Author, pastor, and innovative teacher Rob Bell presents a deeply biblical vision for rediscovering a richer, grander, truer, and more spiritually satisfying way of understanding heaven, hell, God, Jesus, salvation, and repentance. The result is the discovery that the “good news” is much, much better than we ever imagined.
On March 14, 2011, Lisa Miller, author of Heaven, interviewed Rob Bell about his new book: Love Wins: A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived.
Below is the video and notes from my live blogging of the webcast.
- I believe that God is love.
- I believe that Jesus came to show us this love, to give us this love, to teach us about this love, so that we could live in this love and extend it to others.
- The first people who heard this message responded with, “well that’s Good News.”
- I believe our world desperately needs Good News.
- When you hear the word Christian, what words come to mind?
- Do you immediately think, “the people who never stop talking about God’s love for everybody!”
- Or, do a number of other images and associations come up?
- There are moments when we have to return to our roots.
- We’ve lost the plot along the way.
- We need to return to the simplicity that God is love.
- I never set out to be controversial.
- I don’t think it’s a noble goal.
- God doesn’t honor people when they set out to be shocking, dangerous or provocative.
- My interest is in what’s true, where is the life, where is the heart and what inspires.
- If that stirs up things, that’s something that I accept.
- What compels me is the conversation.
- People have been conversing about what matters most for centuries.
- In the Bible through laments, poems, and psalms people are conversing and passing along fragments, ideas, and words of encouragement, conviction, hope and love.
- Our gathering together is something that is ancient and holy when we gather to engage in the conversation about what matters most.
- My new book is one more voice in the conversation.
- Every voice matters when we talk about the things that matter most.
- I’m not saying anything new.
- I celebrate it.
According to polls 81% of Americans believe in Heaven. 70% of those believers think of Heaven is a real place. Is Heaven a real, geographical location?
- Heaven is a real place.
- I believe it exists.
- Rob sat with a man dying of cancer who said, moments before his last breath,”If only people knew…”
- Peace and joy in the stillness and calm is available here and now.
- We bump against this reality all of the time.
- Is there a place with streets of gold? That has more to do with cartoons than anything.
Is Heaven somewhere on a map? Is there a secret door to get there?
- Jesus turned the whole discussion upside down.
- His first-century Jewish worldview insisted that God is interested in restoring and renewing this world.
- God made this world and said it was good.
- The fundamental story it upholds is Jesus saying, “let your Kingdom come and your will be done on earth as it is in Heaven”
- It speaks of a real place where God is but also as Heaven and earth are always becoming one.
- Opposed to how we get there, He focused on how we bring there, here.
- How do we bring up there down here?
If Heaven is something that happens at the end of time, another dimension that touches us on earth, where are the souls of people that have died?
- The assumption is because physical bodies are buried that they are in some ways disembodied.
- We have soul, essence, etc but they are nevertheless real, conscious, alive.
- Others say we are asleep but will be awakened someday.
- There’s endless speculation of what happens.
- It’s very important to not turn your speculation into dogma.
- We have no video evidence.
- I believe in Heaven, I believe it’s real, I believe it’s intermingled to this reality and yet separate in some sense.
- Our longings are typically for things that exist.
- Enjoy mystery and speculation, but don’t drift into dogma.
You have been accused of being Universalist, thinking everyone is allowed to go to Heaven. Buddhist, Hindus, Jews, atheists, etc, all get to go to Heaven. Are you Universalist?
- No, if by Universalist you mean that there’s a giant cosmic arm that sweeps down and scoops every one in regardless of their wanting to go there or not.
- Love is about freedom.
- Love is about choice.
- If by Universalist we mean love doesn’t win, that God co-ops humanity, that violates the laws of love.
- There will be all sorts of people with all sorts of backgrounds with all sorts of labels.
- Heaven will be full of surprises.
- Jesus told all sorts of stories saying that so many who might be in will be out and so many people who are out would be in.
Define what gets you in.
- I begin with the reality of Heaven and hell right now.
- Greed, injustice, rape, abuse… we see Hell on earth all around us all the time.
- I begin with these realities here and now.
- We see lots of people choosing Hell.
