Saved… from what?

April 2011 Pastor’s Monthly Newsletter Article At our March Leadership Team meetings, I shared some thoughts with our leaders about the soon-to-be-published book by Rob Bell: ”Love Wins: A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived.” Rob is the Pastor of Mars Hill Bible Church in Grandville, Michigan, and a prominent, if somewhat controversial, figure in the Evangelical Christian movement.

In the book, scheduled for release on April 7, Bell is said to take issue with the traditional Christian view of heaven and hell as places of reward and punishment that exist in the hereafter. He highlights verses where Jesus hints at the possibility that more people might be included in God’s grace than we imagine (for instance, John 12:32, “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” and John 10:16, “I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. I must bring them also…”). Bell also, as Jesus does, challenges people to see that life without God now is hell, and life with God now is heavenly. When requested to declare whether or not he believes hell is an actual place of eternal punishment, he usually dodges the question.

Of course, I write this as the Christian church is in the midst of its 40-day journey from Ashes to Resurrection. It is a time of year when we focus on our human brokenness, and our need for God’s forgiveness. It is a time when we draw near to the promise of God’s grace, and the hope of new life in Christ. And as many Christian bloggers and commentators have pointed out in the past few weeks, Easter means little if we are saved from nothing. In other words, if there is no hell in the next life – whether we imagine that as an eternity of torment, or an eternity spent distant from God – then the resurrection has little eternal meaning for us.

Any theology that minimizes the impact of the resurrection in this life or the next comes up short. On Easter Sunday, God defeats the power of sin, death and the devil. Those of us who are baptized into the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ are promised new life on a daily basis in this life, and the hope of experiencing it in its fullness when this life is over. That notion may not fit within the sensibilities of modern philosophy (perhaps it comes across as a stumbling block to some, or foolishness to others), but to those of us who are being saved it is Christ: the power of God, and the wisdom of God.

I am planning to read Pastor Bell’s book – I’ve read other works of his, and have been both challenged and inspired by his insightful comments (some of which I’ve chosen to reject, and some of which have helped to shape my faith and knowledge). But I’ll read with his book in one hand, and a Bible in the other hand. I wonder if you might be interested to join me. If so, let me know, and we’ll put together a book club for the adventure.

So have a good Lent. And come Eastertide, may the celebration of the resurrection of Jesus Christ give us hope and peace and joy, in this life and in the next.

God’s peace to you all,

David J. Risendal, Pastor