Archive for the ‘ Book Review ’ Category

Of Whom Bell tolls…?

I have had the chance to read Rob Bell’s Book Love Wins. I have to say I was impressed! There is just something about this book, a dangerous edge that even the likes of Taylor, Mohler, Moore, and Denny Burke, just could not bring out. I was often frustrated and left wondering what was meant. I still wonder at some but I have a swirling idea of where he goes wrong but for now these are my initial reactions as I read Love Wins.

There is no love. Love establishes boundaries and for Bell there seem to be none. If they do exist, like making the world better now by loving a nebulous love and peace and happiness, you can get in on the good stuff after you die. Why worry now?

Paul comes to the question of, “If grace is so free we could just keep sinning?” Paul says may it never be. Bell cannot. There is no standard for what is a Christ aside from loving people, and it seems, you don’t even have to be Christian to do that. (Bell does so by creating a period of time between earth and heaven called “the age to come” where sinners are tormented until they see they choose to see the love of God. He does so using the Rich Man and Lazarus. The chasm between heaven and hell is the rich man’s heart, according to Bell.)

You see it is not about who we are or who we are being coming the issue is a matter of what you want. If you claim to want love, peace, jot, happiness, you will get them in heaven in Jesus.

Bell consistently, not misinterprets but reinterprets passages to suit his need. Changing the meaning of the Greek words to suit his needs (I will post another article about Bell’s use of aion/aionios, two Greek words that he mangles in order to create an “age to come” before Heaven proper. I would like those who know Greek to comment on that when it comes out. I know so close to nothing I am dangerous).

Bell’s comments on Jesus leave one feeling like he was more like a man carried around by the cultural tide of the day. He is not a God coming among men that he would correct error and lead them to truth. Bell forces Jesus ideas through filters he claims to be Jewish ideas of the day. One place is his justification of an “age” before heaven. He says the rich young ruler and Jesus are not talking about heaven because the Jews of the day were not concerned with it. Whether or not that is true (I think Luke 1-3 make that nearly impossible, their focus on the coming messiah who doesn’t seem to be a political messiah).

I find no one is special. The grace of salvation is not a gracious-gift given to each person in love. It is a thing that all eventually choose to receive. It doesn’t seem like a gift but an eventuality. The book does not make me long for Christ. One paragraph from Crazy Love by Francis Change did more for my heart in pointing me toward the hope and grace and love of God than 4 chapters in Bell’s book. (Chan pointed me toward Eph 1:18, that is LOVE!) Christ really did a work on the cross he really redeemed a people. He bought with his blood his bride. We have but one life to live and then judgment says Paul. Not with Bell. There doesn’t seem to be any urgency or need of it in this life unless you want to get out of your “personal” hell that you create which most people don’t see as hell but a loving God, if they even think about him, giving them the “blessings” of this life.

There are numerous other problems in the hazy system that Bell has established in this book. All the problems ultimately stem from his views contradictory views on the role of Christ and God in punishment of sin in scripture. He states:

Many have heard the gospel framed in terms of rescue. God has to punish sinners, because God is holy, but Jesus has paid the price for our sin, and so we can have eternal life. However true or untrue that is technically or theologically, what it can do is subtly teach people that Jesus rescues us from God.

Let’s be very clear, then: we do not need to be rescued from God. God is the one who rescues us from death, sin, and destruction. God is the rescuer. (p.182)

Bell adopts this position because it is more palatable for himself. He, as a pastor, does not see telling a sinner that God hates sinfulness, (the consequences of which, you know the stuff that makes you miserable, are active images of God’s judgment meant to show sin to be wrong so that the sinner would turn to Him and ask “what can be done?” Bell thinks this is toxic (preface, p.183)), but has provided Grace in Christ for forgiveness and transformation in to the image of Christ, as being helpful. He thinks just telling the that, “love is what God is” and He wants to reflect that love through you, if you want to partner with Him is what spreads a desire for God’s glory.

