God isn't a "vicious tormenter": Rob Bell's blasphemy?

I started to watch and review the video of Adrian Warnock’s interview with Rob Bell.

Premier Christian Radio: The 'Heaven and Hell' DebateThe part I have seen so far shows the reasonable face of Adrian who has “no intention to be hateful to [Bell] or to anyone”, a brother in Christ who shares with me a passion for the Resurrection and the work of the Holy Spirit.

But then I read Adrian’s follow-up post Heaven, Hell, and Rob Bell – How DARE you question God?, and suddenly I saw, or read, a completely different Adrian: one who responds with “How DARE you?” to anyone who questions the received “Reformed” concept of God, a person showing hate and condemnation for anyone who doesn’t preach a God of hate and condemnation.

Adrian quotes some passages from Rob Bell’s book Love Wins which he describes as “verging on blasphemy”. Here is the main one:

Millions have been taught that if they don’t believe, if they don’t accept in the right way, that is, the way the person telling them the gospel does, and they were hit by a car and died later that same day, God would have no choice but to punish them forever in conscious torment in hell. God would, in essence, become a fundamentally different being to them in that moment of death, a different being to them forever. A loving heavenly father who will go to extraordinary lengths to have a relationship with them would, in the blink of an eye, become a cruel, mean, vicious tormenter who would ensure that they had no escape from an endless future of agony. If there was an earthly father who was like that, we would call the authorities. If there was an actual human dad who was that volatile, we would contact child protection services immediately. If God can switch gears like that, switch entire modes of being that quickly, that raises a thousand questions about whether a being like this could ever be trusted, let alone be good. Loving one moment, vicious the next. Kind and compassionate, only to become cruel and relentless in the blink of an eye. Does God become somebody totally different the moment you die? That kind of God is simply devastating. Psychologically crushing. We can’t bear it. No one can.

And that is the secret deep in the heart of many people, especially Christians: they don’t love God. They can’t, because the God they’ve been presented with and taught about can’t be loved. That God is terrifying and traumatizing and unbearable.

So, Adrian, if you reject these words of Rob Bell as “verging on blasphemy”, can we take it that for you God does indeed “become a cruel, mean, vicious tormenter. … Kind and compassionate, only to become cruel and relentless in the blink of an eye”? Is this the kind of God you believe in? If so, how can you profess to love him? Or has Bell hit the nail a bit too much on the head about Christians who “don’t love God. They can’t, because the God they’ve been presented with and taught about can’t be loved. That God is terrifying and traumatizing and unbearable”?

As I wrote in a comment on Adrian’s post (and I credit him with allowing the comment to stand):

Do you love [God], or do you actually hate and fear him, and protest your love out of fear that he might damn you for not loving him? If so I don’t want anything to do with your God.

But this is the same Adrian whose book Raised with Christ I described last year as

well argued and positive … I would thoroughly recommend this book to anyone whose background is “Reformed” or conservative evangelical and whose faith seems to be somewhat doctrine-centred and dry.

Why do we see such a different Adrian in his new post? The only way I can explain this sudden complete changes of his attitude is that he is suffering from something like dissociative identity disorder, the PC name for a split personality. And he has shaped his God to have a similar disorder, “Loving one moment, vicious the next”. He should see a psychiatrist. Oh, he is one!

0 thoughts on “God isn't a "vicious tormenter": Rob Bell's blasphemy?

  1. Not necessarily split personality. There is a deep human desire in all of us to believe that we cannot truly win unless someone else truly loses. Or that our group cannot truly win unless some other group truly loses.

    And I believe that deep human desire is an expression of our fallen nature.

    I get very impatient with individuals who have a habit of displaying this “How dare you?” behaviour and I think it’s actually a good reason to dare.

  2. Perhaps simply discussing the issues is a way to avoid posting in anger?

    I’m gruesomely fascinated, though, by why it should make someone angry that another person doesn’t believe in the concept of hell as a place of permanent torment which God creates and sustains for the purpose of punishment. There are a lot of folk on the internet getting pretty angry about it. Just as happened when Steve Chalke published his book in the UK.

