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 6: There Are Rocks Everywhere.
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).
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.
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.
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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?“
Rob Bell, Love Wins (New York: HarperCollins, 2011).
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