Archive for March, 2011

Federal Budget Debate

The headlines are covered with comments about Congress continuing to debate over the current federal budget and how to decrease the federal budget deficit. There are continuous punches being thrown between the political parties, and currently there seems to be no end with a possible government shut down looming April 8th.

Over the past couple months I have read stories here and there but never really dug deep into what was going on. So over the past couple days I have taken the time to really sort out my opinions. I even took the time to look up the Bill currently going through congress. I will admit I did not read all 383 pages, but I did scan through it and read summaries of the bill that was sponsored by Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-OH). The Bill was introduced February 10. (Here is a good review of the Bill’s progress)

Much of the controversy that has been out there has been how the Democrats disagree with the Republican authored Bill HR 1 and the cuts being proposed. While I will take some time to review the Bill, I must make a note that Obama’s proposed budget has just as much controversial budget cuts. As of right now, neither party is willing to make much of any cuts towards defense spending, and actually there are proposals to increase spending in certain defense areas. So in my review I am targeting both Republicans and Democrats because both have made proposals to cut funding to programs that assist some of the most vulnerable people in our country, and no one seems to want to discuss the big elephant in the room of National Defense spending. A study was done by theCenter for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments that showed in inflation-adjusted dollars, the total National Defense Budget is at the highest since WWII.

Here is a video made by founder of Ben and Jerry’s Ice Cream, Ben Cohen. He does a great job at showing US spending, highlighting National Defense spending.

HR 1: Fiscal Year 2011 Appropriations Bill

The United States has a Federal Budget Deficit of $1.5 trillion, so the goal of the Bill HR 1 is to help make necessary cuts to decrease the deficit. HR 1, in its original form, proposed $61 billion in cuts. Originally the Democrats proposed no cuts, and in my opinion it seems that they did this more out of not wanting to agree with the Republicans in any form. While debates have occurred, the Democrats have approved $10 billion in cuts. Recently, the Democrats stated they would increase cuts to $20 billion and the Republicans said they would be willing to come down to $36 billion. Some Democrats have stated they are willing to consider cuts in the mid-30’s; however, this agreement is dependent on where the cuts are made. Just an FYI, $35 billion in cuts would shave about 2% off the Federal Deficit. (See this Washington Post article)

The problem is that many of these funding cuts affect programs that assist the underprivileged and destitute among us. Here are a handful of the programs facing cuts: (Full list of cuts can be found here)

–          Special Olympics

–          Peace Corps and Teach for America

–          National Endowment for the Arts – provides grants for not-for-profit organizations and special grants for organizations  reaching underserved populations

–          Legal Services Corporation – largest provider of civil legal aid for the poor in the nation, promotes equal access to justice

–          HUD – provides affordable housing for the elderly and disabled, poor families, and veterans

–          Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) and Food Stamps – WIC provides grants to States for supplemental foods, health care referrals, and nutrition education for low-income pregnant, breastfeeding, and non-breastfeeding postpartum women, and to infants and children up to age 5 who are found to be at nutritional risk

–          Head Start – provides education and services to some of the most vulnerable children and families in the country

–          Community Development Fund – enables local organizations in economic development, creating jobs, and developing affordable housing

–          Environmental Cuts – Energy Star, beach replenishment, funding to monitor green house gas emissions, research and monitoring of climate change, the EPA is facing massive cuts

–          Rural Development – provides housing, business, and utility grants and loans to rural areas

–          Foreign Agriculture Service – this is an umbrella of multiple services that provides and supports education, child development, and food security for some of the world’s poorest, and this is the agency that provides to food donations to areas  under emergency needs

–          President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS relief – provides funding to the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Malaria, and Tuberculosis

–          Community Health Centers – decrease in available grants to centers all across the country that work to provide health care to the underinsured and noninsured

–          National Health Service Corps – loan repayment to doctors, nurse practitioners, and midwifes willing to serve 2 to 4 years in high need areas that typically cannot afford to pay competitive wages to draw these healthcare professionals in

–          Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) – decrease in funding to provide free immunizations and preventative services

–          Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration – facing cuts in mental health, substance abuse treatment, and prevention services

–          National Institute of Health – cuts in available research grants

What Would Jesus Cut?

