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“Love Wins” by Rob Bell- A Brief Review and Study Guide

love-winsI have spent a great deal of time evaluating Rob Bell’s controversial work, Love Wins. Here, I present a brief overview of my conclusions, as well as providing a study guide. I hope this will be useful to those interested in reading the book or who lead/participate in a group that are reading the book.

General Review

Over the past several weeks, I have gone through Love Wins chapter by chapter. There have been several positive themes found throughout the book. Of these, the ones most important are the notion that we often trivialize the message of the Bible into “getting in” to heaven and the argument that we cannot turn Jesus into a slogan or the cross into a symbol for whatever we like.

Bell has rightly brought the focus onto eschatology, something which is often ignored or avoided in modern settings.

Yet throughout my reviews of the book (see links at the end), I have noted numerous errors found therein. First, Bell makes errors regarding historical theology. He makes claims about the history of the church which are falsified upon closer examination. Second, his interpretive method is very problematic, as he will often take merely a single part of a verse (sometimes two words completely torn from their context!) in order to make an entire argument about how all of Scripture needs to be interpreted through his chosen phrase [see the review of Chapter 2 and search for “enter life” for a thorough analysis of this]. Third, his exegesis is problematic in still other ways. For example, he will often cite a single verse as an argument for a theological position, even though his argument is contradicted in the very next verse or in the same paragraph. Fourth, he fails to present his arguments. Instead, he chooses to simply ask leading questions. Although this is not problematic in itself, it is clear that this style is intended to lead people into the conclusions Bell wants without any critical analysis. If Bell merely stated his arguments, I suspect people would be more skeptical of his conclusions. Fifth, Bell’s method of argument, when he makes arguments, is often confused. For example, he will ask whether a phrase is found in the Bible in order to refute it. But of course, Bell’s entire thesis “love wins” is a phrase not found in the Bible.

Finally, Bell’s entire argument, once finally revealed, is found to be based around the notion that “God is love.” That’s it. He essentially creates a doctrine of God around just that notion, then defines it in human terms of a parent-child relationship, and then concludes that everyone will eventually be saved because God is love. This is a horribly deficient doctrine of God which does not take into account the whole of Biblical teaching about God. Unfortunately, because this is Bell’s central thesis, it seems the book falls apart upon closer examination.

Ultimately, I cannot recommend this book. Although it gives a few positive points, the major errors found throughout the text weigh against the usefulness of the book for study. I would recommend, however, that leaders in the church do read the book, as it has been so immensely popular that they are bound to run into it. I hope that my reviews and study guide [below] will be helpful for those who wish to engage with the book critically.

Study Guide Questions

General Questions

Let me be clear: I think these questions must be asked in any study of this book.

These questions are intended to be asked after each chapter or at the end of the book:

1) What arguments does Rob Bell present in this chapter? Are they valid? Were any arguments presented?

2) What questions does Bell ask that you feel are hardest to answer? Why? What answers did he provide?

3) Look up a passage Bell interprets. Read it in context. Do you think that Bell’s interpretation of this passage is correct? Why/why not?

Questions for Preface and Chapter 1

1) Do you feel comfortable talking about hell? Why/why not?

2) Can we know that a specific person is in hell?

3) What problems do you see in our culture’s understanding of hell?

4) If a word or phrase isn’t in the Bible, does that mean it is not biblical? Is “Love Wins” a phrase found in the Bible?

Resource: I review the preface and chapter 1.

Questions for Chapter 2

1) What do you think of when you envision heaven? Why do you imagine this? Can you support this imagery with the Biblical text?

2) Look up Matthew 19:16-30 and read it. What do you think of Bell’s focus on “enter life” as the thrust of this passage?

3) Consider popular cultural pictures of heaven or of heavenly imagery (Angels in the Outfield; All Dogs Go to Heaven; etc.). What do you think of these images? Are they grounded on Biblical truth?

4) Bell wrote: “Eternal life doesn’t start when we die; it starts now. It’s not about a life that begins at death; it’s about experiencing the kind of life now that can endure and survive even death” (59). What do you think of this quote? What does it say about what we do for salvation? Do we live in such a way as to usher in our survival of death?

Resource: I review Chapter 2.

Questions for Chapter 3

1) What do you think Bell means by “there are all kinds of hells” (79)? Do you see this in the Biblical text he cites (Luke 16:19-31)?

2) Read Luke 16:19-31. What do you think of Bell’s analysis of the meaning of this parable? Why do you think this?

3) Bell argued that Jesus’ teachings weren’t about right belief but rather about love of neighbor (82). How does this tie into the theme of salvation by grace through faith?

4) Read Matthew 10:5-15. Does the text imply there is still hope for Sodom and Gomorrah, as Bell argues (84-85)?

Resource: I review Chapter 3.

Questions for Chapter 4

1) Read Bell’s statements about the greatness of God on p. 97-98. Why do you think he chooses to focus the discussion on God’s greatness rather than on specific texts? What textual support does Bell use to support this passage?

2) Bell claims there have been a number of views about the salvation of people throughout church history. Does a plurality of views make any view valid? BonusDuring the Civil War era, Christians on either side argued the Bible supported or condemned slavery, respectively. Does this mean a valid interpretation of the Bible is that it justifies slavery?

3) Bonus points: Look up the church fathers Bell cites to support the notion that his view has been at “the center” of Christian orthodoxy. Do these church fathers really support that view? Consider the following from Augustine (The City of God Book XXI, Chapter 17):

Origen was even more indulgent; for he believed that even the devil himself and his angels, after suffering those more severe and prolonged pains which their sins deserved, should be delivered from their torments, and associated with the holy angels. But the Church, not without reason, condemned him for this and other errors…

Resource: I review Chapter 4.

Questions for Chapter 5

1) What do you think of when you picture the image of a cross? How have you used/worn/displayed crosses in your life? Do your answers to these questions reflect the glory and misery of the cross?

2) How have you pictured the “Gospel”? Is it just a way to “get to” heaven?

Resource: I review Chapter 5.

Questions for Chapter 6

1) How have you used the label “Christian” or the name “Jesus” in your life?

2) Read John 12:47-50 and compare to Bell’s notion that God is not about judgment. How do Bell’s assertions read in light of the context of the single verse he cites (i.e. “There is a judge for the one who rejects me and does not accept my words; the very words I have spoken will condemn them at the last day.” [48])? Does Bell deal with this context?

3) Did Jesus come to overthrow religion? Read Matthew 5:17-18. How does this passage line up with Bell’s notion that Jesus was a- or even anti- religious?

ResourceI review Chapter 6

Questions for Chapter 7 and 8

1) Rob Bell focuses upon the notion that God is love. What else does the Bible tell us God is? Does Bell discuss these other attributes? What do these other attributes us tell us about God? (BonusCheck out 2 Thessalonians 1:6; Psalm 5; Isaiah 46:9-10; or use a concordance to look up various attributes of God.)

2) Bell’s focus in this chapter is on God as love. How does God respond to sin? Consider Psalm 5:4-6:

For you are not a God who is pleased with wickedness;
with you, evil people are not welcome.
 The arrogant cannot stand
in your presence.
You hate all who do wrong;
you destroy those who tell lies.
The bloodthirsty and deceitful
you, Lord, detest. (Psalm 5:4-6)

3) Bell writes that sins are “irrelevant” (187). Did Jesus come to die for sins? Does this mean they are irrelevant?

4) Bell seems to argue that there are more chances after death. What does the Bible say about this? (Consider Hebrews 9:27.)

Resource: I review chapters 7 and 8.

Links

Like this page on Facebook: J.W. Wartick – “Always Have a Reason”

The book: Rob Bell, Love Wins (New York: HarperCollins, 2011).

Review of “Love Wins” by Rob Bell: Preface and Chapter 1- I discuss the preface and chapter 1 of Love Wins.

Review of “Love Wins” by Rob Bell: Chapter 2- I review chapter 2.

Review of “Love Wins” by Rob Bell: Chapter 3- I look at Chapter 3: Hell.

Review of “Love Wins” by Rob Bell: Chapter 4- I look at Chapter 4: Does God Get what God Wants?

Review of “Love Wins” by Rob Bell: Chapter 5- I analyze chapter 5.

Review of “Love Wins” by Rob Bell: Chapter 6- I review chapter 6.

