Rob Bell and the Doctrines of Grace
The New Calvinism is the new fad. It's easy for me to see why because I would see myself as a part of it. Now I find myself reading Wesley's hymns and saying, “That one's great! His Arminianism barely shows...” and am willing to sing it wholeheartedly. I have friends, though, who are still on the dark side, as it were; waving the Arminian flag with vigour.
The Doctrines of Grace are not the battleground of recent days though. Rob Bell has brought live heresy into the fray of doctrinal controversy. Never one to avoid such conflict (quite the opposite, in fact), I picked up the first copy of “Love Wins” (Rob Bell's book) I've seen in South Africa and perused it. To my astonishment (and yet, not really) it seems that the Doctrines of Grace are indeed all pervasive because this is what I read:
If the message of Jesus is that God is offering the free gift of eternal life through him – a gift we cannot earn by our own efforts, works, or good deeds – and all we have to do is accept and confess and believe, aren't those verbs?
And aren't verbs actions?
Accepting, confessing, believing – those are things we do.
Does that mean, then, that going to heaven is dependent on something I do?
How is any of that grace?
How is that a gift?
How is that good news?
Isn't that what Christians have always claimed set their religion apart – that it wasn't, in the end, a religion at all – that you don't have to do anything, because God has already done it through Jesus?
Ka-ching! Bell's question, “Does that mean, then, that going to heaven is dependent on something I do?” rings eerily true when the Doctrines of Grace are abandoned. The onslaught of questions that follows illustrates the necessity that salvation is not something I can do. Indeed, with Bell (and with some surprise that I'm agreeing with him) I say, “God has already done it through Jesus”.
What is the solution then? Because Bell goes on to argue that everyone is saved in the end; love wins after all...
Again, I agree. This time only in part though. Paul explains, “it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy” (Rom 9:16) just as Bell has eloquently shown is necessary. But Paul continues anticipating Bell (Rom 9:21-23), “Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honoured use and another for dishonourable use? What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory”
So love does win: God's self-love (which is the height of righteousness in God) wins in the end. He, the potter makes vessels for destruction and for glory. It doesn't depend on something we do but we will be accountable for everything we do and as Jesus says, “All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out” (John 6:37).