Have You Read Rob Bell’s Newest Book?

Neither has anyone else!

But there are many in the Evangelical Christian community who are quite ready to state how wrong Bell is (or is going to be) in his yet-to-be-released book entitled, Love Wins. While I typically don’t write lengthy posts in regards to theological debate, I find this conversation fascinating. I am intrigued by its substance, as well as the manner in which we argue and debate in an online environment.

I first caught wind of the firestorm on Twitter. John Piper, who is described in Wikipedia as an evangelical, Calvinist, Christian preacher and author, currently serving as Pastor for Preaching and Vision of Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis, Minnesota, simply wrote “Farewell Rob Bell.” The tweet contained a link to a review on The Gospel Coalition website that takes on the perceived intentions of Bell’s book from the provocative promo video. Here’s the video…

 

I am one who has a more optimistic view of what this book may accomplish than Piper or those who seek to criticize it already. I kind of view this book release as history repeating itself. This isn’t the first time Bell has been called out for touting less-than-orthodox beliefs. But the consternation from some is probably more heightened because Bell seems to be tackling some of the “big rocks.”

The video is, and I believe very intentionally, provocative. It raises questions, rhetorical ones, that makes the listener have to wrestle with certain issues. The issues I see range from Universalism to Atonement theories to the very existence of Hell. The more orthodox (from fundamental to the classic Reformed) are crying foul…or at least heresy. Their view is that these questions are already answered. We don’t need to reinvestigate. The Scripture (from their viewpoint, interpretation, and tradition) is clear.

My feeling is this – people will like the book or not like the book based on the perspective, doctrinal belief, and theological camp they already live in. For some, to even raise questions about core doctrine is to denounce a whole series of foundational beliefs. I tend to like the questions, if only because these are the very questions that my students are raising. I don’t know if I will agree or not agree with Bell’s assessments. As with EVERYONE else, I haven’t read the book yet. But some aren’t willing to wait to hear him out before throwing him under the bus. But that’s because they’ve thrown him there before.

I think the whole thing is speculation until we read the book. Then let’s talk. I’m not afraid of the questions. At the end of the video, Rob simply walks away. That is a great, artistic move. It will either leave you reflecting or revolting. But it will definitely sell a few more copies.

In my own personal beliefs, I tend to agree with theologian and professor, Scot McKnight when he says, “I believe in hell, but I want to believe in hell the way Jesus does. I also believe in heaven, but I want to believe in heaven the way Jesus does.” The problem is – what Jesus believed about those things is open for interpretation.

I’m willing to go back to the drawing board and take a look at many of our traditional views and try to understand and discuss the options, as long as we can connect them to the Scripture and to our church traditions and to common sense. Some feel that the willingness to even talk about it is grounds for labeling a person as a heretic.

My advice: let’s wait and see. Let’s not be mean to each other. I think it’s ironic that people are so theologically and morally outraged and vocal over a book they haven’t read yet…a book entitled “Love Wins.”

Note: By the way, there are a lot of websites out there that are discussing this thing from a theological viewpoint. My motive in this post is not to try and win an argument. I’ve had a number of people ask me how I feel about this story and I thought it best to write it down in a blog post. I’d love to hear from you about how this discussion is playing out in your neck of the woods.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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11 thoughts on “Have You Read Rob Bell’s Newest Book?

  1. My neck of the woods?…embarrassingly and discouragingly the same way that this discussion is playing out elsewhere.

    When the physical body turns on itself it leads to debilitating disease and eventually death, leaving hopelessness and fear in its wake. Why is the Church (the body of Christ) so quick to turn on itself in full view of a world that needs to hear the good news? (oops, there I am asking a rhetorical question)

    I don’t fully understand the gist of Piper’s tweet, “Farewell Rob Bell,” but to me it smacks of competition. In the tweet I hear the strains of “na, na, na, na, na, na, na, na, hey, hey, good-bye…” If it is a competition there are no winners in this type of contest and games of this vitriolic nature have no place in the body of Christ. As Jesus said, “It is finished,” and as Rob Bell says, “Love Wins.”

    Thanks for being a “grace”-ful voice in the midst of the din.

