Elsewhere, 3/4/2011: Rob Bell & universalism, Jack Kirby, Pinboard, Divorce, Human Trafficking & more

Rob Bell

Rob Bell has a new book coming out titled Love Wins: A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived that, according to publisher’s note, appears to espouse some form of universalism. This subsequently caused the “Christian” portion of the InterTubes to collectively get their knickers in a twist. Jason Boyett offers a reasonable perspective on the whole brouhaha:

…here’s where Taylor’s and Piper’s responses annoy and frustrate me: They are so absolutely certain that they are right. Because Rob Bell seems to be indicating that hell might not be a place of eternal suffering — or might not exist at all in the way traditional Christianity thinks of it — then they say he is flat-out wrong. Dangerously wrong. False-doctrine wrong. Opposing-the-Gospel wrong. But you know what? The Bible is really squishy on the subject of hell. The everlasting-torment hell of Dante and Jonathan Edwards doesn’t exist at all in the Old Testament. In the New Testament, Jesus talks about hell a lot, but sometimes in ways that a reasonable person could interpret metaphorically (like when he calls it Gehenna, after a real-life burning trash heap outside Jerusalem). And for centuries, some Christians have tried to make the case that, when Paul says Christ died for all, he really meant it. Not some. All.


Reading and understanding the Bible involves lots and lots of interpretation. Not just in light of the world and culture around us, but in reference to other parts of the Bible. At best, there are things that are unclear and not easily harmonized from Genesis to Revelation. At worst, there are things that seem to be downright contradictory. That’s why I have doubts. That’s why theology can be so controversial.

And that’s also why theology is best done with humility and a recognition that certainty is very hard to come by. When we become so certain that our theology is ironclad and right, that’s when we become smug, arrogant, and dismissive of people who disagree with us. That’s when we do things like tweet that a thoughtful, hopeful, influential Christian like Rob Bell is dead to us.

Jake Meador, whose blog I only recently discovered, has also posted some excellent thoughts on Bell, universalism, and some of the Reformed theologians that have criticized Bell:

Second, I honestly wonder if the hardcore exclusivist crowd realizes what they sound like when they fight for their right to insist that billions of people are going to hell. Here’s the picture of God I get from listening to the exclusivist crowd talk about hell: God is sitting in heaven enjoying perfect goodness and joy with a very small, select group of people all safely locked away behind bolted doors, safe from the evils of all those bad people outside. Then there’s a knock at the door. God opens it and it’s a human being who wants in. God says “Quick, fill out this multichoice exam on your theological beliefs about why I should let you in.” Five minutes later the person returns, God looks at the exam, sees a few wrong answers and says, “Sorry, you’re out,” and then throws them into a pit of fire. A few minutes later someone else knocks, the routine is repeated, but this time they get the answers right and God lets them in. The takeaway is that God’s basic characteristic is an, at best, apathetic disregard for humanity and a general tendency toward exclusiveness.

I know that’s not the God any of those writers believe in. Several of them, John Piper foremost amongst them, have written beautifully about the grace and goodness of God. One of my favorite books on the Cross is by Mark Driscoll, who though he hasn’t addressed this issue would certainly be in this group. These reformed pastors glory in the message of God’s grace to humanity and I love them for it. The God I’ve met in their books is warm, loving, and worthy of worship. Yet for some reason when Hell comes up some kind of switch is flipped and they seem to want nothing more than to defend the harsh and unloving exclusivity of God and the idea that billions of people will burn and a very small group of people will be saved.

Seth Hahne just published his list of the 100 best comics of all time, which means I’ve got quite a bit of reading to do:

This is my humble attempt at ranking the best hundred comics I’ve read. I found the task daunting because for all the comics I’ve read (and I’ve read a lot), there are plenty I haven’t gotten to yet. In most cases, it’s a matter of time or resources, but in some cases, I’m reluctant due to taste. For instance, I’d really like to read Rutu Modan’s Exit Wounds (of which I hear nothing but good things), but I don’t have the money and it’s not available at my library (and unless I’m in the mood, inter-library loan can be a small hassle). On the other hand, you could tell me that a particular Green Latern book is amazing and I can almost guarantee you that I won’t read it. I’ve found that there’s amazing and then there’s superhero amazing and they are two different things entirely.

Note: The Silver Surfer does not appear anywhere on this list.

Speaking of comics, HiLobrow has recently begun a series of articles titled “Kirb Your Enthusiasm” in which 25 writers analyze selected panels from the oeuvre of Jack Kirby, one of the most influential comic book artists of all time.

GQ’s Mark Harris reminisces about “The Day the Movies Died”, as well as the growth of cable channels like HBO and AMC as a refuge of sorts for people who still want produce long-form drama and riskier stories.

…let’s look ahead to what’s on the menu for this year: four adaptations of comic books. One prequel to an adaptation of a comic book. One sequel to a sequel to a movie based on a toy. One sequel to a sequel to a sequel to a movie based on an amusement-park ride. One prequel to a remake. Two sequels to cartoons. One sequel to a comedy. An adaptation of a children’s book. An adaptation of a Saturday-morning cartoon. One sequel with a 4 in the title. Two sequels with a 5 in the title. One sequel that, if it were inclined to use numbers, would have to have a 7 1/2 in the title.

