Jonathan Topping on Love Wins

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5 thoughts on “Jonathan Topping on Love Wins”

  1. I think that it’s important to explore the issues that Rob Bell has raised. He has asked some tough questions, and I think that he has started some interesting discussions. I agree that he is not off-limits, and we shouldn’t hold back from challenging his assertions. However, Rob Bell does make his arguments by appealing to scripture and theology. He is asking questions about our understanding of scripture, and if we arrive at a better understanding of scripture, should we not then adjust our doctrine? Doctrine certainly carries more weight than opinion, but does not scripture carry more weight than doctrine? I think that those who have jumped to his defense are primarily focused on allowing this discussion to happen, not suggesting there should be a free pass given. They do not want to shut down the conversation, but keep the conversation from being shut down by an over-reaction to challenging ideas by a rigid appeal to doctrine, rather than an open examination of scripture.

    I also need to ask in response to this video, whose doctrine? Catholic doctrine? Protestant doctrine? Eastern Orthodox doctrine? The assumption that Jonathan Topping seems to make over and over again as he speaks in this video is that Christian Doctrine is whole, complete and universal. Rob Bell goes farther than I’m comfortable with, but he makes the point in his book that he is not pulling these ideas out of thin air. I listened to it on Audiobook, so I don’t have the luxury of reading footnotes (if there were any), but I do recall that Rob Bell indicates at the beginning of his book that other authors and theologians have raised these questions before. He claims to be asking these questions out of research and scholarship, and I’m willing to give him the benefit of the doubt for the sake of having the conversation.

    I’m not ready to believe that every last person who ever lived will be ushered into heaven, but there is one good question that is raised in this book that has captured my attention and will not let me go: If God is just, then will the punishment not fit the crime? Is an infinite eternity of anguish really a just punishment for finite disobedience during our short lives here on Earth? I need to answer no. An eternity in Hell is not a fitting punishment for a life lived on Earth, no matter how egregiously. That means that while the fires of Hell may exist and be eternal, that the experience of them will not be eternal, but that the fire would consume rather than eternally torment. God is mysterious, beyond our ability to fully comprehend and he is justified in passing judgement on us. If, though, God is both just and loving, then causing or allowing infinite, eternal torture in response to a sinful life which is bounded by finite time and limited human capacity is incompatible with his nature. An infinite punishment is only appropriate for an infinite crime, of which I cannot imagine us being capable in human weakness.

    I don’t have a theological problem with the idea that some may be denied entrance into heaven. Free will means the freedom to fail or reject. The rejection of a loving offer is still compatible with a just and loving God, but our understanding of the nature of Hell is something that I feel has been far too influenced by culture and imagination, and it is appropriate that we review our understanding of Hell, with the goal of washing away some of the misconceptions that have arisen from culture and myth.

    Rob Bell raises some interesting ideas, but they are still very speculative and insubstantial. But, he has posed this one question in the book about the nature of hell that may wind up becoming formative of my understanding of what is to come.

  2. Thanks Andrew. I am more sympathetic with Rob Bell than Jonathan is. However, I thought it was worth giving his side of the issue. I like some of the things that Rob Bell says and the questions he asks. But his suggestion that if God wants all people to be saved, then they will be, is just silly. God’s will is that no women be raped. But women get raped every day. God allows a certain part of his will to be broken by the choices we make.

  3. Hey Andrew,
    Firstly, my use of “doctrine” is a pure appeal to Scripture. I’m more against tradition being a source of doctrine than even most protestants I speak with (I’m pentecostal). By good doctrine, I mean the doctrine that has been taught in the Bible. When Jesus speaks about the nature of hell, He is giving us the doctrine of hell.

    You said Bell uses Scripture, and correct me if I’m wrong, but that you believe he is doing exegesis and arriving at a different understanding. Problem is, I don’t think Bell (and other emergent church leaders) do exegesis, they do eisegesis. He is taking a new and creative approach to Scripture, that does not fit with the original intended meaning. Have other people been universalists? Yes. Have other people interpreted Christ’s last words on the cross of forgiving those around Him to mean that His murderers were going to heaven? Probably not, and there’s a reason why they haven’t.

    You said that those in Bell’s defense do want discussion on these topics. Problem is, I’ve talked with many people about this subject, and every single one of them (not one pastor I spoke to) have almost no understanding of the Bible. They do not look up the points made in Bell’s book, and they cannot speak about the subject intelligently. They base it purely on the fact that it’s comfortable to believe, so they adopt it (the trademark of the emergent church, really). If Bell were merely bringing up interesting discussion, I would welcome it, however, his audience isn’t interested in study, or discussion. In fact, even Bell isn’t interested in debate, he’s said so himself in an interview. I’ve seen many interviews with Bell where people bring up individual points from his book and want to discuss them with him. He isn’t capable of doing so, and has admitted he doesn’t like doing it.

