heaven

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Book Review: “Edwards on the Christian Life” by Dane C. Ortlund

edwards-ortlundJonathan Edwards is perhaps the most famous of all American theologians. Edwards on the Christian Life draws from his enormous body of work to provide insight into Christian life.

The book is organized around chapters which each focus on one aspect of the Christian life, according to Edwards. Chapters include Joy, Beauty, Heaven, Satan, and more. Each of these is oriented around showing how the chapter’s title relates to Edwards’ view of the Christian life. The chapter on beauty provides a feel for the rest of the book, as Ortlund argues that Edwards’ view of God as beauty/beautiful impacts most of the rest of his theology. The chapter on heaven was particularly excellent. On heaven, Edwards’ vision of the beauty that believers would experience and the way they would interact is brought forth by Ortlund in breathtaking fashion. It is rare to find myself filled with emotion while reading a theology book, but Ortlund’s work in this chapter had me just overcome with awe at the beauty of how Edwards described it.

Other chapters were quite helpful as well, such as the chapters on pilgrimage, obedience, and Satan, set all in a row, which outlined the Christian life, sanctification, and spiritual warfare and temptation respectively. The insights to be drawn from this book on Christian living ought not be understated. Ortlund did a great job bringing forward many of these insights.

Ortlund admirably steers clear of the primary pitfall of some books in the series–getting so caught up in discussing the theology of the person being examined that the book loses focus on “the Christian Life.” This is not to say any of the books in the series are bad–indeed, I have read many and enjoyed them all–but it is good to have the focus on the topic at hand. Each aspect of Edwards’ theology that is examined here is brought to bear on the Christian life in meaningful ways.

The one criticism I have is, ironically, of the criticisms offered. The final chapter (apart from the conclusion) offers four criticisms of Edwards’ theology, such as an overly introspective view. Although I think Ortlund’s criticisms of Edwards are on point, they could have been better dealt with in individual chapters. It’s a minor criticism for a phenomenal book.

Edwards on the Christian Life is yet another excellent entry in the “Theologians on the Christian Life” series. Ortlund introduces readers to a fantastic range of Edwards’ thought, all while remaining focused on how that thought applies to the Christian life. Indeed, it made me want to read more of Edwards myself. I recommend it highly.

The Good

+Amazing chapter on heaven
+Practical examples of Christian living
+Focused and concise
+Excellent format

The Bad

-Criticisms could have been better placed

Source

Dan C. Ortlund, Edwards on the Christian Life (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2014).

Disclaimer: I received a copy of the book from the publisher. I was not required to give any specific feedback whatsoever.

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

Book Reviews– There are plenty more book reviews to read! Read like crazy! (Scroll down for more, and click at bottom for even more!)

Eclectic Theist– Check out my other blog for my writings on science fiction, history, fantasy movies, and more!

SDG.

——

The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) 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.

“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.

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 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.

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