Love Wins

And excerpt from ‘Love Wins’ by Rob Bell

So is it true that the kind of person you are doesn’t ultimately matter, as long as you’ve said or prayed or believed the right things?  If you truly believed that, and you were surrounded by Christians who believed that, then you wouldn’t have much motivation to do anything about the present suffering of the world, because you would believe you were going to leave someday and go somewhere else to be with Jesus.  If this understanding of the good news of Jesus prevailed among Christians, the belief that Jesus’s message is about how to get somewhere else, you could possibly end up with a world in which millions of people were starving, thirsty, and poor; the earth was being exploited and polluted; disease and despair were everwhere; and Christians weren’t known for doing much about it.  If it got bad enough, you might even have prople rejecting Jesus because of how his followers lived.

That would be tragic.

Now I know that this is not the whole story, but I think it’s an interesting point, and sadly true.  It’s not true for everyone, but true enough that it’s a recognisable story, and the dominant one of our culture.  At least it seems to be the dominant way that Christians are perceived.

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17 Replies to “Love Wins”

  1. I have never, ever, in the 20-odd years I’ve spent growing up in the Church met anyone who has expressed the sentiment that ‘because I’m going to Heaven it doesn’t matter if other people suffer’. Never. Not even a whiff of it. The only time i have encountered this idea is as an accusation from Atheists looking for an angle to criticise the idea of life beyond this life. I’ve also only heard it expressed as an assumption, never with actual evidence to show it to be true.

    If I were to think of the top ten people I’ve seen to be the most open hearted about human suffering I can assure you they would be mostly Christians. One of whom teared up at reading the reports detailing how Osama bin Laden was killed.

    I don’t know why you would say this is the “dominant (paradigm) of our culture” but I don’t think that is true at all (even Bell only insinuates it – he could almost start the second sentence with “imagine if…”), either broadly in Australia or in the Church and is a view that theologically only quite a godless church could adopt.

    I don’t want to jump on the Rob Bell bashing train but honestly, it’s pretty wrong to have him regurgitating the hypothetical arguments and accusations of Atheist debaters as if they are a real assessment of the heart of the Church. As far as i’m concerned Bell’s just firing blindside here though i couldn’t say why.

    1. Yeah, so the problem with that small excerpt is that is doesn’t tell the whole story.
      But, I kind of think it’s true to a degree.
      And I don’t mean that it’s anyone’s articulated theology as such, but it does seem to be an outworking of the thinking that we’re going to a better place one day, so this is sort of like a temporary problem we have to wait out. I don’t think most people think about it quite so clearly, but if you look at the evidence of the state of the world it does seem to be true. We are riddled by poverty and exploitation.
      I am convinced that a lot of people who call themselves Christians (myself included) contribute to this problem! And I think, at least part of it, stems from an idea that it’s what we believe that matters and this life is temporary so we just need to wait it out.
      I’m not sure I’m articulating myself that well, but I hope you get what I mean.
      I don’t mean that this is the conscious reason why people behave that way, but I think it’s a natural outworking of that theology.

  2. Megan, sadly I think that the position put forward here by Mr Rob is true of many in the Christian tradition. ifni, of course this is not true of all Christians, but it is certainly a central tenet of some theologies.

    I am reminded of John Piper’s hijacking of the Lausanne conference where he suggested that conversion and salvation are more important than caring for the poor and marginalised because compared to eternal suffering the suffering of the world is insignificant.

    Certainly there are many Christians who care deeply for change in the world as there are many non-Christians who do. ifni, I think it is a little unfair to to suggest that ‘most’ people who care are Christians… perhaps you just know a lot of Christians.

    I received ‘Love Wins’ in the post this week and am looking forward to some procrastination time to read it.

    1. Just as a point of clarity – i didn’t say that “most people who care are Christians”, i said that most of the most caring people i know are Christians.

    2. It seems that all this is simply a failure to live the way God teaches us to live. The solution is to… you know, refocus on God.

      I don’t know, I feel that we all tend to waffle on a bit when the answers do tend to be a lot simpler that we make it out to be. All this talk about “perception” and “what this stems from” and hypotheticals…

  3. What a lot of rubbish Megan. The Bible is full of instruction to us to look after the poor, the widowed and the orphans. So many people I know do good works and do it quietly and without fanfare as God instructed us to do. Honestly, stop plucking out these controversial exerpts to see how many people will respond and feed your ego in the doing of it!

    1. I am very offended that you chose to say that to me in a public forum.
      In no way is my motivation to feed my ego and I don’t believe I have ever said anything that implies that it is.
      You may disagree with me, and passionately, but that doesn’t mean I don’t have the right to disagree with you.

      I think this is true, generally speaking. Look at the world.
      I agree that there are many wonderful Christians seeking to care for the poor, the widowed and the orphans. I also agree that the Bible is full of exhortations to do so. That’s my point (well, Rob’s point). It is full of instruction to do it.

