Rob Bell’s Love Wins… A few thoughts

I just finished reading Rob Bells book “Love Wins…”  It was interesting in some places, frustrating in others, spot on in some places and not so much in others.  The beauty of faith in Christ is that Rob and I can disagree and I would hope that if he were here, we would still laugh, cry, make jokes and have an honest discussion.  I would like to think that if we lived on the same street we could drop by for coffee and borrow eggs and even do the good neighbor nod as we drove past each others house.

If you are looking for a scathing review, stop here because I don’t have one.  If you want a recommendation to read the book, stop here because I am not giving one.

As I read the book, I was not filled with the indignation of some of my brothers or sisters that also post on the web, many of whom are yet to read the book.  I did not find myself wanting to throw rocks at the heretic or hold a meeting (how we Christians love our meetings) to decide if Rob had finally slipped into the dark side of theology.

That said, I did not find myself being swayed into a new line of thought either.  Here are a few observations.

1)  Rob is a masterful communicator.  His use of questions does exactly what (forgive me if I am misjudging you on this Rob) he intended it to do.  To disturb. This is a technique of teachers, salesmen, politicians and the news media.  The onslaught of questions Rob uses creates an avalanche of persuasion for the person who is unsettled by disturbing them over whether or not God would send 6 billion people to hell. In other words Rob uses the questions to disturb.

Well placed questions open doors.  One of the ways I think Rob’s avalanche of questions has impact is to sway opinion without actually having to use an answer to sway opinion.  This is done in two ways in this book.  One way is in the sheer amount of questions he uses to sway.  Secondly, in the framing of the questions.  Rob frames the questions in such a way as to make the answers not about right and wrong but about good and evil.  If I hold “negative” answers to the questions as he puts them I end up with an evil God and bad religion. (not the rock group)

I think the question of whether a loving God would send 6 billion people to hell is the wrong question because it assumes that we are all on our way to heaven and God gives us a “hold it right there sinner, go to hell!” greeting when we leave this life.

2)  Rob sets the parameters for which this conversation is held.  I am okay with that, it is his book.  He frames the issues and as he does, I found myself being the bad guy for believing in a mean God and wanting all those people to go to hell.  Here are a few ways in which he frames the parameters.

Would a loving God send all those people to hell?  Does God get what he wants?  Avoidance of a well rounded view of God’s character to focus on God’s love.  Painting those who believe in a literal hell with negative and even “bad guy” brush strokes.

3)  For a book on heaven and hell, there was little to no discussion on God’s holiness.  Rob’s presentation of sin’s impact was not about God’s perfection but rather about how much I am missing out.  It was like when I was a kid and was grounded for a week in the summer and I could see my friends play in the sprinkler outside, but I couldn’t go out to play.  I was focused on the severity of my punishment and not at all on the wickedness of my sin.

The wickedness of my sin has to do with God’s utter lack of wickedness not the fact that sin messes me up inside and out.  Sin cuts me off from the life God intended, not merely because it is so powerful and makes me do naughty things but because God is Holy and cannot even look at it.

While I am sure Rob takes a much broader view of why sin is so bad, the overwhelming emphasis on sin’s impact had to do with people rather than God.  Not to make light of Rob’s view of sin, I believe he is filled with compassion towards those who have been crushed under sins weight, but it came across to me as if Rob looked at sin and said… Bummer dude.

4)  I think his attributing the thinking of early church fathers to the second chance was weak.  I have read these men and did not find that the body of their teaching reflects this belief.  To pull a quote or two out as proof of their thinking actually surprised me because of how amazingly brilliant Rob is.

5)  Rob has a hermeneutic that is different that mine.  I believe this is a part of what makes him so engaging.  I might be considered old school, but we have a different hermeneutic.  Rob’s way of reading and understanding scripture is not the same as mine, and while I have learned much from his thinking in many areas, this fundamental way of seeing, reading, understanding and interpreting scripture would keep us from agreement about many parts of this book.  This leads me to the next thought.

If I am wrong in this Rob, again I apologize, but what I read in your book is what I call  “theology from discomfort”.  I see this in several areas of the church today.  One is the environment.  Another is in the arena of homosexuality.  Heaven and Hell is also a place where this is becoming prominent.

I also hate the idea and concept of hell.  I lose sleep over it, have wept over it and it turns my stomach to dwell on it.  I guess you could say it creates much discomfort within my spirit.  One temptation I have in my discomfort is to shift my theology to easy my discomfort.  I could argue from silence as Rob does when he tackles John 14 and Jesus’ statement that He is “The Way”.  Rob focuses on what Jesus did not say to exegete what Jesus did say.  In Rob’s argument; Just because Jesus said he is “The Way” doesn’t mean he meant that there was no other pathway and that eventually all will come to him, even if they did not in their life time.  To believe this I would have to ignore the understanding of the apostles (Acts 4) but in the theology of discomfort, this is exactly what I would do.

There are several inherent dangers in building theology from discomfort.  One, it makes God too much like us.  “I would never send someone to hell, how could a loving God do that.”  Two, it causes us to pick and choose the character traits of God we are most comfortable with.  Three, it lessens the import of the cross and atonement.  Jesus paid for all sin, but you do not actually have to acknowledge this in this life time.   Four, it minimizes the impact of the resurrection by undermining its influence as a catalyst of the first century church and its impact on sealing our justification.

Rob Bell’s take of hell on earth, living in hell on earth and even living in heaven on earth was interesting.  I would disagree that Jesus’ teaching on hell was that people have created their own hell right now.  While people declare they are going through hell, this does not act as evidence that this personal hell was what Jesus was referring too.

There is much more but here is the juicy part we who have been disturbed have been waiting for.

Is Rob a heretic?  I think many want to label him as such and am not willing to go that far.  Do I agree with the thinking and conclusion in “Love Wins…”?  Nope.  Do I think he is my brother?  I say lets let love win here and I hope he would feel the same way with me.  Do I recommend the book to others?  No, I find it dangerous for many of the above reasons.  Off… we go now.

~ by OFF we go now on April 8, 2011.

3 Responses to “Rob Bell’s Love Wins… A few thoughts”

  1. I think your assessment is fair, but I think this book is more dangerous for a few reasons.

    Example 1: When he picks apart the story of Lazarus as if every detail in the story is supposed to be Jesus’ explanation of the afterlife. Rob would make a smarmy comment about somebody else doing that to one of Jesus’ parables, but somehow it’s okay for Rob to do. It’s very sloppy exegesis wrapped in great intellect.

    Same with his treatment of Matthew 25, where he almost totally ignores the point of the story in order to do a couple of Greek and even Hebrew word studies. This is a classic exegetical fallacy, first off, and to do a Hebrew word study to critique a passage of the New Testament (which was, uh, written in Greek), while almost totally ignoring the whole thrust of the story? I found that dangerous.

    Too many people who only read pop theology are going to pick this book up and be utterly convinced by bad arguments.

    I am also not branding him a heretic, and I think a better discussion about what Scripture REALLY teaches about hell is in order.

    This isn’t it.

  2. Peter, agreed! I actually just updated my review because I wrote it at 1am and that was a bad idea.

    I thought much of the exegesis in the book was poorly done, but done in such a way as to say, “this is how it should have been done all along.”

  3. I appreciate the review, Leonard. I simply don’t have time to read it, and knowing you as I do from other sites, I am more likely to give your thoughts weight than those who are blogging the “loudest.”

    Also, hi Peter!

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