  3. Pam, thanks for both your comments. Yes, very like the Steve Chalke debate, as I nearly mentioned in the post but it was getting too long. I was reminded of Chalke’s “cosmic child abuse” suggestion by these words of Bell:

    If there was an actual human dad who was that volatile, we would contact child protection services immediately.

  4. Well put. It seems that Adrian is more than a little confused. I think he is playing a bit to much to his constituency (Calvinist). This is a danger for us all of course but fir Adrian it means he is trying to criticise Bell whatever arguments others might make. It makes for debate that shifts from blasphemy to theological approach at the drop of a hat. Frustrating to say the least.

  5. Thank you, Alan. Well, I hope Adrian isn’t throwing around blasphemy accusations just to get Calvinist hurrahs, or readership. I do actually think he is honestly saying what he believes, although of course choosing what to write for his audience – as I do. But I consider it irresponsible for a Christian to stir up divisions in the way that he does.

  6. Hey Peter

    Thanks for the correction. I did not mean to infur that Adrian is working to the crowd on purpose. Only that the constituency becomes a driver in the need to continue the conversation in a particular way. I recognise my own tendancy in this regard.

    It does seem that Adrian has moved from the ‘humble seeker after truth’ stance to now looking for any point with which to criticise Rob Bell.

    He initially stated that RB was no longer an evangelical because he had confessed to not believing in eternal conscious punishment.

    When reminded that others like John Stott were anihilationists he said that his criticism of Bell was focussed on his approach to scripture.

    This is what I found frustrating and has lead me to conclude that the driver has now become the general Calvinist constituency (however subconscious that driver may be)

    I don’t mean this as a reflection on Adrian’s genuiness.

    Hope that make sense.


  7. I may be wrong, but I wonder if what Adrian is saying is that he finds the ‘straw man’ version of God which Rob Bell is setting up to be verging on blasphemous. I don’t think Adrian, I or other Calvinists like us recognise here the loving God we know or the gracious God whom we seek to present to sinners. Believing in a God who hustly punishes sin eternally does not make God any kind of monster.

  8. Isn’t a good deal of the problem a mutual that both sides set up “strawmen”? It’s certainly a strawman to say that Bell is advocating universal salvation in this book.

    I simply want to know what a person means when they say “hell”? “Hell”, as I understand it, is a concept about God intentionally holding individuals in some form of ever-lasting misery for the purpose of punishment. That “hell” I do not believe in. If Adrian does not believe in that “hell”, then we have a basis for dialogue.

    Is it a strawman for Bell to deny that kind of hell? I don’t think so. I know a number of people in real life who believe in this kind of hell. I was challenged in my circuit appointment for denying this kind of hell. I think it is a live issue for a lot of people in their real, everyday faith-life.

  9. Alan, I understand better now what you are saying. I have a half prepared post on Adrian, Bell and evangelicalism, which I may now tidy up and post.

    Paul, I wish you were right, but I am almost sure, by comparison with Adrian’s past reaction to Steve Chalke and others, that you are not. Just as the Bible is not blasphemous for saying that God is NOT a man who might lie, so also Bell is not blasphemous for saying that God is NOT a vicious tormenter. If Adrian agrees that God is not a vicious tormenter, then I would expect amens of agreement rather than denunciations of blasphemy.

    Pam, I think Adrian does believe in that kind of hell. The following quote from his post VIDEO – Nailing Rob Bell down to express clearly his disbelief in eternal conscious punishment in hell shows that he considers “eternal conscious punishment” to be part of “hell as traditional evangelicals understand it”. Adrian reports how he asked Rob Bell

    essentially if he believed that God was the kind of God who would punish people for ever in hell, he gave a simple, one word answer “No!” … Finally, a clear confession from Rob Bell, that yes, he does not believe in hell as traditional evangelicals understand it. (Adrian’s emphasis)

  10. Pingback: God does not break our will - Gentle Wisdom

  11. Pam, I think Adrian does believe in that kind of hell.

    I’m not an expert on what Adrian thinks. The neo-Reformed movement has been trying to claim for some time that this is the one and only evangelical view so I’m not surprised.

    So it would appear that there is no strawman. Not only do many people believe in this kind of hell (which I think comes deep from within most of our subconscious minds) but Adrian also believes in this kind of hell.