Review of “Love Wins” by Rob Bell: Chapters 7 and 8- I review the final chapters of the book.

Be sure to check out other book reviews. (Scroll down for more)

Source

Rob Bell, Love Wins (New York: HarperCollins, 2011).

SDG.

——

The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from citations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

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Review of “Love Wins” by Rob Bell: Chapters 7 and 8

love-winsI have been reviewing Rob Bell’s book, Love Wins, with a particular interest in his theological views and how he argues for those views.  I have not read the book before, so each review is fresh: I am writing these having just completed the chapter the post is on. This week, I wrap up the book by looking at Chapters 7 and 8. Within the next few weeks, I’ll publish a study guide and overview for the entire book.

Chapter 7

Outline

Rob Bell begins with an analysis of the parable of the Prodigal Son/Forgiving Father/Unforgiving Brother (Luke 15:11-32). He contrasts the prodigal with the older brother. The prodigal believes “he’s ‘no longer worthy’ to be called his father’s son” (165). But the father “tells a different story. One about return and reconciliation and redemption” (ibid). In contrast, the older brother sees himself as being cheated–he’s been “slaving for his father for years” (166). But the father turns the story around and points out he hasn’t been a slave–the older brother has “had it all the whole time… All he had to do was receive” (168).

Given this story, Bell concludes a number of things. He argues “Hell is our refusal to trust God’s retelling of our story” (170). This retelling assures us that we are loved, despite the way we choose to tell our own stories.

Then there is the notion that “Millions have been taught that if they don’t believe… and they were hit by a car and died later that same day, God would have no choice but to punish them forever in conscious torment in hell. God would, in essence, become a fundamentally different being to them in that moment of death, a different being to them forever” (173, emphasis his). He asks “Does God become somebody totally different the moment you die?” (174).

Bell continues to focus on this argument, arguing that there is something “wrong” with this notion of deity which is “loving one second and cruel the next… if your God will punish people for all eternity for sins committed in a few short years… [nothing] will be able to disguise that one, true, glaring, untenable, unacceptable, awful reality” (175). Thus, Bell feels he can conclude “Hell is refusing to trust” (ibid).

He continues, noting that the good news is better than merely the question of whether one will “get into heaven” (178-179). Instead, it is about “entering into this shared life of peace and joy as it transforms our hearts, until it’s the most natural way to live that we can imagine” (179).

Our sins are “simply irrelevant when it comes to the counterintuitive, ecstatic announcement of the gospel” (187). Indeed, so are our “goodness… rightness… church attendance… and all of the wise, moral, mature decisions” we make (ibid). Instead, what matters is the “unexpected declaration that God’s love simply is yours” (188). “Forgiveness is unilateral,” God doesn’t wait for us to clean ourselves up, but “has already done it” (189).

“The only thing left to do is trust” (190) Bell argues. “Everybody is at the party. Heaven and hell, here, now, around us, upon us, within us” (ibid).

Analysis

Bell is absolutely correct to note that the Gospel is about more than simply “getting into heaven.” There is a kind of gospel reductionism which changes the message of Christianity into heaven or hell and that’s all. It’s dangerous, and it distorts the proclamation of Christ.

However, there is something very bothersome about Bell’s arguments against the notion of eternal punishment. His entire argument is based around the notion that God is love, and that God won’t just change who he is. He continues to focus on God as love. Yet he does this at the expense of the rest of the Biblical teaching about who God is. God is not reducible to love. We can’t base our doctrine only on the notion that God is love, and therefore our ideas of what love is will define who God is. Instead, the Bible teaches us much more about God than that God is simply love.

But Bell is insistent on this point. He evaluates God through the lens of a human parent and argues that if God were a human parent on some views, we would want to put God in prison. Instead, he argues, we should see God as love… and apparently that’s it. That’s Bell’s God. Love. The Bible, on the other hand, does not teach us only that God is love. Consider:

For you are not a God who is pleased with wickedness;
with you, evil people are not welcome.
 The arrogant cannot stand
in your presence.
You hate all who do wrong;
you destroy those who tell lies.
The bloodthirsty and deceitful
you, Lord, detest. (Psalm 5:4-6)

How does this fit into Bell’s analysis? Why does he refuse to address the fact that the Bible very clearly state that God hates wrongdoing? Nor does Bell acknowledge that one of God’s attributes is justice. God is absolutely just and we deserve God’s wrath. Period. Instead of even attempting to address these verses or the arguments around the notion of God’s justice, all Bell has done is argue that God is love and that anything else means God changes his essence. That is simplistic and borderline dishonesty. Bell his misportrayed the doctrine of God and invented his own, wherein only the verses about God being loving are those which dominate all doctrine. Again, he has created a canon within the canon, where the verses about love trump all others.

Another demonstration of this is in Bell’s declaration that our sins are “irrelevant.” Really? Orthodox Christianity has held that our sins are the reason Jesus had to die–as punishment for our sins. That sounds extremely relevant to me. Yet Bell, in his over-eagerness to argue that God is love, has vastly overstated his case.

God does not change (Malachi 3:6), but neither is God only defined by love. And even were God defined by love, that love would not be human love, which is what Bell has chosen to base his argument upon. Again and again he appeals to the relationship between human parents and their children. Yet God is not a human being (Numbers 23:19).

Not only that, but Bell’s assertion that hope continues after death is flatly contradicted in the Bible:

people are destined to die once, and after that to face judgment (Hebrews 9:27)

What room is there in this passage to allow for Bell’s scheme of salvation after death? People die, and after that there is judgment. Period. It doesn’t say “people are destined to die… then to have hope forever and eventually come to heaven.” Where does Bell ground his teaching in the Bible? I simply cannot find it. Instead, he continues only to press the notion that God is love, and by doing so he creates his own Bible outside of the Bible which trumps the passages with which he disagrees.

As Christians, we must take into account the whole of Biblical teaching. We can’t just ignore the passages which don’t agree with our theology, as Bell has done. Bell’s entire argument so far seems to be a house of cards. It is based on a few select verses with an idiosyncratic interpretation. Moreover, he simply declares that God is love, and then uses that to counter anything he thinks is not loving. In other words, Bell’s concept of love defines his theology of God. That is a huge problem.

Chapter 8

Outline

In this very short chapter/conclusion, Bell calls people to trust God. He tells readers that “love wins” (198). “Love is what God is” (197).

Analysis

There’s not much in this chapter which hasn’t been said before. It is worth noting that once again, Bell defines God merely as love. That’s it.

Conclusion

Bell doesn’t speak to God’s justice. He doesn’t speak to God’s covenant relationship with the people of God. He doesn’t even mention God’s hate of sin. Instead, it is all about love. That’s all. That is Bell’s theology. I am forced to ask: “Is that really all the Bible teaches?”

I believe I have shown Bell is mistaken on any number of points. His emphasis on God as love is wonderful. We do need to make sure that is part of our doctrine of God. But Bell’s doctrine of God just is love. Moreover, Bell has defined that doctrine of love through human categories instead of divine categories. He ignores the themes in the Bible about God’s justice. Indeed he ignores explicit statements of God’s justice and hatred for sin and even sinners. Doctrine of God must balance these statements in the Bible, not use one to trump the other. Bell has done the latter.

Within the next two weeks, I will be publishing a study guide for the book, along with a general overall review. As always, let me know what you think.

Links

Like this page on Facebook: J.W. Wartick – “Always Have a Reason”

The book: Rob Bell, Love Wins (New York: HarperCollins, 2011).

Review of “Love Wins” by Rob Bell: Preface and Chapter 1- I discuss the preface and chapter 1 of Love Wins.

Review of “Love Wins” by Rob Bell: Chapter 2- I review chapter 2.

Review of “Love Wins” by Rob Bell: Chapter 3- I look at Chapter 3: Hell.

Review of “Love Wins” by Rob Bell: Chapter 4- I look at Chapter 4: Does God Get what God Wants?

Review of “Love Wins” by Rob Bell: Chapter 5- I analyze chapter 5.

Review of “Love Wins” by Rob Bell: Chapter 6- I review chapter 6.

Love Wins Critique- I found this to be a very informative series critiquing the book. For all the posts in the series, check out this post.

Should we condemn Rob Bell?- a pretty excellent response to Bell’s book and whether we should condemn different doctrines. Also check out his video on “Is Love Wins Biblical?