- We see opression. Tyranny. Dictators using their power to eliminate the opposition with bullets, guns, and fire.
- We create our own hell… others of us live in the aftermath of someone else’s.
I’m an Atheist that gives to the poor, helps the old lady across the street, gives to charity, etc. Will I go to Heaven?
- The essense of grace is Jesus saying, “left to your own we are all in deep trouble… we’ve made a mess of this place… we are all sinners… none of us have clean hands.”
- The essence of the Gospel was “Trust me, I’ll take care of it.”
- Jesus is unbelievably exclusive… He says I’m the way the truth and the life.
- He’s also fantastically inclusive… I’ve got other sheep, there will be a renewal of all things, I will lift up and draw all people to myself.
- Jesus is inexclusive.
- What happens for followers of Jesus… His exclusive claims come at the expense of His other claims.
- How it all pans out it God’s job.
This concept has offended some people that call themselves more Orthodox than you. There is something that does offend me and it is what you just said… that Jesus is the mechanism through which we all get to Heaven.
- In the Torah, when Moses strikes the rock and water flows from the rock, that was a beautiful story for people who were thirsty and were told that through Moses, God provides water.
- Paul said that water was Christ.
- Paul speaks of Christ who was the word of God… who was animating force of the universe.
- Paul broadened it wide and offered no commentary.
- Paul says, “God has been rescuing people, redeeming people for thousands of years…”
- The Bible itself creates all sorts of space there.
- The Christian would answer that question, “When they get there they will find out it was really Jesus…”
- It’s a great question and it’s most important for a Christian to be incredibly gracious and generous.
- Jesus came to show us the way. He showed us how to embody love, grace, compassion, generosity, and hope.
- Jesus said very divisive things but also said very inclusive things.
- Jesus is a paradox.
- He bears tremendous tension.
Do creeds matter in terms of getting to Heaven?
- Creeds are helpful for lots of people because they take a confession of faith and put it in a succinct form.
- There is great life there.
- You also have other stories that are all over the map.
- Ill: The men lowering their friend through the rooftop and Jesus said, “Your faith has saved you.”
- Faith can take many different forms and expressions.
- People received, affirmed and experienced grace in many different forms.
Do you get to Heaven because God is mysterious, great and supernatural, or do you get to Heaven because of your works?
- I think that at the core of faith is trust.
- I would use the word childlike very intentionally.
- We need a childlike trust that God is good… ultimately we are OK.
- That is a simple, beautiful pure thing that can be complicated ferociously by all sorts of intellectual categories.
- Out of the experience and awarness that life is a gift… out of that gratitude you naturally want to share it with the world.
- You’ll do good deeds, not for what you get, but out of the awareness of what you’ve already gained.
- How can you not respond with works?
Your book has been, even before any one read it, criticized as being heretical. What’s so controversial?
- Other people could answer that better than I could.
- I think that grace and love always rattle people.
- Do I think that I am Evangelican Orthodox to the bone? Yes.
- Orthodoxy is a wide stream.
- There’s a religious compulsion to narrow.
- The vibrant, real historic Christian faith is very wide and leaves lots and lots of room for varying perspectives.
- It’s very diverse and wide, that’s part of it’s strength, life and vibrancy.
- That’s why it’s so beautiful.
- Evangelical means “Good News”… it should be a buoyant, joyous hopeful thing.
- People who want nothing to do with Christianity should say what we are talking about and what are doing in the world is Good News.
- We need to reclaim that.
St Augusten in the City of God wrote about what our bodies are like in Heaven. He was tormented by this question because so few people believed in resurrection. What do you think our bodies look like in Heaven?
- I am so deeply shaped by the perspective of heaven being here on earth.
- My consciousness is shaped by a restored, renewed earth/Heaven.
- In the resurrection accounts, Mary thought Jesus was a gardener, pointing back to the Garden, Genesis.
- People who spent years with Jesus couldn’t recognize Him.
- They didn’t realize who it was until He spoke or broke bread.
- There’s an essence that transcends our physicality.
- There’s an essence to each one of us, how that manifests itself in physicality… who knows?