    So the subject is worthy of discussion on two fronts.

  12. Peter, as I think we’ve discussed before, it’s been widely observed that Reformed theology is basically a totalitarian system which cannot tolerate dissent and invariably speaks very negatively of anyone who holds differing views. As Dave W implied on his blog, they take they approach that their understanding is the only correct one and so if you question it, you are questioning God himself and you are therefore a dangerous heretic who must be metaphorically burned at the stake (although sometimes I wonder if they wish it was still done literally).

    It’s also been observed by at least one other person that Reformed types have been known to come across all friendly and loving to find out exactly what someone believes, and then come out with a vitriolic attack on those beliefs shortly afterwards. That does sound like a form of schizophrenia to me.

  13. Sidefall, that may be a good alternative to my metal illness theory. Actually I think the bad Adrian here came before the good Adrian, as the post I objected to may well have been one of the series he announced as taken from the notes he made before the interview with Bell.

  14. As someone who grew up in totalitarian Lutheranism – and who heard all the same anathamas growing up against those who held incorrect doctrine – I think that sidefall is correct. That’s why I offered the “dualism” theory in counter to the schizophrenia theory. I believe that all human beings have the capability to default to dualism and if we don’t admit that we too have that capability and only project it on to this movement or that movement, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.

    If God is so OCD that God is sending Lutherans, Arminians and Catholics to hell for incorrect doctrine, then I reckon we’re all in trouble. Including the neo-Reformed.

  15. Pam, I’m sorry that I didn’t make much response to your first comment here. It indeed makes a similar point to Sidefall’s, but somehow his(?) presentation of it struck me more than yours.

  16. This is certainly an interesting dialogue.

    To start, I think it’s worth saying that Bell (as he expresses) is still exploring and even questioning the traditional view of hell and is not necessarily saying that he has all the answers, although his suggestions are obviously upsetting the more traditional views of God and hell. However, I can also appreciate the concern of some regarding Bell’s biblical basis of such suggestions. I believe, there are probably good points on either side.

    I also believe, that we are in a season, in the church, where perhaps the gospel has sometimes been preached that the cross against mankind instead of for mankind. I think this is where Bell is coming from. I also believe that Bell is correct in saying that the punishment of sin was poured out on the cross and the necessary work of salvation is actually finished for all those who respond to this loving sacrifice by our Lord Jesus.

    As for the subject of hell, it’s worth noting that as the scriptures clearly state that hell was never prepared for mankind but for the devil and his angels.

    “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels” Matthew 25:3

    We should understand that mankind was never intended or prepared (by God) to go to such a place but unfortunately the reality is that people do. In fact, I believe that God does not send people to hell but rather people send themselves by taking on the nature or simply following devil to such a place. God does not torment anyone, it is completely not His nature to do so; therefore we never have to debate such an issue. The devil is the tormentor and he torments mankind not only in this life but also in hell. We need to understand the difference between Love (God) and hate (devil).

    From the very beginning (as we see in Genesis) the devil attempts to get mankind to turn away from trusting in the kindness, love and acceptance of God by tempting mankind to make his own decision apart from the truth, life and love of God. God has attempted to save mankind from this deception and threat also from the very beginning by giving us his trusted word and a relationship with man just like He had with Adam before the fall. When mankind rebels (or divorces) God which is similar to a runaway teenager who leaves the security and love of their parents home so they can live their own way they are essentially choosing death. The first death that took place at the fall was death to a loving relationship that Adam and Eve had with God, and yet all throughout scripture we see God grieving though as a loving Father making many pleas for mankind to come home to Him. Finally, God does the ultimate to get their attention and sends us His only begotten Son to point the way to Him. God never forces us to choose Him but rather displays His love and affection all throughout the ages waiting for those to come home like the prodigal son. There is always hope in Him in this life.