Source

Rob Bell, Love Wins (New York: HarperCollins, 2011).

SDG.

——

The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from citations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

Review of “Love Wins” by Rob Bell: Chapter 6

love-winsI have been reviewing Rob Bell’s book, Love Wins, with a particular interest in his theological views and how he argues for those views.  I have not read the book before, so each review is fresh: I am writing these having just completed the chapter the post is on. This week, I look at Chapter 6: There Are Rocks Everywhere.

Chapter 6

Outline

Rob Bell begins with a number of stories illustrating how we often come into contact with what some people take to be God or some kind of abstract “love.” He ponders this and wonders “are we alone in the world?… what does any of this have to do with Jesus?” (142). He argues that the rock which Moses struck in the desert from which the people drank was Jesus, utilizing 1 Corinthians 10:3-5 and applying it back to Exodus 17. He asks: “That rock was… Christ? Jesus? Jesus was the rock?” He notes that Paul interprets the story to show how Christ was there.

Bell then turns to the notion of that “There is an energy in the world, a spark, an electricity that everything is plugged into” (144). It has been called the Force, life, “Spirit” and other things. Bell argues that there is such a force and it is found in the “Word of God,” for “God speaks… and it happens. God says it… and it comes into being” (145).

Jesus, Bell argues, shows “what God has been up to all along” (148). God is bringing all people together under Christ.

Moreover, according to Bell, “Jesus is bigger than any one religion. He didn’t come to start a new religion, and he continually disrupted whatever conventions or systems or establishments that [sic] existed in his day” (150). Jesus came to draw all people to himself, a point Bell emphasizes through repetition and restating it in numerous ways.

Regarding this drawing all people, Bell argues for “inclusivity” which he defines as “exclusivity on the other side of inclusivity. This kind insists that Jesus is the way, but holds tightly to the assumption that the all-embracing, saving love of this particular Jesus the Christ will of course include all sorts of unexpected people from across the cultural spectrum” (155). Jesus, Bell argues, leaves the door “wide open” which provides the possibility for any to enter.

Bell notes that we must wonder what people mean when they say “Jesus.” Do they mean “tribal membership, the source of “imperial impulse,” or some kind of “political, economic, or military system through which they sanctify their greed and lust for power?” (156).

No one has “cornered the market” on Jesus. We cannot contain him. Bell reemphasizes the importance of not pre-judging people’s eternal destinies. He writes, “it is our responsibility to be extremely careful about making negative, decisive, lasting judgments about people’s eternal destinies. As Jesus says, he ‘did not come to judge the world, but to save the world’ (John 12[:47])” (160).

Analysis

There is much to commend in this chapter, just like I pointed out in my review of Chapter 5. First, Bell rightly warns against trying to bottle Jesus in one form or another. It is not an individual denomination which owns Jesus. Second, Bell again makes the very important point that it is not our place to say whether one person’s eternal destiny is heaven or hell. We do not know how God may be working on that person. Third, he is correct in emphasizing Jesus as the “only way.” Finally, he is right to note how some people attempt to make Jesus into a slogan or a cry for some specific cause they are doing. Doing so undermines the message of Jesus and should be avoided.

Yet there are also many areas to critique in this chapter. First, there is the notion of questionable exegesis. For example, Bell cites John 12:47 to show that Jesus is not about judgment, but fails to cite the very next verse which states: “There is a judge for the one who rejects me and does not accept my words; the very words I have spoken will condemn them at the last day” (NIV). Bell spends the whole section centered around 12:47 and how God isn’t about judgment, but rather “exclusivity on the other side of inclusivity.” One wonders, then, why he fails to read the next verse of the passage he cites in context. I find this a gross example of proof-texting wherein a part of a verse is ripped from its context and used to rant against the very thing the next verse affirms. The importance of looking at the entire context of individual verses is paramount, and Bell continues to fail to be attentive to the evidence against his positions.

Again, Bell emphasizes the notion of an “open door.” We discussed this at some length in my look at Chapter 4. Once more, the “open gates” in context show a city without any enemy. That is, the enemies of that city have been utterly defeated. Yet Bell takes it to mean wide openness in the sense that people can always come [and go?–does Bell imply that we can leave heaven if we so choose? Is our salvation not secure?]. He emphasizes this over and over again, but then he has yet failed to cite Matthew 7:14, in which Jesus describes the gate and the road to eternal life “narrow” and says “only a few find it.” Why this emphasizing on some texts while ignoring others? Certainly, we need to balance these Biblical teachings, but we cannot ignore one at the expense of the other. Bell seems to do the latter time and again. He cites a text out of its context and ignores anything in the text which goes against his own interpretation. He doesn’t interact with the other parts of the text, he just pretends they don’t exist. I find this highly problematic.

I am also wary of Bell’s statement that Jesus is beyond any one religion. Clearly, Jesus saw himself as a Jew. Making this argument would take me well beyond the scope of this post, but suffice to say that Jesus’ language and imagery regarding himself as the temple places him exactly within the Jewish religion. Yes, he interpreted things in startling ways which led Jews to call him blasphemous, but other Jews saw his resurrection and what did they do? They began to proclaim Christ glorified as the Son of God. Did Jesus really come to overthrow religion, as Bell seemingly implies? Again, such an assertion abuses the Bible. I say this in strong words because it needs to be said. What does Jesus actually say about the religious system in place at the time? Yes he criticized it, but when it came down to the core of the Hebrew faith, the Torah, Jesus said:

“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished.” Matthew 5:17-18 NIV

That doesn’t sound to me like Jesus overthrew that religion. Instead, he argues he came to be the reality of that faith. Jesus came to fulfill the expectations of the Law. Again, Bell’s selective reading of the texts undermines the core of Christian teaching.

Conclusion

There are many positive things to say about this chapter of Love Wins. Bell has rightly emphasized a number of themes to which Christians should be attentive. We need to avoid making Jesus too small and turning him into our personal example or slogan. Yet Bell has also continued to perpetuate a number of errors, and his exegesis is very selective. The way he reads texts seems to have theological blinders on. When he finds the verse he wants, he uses it to trump anything else. We have seen how problematic this is in a number of examples. Next week, we will explore Chapter 7.

Links

Like this page on Facebook: J.W. Wartick – “Always Have a Reason”

The book: Rob Bell, Love Wins (New York: HarperCollins, 2011).

Review of “Love Wins” by Rob Bell: Preface and Chapter 1- I discuss the preface and chapter 1 of Love Wins.

Review of “Love Wins” by Rob Bell: Chapter 2- I review chapter 2.

Review of “Love Wins” by Rob Bell: Chapter 3- I look at Chapter 3: Hell.

Review of “Love Wins” by Rob Bell: Chapter 4- I look at Chapter 4: Does God Get what God Wants?

Review of “Love Wins” by Rob Bell: Chapter 5- I analyze chapter 5.

Love Wins Critique- I found this to be a very informative series critiquing the book. For all the posts in the series, check out this post.

Should we condemn Rob Bell?- a pretty excellent response to Bell’s book and whether we should condemn different doctrines. Also check out his video on “Is Love Wins Biblical?

Source

Rob Bell, Love Wins (New York: HarperCollins, 2011).

SDG.

——

The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from citations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

Review of “Love Wins” by Rob Bell: Chapter 5

love-winsI have been reviewing Rob Bell’s book, Love Wins, with a particular interest in his theological views and how he argues for those views.  I have not read the book before, so each review is fresh: I am writing these having just completed the chapter the post is on. This week, I look at Chapter 5: Dying to Live.

Chapter 5

Outline

Rob Bell begins by noting the ubiquity of the cross. Crosses are everywhere. But we can “inoculate. Familiarity leads to unfamiliarity… ‘Jesus died on the cross for your sins.’ Yes, we know. We’ve seen that… countless times. Anything else?” (122). Of course, there is so much more to the cross! Bell argues that we have missed much of the message of the cross by our cultural apathy towards it.

Bell then turns to the notion of sacrifice. He outlines very generally what cultures believed about sacrifice and then focuses in upon Christ. “Jesus was the ultimate sacrifice that thoroughly pleased the only God who ever mattered” (125).

He then uses this as a backdrop for discussing the work of Christ. Jesus’ death on the cross is ultimately the fulfillment of a number of expectations including reconciliation, winning the battle, etc. (127). Jesus is “where life is” (129). The cross and resurrection were understood as “an event as wide as the world, extending to all creation” (132).

