Love Definitely Didn’t Win

So I’ve been wondering how do we know who is a heretic… and who gets to make that call about another?

With the universalism debate taking place lately spurred by Rob Bell’s new book I have been reflecting on what has been disturbing me and I think its the stark way in which a ‘brother’ has suddenly become a ‘heretic’, when he happens to raise questions and possibly even come to the ‘wrong’ conclusions.

I have heard Bell specifically branded a heretic in various places and while I haven’t read the book (and am still in no hurry to) I am intrigued by the way we have handled this issue.

Not well… Not well at all.

Let’s assume Bell is completely totally wrong on the issue of Heaven/Hell. Does that then make him a heretic? Let’s allow that the view he holds may be heretical, but is the man then a ‘heretic’. That’s an enormous slur to hang on someone. If he is right about absolutely everything else but wrong on this is the label actually fair?

Even NT Wright when he speaks says ‘80% of what I say to you today will be true and accurate – 20% will not be true – the problem is that I am not sure which is which’. (I guess he gets the heretic label by certain folks too…)

Geez we’re a nice bunch aren’t we?…

I would tend to assume that by the definition used to make Bell a heretic, we are actually all heretics – we just don’t know what our heresies are – or maybe more importantly, others don’t know what our heresies are, otherwise they would be able to brand us and ‘out’ us.

I’m for truth and coherence in what we believe, but I think the casualty in this debacle has been love.

Love definitely didn’t win…

23 thoughts on “Love Definitely Didn’t Win

  1. I agree that love is not winning.

    This issue appears to have had the same venom and polarised nature of so many “issue” debates on public forums at the moment.

    In particular I am concerned how Christian debate parallels general debate in that the more traditional and conservative position holders within a debate are often using agression as there model of response to new ideas and alternative view points. If the “bye, bye, Bell” tweet is to be believed then this is a classic example of this behaviour.

    This is most disappointing as it appears to show as Christians we struggle to show another way on engaging in debate and difference. We do not lead by love, or set out to show for example that; “wow these guys don’t agree but they set a different tone in their discussions.”

  2. We are all indeed heretics…but we are going to make millions off of our potentially wrong arguments, nor will we make money arguing against those arguments…so he’s taking his own risk.

    Still, you’re right. And the bottom line is…why use the word heretic at all? Are we that insecure that we don’t think our people can make a decision themselves? That just means we haven’t done a good job of educating the church.

  3. I love John’s description of Jesus as the man full of grace and truth – the challenge for us is that we so easily err on one side or the other. As an observer in this stoush it would seem that ‘truth’ kicked ‘grace’s’ arse

  4. I dont disagree with you entirely AH…but I have been reflecting on this verse lately from 1 Timothy 1

    “19 holding on to faith and a good conscience, which some have rejected and so have suffered shipwreck with regard to the faith. 20 Among them are Hymenaeus and Alexander, whom I have handed over to Satan to be taught not to blaspheme. ”

    I wonder how ‘loved’ Hymenaeus and Alexander felt when Paul publicly called them out and handed them over to Satan.

    Bell has a high profile, and if promoting a gospel other than the one we see presented in the Bible…

    On my blog I have this statement, “Overt criticism of churches and pastors to be deleted…”

    there are to many ‘watchdog’ ministries out there full of bitter and twisted people….and I dont want to be one of them.

    But at the same time, at some point as a pastor we are called to protect our people from wolves. As someone who has used Nooma videos and loved Bells books….I am very cautious about what he is spruiking now

  5. So if Bell is a universalist, wouldn’t it be great if he is right? Nobody goes to hell, everyone goes to heaven. Or are many Christians quite happy that those that don’t believe as they do deserve to burn forever?