    Jesus mentions the word hell about 15 times in the New Testament depending on what version you are reading. Therefore, at minimum, God must have been pleading with us that such a place does exist and He was obviously concerned that some people (or many) would choose such a place by not choosing Him (life); however, we should always remember that it’s His loving kindness that leads us to repentance. Repentance simply put is to change one’s mind. Choosing life over death by choosing Jesus. When Jesus appeared to us, it was not to just exclude all other beliefs. It was to save us from all the other roads that all led to a dead end. Like a true and loving Father, God appeared to us in the flesh to show us the way to Him. Then He proved this love for us by giving His life for ours. God does not want us to choose him out of fear. He wants us to choose Him and love Him because He first loved us and gave Himself for us. Once we fully understand this great love our natural response should be to love Him back with all of our heart because of this ultimate sacrifice on His part. God then becomes our first love and we joyfully respond to the gospel and the work of grace because we trust Him not wanting anything to do with our old life anymore. In this case the teenager came home and realized the foolishness of their decision to leave.

    In Summary, I believe there are probably several factors to salvation that we should all consider. Truth, Love and Relationship. Truth- There is only one God. Heaven and hell do exist and mankind is hopeless to choose life apart from Jesus. Love- God wishes no one to perish and because of this, He sent His only beloved Son that anyone (key word) who believes in Him will not perish but will be granted eternal life. Relationship- The whole reason why God saved us is because He loves us dearly and He wants us to know and love Him back into a relationship that lasts for all of eternity.

    So here are my final thoughts on the debate. I think they are both right. To a degree, we have both the truth of God and the love of God both being presented here. But perhaps the missing component is what the Lord Himself might be saying about His own word. Let’s not settle any longer for mans interpretation or even suggestions, but let us engage God in our own relationship with Him and find out for ourselves what He is trying to say to our hearts.

    “Now this is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent” John 17:3

    Eternal life is not about believing correct doctrine or saying a model prayer to go to heaven. Eternal life is simply to know God and His son Jesus through a relationship. The worship He wants from us is to worship Him in Spirit and in Truth (being filled with the Holy Spirit is the key to understanding this). If there is one thing the devil is after, it’s our relationship with God. In fact, we can know the word of God and even know great giants of the faith and debate all day long about certain matters but still be eating from the wrong tree. May we return to intimacy and trust “the tree of life” which I believe allows us to simply engage God apart from understanding everything our own way or man’s way. I believe the Lord can explain to each heart what He meant in His word without man’s many different interpretations. Jesus said- “my sheep know my voice”. So let’s start by meditating on the written word so we can hear the still small voice for ourselves. Only Jesus is the author and finisher of our Faith. Thanks for listening.

  17. Have a look at the opening paragraph on this web page about Luther’s antisemitism – it discusses the concepts I mentioned (but I didn’t refer to it when I wrote my previous comment). I don’t see a great deal written about this side of reformed theology.


  18. Sidefall, I don’t want this thread to get distracted into a general critique of “Reformed” theology, and especially of peripheral matters like Luther’s anti-semitism which, although highly regrettable, was largely a reflection of the times he lived in.

  19. Joel, I have serious disagreements with Adrian. But I am not carrying on a vendetta against him, but trying to engage with what he is writing on his very popular blog, and saying on a well known radio show.

  20. To Ray Walter: you said, “God has attempted to save mankind from this deception and threat also from the very beginning by giving us his trusted word and a relationship with man just like He had with Adam before the fall.”

    How sad then, for according to your conclusion that much of mankind will “follow” the devil, God has failed to “save mankind from this deception.” I thought “Christ was manifested to destroy the works of the devil,” but apparently His efforts are only well-meaning and will fail in the end.

    I am sorry to disagree Ray, but God does not fail. And I am sorry that you seem to have so little faith in God’s abilities and so believe otherwise. Perhaps it would help if you simply avoided using the words “God” and “attempted” together — it makes Him seem so human.

  21. Jim, are you suggesting that it would be God’s fault if people were to choose not to follow him? How do you resolve the tension? In Rob Bell’s way by asserting that eventually all will choose to follow him and be saved? Or in the crude hyper-Calvinist way, explicitly contradicted in the Bible, of saying that he never intended some of them to be saved? I would say that since God designed human beings with free will it is not his fault, but his deliberate design, if some freely choose not to follow him.

    Yes, the works of the devil will be finally destroyed, but sadly some humans choose to be mixed up in those works and so be caught up in that destruction.

