Friday, March 18, 2011

A Review of Love Wins

Every time we pick up a book, whether it is a Bible, a work of theology, or a work of fiction we bring to it our own presuppositions and even prejudices. This is especially true if the work in question as stirred controversy. These presuppositions and prejudices include, but are not limited to culture, education, tradition, expereince, and denominational dogma. My reading of Love Wins and this review contains my own presupposition and prejudices. The controversy surrounding this book has revealed presuppositions and prejudices in the Church. One can call this divide conservative vs. liberal, modern vs. post-modern, evangelical vs. emergent, or whatever you like, but Bell's book has angered many because they see Bell has a traitor, trading one side for the other. In any case, how you feel about Love Wins we depend on which side of the divide you find yourself. If you read Rob Bell's book looking for heresy, you will no doubt find some and if you read the Bible looking for prophetic codes and verses proving that Obama is the Antichrist you will find them as well.

In Love Wins, Bell asks questions. He questions the dualistic dogma of Heaven and Hell and how a loving God fits into the notion of eternal punishment. These questions were not shocking or really all that new to me because these are the same questions I have asked myself, heard in seminary, and read in books by N.T. Wright, Brian McClaren, and C.S. Lewis. For some these questions are a blessing, those who struggle with their own questions will be relieved and empowered that a man in Bell's position also wrestles with the same questions. However, for those whose preaching, teaching, evangelism, missions, basically their entire ecclesiology, is grounded in that dualistic dogma of Heaven and Hell Bell's questions are a threat to their way of doing business. The exploration of Bell's questions and other questions is vital to the future of the Church. If we are not willing to ask and struggle with the big questions of God we will find ourselves irrelevant. The Bible says it, I believe it, that settles it, does not cut it anymore. An unwavering, unquestioning faith is not really faith.

Bell brings ideas from C.S. Lewis, N.T. Wright, and others and weaves them into a book that is easily digestible and palatable to the average lay person. You do not need an M.Div to appreciate what Bell is doing in Love Wins. Bell's ideas are also as grounded in Scripture and tradition as any "What We Believe" section on a church website and they remind us that perhaps the Bible is not as clear cut on this issue as some claim. Bell explores the idea of Heaven and Hell in the Old and New Testament and challenges conventional evangelistic ideas like "turn or burn", judgment houses, and fire and brimstone preaching that is still popular in some circles.

Bell does not make any definitive statements on univeralism, plurality, and inclusion, but Love Wins infers that people are exposed to Christ in ways other than direct evangelism and that ultimately through Christ people can reconnect to God. Bell leaves the door open to the idea that Muslims, Hindus, and people of other religions meet Christ in their own ways, but he is clear that Jesus Christ and the cross and Resurrection is the catalyst to salvation.

I wanted Bell to go further in his exploration of these questions. Specifically, I wanted to see Bell wrestle with the tough verses, those verses that seem to promote an exclusionuist idea of salvation and seem to make acceptance a prerequisite to salvation. I feel that sometimes Bell skirts the tough issues and tough verses and sticks with those that lend themselves to his assumptions. In a lot of ways, I don't think Bell challenged himself enough and I wonder if he expected the kind of backlash Love Wins has received. If he did, I wanted him to speak to those challenges and perhaps cut them off at the knees.

Ultimately, this book is not the end of the discussion, but the beginning. Rob Bell does not offer this book as a replacement of Church dogma, but he does give voice and legitimacy to that growing section of people who wrestle with those tough questions. It took courage and faith for Bell to write and publish this book. Love Wins will no doubt cost him members at his church and respect amongst evangelicals. It also takes courage and faith to read this book witout a condemning attitude or to condemn Love Wins without reading it in the first place.


Anonymous said...

I'm probably going to share this on my blog later, but after reading a couple of chapters what I would say is that Bell's writing is a sermon, not a theological treatise. It is a proclamation of the Good News of the Gospel in which exegetical concerns are important but not necessary to making the broader point. It's a different type of writing for a different audience, which is willing to ignore those pharisaical voices who get consumed by the details. Those who fail to connect simply don't understand what Bell is trying to do; they fail to recognize different types of forms of communication, and think that he misses the mark when he doesn't communicate as they do.

B Smith said...

I think you are right Jay. That is an excellent way of putting it.

Charlie's Church of Christ said...

I imagine Bell didn't spend too much time tackling contrary to his viewpoint verses because 1) it isn't a heavy academic work and 2) the Bible seems to offer differing opinions.

I agree that it is refreshing for someone in his position to be offering an unusual and gutsy "position" and it undoubtedly took big kahunas to come out as a universalist-ish, as I'm sure he was aware of the consequences and backlash to likely happen.

Craig L. Adams said...

Thanks for the thoughtful review, Brad.