So there were two things Rob Bell said that made me walk away from Calvinism. The first (and I’m paraphrasing from memory) was:
There are lots of things God can do [followed by a rapid-fire, Rob Bell-esque list], but the one thing he can’t do is make you love him.
OK, to be fair, this sounds a bit . . . problematic. Isn’t God all-powerful? How can you say there’s something he CAN’T do? Didn’t God once ask whether anything was “too hard for the Lord” — the obvious answer being NO — and then proceed to make parents out of a couple of infertile nonagenarians?
But there IS something — or more precisely, a category of things — which God cannot do.
God cannot do that which is incompatible with his character. According to the writer of Hebrews, God cannot break an oath. According to James (the brother of Jesus), God cannot tempt or be tempted by evil.
The apostle John wrote that “God is love.” That is, God is the very embodiment of love. It’s essential to his character.
And to the extent that God is any of these things, he cannot be their antithesis. He cannot be unholy. He cannot be darkness. He cannot be death (which explains why Genesis and Revelation connect death to separation from God).
Last, God cannot be whatever is antithetical to love. So what exactly is love’s antithesis? Is it hate? Strictly speaking, no. Sometimes love compels us to hate certain things. Love demands that we hate injustice, oppression, and discrimination, to name a few.
The antithesis of love is coercion. Love, as portrayed in the scriptures, requires a decision not to use what power you have to manipulate others. It means setting aside your priorities to focus on the interests of others (Philippians 2). God himself provides the model for this kind of love, which we are called to emulate.
Other gods coerce. The God of the Bible loves.
In response, the neo-Reformed argue that love and coercion are not necessarily incompatible. Some, including Mark Driscoll, have offered the following hypothetical scenario (or in Driscoll’s case, not so hypothetical) to make their point: “If your child ran into oncoming traffic, would you just stand there and watch because you don’t believe in coercive love?”
The answer is, of course, no. But the analogy doesn’t really work. According to the Bible, God is the father of all who live. So how could an all-powerful God run into the street after some of his children but not others? What kind of God is that?
Besides, God has already gone to the greatest lengths possible to save all who will have him — incarnating himself, managing to contain uncontainable deity in a human form, and then dying at the hands of those he could’ve easily crushed.
The bottom line: if you believe, as I now do, that love and coercion are fundamentally incompatible, then it becomes impossible to maintain a Calvinist view of predestination.
And not because free will is so important. The truth is, we’re not nearly as free as we like to think. All sorts of external factors — where we were born, what kind of environment we grew up in, etc. — limit our freedom in a thousand different ways.
Then again, this isn’t really about free will.
It’s about God. It’s about what kind of God we believe in.
If we agree with the apostle John that “God is love,” and if we believe the same rules of love apply to him (because God made them in the first place), then it’s impossible to conceive of God determining that a select few would be saved — willing or not — while the rest are predestined to eternal damnation.
God cannot make you love him, as Rob Bell once said, because love by its very nature doesn’t force itself on the unwilling.
Part 9 (the final part) of this series can be found here.