The Few, the Humble, the Reborn

In a prior post we explored the gospel according to Love Wins and the two questions it asks:

What is the gospel?

And does how I live my life now matter?

After reading through the book I concluded that the gospel according to Rob Bell and Love Wins is muddled and confusing. I understand that Bell is committed to Jesus being the means of salvation but at the end of the book the question how do you become one of the few (or many) is still left unanswered. Is the best we can say regarding the fate of every person who ever lived is – “how exactly that pans out? That’s God’s job“. This post explores these questions.

Is the gospel a message that can’t be known?

And if that is true, why does John write so that you may believe and have eternal life (John 20:30-31) and that you may know that you have eternal life (1 John 5:13)?  How can you know you have eternal life if we don’t even know how that pans out?

How could Paul expect anyone to test or examine themselves to see if they are in the faith if we don’t know how it all pans out (2 Cor 13:5)?

What gospel were the Galatians distorting and against what gospel were they to  compare “other gospels” too (Gal 1:6-9)?

What was the gospel preached and received in Corinth (1 Cor 15:1-5)?

What gospel did Jesus teach and preach with authority (Luke 20:1-2; Mark 1:4-15)?

What gospel did Jesus want proclaimed to the nations (Mark 13:10, 16:15)?

What is the good news that the beautiful feet bring and that must be obeyed (Rom 10:14-16)?

What gospel is Paul unashamed of (Rom 1:16)?

How do I become one of the few?

How do I become one of the few? What must I do to be saved? How can I inherit eternal life? How do I enter the kingdom? No matter how it is asked – it is a question asked over and over again in the pages of Scripture. Here is a table of them:

Passage with Question Summary of Answer
Acts 2:37 Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit
Acts 16:30 Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household … and he was baptized at once, he and all his family
Acts 22:10 Rise and be baptized and wash away your sins, calling on his name (22:15)
Luke 10:25 You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself. And he said to him, “You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live.
John 6:28 This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent
John 3:3 Jesus answered him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.
John 3:16 whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life
John 3:18(also 3:36) Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God

The answer is trusting Jesus. Trusting is expressed using terms like repenting (changing your mind about who Jesus is (which in the Acts 2 context was between a blaspheming criminal or the Messiah)), believing (faith), and calling. The result is being reborn (or born from above).

At the heart of the gospel message is Jesus. He is the object of our faith – the One in whom we place our trust.

We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love that you have for all the saints, because of the hope laid up for you in heaven. Of this you have heard before in the word of the truth, the gospel, which has come to you, as indeed in the whole world it is bearing fruit and growing—as it also does among you, since the day you heard it and understood the grace of God in truth, (Colossians 1:3-6 ESV)

The gospel is a message of grace and truth which must be taught. Those who respond and accept the message have faith in Jesus that results in love for others and is based on a future hope in heaven.

Is faith a verb and does that contradict the notion of grace?

According to Bell in Love Wins [page 11]:

If the message of Jesus is that God is offering the free gift of eternal life through him – a gift we cannot earn by our own efforts, works, or good deeds – and all we have to do is accept and confess and believe, aren’t those verbs?

Yes, the words accept, confess, and believe are verbs. But the question as posed above suggests that this contradicts that gracious gift of eternal life. I assume that Bell is trying to cloud things a bit so that the door can be opened to a more inclusive gospel that does not require a response of faith. However, even though faith is a verb and is an action that a person must do to be saved it does not contradict a message of grace. In fact in Romans Paul clearly states that in order for salvation to be by grace it must be through faith.

Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due. 5And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness …  That is why it depends on faith, in order that the promise may rest on grace and be guaranteed to all his offspring—not only to the adherent of the law but also to the one who shares the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all, (Rom 4:4-5,16 ESV)

Did you catch that. Being declared righteous (forgiven) depends on faith so that the promise is by grace and not works. The same contrast between grace, faith, and works is found in Ephesians 2:8-9. It is by grace through faith and not by works.

What’s the least I can believe and still be a Christian?

That is actually the title of another book (which I have not read). But it is an interesting question. And how we answer it matters because it will shape how and what we present to others as the good news. What is it that we must understand about Jesus when we repent and place our faith in Him?