Recently the organization Sojourners leader Jim Wallis and a coalition of Christian leaders started a campaign called “What Would Jesus Cut?” They have put out ads with declaration and plea for our politicians to defend the rights of the impoverished as many programs face the threats of millions of dollars in cuts. Jim Wallis is joined by others such as David Beckmann (President of Bread for the World), author and speaker Brian Mclaren, author and activist Shane Claiborne, and author and professor Tony Campolo. On Monday Jim Wallis, David Beckmann, Ritu Sharma (co-founder of Women Thrive Worldwide), and Tony Hall (former US ambassador to the World Food Programme and former US congressmen) announced that they will begin a month long fast to bring recognition to the proposed budget cuts that target vulnerable people in the US and the world.

The campaign provides support through the prayer and fasting and ways to take action during this time of budget debate, such as contacting your congressmen through an already prepared letter/email. It doesn’t take much to stand up and speak out. It only takes the courage to do it. So I challenge you to read and learn more about where congress is proposing to make its cuts, make your own opinion, and react. Personally, I find it impossible to sit here and not speak out, and I only hope you will feel the same way.

“This is the kind of fast day I’m after:
to break the chains of injustice,
get rid of exploitation in the workplace,
free the oppressed,
cancel debts.
What I’m interested in seeing you do is:
sharing your food with the hungry,
inviting the homeless poor into your homes,
putting clothes on the shivering ill-clad,
being available to your own families.
Do this and the lights will turn on,
and your lives will turn around at once.
Your righteousness will pave your way.
The God of glory will secure your passage.
Then when you pray, God will answer.
You’ll call out for help and I’ll say, ‘Here I am.’”      ~ Isaiah 58:6-9 (The Message)

 

Here is a list of others blogs on the “What Would Jesus Cut?” campaign:

Mark Tooley – http://spectator.org/archives/2011/03/04/what-would-jesus-cut

Doug Bandow – http://blogs.forbes.com/dougbandow/2011/03/28/balancing-the-federal-budget-what-would-jesus-cut/

CNN Belief Blog – http://religion.blogs.cnn.com/2011/02/28/new-budget-campaign-asks-what-would-jesus-cut/

Jim Wallis – http://www.huffingtonpost.com/jim-wallis/what-would-jesus-cut_b_821555.html

Shane Claiborne – http://www.redletterchristians.org/what-would-jesus-cut/

Visit www.sojo.net for more blogs.

 

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Facing the Furnace

In the book of Daniel, there is a story about three guys who stand up for their beliefs with strong enough convictions that they are willing to do die for their faith. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were unwilling to bend down to a large gold statue, to worship another God, so they broke the law put in place by the King. While being threatened to be thrown into a fiery furnace, they stood in the face of King Nebuchadnezzar willing to say “the God we serve can rescue us from your roaring furnace and anything else you might cook up, O king. But even if he doesn’t, it wouldn’t make a bit of difference, O king. We still wouldn’t serve your gods or worship the gold statue you set up” (Daniel 3:17-18).

Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were thrown into the furnace, and only moments later the King noticed that there was a fourth man in there and they were all walking around unharmed by the flames. He ordered they come out, and the King suddenly had a change of heart and mind and commended the three for their faith.

They were willing to risk their lives for their beliefs, their faith, and the love for their God. I admire them for this. It is so easy to know God but it’s a whole other thing to live God out to others. That has been a huge challenge for me as I learn more about missional living. There is so much more than reading the word and have theological discussions/debates with brothers and sisters in Christ, there is the concept of living out this faith. The idea that when you go about your daily activities or when you’re working people will notice that there is something different, something more. I can only hope people see that in me, and that when I’m faced with pressure and challenges of life, facing the fiery furnace , I stand up for my faith and my God.