      But the world is a place of poverty and exploitation, everywhere we look it’s so. And Christians (myself included) are a part of this. We buy groceries that exploit the earth and do not pay farmers fairly, we treat asylum seekers inhumanely, we do not treat animals humanely. The list is endless, and the ways that these things happen is endless.

      And if the dominant Christian idea is that we have to wait out this earth to get somewhere better one day, then it’s natural that we would be more interested in ‘saving souls’ rather than alleviating present physical pain.

      I see this everywhere, in the lives of individuals as well as in the way society is structured. Corporations are hugely into this type of thinking where business prevails over people. We see it everywhere.

      Once again, not all Christians are like this. Obviously. But clearly this thinking is prevalent.

      1. I hope it’s not that prevalent but it’s definitely in there. There are even fundamentalists who rub their hands with glee and take it to the extreme where bringing about the end of the world is a good thing to strive for. Regardless of the truth Christianity in Australia doesn’t get much respect and it’s due a lot to this sort of problem. What Christians do have respect within our secular society? Father Bob, The Salvation Army, probably anyone that is seen to be doing something practical to help people rather than someone out to save you from hell.

        It’s an interesting conundrum in that those doing good works behind the scenes get painted with the same brush as those that are noisily screaming at you from a street corner or worse…and there is plenty worse.

        I don’t mean to bash other religions or groups of likeminded individuals but I reckon Christianity has a pretty good record of making a difference compared to others (not to ignore the record of damage that has been done).

        Abolition of slavery and organisations like the Red Cross and World Vision got their beginnings from Christian values and there are countless other examples. Others of different beliefs eventually followed suit but it was usually christians leading the way.

        I was surprised and heartened to see Buddhists recently taking part in protests against a tyrannical regime cos I always thought as lovely as they were and their philosophies towards life were…they didn’t seem to do much harm or good. We could always do more, there’s always work to be done, I know I could and should be doing a lot more.

        Is that part of the problem – that within Christianity most people are humble enough to know we live in a fallen world and are fallen people trying to live towards an ideal. We will always fall short of that ideal and that makes it easy to criticise Christians as hypocrites or as pretending they’re better than everyone else. I reckon it’s still good to have a goal though.

  4. Bell’s accusation is purely anecdotal, ignores history and presumes to use the word “Christian” to cast a broad dragnet across the West, particularly America, to draw in just about anybody who calls themselves a Christian, with no distinction from the church in Asia or Africa. To assume that because modern-day western Christians (along with everyone else in the west) are swept up in a systemic problem* which most people don’t understand or are even unaware exists then therefore they must believe that “the kind of person you are doesn’t ultimately matter, as long as you’ve said or prayed or believed the right things” is bad enough. To then extend this highly hypothetical line of thinking to say that therefore the idea of Heaven causes people to become selfish and uncaring, concerned only with their own destination is nothing short of libelous.

    I work for an organisation that sends thousands of Christian volunteers around the world (normally for at least a few years at a time) to love and care for all sorts of people including sufferers of AIDs, abandoned children, outcastes (in the literal sense), prostitutes and refugees, to name a few. They don’t get paid a regular wage (unlike a regular aid/relief org) but are financially supported but networks of Christians and churches who donate money to allow them to live in these communities. This is true of literally thousands of organisations around the world mobilising Christians into ministry. This doesn’t sound to me like the action of people who don’t care, in fact they go because they believe God loves people in Zambia/India/Uzbekistan/Wherever as much as people here.

    Now, before you say that i just think this way because of who i work for but ‘the real church’ out there isn’t like this, note that major aid organisations like World Vision, CBM, Wesley Mission, Salvos, Uniting Mission and Brotherhood of St Lawrence all came from the Church. While there are many non-Christian aid organisations now, Christians were the trail-blazers. Even as far back as the first century Christians were known for caring for widows and orphans even though such things were not even considered virtuous by Roman society. Why? Because they had a strong theology of God’s equitable love which was in no way compromised by an equally strong theology of being “strangers in the world”. In fact the early church especially, lived with a very strong eschatology that Jesus’ return was imminent.


    *The root cause of which is sin, let’s not kid ourselves and think that if only Christians were better Christians then we wouldn’t have poverty or suffering. We work out of love for the individual but in the knowledge that these problems aren’t going away.

    1. I totally agree with all of that Brent. There are thousands of Christians doing amazing things. And yes, I agree that Rob is generalising here for the West only. I don’t think it does take into account Asia, Africa and so forth. I guess I was coming from that perspective too, which may not be fair. In fact it isn’t unless I specify.

      And yes, Christians have more than often been at the forefront of social justice. Once again I was (as I think Rob was) more referring to our current social climate in the West. And he’s from America where this is more prevalent.

  5. This is exactly why I shuddered all the way through Love Wins.

    Firstly, he opens with a question based on a false depiction of the thing he’s attacking. I have never read a passage in The Bible nor heard any Christian preach that you “get into heaven” if you’ve “said or prayed or believed the right things”.

