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Love Wins — Through the Word

Submitted by on May 29, 2011 – 6:49 am5 Comments

By Dr. Tim Saleska

Introduction

At its heart, Love Wins is a book about two Christian stories. As Bell says, Christians have been telling these stories for a long time (109). But Bell likes one story better than the other, and he works to convince readers that his favorite story is the better one.

According to Bell, the story in which billions of people spend forever somewhere in the universe trapped in a black hole of endless torment and misery with no way out because of a God who inflicts unrelenting punishment on people for not doing or saying or believing the correct things in a brief window of time called life isn’t a very good story (110).

In contrast, everybody enjoying God’s good world together with no disgrace or shame, justice being served, and all the wrongs being made right is a better story. Bell believes that it is bigger, more loving, more expansive, more extraordinary, beautiful, and inspiring than any other story about the ultimate course history takes (111; emphasis mine).

The italicized portion of Bell’s “good” story emphasizes the fact that Bell does not think that he is giving readers competing fairy tales. (Who’d blog about that?) On the contrary, Bell believes he is giving us competing descriptions of reality, competing versions of the Truth. And he believes that his version gets us closer to the Truth than the stories that are currently dominant in Christianity. His love for those who have been turned off by stories that “even Jesus himself isn’t interested in telling” has compelled him to reclaim the plot from the hijackers (vii-viii).

So, Bell tells us in advance that he wants to wield his power over others (in the cause of love). That is to say, he wants to be the one to control the plot after wresting it from the “hijackers.” And he wants to be the one who gets to tell the story everyone listens to. (Why else would he write a book?)

Bell’s Basic Argument

Bell’s basic argument emerges in chapters 4-7. From the previous chapters, we already know where Bell stands on the question, “Will billions of people spend an eternity in hell?” But given that Scripture still seems to function as an authority for Bell (he quotes it liberally), and given that Christians throughout time have answered “yes” to this and similar questions on the basis of their reading of Scripture, Bell needs to show from the Bible how that answer could possibly be “no.”

He begins with the assumption (non-controversial among Christians) that God is mighty, powerful, loving, unchanging, sovereign, full of grace and mercy, and all knowing. This is the God who created the world and everything in it and the God for whom all things are possible (96-7).

If this is an accurate description of God, as Bell believes it is, it raises a pressing question. Bell identifies it for us:

I point out these parallel claims:

that God is mighty, powerful, and “in control”

and that billions of people will spend forever apart from

this God, who is their creator,

even though it’s written in the Bible that

“God wants all people to be saved and to come to a

knowledge of the truth” (1 Tim. 2).

 

So does God get what God wants?

 

Put simply, Bell asks: “If God is so powerful, and this God wants all people to be saved, won’t all be saved?” The logic is inescapable. Either God gets what he wants or he doesn’t. But if he doesn’t get what he wants, then he is not the God Christians worship. So which is it? This passage from 1 Tim. 2 is the only passage Bell really needs to raise a significant problem for those who have been “hijacked” by the other story.[1]

But if Bell is right, where does hell fit into his story? If it is true that the powerful, in-control God wants all people to be saved, how does Bell get around the possibility of eternal damnation that the Bible seems to raise—the threat that Bell hasn’t been able to completely erase in spite of his efforts in chapter 3? How does he reconcile the teaching that God wants all men to be saved (and so God will get his way) with the teaching of hell and damnation?

Bell provides the answer, and it is almost inevitable, given how he has been arguing: if people suffer hell, whether in this life or in the life to come (Bell rightfully points out in chapter 3 that there is more than one way to define hell), it is due to their own free choice. In Bell’s story, free choice is a major theme. Here is one example that echoes many others:[2]

If we want hell,

If we want heaven,

they are ours.

That’s how love works. It can’t be forced manipulated, or

Coerced.

It always leaves room for the other to decide.

God says yes,

we can have what we want,

because love wins. (118-19)

That a person must be free to choose his/her destiny is so obvious to Bell that he doesn’t feel the need to quote the Bible in support. It is so encompassing that there is no talk of faith or the work of the Holy Spirit in Love Wins. It also seems just as obvious to Bell that if God is going to get what he wants, but if people in this life are going to persist in choosing hell for themselves, that choice will continue in the life hereafter (thus his understanding of the story of Lazarus [76-77]).