 

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Brotherly Love

In 2007, the Barna Group did a study to see what 16 to 29 year olds think of Christianity. The study showed that “only 3% of 16 to 29 year old non-Christians express favorable views of evangelicals.” And among this group, 20 perceptions of Christianity were studied, 10 positive and 10 negative. 9 of the top 12 were negative perceptions. “Common negative perceptions include that present-day Christianity is judgmental (87%), hypocritical (85%), old-fashioned (78%), and too involved in politics (75%) – representing large proportions of young outsiders who attach these negative labels to Christians.”

At the same time many churches are facing the issue of this generation vanishing from their congregations. When I talk with my friends, some have chosen to turn from the faith of their parents because of negative view points while others still believe and just feel that the church has lost touch with the reality of our current culture. In every conversation, I always seem to find wounds. These wounds have occurred because of the “loving” Christian culture they thought they knew.

How many times have you seen people verbally beat each other up in the “name of God”? How many times have I judged, acted, and made comments thinking I was justified because of my beliefs? It’s really easy to point the finger and say it is because of what “they” did not me that causes people to leave the church.

And all at the same time I hold my very own wounds that have been afflicted by the church – wounds of mistrust, rejection, and dishonesty.

Christ gave us a “new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, you should love each other. Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples.” ~ John 13:34-35

So many times we only talk about the first part of this passage and neglect the second half. We focus so much on loving those around us that we forget to love the people we serve with in the same way. We neglect each other’s needs and end up hurting each other. I have been wounded and I know I have wounded others. So I am simply now trying to learn to love ALL my neighbors.

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Finding Peace in the Inconsistencies of Life

In our scientific world it only makes sense to think that we can predict the answers to our problems, that a + b will always equal c, but what happens when the answer fluctuates, changes, and is completely unpredictable? I would venture that I am not the only one that becomes thrown and derailed, sitting there wondering what happened. The frustration rises, and you spend all this time trying to figure out what went wrong instead of finding a solution to the new problem.

I have spent some time reflecting on this recently due to frustrations that I have been facing in my daily life. Over the past 2 months I had felt pushed around when dealing with these issues. I would sit at home aggravated, complain to my husband, and try to move on. Then last week I decided I had a solution to my problem, I would get someone else to help intervene on the issue, and while it seemed to work at first, the intervention back fired and made my situation worse. So I was stuck sitting there the other day going “what happened, I planned this all out!?” I went to bed thinking, “God help me find a solution, I don’t know what to do anymore.”

When I woke up I realized that what I was really trying to ask God was “Can you take care of this situation the way I originally planned it?” and the response I seemed to be getting from Him was “How about trying my way?”

I am working now on trying to find the peace within the situation, and I am learning that even though things didn’t go as planned its okay. By letting go, I find peace in what I am doing and I can leave the frustrations behind. I can enjoy my time more and follow God more freely.

I am finding peace in knowing that a + b = ?

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Civil Disobedience: Should Christians Break the Law?

What does the Bible say? How has the Church dealt with it? And is it appropriate for United States citizens to travel to other countries to protest? On Tuesday night, I had the chance to listen to a talk at Malone University (Friends/Quaker affliated). The debate was between Rev. Steve Brown (talk show host, author, and pronounced conservative) and Shane Claiborne (author, social justice activist, and pacifist).

While Steve Brown and Shane Claiborne share differing views on topics, it is important to know that they have standing friendship, and during this debate it was quite evident the respect they have for one another. It was nice to hear a debate where the banter was friendly in nature and there was an environment of respect as the other person talked.

What does the Bible say?