We must believe that Jesus is the Messiah whom God sent (John 3:16; 6:29). Since Jesus was sent the implication is we must also believe in God the Father who sent Him (Heb 11:6).

Here is a basic outline of the core gospel message:

Passage Summary
Heb 11:6; Deut 6:4-5; Acts 13:26 There is One God
Acts 17:24-28; Rom 1:20 God is Creator
Acts 10:42, 17:31; Matt 25:31-32; John 5:22,27; 2 Cor 5:10 Judgment
Rom 3:23; 5:8; 6:23a Sinner and wages of sin is death
Acts 2:23-24, 32-33; 10:39-40;13:23,28-33; 1 Cor 15:1-5; Rom 10:9-10 Christ died for our sins that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day
Eph 2:8-9 Saved by grace through faith (not works)
2 Cor 5:21 Sinless Jesus

We find many of these elements in the creeds captured in Scripture (Col 1:15-20 and Heb 1:1-4) as well as the Apostles’ Creed.

The Few, the Humble, the Reborn

Despite this claim in Love Wins (page 154)

What he doesn’t say is how, or when, or in what manner the mechanism functions that gets people to God through him.

It is clear that God does say how, when, and in what manner people can get to God through Jesus.

22 He went on his way through towns and villages, teaching and journeying toward Jerusalem. 23And someone said to him, “Lord, will those who are saved be few?” And he said to them, 24 “Strive to enter through the narrow door. For many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able. 25 When once the master of the house has risen and shut the door, and you begin to stand outside and to knock at the door, saying, ‘Lord, open to us,’ then he will answer you, ‘I do not know where you come from.’ 26Then you will begin to say, ‘We ate and drank in your presence, and you taught in our streets.’ 27But he will say, ‘I tell you, I do not know where you come from. Depart from me, all you workers of evil!’ 28 In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth, when you see Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God but you yourselves cast out. 29And people will come from east and west, and from north and south, and recline at table in the kingdom of God. 30And behold, some are last who will be first, and some are first who will be last.” (Luke 13:22-30)

Those that enter through the narrow door shall enter the kingdom of God.

Those that call on Jesus are saved.

Those that trust (believe, have faith) in Jesus are given eternal life and do not perish, are not condemned, and God’s wrath is not still upon them.

Those that set aside pride and humbly admit the need for a Savior are reborn.

God is looking for The Few, the Humble, the Reborn!

[How we live our life will have to wait for another post.]

History of Hell (Christian History)

Saw this tweet from Mark Driscoll and thought I would share since I have blogged and taught on Love Wins a bit.

The link refered to is from Christian History Magazine which has put out a resource (pdf) on various views of hell.

A quick summary of some of the early writers based on the article (italics are my additions):

  • Justin Martyr – potential father of inclusivism – writings inspired later thinkers to speculate on fate of unbelievers who did not have access to gospel.
  • Irenaeus – eternal punishment awaited those who rejected Jesus
  • Tertullian – eternal punishment awaited unbelievers
  • Origen father of universalism / postmortem evangelismwritings speculate on fires of hell as purifying
  • Athanasius – potential father of annilationism
  • Augustine – eternal punishment awaited unbelievers

and a summary on some of the reformers:

  • Huldrych Zwingli – reformed inclusivism –  those elect by God are saved (even if they don’t hear the gospel)
  • Martin Luther – eternal separation awaited unbelievers
  • John Calvin – eternal separation awaited unbelievers (unelect)

The article contains many more as well as a list of books that have added to the discussion on the after-life.

The Gospel according to Love Wins

Will only a few – select – people make it to heaven?

Will billions and billions of people burn forever in Hell?

How do you become one of the few? 

How do I become one of the few? What must I do to be saved? How can I inherit eternal life? No matter how it is asked – it is a question asked over and over again in the pages of Scripture (Acts 2:37; 16:30; 22:10; Luke 3:10,12,14; 10:25; 18:18;  John 6:28). Bell opens the book Love Wins dealing with how to become one of the few by jumping through passages and asking questions that challenge how salvation is worked out in each story.