The key point, however, is Bell’s belief that even beyond this life God’s love will finally win out. Bell writes: “At the heart of this perspective is the belief that, given enough time, everybody will turn to God and find themselves in the joy and peace of God’s presence. The love of God will melt every hard heart, and even the most ‘depraved sinners’ will eventually give up their resistance and turn to God” (107).[3]

Brief Response

What are we to make of Bell’s basic argument? What are we to say to people who will wonder about passages such as 1 Tim. 2 and ask just that question: “Will God get what God wants, or will God fail?” Who won’t see the dilemma? If God doesn’t get what he wants, he is not really God. But if he gets what he wants, no one has to REALLY worry about hell for an eternity.”

Well, there are a number of things we can say.

First, as Luther reminded us, whenever there is a claim made for free will, that immediately confuses Law and Gospel and turns the Gospel into a human project. What Bell says, in effect, is: “If you want to escape hell, ‘all’ you need to do is exercise your freedom correctly. Make the right choice and eternal life is yours.” The way to God becomes a matter of taking the right fork in the road. At that point the “mighty” God is no longer “in control.” i.e., hell is your own fault, not God’s.

Second, if we are that free (and Bell insists we are) the Gospel of Jesus and the need for preaching Jesus is undercut. Indeed, chapter 4 of Love Wins implicitly undercuts his chapter 5, “Dying To Live,” Bell’s sometimes insightful description of what Jesus did on the cross. Readers will question how the system as Bell explains it in chapter 4 is related to the work of Christ he describes in chapter 5.

The best that Bell can offer is near the end of chapter 5: “When we say yes to God, when we open ourselves to Jesus’s living, giving act on the cross, we enter in to a way of life. He is the source, the strength, the example, and the assurance that this pattern of death and rebirth is the way into the only kind of life that actually sustains and inspires” (136). And also: “[the cross is] a reminder, a sign, a glimpse, an icon that allows us to tap into our deepest longings to be a part of a new creation” (137).

It’s hard to know what that means.

By the end of chapter 5, readers will ask, “do we REALLY need Jesus?” The implicit answer is made explicit in chapter 6: Not really. Here Bell argues that “Jesus” can be found in many religions and cultures, that he is bigger than any one religion (150). As Bell talks his way through this chapter, Jesus becomes less a concrete historical person and a more abstract, all pervasive principal. (Though I doubt Bell would recognize this). Finally, he writes: “Some people have so much baggage with regard to the name ‘Jesus’ that when they encounter the mystery present in all of creation—grace, peace, love, acceptance, healing, forgiveness—the last thing they are inclined to name it (sic) is ‘Jesus’” (159).

Third, Bell himself reveals what he can’t see in a startling admission on pp. 174-175. There, Bell dismisses the possibility that a loving father could suddenly turn into a cruel tormentor. That he could be loving one moment and vicious the next. He writes:

That kind of God is simply devastating.

Psychologically crushing.

We can’t bear it.

No one can.

He goes on to say that this God is terrifying and traumatizing and unbearable.

Briefly, my question is this:

Isn’t this exactly the God Job experienced?

Isn’t this the God many psalmists feared when they say things like: “Your wrath lies heavy upon me, and you have afflicted me with all your waves” (88:7)?

Isn’t this the God who killed Uzzah for touching the ark (1 Sam 6)?

The God who hardened Pharoah’s heart (Ex 4:21)?

Didn’t Jesus say about the “tares” (to whom God seems very loving during the present age) that on the Last Day they will be cast into the furnace of fire where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth (Matt 13:42)?

Same thing in Matt 13:49-50

and Matt 22:13-14.

And doesn’t Paul say that God will have mercy on whom he wills, and whom he wills he hardens (Rom 9:18)?

And after Paul and Barnabas preached in Antioch, doesn’t Luke observe: “And as many as had been appointed to eternal life believed (Acts 13:48)”?

And on and on it goes . . .

These passages picture a God who controls all things and who isn’t always “loving.” A God who does threaten eternal judgment. And we have no choice in the matter. As Paul says, we are the clay and God is the potter. On this account, God does what he wants. (See Psalm 135 where what God wants includes killing Israel’s enemies.) Humans have no choice. God decides. Not his creatures.