  22. Peter, I must ask then, since you claim that at least some will “choose” not to follow God – or to REJECT Him – just what is so wrong with Him? The implication of your line of thought is that hell is a “preferred” alternative to life with our loving heavenly Father. Why else would someone “choose” hell over heaven if not that it was perceived as “better?” Or are you not agreeing that people are DECEIVED into following Satan (and by definition “deception” is being tricked into believing that a lie is the truth, and thus negates the “free” will of the person being deceived), and if so why do you then deny that Christ has the power to destroy that deception?

    “The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers so that they CANNOT SEE the light of the glory of the gospel of Christ.” 2Cor. 4:4

    Scripture hear clearly explains WHY unbelievers are “blind,” and yet you deny that Christ’s power to “destroy the works of the devil” will actually succeed in “unblinding” them. Did YOU “choose” to see, or were you given sight?

    Forgive me, but you are promoting nothing less than salvation by works in your suggestion that people make the “proper” choice to follow Christ rather than Satan, while scripture has already told you that they have been DECEIVED into doing so. In WHOM do you actually have faith? In Satan to deceive and destroy God’s creation? Or in Christ to redeem and restore it?

    Your claim: “Yes, the works of the devil will be finally destroyed, but sadly some humans choose to be mixed up in those works and so be caught up in that destruction.”

    Contrary to your claim, however, people do not “choose” to be “mixed up in those works” but are BLINDED by Satan. Christ was manifested to UNBLIND us, despite your line of thought which suggests that we must unblind ourselves. And it is He who chooses when and where to give us sight, not us as you have implied.

    DECEPTION implicitly removes any notion of “free will,” so to claim that anyone would “choose” by their “free will” to be DECEIVED by Satan is a blatant contradiction.

    No one in their right mind would “choose” eternal torment over a loving relationship with God, but you have implied exactly that. And so I would ask again, just what is so wrong with God that so much of humanity would prefer eternal torment in hell over glorious life with Him?

    And if their minds are not “right,” then I suppose you would assert that God CANNOT heal them? If so, then where is your faith in Him?

  23. Jim, let me answer you with one name: Osama bin Laden. In your opinion, did he choose “life with our loving heavenly Father”? Yes, I agree that people like him have been deceived. But if they were shown the truth with complete clarity, would they accept it?

    This is nothing to do with salvation by works, unless you redefine “works” to mean something totally different from what it means in the Bible where the word usually refers to obedience to the law of Moses.

    I would assert that God cannot force a human mind to change without destroying its fundamental humanity and image of God.

  24. Peter, yes Osama bin Laden, and ANY other unbeliever has been deceived… unless, of course, you believe that he CHOSE to be born into a non-Christian culture, and be raised under a system of beliefs which taught him that Christians are infidels deserving of death. If you had been born under the same circumstances I suppose you would claim that you would have seen through the deception, rejected the teachings of your parents and religious leaders, and sought out Christ instead? Hardly.

    Are you suggesting that bin Laden WAS shown the truth with clarity and rejected it (which would imply that God CANNOT truly open someone’s eyes), or that YOU were just “better” at seeing it than he was (which would be self-righteousness on your part)?

    I am not trying to insult you, but your thoughts imply that something other than a loving relationship with God and our fellow man will truly fulfill our heart’s desires and that some would then choose that alternative contrary to their own true happiness. You want to BLAME others for “choosing” hell so that you can receive CREDIT for “choosing” heaven. I am sorry, but that completely contradicts scripture (Eph. 2:8-9), in which you would be “boasting” in having faith — as if faith was by your own works and not God’s.

    If our “fundamental humanity and image of God” REJECTS Him, what does that say about Him? If we are truly made “in the image of God” why would we choose anyone else?

  25. Jim, you are raising some important questions. But unfortunately you are making it much harder for me to consider them impartially by SHOUTING at me and making ad hominem comments suggesting I am self-righteous and boasting. I am not prepared to discuss this matter on this comment thread in this atmosphere. I would just like to clarify that I am not seeking personal credit but only the truth.

