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    Sunday, March 20, 2011

    Love Wins- a Critical Review

    It's done, I have read Rob Bell's new book. I continued to see things pop up that troubled me about this book, so I put some school work off in order to read and now review the book that got tongues wagging every where.

    I've read every one of Bell's books and every time there was some controversy surrounding either the book or some small phrase or question he posed within those books. The fanfare about this book however seemed different and much more volatile, and now that I have read the book, I think a lot of the discussion is warranted.

    I agree with Rob that questions need to be asked, he asserts (rightly) that the church as a whole has ignored or neglected asking questions and in so doing has failed to wrestle with their faith in real, tangible ways. Thisbelieve is true, because too often we see nominal Christians walking around holding to things dogmatically that they themselves have neither studied or asked questions about. People like this do need to be pushed out of the nest and challenged to question why they believe what they believe...a sort of testing of your faith if you will.

    I think in this book, the questions that are asked are good questions, thought provoking in nature and helpful in finding out why we believe what we believe.

    That said, I think a ton of the conclusions that Rob comes to are false and even dangerous. He shouldn't be touted as some great Bible teacher who has come up with some "new insights into the Christian faith" because a ton of what he says in this book was said by Origen and others a long time ago. I might point out that Origen was accused of being a heretic after he went public with his beliefs on Hell and the afterlife.

    The first chapter on Heaven I will admit is very good and the thinking that Heaven can be on earth now is a thought we Christians too often ignore, to the detriment of our environment and sults in a huge lack of helping the least of these as Rob very strongly points out. Rob basically took NT Wright's book Surprised by Hope and repackaged it to fit into this short chapter. Rob however, ignores the "then" discussion on Heaven. He does a great job of arguing a Heaven "now" but ignores the Heaven in the future for the most part.  This ends up making Heaven seem deep for now, but almost makes it seem small for the "then".

    The next chapter is where Rob starts coming up with stuff...I mean literally coming up with stuff. He begins a discussion about Hell in this chapter and goes after all the Scriptures that mention Hell. He goes first to The uses of the word Hell in the Hebrew Old Testament and basically through exegetical gymnastics debunks a real, literal and eternal hell. What drives me insane about what Rob does is that he uses his credit as a pastor to make these assumptions. He uses no scholarly proof to help make his points, he simply says " this is the way it was in that day" and " this is what they believed about this and that" without giving any kind of proof text to help him make the case...we' re left to simply take his word on it.

    He then takes the same approach to the times in which Jesus speaks of Hell and he refutes the idea that aion means eternal in the Greek language. He says that the real definition for every instance of the Greek word aion is in fact " age or period of time" not eternity. This helps him debunk the idea of an eternal torment as the Scriptures do talk about eternal Hell. Here again, he takes on thousands of years of scholars saying that the word aion is defined as meaning "eternity"...yet we are to take him at his word again that he is right and the many scholars before him are all wrong.

    I must say the thing that ticked me off the most was his literal translation of "Gehenna" which is the word Jesus used the most for "Hell". It's true that this was the dump outside the walls of Jerusalem and that Jesus was using this as a word picture to describe Hell because it was constantly on fire and the animals would gnash their teeth, fighting for the scraps of trash that were there. Rob asserts however that Jesus was not describing Hell as anything but the literal trash heap...giving Hell a "now" sense rather than a "then" sense. This ticks me off so much because in all his other books, he says NOT to do this with the teachings of Jesus. He is constantly in his other literature forcing us to see the deeper meaning of Jesus' stories and to not take them at face value but rather to dig into them. He seems here to retract that thought for a moment so it can conveniently fit his frame of Hell. 

      Rob continues to talk about God and how he is too loving to have a judgement in an eternal hell the way most Christians believe (and have believed for thousands of years).  He says that type of Gospel is destructive and demeaning to God.  Yet, in my mind it speaks to a loving and Just God.

      Rob believes that there is an eternity available for forgiveness, which then means that some time, through eternity all will come to Christ and receive the forgiveness of all their sins.  This Rob asserts is how love ultimately wins.  He says that due to God's desire for the whole world to be saved, God will make it happen, despite people's choice to ignore God in their lifetime.  Rob thinks that God would be a mean and ungracious God if he were to send people to an eternal hell for the sins of their short mortal lives.