We are not that free. We are not free at all.

Period.

Love Wins does not have room for a God who elects and judges as he pleases. Nor does it have room for people who actually experience this wrathful God in their lives. When people ask, “Why did God do this to me?” When they actually do suffer “like Job,” or when their conscience is burdened by guilt that they can’t shake, or when people can’t get rid of the fear (a real one!) that an angry God might meet them on the other side of the grave, saying that you have free choice isn’t going to help and will probably make matters worse. What do I have to do? What choices am I missing? Am I doing it right? Am I good enough?

They are crushing questions. And they are real.

Try invoking free choice to the little children from Rwanda that Bell describes on pg. 70–the ones whose hands and legs had been cut off by machetes. In that section Bell suggests that they are in “hell,” but he doesn’t reconcile this with his belief that hell is one’s own choice. His book doesn’t minister to ones such as these. Trying to make God “nice” doesn’t help the guilty conscience for long either. (All it takes is one verse or one unfortunate turn of events to ruin shaky confidence).

The only solution for people who are in despair over their sin and in fear of God (the beginning of wisdom, according to Proverbs)—those who have been touched by the threats of the Law–is the great news of what God has promised them in Christ.

Luther reminds us that passages such as 1 Tim 2 “God wants all men to be saved,” cannot be understood as abstract or general statements about God. It is not a “general truth” or an “idea” about God in the sense that we don’t even need to proclaim Christ because the desire of God will inevitably be realized. On the contrary, Paul’s words are the sweet voice of the Gospel, which are true of the God who has revealed himself in Christ—the Word we proclaim to troubled sinners. This is true of the revealed God and not the hidden God.

Faith is the ever renewed flight from the hidden God to God as he has revealed himself in Christ. It is through this Word that the Holy Spirit awakens faith that clings to God’s promises. It is the only Word that can ease guilty consciences and comfort with an eternal hope those suffering earthly hells. We do proclaim this Word universally. As G. Forde says so eloquently: “The preached God comes to do battle against sin and death precisely through such limitless proclamation. The preacher is authorized to say it—to do the election—to everyone within earshot.”[4]

This gives pastors an important reminder. Rather than simply talking (or arguing) about God or about what the Bible says or doesn’t say, and rather than trying to remake God into one’s own image (Bell) or make God disappear (like an atheist), pastors ought to think about the word they preach as the instrument God uses to save the lost (like he uses Baptism and Communion to bring salvation). Pastors ought to consider what word they are going to speak and how they are going to speak to the people they serve. What do they want to accomplish in their speaking? It will be most helpful for pastors to think about how to use their word to minister to people. To see their task not as explaining God but as saving sinners through the word they preach. And in their preaching and teaching keep the faith that in their proclamation of God’s Word, the Spirit will work to actually kill the old in order to make alive the new creature to live before him for eternity.


[1] The other bible passages he interprets as variations of this one can easily be dismissed as not at all making the same point. For example, Ezekiel 36, Isaiah 52, Zephaniah 3 all talk of the salvation of his people Israel (or a remnant) in a context of judgment on the nations.

[2] See also his treatment of free will on pages 72, 113-14, 116-19 et.al.

[3] “So will those who have said no to God’s love in this life continue to say no in the next? Love demands freedom, and freedom provides that possibility. People take that option now, and we can assume it will be taken in the future” (114).

[4] Forde, G. Theology is for Proclamation. Minneapolis: Fortress, 1990. 34.

 

Dr. Timothy Saleska is Associate Professor of Exegetical Theology, Director of the M.Div. program, and basketball coach at Concordia Seminary. He is currently writing a multi-volume commentary on the Psalms.

Editor’s Note: It is early on the first day of the week. Go and hear — and preach — this Love in Christ.

5 Comments »

  • Greg Michael says:

    Dr. Saleska,
    Thank you for taking the time to respond to the book Love Wins in a credible way. Given your comments and thoughtful response, I believe that you have read the book and done so attempting to exegete the text. Thank you for not providing a cookie cutter review or a knee jerk reaction.

