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Omaha, Nebraska, United States
I am more and more convinced that most congregations die from a staggering lack of imagination. Let's change that. Drop me a line on email or leave a comment if you have thoughts on God, Jesus, congregations, the church or whatever.... I look forward to our conversations.

Monday, May 9, 2011

If Love wins, now what?

(During the upcoming month I will also be blogging for Darkwoodbrew a "renegade exploration of the Christian faith." You can find other great blogs and worship experiences at Darkwoodbrew.org. Please click over there to check it out.)


This series by the folks at Countryside Community Church, Omaha, NE, and part of their Darkwoodbrew exploration of Christian faith, comes about because one Rob Bell, a serious and important Christian leader (Google him), has got himself into some hot water for suggesting that God's love is the most important thing in the world. And although most Christian do not doubt this--he seems to suggest that maybe, if love wins, no one will go to hell. A few Christians (alright, probably most) do not believe that. So Pastor Bell finds himself in the midst of a maelstorm of discontent for daring to believe "love wins."

What I want to do over the next four weeks is develop an extended argument that takes seriously the title of this series "If love wins, now what?" I propose to break out my thoughts this way.
May 9: look at the word "if" and what that says about God and humanity
May 16: look at God's love, and why it wins
May 23: look at what we are freed to do because God's love wins
May 30: Why love is not what wins, but God who is love is the ultimate
If we can accomplish a bit each week, I hope we can begin to see how important God's love is, and what we do as people who "live and move and have our being" in that love of God. I don't know how renegade it will be, but I hope it proves fruitful for your faith journey.

I think it is imperative to realize what we are talking about with this word "love." Here is a key verse from the Bible:

Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love."
1 John 4.7-8

For the writer of this verse, this love is proven in Jesus as God's only son sent into the world so we might live. But here is a thing I find interesting about these verses.

God is love, but "love" is not God. In other words, we worship God not love. What amuses me at weddings sometimes is how the couple thinks the ceremony is about "love." Their relationship may be loving, they may even be in love with each other, but the point of the marriage, the relationship between the couple--is not "love," but rather God. They are together because they are part of God's world and God's understanding of how life is meant to be shared and lived with others, and it is God--not love--that creates the relationship.

So "if" love wins, it is only because God wins. And this is what makes hell such a problematic belief--the doctrine of hell basically asserts there is something more powerful than God. That is, something is stronger than God's desire to love, and when God's love encounters that force (usually rendered as some form of human recalcitrance), God's love loses. For the writer of 1 John and for myself, there is nothing more powerful than God's desire to love, and not even human stubbornness can overcome this desire. (If human stubbornness could defeat God's desire, that would make humanity more powerful than God, and therefore, why would we need God? People who believe in hell basically are disobeying the first commandment to put God above all things. They place the human will to disobey above God's desire to love.)

If you believe God is all-powerful, and you believe God is love, well, you are left with the conclusion that "love (that is God's love) wins." I know that people will say that God is love, but that God chooses--because of free will--to let people go to hell. That might be true, but that makes God a god of "free-will," and that's not what John said God is about. God is about love, not free-will. Free will is just another way to put human capacity in front of God's desire to love. Therefore, once again, it would not be God's love that wins, but rather the human capacity to choose (free will) that wins.

If God's love wins then we are under God's love, and we have to surrender much, including our ideas about hell, our own free will, and there is even more--but I won't make you any more depressed--because remember this: God made humanity just a little under angels, and there is nothing better in the whole universe than to be in the love of God, because, as John mentioned, that puts you in the love of neighbors, and that means, no matter how bad it gets...you're never alone.

May your tables be full, and your conversations be true.

2 comments:

Gail said...

I have the book and I'm trying to read it. It seems choppy and disjointed, and I'm having trouble with the writing style more than the concept. Your thoughts are easier to get through my thick skull.

Scott Frederickson said...

I can agree with you on this one Gail, as I think he does videos better than books...but that is part of what gets him into the "hot water" he's in with the evangelical community. Evangelicals--by definition--are not used to sustained theological argument, although over the past 150 years a few have tried. As "evangelists," evangelical theology has one point (to tell you about Jesus, convert you, whichever one they choose), and then they move on to the next point. Orthodox, historic Christian theology (and in this I'm including everyone from St. Augustine to Karl Barth) understands that every point has implications for our faith too--and those theologians spend time on those ramifications. Rob Bell comes from a tradition that doesn't do that much, and consequently, his writing suffers...as I always tell my students...you have to read Jean Calvin not to become reformed, but to learn how to WRITE theology. Thanks for reading.