Bell asserts that we need to think of the Gospel as a big deal:

A gospel that leaves out its cosmic scope will always feel small. A gospel that has as its chief message avoiding hell or not sinning will never be the full story. A gospel that repeatedly, narrowly affirms and bolsters the “in-ness” of one group at the expense of the “out-ness” of another group will not be true to the story that includes “all things and people in heaven and on earth.” (135)

Jesus is the “source, the strength, the example, and the assurance” to us that death and resurrection lead us into life (136).

Analysis

There is much to commend in this chapter. Bell has masterfully highlighted the problems with trivializing the cross. It is easy in our culture to see a cross and react with complete indifference. Why is that? Bell rightly yearns to snap free from this apathy and see the cross for what it is: a symbol of hope, the truth of death defeated.

Furthermore, Bell is spot-on when he critiques the notion that the gospel is about living the right way or being “in” or “out.” The Gospel is more than any of the things he mentioned. A generous reading of bell in the passage block-quoted above shows his commitment to seeing the Gospel as applicable to all people: everyone is called to Christ.

Thus, I am left with only two very minor critiques. First, I am a bit concerned with the over-generalization on sacrifice, which I think has a deeper Biblical meaning than Bell outlined and also has a much broader spectrum of belief than he touched upon.

Second, Bell at one point mentioned the number seven and related it back to Genesis. He describes the creation account as: “In the poem that begins the Bible…” (133). Again, this is a very minor critique and well beyond the scope of his book, but I’d be very curious to see what Bell means by “Poem” here to refer to Genesis 1-2 (and beyond?). The Hebrew does not seem to reflect a poetic style, though it has a pattern with Days 1-3 relating to days 4-6. So yes, minor issue, but I found it interesting that he included this sentence with no real context when discussing numbers through the Bible.

Conclusion

Bell has done very well to highlight the importance of the Gospel message. He is rightly saddened by the fact that people have become disillusioned with the cross and its truth. Next week, we’ll look at Chapter 6.

Links

The book: Rob Bell, Love Wins (New York: HarperCollins, 2011).

Review of “Love Wins” by Rob Bell: Preface and Chapter 1- I discuss the preface and chapter 1 of Love Wins.

Review of “Love Wins” by Rob Bell: Chapter 2- I review chapter 2.

Review of “Love Wins” by Rob Bell: Chapter 3- I look at Chapter 3: Hell.

Review of “Love Wins” by Rob Bell: Chapter 4- I look at Chapter 4: Does God Get what God Wants?

Love Wins Critique- I found this to be a very informative series critiquing the book. For all the posts in the series, check out this post.

Should we condemn Rob Bell?- a pretty excellent response to Bell’s book and whether we should condemn different doctrines. Also check out his video on “Is Love Wins Biblical?

Source

Rob Bell, Love Wins (New York: HarperCollins, 2011).

SDG.

——

The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from citations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

Review of “Love Wins” by Rob Bell: Chapter 4

love-winsI have been reviewing Rob Bell’s book, Love Wins, with a particular interest in his theological views and how he argues for those views.  I have not read the book before, so each review is fresh: I am writing these having just completed the chapter the post is on. This week, I look at Chapter 4: “Does God Get what God Wants?”

Chapter 4

Outline

Bell starts the chapter by surveying a number of statements from church’s web sites regarding hell. These statements range from the unsaved being separated from God forever to eternal conscious torment. He seems to be pointing readers towards a kind of discontinuity between these statements and the statements about God’s power and love:

I point out these parallel claims: that God is mighty, powerful, and “in control” and that millions of people will spend forever apart from this God… even though it’s written in the Bible that “God wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth” [1 Timothy 2:4- seems to be NIV]

…How great is God? Great enough to achieve what God sets out to do… but in this, the fate of billions of people, not totally great. Sort of great. A little great. (97-98)

Bell asks a poignant question: “Will all people be saved, or will God not get what God wants?” (98). He then goes through a number of verses focused around God’s love. He notes the parables in Luke 15 about people pursuing their desires and concludes, “The God that Jesus teaches us about doesn’t give up until everything that was lost is found. This God simply doesn’t give up. Ever” (101).

Bell turns to the reason that many people think God may fail in his desire to save everyone. From the perspective of those who advocate the views he outlined at the beginning of the chapter, “love, by its very nature, is freedom… God has to respect our freedom to choose to the very end” (103). However, Bell argues that “We aren’t fixed, static beings–we change and morph as life unfolds.”

Tied into this notion of the unfixed nature of our lives, he seems to hold that it is possible that people can choose to come to Christ after they die. He asks, “why limit that chance [the chance to come to Christ] to a one-off immediately after death? And so they expand the possibilities… [The chance is given for] as long as it takes, in other words” (106-107).

Bell then traces this notion through Clement of Alexandria, Origen, Gregory of Nyssa, and Eusebius. He goes so far as to cite Augustine saying “‘very many’ believed in the ultimate reconciliation of all people to God” (108).

He argues that “central to their trust that all would be reconciled was the belief that untold masses of people suffering forever doesn’t bring God glory” (ibid). Moreover, he argues that “At the center of the Christian tradition since the first church have been a number who insist that history is not tragic, hell is not forever…” (109). He notes that “serious, orthodox followers of Jesus have answered these questions [about hell and salvation] in a number of ways” (ibid).

Next, Bell turns to an analysis of the book of Revelation. he notes that the book ends with notion that the gates of the city “never shut” and infers that “gates are for keeping people in and keeping people out. If the gates are never shut, then people are free to come and go” (114-115).

Bell ends the chapter with what seems like a poetic inference. He goes into prose and concludes that: “[Love] always leaves room for the other to decide. God says yes, we can have what we want, because love wins” (119).

Analysis

There is much to discuss in this chapter. First, it is important to note that Bell has done much to cause reflection upon the subject of hell. It is something that we as a group of believers need to be thinking on. Too often, the subject is cast aside. Bell has done admirably in bringing the topic to the table.

Moreover, Bell is correct to note that confusion can be caused by simply throwing statements on hell “out there” in a void. It is important to contextualize statements about heaven and hell and make clear what is meant by the phrases that are used in the discussion.

Bell seemingly just assumes that there will be more chances to “accept Christ” in the afterlife. His discussion of the possibility of people changing after death implies this perspective, but he has done nothing to establish it. Perhaps he will do so in a later chapter, at which point we will evaluate his argument for that perspective. Indeed, thus far his argument seems to be a kind of straw man: he asserts the notion that people are changeable beings even in the afterlife as a counterpoint to those who hold that people will continue to choose evil in the hereafter as though this choice is the reason people hold to the eternal hell view. Yet this is not the case; many who hold this position do argue that people will continue to choose evil, but the reason that people are condemned to hell is because they rejected the God, whose existence and power are obvious (Romans 1) in their lives. No one has an excuse (Romans 1:20).

Bell’s utilization of church fathers is problematic. I can’t help but think there is a subtle twisting of some of their views to fit his position. In particular, he cites Augustine as “acknowledging” that “very many” believed in “ultimate reconciliation of all people” (107-108). Yet Augustine himself categorically denies and denounces this position. In fact, almost the entirety of Book XXI of The City of God argues explicitly against this tradition, including Augustine’s arguments against Origen, whom Bell cites in the same breath as Augustine. I hope Bell was merely being sloppy here, but the impression I get is really that the uninformed reader would see this and assume that Augustine is at least in the same realm as Origen, which is very, very mistaken.

I hate to beat a dead horse here, but let’s look what Augustine says (The City of God Book XXI, Chapter 17):

Origen was even more indulgent; for he believed that even the devil himself and his angels, after suffering those more severe and prolonged pains which their sins deserved, should be delivered from their torments, and associated with the holy angels. But the Church, not without reason, condemned him for this and other errors…

So we see that Augustine, far from being anywhere near Origen’s view on the topic, endorses the Church’s condemnation of Origen as a heretic in this regard. Yet where does Bell reveal this? Where does Bell interact with historical theology? No, he seems perfectly content to throw out a bunch of names out of context together and let readers make their own assumptions. I realize this is a popular level book, but I can’t help but be very worried about Bell’s style here. It is very misleading. Maybe he does note later in the book that Origen was condemned as a heretic for this view, and that Augustine endorses this condemnation, but considering Bell seemingly endorses Origen’s view, I very much doubt that he will reveal that it was condemned by the Church.