    In your response to the book, I am curious about a couple of things. First, I am curious why you included a quote from Bell concerning a position help by some people in the early church “At the heart of this (emphasis mine) perspective” (i.e. the perspective of some people in the early church) in the main part of your argument, but you relegated Bell’s thought concerning people remaining in Hell for eternity “People take that option now, and we can assume it will be taken in the future” to a mere footnote.

    Second, I wanted to comment on your assessment concerning chapters 5 an 6: “By the end of chapter 5, readers will ask, “do we REALLY need Jesus?” The implicit answer is made explicit in chapter 6: Not really.” How do you reconcile this assessment with Bell’s statements: “What Jesus does is declare that he and he alone, is saving everybody”(155)[to be clear a statement of the efficacious nature of the work of the cross for everyone, i.e. objective justification]; his reference to John 12 “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself,” (151) and “When we take the Eucharist, or Communion, we dip bread into a cup enacting and remembering Jesus’ gift of himself. His body, his blood, for the life of the world. Our bodies, our lives, for the life of the world.” (157) These statements coincide with the various metaphors for salvation described in chapter 5 which all reference Christ’s work on the cross in effort to connect with the language and culture of the day. It seems to me that Bell states without reservation that we REALLY need Jesus.

    Which gets to my last question: Does Bell really talk about choice the way we talk about free will? I ask that because while Bell says many things, most everything is nuanced so that it is like a greased pig. (And this reality is both a hindrance for many and the very winsome approach that has connected many folks to the cross through Bell’s proclamation; by the way, your assessment of proclamation is very appropriate since I would suggest Bell’s primary audience are evangelicals and his goal is that they would emphasize the hope we have in God in their witness and not just a way to escape hell or ‘get in’ to heaven. He wants them to recognize their proclamation and the affects it has (hence the avoidance of much language that could be confused with the people who emphasize the approach of ‘if you would die tonight…’)). It seems like he speaks in various ways about choice; he certainly does not speak in favor of the usual questions and answers of decision theology supporters. He also recognizes that the Word of the gospel must create faith. This recognition is still in the coverings of his decision theology upbringing, but the language does admit the gospel Word first proclaimed: “We are free to accept or reject the invitation to new life that GOD EXTENDS TO US (caps mine). Our choice.” (176) From this language is the person free to turn to God without the work of the gospel or the Spirit? I don’t know that Bell argues that a person is. He also does not argue that he is not. He merely uses as many LCMS congregational members do less than clear language to discuss the work of God and the work of people in this situation. Is your statement that we have no choice indicative of a Calvinist teaching of double predestination? I happen to assume it is not, but the language you used suggests that grace is irresistible and sin is not the choice of people. Certainly people have only one option without the Gospel, but do they not choose sin? Of course you then quote Forde referencing proclamation as doing the election, i.e. God’s proclaims his grace and mercy in Christ through the Word of the gospel spoken in proclamation. But is that action irresistible? And if it is, do we just stink at proclamation? Do we ourselves not have difficulty speaking the complicated words of God’s gracious election in the same context as human responsibility for the rejection of God’s grace and sin. So, I ask the question again: Is Bell making a definitive statement of a theology of free will or is he being imprecise with his systematic theology even as he is imprecise (and this is a generous term) with his exegesis? I don’t know.

    Thanks again for your thoughtful analysis. I would appreciate hearing your thoughts on the above.

    • tim saleska says:

      Greg,
      Thanks for your comments. I really appreciate the time you have taken to respond. It is a very interesting conversation. I will do my best to address some of your questions, and I hope the conversation will be helpful to us both. I am still processing the book too.
      Greg writes: In your response to the book, I am curious about a couple of things. First, I am curious why you included a quote from Bell concerning a position help by some people in the early church “At the heart of this (emphasis mine) perspective” (i.e. the perspective of some people in the early church) in the main part of your argument, but you relegated Bell’s thought concerning people remaining in Hell for eternity “People take that option now, and we can assume it will be taken in the future” to a mere footnote.
      Tim: Ah, I think I get your question. All I was trying to do in this section was illustrate my point about the place that human choice plays in the way Bell talks. I included both quotes (from p. 107 and then 114 in the footnote) because I saw both of them as representing Bell’s position about free choice being a possibility even after death. Rereading this section, I think that’s fair. The perspective that you identify as that of some in the early church is what Bell seems to agree with—at least in the way he talks in the pages that follow. So, the quote in the footnote (not put in the main text because I was conscious that the review was getting too long), does say that some may take the option [even after this life]. I meant to put it there as extra support for the point I wanted to make. So, yes, Bell says some might remain in hell for an eternity, but the point I was interested in making is that about free choice being a possibility even there.