  26. Peter, thanks for your honesty and open mind. I am sorry that you have taken my attempts to stretch your mind as SHOUTS. My use of all caps is not meant as a shout but as simply a method to emphasize a word in a sentence when we can’t speak face to face where you could hear the inflection in my voice. I am sorry if my choice of methods was poor. As I said before I am not trying to insult you but to point out what are the implications of your line of thinking. If you try to “blame” others for “choosing” hell you are in effect implying that you deserve “credit” for “choosing” heaven, unknowingly perhaps, but the implication is still there. If you claim that others damn themselves you are in effect claiming that you saved yourself, which would be self-righteousness whether you realize it or not or even intended it to be such.

    I do NOT believe that you are seeking personal credit, but don’t you see that by making the statements you have you are operating under the assumption that you “deserve” salvation, and that others who believe differently than you (are not “Christian”) do not?

    If you are giving GOD all of the credit for salvation then why try to blame the ignorant, deceived and misinformed “unbelievers” of the world with their damnation? If you truly believe that faith is a gift (Eph. 2:8-9), then wouldn’t unbelief logically be the lack of that same gift?

    Christ Himself said that “no one can come to the Son unless the Father draws them, and no one can know the Father unless the Son chooses to reveal Him.” If you believe that He was telling the truth why then are you implying that we “choose” to follow God or not? Similarly, 1Cor. 12:3 says that “no one can say ‘Jesus is Lord’ except by the Holy Spirit,” which again gives all credit for our faith to God.

    Again, I am sorry if my brief comments were offensive to you. I am simply asking you to really consider what it is you are saying, and to reevaluate your convictions based on some scriptural points that you don’t seem to have considered yet.

    Peace to you, Jim

  27. Jim, I accept your apology, and that you were not trying to be offensive.

    To me, salvation is indeed a gift which I don’t deserve. But it is a gift which I could have rejected if I had chosen to. If I open a real physical gift which I could have sent back unopened, that doesn’t imply that I have paid for the gift or deserve it, but just that I am sensible and grateful. If someone else refuses the gift, even if they are fully aware that it is valuable, that is their problem, and it is not for me to explain why they did so. Similarly in the spiritual realm: I can’t explain why some people choose to reject the gift of salvation, I can just note that apparently some do.

    I realise that this is not a complete answer to all the issues you raise. As for your question

    If we are truly made “in the image of God” why would we choose anyone else?

    Perhaps the answer here is like the caged bird which refuses to leave its cage even when the door is open. We were trapped and blinded by evil for so long that even when we can see the truth and our cage door is open some of us prefer to stay in our apparently safe cages rather than enjoying the benefits of freedom.

  28. Peter, thanks for your understanding. As to your comment: “We were trapped and blinded by evil for so long that even when we can see the truth and our cage door is open some of us prefer to stay in our apparently safe cages rather than enjoying the benefits of freedom,” I think you are missing an important possibility — that the bird is NOT seeing the truth… yet… because he is still blinded by (and in bondage to) ignorance, deception, misinformation, etc., that only his creator can free him from.

    Your conclusion assumes that “we DO see the truth.” My suggestion to you is that you consider that God is not only willing but able to truly open everyone’s eyes so that they really SEE the truth, and accept it wholeheartedly and gratefully… “for it is God who leads us to repentance.”

    “When Christ sets you free (unblinds you) you are free indeed (truly see).”

    I must also disagree strongly with your idea that salvation is like a birthday gift, that we can accept or reject it as such. As scripture declares, “the gifts of God are irrevocable.” When you are touched by God you ARE changed. It is not our choice but His to GIVE us life. Jesus did not ask Lazarus if he would “accept” the gift of life, He simply said, “Lazarus come forth,” and Lazarus was alive again with no thought of accepting or rejecting that gift (and I would assume that he also felt no ill will against Jesus for resurrecting him without his permission). 😉

    With all respect, may I further suggest that you have been so heavily involved with the church (the traditions of men) for so long that you simply assume that what they have taught you is the “gospel” truth. You have been told so often that people must either “accept or reject” salvation that you have never even considered any alternative theology or that that viewpoint may be in error logically as well as scripturally. With the best of intentions of upholding what the “church” teaches (as if it represented God) you are unknowingly promoting an “answer” that really answers nothing and serves only to raise further questions. You yourself admit that you “can’t explain why some people choose to reject the gift of salvation, I can just note that apparently some do,” which again is just an assumption based on what you have been taught. If you can’t explain something, don’t you think that that is a very good reason to examine it further until you can? I see no reason why I should accept your claim that people “choose to reject salvation” when you cannot explain why you believe this is so. Blind faith in what the church teaches is nothing other than BLIND… it sees nothing.

