Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Love Wins More Than You Can Imagine

There's been a lot of blog ink spilled over the book already and I'll aim not to duplicate too much of it. I received  a free copy from the publisher and I'm thankful to them for that. I know they think this book will prove to be really significant, and I want to be nice here. Sales will be high but this is a Rebecca Black of a book, it's just not very good.

Rob Bell is a big selling author (Velvet Elvis etc) and pastor of Mars Hill Bible Church, not to be confused with Mark Driscoll who leads a similarly named megachurch.

He's known for being an outstanding communicator. I think he's fun with words but probably not actually that good a communicator. When challenged he argues he's misunderstood, which can only happen for so long before you have to ask why. His style is very accessible (though having only 150 words per page grates after a while). He constantly asks questions and rarely answers them which while provocative is a bit annoying.

He asks some really good questions but I'm rarely satisfied with the choices he makes in answering them.

Summary of the book.
1. The first chapter essentially raises lots of questions, including the script of the infamous publicity video. Bell's ability to ask question is great, though you could learn that from Randy Newman's Questioning Evangelism.
2. Chapter 2 argues for a physical future, which is fine though it begins to sound like social justice is the gospel. And I'm all for justice - but Tim Keller's Generous Justice gets you there better.
3. This chapter is called Hell. "Do I believe in a literal hell? Of course. Those aren't metaphorical missing arms and legs." (p71) i.e. Hell is bad stuff now - and again bad stuff now is really bad and we should take more action. It's argued at length that judgement is basically restorative since Sodom & Gomorrah are described as having a future. This feels like a very wooden way of reading the texts, which are referenced not unpacked. When Jesus says it'd be better for Sodom & Gomorrah than for those who reject the gospel he's not saying they get redeemed... he just isn't.
4. This is called "Does God get what he wants?" though by the end of the chapter we're told it's the wrong question, we in fact get what we want, p117: God graciously grants us that option (of walking away) though the gates of heaven are never shut (p114) so we can always come back... so assuming we eventually come to our sense God will get what he wants (all of us) and we will get what we'll want (God). The view of love here sounds very nice but it's really wooly, it lacks passion and heart and jealousy and commitment. If someone unknown had written this or preached it I really think no one would be listening, at least not for long.
5. Dying to live. This argues for a multi-coloured approach to the cross which is ok until all the bloody options are relegated to the past since they were just there to relate to old cultures. There's a nice argument that the resurrection is John's 8th sign in his gospel - the start of a new creation week. Sounds like vintage Tom Wright. I'm not really sure what point this chapter is making. Read Tom Wright's Surprised by Hope - it's way better.
6. There are rocks everywhere. Paul says Jesus was the rock in the desert, therefore Jesus is all over the place where we've not noticed... and big warnings against judging people's futures. John 6,12 and Matthew 13 and 25 are referenced without reference to what they say about judgement.
7. The good news is better than that. This is Rob Bell's version of Keller's The Prodigal God (he says so at the back of the book). Just read Keller instead.
8. The End is Here. It's all about love. Though, I'm not sure what it is or what this love is.
Take away Rob Bell's name and all the publicity and I'm not sure anyone would read this book. Martin Bashir says he thinks Bell is trying to make sense of his cold deity fundamentalist upbringing, and I think I agree. Bell argues on p174-5:
"...the secret deep in the heart of many people, especially Chritsinas: they don't love God. They can't, because the God they've been presented with and taught about can't be loved. That God is terrifying and traumatizing and unbearable. ... what kind of God is behind all this...  Hell is refusing to trust, and refusing to trust is often rooted in a distorted view of God. Sometimes the reason people have a problem accepting 'the gospel' is that they sense that the God lurking behind Jesus isn't safe, loving or good."
And I agree. I meet Christians who have a cold lonely barely-Trinitarian view of God and there is little sense of the unity of the Father and the Son, there is a 'God lurking behind Jesus' etc. What's lacking is Trinity, and what's lacking is a strength of love that wont just let us go but in which the Father is passionately jealous for his Son and his people and therefore does burn furiously against those who scorn his Son and abuse his Son's bride.

Love is the answer but without Trinity you have to throw away hell or you have to throw away the Father. Bell asks an understandable question but hasn't got an answer, and what he sketches leaves me ambivalent, far removed from the authority that I'd expect from the gospel which would compel and excite my heart. I don't want to say 'Farewell Rob Bell' - I just find myself saddened that he's not caught sight of our God whose heart loves way more than he imagines.

You want to see how love really wins, try out Mike Reeves on the love of God. When I think of the students I work with I imagine (and hope) if they were to read Love Wins they'd find themselves saying, "No, God loves better than that".