Love Wins is a Fine Read but…

Posted: March 18, 2011 in Uncategorized

I sinfully envy many things about Rob Bell.  I wish I was as creative a speaker as he is.  I wish I had his affable manner and charismatic voice but most of all I envy how easily he transposes these traits so seemingly effortlessly to the page.  Like all of Bell’s works, Love Wins is compelling and charming.  It seduces the reader.

For example, Bell asks in chapter 4, “Does God Get What God Wants?”  Essentially, Bell asserts that if God truly wants us all to be saved and we aren’t then God doesn’t get what God wants.  In a series of charming questions and anecdotes, Bell implies that if God is truly all-powerful then how can we argue that anyone will suffer eternal torment in hell. 

Now, I have been to seminary and ministered in churches both large and small, conservative and mainline for nearly 13 years, so I have heard these arguments before but Bell presents them in such a captivating manner that it is disarming even for a strident member of the doctrine police like me. 

Yet, as charming as Love Wins is, it is seriously flawed.  I am not going to attempt to review the book in-depth because Kevin DeYoung has already done a very, very, very thorough job of analyzing the book, which can be found here  (http://thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/kevindeyoung/2011/03/14/rob-bell-love-wins-review/).

In Bell-esque fashion, I just want to raise a few questions myself.  If Bell is right then Clement of Rome (the earliest Christian writer outside of the New Testament), Augustine, Athanasius, Luther, Calvin, Knox, Jonathan Edwards, Whitfield, Wesley, Spurgeon, Warfield, Machen, Francis Schaeffer and Billy Graham are all wrong.  What does that say about the Spirit’s activity in the church? Are what these men preached truly “toxic” as Bell asserts early on in his book?  When is it good scholarship and when is it hubris to question beliefs closely analyzed and held for centuries by some of the most brilliant men who ever lived?

Does it matter if some Christians, even early ones like Origen, were universalists? Some early Christians were also gnostics or denied the trinity? What do you do with them?

If you take the Bible as revelation, or even a witness to revelation, then what do we do with the persistent testimony that God is just and wrathful? Are we minimizing that witness purely out of our desire to pacify a hostile culture?

Finally, what does one do with Bell’s constant tendency to set forth self-refuting statements and to contradict himself? For example, he argues against making statements that can be firmly shaped into dogmas but that assertion itself is such a statement.  He also  argues that it is wrong to take what happened on the cross and rank them in any sort of hierarchy but then he goes on to do just that by minimizing any type of personal salvific action.  What does one do with these flaws?

Hell has never been a popular doctrine.  Yet, if one is a follower of Christ then one must affirm, in the words of Scot McKnight, a heaven and hell that Christ affirmed.  A reading of the pertinent texts by a wide and wise cloud of witnesses is that hell is an eternal place of torment for those outside of the Body of Christ.  I think we would be prudent to listen to them with an open mind before blindly following an affable man who I am sure has the best of intentions but one who admits he is not a scholar. 

 I close with a fine quote from Timothy Dalrymple at Patheos:

To believe in hell is not to be hateful.  And to defend the truth as you see it is not to be angry, arrogant or abusive.  The truth matters, and we are not free to rearrange the truth to suit our preferences.  If there is a hell, then it would be unloving in the extreme to say that there is not.  The world loves the “love” that gives its blessing to what the world wants to do and believe.  Yet if our act of “love” is to announce that there is no eternal torment in hell, and yet there is one, then our “love” is a lie.  Authentic love must be willing to be perceived as hateful in order to serve the good of the beloved, and so sometimes the most loving thing we can do is confess the truth Christ taught even though the world hates us for it.

Amen. 

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Comments
  1. Jordan Hubbard says:

    Thanks for the review, Matt. After all the controversy about the “is he, isn’t he” and when it is right to critique someone’s work (which you and I dialogued about), it all really comes down to how you choose to handle the text and tradition. At the end of the day we are responsible for being stewards of God’s Word and we cannot deny those who have gone before us without incredible arrogance.

    To be honest, I am going to hold of on reading “Love Wins” until I hear that Bell makes a compelling scriptural argument. So far I’m not hearing that it is a true “must read” that advances our understanding of the Word.

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