Say what you want about Rob Bell and his controversial new book Love Wins (and I hope to say quite a lot before long — I’m collaborating on a review due out soon), there are at least two things you’ve got to admit.
The first thing you’ve got to admit is that Bell has a remarkable way of putting things.
There’s a compelling poetry and earthiness to his manner. And he has this fabulous ability to put into words the half-formed questions that niggle and gnaw away at the back of your mind.
The other thing to you’ve got to admit is that Bell is far from squeemish about God’s judgement.
For all the buzz on the internet — and for all that Bell may tilt ultimately in the direction of universalism — it’s not a discomfort with a God of judgement that seems to motivate him here.
In fact, at one point in his chapter on heaven — a classic Bell blend of contemporary New Testament scholarship, provocative questioning, and apparent lack of ability to distinguish the baby from the bathwater — Bell rhetorically ‘takes on’ those who say they can’t believe in a judging God (pages 37-38):
Yes they can.
Often we can think of little else.
Every oil spill,
every report of another woman sexually assaulted,
every news report that another political leader has silenced the opposition through torture, imprisonment, and execution,
every time we see someone stepped on by an institution or corporation more interested in profit than people,
every time we stumble on one more instance of the human heart gone wrong,
we shake our fist and cry out,
“Will somebody please do something about this?”
And so in Bell’s account of the New Testament vision of the new creation and renewal of all things, ‘heaven … has teeth, flames, edges and sharp points’ (page 49).
Don’t you wish you could preach like that? I know I do!