Mar 18, 2011

Love Wins by Rob Bell: A Book Review

         I have heard a lot of buzz about Rob Bell's new book "Love Wins". Most of it was in the days leading up to it. Please do not see this review as an endorsement of his book. I also do not want it to be a licence to criticize something that you have not read. I am a big fan of the benefit of the doubt, and I try to give it to everyone.
        When I read a tweet from popular reformer John Piper in response to Bell's promo video about his book I was disappointed. I was not disappointed in Bell, but in Piper. John Piper had not read the book but was able to make a judgement call nonetheless. The tweet: Farewell Rob Bell. That sounds a whole lot like  "Your dead to me", and very little like Jesus.
        Now on to the book. First of all a follower of Christ must believe that Jesus is the only way to God through His death and resurrection. They must repent of their sins, and trust in Christ alone to forgive and change them.
        This being said I believe Rob Bell is a believer. In the book he says that Jesus is the only way to God and he explains the personal decision to turn from his sins and follow Christ. Could it be that I am mistaken about his relationship with God? Yes. But then again, it is his relationship with God, and I am neither Rob Bell nor God.
        He explores various fringe strands of Christian theology that he calls Orthodox. I assure you these are not Orthodox views and many are Heterodox. Does this in an of itself matter. No. Orthodoxy is simply clinging to commonly held views, while Heterodoxy is challenging them. In this way I would be proud to be a heretic in some areas of theology.
        What theology is in the book? Bell argues that Heaven and Hell are real, but only as a state of mind. He claims that Heaven will be a perfected version of our current Earth and that Revelation for all intents and purposes has been mostly fulfilled. Is this ok? Perhaps not, but it does not deviate from the Gospel message--Yet.
        Can someone believe that Hell is not eternal and be a Christian? Yes, this blogger does.  Can one believe that Hell is not a literal fire and still be a Christian? That depends on whether you believe Billy Grahm is a Christian. There is even greater wiggle room when it comes to the end times. Pretribulational rapture is the dominant view today, but it was not before the Scofield Reference Bible pushed it as the only view. Can good Christians disagree about the small things and still follow Christ and share His Gospel with others? I believe the answer is yes.
        What about the non-negotionables in Bell's book. He says that (and I am paraphrasing) Jesus is the only way, but He has forgiven even those who do not trust in Him. He says that His death paid for everyone in the worlds sins whether they like it or not. He does not believe that sincere belief in Allah or other gods save anyone, but that they will be given multiple chances to come through Christ after death (this narrowly and dangerously keeps his line of thinking on the edge of the Christian camp).
        He believes there will be a time of pruning in which the goats will be made into sheep. He thanks C.S. Lewis for most of his theology. Before you throw Bell to the wolves you need to go back and read Lewis' Mere Christianity where he says that Budhists and the like can be saved by following that which is most Christlike in their belief system. In His book The Last Battle, Aslan counts things done in the service of the enemy as things done for him. Universalism is at the core of Lewis' writings that most Christian herald with the works of Wesley, Luther, and Calvin.
        All of Bell's ramblings about universal love by God ignore the responses of the Apostles to questions about being saved.  The Philippian jailor asked what he had to do to be saved and Paul told him that he must believe (Acts 16:16-34). The bottom line is found in John 3:36 Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God's wrath remains on him." They will not see life. That is pretty clear to me. 
        All in all the book is pretty dangerous. In an attempt to make God seem to nice to really punish sin, Bell has given God a new meanstreak to consider. So my question to universalists everywhere is why? Why would Jesus let his disciples die in the ways that they did, telling them if they denied Him then He would deny them? Why would He do this when everyone would end up with God anyway? Why could they not just worship in private and keep to themselves? Why was it so important that they take His Gospel to the whole world at any cost? Because He is the only way, and the church is His vehicle to get His life saving message to the masses.
        This book may be dangerous and subversive, especially to a new believer. There is a lot of scripture in the book, but no context provided and in many places no references given. It is predominately speculation about what a good God should look like based on our human understanding. Bell creates a God that humans can completely understand, because he is cast in our image rather than we in his. Isn't this the same thing? No. Because we see through a glass darkly (1 Cor 13:12). We have sin in our nature and so we can not remake God in our image without distorting His greatness, justice, power, and love. 
        Love doesn't win. Love already won. Death and sin are conquered to all who believe.
Acts 4:12 Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved.”