      Rob readjusts the exclusive claims of Christ in ways that fit the purposes of his premise, yet again fails to offer any research evidence or quotes from other Biblical Scholars.

      I could continue on this conversation about Rob's book but I will continue to come to the conclusion that he asks good, hard questions that are worth wrestling with but his conclusions are wrong and dangerous.  With Rob's form of the Gospel, there is little to no motivation for missions, since in the end all will eventually turn to God.  There is also no real sense of being saved from anything because even if we are in a literal torment for "awhile" eventually, my eternal experience will end with bliss in Heaven.  There is also a neglect of realizing Satan and his power to manipulate our lives, althought Rob would say he makes "hell on earth" which is true, but why would he bother just to make our short mortal lives hell if he could do it for eternity?  Rob's form of the Gospel robs the cross of its power and in so doing basically negates the need for Jesus to have even been here.

     Rob states that Jesus is central to what he is speaking about but I have to disagree.  I sadly hang my hat here.  I like Rob Bell and enjoy his challenging questions from all of his literature, so to hear him speak of heaven and hell in these ways saddens me.  I will not say as John Piper has said: "Farewell Rob Bell" because I think there is hope he may see his errors but this book did make me sad because of the theories and conclusions Rob has come to.

      Lastly, if you decide to read this book, read it alongside of someone else who can help you when you find yourself struggling with what Rob discusses.  Seek out s friend to walk and talk with about it.  Do not walk the streets of questions alone because it can be dangerous.  Ask, Seek and Knock for these are good things, but do them with a friend to make the experience better!

    17 comments:

    Matt said...

    Thanks for reading the book before you made up your mind about Bell's treatise. I haven't read it yet, however every TV interview I've watched has been painful and made me say... "Ohhh, Rob... why?" I too like Bell and have enjoyed his books and teaching, but from what I have seen hear (yet not read) he crosses the line here.

    Marv Nelson said...

    Matt, thanks for reading and responding. I respect Bell too much to not read it first, because the same type of flair was in the wake of people reading Velvet Elvis and that was all people making something out of little to nothing. Sadly he does cross the line. If you read it, I would be happy to hear what you think.

    matt said...

    Great post! I really appreciate your last paragraph. Im afraid that our youth at my church may read this book and get sucked into Robs teaching, just because he is a pastor, and they've grown up being taught that everything a pastor says is correct. Which is good depending on the Pastor, but tough when it comes to a situation like this one. I need to pray for his church body who is following him.

    Angela said...

    Great blog. I think that there has been a great big deal made out of a lot of hogwash. This guy really does seem to be following the feel good approach which is sad because I too loved his books. It is very challenging because I work with de/unchurched people. Many of them buy into the idea that hell doesn't even exist. Now I fear this will head up a movement that embraces such beliefs with more power than before. Just what the devil needs. If there is no war of good against evil then what reason would there be to not do the things that Christians consider sin? Is "sin" really not just a ploy by the church to control the world? etc etc... I can hear the questions now.

    Brian Kirk said...

    Marv, thanks for the thoughtful review. It's helpful for me to get several perspectives on this text before reading it myself. You have certainly done a good job framing for me just why this book is causing something of a stir. Peace!

    Marv Nelson said...

    @Matt, thanks. I too am afraid for our youth because this teaching is unbiblical and it is being touted as biblical through the gymnastics he takes. It can and I believe will lead many away from the reality of the consequences towards sin. I fear that High Schoolers and College students will be the ones who turn away the fastest

    @Angela, thanks for your thoughts and reflection.

    @Brian Thanks for reading the review and commenting. I would love to chat with you after you read it. I think it could prove to be a good discussion!

    Ray said...

    Nice work on your review. Can I borrow the book so I don't have to give Bell any of my money? Thanks bro.

    Marv Nelson said...

    I bought the ebook...so I can't really lend it out...sorry bro.

    Brett Gee 英 明 said...

    You say,

    "He says that due to God's desire for the whole world to be saved, God will make it happen, despite people's choice to ignore God in their lifetime. Rob thinks that God would be a mean and ungracious God if he were to send people to an eternal hell for the sins of their short mortal lives."

    I have to question, did we read the same book? Love Wins? Rob Bell? He continuously talks about freedom, about our choice in the matter. His example of the racist sitting at the table with the people he has hated his whole life is a great example of what can happen when we let hate and sin boil in our hearts. Even the example of the 2 sons and the father, the older son is basically at the party, but refuses to join in, stuck in his ways. I mean, I don't think Bell could have made it any clearer than the way that he did, but apparently you missed it.

