The Christian blogosphere is often a nasty place, where stones get tossed back and forth around the clock with very little listening to the other side. I think I’d give up all together on the hope for balanced and grace-filled conversation if it weren’t for Scot McKnight at Jesus Creed. He’s a kindred spirit in many ways, but what I appreciate most is his commitment to taking a wider view on things. This is especially needed in the heated yelling match over Rob Bell’s book, Love Wins.
Today at Jesus Creed I was again excited to see McKnight giving us a nice sampling of different voices weighing in — and, yes, there are other voices besides the loud harmonious scream of the Gospel Coalition and friends. Here’s what some others are saying about Bell’s book. Thanks for compiling these perspectives, Scot:
Justin Taylor’s and Kevin DeYoung’s criticisms are well known and the most complete … and the excerpted stuff below says it all. They represent many, many in The Gospel Coalition (and beyond). Here’s Justin’s capturing of Kevin’s detailed (20 page) response: “Kevin’s opening paragraph summarizes the book’s thesis and argument:
Love Wins, by megachurch pastor Rob Bell, is, as the subtitle suggests, “a book about heaven, hell, and the fate of every person who ever lived.” Here’s 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 in 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 upon ourselves), and he certainly does not punish for eternity. In the end, love wins.
After listing some of the book’s virtues, he summarizes why it is so troubling:
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 Winsdemeans the cross and misrepresents God’s character.
He also explains why this is such a difficult book to review; namely, that one doesn’t know where to begin:
Love Wins is such a departure from historic Christianity, that there’s no easy way to tackle it. You can’t point to two or three main problems or three or four exegetical missteps. This is a markedly different telling of the gospel from start to finish.
And Eugene Peterson is talking directly at the conflagration in these words:
Do evangelicals need to reexamine our doctrines of hell and damnation?
Yes, I guess I do think they ought to reexamine. They ought to be a good bit more biblical, not taking things out of context.
But the people who are against Rob Bell are not going to reexamine anything. They have a litmus test for who is a Christian and who is not. But that’s not what it means to live in community.
Luther said that we should read the entire Bible in terms of what drives toward Christ. Everything has to be interpreted through Christ. Well, if you do that, you’re going to end up with this religion of grace and forgiveness. The only people Jesus threatens are the Pharisees. But everybody else gets pretty generous treatment. There’s very little Christ, very little Jesus, in these people who are fighting Rob Bell.
Rich Mouw, President at Fuller Seminary, sides with Rob Bell in his general orientation:
“Some folks zeroed in on that one story to condemn me as a heretic. I find their attitude puzzling. Maybe they think that folks like Rob Bell and me go too far in the direction of leniency, but what about folks who go in the other direction? I just received an angry email from someone who pulled a comment out of something I wrote a few years ago in Christianity Today. A prominent evangelical had criticized those of us who have been in a sustained dialogue with Catholics for giving the impression that a person can be saved without having the right theology about justification by faith. My response to that: of course a person can be saved without having the right theology of justification by faith. A straightforward question: Did Mother Teresa go to hell? My guess is that she was a little confused about justification by faith alone. If you think that means she went to hell, I have only one response: shame on you. Why don’t folks who criticize Rob Bell for wanting to let too many people in also go after people like that who want to keep too many people out? Why are we rougher on salvific generosity than on salvific stinginess?”
Nate Dawson weighs in favor of Rob Bell:
“Love Wins because we are free to choose heaven and hell, for eternity. The questions left open in this book are not the ones the book is intending to answer. I’m sorry, if you don’t get that — then you don’t get the book. That’s just how it is my friends. This book answers YES to you and me, even when we think we’re not worth it. Even when the Calvinists have made us feel like themselves (that is, utterly depraved). God, in Christ, has already rewritten your story and mine, because Love Wins. All we have to do is live into it! The choosing never stops — we can choose hell or heaven — forever.”
Michael Krahn has an interesting take. He thinks this book will lead to a gradual dismissal of Rob Bell:
“But the frenzy [over McLaren’s New Kind of Christianity] faded, the reviews dried up and since that time it seems that many Evangelicals, following the lead of early reviewers have stopped paying much attention. Case in point: Brian McLaren just released a new book (three days ago in fact and also, as it turns out, published by HarperOne) and we’ve hardly noticed. You can make the case that all eyes are on Rob Bell at the moment and that McLaren has flown under the radar on this one, but maybe there is a simpler answer – maybe most Evangelicals just don’t care anymore.Love Wins is Rob Bell’s “McLaren Moment” and this is what I think Piper was getting at when he said “Farewell Rob Bell.”
Julie Clawson stands with Rob Bell in this discussion:
“This message that God loves his creation so much that God refuses to give up on us, forms the core of Bell’s book. Bell points out, that since the early church fathers, Christians have held that since God’s central essence is love, it is reconciliation and not eternal suffering that brings God the most glory. What we believe and how we act are vitally important, but in the end upholding and glorifying the essence of God is most important. And when we insist that people who think differently than us, or who haven’t had the same revelation as us, or who said a different prayer than us will be eternally separate from a God the scriptures say works for and longs for the redemption of all things, we are stripping God of his power and denying him glory.”