When reading Rob Bell’s latest book, Love Wins, it’s important to keep two things in mind: Who the book is for, and who the book is against. Ironically enough, Love Wins is an often angry diatribe against a very particular group of people (fundamentalists) for the sake of another very particular group of people (skeptics). If you don’t catch this, you’ll miss the point of Bell’s book altogether.

Love Wins was written with the intention of destroying a popular view of the afterlife. Bell alludes to this indirectly on page 200, where he writes, in the Acknowledgements, “[Thanks to] Zach Lind for saying ‘wrecking ball’ under his breath several times in a row.” The book, then, is a wrecking ball against a peculiar understanding of heaven and hell, salvation and damnation. What, exactly, is that understanding? Let’s sketch the main points.

Heaven is Somewhere Else

Heaven is where you go when you die if you prayed the sinner’s prayer in this life and put your faith in Jesus Christ. It is an entirely spiritual place, and is basically a worship service that goes on forever. It is completely discontinuous with life on earth, which will be entirely destroyed anyhow, so life on earth doesn’t have much significance, other than putting your faith in Jesus.

Hell is Somewhere Else

As with heaven, hell exists somewhere else. Metaphorically speaking, heaven is up and hell is down. Hell is a spiritual nightmare (or possibly a physical nightmare). Eternal torment goes on and on forever amidst the raging fires.

It’s All About Eternity

All that really matters in this life–your life now–is what it means for your eternal destiny. The only thing that has any true, lasting significance is whether you surrendered your life to Jesus in faithful obedience.

God is Angry With You

Your sin makes God angry. He is waiting to pour out his divine wrath upon you as the just penalty for your sins. Fortunately, Jesus has stepped between you and God; he took the full brunt of the wrath of God against the sins of humanity on the cross. Those who place their faith in Jesus Christ will receive God’s love, but those who reject Jesus Christ (or have never heard of him) will bear God’s wrath forever in hell.

Turn or Burn

Repent of your sins, renounce your ungodly ways, and turn to Jesus; or else face the consequences of burning in eternal hellfire. It’s really that simple.

The Gospel is Your “Get Out of Hell Free” Card

Our primary motivation to trust in Jesus is that he saves us from hell. “If you were to die tonight, are you 100% certain you would go to heaven?” That’s the question that must be asked of unbelievers. While the forgiveness of sins is important, it is our escape from hell that is the gospel’s greatest benefit to us.

God has Predestined a Select Few for Heaven and Everybody Else Goes to Hell

In his sovereignty, and for his glory, God has predestined a certain number of people–the Elect–to receive salvation. Conversely, he has predestined everyone else to receive condemnation. The Elect will enjoy eternal communion with God in heaven, but the rest will suffer eternal torment in hell.

Those Who Have Never Heard of Jesus will Spend Eternity in Hell

The Bible teaches that, besides Jesus, “there is no other name under heaven by which we can be saved.” Conscious, responsive faith to the gospel message is the only means of salvation available to humans. We are all, from birth, under the wrath and judgment of God as the due penalty for our sins, and he has graciously offered one way, one truth, and one life–Jesus Christ, his son. Nobody can come to the Father except through him.

These eight main points comprise the basic worldview which Rob Bell is seeking to destroy in Love Wins. This is the eschatological building against which Love Wins is the “wrecking ball”. You should know this going in.

I’ve tried to present the views as accurately as possible, though I can’t say that Bell has been as gracious in his book. He often creates a strawman based on caricature beliefs of extreme fundamentalist Christians, and then proceeds to swing his “wrecking ball” at the strawman. While it’s rhetorically effective, I found it rather disingenuous and, in the end, detracted from the force of his argument.

I’ll continue to post more on Love Wins this week. Some of it I like, some of it I don’t, and I’ll try to offer some reasonable counterarguments where I disagree with Bell. In the meantime, if you want to know the love that Bell is referring to (though he doesn’t talk about it like this), check out this post, and this one, too.

I try not to pay attention to the comments sections when I’m reading news articles online. It can only infuriate you. But sometimes I allow my curiosity to get the best of me, and, predictably, I read something that infuriated me.

The state of Florida is preparing to pass the Andrew Widman Act, which will close a loophole in the state’s law regarding probation restrictions. Andy was a friend of mine (I’ve known him since 3rd grade), and he eventually became a police officer in Ft. Myers, FL. He was shot and killed in the line of duty in 2008. The man who killed him was on probation, had been arrested on a felony charge just a few days before, but was out on parole. This is the loophole the law is hoping to clear up. (If you’re new to the blog, please go back to the archives of July, 2008 to read more. Andy was an incredible man of God who is greatly missed.)

