Monday, February 28, 2011

Hell's Bells: some preliminary thoughts about Love Wins

In large part, Vintage Fellowship was born out of my ever-increasing desire to be part of a faith community that values questioning.

I am a naturally curious person. I like to read books with which I will disagree. I like a good theological or political debate. I like to question authority and push the boundaries of the status quo. I doubt that I'll ever feel like I have arrived. I'm always journeying, always evolving.

This led to profound frustration for me when I pastored established, traditional churches. The denomination of my youth is very settled. They have received the truth once delivered to the saints. There is now no need to question or embark on theological exploration. All we need to do is fill in the blanks of our systematic theology notes and memorize the answers. Who needs questions when you already have the answers?

But I like to ask questions. I need to ask questions.

And sometimes, the questions will get you in as much trouble as the answers ... especially when the best answer you can come up with is “I don’t know.”


One of the questions that helped to give birth to Vintage is this ...

Wouldn't it be just like God in the end to let everyone into heaven?


The twit hit the fan this weekend over the promotion of Rob Bell's upcoming book about heaven and hell, Love Wins. It's a book that asks some big questions about the nature of how humanity will relate to God in the afterlife. Obviously, Rob Bell isn't the first person to ask these questions. And obviously, given what we know about Rob, the answers he postulates will stretch and challenge the traditional theological status quo.

But I'm willing to bet that the twit storm is premature.

Vintage Fellowship gives away copies of Velvet Elvis on our website to people in Northwest Arkansas who are interested in our church. I've lovingly referred to Rob as one of our patron saints. From time to time, we have caught some heat for this. People have said to us that we are promoting a heretic, that in Velvet Elvis, Rob denies the virgin birth of Jesus.

This is one of the common criticisms of Velvet Elvis. And it couldn't be further from the truth.

In Velvet Elvis, Rob doesn't deny the virgin birth; he uses it as an example of doubt, of a legitimate question that people ask and struggle with that shouldn't necessarily preclude them from the love and acceptance of a church community.

But so many of our church communities don't like questions. Why bother with questions when we already have the answers?


So, is there a hell? Will God let everyone in to heaven in the end?

What does Rob Bell believe? I don't know; I haven't read Love Wins yet.

But it does seem to me that the church is not well-served by premature criticism of a book that very few have even read. Are we really putting the best face on the church and guarding the reputation of Jesus by taking to Twitter to denounce one another? Wouldn't it be better if the love of Jesus was trending rather than Rob Bell?


But come on, really, is there a hell? Will God let everyone in to heaven in the end?

What do I believe? I don't know.



Vintage Fellowship
Thoughts About Rob Bell, John Piper, and Justin Taylor by Jason Boyett
Rob Bell: Universalist? by Justin Taylor



corexian said...

Isn't this what McLaren wrote about in "The Last Word and the Word after That"? I've got too many books on my list to get to so I've not read it yet. The idea sounds familiar though.

Ken Silva said...

If you don't know what you believe, what then do you preach pastor?

Might I suggest that God's inerrant and infallible Word in the Bible would be a good place to start.

And Bell's been teaching a quasi-universalism ala the "opt out" mythology of Spencer Burke for years:

Sara said...

okay ken, where in scripture does it say that a Pastor must have everything that he believes all figured out? because personally i don't think i've ever met a pastor who knew exactly what he believed on every single theological issue there is out there.

Sara said...

So here are what will most likely be random thoughts surrounding this subject over all.

I think that it is good to ask questions but I also don't think that God owes us anything to reveal all the answers to the questions we ask.

Isn't there supposed to be something about faith that, well, requires, faith? I sometimes think christians can get so caught up on nailing down exactly what and why we believe something because it can falsly take away the mysteries of God.

And just personally, a totally raw thought here, if God is a "universalist" then i don't think i would have chosen to follow Christ as my way to "get to heaven;" Because there are a whole lot of other "easier" belief systems out there that I would have gladly stepped on the bandwagon for long ago if that was indeed the case.

And lastly, would God be a just God if he let even those that don't believe in Christ into heaven?

So there are my random thoughts :)

amber perrodin said...

This is a great post. One of the....err....THE main reason I adore Vintage Fellowship so much.

Ken, I think it's healthy and utterly beautiful to have a paster whom openly admits and confesses his uncertainty in the unknown. That's what brings us all back to church, right? The pushing, pulling, and discovering of what it is that we actually believe. Merely having all the answers ironed out as we walk in the doors assumes the position of Christ himself, if I may.

Robb beautifully lays out God's "inerrant and infallible Word" each Sunday. And he's honest about it. Sometimes it's confusing. Other times crystal clear. We learn together as a community with the great assistance of a deep spiritual leader.

I like the question that Sara poses about faith requiring faith. And isn't faith just that? A mere belief in something that you don't fully comprehend.

Pastors are but a narrator of the Holy word. They deliver messages as best as their small, human capabilities can conceive. I like that someone is pushing back on traditional beliefs, be it rob bell or robb ryerse. It's refreshing.

Candice said...

I am so grateful for questions. Without them I never would have found my way back to the church. I think questions are what keep me there. I will always seek, because I know God is the only one who has all the answers. Which is a relief. I am so grateful for Robb and Vintage. I have grown more spiritually in the last few years than the rest of my life.
And I don't know about hell either. My ideas probably are closer to Bell's than some folks. But that doesn't worry me. I didn't become a Christian because I am afraid of hell. Growing up, the message was very fear based. I came back to the church because I love Jesus. He already saved me, folks. Every thing else is just gravy.