More damning is the fact that Bell is able to, seemingly seriously, say that “At the center of the Christian tradition since the first church have been a number who insist that history is not tragic, hell is not forever…” (109). I admit that I agree in one sense–there have been many universalists throughout church history. However, that view was condemned as heretical. Augustine upholds that condemnation in The City of God. One can hardly believe that Bell is capable of saying that this view is “At the center of the Christian tradition.” No, the church at large does not condemn this view as specifically heretical; but Bell is placing the view in a context in which it was condemned as heresy and then saying that it was the “center” of that tradition. That is  a stretch, to say the least.

Here again we see one of Bell’s biggest methodological problems: he simply introduces a notion, argues that there are diverse views, and then assumes that they are all equally legitimate. but this is simply mistaken. Multiplication of viewpoints does not mean they are equally valid. Furthermore, Bell’s lack of interaction with historical theology on this point, when he himself is the one who introduces several of the church fathers, is questionable at best. Moreover, he says these teachers were “orthodox” when in fact Origen specifically was far from orthodox in his beliefs, as even a cursory study of Origen would reveal. Origen lived at a time before certain views were made explicit, yes, so he in a sense gets a pass in that his theology was intentionally exploratory. However, many of his views were later condemned, including the one Bell endorses. For Bell to turn around and use Origen to support his diversity of orthodox views on the topic is seemingly dishonest.

Moreover, one must wonder about Bell’s analysis of the meaning of the gates of heaven as open. Instead of looking at this passage in context, in which the notion of a city with open gates would imply a city unthreatened by outsiders because all enemies were defeated (which fits much better into the book of Revelation), Bell states explicitly “If gates are never shut, then people are free to come and go” (115). Think on this for a moment. What Bell has stated here undermines the notion of security of salvation. Now I do not hold to the doctrine of eternal security; however, I do affirm that once people are saved and in the New Creation in heaven, they are not about to change their status. They aren’t “going” anywhere. Bell’s view here undermines the assurance of salvation. His view of “love winning” also serves to illustrate this point, for if there is “always room for the other to decide” we must ask: is there always room to choose hell? Can “love win” by letting us walk away from the eternal salvation we are promised in Christ?*

Conclusion

I admit I have been highly critical in this chapter. I have tried throughout so far to find positive things to say about Bell’s work, and as I noted, Bell does well in this chapter to center discussion around the hard questions.

However, there are numerous problems with Bell’s work in this chapter. His use of the church fathers is highly problematic. I won’t rehearse the arguments again (see above). Oddly, his view also seems to imply that we have absolute autonomy and the ability to simply walk out of heaven whenever we wish. That in itself is another great difficulty, for it undermines the assurance of salvation we have in Christ: “I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand” (John 10:28).

Bell continues to use the method of argumentation in which he simply notes diverse views on a topic and concludes that all are somehow equally at the table or equally valid.

Next week, we will look at Chapter 5: Dying to Live.

*My thanks to my wife for this point.

Links

The book: Rob Bell, Love Wins (New York: HarperCollins, 2011).

Review of “Love Wins” by Rob Bell: Preface and Chapter 1- I discuss the preface and chapter 1 of Love Wins.

Review of “Love Wins” by Rob Bell: Chapter 2- I review chapter 2.

Review of “Love Wins” by Rob Bell: Chapter 3- I look at Chapter 3: Hell.

Review of “Love Wins” by Rob Bell: Chapter 5- I analyze chapter 5.

Love Wins Critique- I found this to be a very informative series critiquing the book. For all the posts in the series, check out this post.

Should we condemn Rob Bell?- a pretty excellent response to Bell’s book and whether we should condemn different doctrines. Also check out his video on “Is Love Wins Biblical?

Source

Rob Bell, Love Wins (New York: HarperCollins, 2011).

SDG.

——

The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from citations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

Review of “Love Wins” by Rob Bell: Chapter 3

love-winsI have been reviewing Rob Bell’s book, Love Wins, with a particular eye towards evaluating not only his arguments, when they are made, but also the way he makes those arguments. I have not read the book before, so each review is fresh: I am writing these having just completed the chapter the post is on. Here, I’ll go over Chapter 3: Hell. First, I will outline the chapter, then I will analyze its content. Be sure to check the end of the posts to links for the other posts in this series, as well as a few other links.

Chapter 3: Hell

Outline

Rob Bell begins his discussion of hell by framing it around this issue: “God is loving and kind and full of grace and mercy–unless there isn’t confession and repentance and salvation in this lifetime, at which point God punishes forever. That’s the Christian story, right? Is that what Jesus taught?” (64). In order to answer this question, Bell says, he will show “every single verse in the Bible in which we find the actual word, ‘hell'” (ibid).

In order to do this, he first turns to the Hebrew Scriptures. As he explores these passages, Bell concludes that God has power over life and death and that God is present and involved in life after death. However, the words “life” and “death” have different meaning for the Hebrew Scriptures than we give them, argues Bell. Instead of some kind of fixed point of either being alive or dead, Bell notes that they view life and death as “two ways of being alive” (66). To conclude with his discussion of the Old Testament, Bell sums up: “simply put, the Hebrew commentary on what happens after a person dies isn’t very articulated or defined” (67).

Then, Bell turns to the New Testament. Here, he notes that the word for hell was often “Gehenna,” which in Jesus’ day was a fiery garbage dump (68). Bell skims through a few passages here, simply quoting individual sentences without context. Then he evaluates a few verses related to “Hades,” which Bell argues is “essentially the Greek version of… “Sheol” (69).

Then, Bell turns to a number of stories about using strong language to describe human suffering, with examples from Rwanda, as well as rape, divorce, adultery, etc. Next, he turns to an analysis of Luke 16:19-31, the story of Lazarus and the rich man. He makes much of the notion that the rich man is still alive in the fire, and that he still expects Lazarus to serve him (74ff). His analysis of this story ends with his conclusion: “He [the rich man] fails to love his neighbor… It’s a story about individual sin, but that individual sin leads directly to very real suffering at a societal level. If enough rich men treated enough Lazaruses outside their gates like that, that could conceivably lead to a widening gap between the rich and the poor” (78).

Because of this analysis, Bell argues that “What we see in Jesus’ story… is an affirmation that there are all kinds of hells… There are individual hells… There is hell now, and there is hell later, and Jesus teaches us to take both seriously” (79).

After an aside on Jesus’ eschatological warnings as very real and immediate, Bell turns to what seems to be the core of his argument for the chapter. Here I’ll quote at length:

Many people… have only ever heard hell talked about as the place reserved for those who… don’t believe… People who don’t believe the right things…

[I]n reading all of the passages in which Jesus uses the word ‘hell,’ what is so striking is that people believing the right or wrong things isn’t his point… he’s talking about… how [listeners] conduct themselves, how they interact with their neighbors. (82)

Analyzing texts which don’t explicitly discuss hell, but which are taken as teaching on the topic, is the next task Bell turns to. He notes Jesus’ discussion of Sodom and Gomorrah, when Jesus said “It will be more bearable for Sodom and Gomorrah on the day of judgment than for you.” Bell states, “More bearable for Sodom and Gomorrah? …There’s still hope? And if there’s still hope for Sodom and Gomorrah, what does that say about all of the other Sodoms and Gomorrahs?” (84-85). He then explores the theme of restoration throughout the Bible.

Then, he explores Matthew 25’s passage about the sheep and the goats. He makes much of the Greek word, kolazo. He argues that it could have the meaning of “pruning” rather than punishment, and so “the phrase can mean ‘a period of pruning'” in contrast to “eternal punishment” (91). He puts the possibility forward that this could be “an intense experience of correction” (ibid).

In the next chapter, Bell says he will turn to what happens after we die.

Analysis

Bell shows a great concern for the need to avoid views which ignore hell or desire to cut it out of the picture. There is a tendency towards avoiding a “literal” hell or even pretending the teaching isn’t part of Christianity at all. Bell rightly notes that this cannot be reconciled with Scriptural teaching, and that we need to think on the topic.