  6. Love DOES win, it ALWAYS wins, because Love doesn’t change whether we ‘get it’ or whether we ‘stuff it up’.

  7. I always just assumed Bell was a universalist, and that was why people hated him.. I actually am so out of the loop I kind of thought all emerging church folk were tacitly universalist. Haven’t read the book yet, Koorong didn’t have any copies (a conspiracy obviously)

  8. Mark, are you really saying, “blame God – He made the rules”?

    The re-written, re-interpretted, re-worded word (small ‘w”) is an important, but secondary, support for the words of the Living Word – Jesus shows us simply that God, who is Love, wins, even when everything tells us otherwise (even our interpretation of those sacred scriptures).

    Rob Bell, like many before him, has simply imagined that out loud.

  9. yes oendup…thats exactly what I am saying.

    do you disagree that God makes the rules?

    my reading of the book of Job leads me to think…thats what God says as well. Who are we to question Him?

    in the context of this discussion…re Bell…I think he is dangerously close to interpreting the scriptures around what he would like them to say, rather than what they say.

  10. Mark, can you see the irony in that comment… “what they say”? Who says? Those who have interpreted the original documents, those who interpreted them second, third, fourth? Those who translated them from the original language to another language, or another or another? Those who translated the King James Version, The New Living Translation, The Good News Bible, The Message? Those who have preached it as justifying “war”, “racism”, “invasion”, “exclusion”? Those who say speaking in tongues is right, wrong, the mark of the Spirit, the evidence of salvation?

    But you feel confident to discern between one man’s personal and inappropriate interpretation and what it “really says”? I just find that a pretty big call.

  11. lets remove this from the current conversation for a moment.

    do you agree….God makes the rules?

    do you agree there is absolute truth?

    do you agree a loving God would want us to discover this absolute truth?

  12. Jesus lived by one rule… the rule of Love

    In that rule, absolute Truth is discovered… that God is Love

    God absolutely wants us to discover and enjoy this Truth… that God loves us, that we can love ourselves and that we can love others.

    What I find striking, in this ongoing (in christendom) “debate” is that…

    If one of my children was to be disobedient to me, ie, I said, “don’t do this (insert command here)” and it was a truly good command – that is, it was in their best interests as well as those about them – if they chose to willingly disobey my command, it would be quite natural for me to be drawn to discipline them. {it is important that we make a distinction between “discipline” and “punish” here – I defy anyone to prove that God “punishes” us)


    If I told my disobedient child that they would be sent to the outside of our house and would have to live in the shed for the rest of their life, with no human contact, I would be reported to the authorities and locked away for abuse – and rightly so.

    jesus tells us that, as earthly fathers, we would treat our children with love, even though we are “evil”, emphasising how much more God will love us, being… well, being God!

    And yet we have somehow allowed ourselves to embrace and celebrate an image of God that sees him sentencing human souls to eternal damnation and punishment for not embracing his Love. This applies as equally to “good” people as it does to “bad” people because, the only mark of salvation is to repent and be “saved”, regardless of how well you live our lives.

    For us to know this, and then somehow, allow ourselves to rest in the explanation that “we don’t make the rules – God does!” is quite simply, ludicrous.

    If you are implying this “truth” is the Good News that Jesus preached and celebrated – that we can escape God’s eternal wrath and punishment, by getting ‘saved’, and that, while that seems extremely unfair (eternal punishment for at worst, 70 years of disobedience!), we just need to trust God that he knows what he is doing – I’m sorry, but I think God gave us brains to put two and two together and realise that when the answer comes back as “56”, we should ask questions – not question maths “laws”, but instead, rethink our process of applying those laws to see where WE may have misunderstood those laws, or misapplied those laws or whatever – but the problem is definitely with us!

  13. I guess we could/should also throw in the idea that if, Hell is eternal and provides no opportunity for a change in response for those ‘sent there’, once sent there, then we have actually moved from an issue of ‘discipline’ to one of ‘punishment’

  14. Just wondering… has anyone actually read the book? What does it actually say? Actually?

    OEU – I’m concerned about some of your conclusions (just in your most recent comment) regarding being ‘sent’ anywhere. I’m pretty sure it’s sold as a ‘choice’ to ‘go’, not as ‘sent’ or ‘punished’. I may have misread your intent.