Grace said...

Thank God for Robb Ryerse and Vintage Fellowship, without which I would probably be a Universalist. Or maybe I'd be Buddhist. Or maybe I'm really so glad because I could be both and still be accepted at Vintage. =)

Robb Ryerse said...

Daniel, yes McLaren takes on the subject of hell in The Last Word and the Word After That.

Ken, oh Ken. Welcome to the Grenz, by the way. Thanks for worrying about what I preach. I'm going to continue to preach the grace of God found in Jesus as revealed in the Bible ... same thing I've preached for 15 years now.

Sara, thanks for your thoughts. I know that you are always up for the struggle!

Amber, Candice, Grace ... thanks for the encouragement. Just wait until I've read Rob's book and actually have something to say about it.

calvin said...

nice video choce dad!

Anonymous said...

"okay ken, where in scripture does it say that a Pastor must have everything that he believes all figured out?"

A pastor doesn't need to have everything figured out. But the basics of Heaven and Hell are vital. A pastor must at least understand this to avoid 'stumbling against the pulpit'...

Anonymous said...

Robb, I use to have great respect for you because you always looked for answers in the Bible. It's sad that you look to others now. You say you teach grace but I remember when you taught Truth & Grace. What happen to truth? I was worried years ago when I started to see you & Vanessa worry more about the size of the church rather than the strength of it. You used to hand out free Bibles now you hand out books by Rob Bell .How sad. There are things in this book that clearly contradict what God says in the Bible. How can you not be sure if there is a Hell? Have you forgotten the words in the Bible or do you not believe them anymore? Yes, I believe questions are good but I want answers from Gods word, not Robb Bell. Robb, you always told people to check themselves & their motives, look deep inside Robb and turn back to Gods word. You always told us to be very careful, to steer clear of new age religion, now you not only teach it to your church you teach it to your kids. What happen to you Robb? I will continue to pray for you. God bless you.

ness said...

I just want to say to Anonymous that my husband has the guts to put things out there with his name on them. You were so uncertain, you took pot shots without owning it.

Your comment was gutless.

Your tone is one of trying to shame my husband into believing something he finds unsettling and not at all as neatly defined as you think it is. Why didn't you interact with his real questions? Instead, you tried to guilt him and accuse him of not being as good a Christian as you are because you believe the "right things" and he has doubts. I find few people in scripture who believe all the right things and do all the right things that Jesus was drawn to. Instead, I see a God who values doubt and unknowing as much or more than those who's faith is neatly packaged and set in stone. Your certainty costs you nothing.
His doubt is expensive and brave.

I wouldn't have weighed in but you did mention me by name.

Anonymous said...

Wow! I can see why some people rather be annonymous! They most know this couple speaks of grace but don't take critism too gracefully! LOL Didn't think pastor's had to deal with angry wives too.Okay, don't bite my head off I'm kidding. Sometimes it's hard to interpret the tone in a letter or email. I actually thought that comment seemed pretty sincere. Didn't think he was trying to shame him. Sounds like the guy was concerned about Robb. Actually got me thinking. Maybe I'm getting confused because I've been spending more of my time reading other books rather than my Bible. Think I'm going to go back to the Bible and maybe that will clear my head. Thanks Annonymous! I know your words were not for me but they really made me think. Chill out Ness, maybe let your husband think on it as a christian instead of trying to tear it apart to defend him. Maybe they didn't put their name cause they didn't want hard feelings. Seeing how you react I sure as hell ain't putting my name. LOL

ness said...

I am usually pretty chill. And my husband IS gracious. Much more than I am. But somebody that really knows and loves us should never have need to leave such a message anonymously. And that is what bothers me the most about its delivery. I've stood back and watched banter here on this blog many times, but I can't tolerate the way people from our past think as long as their theology is solidly approved by their denomination, they can be jerks online...anonymously. It's not my husband's viewpoint I feel the need to defend, but his person. And can you really blame a wife for that?

Anonymous said...

What's going on here? Ness, you should have let your husband handle this. I'm sure he would have shown more grace and humility. Hopefully! Pastor's wife calling fellow christians jerks for expressing concern? Honestly, you're the only one making your husband look bad here.

Trevor Bates said...

Anon - you're a troll. And you're not a very good one either. Lurk more - you might learn something.

Ness - someone really sincere and intelligent out there is really worried about you and Robb! Maybe even two intelligent persons! You should be thanking them for teaching you about grace and humility and intelligence. I hope they know me. Then maybe I can have someone worried about me too.

H said...

I have stayed quiet, but won't now, because you were a jerk to Ness, Anon. Thank God she isn't the stereotypical Pastor's Wife who pretends not to have opinions or stand up for her husband or anything else. It is quite clear to me why she and Robb walked from their past church experience. They were fake "graced and truthed" into a shameful sham of an existance, and longed for the freedom promised by Christ (the one in the BIBLE). FYI anonymous, their willingness to question and search while STILL teaching and showing others the love of Christ, has CHANGED LIVES. And just in case you question my sincerity I am very unsure of Robb Bell's teachings and have pretty much shied away from them. I still thank God for the courage that Robb and Ness have, and that they have not backed down.

Robb Ryerse said...

Anonymous, you've got to admit that concern cloaked in anonymity makes people suspicious. I've responded to your question. Are you not interested in having a conversation?

Everyone who has felt the need to defend me, I deeply appreciate it. However, we've got to face the irony that there is a lot of acromony about a book called Loved Wins. Could there be a better way?