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