Love Wins

Book Review: 'Rob Bell and a New American Christianity'

Rob Bell, via Rob Bell's Facebook page

Rob Bell, via Rob Bell's Facebook page

"Can we watch a video with that guy who has the weird hair and the dark rimmed glasses?" -Member of My Youth Group

"Love wins the in the sense that God’s will is the reconciliation of all things—the soul, the body, the earth, the cosmos, and everything in it." -James Wellman, Rob Bell and a New American Christianity, 59.

American Christianity is experiencing a theological shift. Many have tried to explain it, sometimes making the shift far more confusing than it actually is. Fortunately, the shift can be explained quite simply, and while it may be new to American Christianity, it is actually very old. Indeed, it dates back 2,000 years. The shift boils down to the two theological axioms of the New Testament, both found in the letter 1 John:

“God is light and in him there is no darkness at all” (1:5) and “God is love” (4:8 and 16).

Those statements, while simple, are far from simplistic. John was bold in affirming these statements. He knew he had to give it to us straight – probably because he and the other disciples had a hard time understanding what Jesus meant in his teachings and parables. So, John cut to the chase and simply claimed that Jesus reveals, “God is love and God is light. There is absolutely no darkness within God.”

New “Hellbound?” Movie Explores, Challenges Christian Doctrine of Hell

I first heard about the movie “Hellbound?” (coming out this fall) at Wild Goose Festival. They were offering an advance screening of the movie, and although I was just passing by the tent at the time, the subject matter stopped me where I was. A thoughtful, well-researched, accessible discussion about the history, purpose, and prospects of hell in Christian theology?

I’m in!

The film opens with reflections on September 11th, including a 10-year anniversary memorial event at the site. And as would be expected, the infamous picketers from Westboro Baptist Church were there, complete with signs bearing slogans like “Thank God for 9/11 and, of course, “God Hates Fags.” The movie progresses to, let’s say, more educated points of view, focusing more on the front end on those who advocate for a real hell that is populated with innumerable souls experiencing eternal conscious torment.

But then the movie breaks off from the oft-quoted pro-hell camp and considers the social and historical backdrop for hell, as well as extensive screen time for the doubters and skeptics about the reality of such a place. Folks offering counters to the “traditional” evangelical view of hell include Brian McLaren, Frank Schaeffer, and an Eastern Orthodox priest, all offering fascinating tidbits meant to expand our understanding of where this modern-day understanding of hell even came from, let alone whether we claim a God who would send people there.

Hellbound? New Film Explores Ideas, Doctrine of Hell

One of the highlights of the Wildgoose Festival for me was a sneak preview of the feature length documentary Hellbound?,which will be released in select theaters nationwide this fall.

The film picks up on the recent media buzz generated by Rob Bell's controversial bestselling-book Love Wins, taking that debate into new levels of intelligence and depth.

Like any good documentary, we have the entertaining attention grabbing parts, which aren't hard to find when your topic is Hell and damnation:

We meet people at a death metal concert, take a tour through "Hell House" where actors attempt to traumatize teens into the kingdom by reenacting scenes from Columbine. Then there are the street interviews with the rather obviously mentally unstable and angry folks from Fred Phelps' church, holding their "God Hates Fags" signs and screaming at anyone who passes by.

The movie quickly moves beyond this however, delving into the deeper issues at hand. Unlike so many other Christian films, Hellbound? is neither sentimental nor sensationalist. The word that comes to mind instead is depth.

 

 

Hell and Mr. Fudge

Promotional poster for "Hell and Mr. Fudge."

Promotional poster for "Hell and Mr. Fudge."

ATHENS, Ala. — Black and white. Heaven and hell. Right and wrong.

Blur or question those lines, and, well, all hell can break out.

 

 

At least it did for Edward Fudge in the early 1980s in in this small northern Alabama hamlet.

Fudge was a young preacher who also worked in his father's publishing company. When he began to teach a doctrine of hell that contradicted the traditional view of a place of eternal fiery torment for the damned, a quick succession of events cost him his job and his pulpit.

A new film, Hell and Mr. Fudge, compresses the events of the years when Fudge, now a Houston-based lawyer and internationally known Bible teacher and author, began an intensive study of the Bible and the doctrine of hell. What he found made him question one of the bedrock doctrines of Christianity.

Bare Feet and Dolphins: Rob Bell's Return

Rob Bell in Southern California Tuesday. Photo by Cathleen Falsani/Sojourners.

Rob Bell in Southern California Tuesday. Photo by Cathleen Falsani/Sojourners.

“Oh, a dolphin.”

The speaker, dressed in khaki jeans, a blue t-shirt and flip-flops, interrupts his train of thought about spiral dynamics and the church when some movement in the ocean a few hundred yards away on the other side of the beach house’s open briefly catches his attention.

The audience of 50 — mostly 30- and 40-something-year-old pastors, the vast majority of them men, but with at least a few young clergywomen too (a refreshing change from most evangelical gatherings of this kind) — laughs heartily and more than a few attendees crane their necks to try to catch a glimpse of a dorsal fin in the distance.

The sounds of the Pacific crashing on the shore mix with a reggae tune playing on the outdoor stereo of the bar next door as the speaker, a 41-year-old former pastor and bestselling author, resumes his riff on categories of consciousness and the spiritual practice of meeting people exactly where they are.

Rob Bell isn’t in Kansas … I mean Michigan … any more.

Piper's Tweets About Gays: Dude, Where Is the Love?

(Bible image titled "Getting the Message" by JustASC/Shutterstock.)

(Bible image titled "Getting the Message" by JustASC/Shutterstock.)

It’s bad enough when Christians sit silently by while LGBTQ folks are marginalized, ridiculed, abused, raped or even killed for who they are.

It’s another when Christians actively engage in the exclusion of people based on their identity or orientation.

And then there’s John Piper.

It seems Piper has a Twitter problem. Maybe he doesn’t see it as such, because with fewer than 140 characters, he can stir up quite a storm of controversy. But considering the damage that can be done with so few words, I think it is a significant problem.

Top 10 Religion Stories of the Year

Osama bin Laden in 1997. Image via Wiki Commons http://bit.ly/pJ0ufx

Osama bin Laden in 1997. Image via Wiki Commons http://bit.ly/pJ0ufx

Each year, members of the Religion Newswriters Association, the world’s premier association dedicated to helping journalists write about religion, vote on what they believe are the top religion stories of the year. 

This year, more than 300 religion journalists cast their ballots in an online survey conducted Dec. 10-13, choosing the death of Osama bin Laden on May 2 in a covert operation in Pakistan by U.S. Navy SEALs and CIA operatives ordered by President Barack Obama as the top story of 2011.

See the complete list of RNA's top religion stories of the year inside.

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