And no Inception. Now, to be fair, in modern Hollywood, it usually takes two years, not one, for an idea to make its way through the alimentary canal of the system and onto multiplex screens, so we should really be looking at summer 2012 to see the fruit of Nolan’s success. So here’s what’s on tap two summers from now: an adaptation of a comic book. A reboot of an adaptation of a comic book. A sequel to a sequel to an adaptation of a comic book. A sequel to a reboot of an adaptation of a TV show. A sequel to a sequel to a reboot of an adaptation of a comic book. A sequel to a cartoon. A sequel to a sequel to a cartoon. A sequel to a sequel to a sequel to a cartoon. A sequel to a sequel to a sequel to a sequel to a movie based on a young-adult novel. And soon after: Stretch Armstrong. You remember Stretch Armstrong, right? That rubberized doll you could stretch and then stretch again, at least until the sludge inside the doll would dry up and he would become Osteoporosis Armstrong? A toy that offered less narrative interest than bingo?

Let me stipulate that we will probably come out of three or four of the movies categorized above saying “That rocked!” (One of them is even being directed by Nolan.) And yes, it is technically possible that some years hence, a magazine article will begin with the sentence, “Stretch Armstrong’s surprising journey to a Best Picture nomination began when…” But for now, let’s just admit it: Hollywood has become an institution that is more interested in launching the next rubberized action figure than in making the next interesting movie.

The developer of Pinboard — an increasingly popular service for bookmarking websites — explains why there’s “nothing interesting about the Pinboard architecture or implementation”:

I believe that relying on very basic and well-understood technologies at the architectural level forces you to save all your cleverness and new ideas for the actual app, where it can make a difference to users.

I think many developers (myself included) are easily seduced by new technology and are willing to burn a lot of time rigging it together just for the joy of tinkering. So nowadays we see a lot of fairly uninteresting web apps with very technically sweet implementations. In designing Pinboard, I tried to steer clear of this temptation by picking very familiar, vanilla tools wherever possible so I would have no excuse for architectural wank.

The other reason I like the approach is that the tried-and-true stuff is extensively debugged and documented. The chances of you finding a bug in MySQL or PHP as the author of a mid-sized website are microscopic. That’s not the case for newer infrastructure like NoSQL or the various web frameworks.

Regarding the Christian divorce rate myth, i.e., that Christians get divorced at the same rate as everyone else:

Many people who seriously practice a traditional religious faith — be it Christian or other — have a divorce rate markedly lower than the general population.

The factor making the most difference is religious commitment and practice. Couples who regularly practice any combination of serious religious behaviors and attitudes — attend church nearly every week, read their Bibles and spiritual materials regularly; pray privately and together; generally take their faith seriously, living not as perfect disciples, but serious disciples — enjoy significantly lower divorce rates than mere church members, the general public and unbelievers.

Professor Bradley Wright, a sociologist at the University of Connecticut, explains from his analysis of people who identify as Christians but rarely attend church, that 60 percent of these have been divorced. Of those who attend church regularly, 38 percent have been divorced.

The Confessing Evangelical, however, contends that the above statement is not without flaws:

Most of the behaviours that Stanton attributes to “serious disciples” are likely to be associated with other behaviours or circumstances that may be shared by non-Christians. “Attending church nearly every week” and “praying privately and together” suggest a settled, stable family life, and a regular working pattern (no having to work shifts on Sunday, for example). “Reading their Bibles and spiritual materials regularly” suggests a certain level of literacy and of regularity of routine.


Above all, though, it seems to me that the underlying aim of arguments like this is to promote a “theology of glory” in which Christianity is vindicated by the visible evidence of Christians’ lives. Non-Christians’ lives are a mess; Christians’ – or at least, proper Christians’ – lives are healthy and strong. And if your life isn’t healthy and strong – well, chances are that shows you’re not a proper Christian. Just a “mere church member”. Which reminds me: why don’t you turn up more regularly?

Laura Bramon Good on what it really takes to combat the damage of human trafficking:

What always surprises me is the crush of people who feel called to tackle the issue but get stalled, almost stunned, in a push for the kind of public awareness, posters, concerts, and parades at which the Mama Bear ICE agent scoffed. New abolitionists always tell me they want to do something real. They want to get their hands dirty — but, I often find, not too dirty.

It is a peculiar disappointment to watch their faces deflate when I suggest that what would really help human trafficking survivors are loving foster parents, faithful friends, and honest employers who offer good wages and health insurance. Unfortunately, nobody gets paid very well for any of that work. Nobody gets famous for it, either.

But after watching myself and so many other people blunder through friendships with human trafficking survivors, I’m fairly convinced that what survivors need — whether they are pimped-out runaways or Filipino hotel workers abused at a South Dakota Comfort Inn — is faithful, healing families and friendships, in which we offer the kind of love we are able to give only when we confront the issues of integrity and addiction that plague our private hearts.

As a father and a geek, I got a good chuckle from Julia Yu’s Goodnight Dune, an Arrakis-ified version of the classic children’s book Goodnight Moon.

If you needed any further proof that Internet Explorer 6 sucks, Microsoft has launched IE6 Countdown, a site whose purpose is to encourage people to stop using the browser. It also provides some interesting statistics concerning IE6 usage around the world, e.g., 34.5% of all IE6 usage occurs in China.

Elsewhere: A collection of interesting links and articles that I’ve come across in the last week or so. Follow me on Twitter for more of the same.

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