I just completed a theological double header: Robert Farrar Capon’s The Fingerprints of God and Rob Bell’s Love Wins.
I will get to both books in a minute, but first let me write a few words about Rob Bell. In short, like Brian McLaren before him, I spent too much time listening to warnings from the heresy hunters (primarily online) regarding his teachings, and so I kept my distance. But also like McLaren, that distance could only survive interacting with his thoughts and becoming completely won over. Brian McLaren was instrumental in helping me swap out my old wineskins for new, more generous ones, and Rob Bell has probably put the finishing touches on the sea change I am convinced God has been working in me for some time with regard to my eschatology.
Honestly, this sea change started as I was drawn to the writings of the Internet Monk, Michael Spencer, who introduced me to a vision of God’s grace that resonated deeply with my soul. I grew up in the faith after my conversion as a pretty mainstream Evangelical (note the capital E), with pretty mainstream Evangelical notions of heaven and hell. But the concept that God’s love would be so limited that the vast majority of people would succumb to the fires of hell never really sat very well with me.
And then Michael Spencer pointed me to the teachings of Robert Capon. Michael articulated an irresponsible Grace. A Grace that was so much bigger than the one I had known before. A Grace which was available to EVERYONE – not just some select few, not some elect, not even people who assented to a certain belief system. ALL. EVERYONE. No exceptions. Yes, it is a Grace that can be ignored, if we so choose to engage in our pity party and reject it, but even in ignoring that Grace we cannot completely escape it.
Rob Bell’s and Robert Capon’s books are perfect complements to each other, and it is clear that while so many are condeming Bell as a Universalist (in the “all roads go to the same place” sense of the word), he is clearly more a disciple of Robert Capon in this regard. The two of them do not reject hell, but rather that God is the one who condemns people to it. Neither of them deny heaven, but both assert that we will be quite surprised by everyone who gets there. And they both affirm that the story of salvation began in the opening chapters of God’s story, rather than suddenly appearing when Jesus died on the cross.
I thoroughly enjoyed both books, but if I had only one to recommend to someone starting down this path, it is Bell’s. His retelling of God’s story as a means of encouraging us to let God retell our story really resonated with me, and the second half of his book is really evangelical in the truest sense of the word. This book is for those who have been told that God needs them to get their lives together before they come to him. For those who have been wounded by the church and by people outside of the church. It is for those who really need to hear about a God who has already taken care of everything that could keep them apart from him.
But it’s also for those of us who are quite sure about our place in the Kingdom. For we, like the older brother in the parable of the prodigal, are the ones most likely to engage in the pity party at the end of the age, when we scratch our head at all the riff raff that God has let into his banquet, while we stand outside in our own personal hell.