So is it what you say that saves you? (Luke 7, 18, 23)

is it what you are? (John 3, Luke 20)

is it who you forgive? (Matthew 6)

is it doing the will of God? (Matthew 7)

is it standing firm? (Matthew 10)

This leaves the reader with the impression and nagging thoughts:

What is the gospel? And does how I live my life now matter?

These two questions are raised in the opening pages of Love Wins (page 6, 11) and determine the “fate of every person who ever lived”:

Some Christians believe and often repeat that all that matters is whether or not a person is going to heaven. Is that the message? Is that what life is about? Going somewhere else? If that’s the good news – if what Jesus does is get people somewhere else – then the central message of the Christian faith has very little to do with this life other than getting you what you need for the next one. …

Which leads to the far more disturbing question. 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 the message of Jesus is that God is offering the free gift of eternal life through him – a gift we cannot earn by our own efforts, works, or good deeds – and all we have to do is accept and confess and believe, aren’t those verbs?

And aren’t verbs actions?

Accepting, confessing, believing – those are things we do.

In an interview with Lisa Miller, Bell is given an opportunity to answer these questions:

[Lisa Miller] So, if I’m an atheist who gives to the poor, helps little ladies across the street, spends all my free time in charitable works. Am I going to heaven?

[Rob Bell] Well, the essence of grace is Jesus saying, “Left to your own, we are all in deep trouble. We have made a mess of this place. We are all sinners. No one has clean hands.” So, the essence of his gospel was, Trust me, I’ll take care of it. Just trust me.

Now, how exactly does that work out? Because he [Jesus] is unbelievably exclusive. He says these things like, “I’m the way and the truth and the life, and no one comes to the Father but through me.” He says things like, “If you’ve seen me, you’ve seen God.” He’s very exclusive. He’s also fantastically inclusive; he says things like, “I have other sheep.” He says “there will be a renewal of all things — I’ll be lifted up and draw all people to myself.” So he’s like in-ex-clusive. That’s a word I just made up. …  And how exactly that pans out? That’s God’s job.

Bell expands on that theme in the book (page 154-155):

[Jesus said] “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me”

This is a wide and expansive a claim as a person can make.

What he doesn’t say is how, or when, or in what manner the mechanism functions that gets people to God through him. He doesn’t even state that those coming to the Father through him will even know that they are exclusively coming through him. He simply claims that whatever God is doing in the world to know and redeem and love and restore the world is happening through him.

At this point, if I were not a Christian but was interested in what Bell or Love Wins had to say because of the popularity and the controversy I would be left in a very confused state. How do I become one of the few? What is the gospel? Does how I live matter?  Is something as important as a person’s eternal destiny and after-life left to the notion (and Marine/Special Forces quote) –  “Let God sort em out”?

Does the choice to accept or reject God really matter?

Love demands freedom. It always has, and it always will. We are free to resist, reject, and rebel against God’s ways for us. We can have all the hell we want. [page 113]

If the mechanism is not defined that gets people to God then how do we know that we have a choice?

  • Maybe we don’t and the universalists are right – God lovingly takes us into heaven (after all all things are reconciled and renewed right?).

And if we do have a choice – to accept or reject God’s ways for us – then how do I choose?

  • implicitly (but if I don’t even know I am choosing to accept God is that really a choice?)
  • explicitly (but then I must understand my options and what the gospel message is?)

And when I choose to accept God’s ways what determines that I have made that choice?

  • Is it to trust God has already taken care of it (but then trust is an action and now I am doing something right?)
  • Is it having a personal relationship with God (the relationship that isn’t in the Bible (page 10) but is the whole point of love (page 178)?)
  • Is it to do good for others (but then how does an atheist who helps little old ladies across the street accept a God they reject exists?)

When do I have to choose?

  • now or in the after-life (and if I get eternal choices why worry about it now – God will sort it out later right?)

And if the “only thing left to do is trust” because  “Jesus forgives them all, without their asking for it” and “not because of anything we’ve done”  (page 188-190) then why do I have to choose again?

Oh, because trust is an action and a choice.

I understand that Bell is in many cases trying to provoke people to think and to generate discussion but in the end, a reader has to ask – just what is the gospel according to Love Wins?