Shane and Steve both present countless evidence of people going against the governing body in the Bible, dating back to the days of Pharaoh to John, the author of Revelations, being exiled to an island. They both argue that there is a sense of divine obedience and that the ultimate goal is to obey God; however, there must also be a respect for the leaders that have been put in place. I think Steve really touched on this when discussing that if you are to act against the government because you are being obedient to God, it must be with an attitude of love because otherwise it is only self-righteousness and elitism.

How has the Church dealt with it?

Steve is very open about being a “conservative, cynical old preacher” and discusses that this skews his view point on how the Church has handled their obedience to God. He argues that there is countless evidence that when the Church gains power that they cause just as much problems as when the prior governing body was in charge. He claims that we are a messed up group of people. “Sometime we shined, sometimes we killed, there’s just so much bad in us and them.”

Shane looks back more to the time of the early Church and the time of the apostles as an example of how the Church has handled civil disobedience. He argues that there are many good examples, but over time, as the early Church began to triumph, the essence of God became lost in their mission.

Is it appropriate for United States citizens to travel to other countries to protest?

While up to this point in the debate Shane and Steve actually had very similar view points, the question of protests introduced some of their differing ideologies. Shane spent time in Iraq with the Iraq Peace Team during the time Baghdad was being bombed by the United States.

Shane feels that when there is injustice, we must interrupt it, no matter where it is occurring, so he went to Iraq to put himself, with others, in the face of injustice occurring. He discussed stories meeting with various townsmen and families and seeing the effect of the war of the Iraqi people. In situations like this and how we respond, he feels that the reputation of the United States and Christians are at stake with the global community.

While Steve openly states he admires Shane for what he did and continues to do, he feels that he could never take this type of political stance because of his view of human nature. He argues that we live in an evil place where human depravity is radical and deep. When faced with the many issues of the world, it’s like being “mosquitoes in a nudist colony” and not knowing where to begin.

Concluding Thoughts

I think Steve summed it quite well in his concluding thoughts – whether people disagree or agree with the comments that were made, what is most important is “smelling” like Jesus and living a life that matches up to His.

 

~ Just an afterward – favorite comment of the night was when they got off topic in the question portion and were discussing the end of times/rapture, Steve said “If God came on Thursday, you’ll all be praying and fasting, and I’ll be getting drunk and buying a Mercedes. Everyone should get drunk once before they die.” If you know anything about the Friends Church, this doesn’t really match up to their ideals, so it made the comment that much better.

 

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Year of Jubilee: End of Poverty

“There is enough for everyone’s NEED, but not enough for everyone’s GREED” ~ Gandhi

If you dig deep back into the beginning of Israel, buried deep within the book of Leviticus, there is a time, a celebration, a command to end poverty (Leviticus 25:8-55). In our “Modern Christian” culture we tend to forget out about the Old Testament. We focus heavily on the New Testament, only referencing back to the Old Testament when it is quoted. What many tend to overlook is that Jesus was Jewish, and His teachings stem out of the teachings God provided in the Old Testament. I would actually venture to say that nothing Christ taught was all that new, he simply provided it in a new way and path.

When Christ commanded that we care for the least among us this was not some new concept. God had been teaching Israel this very same lesson for years. But if you venture back to Leviticus, you will find a more expanded message, a means to ending poverty.

God mandated that His people “consecrate the fiftieth year and proclaim liberty throughout the land to all its inhabitants. It shall be a jubilee for you” (Leviticus 25:10). He commanded a Year of Jubilee. The Hebrew origin of the word jubilee means “ram’s horn” or “trumpet”, so to inaugurate the Year of Jubilee trumpets were blown. In Ezekiel 46:17, the Year of Jubilee is called “the year of freedom” and in this instance the Hebrew word used means “to liberate.”

The Year of Jubilee was meant to be a time of cancelling of all debts, freeing of slaves, and returning land that had been sold to its original owners. It was a time to remember that the land and the people belong to God and no one else; a time to lose the attitude of ownership, greed, and materialism. It was a time to remember to not “take advantage of each other, but fear [take great reverence in] your God” (vs 17).

