May 242011
 

Robert_Indiana_love Love Wins: A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived by Rob Bell. I bought this book on Audible (Amazon’s audio book company) for several reasons. First of all, it was very high on the best-seller list in spirituality and secondly because the subject has always appealed to me. In fact I was in the middle of writing a piece on much the same subjects. I’m extremely glad I picked it up.

While I would approach the subject slightly differently than pastor Bell, this book will be appreciated by someone who wants to take a fairly conservative and orthodox view of the Bible and yet is troubled by the exclusivist teaching of some fundamentalist and evangelical branches of Christianity.

Using a good assortment of scriptures, historical notes, stories and excellent prose, Bell makes a Christian case for being at least OPEN to the ideas of a limited hell from which people can be redeemed, for eventual universal salvation, and the real presence of the kingdom of God in the here-and-now.

Love Wins

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I’ll give a brief example of his prose. After quoting a ream of scriptures to the effect that God desires the salvation of everyone, and that God’s purpose cannot be ultimately resisted, Bell summarizes like this:

Once again, God has a purpose. A desire. A goal. And God never stops pursuing it. Jesus tells a series of parables in Luke 15 about a woman who loses a coin, a shepherd who loses a sheep, and a father who loses a son. The stories aren’t ultimately about things and people being lost; the stories are about things and people being found. The God that Jesus teaches us about doesn’t give up until everything that was lost is found. This God simply doesn’t give up. Ever.

It’s true that Bell qualifies his points quite a bit, needing to walk a bit of a fine line to stay within the conservative biblical view. Still, his questions alone have been enough to make his book extremely popular, and extremely controversial. People who find exclusivist Christianity limiting but who still love Christianity feel quite liberated that someone has finally spoken to them. And plenty of people in the exclusivist branches of Christianity seem very threatened. And that’s probably a very good sign.

I’d highly recommend the book to Christians who’d like support for a more enlightened version of the Christian tradition, and for non-believers who could use an example of Christianity that isn’t all about sending other people to hell.

 

The picture below links to a short video intro on the book

Mar 022011
 

religions Have a Little Faith: A True Story by Mitch Albom. I had seen this book by Mitch Albom on various best seller lists, as I had his previous book Tuesdays with Morrie, but I’d never gotten around to reading them. When the audiobook showed up in my library I figured it was time.

For some reason, I had the impression that Mitch was some sort of evangelical feel-goodauthor, possibly because I vaguely realized that he wrote The Five People You Meet in Heaven, which I enjoyed. As it happens, Mitch is Jewish and got his start as a sports writer.

Have a Little Faith

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This book started when he was asked by his childhood rabbi to give the rabbi’s eulogy (an event that didn’t end up happening for another eight years.) In the course of getting to know the rabbi better, Mitch found his own previously casual faith reawakened. He also became involved, during the course of these years, with an ex-drug addict Christian pastor ministering to the homeless in his native Detroit.

Over the course of getting to know both of these men better, Mitch becomes more cognizant of the role of faith and it’s ability to make the world a better place.

The book if full of witty stories (most of them courtesy of the rabbi) and compassionate moments. It frankly admits (as does the rabbi) that we simply don’t have answers to all life’s questions. The rabbi gives the best answer I’ve ever heard to the question of “why do bad things happen to good people.” To quote the rabbi, “No one knows”.

While gaining a new appreciation for his Jewish faith and the value of tradition, Mitch is also given an appreciation for the value of ALL religions and traditions. Embarrassingly, the local Catholic priest, during Mitch’s childhood, once accosted members of the synagogue for taking up too many parking spaces in front of his church with “They didn’t exterminate enough of you!” As his penance, his archbishop assigned him to walk around the church school grounds during recess arm in arm with the rabbi. They later became fast friends.

Then there was the Episcopal priest who was invited by the rabbi to speak to his synagogue to foster mutual respect and ended up trying to publicly bring the rabbi to Jesus. But in spite of such rough spots, the book in infused with a warm and tolerant respect for Christianity and other religions – particularly as it explores the life and ministry of pastor Henry in Detroit and becomes involved in helping his ministry.

Very enjoyable book and I highly recommend it.

Apr 122007
 

There once was a knight who served a noble king. One day his Lord summoned him with an important assignment.

“War is coming to our country from the east. My castle will be heavily attacked. You are one of my most valiant and courageous knights. Therefore, take my beloved daughter to your castle high in the mountains. Guard her from harm and keep her safe, so that when I have put down this attack, I may come and bring her home.”

Zealous to do his Lord’s will, the knight brought the princess to his mountain castle. He doubled all his fortifications. He locked the princess in the tallest tower, with gates of iron set in impenetrable stone. He put up his drawbridge, bolted and locked his massive gates, and melted the key so that no one could betray him by opening the doors for the enemy. He smiled to himself thinking how his Lord the King would reward his efforts.

Months passed, and eventually an army approached the knight’s castle, bearing the banners of the King. “It’s a crafty trick!” thought the knight. When messengers approached his locked gates, he poured boiling oil on them and showered them with arrows. He laughed with glee as the messengers fled from his gates, thinking how pleased the king would be that he had stood his ground against deception. Meanwhile, the army outside settled down for a long siege.

The next day, the army sent an arrow over the knights walls with a message attached, signed with the king’s own seal. “My poor King” thought the knight. “They have captured him – perhaps killed him, and stolen his seal. But I will be true to his final command”.

The next day, a figure approached the gates dressed in the royal robes, but the knight, sure it was an imposter, sent the figure scurrying back behind the lines with a volley of arrows.