    Yes, he is rejecting this doctrine, but he is suggesting that Traditional Christianity doesn’t. This is classic distortion and manipulation of reality designed to make the opposition seem ludicrous and the writer seem more credible. Time and time again The Bible teaches that God judges the heart. Beneath all the legalism, all the rituals and actions, what was at the centre of the man? Was his pilgrimage for truth in earnest? Was he really after God’s own heart, or something else?

    The “person you are” always matters, but he over-emphasises this in order to remove the importance “saying or praying or believing the right things”. They are the inevitable by-product of placing God first. If God is at the centre, even before helping our fellow man, then the rest will come.

    Secondly (ignoring his pretence), he attributes man’s failure to follow a set of teachings to the teachings themselves as though they are the same thing. Removing all emotional language, this is literally what he says:

    “If you believe that heaven is somewhere else you might not be motivated to live how God taught us to live.”

    This has all the wisdom and poignancy of a fruit loop.

    But why it ‘works’ is because he combined the sentiment with several other distorting factors. He replaces Spirit-empowered servitude with self-empowered motivation. He replaces seeking God with seeking a nicer world. He replaces the importance of how we appear to God with the importance of how we appear to the world.

    The entire book, cover to cover, it like this. It’s pseudo-wisdom. As long as you swallow his extremely distorted view of reality, then he makes perfect sense. The problem is that he is a very, very gifted storyteller and his fans get sucked in by how romantic it all is and can’t see that they’re looking at reality through worldly-eyes.

    They WANT it to be true because it feels like it should be, but once you remove his coloured lens it becomes clear that his gospel, in the long run, will cause nothing but pain and confusion.

    1. “Firstly, he opens with a question based on a false depiction of the thing he’s attacking. I have never read a passage in The Bible nor heard any Christian preach that you “get into heaven” if you’ve “said or prayed or believed the right things”.”

      I agree, this is never in the Bible, Rob never says it is. But this is an attitude I have encountered. As false as it is.

      I don’t think Rob is suggesting that traditional Christianity doesn’t reject that idea. But current American Christianity often does. It can be a nominal thing that secures your own future whilst not caring for others. I am not saying the Bible teaches this, or that pulpits say this (most of the time anyway, I’ve seen some fruitloop preachers), but it can be something that keeps people complacent from actually living for God.

      “The “person you are” always matters, but he over-emphasises this in order to remove the importance “saying or praying or believing the right things”. They are the inevitable by-product of placing God first. If God is at the centre, even before helping our fellow man, then the rest will come.”

      I think he’s just trying to rectify what he sees as an imbalance, rather than saying what you believe doesn’t matter at all. He actually says that it does. It is vitally important.

      “If you believe that heaven is somewhere else you might not be motivated to live how God taught us to live.”

      Yeah, he is saying that. But that’s only part of what he’s saying. And that is true for some. This book is not written for people who this isn’t a problem for.

      Like I said earlier, this is not meant to be a complete theological book. It’s just addressing one issue that is an issue where Rob’s from. I agree that a lot of it is generalised, but that’s the issue he’s addressing. I don’t think it’s that much of a big deal.

      1. I’m surprised Luke that you haven’t encountered this attitude. I see it a lot, not so much in a face to face context but through the media for sure and I would agree that it’s usually an American presenting with that attitude. I do run up against it here now and then and I imagine there are plenty of Aussies stuck in that attitude. For a lot of people I reckon it’s because they’ve been sold that idea not that they came to it on their own terms.

        I’ve really got to read the book, mostly though I’ve just got to get on with it.

      2. I think you have no idea what Rob is actually saying, what he’s saying it about, who he’s saying it to and the extent and significance of what he’s really saying. I think you waste all your energy defending the wrong people based on “what you think they were trying to say” based on arbitrary reasons that ignore the expressed intent of the original author.

        I think you have consistently demonstrated that you only read into things what you want to get out of them based on a hierarchy of importance you have conjured from nothing.

        I understand that these words might be considered blunt or harsh, but I cannot understand your blindness in regards to the contents of this book.

        Rob IS clearly stating that “the church” (or at least his skewed view of it) is wrong in regards to the specificity of salvation. Rob is NOT trying to rectify an imbalance, he is outright changing the definition of a follower of Christ to make it more worldly. Rob IS targeting younger, inexperienced Christians and non-Christians by trying to paint “the old church” as misguided and false to make room for a new definition.

        It is a very, very big deal. This is the point. You are defending the wrong man.

  6. “I’m surprised Luke that you haven’t encountered this attitude. I see it a lot, not so much in a face to face context but through the media for sure and I would agree that it’s usually an American presenting with that attitude. I do run up against it here now and then and I imagine there are plenty of Aussies stuck in that attitude. For a lot of people I reckon it’s because they’ve been sold that idea not that they came to it on their own terms.”

    But the answer is simple, isn’t it? They are not living the way The Bible teaches us to live in it’s entirety.

    Rob uses these cases of human failure and makes out this is due to the teachings of traditional Christianity. His whole agenda is to discredit “the old ways” to make room for his new way which is overtly heretical.

    Perception is irrelevant here, it’s out how we are taught to live.

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