    However, back to the topic at hand, I feel like it is also important to note the following:

    – Not everyone writes a good book every time.

    – Intention does not always speak louder than the language used to convey it.

    – Sometimes people are wrong. Other times, I am wrong and need to take the opportunity to do some personal reflecting.

  15. Not wanting to lightly dismiss what you have said Oup, but it seems to me you are putting too much weight on what ‘seems right to us’

    And I do think Bell has pushed too hard in interpreting the scriptures through his own cultural lense. Of course we all bring our own bias, but many of Jesus’ statements were reasonably clear…imho

  16. I’m not sure we’re on the same ‘page’ fella’s, but I’m pretty confident we’re in the same ‘book’ (maybe different volume of the same “body”?), but thanks for the space to have a brief ‘chat’ anyways.

  17. Thanks for the link Dave. I actually appreciated Mark Galli’s review of Love Wins, and fwd it on to a number of friends. I guess the thing that stood out for me in his review was that instead of simply choosing dual absolute realities, ie, one of “truth” and one of “heresy”, Mark happily locates Bell within the Christian tradition.

    I’m guessing from reading the intro of David Congdon’s (very unfortunate name!) response, he might consider Galli’s ‘location’ as problematic in it’s reductionism of the ‘issues’ – I look forward to sitting down with a cuppa and reading the it in its entirity.

  18. Dave – what a fantastic essay by Congdon! I simply have to type this out for those who may not follow your link to it’s rich source…

    But it is my conviction that evangelicalism, at its heart, resists this kind of magisterial power. If it is anything, evangelicalism is the rejection of any singular form or tradition in favour of a concrete, personal and anti-institutional faith. I suggest defining evangelicalism not as a type of movement but rather as an attitude, as a particular disposition. Evangelicalism is not a substance whose attributes can be examined; rather it is an actualistic mode of being which resists any definitional foreclosure and instead bursts open our concepts, pluralizing and mutliplying the dimensions of Christian faith – though always under the Lordship of Jesus Christ…

    Certainly there are many self-proclaimed evangelists who seek to pin down a very narrow definition of evangelicalism in order to apply the label to themselves and to very few others… But I contend that this kind of semantic violence is what constitutes fundamentalism – the redefinition of terms to validate one’s own ideas over and against the ideas of others…

    Any pursuit of a universally fixed meaning (of evangelicalism) is an act of exclusionary violence which runs counter to the truest impulses of the evangelical spirit… Evangelicalism is thus, in a very real sense, anarchic in nature: it resists attempts to universally fix or define what is truly Christian. Instead, it remains radically open to redefinition and recontextualization. Its missional character flows from the fact that no institution or tradition or culture can possibly the sole bearer of the truth. In its best forms, therefore, evangelicalism is simply the openness of the church to the radical interruption of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

    What is truly ‘evangelical’, I want to say, is precisely the liberal freedom of the gospel to transcend particular cultural, institutional, political, and even religious forms that attempt to fix and stabilise God’s word in a permanent, universal and secure modality. Evangelicalism is the refusal to to allow God’s revelation to be objectified and petrified within a single dogmatic formulation or cultural-historical expression.

    In other words, evangelicalism is intrinsically missional, in the sense that it recognises the cross-cultural freedom of God’s message of grace that continually bursts open the limits we try to impose upon it. the gospel of Jesus Christ cannot be contained in a safe and secure form. It transcends our attempts to pin it down.

    (Congdon, D., Beyond Binaries: A response to Mark Galli, Part 4(A))

  19. Yeah I found it helpful. I’m happy to sit on the fence on the Hell issue – I don’t think it’s cut and dried either way. What is certain is that we all will have to answer for how we have lived and be judged accordingly by Christ – what happens passed that point I don’t know.

    I do like his take on evangelicalism though.

  20. G’day all,

    For those who object when Bell is called a heretic, one question: When /would/ you properly call someone a heretic?

    For those who object that criticism of Bell is not loving, one question: Is your idea of love only soft and cuddly, or can it include speaking the truth when this is not soft and cuddly?

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