Tag Archive: rob bell


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I get asked all kinds of questions when I go to speak to groups about faith. One of the most common has to do with my understanding of Hell. So I tell them a story about a monkey.

The story goes that if you put something inside a jar that a monkey wants, they’ll reach in and grab onto it with singular determination. The problem is, they can’t get their hand out of the jar while also hanging on to the thing they want, but they’re so stubborn that they will not let go.

The result: they get what they want, in a manner of speaking. But it stays stuck inside the jar, along with their hand. They are slaves to their own desire.

Hell is – pardon the pun – quite the hot topic these days, especially after the success of Rob Bell’s book, LOVE WINS: A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived. Though I don’t entirely agree with Bell, it’s a worthwhile conversation.

I’m what some might call a Christian Universalist, which basically means that I’m a Christian by choice, but that I don’t think you have to be one to be reconciled with God. There are lots of reasons for this, including the fact that Jews – God’s “chosen people” – didn’t have a theology of hell in their faith. Rather, their Sheol was a place of rest where the dead would reside until God summoned them all.

Jesus adopted more hell-like descriptions, borrowing imagery from the Greek belief in Hades. There are also lots of references to “the pit” and “the fire,” which many scholars agree is a reference to the big trash dumps outside of town. Here garbage was tossed out and burned, but many “untouchables” also scavenged for food and shelter. Not exactly a place one wanted to hang out.

The inevitable question I get when people struggle with this idea is, “So, you think that when we get to heaven, Hitler will be there?”

Well, yeah. That’s pretty much my understanding of how grace works. If grace comes with an asterisk, it ceases to be grace. Grace is un-earnable, unconditional and universal.

I know this butts up against our human love for “systemic justice,” wherein the good and bad each get what they deserve. But we only have to read Jesus’ many parables about the vineyard workers, the Prodigal Son and so on to find the idea that God’s justice isn’t fair, at least in the way we want to define “fair.”

Another response I get is along the lines of, “So, we can just do whatever we want and God doesn’t care?” Hardly. Jesus himself says we’ll know what is right and wrong, not by following written law, but by discerning justice and righteousness in our own hearts. And as my seven-year-old son, Mattias can tell you (he’s prone lately to daily confessions to me and Amy), misdeeds linger with us, and we long to purge them from our system, or to avoid them in the first place.

In Mark 10, a faithful man asks Jesus how to be a part of the Kingdom of God. Jesus’ response: sell everything and follow me. Though this is intentional exaggeration for effect – after all, Jesus had some basic possessions and he had folks who subsidized his ministry – the point is that the only thing that can get between God and us is whatever we love more.

Said another way, the only thing that separates us from God is us. Does this mean we can condemn ourselves to hell? If you mean you’ve blown your chance at angel wings, and all you’re destined for is eternal fire and torture, I don’t think so. But if you mean living a life void of real meaning, a true sense of love and fulfillment, I think that’s exactly what Jesus is talking about.

Does this mojo, good or bad, follow us into the next life? Who knows? One mistake we often make is thinking of eternity as something that happens later, “out there” somewhere. But eternity, by definition, never starts or stops. We’re in eternity right now.

This also drives Jesus’ point home that God’s kingdom is here, now, rather than something to happen way off in the future. Granted, the Love available to us may not be fully realized, but with our help, God’s Kingdom is still under construction.

Setting everything else aside to make room for that Love to be fully realized is what the full potential of God’s kingdom is about. But this Love doesn’t impose itself on us; we have to choose it. The key to our freedom is in letting go.

Christian Piatt is an author, editor, speaker, musician and spoken word artist. He co-founded Milagro Christian Church in Pueblo, Colorado with his wife, Rev. Amy Piatt, in 2004. Christian is the creator and editor of the Banned Questions book series, which include Banned Questions About the Bible and Banned Questions About Jesus. He co-created and co-edits the “WTF: Where’s the Faith?” young adult series with Chalice Press, and he has a memoir on faith, family and parenting being published in early 2012 called Pregmancy: A Dad, a Little Dude and a Due Date. For more information about Christian, visit www.christianpiatt.com, or find him on Twitter or Facebook.

I was psyched when Jarrod McKenna, one of the contributors to the forthcoming BANNED QUESTIONS book series, told me her had an interview of Rob Bell appearing on ABC Australia’s news site about Rob’s new book, LOVE WINS: Heaven, Hell and the Fate of Every Person who Ever Lived. My initial excitement had to do with Jarrod’s citation of a passage from BANNED QUESTIONS toward the end of the piece, but the central message of the interview, and apparently of the book, is far more significant than I expected.