A huge highlight of the Year of Jubilee was to take care of the poor:

“If one of your countrymen becomes poor and is unable to support himself among you, help him as you would an alien of a temporary resident, so he can continue to live among you” (vs 35).

What is unknown and not indicated in the Bible is if Israel practiced this time of Jubilee; however, if they had, they would have had a society without permanent poverty.

What would our world look like if we practiced the Year of Jubilee every fifty years? Wouldn’t it make it impossible to remain in poverty? Wouldn’t it take away the inequalities of the extremely wealthy and immensely poor? Wouldn’t it end the type of poverty we have come to know?

I am currently working through a book called The Irresistible Revolution: living as an ordinary radical by Shane Claiborne. In one of the chapters, he discusses how the intentional community he lives among came upon $20,000 in donations. They decided that this money belonged to all, that there needed to be redistribution. So they planned a time of Jubilee on the corners of Wall Street in New York City, “in the face of the world’s economy” (p.187). They notified various communities, and prior to the event many homeless had gathered. They had people scattered throughout the crowd, and when the ram’s horn was blown, they began dumping coins and dollar bills all over the streets. It was the time of Jubilee. (http://tsw.conspiremagazine.com/connecting/events/wall-street-money-drop/).

Here is a video of the event:

 

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Choosing Action

As I scrolled through the morning headlines today, I was easily reminded of the many atrocities that are occurring around the world on a daily basis. In our tech savy world, we can get constant updates of people’s actions by a simple click of a mouse. And the more I scanned through the various news channels and newspapers websites, I wondered how many people read these articles and feel called to action, and out of these people, how many will actually act on this call.

In the Great Commission, Christ gives the disciples the command to go out to all the nations and baptize, teach, and love all people “in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 28:18-20). Does that mean we are supposed to sell everything, quit our jobs, and leave our families? No, but he does call us to action. Christ teaches of the blessing of hospitality to others when he sends the 12 disciples out in Matthew 10.

In a world with so many issues – poverty, genocide, rape, war and acts of violence, illness and death, and so many more – I often hear people comment that there is just too much to fix. But is that really true? An organization called Mocha Club is based on the concept that by just giving up 2 mocha’s a month, which equals about $7, you can sustain 1 person living with AIDS, provide clean water to 7 Africans for 1 year, or save 1 person’s life from malaria. That seems pretty easy to me.

When Christ said “You will always have the poor among you” (John 12:8) he was not leaving this as an ultimate truth. He is actually referencing the directions God gave Israel, just look back to Deuteronomy 15. God moves from saying “there should be no poor among you” to “if there is a poor man” to “there will always be poor people in the land”. Why? God recognizes our ability to be greedy and tightfisted, to not share and live in community with one another. God does not create the poor and cause suffering, we create the poor and causing suffering.

One of the head advisors for Compassion International has started an initiative called “58: Fast. Forward. The End of Poverty”, which is based on Isaiah 58 (http://notalways.live58.org/). It is an alliance of churches and organization working together to end poverty in the world. Take the time to watch this video and see how possible this idea is:

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Old School Prayer

While strolling through one of our local book stores, my husband was trying to pick out a new book or devotional to work through for his time with God. Both of us being considerable Shane Claiborne fans stopped in our tracks when we came across a Common Prayer book with his name on it. Now if you’re sitting here wondering who is Shane? No worries, he’s a co-founder of a Christian intentional community in Philly and is well known for his activism for non-violence and service to the poor (I’ll be writing a blog soon about him and one of his books). So the idea of seeing his name on a Common Prayer book surprised us at first.

Now I grew up in a church where we had the hymnal and that was it. There were several times that I went to church with friends and got really confused why the book next to the hymnal wasn’t the Bible. The concept of a “Common Prayer” book was quite foreign to me. Then I went to college at Xavier University, which is a Catholic school (more specifically Jesuit); thus, entered a whole new introduction to the idea of liturgy, common prayer, and readings.