Bell’s discussion of “life” and “death” as having implications beyond merely physical death is correct. However, the place he draws it from (the Deuteronomic Code) is a bit strange. The blessings and curses, as well as the choice between “life” and “death” are based on the corporate promises given to the nation of Israel. That’s not to say it doesn’t have individual application, but the way Bell discussed it may cause some confusion.

Properly speaking, Bell’s statement that “there is hell now” seems simply mistaken. The reason is because he makes this as an application to our present lives being hell. No, he doesn’t make this as an analogy, as in our lives are hellish or like hell on earth. Instead, his point seems to be that people, when they are making life-destroying decisions, are currently experiencing the realities of hell. It seems that this may be an unfortunate tie-in to the apparent works righteousness explored in chapter 2.

However, Bell does seem correct at least in part when he asserts that Jesus’ teachings had much to say about the ills of society and how we must work to avoid bringing in even greater suffering through class warfare, independent choices, and the like.

Yet even in this, Bell’s primary points seems to be a kind of works-based righteousness yet again. In contrast to the notion that salvation is based around beliefs [faith?], Bell bases Jesus’ teaching in this area upon the love of neighbor. While this is clearly part of Jesus’ teachings, Bell’s position on this seems to be wrong again. Christ did explicitly teach that right belief [faith] is a criterion for salvation: “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved. But whoever does not believe will be condemned” (Mark 16:16). No, this is not in the context of the verses on “hell,” which was the focus of Bell’s quote above, but the way Bell states his argument makes it sound as though what he has stated is the teaching of Christ on the topic.

This leads us to another overarching problem with Bell’s argument so far: namely, his tendency to atomize the texts he disagrees with in order to filter their teachings through specific texts he uses as control verses. He seems to create a canon-within-the-canon, utilizing certain proof texts as the filter through which he views all other texts. Even worse is the fact that he simply ignores texts which explicitly teach the opposite of what he states.

Bell demonstrates a truly confusing view of Jesus’ statement about Sodom and Gomorrah. Note that Jesus says that it will be better for Sodom and Gomorrah; Jesus does not say there is still hope. The text is pretty clear: Sodom and Gomorrah have already been condemned, but those who are rejecting Christ now will be under even worse judgment. I have very serious difficulties seeing any possible way that Bell could realistically conclude that this passage is teaching there is still hope for Sodom and Gomorrah. Instead, Jesus is using those cities as the paradigm example of evil. They are already condemned, and if those who are listening to Jesus at that point do not repent, their condemnation will be worse.

Finally, Bell’s interpretation of kolazo is also problematic. The reason is because he uses a translation from classical Greek as opposed to the Greek used in the New Testament (Koine Greek). He fails to acknowledge that although words can have meanings at one time, that doesn’t seal their possible range of meanings for all time. We can see this in some modern words, like “brave,” which used to mean “cowardly.” The point is that simply having a meaning at some point in time doesn’t make that meaning of a word useful at all other points in time. Furthermore, the meaning for kolazo as “punishment” is attested throughout early Christian literature as well as late classical literature. I tried to find the meaning Bell suggests for the word in a few New Testament lexicons I have sitting on the shelf and failed to find it. They unanimously give “punish” as the only or the primary meaning, and nothing related to pruning or horticulture, as Bell suggests, is even hinted at. I conclude that Bell is mistaken.

Conclusion

Bell gives some important points related to the need to reflect on Jesus’ teaching as well as a right emphasis on the reality of hell. Unfortunately, there are some pretty major exegetical errors found in chapter 3. My study of kolazo suggests that Bell is simply wrong on this topic. His interpretation of the passage related to “Sodom and Gomorrah” is odd, to say the least. Finally, although he doesn’t explicitly state his position, Bell seems to continue to imply that it is our actions, rather than faith, which determine the reality of heaven or hell for our life on earth and in the hereafter.

Next week, we’ll evaluate chapter 4, which is entitled “Does God get what God wants?”

Links

Review of “Love Wins” by Rob Bell: Preface and Chapter 1- I discuss the preface and chapter 1 of Love Wins.

Review of “Love Wins” by Rob Bell: Chapter 2- I review chapter 2.

Review of “Love Wins” by Rob Bell: Chapter 4- I look at Chapter 4: Does God Get what God Wants?

Review of “Love Wins” by Rob Bell: Chapter 5- I analyze chapter 5.

Love Wins Critique- I found this to be a very informative series critiquing the book. For all the posts in the series, check out this post.

Should we condemn Rob Bell?- a pretty excellent response to Bell’s book and whether we should condemn different doctrines. Also check out his video on “Is Love Wins Biblical?

Source

Rob Bell, Love Wins (New York: HarperCollins, 2011).

SDG.

——

The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from citations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

Review of “Love Wins” by Rob Bell: Chapter 2

love-winsI have been going through Love Wins chapter by chapter and will continue my series here with Chapter 2. As I noted in the first post:

There are many other looks at Love Wins available online, both critical and positive. What do I hope to offer here? I will analyze Rob Bell’s arguments in three primary ways: in light of historical theology, in light of methodology, and in light of analytic theology. I believe this will offer a thorough look at several of Bell’s claims. I hope to offer as even-handed an analysis as possible.

Rob Bell’s argument will be examined for historical accuracy and philosophical rigor. Furthermore, I will examine how Rob Bell makes his argument, because method is often one of the primary ways that people err in their theology. I begin with an analysis of the Preface and Chapter 1. I am hoping to release one post a week as I analyze this text. I will post each section with an outline of the arguments followed by my analysis.

For other posts in the series, view the links below.

Chapter 2

Outline

Rob Bell begins with imagery of heaven, followed by a series of questions about the nature of heaven. He notes the cultural picture of heaven: “harps and clouds and streets of gold, everybody dressed in white robes” (24). Heaven leads us to ask questions like “What will we do all day? …What will it be like? Will there be dogs there?” (24-25). Bell uses these questions as a bridge into another question: “who will be there and who won’t be there” (25). He discusses a young woman who contemplates heaven and realizes her family won’t be there, based on a pastor’s answers to this question:

When she asks the pastor afterward if its true that, because they aren’t Christians none of her family will be there, she’s told that she’ll be having so much fun worshipping [sic] God that it won’t matter to her. Which is quite troubling and confusing, because the people she loves most in the world do matter to her. (25)

This leads Bell to ask the question:

Are there other ways to think about heaven, other than as that perfect floating shiny city hanging suspended there in the air above that ominous red and black realm with all that smoke and steam and hissing fire?

I say yes, there are. (26)

Bell then turns to an analysis of Jesus’ interaction with the rich man in Matthew 19:16-30. He notes that Jesus’ answer to the rich man’s question about “eternal life” restates his question as “Enter life” (28ff). He argues that “Heaven, for Jesus, was deeply connected with… ‘this age’ and ‘the age to come'” (30).

The Greek word aion is analyzed, and Bell concludes that it has multipple meanings such as “age” with a beginning and end, or “forever” (but not in the way we understand forever, he adds).  He then surveys a number of passages in the Bible which discuss about the new creation/age, concluding by pointing out “Life in the age to come. If this sounds like heaven on earth, that’s because it is. Literally” (33).

Bell insists upon focusing on life now as opposed to in the future. “Jesus takes the man’s question [in Matthew 19:16] about his life then [in eternal life] and makes it about the kind of life he’s living now. Jesus drags the future into the present…” (41). This raises the question for Bell: “What does Jesus mean when he uses that word ‘heaven’?” (42).

Bell answers the question by noting a number of meanings for the word “heaven” in Jesus’ day. He concludes that heaven is “The day when God’s will would be done on earth as it is now in heaven. The day when earth and heaven will be the same place…. Life in the age to come” (43). This entails that “Taking heaven seriously… means suffering seriously, now. Not because we’ve bought into the myth that we can create a utopia… but because we have great confidence that God has not abandoned human history and is actively at work within it, taking it somewhere” (45). He notes that our beliefs about the future shape our actions now (46).

The analysis of heaven continues, as Bell notes that “the confusion [about heaven]… comes from the idea that in the blink of an eye we will automatically become totally different people who ‘know’ everything. But our heart, our character, our desires, our longings–those things take time” (51). He returns to aion and argues that “heaven is not forever in the way that we think of forever, as a uniform measurement of time…” instead, translators use the word “‘eternal.’ By this they don’t mean the literal passing of time; they mean transcending time, belonging to another realm altogether” (58).

