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Gravity, Rob Bell, Collin Cowherd, and Jesus

March 3, 2011

No matter how high I jump (and yes, I have mad hops), I am pulled back to Earth by gravity.  Much of the time we resent this gravitational pull, seeing it as a limitation on our potential.  We wish we could fly and often see gravity as the slavish law that keeps us from complete freedom.  Let’s be clear:  without gravity we couldn’t survive.  It is part of the glue of our planet, and the integrating force that allows us to exist.

In Christ, all things consist (Col. 1:17).  Jesus is the gravitational pull of our faith and life. 

This morning, on my way to work, I was listening to ESPN radio.  Collin Cowherd is the host of one of the shows – a master of “you either love him or you hate him but either way you listen.”  While discussing the suspension of a BYU basketball player for breaking the school’s Mormon-based rules, he noted that “religion evolves just like everything else.”  Please don’t hear me bashing him for this.  I am not a fan of Christians who expect the world to carry our ethos and worldview.  However, I do think his statement is indicative of how religion, especially Christianity, is thought about by many not only in the world but in evangelical Christian culture. 

It is a popular belief to think of Christianity as evolving.  Both those on the conservative and liberal sides talk about our faith in these terms.  Liberals and progressives will speak about the need to change our faith in light of what we (supposedly) know to be true today.  It is time for Christianity to make it into the enlightened 21st century, they might say.  Conservatives seem to often do the same thing but with a different agenda.  Since Christianity is evolving, they might say, we must halt this movement and get back to our version of religion (which usually means getting back to a traditional form of Christianity).  The fact that conservatives battle against this supposed evolution is a sign that they understand our faith as evolving.  We (I count myself in this camp) just want to stop it. 

Perhaps this is the framework that would help us think about the controversy over Rob Bell’s new book entitled,  “Love Wins:  Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived.”  I have not read the book, so I want to be cautious to make any claims about it.  I did see the publisher’s summary and a video that seem to point to the idea that the book will suggest some position of universalism, the belief that all people will be saved or at least allowed entrance to God’s eternal kingdom when they die.  My introduction to Bell’s book came through Justin Taylor’s blog:

Whether Bell is proposing some type of universalism or not, the point here is that I believe that we must see distortions of the faith like this one as a “revolution” rather than an “evolution.”  The word revolution has at its core the term “revolve.”  When we think of our faith as a chronological timeline with forces that attempt to change it, and opposing forces trying to protect its orthodox state, then we will miss the power of the gravitational pull (Jesus) that keeps our faith in order.  In fact, the “evolving faith” way of thinking will have us attempting to hold on to certain cultural forms of our faith rather than the heart and truth of Jesus.  Instead, the “revolving faith” way of thinking will constantly call us back to the truth of Jesus Christ and keep us near the burning heart of our faith.  The purer our connection to Jesus, the purer our Christianity.

How does the faith revolve?  What is the nature of the centrifugal force that makes this revolving cycle occur becasue of our tendency to pull away from God, and the gravitational pull in Jesus that centers us once again? 

First, our world recycles false thinking.  Universalism is nothing new.  It is an ancient heresy.  Second, the people of God throughout Scripture tended to pull away from the center of their faith and get caught up in traditions, rituals, cultural norms, institutional success, and foreign spiritualities.  Third, God always exerted His gravitational pull back to the core and center of the faith through remnants, revivals, and primarily through the person of Jesus as the truth, the way, and the life. 

Jesus is the gravitational pull of our faith.  When the people of God pull away from Him in this vicious cycle, it is only through a return to Jesus (What Allan Hirsch and Michael Frost call “Re-Jesus”) that we rediscover a vivid and true faith.  It would be easy to see universalism as an attack on the doctrine of hell and condemnation, but ultimately it is an attack upon Jesus.  Universalism discounts the necessity of the cross, and makes light of the sacrifice of Jesus.  Why would Jesus die if we were not condemned?  If His death was unnecessary then it was a divine joke.  Without seeing the “revolving” tendency in such things, we would end up more passionate about Hell than Jesus. 

All of this means that the church has a specific task of constant renewal and reformation to the heart, example, teachings, and work of Jesus.  Paul says, “Him (Jesus) we preach, warning every man and teaching every man in all wisdom, that we may present every man perfect in Christ Jesus” (Col. 1:28).  Jesus is the truth.  Doctrinal purity and Christ-centrality go hand in hand.  True righteousness and Christ-centrality go hand in hand.  Spiritual authenticity and Christ-centrality go hand in hand.  

Praise God that no matter how hard we jump in our own efforts to live and know truth, we have been given Jesus to bring us back to the place we belong!


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