So what do you think? Does God’s grace only extend to us and people like us? Or do its parameters include all God’s children everywhere, even those who affirm other faiths or no faith? Is judgment real? Could it differ from some angry God condemning the masses to agony? Is judgment more like accountability for our lifelong actions, as it is overcome by God’s grace?
Once a darling of evangelical America, Rev Rob Bell ran afoul of fundamentalists with his 2011 book “Love Wins.” He left his church and now tours with Oprah. Along with a heartfelt farewell to Carl and Lisa, Connor and Tyler Wist, these themes are where we are headed this Sunday. Here are a few excerpts from a recent interview with the Rev Rob Bell on such matters as these:
Interviewer: As you have veered away from evangelical Christianity, who is your audience now? ROB BELL:I always thought the word evangelical meant good news, so I always thought it meant a joyous announcement that we are all loved and are all brothers and sisters and all in this together and let’s all work to deal with the suffering and the real problems in the world. So the idea of a subculture that liked to claim that word sort of always seemed ridiculous to me.
Interviewer: You write a lot about the work of binding and loosing and wrestling with scriptural texts. What kind of binding and loosing work are you doing on your tour?
ROB BELL: I’m trying to give people a new story, a story that helps them see that science and spirituality are long-lost dance partners and because of what we know about the universe and the fact that it’s an expanding universe, along with what we know about how our hearts work, I feel there are endless connections between the two.
Interviewer: You took heat for daring to suggest a different view of hell. Did you expect that? ROB BELL: I did a series of sermons on women’s equality probably in 2002, so I had experienced this kind of unique venom that religious people spew when they believe they’re defending God. I had done a series of sermons questioning the war in Iraq, my first book had apparently made some people upset so while “Love Wins” was louder, the knobs were turned up, it was really a natural ongoing progression of what I’d been experiencing for over decade.
Interviewer: You get criticized for wanting to enjoy the kind, loving God but just skip over the unpleasant parts like the hell, fire and brimstone. It is a recurring theme among your critics. BELL: It’s funny to hear that. It’s a weird critique number one and number two, these people who claim to be sharing the good news, oh wait, it’s actually bad news. If you’re literally operating from a world view that says billions and billions are going to be tormented forever in some sort of conscious hell because they didn’t believe in somebody they never heard about … that’s a horror story. That is such a psychologically devastating portrait of the universe we’re living in, who could ever bear that?… In my experience, people are transformed when they hear a fresh new word of imagination about who they are and who they can become. So when people say, “He doesn’t want to bring that stuff up,” well, I’m in line with millions of people of faith who are more interested in making the world a better place. The French paleontologist de Chardin said the soul of the universe goes forward. Fundamentalism on an energetic level, is rooted in a desire to go back, to some sort of imagined pure state of perfection of how things used to be. The fact that the universe can only go forward is why fundamentalism always turns on itself and collapses in the end.