Wednesday, March 23, 2011
My thoughts on Rob Bell's "Love Wins"
Rob Bell asks a lot of questions, and I have to admit that most of them are great questions... thought-provoking questions. In Love Wins, Rob presents a lot of questions about heaven, hell, and eternity. Ultimately he questions the very heart of the gospel and how evangelicals present it.
Let me begin with some things that I share in common with Bell. We are both human beings created in God's image. We both are educated pastors. We both grew up in the evangelical culture. But we part ways dramatically when it comes to how we view scripture and our calling to preach the gospel.
Rob is a gifted dramatist and communicator. He is an actor and an "ar-teest" (see any NOOMA video). But he is no expositor. It goes without saying he commits some humdingers of exegetical fallacy in his teaching... things like etymologies and root errors. I have seen dozens of them in his books, and I have read them all. But I doubt that he cares much for the title of "expositor" because for him it matters not whether details in scripture are accurate or truthful in themselves. It is how you feel about God at the end.
Which is why he keeps complaining about the gospel as it is being preached normally in evangelical circles. It is just not a "good story". His revision of it is to say that no one has to go to hell forever. He does not deny hell as much as he does not like eternal damnation. And hell for him is just so much misery here on earth. He cleverly keeps his ambiguous tactics in play (something he has done in all his books to date). But in the end he does not believe that a loving God could sentence any loved human being to hell. He supports a view that seems to indicate that hell is more purging than punishing, that eventually all will come under God's love and accept it.
He embraces a form of universalism, saying that Jesus is behind every religion somehow so that even those who have not heard the message of the gospel can still respond to God's love. He is really, really vague on the specifics here. To support his view, he claims that Ezekiel 16 teaches that God will restore Sodom. Rob did not even read the context. Ezekiel 16 says that, but when you read the entire text it is clear that God calls Samaria "Sodom" and then says he will restore "Sodom" (renamed Samaria). The text is very specific to a unique time and circumstance in the nation of Israel. The text is not ambiguous, but Rob is. And I have to say I found at least a dozen other examples of Rob's loosy-goosey approach to scripture. Hermeneutics don't matter because he has embraced post-modern narrative drama as his hermeneutic. He can make the text go with his feelings that way.
I am worried about Rob's small view of God. He keeps talking about how we need to "recover our humanity" in God's plan of redemption. I am hoping he means our pre-fallen humanity. The gospel does this at the moment we believe. I must live it, but I don't recover a thing... God does it. I am worried about Rob's view of salvation. He seems to put a huge emphasis on social works and very little emphasis on the redeeming work of Christ and the Holy Spirit. And I am worried that Rob's false optimism about hell might just put him in the company of leaders who "lean of God" saying "no disaster will overtake us" (Micah 3:11). It is sad to see this in a popular "evangelical" author who really draws young people to his teaching and writing.
In the end, I was disappointed that there was really no clear presentation of Rob's views. Lots of drama. Some tear-jerking, gut-wrenching stories. Some great questions that show that Rob Bell knows where to take off with theology. Too bad he just crashes with no scriptural or logical support. I am sure he feels great about it though. Unfortunately so will many who read this book
- Prepare your minds for action.
1 Peter 1:13