Thursday, March 3, 2011

Review of "Love Wins" - Rob Bell's New Book - Part 1

from The Tenth Leper blog

Love Wins is my first foray into the writings of Rob Bell.  Yeah, I’ve been aware of him for years, and based on numerous quotes and such that I’ve read/heard of his in that period of time I’ve always been a bit cautious of the dude.  For some reason though I’ve always felt that I would have to read one of his books for myself before seriously engaging one of his followers.  Turns out, Love Wins, perhaps his most controversial book to date (based solely upon a promotional video on it), is that book.

Just in case you’re an irrelevant Christian who listens to Nickelback instead of Mumford and Sons,  has a burden to reach Latin America instead of Africa or Europe, and who has held out on signing up for a Twitter or Facebook account, Christians are in an uproar.  Rob Bell released a promotional video last weekend for his upcoming book Love Wins: A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived.  The video seems to strongly suggest that Rob Bell is promoting a Universalist theology. A lot of people are freaking out about it because Bell has a pretty large following.  But many preachers are wise enough to say that while the video strongly suggests a denial of the biblical understanding of Hell, we should reserve judgment until the book is actually released.

A month or so ago I got my hands on an advance-reader copy of the book and decided to take it, knowing that if ever I was going to read a book by the guy, why not his newest one which talks about hell and which I got for free?  It’s been on my bookcase since then, and after watching his promo video for the book on Saturday, I pulled it off the shelf and started it.  I finished it in two sittings, which is pretty impressive for the slow reader I am.

Very impressive.

Of course it helps when
Bell is the sort of writer that takes
great liberties with
page margins.

Great. Liberties.


Thick-rimmed glasses.

So for people curious about the book (and more than anything to process the book myself), I’ll be analyzing his book in different posts over the next several days.  My initial assessment of the book is this: I think my conviction that I should read Rob Bell before I ever publish an opinion on Rob Bell was extremely well-founded.  That’s because Bell doesn’t strike me as the guy who would ever denounce orthodox Christian beliefs outright.  He strikes me as a guy who would denounce them by retaining Christian terms and redefining them, seeking in the process to show how this new definition of such a familiar term as “hell” isn’t new at all.  Rather, the term as he uses it is how it was originally understood by the writers of the New Testament and their audiences, and we are the ones who have made it to mean something it was never meant to mean.  That’s why I’m glad I sat down to read this book for myself, because Bell doesn’t really seek to say “This isn’t in the Bible” as much as he does “That’s not actually what the Bible is saying here.”  “Do I believe in a literal hell?” he asks.  “Of course.” (p.72)  So it’s perhaps not the best route to rebuke Bell’s argument by pointing to places in Scripture that talk about Hell as a real place.  Nor is it as simple as quoting Matthew 25:46 which says that those who do evil go off to “eternal punishment.”  He’s ready for that.  Invoking the original language of the New Testament, he’ll argue his case that the punishment referred to here (better translated, he believes, as “correction”, or “pruning”, or “trimming”) doesn’t last forever in the way we understand the term “forever”.  If I were to rebuke his thoughts on Hell by pointing to Matthew 25:46, it would be clear to anyone who has read Love Wins that I had not.

The definition of “eternal” in Matthew 25:46 (which I’ll devote a whole entry to) is probably the most blunt thing I remember reading in Love Wins.  As I said, he doesn’t ever say “Hell isn’t real.”  He just challenges what we mean by it.  He’s too smart to be overly blunt throughout most of the book.  But he makes no apology for his declaration that while Hell is a real place, and people will go there, it’s not forever.  Ultimately, God’s love will prevail for every person and they will be restored.  So I would say that what the recently-released promo video for Love Wins suggests, the book confirms.

A couple final comments.  My goal is to be as fair to Rob Bell as I can. There’s a difference between going on a witch-hunt and calling someone a false prophet.   Witch-hunts are void of facts and are based on hysteria.  I want to understand Bell on his own terms and evaluate the strength of his arguments according to Scripture.  If I find him preaching something contrary to what’s in Scripture, I’ll call him out.  I’ll quote Bell extensively and to the best of my ability seek to ensure that nothing I quote would be out-of-context, which leads to my second comment: All page numbers and quotations are based off an advance-reader, uncorrected proof copy of his book.  The page numbers and the words themselves may or may not correspond exactly to the final edition of the book which will be released on March 29.  I’ll try to check on that when it is released.

With that said, I am in full agreement with Rob Bell that LOVE WINS.  But as the entries which follow will show, I disagree with his definition of “love” and “wins”.

See also:

Review of "Love Wins" - Rob Bell's New Book - Part 2

Heads Up, Christian Parents: Rob Bell Is Teaching Your Kids Universalism