This is the second of three posts attempting to tackle the questions that have been asked of me concerning Rob Bell’s newest book Love Wins: A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived. This is the post everyone has been waiting for: my thoughts. While they are not comprehensive in the least, they are the simplest explanations and insights I can offer. Enjoy.
I have been asked by more people than I can count what my thoughts are concerning Rob Bell and his new book Love Wins. The reason I think this happens is because people know that I am decently well-read in Christian literature and I want to be a pastor. Those two things, when married, draw people’s attention to your opinions, beliefs, and thoughts–for better or for worse.
I was exposed to Bell’s book months ago when a friend of mine asked me about it. I had not heard of it, so he sent me a link to what little information was out there at the time. The title intrigued me since the idea of love has always been somewhat of a reoccurring theme in my life–not to mention my birthday falls on Valentine’s Day. When I read the subtitle, I was curious how Bell was going to pull all of it together. I did not know what Bell believed at the time, but I was eager to read his thoughts on “Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived.”
Here is my disclaimer of sorts.
I have read and own every book Bell has published. I have listened to countless sermons from Mars Hill. I have heard him speak at conferences and on tours. I own all the Noomas. I have visited Mars Hill. God has used Rob Bell to teach me what it means to follow Jesus in ways I never would have learned otherwise. God used Bell to teach me the importance of cultural and historical context. God used him to show me there is new world to uncover when you explore the ancient, original languages the Bible was written in. God has used Bell to speak fresh words of grace, love, hope, and life into my life. Rob Bell has had a profound influence on my life spiritually.
He is not the only influence. I feel like whenever I say that I enjoy reading or listening to Rob Bell, the immediate label I get projected on me is liberalChristian. I feel like people shove me in the Emergent Church movement like I am best buddies with Brian McLaren. And, no matter how much I try to explain that the most influential pastors, preachers, and teachers in my life come from the Reformed Movement–Mark Driscoll, Matt Chandler, Steven Furtick just to name a few–I get the sense that I am now trying to climb up hill or trying to defend myself. It has put me between a rock and hard place on more than one occasion.
With Bell’s new book looming on the calendar for the end of March, I really put in on the back burner for most of the semester. I knew it was coming. I knew I was going to buy it and read it just like I had done with all of his other books. No big deal.
Then things started to erupt. I will not go into all the details of who said what when, but if you are interested in timeline of all the events, check out this article The Resurgence did. It chronicles the major events well, even if the slant is in the Reformed direction (against Bell).
I read or skimmed so many blogs different blogs, some from well-known pastors, others from armchair theologians. I read opinions from people who were calling Bell a heretic and opinions who defended him with the same tenacity. The one thing that most had in common was none of the authors of these blogs had read the book. It was still a month away from being released. I may be old-fashioned, but I think adage, “Don’t judge a book by its cover” was something people decided to ignore.
I stopped reading blogs after a couple days just because I got sick of hearing this, that, or the other about a book that no one had read. So it kind of went off my radar until I was one Facebook a week or so into March. I saw that there was an announcement that said Rob Bell would be doing an interview about his new book in New York City and the release date had been moved up two weeks because of all the controversy that had erupted. If you read my previous post you know that I had the opportunity to attend this interview while in New York City on our spring break mission trip. I was very thankful that all the details worked out. I heard his interview–which you can watch here–got Love Wins signed, and had the opportunity to tell him that he has inspired me and thanked him for his words. It was a pretty simple night.
My thoughts on the night were simple as well: he still one of the most gifted communicators I have ever heard, he did not say anything I had not heard him say before, he talks in circles and avoids questions really well, and I still could not comment on the book since I had only heard him talk.
It took me a couple weeks to read the book. I did not want to read it in haste just to say I read it. I really wanted to sit in it and chew on what he said and try and understand the different layers in which he writes. I had people hounding me for my thoughts and opinions, but I took my time and read it in full before I talked about it. After much thinking, talking, and reading the conclusions I have come to are as follows:
- Rob Bell is wrong about some things–hell being one of them. While he uses Scripture to prove his points, there are some non-traditional ways he interprets passages and parables that lead him to errant conclusions. If you are looking for more specifics, check out the 21-page, expansive book review by Kevin DeYoung–with whom I agree with theologically on this issue.
- But, not everything Rob Bell says in Love Wins is wrong. I find a lot of people “throwing the baby out with the bath water” when it came to Bell’s book, and that made me very frustrated. Yes, we should point out the errancies, but we should not ignore the good that is pointed out. Disagree, that is fine. Just do not label everything wrong, because all of it is not.
- Rob Bell will always influence the way I understand Scripture and pursue Jesus. I cannot unlearn what God has taught me through Bell’s writings and teachings. Some of the things I have learned have shaped the very way I follow Jesus. God has been glorified and revealed to me in ways I never would have experienced if it were not for Bell’s work.
While these statements will not get me in hot water with anyone or give you the satisfaction for what you were looking for, these are the most simplistic statements I could come up with without spilling needless internet ink trying to explain myself.
If you are looking for someone else who echoes my sentiments about Bell, I would encourage you to read Perry Noble’s response on his blog. Perry is the pastor of NewSpring Church in Anderson, South Carolina–which I have had the privilege of visiting and highly recommend. He has a unique perspective and solid insights into the situation that has unravelled which I sympathize and agree.
Lastly, I will leave you with a quote from one of the staff members at Athens Church, where I work, in his review of Love Wins:
“So, here’s how I’m going to respond when people ask me about the book. I hope that Rob Bell is right. It appears to be a loving, inclusive perspective that emphasizes God’s love above all else. Unfortunately, the Bible seems to teach something different, so I can’t embrace it. Ultimately, I trust God to handle these issues in the end. If I misunderstand Scripture and God deals with people as Rob Bell believes he will, I won’t be sad or upset. What I do know is that God revealed himself to us in Jesus, and I will continue to tell people about him (and so will Rob Bell).”
– Josh Jones
May God give you the discernment to not swallow what you are fed without wrestling with it, probing it, questioning it, thinking about it, talking about it, praying about it, and searching the Scriptures about it. May God give you supernatural wisdom, understanding, and plain, old common sense. Remember to give grace where others fall short. Do not kick brothers and sisters while they are down, but extend to them a hand and show them the error of their ways in love, not out of your desire to be “right.” It is not about who is “right” or “wrong;” in the end it is all about Jesus.
And yes, love does win, but more importantly… Jesus wins.