Love Wins? Count On It!

Rob Bell's Love Wins book

What’s the Big Deal?

I just finished reading Rob Bell’s latest book, Love Wins. I did this because so many people have asked my opinion about it. Love Wins is the first Rob Bell book I have ever completed. His material normally is not challenging or enlightening to me on any level whatsoever. Love Wins was the same. However, people are not asking me if I find the material challenging or enlightening. They are asking me if I agree with it. And I can say, for the most part, yes I do. In fact I don’t see what the big deal is.

Shaping God

There’s something people really need to deal with that they often do not deal with. Christian people often refuse to deal with the fact that, as Bell stated, we shape our God and then our God shapes us. A huge number of Christians will tell you that at their church they just teach the Bible, not the “opinion of man,” as if the Bible and our opinion of it can truly be separated. That’s simply absurd. You pick up the Bible. You read it. You think about it, but you tend to think differently about certain things than I do. You see nuances I may not see, and miss ones I may catch. You read with different eyes, different understandings, and even different needs and a different heart.

This is what it means to say you shape your God. You read into the text the God you need to believe in. I know. I do too. We all do. The question is, who do you need God to be? In order for God to “save” you, bring you peace and joy, and assure you that you are safe in this universe, do you need to know beyond doubt that millions of other people have missed the boat and are burning in hell? If so, that’s the God that appeals to you. The thing that’s important is that we stop this shell-game of insisting that this or that opinion of the Bible and its meaning is completely drawn from the text itself and is therefore the authoritative version and any other opinions or ideas must therefore be not only wrong but heretical.

Questions

As far as I’m concerned, the very best thing about Love Wins is the number of questions it asks. If someone simply reads all these questions and then sits with them for a while, I think the truth will make itself clear. They will make Bell’s basic point appear necessary, which I believe it is if we are to really believe God is who we have always said God is.

In the meantime, why is this book controversial? Does Rob Bell ever once make the claim that he knows what happens to people after they die? Nope. Does he ever claim there is no such thing as hell or that no one is going there? Much the opposite. Does he ever claim that anyone other than the risen Christ is working to bring people to the knowledge of God? Never.

Objections and Responses

“But it leans toward universalism.” Definitely — at least compared to the “turn or burn” version of things. And still, leaning toward universalism and being a universalist are very different. “It’s terrible theology.” Well certainly it is for those who reject his ideas. C.S. Lewis would beg to differ. Richard Mouw, president of Fuller Seminary, defends the book. “It’s heresy.” So you say, but you didn’t even really read the book, apparently — after all, you still think Bell’s a universalist.  🙂 “But millions of people in hell has been the established position of the church for two thousand years.” Yeah. They thought burning people alive was a good idea too. They’ve had a lot of bad ideas. They’ve been wrong a lot. Don’t be offended by that, it’s just facts.

It’s always funny to me how good Protestants will rail on Catholics like crazy for not really getting the whole God thing, but when Protestant B departs from strict orthodoxy, Protestant A will start saying how “the church has always believed…” (which must mean the Catholic Church since they were the only game in town for so long). Personally, I’m not in the least bit anti-Catholic, but the double-standard is funny. Which is it? Do the Catholics always get it or not? I think they’re like me. And like you. And like Rob Bell. Sometimes they are right, sometimes they are wrong. Hopefully they continue to pray for the wisdom and humility to know which is which.

Conclusion

I’m sure Rob Bell prays for the same. In the meantime, Love Wins said things that need to be said and I applaud Bell for his courage. Of course Love Wins. Isn’t God love? Doesn’t God win?

Rule for commenting on this post. You must have actually read the book.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic. A request for me to defend some of my comments does not obligate me to do so.

  • The fact that Bell’s work is not challenging or enlightening to you does not belie the incredible amount of scholarship and precision that is found “between the lines.” Should one desire to read the resources and books recommended at the end his book (such as George McDonald’s sermons, and Talbot’s, “The Inescapable Love of God”), they will immediately recognize that Bell’s book is the tip of the iceberg. Bell does not oversimplify in “Love Wins.” The genius (If I may) of “Love Wins” (and in all of his books) is the conversations, discussions and debates it has engendered. Not at the academic level, but at the pastoral level—the place where most of us live. I would say Bell accomplished exactly what he intended with his book—to bring God into focus, at any entry point possible— cynics notwithstanding.

    I applaud him.

    • No doubt about it, Tim. The book is worth buying just for that list at the end, not to mention all the other good stuff I mentioned. BTW I never said the book was oversimplified. It was every bit as simple as it needed to be, I would say. Having said that, I agree with Mindi that Bell’s thing is repackaging current scholarship, putting the “cookies on a lower shelf,” so to speak. I hope that is needed in the church, as I myself probably do much more of this than of innovating. Which leads to a discussion of what innovation is, since to innovate is nearly always just to combine currently existing things in new ways.

      • I still think that repackaging current scholarship is not the primary motivation behind Bell’s approach to writing and teaching. (I use him as an example only because Bell is the subject of the current string.) I also don’t think that innovation—for the sake of repackaging tradition to make is easier for the seeker to accept—is necessarily a good thing. Instead I would suggest that getting someone believe something about the Bible is easy—like shooting fish in a barrel. However, if I can make someone doubt what they believe about the Bible—now that is saying something. Questions that ask “why is that” and “how does this/that work” (when it comes to the Bible) are not necessarily raised by innovative approaches to doing church. I would think that after I hear a teaching/message, I would want to leave with more questions than answers, more doubt about what I always believed to be true. This, I believe, should not hurt our faith, but make it stronger. This is the kind of environment that should attract the seeker or anyone in search of Truth. It’s my observation that this is much easier to say than to do, however. This approach flies in the face of many whose dogmas, traditions, and even liturgies have been deeply ingrained in their spiritual psyche.

        • I agree with everything you said, Tim. I’m not sure exactly where your disagreement lies. As far as repackaging current scholarship, I agree this is not Bell’s intention but I do believe that’s what he does. I’m not under the illusion that Bell’s goal is to somehow make the gospel more palatable or more acceptable to non-believers, it is clearly more about making it LESS comfortable to those who already believe so that they think in new ways about it. As I said in my review, to me the best part of the book was the number of questions Bell asked. All you have to do is sit with those questions long enough and any thinking person has to feel themselves nudged over to Bell’s side a bit.

          When I use the word innovation, I’m not talking about approaches to doing church, running programs, etc. I’m talking about innovative THINKING. His THINKING is nothing particularly new (as anyone who reads his list of recommended books will see), but he has a platform to get these ideas out to modern eyes and ears.

  • DanFlowers

    Ortberg = Accessible Dallas Willard

    Bell = Accessible Richard Rohr

    • Does Rohr need to be any more accessible? his stuff is so simple.

  • Great entry. I bookmarked Mouw’s blog a few weeks back. Great stuff.

  • Mindi

    I agree with your assessment of Rob Bell. I think his “gift” is repackaging current scholarship/thought for a wider audience, but I don’t see him as an innovative thinker on his own. He certainly has a unique place in modern evangelicalism. Ditto on the book. I really didn’t see how he was different from Lewis.

    • Bell does not share the one quality that is most needed in order to be granted some slack and breathing room with regard to his ideas — that, of course, is the quality of being dead. Someday he’ll be dead and people will read his book and think, “What was the fuss about?”