This alteration in the gospel stems from Bell’s difficulty telling someone that God loves him or her but at the same time Christ must rescue them from God’s wrath. This theme is consistent thorough out the book. He addresses frequently as a problem in telling people God loves them but the moment he, the person dies, God changes and hates them. That is understandable but it lacks a manifold view of God’s character. He maintains both (creation directed) love and (sin directed) hate at the same time. (Yes, I believe scripture is clear he hates the sinner for the person and works cannot be separated, indeed, one flows from the other John 3:18, Romans 1:18-19, 28).

Either way, however you see it, Bell is wrong. To claim that Christ is not rescuing man from God is a contradiction of the scriptures. The scriptures do not support his view. In fact Paul tells us in Roman’s 5:9 (ESV), just a verse after one of Bell’s supporting verses 5:8, that Christ does indeed save us…from God!

“Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God.”

Not only is the blood critical in being made right, an aspect that Bell never seems to seriously address, but based on it’s worth, Paul claims, we can be equally assured of Christ’s deliverance from the wrath of God that is due us, “for the wages of sin is death” Romans 3:16. Effectively, Bell contradicts the scriptures as he develops and carries out his claim that “We shape our God, and then our God shapes us”(p.183). Unfortunately, for Bell, and fortunately for those willing to humbly come to God for the gift of Christ this a glorious promise.

I know you are wondering is Bell is a Universalist. I don’t know the definitions very well but it seems like it. He creates a middle place between earth and heaven in which all people who do not in this life accept Jesus or the nebulous love, joy, peace, and goodness, will get infinite chances to enter heaven. Moreover, all men who “are good” will get in directly. He says this based on John 14:6:

I am the way the truth and the life none get to the father except me.

He says this is exclusive, he is right and also inclusive, he is wrong. This is what he says:

What he doesn’t say is how, or when, or in what manner the mechanism functions that gets people to God through him. He doesn’t even state that those coming to the Father through him will even know that they are coming exclusively through him. He simply claims that whatever God is doing in the world to know and redeem and love and restore the world is happening through him.” (pg.153ish)

and then:

The kind that is open to all religions, the kind that trusts good people will get in, there is only one mountain, but it has many paths. This inclusivity assumes that as long as your heart is fine or your actions measure up, you’ll be okay.

And then there is an 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 Christ will of course include all sorts of unexpected people from across the cultural spectrum.(p.155)

What comes next is really confusing if he is not a Universalist or simply discordant (I suspect this is possible as his writing lack clarity BUT his arguments, though flawed by exegesis or logic are often clear):

As soon as the door is opened to Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, and Baptists from Cleveland, many Christians become very uneasy, saying that then Jesus doesn’t matter anymore, the cross is irrelevant, it doesn’t matter what you believe, and so forth. Not true. Absolutely, unequivocally, unalterably not true. What Jesus does is declare that he, and he alone, is saving everybody.

Not true. Absolutely, unequivocally, unalterably not true.

He is as exclusive as himself and as inclusive as containing every single particle of creation.(p.155)

He might be arguing for all being accepted outright or through the process of his non-purgatory purgatory (the reason it is because there is no clear purgation; it is a matter of one realizing the goodness of Christ and choosing Him). I am not sure if he is just arguing that they should be invited in so they can hear good news (we must remember he is emergent so that carries a different view of the purpose of the church) or if these are other mechanisms for entering in to heaven. I would side with the later and thus CLEAR universalism (if I understand the categories).

There is much more that I could say and will say in the future. This is just an overview. I want to add more later because the issue is not about winning which I am so prone to pursuing. The goal is to shed light on the issues so truth can be seen. Light that lights a path to Christ. I light that stands as a beacon of hope. A boundary-less, standard-less God is not good news; there is nothing that prevents him from changing. But we have vast promises that the grace of God and redemption from sin comes through faith in the life death, and resurrection of Christ. God will surely save all who believe (John 3:16) and yes he does save them from the judgment due them for their sinfulness; this is grace, this is the gift.

Our God is sovereign and will reign in spite of this book and the others that Bell says are coming. The true, pure gospel will reign in every heart, in every sheep, whom the Father gave to Christ and none shall be lost!