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.
Conclusions?
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".

15 comments:

  1. As a Communications person (and indeed, as all Christians should feel the responsibility to speak truth to their neighbour), I appreciated your aside: '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.'

    I find this a challenge to easily misplaced love. Language is a tool with which to serve our neighbour in love for them. For those who love words, writing & speaking can easily become a selfish celebration of skill, with neighbour as audience to praise us, rather than as those in the image of God, to be served.

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  3. 1. Universalism (Mars Hill Michigan)- "love" = no irretrievable damnation , even in the after life.(ie eternity is NOT determined in this life)

    2. Calvinism (Mars Hill Seattle) - "love" = God opening the eyes of a select few (pre-selected before time), consigning most to irretrievable damnation with no ability to find salvation in this life. (ie. eternity is NOT determined in this life)

    3. Christianity - "love" = God given light to all, Christ drawing all to himself, God loving the world, Christ dying for all men, invitation to "all who will" to "drink freely". eternal damnation for those who unnecessarily reject God's grace in this life, resisting the Holy Spirit God. (ie. eternity IS determined in this life)

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  4. Hi Steve Thomas - not sure what your point is here, or what your characterisations and categories really have to do with this post. Feel free to interact with what has been written. Dave

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  5. Dave - Rob Bell's position in this book is pretty clssic universalism wouldnt you say. Driscoll & others (who you mention) are kind of 'defining themselves' in antithesis to Bell it seems. Each of the 2 'Mars Hill' camps (Bell v. Driscoll) shoring up their positions in antithesis to each other, but, interestingly, both camps falling into the *same error* by taking the determining feature of salvation outside of this life-time.

    But I think the truth is best described (as in my point 3) as: Love of God for all, saving grace to any who respond to universal light given, time for determining eternal outcomes in this life-time only by our free choice to faithfully serve God in the here and now, in submission to Christ - receiving the free gift and living it out.

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  6. I wouldn't say the two Mars Hill churches define against each other - they're not really that connected, even if their names might make an observer think of them comparatively. Neatly labelling them probably doesn't help much.

    The truth... from what you're saying it depends on what you mean by "faithfully serving God" - Christian salvation is thankfully entirely outside of my life: in Christ.

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  7. Dave - I'm not saying they're connected in that way. But I have noticed the most vociferous opposition to Rob Bell seems to be coming from the reformed / Calvinist camp (esp. Driscoll et al.). And the primary opposition to reformed Calvinism seems to come from the liberal (eg Rob Bell) camp. But I think both are an aberration of New Testament Apostolic Christianity, which offers genuine hope to all in the here and now, and requires faithfulness to Christ to death (the source of life)on the part of Christians to receive the crown of life. (ie remain in Christ, or be cut out of the vine.) Bell suggests hope beyond the grave for those who dont receive salvation & live it out, Driscoll suggests those who are born again cannot become castaways (as Paul warned) / forfeit their salvation by wilful sin (as per Hebrews) / denying the lord who bought them (Peter)/ cut out of the Olive Tree (Romans). Both positions (both Mars Hills) are misrepresentations of the NT, in that they both downplay the vital necessity of human submission to God by ongoing obedience / faithfulness to Christ to death, or consequent eternal doom for the Christian.

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  8. Bish, this is really excellent. Thank you. Have you read Tim Keller's new book? His chapters, particularly on the last supper and Gethsemene, touch on a lot of the same issues...

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  9. Ed - not read Kings Cross, have to limit my book buying these days to buy nappies... does look good from the glance through I've had at it. I heard a comment that it's not brilliantly Markan, but very gospel-centred. But I've loved The Reason for God, The Prodigal God and Generous Justice. There's something to learn from not writing books til you're in your 50s methinks (though I am still working on the latest version my own book... eek).

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  10. Dave - you ask what I mean by "faithfully serving God"...

    Jesus: "be thou (individual) faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life." [Rev 2] (our responsibility to be faithful)

    Paul: "...For he that in these things serves Christ is acceptable to God" [Romans 14] (our responsibility to serve Christ)

    Peter: "beware lest you also, being led away with the error of the wicked, fall from your own steadfastness." (our responsibility to remain steadfast)

    Paul: "But I keep my body under, and bring it into subjection: lest that by any means, when I have preached to others, I myself should be a castaway." [1 Cor 9] (our responsibility to subject our physical body to obedience to God = actions)

    castaway = Gk 'adokimos' = disqualified / rejected / reprobate

    This is a real possibility for you and me and all Christians, if real for Paul - Christ's chosen Apostle. We are thus instructed to contribute to the process of entering & outworking salvation by reciprocation to the free grace of God, and obedience to the commands of Christ (in his strength)...

    Jesus: "if you want to enter into life, keep the commandments." [Matthew 19] (our responsibility to be obedient)

    Jesus: "Blessed are they that **do his commandments*, THAT they may have right to the tree of life.." [Rev 22:14]

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  11. Thanks for letting me know what you mean. I think we're getting a bit off topic (Rob Bell's book) so I'll check out on this for now. Thanks though.

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  12. Hi Dave,

    Totally, totally totally agree with your conclusions.

    I think the saddest thing is that Rob Bell's point on pg 174-175 is totally spot on for many people, and so they'll feel compelled to his views, simply because the true alternative: a Trinitarian understanding (the only understanding!) of God is love - seems to be so lacking in the Church today.

    Love,
    Hin-Tai

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  13. Thanks for this Dave - an important review for an important time to rightly divide the word of truth.

    It certainly is a shame that not only has Rob Bell gone this way, but that he doesn't provide sound theological reasoning behind his argument.

    I've read lots of reviews about it and the thing that does annoy me in general is the lack of scripture but instead the adherence to "calvinism" or "universalism" as umbrella terms rather than actually dissecting the Word.

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  14. Hi Dave,

    Thanks for the review. I confess I hadn't heard about this book, but, sadly, it probably comes as no surprise from what I've read of "Velvet Elvis" or heard/seen on "Nooma".

    Steve,

    As regards "adokimos", I think you need to see this as most likely referring back to earlier in 1 Corinthians, when Paul talks about appearing at the judgement seat (Greek "bema", from memory) of Christ. One of the words there (3:13), talking about one's building work being "tested" - passing or failing the test - is the related word "dokimazo". Paul isn't talking in chapter 3 about losing his salvation, but of lesser reward - however that is to be interpreted.

    For the Gospel,

    Peter Ham
    (very occasional blogger, somewhat busier at Tuckingmill Baptist, Camborne

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