Based on his understanding of heaven as heaven on earth, Bell suggests that “Eternal life doesn’t start when we die; it starts now. It’s not about a life that begins at death; it’s about experiencing the kind of life now that can endure and survive even death” (59).

Analysis

Bell’s critique of cultural notions of heaven should be well-received. The way that pop-culture has portrayed heaven is extremely inaccurate and perhaps even dangerously wrong. Harps and wings and the like are pop imagery, not necessarily Biblical imagery. We must look to the Bible to determine what it is that heaven will be like. It seems that Bell is correct to note that heaven will be a New Creation and that the notion of heaven and earth coming together is a theme in the Bible.

Furthermore, he seems spot on when he notes that there are confused notions of heaven which constitute humans suddenly, miraculously, entirely changing into all-knowing spirit creatures. I have yet to find anywhere in the Bible that it says anything at all about humans suddenly knowing everything in heaven, yet it is a claim that persists in everyday conversation.

Bell does once more commit a minor methodological error when he simply notes that there are other views on heaven as though the simple existence of other views about heaven somehow validates these other views. The context in which he says this was in his argument against the pop view of heaven, and so it seems he is correct in favoring a view of heaven that is closer to the Biblical account, but it remains an issue that Bell argues in this fashion. The mere existence of differing views on a topic does nothing to validate any or all of said views.

Furthermore, it seems that some of Bell’s conclusion go beyond the Biblical text. For example, his suggestion that eternal life is “about experiencing the kind of life now that can endure and survive even death” (59). It seems that at this stage Bell drifts dangerously close to a kind of works-righteousness. After all, who exactly is it that needs to live this kind of life? You, dear reader. According to Bell, it is each person’s task to live a kind of life which is capable of surviving death.

In fact, Bell illustrates this through his example from Matthew 19. He notes that the rich man does not live eternal life now because “The man can’t do it, and so he walks away” (41). It is hard to think about a view of eternal life more contrary to what Jesus did and what is taught in the Bible about salvation. Eternal life does not come because we are capable of living a life that somehow transcends our current reality. That is impossible for us to do.

It is truly unfortunate that Bell’s interpretation of the text he makes key for his point (Matthew 19) illustrates another methodological error. Namely, ignoring context. The entire section on the need for living eternal life now is based upon Bell’s reading of Jesus as reinterpreting the rich man’s question as asking about “enter[ing] life” (27ff). He takes two words from the middle of a phrase Jesus says and then bases what seems like his entire discussion of the doctrine of heaven around it. Yes, he cites many prophetic passages about the new creation, but instead of taking these to provide a broader commentary on the notion of eternal life, he reads them all through the filter of those two words: “enter life.” He therefore commits a serious methodological blunder, and it seems that it is this blunder which leads him to a doctrine of heaven which becomes tied into what it is that we do to get to heaven.

Conclusion

Overall, it seems that Bell has done a great job of providing some critiques of the “pop culture” view of heaven which is decidedly unbiblical. He even gets many things right about heaven, including the notion that it will be a new creation and that it will be tied to the creation we experience now.

In light of these positives, it is sad to say that Bell’s discussion of the nature of salvation seemingly turns upon an idiosyncratic reading of two words ripped from their context and used to reinterpret every other passage he references. It is even worse to note that Bell’s doctrine of heaven wavers right on the edge of works righteousness, if it does not step over into that camp altogether. The fact is that Bell discusses eternal life as something which we have to do. It is something which we can do if we just live a life that is capable of transcendence.

It is hard to imagine a doctrinal stance more removed from the notion of salvation by grace through faith. Sola gratia.

Next week, we will look at Chapter 3: Hell.

Links

Review of “Love Wins” by Rob Bell: Preface and Chapter 1- I discuss the preface and chapter 1 of Love Wins.

Review of “Love Wins” by Rob Bell: Chapter 3- I look at Chapter 3: Hell.

Review of “Love Wins” by Rob Bell: Chapter 4- I look at Chapter 4: Does God Get what God Wants?

Review of “Love Wins” by Rob Bell: Chapter 5- I analyze chapter 5.

Love Wins Critique- I found this to be a very informative series critiquing the book. For all the posts in the series, check out this post.

Should we condemn Rob Bell?- a pretty excellent response to Bell’s book and whether we should condemn different doctrines. Also check out his video on “Is Love Wins Biblical?

Source

Rob Bell, Love Wins (New York: HarperCollins, 2011).

SDG.

——

The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from citations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

Review of “Love Wins” by Rob Bell: Preface and Chapter 1

love-winsI know I am late to this party. It has taken me a while to get around to reading Love Wins by Rob Bell. There are many other looks at Love Wins available online, both critical and positive. What do I hope to offer here? I will analyze Rob Bell’s arguments in three primary ways: in light of historical theology, in light of methodology, and in light of analytic theology. I believe this will offer a thorough look at several of Bell’s claims. I hope to offer as even-handed an analysis as possible.

Rob Bell’s argument will be examined for historical accuracy and philosophical rigor. Furthermore, I will examine how Rob Bell makes his argument, because method is often one of the primary ways that people err in their theology. I begin with an analysis of the Preface and Chapter 1. I am hoping to release one post a week as I analyze this text. I will post each section with an outline of the arguments followed by my analysis.

Before I begin, one more note on this analysis: I have not read the book yet. My reason for  this is I want to have it fresh in my mind as I do the analysis instead of coming to the text with a preconceived notion of what I remember it saying. Thus, these analyses will be based on a reading of the book chapter by chapter. I will end with an overall  review once I wrap up the book. See the end of the post for links to other chapters.

Preface- “Millions of Us”

Outline

Rob Bell begins his book with a fairly simple statement “I believe that Jesus’s story is first and foremost about the love of God for every single one of us” (vii). Bell asserts that “Jesus’s story has been hijacked by a number of other stories… it’s time to reclaim it” (vii-viii). He points out that some teachings about Jesus have caused people to stumble, and that others do not discuss the issue of hell for various reasons.

Analysis

Bell is to be commended for taking on an issue that many are afraid to discuss. It is true that some people and even churches will not delve into the topic of hell. It is important to talk about this doctrine, as it has been part of Christian teaching from the beginning.

Unfortunately, it seems that Bell has already made a methodological mistake. He implored readers to “please understand that nothing in this book hasn’t been taught, suggested, or celebrated by many before me. I haven’t come up with a radical new teaching… That’s the beauty of the historic, orthodox Christian faith. It’s a deep, wide, diverse stream that’s been flowing for thousands of years…” (x-xi).

There are actually two errors here. First, simple diversity on a topic doesn’t somehow automatically validate all positions. Just because there was diversity about the doctrine of the Trinity doesn’t mean that the Arian position is somehow a valid theological perspective. Thus, it seems that Bell’s point here is moot. Diversity does not mean validity.

Second, historic, orthodox faith is not a diverse array of beliefs. The historic Christian faith has been define in universally acknowledged creeds which state what the universal church teaches on various essentials for the Christian faith. In fairness to Bell, he may be using “orthodox” to mean a denominational perspective, wherein the wider spectrum of beliefs is what may be considered “orthodox.”

Chapter 1: “What About the Flat Tire?” 

Outline

Bell starts with a story about a quote from Gandhi, which prompted someone to write “Reality check: He’s in hell.” Bell reacts to this with a series of questions: “Really? Gandhi’s in hell? He is? We have confirmation of this? Somebody knows this? Without a doubt?” (1-2). Elsewhere, he  focuses in on the individual again, asking whether it is true that the Christian message for someone who claimed to be an atheist during life has “no hope” (3).

He goes on to ask: “Has God created millions of people over tens of thousands of years who are going to spend eternity in anguish? Can God do this, or even allow this, and still claim to be a loving God? Does God punish people for thousands of years with infinite, eternal torment for things they did in their few finite years of life?” (2).

After focusing on the case of an individual’s salvation and whether there is an age of accountability, Bell focuses on the nature of salvation. “[W]hat exactly would have to happen… to change [an individual’s] future? Would he have had to perform a specific rite or ritual? Or take a class? Or be baptized? Or join a church? Or have something happen somewhere in his heart?” (5). Bell notes that some hold that one has to say a sinner’s prayer or pray in a specific way in order to get saved.