Every day, messengers approached the gates, and every day, they were repulsed. Finally, after a long siege, the day came when the knight, weak with hunger – his soldiers all dead, was unable to keep the army from his door. Massive battering rams were set to work on the great gates, which eventually came crashing down.

The knight, all but dead, drew himself up to his knees, brandishing his sword in shaky hands. Then, through the dust, appeared the figure of his King and Lord – greatly angry. The knight collapsed on the ground. When the King’s men finally opened the tower where the princess was locked, nothing was left but a rotting corpse.

The moral? When you’re defending the Truth, make sure you leave an opening so that the Truth can still reach you. Otherwise, it may turn out your defending nothing but a pile of bones.

Moral #2 – Sometimes the person you think is the enemy really isn't an enemy at all.

Jul 282006
 

Gold Leaves

Lo! I am come to autumn,
When all the leaves are gold;
Grey hairs and golden leaves cry out
The year and I are old.

In youth I sought the prince of men,
Captain in cosmic wars,
Our Titan, even the weeds would show
Defiant, to the stars.

But now a great thing in the street
Seems any human nod,
Where shift in strange democracy
The million masks of God.

In youth I sought the golden flower
Hidden in wood or wold,
But I am come to autumn,
When all the leaves are gold.

G.K. CHESTERTON

Jul 282006
 

Did Jesus teach tolerance? There are certainly a number of scriptures that suggest that Jesus was tolerant, compassionate and forgiving.

Mat 5:7 Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy.

Mat 11:29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls.

Luk 6:37 Judge not, and ye shall not be judged: condemn not, and ye shall not be condemned: forgive, and ye shall be forgiven:

Joh 3:17 For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved.

Joh 8:11 She said, No man, Lord. And Jesus said unto her, Neither do I condemn thee: go, and sin no more.

Luk 9:54–56 And when his disciples James and John saw this, they said, Lord, wilt thou that we command fire to come down from heaven, and consume them, even as Elias did? (55) But he turned, and rebuked them, and said, Ye know not what manner of spirit ye are of. (56) For the Son of man is not come to destroy men’s lives, but to save them. And they went to another village.

Mat 9:13 But go ye and learn what that meaneth, I will have mercy, and not sacrifice: for I am not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.

Luk 7:47 Wherefore I say unto thee, Her sins, which are many, are forgiven; for she loved much: but to whom little is forgiven, the same loveth little.

Mat 11:19 The Son of man came eating and drinking, and they say, Behold a man gluttonous, and a winebibber, a friend of publicans and sinners. But wisdom is justified of her children.

Luk 10:33 But a certain Samaritan, as he journeyed, came where he was: and when he saw him, he had compassion on him (the hero in the story is a Samaritan – a heretic as far as the Jews are concerned)

Mat 8:13 And Jesus said unto the centurion, Go thy way; and as thou hast believed, so be it done unto thee. And his servant was healed in the selfsame hour. (Jesus helps a Gentile, and a leader of an occupying army).

There are also scriptures that show Jesus being angry and judgmental. I will argue later that some of these are not original with Jesus, but if we start by taking the gospels at face value, it’s instructive to note the people and circumstances that arouse Jesus’ ire.

People who are more interested in religious rules than compassion. (Mark 3:1–5)

People concerned with outward religious show (Matt 6:2,5,16)

People concerned with evangelism, tradition and religious legalism, but not with compassion, justice and mercy and living spirituality (Matt 23:13–29)

Corrupt politicians (Luke 12:32)

People who hurt children (Matt 18:6)

People making money from religion (John 2:14–17)

His own disciple when he tried to prevent Jesus from fulfilling his mission (Matt 16:23)

  • People who reject his message (Matt: 11:20–24) [More on this in a moment]

On the other hand, the people he was remarkably tolerant of and compassionate toward included:

Sinners, prostitutes, adulterers, outcasts, women, children, heretics (Samaritans), pagans (Romans), the sick and the poor.

I think we can see some interesting patterns here. Jesus is mainly judgmental of the judgmental, and intolerant of the intolerant. He has little patience for those who ought to know better, and those who think they ARE better. He is particularly concerned with anyone putting barriers between people and God, in the form of onerous regulations, hateful judgments, or monetary considerations.

Regarding Jesus condemnation of those who reject his message – scholars have long believed that many of these scriptures condemning those who do not receive the message are expressing the frustrations of early Christian missionaries, who did not have the success they would have liked, and who consoled themselves by putting harsh words about unbelievers into Jesus mouth. I think it’s pretty plain that this did in fact occur. Contrast Jesus approach, for example, in these two scriptures:

Luk 9:54–56 And when his disciples James and John saw this, they said, Lord, wilt thou that we command fire to come down from heaven, and consume them, even as Elias did? (55) But he turned, and rebuked them, and said, Ye know not what manner of spirit ye are of. (56) For the Son of man is not come to destroy men’s lives, but to save them. And they went to another village.

Vs.

Mat 10:14–15 And whosoever shall not receive you, nor hear your words, when ye depart out of that house or city, shake off the dust of your feet. (15) Verily I say unto you, It shall be more tolerable for the land of Sodom and Gomorrha in the day of judgment, than for that city.

Even if we want to pretend that the condemnation scriptures are authentic, there is an important distinction. ‘Jesus’ particularly condemns those cities and people where mighty miracles were performed, and still did not believe. In other words, those who knew better. This is in contrast to such people as Samaritans and Romans, who “know not what they do”.

In summary, if we are looking to Jesus for our guideline of behavior, we will be tolerant of those who do not follow our beliefs or standards, particularly if they appear to be sincere in their beliefs. We will also be compassionate with human imperfections and weaknesses and have mercy on the oppressed, the helpless and the downtrodden. Against religious hypocrites in particular, we appear to have more latitude 😉

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