s errors. One very funny response from Don MIller of Blue Like Jazz fame. And, by far the most helpful, a very thoughtful, careful series of posts by Scot McKnight, author of The Blue Parakeet and religious studies professor at North Park University.

And plenty of uncharitable, wrong-headed, “shoot first then ask questions” comments, twitters, blogs, posts, reviews, many from Christian leaders who should know better. Too often the interviewers sound like Pharisees, trying to trap Jesus with either/or questions, with no real desire to hear the mystery beyond what they’re asking. And too often the critics sound like they know –for sure – how it all turns out, when we’re told “we know in part, and understand in part.”

Which brings us back to the topic of God’s love, and the good news we’re called to share.

Forgive me for jumping to the end of Bell’s book – I’m not really giving away the ending, because on the one hand we already know the ending: Love Wins. And on the other hand, as Bell makes clear, we don’t know the ending, fully, completely, because it’s way past what we can understand or envision. “Heaven is, after all, full of surprises.”

So we know, and don’t know, how the story ends. But this is where Bell takes us:

Jesus invites us to trust that the love we fear is too good to be true is actually good enough to be true. It’s written in one of John’s letters in the scriptures that ‘what we will be has not yet been made known.’ Jesus invites us to become, to be drawn into this love as it shapes us and forms us and takes over every square inch of our lives. Jesus calls us to repent, to have our minds and hearts transformed so that we see everything differently

"It will require a death,
A humbling,
A leaving behind of the old mind,
And at that same time it will require an opening up,
And loosening our hold,
And letting go,
So that we can receive,
And enjoy. . .

"Whatever you’ve been told about the end-
The end of your life,
The end of time,
The end of the world –
Jesus passionately urges us to live like the end is here,

That’s not quite the end, but it’s where I want to end for now. Yes, I recommend the book. And I recommend wrestling with the story, as Bell does so eloquently. What is the story Jesus tells about us, about our future, about the world he made? Who has the final word? 

And I recommend a continuing dialogue about what it looks like to live as people of love, people of good news, people of resurrection. As Bell makes very clear, the point isn’t, solely, what happens when we die, but what happens here, now, in this time, in this place. How does God’s love change me, today? How does that love change the world, through me, today? As his chapter on heaven is titled, “Here is the new there.” The story isn't just about life after death, but life before death. 
Jesus teaches us to pursue the life of heaven now and also then, anticipating the day when earth and heaven are one.

Honest business,
Redemptive art,
Honorable law,
Sustainable living,
Making a home,
Tending a garden-
They’re all sacred tasks to be done in partnership with God now, because they will all go on in the age to come.”

The new life we're called to, the life of heaven, pursued here, now, is love: inviting, expansive, active, personal, shared with those like us and those we could never love on our own, those next door and those on the other side of the globe, a visible expression of God alive in us. Love made possible by Jesus Christ's example, his atonement, and his Spirit at work inside us.  

"Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us." 1 John 4:7-12

"And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God". Ephesians 3:17-19

"For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord."  Romans 8:38-39

Please join the conversation. Your thoughts and experiences in this are welcome. Look for the "__ comments" link below to leave your comments.