    I have already taken up too much of your time and sense that my queries are not as fully understood and appreciated as I would hope they would be. Thanks for your time but I will not bother you further on your blog. If you wish our conversation to continue please email me at my personal address, but I will certainly understand if you do not have the time or inclination to do so.

    No hard feelings my friend. I wish you all the best. (Great name for your blog, by the way. “Gentle Wisdom” is what we should all strive for, and I know that my attempts often lack both.)

    In His love, Jim

  29. Jim, there are real issues to debate here. But I continue to object that the way you patronise me by suggesting for example that I “have never even considered any alternative theology”. I studied the theology of Calvin as part of my theology degree – and rejected much of it. I resent even more that you imply that I am blind. As I said before, I cannot attempt to debate the issues in this atmosphere.

    If someone is free indeed, because Christ has set them free, that must include the freedom to decide not to go God’s way. If it doesn’t, if God forces us to accept his gifts, then we are no more than “the horse or the mule which … must be controlled by bit and bridle or they will not come to you” which God tells the psalmist not to be like (Psalm 32:9 TNIV).

  30. If God’s gift of life is so great, as Christians like yourself so adamantly claim, why would anyone reject it? …. and yet you continue to claim that many will.

    On the one hand Christianity claims that there is no TRUE HAPPINESS apart from God, but then it completely turns around and claims that many will reject this same TRUE HAPPINESS. It’s a contradiction plain and simple, and I am sorry that you cannot see that.

    Peace to you, Jim

  31. “if God forces us to accept his gifts, then we are no more than “the horse or the mule…”

    I am sorry that you are so upset that God “forced” your first birth on you by giving you life without asking for your approval beforehand, and will “force” your rebirth (again apparently against your will) when He redeems the entirety of HIS creation so that He may be ALL in ALL. You apparently don’t have much confidence in how God designed us in HIS image, and just what that image is… and I pity you for that.


  32. Jim, I don’t think I have ever “continue[d] to claim that many will” persistently refuse God’s gift of life. I did suggest in my post Hell: comparing Rob Bell with C.S. Lewis that Lewis was more likely right than Bell, that even given unlimited chances few who rejected God in this life would change their minds after death. But I am willing to be convinced on this one that Bell is right. Is that your position?

    Anyway I suggest you read “The Great Divorce” and Lewis’ convincing picture of why many, even with completely open eyes, would prefer to stay in hell than move to heaven. Even if you don’t agree with his second chance theology, it has a lot to say about why many don’t accept their opportunities in this life to turn to God.

  33. Peter, I have not read Bell’s book so I cannot say whether I agree with him or not. I can say this though: if he believes in anything short of the restoration of all things; if he believes in anything short of the redemption of all mankind, then yes I disagree with him.

    Contrary to Lewis’ view I do not believe that God is relying on ANY “chance” to heal and restore His entire creation – ALL of us included – back into a loving relationship with Himself and our fellow man. “Chance,” “hope,” “attempt,” or any such words, are not in God’s vocabulary. The potter is not “trying” to mold the vessels into loving beings in His image… He is actually doing it.

    Just because C.S. Lewis did not understand or believe in God’s unconditional love in this life does not mean that he won’t in the next. By God’s own design we cannot resist being truly loved… to which the only response is to love in return.

    You seem to assume that everyone has felt that love in this life (with some apparently choosing to “reject” it), but the condition of this world proves that that is not the case. Sadly, it is many “Christians” themselves who deceive the world into NOT believing in God’s unconditional love because they too often promote a belief system that denies it – a system which tries to teach them “How to get right with God,” as if God had not already “reconciled the world to Himself.” Christianity teaches the world that God IS counting their transgressions against them when the same scripture that says that God HAS reconciled them so beautifully declares that He is NOT.