Apparently it’s passed both the House and the Senate in Florida unanimously, and now just awaits the signature of the governor. This is good news. But not to everyone, apparently. One moron, lowlife, scumbag left this comment on the news article:

Forget the Widman, better training!!! and maybe if he held his gun up instead of the cross, he be aljve?????????????

My first reaction was seething rage. My second reaction was even greater seething rage because this person is clearly an over-opinionated idiot who can’t spell and doesn’t know how to write, and he’s denigrating my faith and the faith of my deceased friend.

My third reaction was to smile, because three years later, Andy is still remembered as a man of the cross, even by ignorant imbeciles. Yes, Andy chose to bear the cross rather than the gun. No doubt Andy would have used his gun if he had to, but he wanted to show perpetrators the agape love of God more than the business end of a weapon.

There was a story circulating about a man who came to Andy’s funeral. A reporter approached him and asked him, “Why have you come to Officer Widman’s funeral?” He replied, “Officer Widman arrested me twice this year, and both times he was so kind and friendly. I just had to come and pay my respects.”

The truth of what happened that night in 2008 is that Andy didn’t have time to raise his gun. He was shot in cold-blood by an evil, cowardly man. But in his death, the cross he held up each day–the cross of Jesus Christ–was lifted up for millions to see. So thank you, idiot commenter, for reminding me that Andy is still remembered, first and foremost, as a man of the cross.

The news cycle on Osama bin Laden’s death is waning, which means that, as a nation, we’re pretty much over it at this point. The Facebook statuses have moved back to the trivial and mundane. Christians aren’t tweeting and posting scriptures at each other anymore.

Yesterday I tried to collect my thoughts on his death, but, like many of you, couldn’t make heads or tails of what was going on in my own heart or mind. I wasn’t happy, but I certainly wasn’t sad. He needed to die, I think. But it wasn’t a tactical strike, as far as I can tell. It was justice. America needed a blood avenger.

As I laid awake in bed last night, I began to wonder what the gospel is for Osama bin Laden. Not what he thinks it is, but how he needs to hear it. Yes, I know he’s dead, and I don’t want to go all Rob Bell on you…but the question wouldn’t leave my mind. What is the gospel for Osama bin Laden. So here’s my attempt at an answer. This is how I would communicate the gospel to him.

You are a fraud. You are a deceiver. You are the son of a billionaire, and yet you rail against the evils of capitalist America and prey on the hopelessness, ignorance, and illiteracy of poor young men. You use them as pawns in your sick game. You are a sociopath. You don’t even see these young men as humans, and you use women and children as shields. You are a coward. You are a false prophet, and you seek to serve God through violence and terrorism. You approach God through a false system of beliefs. You are a megalomaniac. You hope to be saved by your acts of violence. You are a murderer–the worst kind because most of the murders you committed were by proxy, through brainwashed servants whom you convinced were doing the will of God, but they were really just carrying out your sick perversion of justice.

And yet, Osama bin Laden, the perverted desires of your heart are no different than the perverted desires of my heart. The only difference between me and you is Jesus Christ. You thought he was just a prophet; he was is so much more. He is the Son of God, the King of Creation. You thought he merely swooned on the cross, or that a substitute died there; he was the substitute for you, and for me. You have just died for your sins, but he died for your sins 2,000 years ago. And then he rose again from the dead, conquering it once and for all.

As hard as this is for me to say to you, Osama bin Laden, Jesus loves you. He paid the divine penalty for all of your murderous rage. All of your murders, all of your lies, all of your manipulation, all of your violence are eternally forgiven at the cross of Jesus Christ. When the towers fell on 9/11, and the rubble was finally cleared away, do you know what was left? Two iron beams in the shape of a cross. That cross is for you, Osama bin Laden.

Let me tell you something: You deserve hell, and there are millions of people on this planet who hope you get it. You are in a select group of criminals against humanity, and the human race stands ready to condemn you. Your only hope for salvation is not in pleasing Allah through violence, but in clinging to the cross of Jesus Christ with a repentant heart and a humbled spirit. Only Jesus can save you. You must drop your agenda of violence and take up his agenda of grace. This is your only hope. Turn to Jesus, the Son of God, the Savior of the World, the King of Creation.