Resurrection is central to the whole thing. Your physical body joins your soul in the renewed Heaven and earth. Resurrection is the hardest part because we don’t get how it works.
- This is why the dicussion is so great, interesting and compelling.
- Resurrection says that this world matters.
- God has great value for this world and has a great desire to alleviate the suffering in this world.
- Resurrection is about the affirmation of goodness of this world.
- It affirms that this world is good.
- It was created for our enjoyment.
- It’s an effort and rescue through Jesus to reclaim all of this.
- This has everything to do with how we live in the world.
- It’s not about evacuating this world for another.
- Resurrection is a belief and hope in restoring this world.
Resurrection is so central to faith. NT Wright said in the Bible resurrection means the body and coming back to life from the dead.
- Sociologically, large groups of people don’t generally have massive changes in their belief instantaneously.
- Something happened with Jesus.
- In our modern, scientific, closed world the things that happen have to be able to be measured.
- The resurrection confronts our world with wonder, mystery, and miracles.
- Miraculous things happen. Deal with it.
Questions from the Audience:
If I were an atheist and didn’t want to go to Heaven and be with God, would God force me into Heaven?
- God is love.
- Love demands freedom.
- God gives us what we want.
- For people who want nothing to do with peace, joy, reconciliation and peace… God will give you what you want.
- I see people make unbelievably destructive choices.
- When it all gets laid out you can see that the choices you make are awful.
- The hardness of the human heart makes no sense.
- People cling to a destructive path.
- It is a fundamental mystery of the human heart.
- We see that around us all the time.
- We assume that choice, ability, option, etc continues on into the future.
This is an important conversation for us to have. How can this conversation happen in an inter-faith environment?
- There is a common good we all long for.
- We all agree on certain things.
- Example: peace making.
- At the heart of the Christian faith is Jesus, who talked about service.
- The ultimate impulse Jesus keeps bringing up isn’t about getting people to believe what you believe or doing what you want them to do, it’s how do you serve others.
- What does the world need?
- What do people of other religions need? How can you serve and bless them?
- Our task in the world is to serve.
- Jesus was far more interested in us being humbled by our service than by us trying to prove why we are right.
What would you do with Matthew 7?
- The things in life that matter take incredible intention.
- It’s about the power of intention and devoting yourself to something or somebody.
- Broad is the path… there are many ways things can unravel.
- For life to work takes extraordinary intention… a narrow way.
- It’s choosing to commit to devote yourself to something and to persevere.
- “The saint is the person who wields the one thing.” – Kierkegaard
- In this passage, Jesus speaks of all the different ways we lose the plot in what it means to be human.
- Jesus lived in a political climate that said the way to win is to pick up a sword and fight the Romans.
- Jesus challenges us to reclaim what it means to be a light in the world.
- Jesus’ teachings work at all different levels… they are fundamental truths on how the world works, they are very clear warnings, teachings and guidance that were to real people who were in a real place with real struggles.
Is there a Hell? If not, does that take anything away from the cross?
- I actually think there is hell because we see hell every day.
- We can resist and we can reject what it means to be fully human… good, descent, and compassionate.
- Yes, I think there is.
- We have that choice now and I assume we have that choice on into the future.
Is God love [in action] or is God an actual person? Does saying “God is love” remove Him from being a real being?
- At the heart of Jewish understanding of the world God is 2 things…
- God is both a Divine being, separate from Creation.
- God is also moving and present within history.
- In the Old Testament in Exodus, King David, etc … we see real people in real places in real times encountering the Divine.
- God is at work in history.
- The Christian understanding came out of the Jewish understanding and says that God at work in history and came among us.
- God in search of man – God pursues people in history.
- The experiences you’ve had when you sensed when you weren’t alone or something seemed like more than a coincidence… that’s God with you.
If we lose the concept of Hell, what does that do to the motivation for Christian mission?
- It’s absolutely crucial that we come face to face with the power of our choices.
- We can choose the way of compassion, the way of forgiveness, the way of generosity.
- Or we can choose other paths and those have very real consequences in the world.
- This is absolutely crucial.