So before you start thinking back to your days of pulling out the “Prayer Book” from the church pews, reading something aloud, and usually trying to keep up with what is being said, this prayer book is different yet all the same. The book is combination of prayers from various Christian traditions – Catholics, Orthodox, Methodist, Lutheran, Mennonite, etc. The prayer book is Common Prayer: A Liturgy For Ordinary Radicals”, put together by Shane Claiborne, Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove, and Enuma Okoro.

The idea of a prayer book comes from the concept of liturgy, which “comes from the Greek word leitourgia, meaning ‘public worship.’ When we hear the phrase public worship, many of us think of large meetings like Sunday morning services, and while public worship can mean that, it doesn’t have to take place in a big group” (10). Your public worship can take place amongst your friends, biological family, or the family you have created with others. They created this book as a way of sharing songs, prayers, ideas, and memories with community, in public worship.

What I find most powerful about the idea of liturgical prayer is that it shows, “we are never alone, because we are surrounded by the thousands of folks who are singing and praying with us around the world. And as we pray, we are lifted up into a place beyond the building or city we are in. We are living in the ‘city of God,’ which isn’t something you can find with a GPS” (13).

My husband and I have become quite found of liturgical prayer ever since we bought this book. We may not get to sit down every day together and read, but we really enjoy the times we get to sit together in prayer knowing we are in community with people across the globe.

So I leave you with this Celtic Blessing that ends each morning prayer in the book:

May the peace of the Christ go with you:

Wherever he may send you;

May he guide through the wilderness:

Protect you through the storm;

May he bring you home rejoicing:

At the wonders he has shown you;

May he bring you home rejoicing:

Once again into our doors.

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Learning to Talk


When we are younger we begin talking first with short little words, to phrases, to whole sentences, and then finally we hit a point where sometimes people can’t get you to stop talking. A friend of mine recently posted a video of MIT researcher Deb Roy giving a talk about how language is learned, how language is connects to an event, and how this creates a social/media network. His research started by placing video cameras throughout his house and then putting the 90,000 hours of footage together to watch how his son was able to turn “gaaa” slowly into “water”.

His research showed how many children learn a word and how it can be traced back to the utterances of the child’s caregiver. Children begin with simplicity and move to complexity. The caregiver tends to feed into the child’s level of understanding, using more simple words, and meeting the child where they are at.

I watched this video thinking, isn’t this how we learn to talk with God? Don’t we start in the beginning thinking I have no idea how to pray, and then we move slowly to small words and phrases like “Help me God” or “Thank you God”. But how do we get from this point to the point of long lengthy prayers, a point where we can’t stop talking with God? Just as Deb Roy’s research shows, our caregiver reaches us at our own level understanding. God finds us where we are at, comes along side us, and helps us move forward. He helps us make those steps from simplicity to complexity.

Many times when I think about the idea of learning to pray, of talking with God, I often turn to Matthew 6:5-15 where Christ lays out how to pray using what we call “The Lord’s Prayer.” However, what I think we often miss is that prayer did not start here nor is this the only way to pray. Christ simply lays out a foundation for our prayers. Just turn to the book of Psalms, where we have an entire book of prayers in The Bible. Prayers of rejoicing, prayers of lament, prayers of suffering, prayers of thanksgiving.

Now I am no expert on prayer, but is anyone? Our time with God is an ever expanding process. God isn’t sitting their judging us on if we used the right language when we prayed. It might fell odd at first sitting there trying to think of what to say, but that’s the point. God simply wants us to pray. And the more we take the time, the more God can move us from the simple daily requests to the complex yearnings deep inside.

