Sunday, March 27, 2011

Love Wins 1

Ok. So what do I think of Rob Bell’s book? What if I say I liked it? What if I say that I didn’t like it? What if I say there were parts that I absolutely agree with and other parts that I could not be more fundamentally in disagreement over? What if I came with anything less than a full condemnation of the book? What if I came down with a full commendation of the book? What if I said this was the best book I’ve read in a long time? What if I said this was the worst book I’ve ever read? Would it matter either way? Or any way?

Decisions about the book, about Rob, have been rendered and sides have been taken. Some have been generous in their disagreement, some vicious in their attack. A few have found it to be a refreshingly positive message. In writing a review of such a provocative book, one puts oneself in a position to get shot at from several directions. Well so be it.

I intend to write a series of posts reflecting on the substantive chapters of the book. My intention is that it serve as something of a “reading guide” for those who may wish to read it, but don’t feel they are in a position to think about it critically and theologically.

I don’t at all think this book is an especially important book on the subject. I think in fact that this will be little more than a “flash in the pan”. But the book has received a tremendous amount of buzz and I have found that people want to read it and talk about it. I think this is a great opportunity to take seriously the views offered here and engage them. I think this has at least two benefits: (1) the topic of heaven and hell and the salvation are extremely important--perhaps the most important topics in the Bible; and (2) such topics deserve attention and rigorous thinking. Again, this book is not important, but the topic and discussion is. To the extent that Love Wins has raised the discussion, it is beneficial.


I am going to avoid discussing or naming Rob Bell directly in these posts. I think it is more prudent to address the book and the ideas contained therein and not to discuss Rob or to make personal statements about him. There is too much of this going on in my view. Let's talk about the ideas!


I will begin in this post by listing in random order some affirmative statements about the book by way of introduction. This list will serve to show what I think about the book generally.

  • I don’t think this book is well written . . . surprisingly. It doesn’t seem to flow well. Sections in the chapters don’t move seamlessly. I found myself at many points asking “how did we go from there to here?” It feels very “cut and paste”.
  • The introduction is a confusing barrage of questions and seems to not really lead anywhere.
  • It took me 5 hours to read the book carefully.
  • I believe there are errors in the interpretation of the biblical texts in this book.
  • I don’t think the book roots the discussion enough in Jesus’ first century Jewish context as perhaps ironically as that may sound.
  • I believe the book mischaracterizes the history of the church in suggesting that the orthodox Church (Chalcedonian church [West and East]) allowed universalistic views. This of course does not include the church in the East and Far East.
  • I believe the book is right in the general contours of its understanding of heaven eschatologically (in the final analysis) will be a renewed earth.
  • I believe the book is right to describe the hellish nature of some of this world and folk’s experience of it.
  • I’m not sure I understand the significance of these complementary observations:
    It often appears that those who talk the most about going to heaven when you die talk the least about bringing heaven to earth right now, as Jesus taught us to pray: “your will be done on earth as it is in heaven”. At the same time, it often appears that those who talk the most about relieving suffering now talk the least about heaven when we die (45).

    Often the people most concerned about others going to hell when they die seem less concerned with the hells on earth right now, while the people most concerned with the hells on earth right now seem the least concerned about hell after death (79).

  • I believe the book does not place hardly any emphasis on final judgment (the kind of emphasis the NT puts on it—e.g. read 2 Thes 1:5-10) although talking about the need for justice and the work of God in bring about a just world in the future (37).
  • I agree with the opinion that God gets what he wants, but I don’t believe we know fully what God wants or exactly how he gets it.
  • I agree that not every person that ever lived will enjoy heaven with God one way or another.
  • I don’t agree that humans can exercise total freedom in their choices.
  • I think the presentation of Atonement in the book (ch 5), while mentioning the full range of biblical images for the significance of the work of Jesus, ends up deficient because it settles on just one.
  • I believe that the book presents the hope of universalism, but is not in the end universalistic.
  • I believe that the book teaches Christological pluralism (many ways to heaven) and not universalism.
  • I believe the book presents a deficient doctrine of hell by narrowing it to “the refusal to trust God’s retelling of our story” (170 [whole ch 7]).
  • I agree that the we are invited to "trust" God's love; to "entrust" ourselves to Him.


6 comments:

EricW said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
John Thomson said...

Very helpful.

Jeremy said...

Joel I think I agree with ever one of your points except for this one: "I believe the book is right to describe the hellish nature of some of this world and folk’s experience of it."

Where does the Bible contend that what we experience now is "hellish"? It seems to be that the experience/pain of hell is unique. Bell seems to downplay hell by assuming that the pain we experience here can be similar enough to call the suffering we experience on earth hellish.

andrea said...

helpful post , Thanks

Joshua Wooden said...

I thought the book had some good points, but they were not well tied together, and therefore, it is really hard to know what it is I was supposed to take away from this book. In that sense, unlike Sex God and Velvet Elvis, this book was not well-constructed.

Additionally, I think Bell's chapter on Hell leads in the direction of Universalism, but then, interestingly, Bell reverses himself towards the end, making it difficult to understand exactly what he's saying.

I don't know the ancient languages well enough (I don't know Hebrew at all) to refute Bell's philological observations, but I doubt that they are altogether accurate, and I can't help but feel he may be leading people astray. There are those that do not have a grasp of how broad and complex translation and interpretation can be, and it may not be wise to make things appear to be simple when the issue is quite complex.

Furthermore, there is a lot of conjecture as to the historical make-up of the Greco-Roman/2nd Temple world. Some of it is treated factually when it is speculative in nature. (I don't have case-specific instances, just a general observation as I read through parts of the book. For what it's worth, Bell does this regularly).

@ Jeremy, I'm not sure that question is useful, nor the most pertinent critique of Bell's book. What exactly is your point?

Jeremy said...

I didn't care to give the most pertinent response. I was just responding to Joel's post, saying that it seemed to be a balanced review and I only disagreed with him in one place. That is what you do on blogs.

My point is plain as day: Bell is wrong to think that what we experience on earth can be labeled hellish. Hell is an entirely different domain whose experience cannot be too similarly compared with pain on earth. The result is that a Biblical fear of a future hell could be wiped away because hell is any pain we experience on earth. And that is not faithful to Scripture.

Does that make sense to you now?