      Greg writes: Second, I wanted to comment on your assessment concerning chapters 5 an 6: “By the end of chapter 5, readers will ask, “do we REALLY need Jesus?” The implicit answer is made explicit in chapter 6: Not really.” How do you reconcile this assessment with Bell’s statements: “What Jesus does is declare that he and he alone, is saving everybody”(155)[to be clear a statement of the efficacious nature of the work of the cross for everyone, i.e. objective justification]; his reference to John 12 “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself,” (151) and “When we take the Eucharist, or Communion, we dip bread into a cup enacting and remembering Jesus’ gift of himself. His body, his blood, for the life of the world. Our bodies, our lives, for the life of the world.” (157) These statements coincide with the various metaphors for salvation described in chapter 5 which all reference Christ’s work on the cross in effort to connect with the language and culture of the day. It seems to me that Bell states without reservation that we REALLY need Jesus.
      Tim: Yes, let me try to explain the “REALLY” a little more clearly. (But this still may be too brief.) As I read and reread ch 4, I see Bell talking about God in general. What he says about him sounds like universal or general truths about “God.” So, he says things about the almighty, all knowing, all present God with great assurance, as if he knows the mind of God. Here is another example from page 103: “Although God is powerful and mighty, when it comes to the human heart God has to play by the same rules we do. God has to respect our freedom to choose to the very end, even at the risk of the relationship itself . . .”
      Since when does God have to play by the same rules we do?
      So, Bell seems to want to make the point in ch. 4 that if the almighty God desires all men to be saved, God is not going to fail. Love will win (notice the abstraction here—this abstract principle “love” wins). G. Forde (sorry for quoting him again, but it applies, I think) says: “If it is generally and universally true that God does not desire the death of sinners, then proclamation [i.e., Christ crucified and raised for you] is not needed, for surely the desire of God will be realized.” This is the point that I was trying to make about the proclamation of the Gospel of Jesus being replaced by the abstract talk of God (in ch 4).
      So, if I do not believe that Jesus is my Lord and Savior—if I am a good Jew or Muslim or Hindu or a good spiritual person and someone who truly cares for others, is kind and compassionate—I am feeling pretty good about God after I read ch. 4. He is not a threat. What he does is give me what I want, or—to quote Bell—”we can have what we want.” (I don’t think chapter 6, to be honest, will disabuse me of this notion either.)
      Now, in ch. 5, Bell certainly does proclaim the Gospel. He has a lot of good to say. I am not disputing that. But all I am trying to say is that if God is as Bell describes him in ch 4, his love will reach me without the scandal of the cross—that’s what I am thinking (because he doesn’t talk about Christ in ch. 4). And that’s what I mean by ch. 4 undercutting the proclamation of the Gospel. If God’s love wins in the end, Jesus’ person and work is marginalized. (And as I indicated in the review, how he talks about Jesus in chapters 5-6 is less than clear to me, but I won’t go into that here.)
      As to the passages you quoted: by the passage you quoted on 155, I had written a note that I didn’t understand what he was saying. Given what he had written in the pages previous to this passage (and after it as well), I had lost all sense of who the Jesus was who he was talking about, so I can’t really say anything more about that. Sorry. His comment on p. 157 regarding Communion likewise gets fuzzy for me. I mean, Jesus says that he has given us his body and blood for the forgiveness of our sins. We know what Paul says about Communion. So, I really don’t know how to react to his words: ” . . . for the life of the world. Our bodies, our lives, for the life of the world. These rituals” are true for us, because they’re true for everybody. They unite us, because they unite everybody.” It’s too abstract to be useful. It’s like a fog machine of words to me (and I’m not trying to be flippant—I can’t see my way out).
      Also, do you know what he means on page 159 where he writes: “Sometimes people use his name; other times they don’t” I’m not sure how that squares with Paul in Romans 10:9 and so on?
      Greg: Which gets to my last question: Does Bell really talk about choice the way we talk about free will? . . . It seems like he speaks in various ways about choice; he certainly does not speak in favor of the usual questions and answers of decision theology supporters.
      Tim: Well, people throughout the ages have talked in different ways about free will, so Bell isn’t all that different. I think you are right in that his descriptions aren’t of the “you need to choose Jesus” type (but I don’t see anyplace where he actually speaks AGAINST that type of talk), but that doesn’t make him any more helpful. He still gives humans a pretty major part to play in their own salvation. As Bell seems to describe it on pgs 113ff, for example, (but this isn’t the only place in the book), everyone has choices regarding what Luther calls “the things above”; some choose “another way.” (I don’t think I am just being picky on some minor point here; it is an important theme in Bell’s story; unless I am missing something, which is always possible.)