    “God demonstrated His love for us in that WHILE WE WERE STILL SINNERS Christ died for us.”

    And yet Christianity teaches that we must first stop sinning (being disobedient, unbelieving, etc., etc.) before He will “take away our sins” by dying for us.

    He already did it. It’s a done deal. He died to show us that God does NOT hate us… that there is nothing we can do to separate us from His love — even killing His own son.

    The world does not believe in God’s unconditional, passionate, all-encompassing love for them because Christians don’t portray it. Instead they portray a “god” who expects perfection; expects us to forgive when he won’t himself; expects us to love our enemies when he won’t love his; expects the blind to heal themselves; expects the lost sheep to find themselves or suffer in eternal conscious torment for their failure to do so.

    Too much of the world does not believe in our loving Heavenly Father because they have not yet had anyone show them what He is like. The “Christians” don’t tell them of a savior who said, “Forgive them Father, for they know not what they do,” but of a returning judge who will damn them to hell forever because of their inherited ignorant and imperfect nature.

    It’s no wonder that most do not believe that “Christ is the savior of the world.” Even the Christians don’t believe it.

  34. Jim, thank you for outlining your magnificent vision of God’s purpose as you see it. I agree that “it is many “Christians” themselves who deceive the world into NOT believing in God’s unconditional love”. Indeed I agree with much of your criticism of Christians, especially with burdening people with obligations and guilt when God has pronounced forgiveness.

    The real difference between your position and mine comes with your assertion “By God’s own design we cannot resist being truly loved”. I would assert the opposite, that God has designed us that we CAN resist true love. The reason for that is that he wants voluntary love in response, not a forced submission. Love which is compelled is not love.

    Rob Bell, as far as I can tell without reading the book, tries to resolve this tension by suggesting that probably all people will in fact voluntarily choose to love God in response to his love, given sufficient opportunities. He may be right, but I rather think he is over-optimistic in this.

    I appreciate your image of the potter. But don’t forget that the biblical image you seem to allude to includes some pieces that were spoiled and had to be broken and moulded into something completely new. I don’t think it detracts from the glory of God to realise that sometimes that is how he works.

  35. Can you imagine a love that looks up to you after you have beaten him beyond recognition and are now brutally nailing him to a cross and says, “I forgive you.”

    Now imagine rejecting that love.

  36. “The reason for that is that he wants voluntary love in response, not a forced submission. Love which is compelled is not love.”

    “Love me or go to hell.” Now that is pretty compelling.

  37. “God has designed us that we CAN resist true love.”

    Why then did YOU not resist it? Are you somehow a “better” vessel than others who did, or just luckier?

  38. Dear Jim:

    I appreciate your discussion on the unconditional love of God. And while we are on this subject of love, let’s all consider the following passage from Corinthians:

    “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres”
    1 Corinthians 13:3-7

    I believe and agree with you, that some of the church does in fact have it very wrong and can be very judgmental with others. This is not only sad but it has been an ongoing issue ever since the Cross; however, I also would encourage you to not over generalize all Christians into this category either. It appears that anyone who does not fully agree with your perspective, you can be quick to point out their apparent fault. It also appears that you seem to want to have the last say in each matter. If that is the case, then I would encourage you to consider reading once again the passage above from Corinthians.

    Finally, I would like to say that I don’t disagree with your points but I cannot say that I fully agree with everything you are stating here either. I could be wrong because I am still learning myself; however, no one person has all the answers and only together can we have the mind of Christ. The eye cannot say to the foot I do not need you. We need each other and we should learn from each other always. Be blessed.

    Take Care,

  39. Ray, thanks for you thoughts. I completely agree with you that none of us has all of the answers and that we all need each other. And I think that THAT is God’s point exactly.

    We cannot be truly happy, truly blessed, truly “saved” until the last sheep is safely home. Only together are we one with God. Only together are we the fellowship of mankind – His creation. God allows us to experience separation, and intolerance, and bigotry, and hatred so that we would learn this very beautiful truth.

    I will leave you with one last quote:

    “Love is the condition in which the happiness of another person is essential to your own.”

    I don’t need the last word. It is His.

    Now I will just shut up.

    Peace to you all.

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