- In terms of the Great Commission, Jesus says, “Go and make disciples, baptizing [or immersing] them in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit…”
- There’s one way of seeing that as immersing them in this trinitarian community.
- Go out and announce this Good News to people.
- Proclaim God’s love, proclaim God’s rescue effort in the midst of creation, that God is pursuing people.
- And invite them into your community where they can experience the love of God as it is shared and passed around and extended to each other.
- At our church we often talk about the Good News is better than that.
- There is a story being told in human history, Jesus invites us into the story and then to share the story with others.
- That’s absolutely at the center of it.
- The real challenge for Christians when it comes to witnessing and evangelism is, “do you actually think this is a great story?”
- At Mars Hill they have classes where people sit around talk about their story.
- Let’s talk about what you’ve been through.
- Let’s talk about the hell you’ve been through and what happened when you encountered grace.
- A couple who experienced a number of miscarriages started a group for couples who want children but are having problems.
- The stories of when God’s grace meets people in extraordinary despair and suffering is a beautiful thing.
You say Hell is based on bad choices. We choose to not help the poor, we choose to lie, not help the homeless, etc. It seems to me there’s another Hell, too. The Hell not of your own nature. Bad things happen. Heaven has historically been a way out for people who are in a hell not of their own choosing. It’s a radical reversal of justice. Can you talk to me about Hell or Heaven without an issue of choice?
- How much great art has come from that longing?
- This longing for a better world or for some other place is a human ache that has been with us since the beginning.
- Most of our thinking about Heaven has come from our hope that this isn’t it… that there’s more than this reality.
- We long for rebirth and rescue.
- We hope for something that breaks this thing we are in.
- We see this across traditions.
- We have a tradition that says nature is out of whack.
- We live in the midst of a creation that is groaning.
- Something is profoundly wrong and we are desperate for justice, for restoration and for somebody somewhere to do something about this.
Can God be both loving and just?
- There has been a human longing and desire for God to fix the world.
- No more greed, no more exploitation.
- There’s been a human ache for justice.
- At the heart of the Jewish and Christian understanding is the longing for a day…Day of the Lord, Judgement Day, etc.
- You also have this side-by-side of God’s endless affirmation that God wants everyone to be saved.
- Psalm 22 – all people will be at the great banquet.
- There’s a possibility of every single person being rescued.
- There’s also a longing for justice.
- They sit side-by-side.
- The Western mind is very black or white.
- The Hebrew mind and the Scripture is OK with these things being true.
- At the end of the Bible there is a picture of city… a renewed, restored city, Heaven and earth come together, God dwelling amongst people.
- There are people not in it. Those are those who choose to lie, murder, etc.
- The writer adds that there is a gate in the new restored city that never shuts.
- There’s no resolution. It just sits there.
- We need to let it sit there, side-by-side.
What is your concern if we ignore this and stop this discussion?
- The fundamental way that millions of people were told about Jesus was that “God loves you, God has a wonderful plan for your life, God loves you so much that He sent Jesus because God wants a relationship with you… and all you have to is accept, trust and believe. If, tonight, you reject what I’m saying to you right now and are hit by a car on the way home, God would then have no choice but to punish you eternally with torment and fire in Hell.”
- God would, in that split second, become a totally different being.
- If there was an earthly father who was like that we would call the authorities.
- My experience as a pastor answering real questions from real people is that lots of people have really, really toxic, dangerous, psychologically devastating images of God in their head.
- Images of a God who’s not good.
- My experience is that lots of people go to church, sing the songs, tell the story, etc but have profound ambivalence about God.
- We can discuss it, but at its core… people have a view of a God who is terrible that they can’t even imagine being loving or wanting anything to do with.
- What’s really behind the question?
- It’s important that we talk about this.
- When people talk about Good News and Jesus people don’t believe that God is really good.
- For whatever reason God being good is such a fresh, radical new idea.
- Many people need a new rewiring of their heart and mind.
- Ultimately, it’s simple.
- We want people to experience Good News.
- We want people to experience love.
- We don’t want people to live with these negative images and messages they have been sent about God, what life is about, etc.
- I’m not a theologian or scholar, but I know there is Good News and I’ve seen it in action and that’s something worth talking about.