 

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Love Wins by Rob Bell

I start this review of Rob Bell’s new book Love Wins: A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived with several comments/disclaimers. First, I highly recommend that you take the time to read the book for yourself. This blog is simply my review, opinions, and reflections on the book, and I am in no way a professional writer, book reviewer, or theologian. And if you are worried about adding one more thing to your to do list, don’t worry, because the book only took me maybe 5 hours to read, and trust me I’m a slow reader, just ask my husband or other family members. The nice thing is that in all of Rob Bell’s books he writes how he talks, and he is a pretty easy guy to listen to, just take the time and look up some of his Nooma videos on YouTube. Also, while reading the book, I would suggest that you have a Bible at hand so you can look up the passages that Bell references, having a study bible with references is even more helpful.

Second, my review of Bell’s book is combined with comments from a live online streamed interview that he did with Newsweek writer Lisa Miller. I would also suggest you taking the time to watch this video, and I will let you know that it is about 1 hour in length and you need to fast forward about 10 minutes to get to the actual interview. Also, any numbers after quotes or statements are referencing page numbers in Rob Bell’s book. Okay, now onto the review…

For the video: Love Wins Interview

Love Wins by Rob Bell

Over the past several weeks there has been much controversy over Rob Bell’s new book. A lot of this stemmed from a promo video that Harper Collins put out to promote the book. Upon the release of this video, the evangelical blogosphere ignited with comments and questions about Rob Bell being a Universalist. The only problem is that many of these people had yet to read the book or they had only read very select excerpts from the book. Now that the book has been released large quantities of reviews have been posted. I am simply taking this opportunity to share my reflections on this book.

What I must start off with is simply answering the questions that have been posted all over the internet for the past couple of weeks: Does Rob Bell believe in Heaven? Hell? Is he a Universalist? I will try my best to answer these questions based on my understandings of what Rob Bell has written in his book.

First and foremost, Rob Bell book does not introduce anything new, and he even discusses this in his preface (x). He simply is wishing to throw some tough questions into a discussion that has been occurring since the beginning of the Church. No one has all the answers, nor does Rob Bell ever claim to have all the answers. He is just taking the chance to share his opinions based on his reflections of scripture, and isn’t this the purpose of a book. As Christians, my understanding is that the only book that is held as the ultimate truth is The Bible. If anyone were to say that any other book holds the ultimate truth of life many of us would look at them and think “are you feeling okay?”

Heaven?

A primary question in Rob Bell’s book is about Heaven and who are we going to find there. Without any doubt I would say that Bell definitely believes in Heaven. He just simply questions the mainstream thought process of who is in and who is out. Over and over again he states that “Heaven in full of surprises”, and how are we, as humans, able to state that we have all the answers when we lack hard concrete evidence of what Heaven is really like. He continues on to discuss that our culture is too focused on what is to come, on the idea of “escaping” to Heaven, and I would absolutely agree. We spend so much time discussing how great it will be to get to Heaven that we seem to ignore what is going on around us. Throughout Christ’s teachings He continues to call us to a life where we are “growing progressively in generosity, forgiveness, honesty, courage, truth telling, and responsibility.” Where we are learning to taste what Heaven can be like now (51).

Hell?

Now onto the question of whether or not Bell believes in Hell, and the answer would be yes. He provides a great discussion on the various terms used to describe Hell in both the Old and New Testament. I will not spend the time here discussing these because I will end up quoting almost an entire chapter in the book. What is important to know is that Bell feels that Jesus’ teachings on hell are full of “real experiences and consequences of rejecting our God-given goodness and humanity” (73). Bell feels that there is Hell because we see it every day when people make continuous destructive choices that separate themselves from God, and that if we have that choice now, he assumes we have that choice to separate ourselves from God in the future.

Universalist?

Now what most people want to know is if Rob Bell is a Universalist. In the general form, Universalism is the idea that all people will be saved, regardless of their religious beliefs. Does Bell believe this? Absolutely not. Christian Universalism is that the idea that all will be saved eventually through Christ, even after death. While Bell does skirt with this issue, he leaves much of the discussion up in the air.

