Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Rob Bell Interviews

See last night's interview with Rob Bell about Love Wins.

After viewing the interview, I have this to say. It seems that Rob’s greatest concern in raising the issue about hell and salvation has come from his pastoral ministry. I believe him. Rob said in the interview that he has grown concerned from his pastoral work that the Gospel retold as it has been in effect paints God into this person with polarity disorder. On the one hand, the Gospel says, "God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life", on the other, "if you don’t believe in him at this moment, that loving God will reek havoc on you for eternity." "If you don’t pray these words after me, you could die tonight and suffer for an eternity in hell being tortured because you rejected God’s free gift." Rob thinks this telling of the Gospel story is not at all good news because of what it presupposes about God. The God of that story is not a God who loves by any human measure, according to Rob. As I recall, Brian McClaren made nearly the same point in Generous Orthodoxy.

The understanding of the Gospel in fact is perhaps the key issue for many emerging Christians. What I took away from the interview is that it seems that the central question for Rob Bell is "what is the Gospel?"

I agree that how we as evangelical Christians understand and frame the Gospel is an important and relevant question. And I'm just post-modern enough to believe that our cultural influences can shape how we understand the Gospel such that a constant evaluation of our understanding of the Gospel is essential. As early as Paul's day, there were "culturally conditioned" alterations of the Gospel with which he had to contend (Gal 1:6-9). And while Rob’s proposal is seriously flawed and dangerous theologically, that does not take away from the truth of his pastoral observations. When the Gospel is put in these terms it can lead in fact to equally flawed and dangerous theological points of view.

So, I agree with Rob, “the Gospel is good news indeed!”. But it’s not likely for the reason Rob proposes. I don’t intend a full discussion at the moment, but after watching the interview, I think at least one thing that is missing in Rob’s proposal is that for love to win, something or someone has to lose. With biblical salvation comes judgment, as my friend Jim Hamilton in his recent book, God's Glory in Salvation through Judgment: A Biblical Theology, has eloquently made plain:

In the powerfully redemptive story that Rob told about the “Cutter” in his congregation, the men who perpetrated the abuse which led to the woman's psychological pain need to be brought to justice. At least part of the good news of the Gospel that Jesus told is that those who commit such things will meet justice if not in this life, than in the “death after death” to use a phrase from Scot McKnight in One.Life: Jesus Calls, We Follow, in which Scot has a nice short discussion of hell (160-65). A Gospel which doesn't announce justice is no Gospel.


Rob also appeared this morning on ABC's Good Morning America.

HT: Jameson Ross & Taylor Clausen


Robin Parry said...


Thanks for that. You write, "at least one thing that is missing in Rob’s proposal is that for love to win, something or someone has to lose"

Perhaps, but that something does not have to be a someone. How about "Love wins—sin loses." Or "Love wins—death loses." That kind of thing. Surely it is not true that one has to say "for love to win some people have to lose."

You add: "With biblical salvation comes judgment."

Absolutely, but Rob Bell would not deny that (see ch. 3 of his new book). Judgement need not imply "end-of-story" for the one judged. Judgement may be part of the journey towards restoration (as it was so often in Scripture).


p.s. (my verification word was "singags" - hmmmm)

Stephen said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Joel Willitts said...

Thanks for weighing in. I value your opinion very much and you've obviously thought more about this than I have. In addition I've not had a chance to read the book yet. It hasn't come to my mailbox. So my comments are coming from the interview. I'm not sure I'm comfortable dissecting "thing" from "person". It seems to me that those who perpetrate "death" through their actions are equally banished with death. The Gospel as I read it teaches that the oppressors will be punished and the oppressed vindicated. When you are oppressed (and I can only imagine here since I live in the very wealth and affluent US), nothing short of vindication (which must entail judgment) seems just. If one envisages a punishment with little to no teeth (like no punishment at all or something of a self-inflicted punishment of choice only as it sounded like RB was advocating), it doesn't to me at least make sense of the biblical expectations of justice. If you do bad things (and I think these should be relationally understood), you are punished at judgment, if you do good things you are rewarded at judgment.

Stephen said...


I appreciate your approach to this book and this moment within evangelicalism, and the larger church. I think I've learned more from all of this then I have so far in seminary. I've learned that even before we give our theological conclusions, or before the church as a whole affirms, or rejects something, I need to be quick to listen and slow to speak. Especially, if I will ever pastor a local church. I need to continue to learn this, in light of failing to do this before reading the book. I need to listen to the author, God's Word, my family, my friends, neighbors, strangers, and listen some more. Some lines will be drawn and perspectives will be affirmed or rejected but if I'm quick to speak and don't listen to others, then I should quit seminary and reconsider pastoral ministry.

May God continue to bless your ministry at North Park and within the Church.

Stephen Mook

Gerald said...

"for love to win, something or someone has to lose."

Well said, Joel.

Chris said...


I have been hearing lots about this book. Any chance you could post a review of it? I would love to hear your thoughts.

Christopher W. Skinner said...


I got an advance copy of the book this weekend and have already read it. First, it is not as scandalous as the overly reactionary evangelical community is insisting. Second, I hope you will weigh in later, with more (and hopefully more insightful and substantive) reflections, after you have read it.


Chris Skinner

Matt Viney said...

Great post Mr Willitts!
In end, love DOES win. So does justice.

CrazyLoverWannabe said...


As I've mentioned in conversation with you, I tend to agree with Robin. I can understand "justice" in terms of evildoers getting their "just desserts" so to speak. I just can't see how an eternity of torment justly recompenses a rather finite amount of evildoing. I often wonder how much of this justice was intended to be meted out in the next life versus this one? Even given all this, one wonders if it is just for anyone to receive punishment (eternally) if Christ paid the penalty for ALL on the cross. Wouldn't God applying the penalty to anyone be unjust to His son?

Scott Arnold

PS: Imagine I've opened a can of worms here.

Joel Willitts said...

Scott good to see u choking in. I know you've thought about this. Looking at the issue diachronically in rhe it,there was no conception of life after death. It was in the 2nd temple period when Jews began ro conceive of life after death. Furthermore this speculation largely emerged in the experience of martyrdom. In these circumstances it would understandable that ancient Jews conceived of an eternal punishment of their oppressors. I wonder what the view of an oppressed group would be. I fine it interesing that it is comfortable western Christians doing this speculation attempting to make Christian doctrine more platable to disaffected westerners.

Joel Willitts said...

I meant chiming in; not choking in :).

CrazyLoverWannabe said...

Interesting. We comfortable Westerners sometimes want the mercy to be supreme because it's an easier sell (no doubt Bonhoeffer would have something to say on that). But, it also seems to be many of the same Westerners who are hellbent (pun intended) on the bad guys getting obliterated ("Western" takes on a double-meaning here?). I wonder whose sense of justice is being sought here - ours (often carrying the offense of others) or God's? God tells us to love our enemies, but He can love them into eternal torment? ("Go ahead. Make my eternity.")

JM O'Clair said...

Joel, do you have two different versions of this post? There is a different one in my feeder. Though here you mentioned you haven't read the book yet, but my feeder version indicates you have (?). Uh....