Bell or Booth? Opposite ends of the theological spectrum, yet compellingly provocative in their own way. I’ve been reading Rob Bell’s ‘Love Wins’ this week, alongside some great old sermons by William Booth, founder of the Salvation Army & agitator of the comfortable religious of the late 19th Century.
They are uncertain bedfellows on the surface – Booth’s strident, hell fire Victorianism sitting uncomfortably on the Ikea sofa alongside Bell’s skinny decaf gospel for post moderns.
Whatever you think of their eschatology (their views on the end of everything), you’ve got to love their overwhelming desire to impact society with a gospel which is far bigger & broader than simply preaching salvation.
Both are desperate to engage relevantly with their prevailing culture, using creative language that builds a bridge for the good news about Jesus to travel across.
Both are longing that we get out of our comfortable Christian places, roll up our sleeves & get our hands dirty being the friends of sinners, the defenders of the weak, the hope to the hopeless.
Both are wanting to re-establish the current disconnect between our future hope of heaven, & an urgency for a taste of heaven on earth now for those who live in a relative hell.
They both say it with a slant, but you can’t argue with their passion. Let me give you a taste of both now, see for yourselves.
Rob Bell: ‘A staggering number of people have been taught that a select few Christians will spend forever in a peaceful, joyous place called heaven, whilst the rest of humanity spends forever in torment & punishment in hell with no chance for anything better. It’s clearly been communicated to many that this belief is a central truth of the Christian faith, & to reject it is, in essence, to reject Jesus. This is misguided & toxic & ultimately subverts the contagious spread of Jesus’ message of love, peace, forgiveness & joy that our world desperately needs to hear.’
William Booth: You must do it! You cannot hold back. You have enjoyed yourself in Christianity long enough. You have had pleasant feelings, pleasant songs, pleasant meetings, and pleasant prospects. There has been much of human happiness, much clapping of hands and shouting of praises, very much of heaven on earth.
Now then, go to God and tell Him you are prepared as much as necessary to turn your back upon it all, and that you are willing to spend the rest of your days struggling in the midst of these perishing multitudes, whatever it may cost you. You must do it. With the light that is now broken in upon your mind, and the call that is now sounding in your ears, and the beckoning hands that are now before your eyes, you have no alternative. To go down among the perishing crowds is your duty. Your happiness from now on will consist in sharing their misery, your ease in sharing their pain, your crown in helping them to bear their cross, and your heaven in going into the very jaws of hell to rescue them.'
Whichever side of the fence you fall on, whether it’s into Booth’s or Bell’s back yard – The greatest danger for those of us who profess to be Christ followers is that we talk in our churches & define our doctrines, whilst the plight of the poor in spirit gets worse, whilst injustice & sinful poverty increases, & whilst even in our streets, people live & die outside of a meaningful relationship with Jesus Christ the Saviour.