Bell fully believes that Christ was sent here with a purpose to share that He is “the way, the truth, and the life” (John 14:6), and Christ takes this role seriously. Bell argues that out of this people tend to make Jesus either completely exclusive on who is in and who is out, or they make Him all inclusive, saying “there is only one mountain, but it has many paths” (155). However, Bell suggests another view point, that Christ is both inclusive and exclusive. “This kind insists that Jesus is the way, but holds tightly to the assumption that the all-embracing saving of this particular Jesus the Christ will of course include all sorts of unexpected people from across the cultural spectrum” (155). People come to Christ in all sorts of ways (158). He spends much of the 1st chapter of the book discussing that there seems to be many ways to Christ.

The heart of the issue is that God is Love and through His love He gives us the freedom to reject him and live a life isolated from Him. Bell discusses that what God truly wants is for everyone to be reconciled with Him; however, does God get what He wants in the end? While Bell does discuss and show scriptural reference of this possibility, he never states that this is what will happen. He actually leaves this point fairly open ended.

The Core Issue

I know that I have grown up in a Christian culture that has taught me to accept what I am taught without asking many questions, and I would bet that I am not the only one that feels this way. How many times in a church debate have you heard “We just don’t talk about that here”? And after so many times of hearing similar comments it has become all too easy to sit back and keep my mouth shut while my mind races around with questions.

If someone has never been told about Christ, how can we sit here and condemn them to Hell? If all someone knows about Christians and our faith is hatred, destruction, and death, and no one has brought them the Good News of God’s love, how can we condemn them to Hell? Or how about the person that practices Islam and has been taught to hate the beliefs of Christianity and they have never been taught the other side of the story? I agree when Rob Bell comments that in these circumstances don’t these people’s lives fall on our hands, the believers who know of God’s endless love, mercy, and grace. Just check out Romans 10:14-15.

But maybe that is the point Rob Bell is trying to make. It is okay to ask the tough questions. Nowhere in his book does he say “I’m right, you’re wrong…I’m in, you’re out.” He is simply says “The Christian faith is big enough, wide enough, and generous enough to handle that vast a range of perspectives” (110). A faith that has been around for over 2000 years can surely handle to discuss these tough questions, but what is most important is that “we don’t need to resolve them or answer them because we can’t, and so we simply respect them, creating space for the freedom that love requires” (115).

“Life has never been about just ‘getting in.’ It’s about thriving in God’s good world. It’s stillness, peace, and that feeling of your soul being at rest, while at the same time it’s about asking things, learning things, creating things, and sharing it all with other who are finding the same kind of joy in the same good world” (179).

Conclusion

I leave you with these last thoughts from the book:

“May you experience this vast,

expansive, infinite, indestructible love

that has been yours all along.

May you discover that this love is as wide

as the sky and as small as the cracks in

your heart no one else knows about.

And may you know,

deep in your bones,

that love wins.”

Resources

Reviews –

http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2011/april/lovewins.html?start=1

http://content.usatoday.com/communities/Religion/post/2011/03/hell-heaven-love-sin-rob-bell/1

http://yourlife.usatoday.com/mind-soul/spirituality/story/2011/03/Pastor-Rob-Bells-Love-Wins-bedevils-traditionalists/44835214/1?csp=ylf

http://thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/kevindeyoung/files/2011/03/LoveWinsReview.pdf

http://www.crosswalk.com/11647101/

http://blog.sojo.net/2011/03/16/who-goes-to-hell-is-not-the-most-important-question/

http://blog.sojo.net/2011/03/15/what-does-rob-bell-really-say-a-review-of-the-actual-book-itself/

Universalism –

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Universalism

http://www.patheos.com/community/jesuscreed/category/universalism/ (this is Scot McKnight’s blog, take the time and look at other posts he has)

http://blog.sojo.net/2011/03/01/farewell-rob-bell-or-john-pipers-inferno/

Mars Hill (Rob Bell’s Church) Stance –

http://marshill.org/love-wins/

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