The Fantastic Folly of Rob Bell's Love Wins

After finishing Rob Bell's Love Wins I had to admit to myself that it ended up being better than I had thought. From what I gather, especially the last chapter, Bell is certainly a saved individual. While I was not satisfied with the degree of complicated thought, I was satisfied with the fellowship I had with Bell. I read his ideas with criticism, but went away rejoicing at his apparent love for God and the brethren. And so to you Rob Bell I give a contented friendly smile.

But wait. Ever since Rob Bell came out with that video and announced his book the discussion has been filled with controversy. There are people who claim he is a heretic and others who say you need to read the book. I read the book and I do not think he is a heretic; I just think he has conveniently forgotten some key Bible verses. Bible verses that seem to contradict what he believes is the nature of God. Likely, what he has done is after being displeased with the holiness he had seen in "Christians" he attributed it to their ideas of God. And so he designed a new idea of God that he believes will encourage holiness as opposed to our current idea. In short Bell diagnosed a real problem and gave the wrong prescription to fix it.

What I see, though is a very vague discussion. Bell paints a picture, but he makes little attempt to create a proof; but instead he just describes something to sound really good. He is not a rhetorician. Regardless, he ends up being threatening to the opponents; his sworn enemies; anyone who prefers hymns to contemporary worship music; those who part their hair; the traditional. So, what are these two stand points anyway? At a mere glance Rob Bell looks and sounds like a liberal contemporary emergent church pastor thinks on philosophy for no more than a goldfish thinks at all. Although, this is sadly a valid position considering those of his type, let me redefine Rob Bell for myself and for all. Mr. Bell is a handsome trendy man with a big imaginative heart. And his imagination is part backed by love and and the other part is backed by critical thinking. Though, this is not a fifty/fifty split. Love dominates eighty-five percent of his thought while critical thinking shows up for fifteen percent of his thought. Lucky for Bell I cannot reprimand him for his love; even if it gives him incorrect ideas. Since the corner stone of Bell's thought is love (God) his theology is summed up nicely by his book title Love Wins. Nicely, but vaguely since people think he is a Universalist. He is not, but I can understand the misconception.

On to the opposing side's beliefs. Regrettably, no one knows exactly what they are opposing in Rob Bell so no one knows which position to take. All they do know is that Bell suggested that we don't know whether Gandhi is in Heaven or Hell. He asks a valid question. How do we know where Gandhi is? In my opinion he is asking a very misguided valid question. But it is not anything that cannot be cured with answers provided by the Bible. By this information it is useless at this point to bring in Bell's opponents to this. They have not read his book.

So this leaves us with myself and Rob Bell. I will correct him. Like I said before Bell thinks that Christians have the wrong idea of God. The wrong idea of God being: A God we fear. A God that is terrible. A God that is cruel and tyrannical. A God that gives rules; and these rules are very hard to obey. Considering the latter description of God Bell was actually on to something. This something was the Law. I am thinking, of course, of the old Jewish law. Bell has a different perspective on the distinctions between the Old Covenant and the New Covenant. The Old Covenant was a contract of laws that God set in place with the Jews to maintain order amongst them. To obey them was righteous; but it did not make a man holy. They only made a man civil. I imagine that Bell holds that view as well. But, it is his view of the New Covenant that misses the point. The New Covenant was applied at Jesus' death and resurrection. We were rid of the old Jewish law and we're now saved by grace through faith. Though Bell notices Christian's folly in their desire to return to the Old Covenant, he over corrects it to the opposite extreme. This was the wrong remedy he prescribed. This is where he begins to sound like a Universalist. Here is a quote from Love Wins,

"That includes any Christian culture. Any denomination. Any church. Any theological system. We can point to him, name him, follow him, discuss him, honor him, and believe in him - but we cannot claim him to be ours anymore than he's anyone else's." -Rob Bell

What a nice thing to say. Free Jesus. So Gandhi and the Mormons get to go to Heaven as well? How splendid. Sorry, Bell. That was sarcasm. This is not going to fly with what the Bible teaches.

17 Only, let every one lead the life which the Lord has assigned to him, and in which God has called him. This is my rule in all the churches. 18 Was any one at the time of his call already circumcised? Let him not seek to remove the marks of circumcision. Was any one at the time of his call uncircumcised? Let him not seek circumcision. 19 For neither circumcision counts for anything nor uncircumcision, but keeping the commandments of God. 20 Every one should remain in the state in which he was called. 21 Were you a slave when called? Never mind. But if you can gain your freedom, avail yourself of the opportunity. 22 For he who was called in the Lord as a slave is a freedman of the Lord. Likewise he who was free when called is a slave of Christ. 23 You were bought with a price; do not become slaves of men. 24 So, brethren, in whatever state each was called, there let him remain with God. -I Corinthians 7

