As near as I can tell the entire furor is simply because Rev. Bell says essentially that love trumps everything else including hell.

As reported by Eric Marrapodi, CNN Belief Blog co-editor, “On Saturday, in a blog post on the popular Christian website The Gospel Coalition, Justin Taylor blasted Bell’s new book, out March 29, for teaching ‘false doctrine.’”

I’m glad Rob Bell has the integrity to lay his cards on the table about universalism. Universalism, in its broadest terms, preaches that everyone goes to heaven and that there is no hell. Critics say it represents a break from traditional Christianity, which they say holds that heaven and hell are very real places. In most Christian circles, universalism is a dirty word.

I not only agree with Rev. Bell and would also take it one step further and say there is no physical hell. I believe for those of the Christian faith, Jesus is the Christ. I also believe God appears and speaks in many other visions, forms and spiritedness for the many and varied creations in the universe.

I will not spend this blog writing a defense for my rather pluralistic belief; suffice to say I don’t think God is nearly as limited as the traditional Christian church has made God to be. So to think there is only one way to be in relationship with God would be akin to saying there is only one way to have sex.

The Christian Church for 2,000-plus years has kept it adherents in line with the threat of people being sent to hell. If anyone has dared to stand up to this weak theology they have been ridiculed, written off or at the end of the day called a heretic.

The main-line traditional church over the years has come up with so many rules and requirements just to be served Holy Communion are to have made it irrelevant for most.

In fact the church has spent so much time telling people all the things that will keep them from a God, a funny line has become all too true for some — “If I am going to hell I am going to enjoy my time getting there.”

Hell is not a place, but rather a state of being. God does not send one to hell, one chooses that destiny.

For the believer, the only path to this state of being called hell, or “the total absence of God,” is to choose to not have a relationship with that which created us. The choice to be in relationship with God can and is often made in an instant, as the testimony of those who have died and or had that “outer body experience.”  For the vast majority of folks, their lives have changed for the better and there was no fire-breathing God screaming, “You didn’t do it my way.” In fact, the stories are just the opposite.

The Christian church has capitalized on the people’s apathy and fear of being responsible for their own relationship with God. Why? Because we are afraid of making a mistake or worse. People have often said to me, “Pastor, what if you are wrong?” My response is, “I am not wrong!” God is about ‘agape,’ unconditional love! To believe otherwise after reading the “red-letters” is to buy into the power and control of the institutional church.

I don’t know about the reader, but I need a moving, powerful and intimate relationship with the Creator of the Universe, not a puppet master relationship with the traditional church. If people read about Jesus closely enough they would see that is what Jesus’ life, death and resurrection was calling us to — a full, powerful and intimate relationship with God!

The Christian Church has missed the point of Jesus, which was to place people in a position of having a full and intimate relationship with the Creator.

Yes, Jesus spoke of hell but always from the point of view of what it is to be out of relationship with God. That is something we choose, not God. God’s choice according to the teachings of Jesus is always to be in relationship with us. As Rev. Bell has suggested, love trumps all!

Read the story of the Prodigal Son…love triumphs!

The women caught in adultery…love triumphs!

The paralytic lowered through the roof…love triumphs!

The woman at the well…love triumphs!

The tax collector…love triumphs!

I could go on and on. However, I know some are already asking what is it that God requires for this unconditional love, for this relationship to be strong?  We know what God requires, “to do justice, to act mercifully and to walk humbly with God.”

God’s love, not anger, is what brings us home and gives us heaven in death and gives us peace while on this earth.

I know this because at the core of my beliefs reside these truths:

John 14:1-4
John 3:16-18
James 3:17-18
Micah 6:8
Romans 8:31-39
Matthew 25:31-40
Matthew 22:34-40

Yup, there are those who will consider me a heretic or preaching a false gospel … but hey, love triumphs over all!

 


Rev. Paul M. Turner is the Senior Pastor of Gentle Spirit Christian Church of Atlanta. For more information, please visit www.gentlespirit.org or e-mail info@gentlespirit.org.

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