Friday, April 1, 2011

Love Wins: My Thoughts on an attempt at asking some important questions (Part V)


In the end, I return to where I began. I am glad that someone of Bell’s stature and impressive communication skills is taking the opportunity to broach these important questions. I am sure that many, many people think about these topics and ask these questions, at least quietly, on a daily basis.

I think that Bell has tapped into some ideas here that should be explored. How do we understand the nature of God’s plan for salvation/restoration of creation? What about those who never hear about Jesus? Are they, can they be saved? Or what about those whose only encounter with Jesus has been the abusive, power leveraging Jesus that shows up in so many of our churches? If people meet and reject the wrong Jesus, can they still be saved if they never find the real Jesus? I realize that there are a lot of assumptions to unpack in these questions. But that is where one begins, by asking questions.

What about what I call Bell’s inclusivist hope? I think there is some tension here for all of us. I am fairly convinced that the Bible is exclusive and not inclusive. But that does not mean I am not open to asking the questions. Is it possible that all of creation will be saved/restored? Of course it is possible. The belief in God as creator and sustainer of all things demands that I at least acknowledge it is possible. We do ourselves no favors when we create theological categories and definitions and then declare that God does and must act that way. I can almost hear a heavenly laugh when such arrogance is on display. The witness of the Bible, however, is of exclusivity. Consequently, I live in a tension with what the authors of the Bible say and what I hope will happen. I don’t think that makes me a Universalist or Inclusivist (I hate labels anyway). What it does make me is someone who lives in hope that everyone will see their life restored and healed. I think Jesus too was one who expressed much hope for creation.

But I wish that Bell had been much more responsible with his use of scripture. There doesn’t seem to be much point in raising the questions if you aren’t going to do the work to support your answers. If he truly thinks that scripture is the place to begin to sort out these questions, then he should do so judiciously.

I think Bell would have done himself and his readers a better service if he had written three or four books on the subject. Talk about a biblical view of heaven and hell and then bridge the gap between how the ancients thought and how we should apply it, but do it with sound exegesis. Challenge us to rethink about the nature of salvation and the degree to which it is inclusive or exclusive. But do it by bringing out the complexity of the idea within scripture.

I suppose that my biggest complaint about this book is not everything that I have listed above. It is that Bell has done a more than rather poor job at probing and answering the questions and he has left himself open to countless, needless, charges. The result, I fear, will be that for several years now those who ask these questions will be seen through the “Love Wins” paradigm and will not have their questions answered. Worse yet, they will be excluded because they asked them. That would be a tragedy indeed. On the flipside, perhaps this will be the beginning of a serious, sober conversation about these topics that brings about new ways of thinking and living. I hope it is the latter.


  1. I truly appreciate what you have written over these five blogs. What I see as the biggest divide here is simply that Rob Bell will never be an exegete without some major life changes. That's not to say he can't; he just won't.

    The same approach happens in our pulpits every Sunday: We (and our congregations) are so quick and eager to race to the application, the "So what?" that we cruise right over the foundation of it all.

    Not sure what the solution is. The situation is akin to forcing children to eat what is good for them. They kick, they scream-- they threaten and they leave.

    Because down the street at the neighbors' house they are still serving up Frosted Sugar Bombs three meals a day.

  2. The real mind bender for me is this: would Bell have come to the same conclusions, much less write a book about it, if he had actually done the right exegetical work? If the answer is yes, then he's incompetent; if no, he had his mind made up and manipulated Scripture to prove his point...which makes him more sleezy than a Universalist (sorry're not really sleezy. I'm referring to the witch-burning critics).

  3. Dr. Byron,

    I have appreciated your post over the last few weeks. I agree that because Bell has done some poor exegetical work, those who continue to question the traditional doctrine of hell might be deemed a "Rob Bellian" and therefore be ostrasized from the Evangelical community (which is not always a bad thing).

    Maybe, in all your free time, you should right a follow-up book(s) with a New Testament understanding of hell. Lol.

  4. John,

    I appreciated greatly your posts on Love Wins. I am personally a huge Rob Bell fan. I've listened to every Mars Hill sermon (Rob's and others at his church) over the last two years and they have meant more to me than any preaching ever has. I find his preaching in particular to be some of the most Biblically based and Biblically sound preaching I have ever heard.

    That is why I was surprised when reading Love Wins. He is usually so much better of an exegete.

    Yet, I still liked the book and the way he wrote it in general. Yes, the exegetical errors do cause huge problems. If he wrote the four books like you suggest he would not have reached the same audience that he was writing for in this book. I wanted footnotes and more debth, but that wasn't what he was writing. I think it was a book that was designed to be more art than academic, but he kept enough academic in there to cause him problems when he didn't do his homework. Just think what would have happened to Lewis if he would have footnoted The Great Divorce and put Scripture References in it?

    Again, I appreciate your posts. I really think they are some of the best I've seen out there. Most people have some agenda, but yours seems so balanced and you actually talk about specifics in the book which I really appreciated.

    I need to get up to Ashland some time and sit in one of your classes. I miss being up there.

    Kevin Peterson (I went to Isreal with you in 06)

  5. I enjoyed reading your review. I resonated with the statement, "Consequently, I live in a tension with what the authors of the Bible say and what I hope will happen." That can be a great tension and I appreciate that you articulated it so well.

  6. Thanks for your review. I've been discussing this with friends online and have also been reading Ben Witherington's review as well. I appreciate the balance with which you (and BW3) have brought to the discussion. While BW3's discussion is more academic (and longer) I genuinely appreciate your willingness to share your own struggles with the questions raised.