Previous month:
February 2011
Next month:
June 2011

REView - Rob Bell's Manifesto on Love "Amends the Gospel"

The evangelical community experienced a massive earthquake yesterday with the release of Rob Bell’s newest book, Love Wins.  For weeks, the buzz surrounding this book was an ad agency’s fantasy.  Everyone wanted to know – is he a “universalist?”  The simplest definition of a universalist is someone who believes that God will eventually save everyone.  That no one will spend eternity in hell.  Everyone gets to heaven eventually.  I joined the interested crowd yesterday by down-loading Love Wins to my iPad.  I read until the wee small hours of the morning.

Here’s my conclusion. (Now you don’t have to read the whole blog to know where I’ve landed after reading the book.) Rob Bell believes that God wants everyone to be saved and he also believes that God always gets what He wants.  Therefore…everyone will eventually be saved.  “God’s love eventually melts everyone’s heart.”  Therefore, Rob Bell IS a universalist.  And that is false teaching.

When asked directly whether or not he is a universalist, Bell says no.  This provides keen insight into his methodology.  Every word Bell uses takes on a nuanced meaning.  You say “heaven” and “hell” and ask Bell if He believes in the reality of these.  He readily says, “yes.”   But the words don’t often mean the same thing to him that they have meant to Bible students and scholars for millennia.  Every familiar word seems to beg for new and fresh meaning in Bell’s theological world.  So, you have to dig deeper into what he means.  That’s why I read the book.    

There is much about Bell to like.  He has amazing stage presence and self-confidence.  He seems to really care about people.  He quotes the Bible easily and frequently.  He is likeable.  He is witty.  He has an agile mind.  He is a master communicator.  Every time I see him, whether in person (in Grandville, Michigan at Mars Hill Bible Church), in video, or in print, something in my heart aches to comprehend what he means and why he is saying the things he is saying.  I want to “get” him.  But last night, when I turned off my iPad and went to bed, I felt deeply sad for Rob.  I still do.  I don’t think he got it right with Love Wins.  And this is not a small miscalculation.  I kept thinking of the Beatles song, “All You Need is Love,” as I read Love Wins.  This seems to be Bell’s bottom line.  While I typically like Beatles music, they are very poor theologians. So is Rob Bell.  What he presents rises to the level of theological heresy.  I do not say this lightly. 

I’ve read some other amazingly comprehensive reviews of Love Wins.  1. Kevin DeYoung –  2. Albert Mohler –  If you want a full and comprehensive analysis of what Bell says, check these.  DeYoung’s is 20 pages long and will undoubtedly be my go-to reference when responding to Bell defenders.  Quotes abound.  If you don’t plan to read the book, this is a great “Cliff’s Notes” version.  Thanks Kevin.

As I wondered how to respond, I reviewed some of the things Bell is asking his readers to consider.  His style isn’t dogmatic.  He poses questions - at one count, 350 of them.  It’s like he’s asking the reader to believe that certain things might be true…things that you maybe never thought about before.  I’ve selected several things Bell asks his readers to consider might be true, and my answer to each is – “NO that’s not true.”  This is my format, not his.  His writing style is fluid and artistic.  Like I said, not didactic nor dogmatic for the most part.  Just pondering possibilities.  Here is a list of things (not necessarily quotes) Bell proposes to which I say, “No, that’s not true.”

1. That since the traditional Gospel story isn’t a “good story,” we need to replace it with a “better story.”

2. That heaven and hell are essentially what you make by your choices here and now, and not a place in the hereafter.

3. That "eternal" doesn’t really mean forever, it means an eon/age of time.

4. That God’s love eventually melts everyone’s heart and no one resists God forever.

5. That Jesus saves and rescues and redeems not just everything, but everybody.

6. That salvation is realizing that you are already saved.  Everyone is forgiven.  Just live in it. 

7. That Jesus doesn’t say "how, or when, or in what manner the mechanism functions that gets people to God through Him." (My answer – FAITH!)

8. That the Biblical story is all about restoration and all the restoration promises to Israel are for everyone eventually.

9. That a God who can be kind and compassionate one minute and angry the next "could never be trusted."

10. That universalism has been in the “center of Christian tradition” throughout church history.

My answer to all 10 is, “No, that’s not true.”  There is so much more.  I chose to limit myself to ten ideas that came to mind in no particular order.  My bottom line is that I don’t agree with Bell’s ultimate conclusions.  Like many of his predecessors in liberalism, Rob says several things that are true.  It’s the toxic mix of truth and error that makes him a dangerous teacher.

Someone sent me a link to a video of an interview on MSNBC between Bell and Martin Bashir.  I’m sure you can find it if you are interested.  It’s only six minutes.  In it, Bashir accused Bell of “amending the Gospel so that it is palatable.”  He adds that Bell is trying to make it “warm, kind and popular.”  Good for Bashir.  I believe he is spot on.  The Gospel is an offense to those who do not believe.  Paul reminds us of this in I Corinthians 1:23–24 – “We preach Christ crucified; a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.”  We know that the world is going to see the “story” of Jesus and the Gospel as foolishness.  What I find distressing is someone from the evangelical family suggesting that it is foolish and demanding a “good story” to replace it.  This happened with Protestant Liberalism in the 19th Century and sadly, I believe it is happening again in the 21st Century in Grandville, Michigan with Rob Bell.  

REVrant 69.1 - Rob Bell's “Love Wins” is Going to Rock Evangelicalism..and I Fear, Not in a Good Way

Like many others who have been following the controversy surrounding Rob Bell’s newest book, Love Wins, I had suspicions and fears, but believed it wise to hold judgment until I had read the book, OR I saw a review by someone who had read the book.  That happened tonight.  I read Kevin DeYoung’s 20 page review posted on the Gospel website.  De Young has read Love Wins.  I respect his theological acumen and insights. And having just finished reading his assessment, my worst fears have been realized.  I still plan to read the book, for myself, but DeYoung’s analysis will inform and quide my thinking.  In short, it appears that this is a dangerous book from one of America’s most popular evangelical voices.  It will be interesting to see whether the label “evangelical” sticks after this. Here is the link to the extensive review if you want to check it out for yourself.    

God Is Still Holy and What You Learned in Sunday School Is Still True: A Review of “Love Wins” – Kevin DeYoung.

As DeYoung puts it (and for those of you who don’t have the time to read 20 pretty complex pages), here is the gist:  “Hell is what we create for ourselves when we reject God’s love.  Hell is both a present reality for those who resist God and a future reality for those who die unready for God’s love.  Hell is what we make of heaven when we cannot accept the good news of God’s forgiveness and mercy.  But hell is not forever.  God will have His way.  How can His good purposes fail?  Every sinner will turn to God and realize he has already been reconciled to God, in this life, or the next.  There will be no eternal conscious torment.  God says no to injustice in the age to come, but he does not pour out wrath (we bring the temporary suffering on ourselves) and he certainly does not punish for eternity.  In the end, love wins.”

De Young adds, “Unfortunately, beyond this, there are dozens of problems with Love Wins.  The theology is heterodox.  The history is inaccurate.  The impact on souls is devastating.  And the use of Scripture is indefensible.  Worst of all. Love Wins demeans the cross and misrepresents God’s character.”

My final personal judgment will come after I’ve read the book myself.  But I can tell from this early assessment from a young theologian whom I greatly respect, that I expect to have a similar response. 

Be warned.  This book is going to create a huge evangelical tsunami, and God’s people everywhere must be prepared to address what this influential pastor, teacher, and leader has written.  Read it before you make your final judgment.  But when you do, don’t be afraid to speak up. There is far too much hanging in the balance to ignore this book.