      Greg: He also recognizes that the Word of the gospel must create faith. This recognition is still in the coverings of his decision theology upbringing, but the language does admit the gospel Word first proclaimed: “We are free to accept or reject the invitation to new life that GOD EXTENDS TO US (caps mine). Our choice.” (176) From this language is the person free to turn to God without the work of the gospel or the Spirit? I don’t know that Bell argues that a person is. He also does not argue that he is not. . . .
      Tim: Well, since Bell doesn’t mention the Holy Spirit (does he?) and he certainly does not talk about his working through means, I don’t know how to answer this question. All I know is that he talks on these pages (176-177) within the framework of human freedom. He again goes into abstract and fuzzy talk especially at the bottom of page 177: “We do ourselves great harm when we confuse the very essence of God, which is love, with the very real consequences of rejecting and resisting that love, which creates what we call hell.” A lot of very spiritual, non-Christian people, can talk this way—embrace the essence of what God is (love). Here too is the idea that we create our own hell. One problem with talking like this is that it is very offensive to people who are suffering terribly and God remains silent. How can a God whose essence is love allow such atrocities? Bell is constantly worried about people who have left the faith because of wrong teachings about God or Jesus, and that’s fine. But surely this maintaining that God is a God of love in the face of very real suffering has offended many more. But Bell, as far as I can see, doesn’t deal with this.
      Greg: Is your statement that we have no choice indicative of a Calvinist teaching of double predestination? I happen to assume it is not, but the language you used suggests that grace is irresistible and sin is not the choice of people. Certainly people have only one option without the Gospel, but do they not choose sin?
      Tim: Of course not. Here’s the thing: Scripture teaches that we are ALL dead in sin. We are all “bound” to try to be gods ourselves. In so doing, we become bound to Satan. We lose our trust and faith in God and want to become god. (Hence, people are always trying to have some small part in their own salvation. We are “bound” to want that “freedom.”) But remember, we are not forced or compelled against our will. The nature of our bondage is that we do what we want to do. We have to be rescued! Delivered or captivated by another Master! It is God’s Word that delivers us. This is Paul’s point in Rom 1:16-5. Through the preaching of the Law (which delivers us miserable creatures to a wrathful God; this is what Bell, I think fails to see) God kills us. That is, in true fear and humility we see that we are helpless. There is nothing we can do to save ourselves (NOTHING). Through the preaching of the Gospel, the Holy Spirit raises us to life. This is sheer grace—so that we are new creatures who now delight in the will of God (see Ro 7 for more on that) (in this sense, grace is “irresistible”).
      Romans doesn’t teach double predestination. God chooses people (this is the “awful truth”). But he exercises his choices through the proclamation of the Gospel, and that is why we preach Christ (this is the good news and our only hope)! But of course there is a tension that we cannot get rid of either by an appeal toward (or I will say a nod toward) universalism or by an appeal to some kind of free choice. To the question “why some and not others?” or “why does the Law touch some and not others?” we have to stop our theologizing and explanations and “let God be God” and instead bring the word of Christ to troubled souls. To that question, Luther responds that the “why” is in “that hidden and awful will of God whereby he ordains by his own counsel which and what sort of persons he wills to be recipients and partakers of his preached and offered mercy. This will is not to be inquired into but reverently adored, as by far the most awe-inspiring secret of the Divine Majesty, reserved for himself and alone and forbidden to us.”
      Greg: Do we ourselves not have difficulty speaking the complicated words of God’s gracious election in the same context as human responsibility for the rejection of God’s grace and sin.
      Tim: Well, I think what I said above covers most of this. But I would simply emphasize that by preaching the Gospel, Doing the Absolution, Giving communion you are actually doing the electing. Through that Word the Spirit is creating a new people for himself. (See Paul in romans 8-9). The Gospel is not explaining election. Everyone rejects—we are bound to do that. It’s an addiction to us. The Gospel which you preach rescues God’s people. There is a lot we don’t know. We certainly don’t know many “whys” but we know the “what.” And leave it at that.
      Anyway, I hope this answers at least partially, some of your questions. Thanks again for your thoughtful thinking. And blessings on your ministry. Go with the Lord.
      TS

