Tag Archives: Love Wins

Love Wins by Rob Bell: A Review: Guest Post by Joshua Tom

Joshua Tom is a graduate student at Baylor University and you can find the place where he blogs occassionaly here at Room To Roam.  Per Facebook Chat, any vitriolic comments can be directed his way [as long as it’s in the guidelines of our commenting policy].

I defended Rob Bell. After the first bits of information about his new book, “Love Wins”, began to trickle out I was quick to dismiss their concerns as prejudiced. All of these reports were from people who had, incredibly, not read the book yet, so I felt justified in keeping my faith in Rob Bell. But very early on in “Love Wins” I was saddened to see that those critics were entirely correct. My heart sank as I finished the book earlier today. No more defending Bell against his detractors and critics; the evidence is undeniable and all over “Love Wins”.

Maybe it’s out of a desire to be “relevant”, or a concession to the postmodern mood. Clearly, Rob Bell has compromised historical orthodoxy in favor of something that looks fresher and more modern. And looking back, I suppose it is entirely consistent with his history of publications. Whatever the reason, I still firmly believe that Bell was treated poorly by the many Christians who prejudged him based on rumors. But now having read “Love Wins” I find myself in the unexpected position of joining his critics. The rumors that have haunted this book’s pre-publication phase of existence have turned out to be true.

 

Yes, Rob Bell is still writing books with uncommonly irritating amounts of white space in between paragraphs, sentences and phrases.

 

Just

 

Like

 

This.

 

That a supposed minister of the gospel, and one so influential, persists in such depravity is dismaying, to say the least.  This poor aesthetic choice is surely a sign of wickedness in Rob Bell’s heart, and I join those who are praying for him and his church. I had publically supported Bell and kept faith that he would do the right thing with “Love Wins”. It’s very disappointing to have your hopes dashed.

Farewell Rob Bell, indeed.

 

Now, as to the actual content….

 

In case I haven’t made my point, I’ll say it clearly: there really should be no reason for anyone to have a problem with this book. It’s insightful and at times extraordinarily moving. The articulation of the gospel message is fresh but grounded in scripture and history.  Bell’s concern is placing heaven, hell and eternal destiny within the larger narrative of God’s purposes for the world, and I think he’s done an admirable job. If there’s any danger to “Love Wins”, it’s the same danger of anything Rob Bell writes; namely, it seems to cause people to lose all critical reading skills (ascribing views and beliefs to Bell that he rejects), an effect that’s remained consistent throughout his career.

This isn’t really meant to be a proper review, and since other people will review it more ably I feel comfortable with a short free-wheeling tour of the book. Bell asks a lot of questions, and they’re questions we should be asking. What I can foresee frustrating people is the number of questions he leaves unanswered. Not to say that he gives no answers; he denies dogmatic universalism (though he remains hopeful) and he is steadfast on the reality of heaven, hell, sin, the necessity of Christ’s atonement and God’s reconciliatory mission, among other straight answers. But he’s willing to leave a lot of things ambiguous, and in my view he does this with the right things. Who’s in? Who’s out? Bell argues that it isn’t our place to say, and I think it’s a wise message. Strict exclusivists will smolder over Bell’s unwillingness to lay strict lines of belief and practice that indicate the dispensation of God’s grace; inclusivists will appreciate Bell’s expression of Christ’s work and mission that far exceeds the in group/out group barriers we wish to erect.

The big message of the book is, of course, that love wins. It’s a statement Christians should be able to rally behind, and Bell roots it scripturally in God’s mission to reconcile all of creation to himself. The implications of this reconciliatory mission for heaven and hell is the secondary point, and I think it takes some kind of courage to face these questions head-on instead of ignoring them. What does it mean for all of creation to be reconciled if people are in hell for eternity? What does it mean for God to get what he wants? People will disagree with Bell’s discussion, but I think they will also be forced to ask themselves these same questions. And I think they will find that their pat answers do not serve them so well in the face of scripture’s obscurity.

 

Is this book worth your time? I say yes, because it asks good questions and provides appropriate answers (which is to say, answers to questions that require them and openness to questions that don’t). I know not everyone will like it, and many will despise it. Here’s my guide for those who might want to avoid reading this book:

 

If you think systematic theology and pat answers are the only acceptable articulation of Christ’s message and mission, you will not like this book.

If scripture’s ambiguity concerning heaven, hell and eternal destiny has never crossed your mind, you will not like this book.

If the premise “God wants to save everyone” makes your eye twitch, you will not like this book.

If you see postmodern boogeymen at any articulation of the gospel that uses language different than yours, you will not like this book.

 

At the end of the book I found myself in agreement with Richard Mouw’s review of “Love Wins”: responses to this book will fall along the lines of those who accept a generous orthodoxy versus a stingy orthodoxy. Rob Bell articulates God’s purposes for the world and the people he loves with appropriate inclusivity and grace. Christ, he reminds us, is bigger than our designs for the world, and to say that God wins and love wins is a fundamental Christian hope. The implications of this hope on matters of heaven and hell reveal that the discussion is more open-ended and interesting than you may think.

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