8 But what does it say? The word is near you, on your lips and in your heart (that is, the word of faith which we preach); 9 because, if you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For man believes with his heart and so is justified, and he confesses with his lips and so is saved. 11 The scripture says, "No one who believes in him will be put to shame." 12 For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; the same Lord is Lord of all and bestows his riches upon all who call upon him. 13 For, "every one who calls upon the name of the Lord will be saved." -Romans 10

8 See to it that no one makes a prey of you by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the universe, and not according to Christ. 9 For in him the whole fulness of deity dwells bodily, 10 and you have come to fulness of life in him, who is the head of all rule and authority. 11 In him also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of flesh in the circumcision of Christ; 12 and you were buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the working of God, who raised him from the dead. 13 And you, who were dead in trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, 14 having canceled the bond which stood against us with its legal demands; this he set aside, nailing it to the cross. 15 He disarmed the principalities and powers and made a public example of them, triumphing over them in him. -Colossians 2

Pardon the Length of the quotations, but they drive home a point that Rob Bell argues against. This point is: There is only one way to Christ, so do as you are told. Bell makes an illusion that the pathway to God is like several forking paths that all end up at the peak. What he doesn't realize is that there are different mountains that other people are exploring that they have no commitment to.

Now I believe that you can belong to a different denomination and still be saved. Reason being is that I believe that none of the denominations are the true church, but that the true church consists of anyone who has passed from death to life. Anyone who has the Holy Spirit. Sadly, I also believe that certain denominations implicitly discourage that from happening to it's people. And other sects that either claim Christ or are a civil, ethical religion are quite frankly not even close. Those paths lead away from God.

Another thing to address is Bell's scary God theory. The Scary God Theory is that the only reason believe in Christianity at all is because we are scared of ending up in Hell. I was relieved to find that Bell does believe in a Hell. But he draws our attention away from it. He thinks we have made God into a cruel king with hard rules and that anyone who disobeys gets eternity in Hell. First off, he leaves out something quite important that would rids us of this cruel God. His mercy and love. These traits of God do not make it so that he is contradicting himself with his judgment. He has given us opportunity upon opportunity to turn to him, but if we deny his love every time that is a good enough reason to receive eternal damnation. Anyone who is timid of there creator is someone who thinks they deserve better, but realize they are dealing with a God so why bother? Really, they feel as though their "rights" are being infringed upon. That they have better ethics than God. So their idea of God is wrong not because of what is taught them but because of their own pride.

Secondly, I like a scary God. Ok, perhaps not scary, but all the other good words. Terrible was always one that rung with me. He is a terrible God. Why? Because he is A GOD. What do we not understand about Gods here? He is not some sort of life force that lives in the earth that we can have a relationship with if we hug the ground or talk to a tree. He is a massive, giant consuming fire. Lucky for us, he loves us. Though his terrible self is not to go unnoticed. As it says all over the Old Testament,

And he said to man,`Behold, the fear of the Lord, that is wisdom; and to depart from evil is understanding.'" -Job 28:28

The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction. -Proverbs 1:7

And Solomon, the wisest man who ever lived, says,

The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God, and keep his commandments; for this is the whole duty of man. -Ecclesiastes 12:13

If I may reiterate, Bell diagnosed a problem in the church, but provided the wrong remedy. A remedy that fled to the opposite extreme instead of finding the mean. God bless Rob Bell and I hope he has a successful ministry.

Woo hoo! More notes on Rob Bell, purely for the fun of it!

-In passing, there was an implicit suggestion that the writer of Hebrews was a woman. Come on Rob.

-He referenced Star Wars in the book. Weak.

-Jon Hill (God Bless him) says, "He [Bell] is addressing the problem, by refusing to deal with it." Jon points out that when Bell sees sin he doesn't point out the sin, he merely goes and creates a new idea of God. That consequently doesn't fix sin.

-He made mostly bad jokes. Though some were good.

-Double spaced. Large font. Paragraph starts galore. If this is what happens to you when you get published, I don't want to get published.

Please comment.


Chris said...

Wow Gunn, very thorough. I've heard alot of bad things about Bell but like you pointed out, never read his book for myself. When I do get around to reading Love Wins, I'll have your points to look out for.

Not to sound kiss assy, but this was an extremely well put together post.

Evan Gunn said...

Why thank you, sir. My regards.

J. Hedges said...

I find this reminiscent of our last face-to-face conversation. I think we are about due to meet at Bucer's for a wonderfully caffeinated discourse in the near future.

Matt J. said...

All good comments. I think it's worth at least TRYING to like something everyone else is deriding.

Regarding God: Glorious, sovereign, loving, etc. Yes. It would be nice to work TERRIBLE into that more often, as you suggest. We need that to make the love even larger.

As for the double-spaced text in a huge font - this is pretty much par for the course. Bell's other books had all kinds of non-standard type-setting, exotic binding materials and artsy layout. Someone in marketing is shooting for a certain demographic that wouldn't touch a heavy tome with a ten-foot-pole. (Maybe not his fault.)

Evan Gunn said...

Perhaps so. I still fear being published.