    I want to take a quote from the one I quoted above:

    "Rob thinks that God would be a mean and ungracious God if he were to send people to an eternal hell for the sins of their short mortal lives."

    So, yourself, and your readers, you all would say that the kind and gracious thing to do is to send people to eternal torment? I hope that you could open your eyes to see how scary that belief really is, and that you stand on it so firmly. If Jesus died for the sins of the world, then what sins are these people being eternally punished for? If this is all about what's legal, with the law, then those sins are paid for in full, and the world is considered "Righteous", that is, in the right.

    Okay, lets say Gandhi is in "Hell". What if it takes him a million years to finally come to his senses and accept Jesus. I mean, can we fathom the difference between eternity and a million years? All Bell is saying is that, with a relentless God, there is always Hope.

    To say that this book is a compact form of Theologian NT. Wright's "Surprised by Hope" is a great compliment.

    I would suggest that everyone read Rob Bell's book. Don't just go to your favorite bloggers to see what they say.

    Marv Nelson said...

    @Brett. Thanks for taking time to read the blog post, even though you disagreed with it. Also, thank you for your thought provoking questions...it keeps us on the right path and you are a person that doesn't take things at face value and I like that.

    We did in fact read the same book. I too liked his stories of the racist and his replay of the book of Luke's story of the Prodigal Son. In each of those instances he does clearly show that it's their choices that caused them to fall short. However, his theology goes on to explain that even though they in this life made bad choices, they will have eternity to repent. He says: "“And then there are those who ask, if you get another chance after you die, why limit that chance to a one-off immediately after death?  And so they expand the possibilities, trusting that there will be endless opportunities in an endless amount of time for people to say yes to God.  As long as it takes in other words.  At the heart of this perspective  is the belief that, given enough time, everybody will turn to God and find themselves in the joy and peace of God’s Presence” (Bell, 2011, pgs. 106-107).

    This is saying that despite what we chose on earth, after death we will have a post mortem ability to ask for forgiveness. This is simply no where in the Bible. Jesus, despite Bell's assertions was clear that if you are not for me, you are against me and the sheep will follow me to eternal bliss and the goats will follow Satan to eternal he'll. He was challenging everyone to choose him, not multiple ways...just Him. In judgement we will all be assessed based on our earthly life.

    Also, I said only Bells first chapter followed NT's book, which is a great book that I truly embraced and loved, but in that book NT asserts an eternal "then" as well as the temporary "now".

    Lastly, to you question on the graciousness of God. I feel we all, based on our lives here o earth deserve Hell. No one is righteous, I will never claim to be better thn anyone because I know the truth of my sins and failures. So I think it is extremely gracious of God to take anyone to Heaven. In choosing Christ everyone has the opportunity to go to Heaven, but as the Gospel of Luke says "narrow is the door" (Luke 13:24), which means few will choose Christ.

    I do not desire an enemy in you Brett. I am not angry with you, we simply disagree, I hope you can see it that way as well. I appreciate you asking questions, so if y have more, please feel free to graciously ask them

    Brett Gee 英 明 said...

    I am sorry that you feel that, after people's earthly death, Jesus will give up on them.

    Your belief that we are not righteous is simply incorrect. Jesus went to the cross to bring us to the father. The father has made us righteous through the son. All this means is that we are considered apart of the family. We were lost, and "wrong", but now we are in the "right", because of Jesus.

    The bible says that "We are Saints". You might say that this is only for Christians, but this is another point that needs to be looked at closer. Everyone is a Saint. Everyone is justified by God before God because of Jesus. However, there are a lot of people who are "blind", like even Paul was blind. Yet, even for Paul, the scales came off and he could see. He was converted. Look up the word "Repent". It means much more than most people think. If you look it up one of the first things it will say that it means is to "change you way of thinking". Stop thinking that we are not righteous. Stop thinking that we are all worthless sinners. So thinking that God doesn't looking on you in disgust. When we open our eyes to the truth about God's love for us, we see that all of our doubts were absurd.

    Kind of like if I, who have 2 children, give them a choice to love me, but after a certain point I cut them off and say that they are no longer my children. Lock me up, man!