Melissa & Andrew McQuillen said...

Hey Nate!

First - I haven't read Rob Bell's book... I wasn't so overly impressed with other books of his that I wanted to read it. But, I think you eloquently explained your view and gave it a fair review.

I wanted to share something with you. I'd be very interested to see what you think. You know Dr. Greg Boyd? (Letters from a Skeptic, author, pastor, professor, etc?) I randomly came across these youtube videos and have to say I really like the way he discusses eternal judgment. To me, it seems to line up with Scripture and with God's character. If you have a few minutes, watch them. 3 videos about 9 min each -- Here's the first one -->

Take care! God bless!

Inside Nate's Head said...

Hey thanks for the links. I actually agreed with everything he said up until the end of the 2nd video and the beginning of the third. I do not believe that the Bible gives any support for people choosing God after this life. The Lake of Fire in Revelation is called the 2nd death (for the soul) not the second chance at life. Other than that I agree the doctrine is usually called annihilationism if you want to study it more. It is still punishment with eternal consequences in that the unrepentant will not see Heaven.

Melissa & Andrew McQuillen said...

thanks, Nate! I'll have to listen to it again because I do not remember the aspect of being able to choose God after death.. I don't agree with that concept, either. I personally liked the point that there are a LOT of metaphors of hell... Anyways - I told Debbie that you should have another son and name him "Jedi" -- means Beloved of God -- and it would TOTALLY fit.

Blessings, Friend.

Inside Nate's Head said...

Yeah she told me that, HaHa. Yeah if you watch again he does say that, but he also says God doesn't wait forever and eventually destroys some. I see the Lake of Fire as a quick all-consuming end, since our punishment according to Romans 6:23 is death.

Ivy said...

Great review!! I haven't read it, I want to but there are some other things that are a priority right now that God has brought into my path.

I do think it is God's desire for everyone to go to Heaven. That's actually in scripture, but I agree with you... I can't imagine what the point is of sharing if we all get to go anyway. I tend not to focus on the heaven and hell issue a lot in my ministry, because the people who come into my path could care less, they need God today to set their life straight, meet their needs, help them find themselves. I think in the whole scheme of life, the heaven and hell debate doesn't count for much. Once God shows himself in someone's life (delivers them from addiction, heals their illness, brings a breakthrough), following him and sharing the gospel become a top priority. You begin to want everyone to have what you have - the love of a God who cared enough for us to send his son to reconnect us with him.

Beka said...

Well, as I have not read the book, I can't actually comment on that. I would like to, given the things that I have read here and elsewhere about it, but I will refrain. I do have to disagree with you on one point, though. "The tweet: Farewell Rob Bell. That sounds a whole lot like "Your dead to me", and very little like Jesus." First, I don't think it sounds like he is saying that he's dead to him. I think that's reading too much into it. Maybe he said something else that I am unaware of, though. It sounds like he was just trying to be clever because farewell rhymes with Bell. Also, it sounds like he is saying farewell to his credibility, not his person. That being said, I'm not so sure that Jesus wouldn't have said something like that. He called the Pharisees whitewashed sepulchers, a brood of vipers, etc. He was pretty critical of religious leaders who had things all mixed up, which Piper obviously believes is true of Bell. I'm not so sure that Piper isn't justified in saying that, especially given some of the things I know about Rob Bell's personal life, not just what he's written in his book. I wouldn't exactly say he's a shining beacon for Christ. I'm not saying that he is absolutely not a Christian, but he definitely needs to get some things straight in his walk with Christ if he would like to be an author that Christians should respect or even read. Feel free to disagree with me. I'm cool with that. :)

Inside Nate's Head said...

Hey Beka, Jesus also said if someone is not against us they are for us. Rob Bell still lifts high the name of Jesus whether we agree on every point or not. It is different case with the pharisees who did not know God personally.

As for the Piper comment. Saying farewell is tantamount to saying that we have nothing more to say which is basically shunning or "your dead to me" I still stand by what it sounded like and there are many bloggers and reviewers who took it that way. Of course with any text we can not deduce tone, so it is possible that I am mistaken.

Thanks for reading and for your opinion. At any rate you are not missing out on any great truth to skip reading Bell's book.