    This is not just a difference of opinion, this is not just asking questions and bringing up interesting discussion. This is a man leading people astray from Biblical principles are that laid out clearly in the Bible. This is a man making up his own theology by eisegeting Scripture to fit his own premade doctrine of hell. I may not have answered some of these issues quite as clearly as you would have liked, but I’m going to go more in depth into the real issues within Love Wins in the next video I release.

  4. I’m looking forward to your next video. I do think that Rob Bell goes too far, as I mentioned previously, but I’m also intrigued by the questions he raises. I think the discussion is worth having, although I expect the tide will eventually turn against Rob Bell on this particular subject. I think there are problems with his reasoning. But, the questions he asked did fire the intellectual juices, if only to attempt to refute the ideas presented.

    Your definition of doctrine really did confuse me. You seem to be using the term doctrine where I would say scripture, and I think it’s important to distinguish between the two. I think that scripture is God-breathed and full of mystery, while doctrine is a logical construction which is our best attempt at laying down our understanding of scripture in a systematic way. Doctrine by my definition and way of thinking must be a little fluid. We must be willing to admit that while doctrine is our best understanding at present, it is inadequate to the task of fully and ultimately defining God’s truth. We must have the humility to admit our understanding is as through a mirror dimly and acknowledge that our understanding yet has room to develop.

    I’m not sure that when Jesus talks about Hell he is attempting to communicate a doctrine of Hell. I think it’s possible he was communicating a great mystery he was in a unique position to understand, and was not attempting to systematically describe the theological nature and implications of what he was describing. God doesn’t always explain everything we want to understand. He does choose to remain a mystery in some respects. The Bible is not a textbook.

    I felt that by using the word doctrine in the way you were using it, you were making the construction that is doctrine stand in the place of the scripture, and I found that troubling. I still don’t think I entirely know what you mean by doctrine or agree with how you use it, but I think I understand your usage better now. I can’t imagine I’m alone in being confused about how you used the term in your video.

    I don’t know who is going to heaven. I don’t know who is going to hell. The sheep and the goats were both pretty surprised about where they were headed. If Rob Bell is calling us to not be complacent about our eternal destiny and to proactively seek the Kingdom of God in the here and now, then I’m willing to take that part of his message to heart, even if I don’t agree with all he says. I don’t want to abandon doctrine, but neither do I want to cling to it too tightly and assume it to be without flaw or room for improvement.


  5. Well, in some respects I feel like I’m in totally over my head here, but that never stopped me before(lol!) Let me just say first off that I am very impressed with the thought that has gone into the comments here. I am really glad that you guys are thinking, and not just parrotting rhetoric. After reading all of the responses I think that I’m probably leaning a little closer to Jonathan’s way of thinking. Although I agree that the term doctrine is man’s interpretation of scriptural truths, I do also believe that there are degrees to which doctrine can be closer to the biblical truths that are clearly stated or not.When it comes to matters that pertain to our eternal destiny, I think it’s dangerous to be playing loose with those ideas and “wander off the reservation” so to speak.
    One of the thoughts that Andrew expressed that i found disturbing was the idea that God would be unjust to punish someone eternally for the offenses of a finite, limited earthly existence. That kind of rings of the old complaint “if God is so loving why does He send people to Hell”. This is the common mindset of a society that makes blame-shifting into an art form( i’m not saying that you are doing that, andrew). To me it is the wrong question. What we should be asking is if God is so Holy and Just, how does He allow any of us into heaven. Of course, the answer is Jesus and there lies my point. He who KNEW NO SIN became sin so we could become the righteousness of God. The thing that makes heaven so wonderful, is that God is there! In all of His fullness of love, holiness, peace, Joy, lack of selfishness and all His other attributes. Because heaven is pure, sin and those who are unrepentant of their sin do not enter as it says at the end of the book of revelation. It’s the cleansing of the blood of Jesus that qualifies us for heaven; nothing else! A person who rejects Jesus in this life has essentially said no to entrance to heaven. It’s not what they did in this life, it’s what they didn’t do: receive Christ and His offer of eternal life. God is essentially giving them what they wanted on earth ( a life without Christ) for all of eternity. Essentially God doesn’t send man to hell, they choose it. Because of Romans 1, they can’t even claim ignorance, but in our culture, greater light is greater guilt! Our society is gospel soaked. You pretty much decide you don’t want anything to do with Jesus, because any one who is even remotely curious can find the gospel message.
    One last thought and that is the idea of mystery. The two scriptures that come to mind are 1) deuteronomy 29:29 “The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things revealed belong to us and to our sons forever, that we may observe all the words of this law”. and 1st Corinthians 2:9- “But as it is written:Eye has not seen, nor ear heard,
    Nor have entered into the heart of manThe things which God has prepared for those who love Him. But God has revealed them to us through His Spirit. For the Spirit searches all things, yes, the deep things of God.” I believe many times there are things that we call “mystery” but are revealed THROUGH HIS SPIRIT. They don’t come from us, they come from Him. If we are willing to develop our relationship with Him, they will be revealed, and no longer mysteries. Just a thought! Blessings on both of you!!

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