    You say that you are not righteous and not better than anyone else. I agree, we are all equal in the love of God, but I disagree in saying that we are not righteous. To me, it's pretty clear, to see that God including us as righteous is one of the loving things about him, one of the things that calls us to repentance. If we're not righteous, then lets keep on slaughtering animals to gain favor.

    Yeah, man, I could go on. I can't convince someone who quotes verses without looking at the heart of the matter. From what you say, God gives up on us after death. Your biblical backing for this is very, very, weak. It says we we will be judged after death, but who's to say that is immediate. I mean, can I accept Jesus as a "float away from my body"? If, as I float away, only half my spirit is actually out of my body, can I still say a quick prayer? Is there a line, when I come before the judgment seat, where I can "repent".

    Also, what about Jesus. Didn't he die for our sins? Didn't he conquer death? I mean, Marv, if he paid for your sins didn't he pay for those people you say will spend eternity in torment? For what? Think about it. And think about how much you love your children. I mean, If my son rejected me his whole life I would still love him and continuously seek out a relationship with him. Wouldn't you do the same for your child, or is there a cut off? A law?

    And how much greater of a father is God than any of us?

    Yeah, I guess you can disagree with me. I just can no longer sit by the side and be silent. Though I'll stop bothering you and your bloggers. Good luck to you in your journey.

    Marv Nelson said...

    @Brett, we could go round and round on these issues and neither of us will budge on our theories. All we would end up doing is throwing punches at each other. There is no real need to bloody this blog with that. I would love to chat one on one and grow together that way. My email is: Marvin.Nelson@acac.net. Thanks for stopping by!

    jon said...

    hey marv,

    thanks for your words here. it seems you are fairly comfortable with nt wrights work (cf Rob basically took NT Wright's book Surprised by Hope and repackaged it to fit into this short chapter.)

    I wondered however, when you made the comment about bell's "debunking" or "making stuff up about hell" or doing "exegetical gymnastics" in the OT if you have interacted much with wright on this very issue. wright spends a great deal of time in 'resurrection of the son of God' dealing with many of the misconceptions we have in reading hell back into those contexts. he indicates that the doctrine of hell (eternal life for that matter) is a development we see played out in time and scripture. did rob go further than wright in 'resurrection'?

    please note I am not out for polemics here as I have not read the book yet. I just wondered what you might have thought about more similarities between wright and bell. thanks!

    Marv Nelson said...

    @ Jon,
    I have read most of Wright's work and do own The 'Ressurection' Book but have not yet read it. I would say what he wresteles with in that book with hell (as far as I have heard but not yet read) but comes no where near Bell's positions. Again, since I have not yet read Wrights 'Resurection of the Son of God' yet I can't be 100% on that but I know a friend of mine(who is more reformed in theology then I) read it and had nothing but good things to say about it, even the wrestling with hell. It is on my list for 2011, so I hope to intereact with that text soon. I will say that in his Justification book he delves into some of the issues on hell (very briefly) and none of it struck me as way off base. But Wright, unlike Bell gives sources and proof texts that show others have wrestled here and shows their line of thinking...not just his own.

    Loza said...

    One of the books (supporting Rob Bell) that I found scholarly (giving all sources) is Thomas Talbott's 'The Inescapable Love of God'.

    A thousand year old tradition cannot alter the Word! 'Eternal hell' is a pagan teaching that cannot be found in the Word or in the early church history. Above all it is repugnant to the core: it violates the very heart of Christianity.

    Ben Wilson said...

    I saw your link on facebook. I read the book awhile ago and wrote a review pointing out the things I found troubling, and Rob Bell does doublespeak in the book.

    As for Gehenna, I found this blog interesting.
    http://blog.bibleplaces.com/2011/04/myth-of-burning-garbage-dump-of-gehenna.html

    EnnisP said...

    I read the book twice and scanned it several times more. My first impression, that Rob denies the pain or eternal nature hell, I now think is wrong.

    Rob denies the finality of death and endorses the never ending offer of salvation. Based on arguments he made in the book, I can live with that.

    One question stimulated by the book was...

    If a person born in a non-Christian country - who never heard the Gospel, read a Bible or attended a church - be condemned forever if they died only a few seconds after reaching the age of accountability?

    Rob didn't ask that question specifically but reading the booked provoked it.

    I can't say I agree with every idea Rob promoted but overall it was an excellent book, another one.