‎Do I take any pleasure in the death of the wicked? Rather, am I not pleased when they turn from their ways and live? -Ezekiel 18:23

And from each human being, too, I will demand an accounting for the life of another human being.
Whoever sheds human blood,
by humans shall their blood be shed;
for in the image of God
has God made mankind. -Genesis 9:5-6

Do not gloat when your enemy falls;
when they stumble, do not let your heart rejoice,
or the Lord will see and disapprove
and turn his wrath away from them. -Proverbs 24:17-18

As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign LORD, I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they turn from their ways and live. Turn! Turn from your evil ways! Why will you die, people of Israel? -Ezekiel 33:11

You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘You shall not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment. -Matthew 5:21-22

You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. -Matthew 5:38-39

You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect. -Matthew 5:43-48

You shall not murder. -Exodus 20:13

The avenger of blood shall put the murderer to death; when the avenger comes upon the murderer, the avenger shall put the murderer to death. -Numbers 35:19

Anyone who hates a brother or sister is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life residing in him. -1 John 3:15

But the cowardly, the unbelieving, the vile, the murderers, the sexually immoral, those who practice magic arts, the idolaters and all liars—they will be consigned to the fiery lake of burning sulfur. This is the second death. -Revelation 21:8

We know that the law is good if one uses it properly. We also know that the law is made not for the righteous but for lawbreakers and rebels, the ungodly and sinful, the unholy and irreligious, for those who kill their fathers or mothers, for murderers, for the sexually immoral, for those practicing homosexuality, for slave traders and liars and perjurers—and for whatever else is contrary to the sound doctrine that conforms to the gospel concerning the glory of the blessed God, which he entrusted to me.
I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has given me strength, that he considered me trustworthy, appointing me to his service. Even though I was once a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent man, I was shown mercy because I acted in ignorance and unbelief. The grace of our Lord was poured out on me abundantly, along with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.
Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst. But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his immense patience as an example for those who would believe in him and receive eternal life. Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory for ever and ever. Amen. -1 Timothy 1:8-17

I’m continuing to plod my way through an excellent book, How People Change, by Lane & Tripp. I say “plod” because I haven’t had much time to read lately. Many are the distractions these days…but all good.

In the opening chapter, the authors talk about five gospel perspectives that drive the book. They are:

  1. The Extent and Gravity of Our Sin
  2. The Centrality of the Heart
  3. The Present Benefits of Christ
  4. God’s Call to Growth and Change
  5. A Lifestyle of Repentance and Faith

These five perspectives pretty well encapsulate the gospel life. Let me share with you what they write about the third perspective, The Present Benefits of Christ.

The Christian hope is more than a redemptive system with practical principles that can change your life. The hope of every Christian is a person, the Redeemer, Jesus Christ. He is the wisdom behind every biblical principle and the power we need to live them out. Because Christ lives inside us today, because he rules all things for our sakes (see Eph. 2:22-23), and because he is presently putting all his enemies under his feet (see 1 Cor. 15:25-28), we can live with courage and hope.
Our hope is not in our theological knowledge or our experience within the body of Christ. We are thankful for these things, yet we hold on to one hope: Christ. In him we find everything we need to live a godly life in the here and now. Paul captures it so well: “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Gal. 2:20).

A friend of mine went to hear Shane Claiborne speak a couple of years ago, back in the previous electoral cycle. The other speakers (all Christians) were trashing George W. Bush up and down, assuming, I suppose, that Claiborne felt the same way they did about Bush (hate) and Obama (love). When Claiborne took the podium he said this: “Last night, on David Letterman, Barack Obama said, ‘America is the hope of the world.’ I thought Jesus was the hope of the world.” Stunned silence.

We put our hope in a lot of things that are not God and a lot of people that are not Jesus. I know too many single women who put their hope in finding some man to marry. I know too many men who put their hope in success. And I know too many people who live shattered, cynical lives because they placed their hope in things that are not God and people that are not Jesus.

Jesus is your hope. He is my hope. He is the only one who, when all is said and done, will come through for us. He is the only one who can rescue us from the evil that lies within our hearts. He is the only one who can change us by transforming our hearts, by changing that which we desire.

Don’t be allured away from Jesus by shining, beautiful things. Don’t trust in the strength of things determined by the values of the market. Don’t put your hope in yourself. Jesus rules over everything for your sake, and he his conquering all of his enemies, and he lives in your heart by faith. He is your hope.