    • Thanks for adding some thoughts here Ryan. Great to hear from you. I agree that there can be a sense of competition. It sometimes looks like those in opposing theological camps prop up their prophetic voice while the other side attempts to tear it down. I am looking for the way to dialogue in a manner where love truly does win.

  2. I don’t agree with everything anyone says, but for the most part Rob Bell and I see eye to eye. Even when we don’t though I appreciate the fact that he is forcing me to ask tough questions, and they are questions that he himself has wrestled with.

    There are so many “Christian” authors spewing out the same old song and dance without any critical thinking involved. Bell, like him or not at least puts the hard work in himself before asking us to do the same.

    I’m also often surprised (though don’t know why) that some people seem to think that we know everything there is to know about God and His son Jesus. These are the people that condemn Bell’s books before anyone has even read them. The way I see it for God to be God He necessarily has to be bigger than my understanding of Him. If I totally understood God and His grace/love then He wouldn’t be God.

    • Great point Clayton. It seems we live in a day where if one disagrees with one point a person makes, they’re willing to toss both the message and messenger aside. These conversations go a lot better when there’s a spirit of humility at work.

  3. It always blows my mind how upset believers get at the mere suggestion that billions of people won’t be burning in a lake of fire for all eternity. I guess I figure that people would embrace the idea of a God who wanted to forgive everyone.

    But you said something very true, which is that by even considering the question, you are throwing out some core beliefs that many hold central to “Christianity.”

    • Thanks for commenting Ian. I’m glad to have you in the conversation. Unless one has been truly touched by the grace of God, he or she may not be willing to see just how far that grace may go. I think we will all be constantly surprised by the magnitude of God’s grace in and for the world.

  4. Tim – I really appreciate your message. Even though at times I get annoyed with Rob’s dramatic techniques, I appreciate how he is trying very hard to deliver a relevant message to this generation, his generation.

    You’re very nearly quoting some of Rob’s contentions in Velvet Elvis when you talk about the good-ness of questioning (the trampoline image) versus a defensive stubborn approach (the brick wall image.)

    To me, the beauty of Rob’s theology is that it is intentionally grey. He’s not what anyone would call a right-wing conservative, but he’s also not an extreme liberal. His writings ask us to live in a place where most religous people feel very uncomfortable – in between extremes where either strict rules or a complete denial of rules keeps us knowing exactly who we are, what we believe, and who God is.

    • Hey Adam! I loved Velvet Elvis. Bell does a good job of creating metaphors that help us think more deeply about faith (trampolines and brick walls). I think it drives the concrete thinkers amongst us a little bananas.

  5. Tim – I saw this after the iPad 2 post and have been wanting to comment but needed a little time to think. That Saturday the firestorm hit on the internet I got several re-posts on Facebook warning me to stay away from Bell with a link to “the blog post” that had outed the “universalist”, as well as the video that supposedly is so clearly evidence of the “heresy”. I’m with you, the response is what disturbs me. These pharasaical types are challenging the validity of his “Christianity” yet their response begs the question, “Do they look more like Jesus?” Bell has a good point that none of these others are willing to address. There are countless billions that are turned off by a confusing, contradicting, non-sensical religion. Bell’s answer is not to just make one up (though these critics think that is what he is doing). He has painstakingly undertaken intense study with Godly counsel, fear and trembling, these ancient texts to try to find a more relevant, sense-making, narrative. I imagine it has not been done lightly. His words and actions are bringing hope and energy to an operating system that has long been overdue for a remake (think system 9 and before and the unix based change in 99 to OSX). BTW – you spoke of Scot McKnight, He has a great book called “A Community Called Atonement.”

    • Lots of backstory with this book release. I truly do hope it gets the conversation going and people don’t simply write off the things Bell is encouraging readers to wrestle with. I believe we’re in a crucial time of transition in our understanding of what it means to be the Church in this era.

      I’m hopeful! Thanks for your comments. It’s great to hear from you and I appreciate your perspective both theologically and technologically :).

  6. Well, as one who did indeed read the book ( actually listened to the audio book ) I can confirm that practically everyone’s fears were indeed realized. The book was universalist, and taught a temporary hell. It’s interesting to see that Bell is able to say stuff and get away with it simply based on his name-brand.

    If you have an appreciation for sound doctrine and church history then this book will infuriate you. If you like fuzzy feelings and a palatable faith then you’ll absolutely love it.