Thursday, April 28, 2011

Future Residents of Darkest Hell

Dear Future Resident of Darkest Hell,

We noticed you recently decided to ignore every obvious truth of the Bible and turn your back on God. We're disappointed in you, of course, but we'd be lying if we said we didn't see it coming. It was, after all, established before the foundation of the world. God is receiving glory for your failure even as we type, so we're getting over it pretty quickly. We realize this might be hard for you to hear, but we'd like to remind it you it's your own fault for not having faith. As a consolation, we'd like to offer you this 10% off coupon for Christian McJerk's new book 24 Ways I Already Know You're Wrong and 13 More I Plan to Infer as We Go.

You're welcome.

Deep blessings,
The Real Christians.
- David from The Screaming Kettle, guest post at Alise...Write

Until now I haven't gathered the energy to comment on the controversy surrounding Rob Bell’s book Love Wins. What do I know about these knotty theological arguments, anyway? I haven’t read the book, either, which hasn't stopped anyone else. I imagine I’ll read it at some point, when it gets to my library. I won’t run out and buy it because I never run out and buy anything and because I read Velvet Elvis, which reminded me of Chinese food - enormously tasty going down but my stomach was empty an hour later. But I just like the fact that Rob Bell exists and makes lovely videos and is so earnest and passionate and wears such interesting spectacles. Also, I have an unexamined and immediate preference for the people evangelicals call heretics. When I think of protestant evangelicals I tend to imagine Roundheads charging into cathedrals to break the stained glass. Cromwell and Calvin make my skin crawl.

Back to Bell, who is accused of believing that everyone goes to heaven, leaving hell a vast and empty place, with nary a soul to roast. I don’t know if that is actually the case. Maybe he doesn’t say that at all. But it’s beyond me why evangelicals have such an affection for hell. They seem to think that Christendom falls apart if people aren’t properly terrified. Why it bothers Calvinists I do not know, given that whether or not you want to be saved is all up to God - you don’t really have any say in the matter and in fact can’t resist if God entices you into his lair. But you still have to have hell, which to my mind introduces a profound level of existential despair, as those who have not been ineluctably seduced get to contemplate their future in Satan’s hot tub.  Some people argue that people can’t choose heaven or hell because free will is an illusion. Others say that you can’t have heaven without hell because there IS free will. And some people seem to think that you can choose but one of the options isn’t the traditional hell but something more like an eternal waiting room with bad coffee, no donuts and the TV permanently tuned to FOX news.

(Now, if you may be wondering what “free will” is and isn’t. Do we really have any freedom or are we enmeshed in so much culturally and biologically determined stuff that freedom is an illusion?  There is a theory called “post-structuralism” that examines the fine points in excruciating detail. It made my head hurt but I'm sure some might enjoy it.)

Now, here's a few words from someone who has actually read the book. You can read Adam Ellis's whole post over at Jesus Needs New PR. It's full of awesome and this part made me laugh:

To begin, let’s look at two things that shouldn’t be surprises, but (based on the more angry reviews I’ve read) apparently are:
  • Rob Bell is not a Calvinist (“New”, “Neo”, or otherwise). He doesn’t write like one. He doesn’t adhere to exclusively Calvinist doctrine. He doesn’t see the terms “non-Calvinist” and “Christian” as mutually exclusive.
  • Rob Bell writes almost exactly like he talks. And that means there will be…
and half-sentences…
….laid-out unconventionally….

(Note: I suspect that the popular phrase "full of awesome" is already limp and tired, but I like it so much.)

Where was I going with this? I think I got sidetracked by free will and my deep-seated antipathy to Calvinism. Speaking of which: John Piper. He’s notorious for his brush-off tweet "Farewell Rob Bell." Whatever that means. Perhaps he didn't mean it to sound like the ultimate in condescension and smug self-righteousness that it appears on first, second, third and I imagine 20th glance.  I can’t claim to know a lot about Piper. I read one book, assigned at my workplace, about The Passion of Christ, which was meant to tie in to the movie. Boring book. Really really boring. Boooooring. Same old same old. You can count on a Calvinist to say that they’re digging deep into the scripture and discovering treasure when they’re really just dusting off the same old dented relic. I swear they’ve been chewing the same piece of food for years and they still haven’t digested it.

I’m glad Rob Bell got up the noses of the righteous. It doesn’t matter to me if it was a calculated marketing move, or if he’s presenting a not very original idea. I gather Origen got there first, but who the hell (ha ha) has heard of Origen? Here are the evangelicals pretty much claiming that you have to believe in hell or you aren’t Christian. Calvinists particularly like to hedge salvation with caveats, until you end up with a long list of stuff you have to believe if you are a "true" Christian.

I'm really on a tear about Calvinists, aren't I? It's just that I am familiar with the truth of that very funny letter at the top of the page; it could have been mailed to me. I feel bristly. Must be heresy taking root.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Road Trip

The following was created using Storify. If you have problems reading it here, you should be able to go to and see it there.