Rather than paraphrase what Jarrod and Rob have already said so well, I’ll just quote Rob from his book:

Bell addresses one of the most controversial issues of faith – the afterlife – arguing that a loving God would never sentence human souls to eternal suffering. With searing insight, Bell puts hell on trial, and his message is decidedly optimistic – eternal life doesn’t start when we die; it starts right now. And ultimately, Love Wins.”

Did you hear that? It’s the sound of thousands of conservative evangelicals closing their mental doors on Rob Bell in unison.

For some within mainline Christian circles, the prospect of “universal salvation,” or the idea that God ultimately reconciles all of us into God’s presence, regardless of our worthiness of such grace, may not be a real shock. But even the suggestion of what I consider “Christian Universalism” within evangelical circles is sure to send seismic ripples throughout the church.

And his claim has done just that.

Neo-Calvinist John Piper led the charge, bidding farewell en masse to Bell and his message of non-exclusive salvation. What, after all, do many Christians have to offer the world if not the key to unlock the gates of hell from the inside?

While Jonathan Edwards showed us, with his “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” sermon, that fear can galvanize a congregation, Bell’s message is that love – and more specifically God’s love – is bigger than the sum total of our fears, sins, and other shortcomings is a call in a growing chorus. This, in the truest sense of the word, is Gospel: Good News!

Chalice Press is offering a special promotion through ABC Australia of 40% off pre-orders of BANNED QUESTIONS books. Order in March through the Chalice Press site and enter the code “BANNEDQ1” at checkout.

 

Jesus is standing in front of the temple in Jerusalem
the massive gleaming brick and stone and gold house of God
and he says destroy this temple
and I’ll rebuild it in three days

the people listening to him said how are you going to do that?
it took 46 years to build this temple!
but he wasn’t talking about that temple
he’s talking about himself
he essentially says, listen
I’m going to be killed
that’s where this is headed
because you don’t confront corrupt systems of power
without paying for it
sometimes with your own blood
and so he’s headed to his execution
if you had witnessed this divine life extinguished on a cross
how would you not be overwhelmed with despair?

is the world ultimately a cold, hard, dead place?

does death have the last word?
is it truly, honestly, actually dark
and so whatever light we do see
whatever good we do stumble upon
are those just blips on the radar?
momentary interruptions in an otherwise meaningless existence?
because if that’s the case then despair is the
only reasonable response

it’s easy to be cynical

but Jesus says destroy this temple and I’ll rebuild it
he insists that his execution would not be the end
he’s talking about something new and unexpected
happening after his death
he’s talking about resurrection

resurrection announces that God has not given up on the world
because this world matters
this world that we call home
dirt and blood and sweat and skin and light and water
this world that God is redeeming and restoring and renewing

greed and violence and abuse they are not right
and they cannot last
they belong to death and death does not belong

resurrection says that what we do with our lives matters
in this body
the one that we inhabit right now
every act of compassion matters
every work of art that celebrates the good and the true matters
every fair and honest act of business and trade
every kind word
they all belong and they will all go on in God’s good world
nothing will be forgotten
nothing will be wasted
it all has it’s place

everybody believes something
everybody believes somebody
Jesus invites us to trust resurrection
that every glimmer of good
every hint of hope
every impulse that elevates the soul
is a sign, a taste, a glimpse
of how things actually are
and how things will ultimately be
resurrection affirms this life and the next
as a seamless reality
embraced
graced
and saved by God

there is an unexpected mysterious presence
who meets each of us in our lowest moments
when we have no strength when we have nothing left
and we can’t go on we hear the voice that speaks those
words

destroy this temple and I’ll rebuild it

do you believe this?
that’s the question Jesus asked then
and that’s the question he asks now

Jesus’ friends arrive at his tomb and they’re told
he isn’t here
you didn’t see that coming, did you?
he’s isn’t here
there is nothing to fear
and nothing can ever be the same again
we are living in a world in the midst of rescue
with endless unexpected possibilities

they will take my life and I will die Jesus says
but that will not be the end
and when you find yourself assuming that it’s over
when it’s lost, gone, broken and it could never be
put back together again,
when it’s been destroyed and you swear that it could never
be rebuilt

hold on a minute
because in that moment
things will in fact have just begun

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