Bell continues to contemplate what it is to be saved, and points out that some believe that it is about a “personal relationship” but that that phrase is never used in the Bible. He asks why, if it is so central to salvation, would such a phrase not be in the Bible? (10-11). Bell asks whether “going to heaven is dependent on something I do” and then asks “How is any of that grace?” (11).

Then, Bell looks at various Biblical narratives, including the faith of the centurion, the discourse with Nicodemus, Paul’s conversion, and more, providing a constant stream of questions and noting apparently different things said about faith and salvation (12-18).

Analysis

Bell is right to focus on the notion of one’s personal fate. It is indeed impossible to declare with certainty that a specific person is in hell. It is always possible that God called them to faith in Christ before they died, even at the last moment. We should never say with 100% certainty that someone is in hell.

Bell is also correct to raise doubts about various things that people allegedly need to do in order to “get saved.” His critique of such theologies is again based around questions instead of head-on arguments, but even that is enough to poke holes into works-based theologies.

There seems to be a rather major methodological error in Bell’s analysis of a “personal relationship” with God.” His argument against using this notion to discuss salvation is to say that the phrase is not used in the Bible anywhere. As noted in the outline, he asks a number of very pointed questions regarding this and notes that the phrase isn’t in the Bible. But there are other phrases not used in the Bible which are central issues for Christianity, like “Trinity.” A phrase not appearing in the Bible does not automatically mean it isn’t taught by the Bible. Things can be derived from Biblical teaching without having the exact phrase we use to describe that teaching appear in the Bible. Just to hammer this home, let me point out that the phrase “Love Wins” nowhere appears in the Bible. One using Bell’s methodology here might come to the conclusion that his book is unbiblical.

Just as an aside, I found it a bit of a methodological problem that Bell begins the book with a chapter that is almost entirely questions. He promises answers later, but for now it seems like all the reader is left with is a bunch of–make no mistake about it–leading questions. I think that leading questions are appropriate for teaching, but not so much for defense of a position.

Conclusion

So far, we have seen that Bell makes a few methodological errors, each at a central part of his chapter. First, he made the assumption that diversity of views means validity of all. We have seen that such is not the case, diversity of views does not put them all on a level playing field. Second, he argued that because a phrase isn’t in the Bible, it doesn’t seem to be Biblical. We pointed out that this would collapse Bell’s own work  because “love wins” is not found in the Bible. Even if it were, however, we noted that the mere absence of a phrase does not entail its falsehood or unbiblical nature.

However, we have also had several good things to say about Love Wins. In particular, his analysis of works-based systems of salvation was helpful. The fact that Bell is willing to discuss a controversial topic and ask the hard questions is also commendable.

Next week, we’ll analyze Chapter 2, which is about heaven. I look forward to your comments!

Links

Review of “Love Wins” by Rob Bell: Chapter 2- I review chapter 2.

Review of “Love Wins” by Rob Bell: Chapter 3- I look at Chapter 3: Hell.

Review of “Love Wins” by Rob Bell: Chapter 4- I look at Chapter 4: Does God Get what God Wants?

Review of “Love Wins” by Rob Bell: Chapter 5- I analyze chapter 5.

Love Wins Critique- I found this to be a very informative series critiquing the book. For all the posts in the series, check out this post.

Should we condemn Rob Bell?- a pretty excellent response to Bell’s book and whether we should condemn different doctrines. Also check out his video on “Is Love Wins Biblical?

Source

Rob Bell, Love Wins (New York: HarperCollins, 2011).

SDG.

——

The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from citations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

What if? The “Job Answer” to the Problem of Evil

“Who has a claim against me that I must pay?
Everything under heaven belongs to me.” Job 41:11

There are many different kinds of theodicy or defenses to rebut the problem of evil. As I read the Bible I see a few different answers, but one extremely important theodicy in the Scriptures is what I shall deem the “Job Answer,” which is found in the book of Job, although a similar idea is touched upon by Paul in Romans.

Job was known as the most righteous of all the people on earth. Yet God allowed terrible things to happen to him, as part of a test to show Satan that Job was indeed as faithful and righteous as was thought.

But why? Why do bad things happen to good people? Why is it that Job, who God Himself called blameless and upright (1:8) has so many bad things happen to him?

Job’s friends gathered around him and offered various explanations. Job must have done something to deserve it, he must have erred in some way, etc, etc. Yet all of these, Job says, are wrong. He is indeed without blame, and he remains faithful. Yet despite this faith, he cannot help but complain to God. And in this defense of himself and appeal to God, he again points out that he is righteous (see Job 31).

God’s answer to this complaint is where I draw the “Job Answer.” God responds, basically, by saying “Job, you don’t know how I operate, but don’t you think it’s reasonable to conclude that I know what I’m doing?”

Is this a satisfactory answer? Can Job demand another answer? Should he?

That is often the route taken by atheists and even Christians when they investigate the problem of evil. They demand that God provide an answer they themselves find suitable. They act as though God owes them the answer, as if God cannot possibly be good unless the answer is found acceptable in their own eyes. But what does God say to that? In Job chapter 41, He says “Who has a claim against me that I must pay? Everything under heaven belongs to me.”

Is that easy? Is that the answer we Christians like to see? Not really. It would be so much easier if God just said “You know, I gave you guys freedom of will, so given your sinful nature (which you chose, by the way), wouldn’t you expect to see some pretty awful things happening?” That’s the kind of answer I find more appealing. That’s easy.

But that isn’t the answer God gave. He said “Everything belongs to me. Who must I repay?” Does that mean God is not good?

Francis Chan and Preston Sprinkle’s recent book Erasing Hell has had me reflecting on these very questions. Hell is a tough issue, and it has some serious implications for the problem of evil. In a particularly intriguing part of this book, the authors quote Scripture and follow it with a few questions. Specifically, they are reflecting on the idea that God knows who is going to hell before they themselves choose to do so. Check it out:

“What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory?” (Rom. 9:22-23)

…What if God, as the sovereign Creator of the universe, decided to create ‘vessels of wrath prepared for destruction”? …And what if it’s His way of showing those He saves just how great His glory and mercy is? What would you do if He chose to do this? Refuse to believe in Him? Refuse to be a ‘vessel of mercy’? Does that make any sense? Would you refuse to follow him? Really? Is that wise? (p. 130, cited below)

The passage quoted is from Paul, writing to the Romans. Note how he phrases it: he starts it with what if. He’s not saying this is what God does, or that God does operate in this way, but he’s offering it as a possibility. Chan and Sprinkle continue this line of reasoning: What would we do if this is how God works? Would it make sense to rebel… to become a vessel of wrath just because we know they exist? Does it mean that God is doing wrong if this is how He operates?

Again, we turn back to Job to find the answer. God’s ways our not our own. God answers Job by listing things Job cannot do, and cannot even comprehend. ‘These things,’ God implies, ‘are outside of your comprehension… yet you expect to understand something even more incomprhensible?’ But that is not where God leaves it. He also tells us that ultimately, He will bring justice to all. Those who are now downtrodden will be lifted up, and justice will reign. How can Job respond? By repenting “in dust and ashes” (42:6).

So the “Job Answer” fits in a unique place among various defenses and theodicies for the problem of evil. Instead of using human nature and free will or a greater good to justify evil, the answer given to and by Job is that God, being good, has a reason, even if that reason is inscrutable for us. It is a response of faith.

But this does not mean the “Job Answer” is the only answer given in all of Scripture. Jesus is the ultimate answer to the problem of evil. He came and took our pain and suffering upon Himself, which in turn defeats evil ultimately and for all time. There are other Biblical answers to the problem of evil, but the answer Job gives is simple: Have faith. It does not promote an unphilosophical or unreflective faith, but points out the obvious: If we have good reasons to believe in God, and reasons which point to God as good, then we can simply trust that the apparent problem of evil is solved, ultimately, by God.

Thus, the “Job Answer” implies a second version of theodicy. Namely, that the evidence for the existence of God provides a rebutting defeater for the problem of evil. If we know that God exists and is good, then the problem of evil simply cannot be coherent.

In either case, the “Job Answer” provides a powerful, Biblical, answer to the problem of evil.

Source cited: Francis Chan and Preston Sprinkle Erasing Hell (Colorado Springs, CO: 2011, David C. Cook).

Response to an attack on this post found here (Search for “On Job.”)

SDG.

——

The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from citations, which are the property of their respective owners) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

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