    • Greg Michael says:

      Dr. Saleska,
      Thanks for your reponse. I appreciate the concern you have about Bell’s utilization of an anthropocentric basis for the rationale behind positions and your explanation of your concern about the choice language.

      Ultimately I believe the recognition of abstract talk is most significant in this discussion. It is difficult to say exactly what he means by just about any of his statements. This is part of the reason why I question if he really is clearly in the free will category as we see it; but I agree the language used would suggest that that is more likely the case (albeit abstract).

      Regarding the question you asked: “Also, do you know what he means on page 159 where he writes: “Sometimes people use his name; other times they don’t” I’m not sure how that squares with Paul in Romans 10:9 and so on?”

      I believe that this entire book is a polemic against evangelism through the big question ‘if you were to die tonight…’ or scare them out of hell tactics and its directly linked problem of propositional Christianity. Having the ‘right’ answer is not equivalent with faith. Faith means you believe something; faith in Christ desires life with God and all that that means through Christ’s work. This includes desiring restoration in the present even as we yearn for the full restoration at the consummation.

      The passage from Romans is certainly about believing in Jesus. I believe that Bell would see the reference here as not saying one does not need to believe in Jesus (note on the previous page (158) he states that “People come to Jesus in all sorts of ways”). Now given the reference to Jesus in the wilderness during the exodus (158) and the reference to a man healing in Jesus’ name (159) whom the disciples want to stop, my hunch is that Bell is getting at the idea that the church does not need to be in the business of conquering more territory by getting people to assent to your label, but should rejoice when people encounter and grow in Jesus (even when the process of that growth does not always immediately hold the name ‘Jesus’ {perhaps the greater question is does he require the “name” to be in the equation and how is it in the equation}, e.g. did the people of Israel say that they met Jesus in the wilderness (158)). It is not about having the right answer (of my territory), it is about believing in Jesus, who he is, what he has done, and what that means for me/us, my/our perspective, and my/our life.

      While my gut tells me that that is Bell’s intention here, I do agree (I am assuming that this is part of the equation in your Romans 10:9 reference) that Romans 10:14f makes the type of broad assessment/hope by Bell an overstatement of the examples at best. Nonetheless, I believe that is what he is going for. [But again, I don't think he provides clarity on much of what he says. This technique is part of his style and part of what pulls a post modern demographic in. By the way, because of this dynamic, I think that the last chapter of the book needs to be a heavy piece of the final interpretation of Bell.]

      Thanks again for your feedback! Peace (in the Christ!!).

  • Ryan Tinetti says:

    With all due respect to the other authors of the past week, this is the best review of Bell’s book I’ve read, all the way down to turning the tables on Bell’s own method of argumentation–the staccato questions and rapid-fire Scripture quotations. In particular, I appreciate your calling attention to his rather broad use of “Jesus.” Jesus is not a mystical experience. Jesus is, well, Jesus.

    • tim saleska says:

      Hi Ryan,
      Great to hear from you and thanks for your kind words.I tried to read Love Wins as carefully and sympathetically as I could. But what really interested me was the argument based on 1 Tim 2. I saw parallels with Bondage of the Will and that helped me sort things out a little better. Blessings on your ministry. Go with the Lord.
      shalom
      Tim S

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