Yesterday, I posted about some of the things that I liked about Rob Bell’s new book, “Love Wins”. Read about it HERE.
Today, I will share some things that I was not as fond of. As I do, I must say up front how hard this is for me…not because I think there is anything wrong with thoughtful and constructive disagreement, but because of the spirit in which so many “Christians” have behaved toward Bell over the last month. I would be grieved to be placed in that camp. I long to embody Jesus’s love and grace—even to people I have never met or may not agree with. That said, here we go:
1. Ok, while I loved Bell’s position and understanding of heaven as being here now AND coming later, I think that he did a poor job explaining his understanding of forever. He says that “heaven is not forever in the way we think of forever, like days and years marching into the future.” Well, if heaven is not forever like we think of it, then how is it? “Forever” like Rob Bell thinks of it? I get that he was trying to point out how we apply our limited dimensions to our theology even when it is not in the Bible, but I think that this is one of several places in the book where he makes a troubling comment and then does a weak job of explaining it.
2. In my assessment, here is what Bell does very well throughout the book: He asks curious questions about hot/loaded topics and then hints at where he MAY stand. However, rarely does he clearly state his own position---unless on something safe, like God’s love. Well, hello, we ALL believe in that. Now tell me what the hell you think about hell. ;-)
3. Three criticisms I have of how he handles scripture: 1) Uses a passage to prove a point he is making in a way that leaves out the many other possible meanings and realities of the passage, 2) Brings in a poignant passage but does not exegete it enough…leaves so much about the passage unstated and 3) Leaves out (I hope not conveniently) other passages that may disprove his perspective and where I found myself saying “well, what about….”?!
4. My one word explanation of Bell’s chapter on hell: “huh”? There is no lack of scripture. He points to every single place that the word hell appears in the Bible (btw, almost every time Jesus refers to hell he is talking about the local trash dump in Jerusalem). And he presents multiple popular streams of thought on the topic, but he doesn’t really expand on any of them in depth nor does he clearly state his own position. He is basically saying we choose hell. We can make that choice now or later. Hell is when we reject God’s awesome story and plan for our lives and choose destruction and evil. Bell says that “there is hell now and hell later and Jesus teaches us to take both seriously”. Where is gets sticky is that Bell seems to think that eventually the love of God will woo everyone over to choosing heaven, because, in the end, love wins. Bell takes Philippians 2 (and many other passages) literally that EVERY knee will bow and EVERY tongue will confess. But, no matter how you slice it, it is muddy…because for every verse like that there is one about damnation and judgment. Bell might believe that you can choose God after death. He might not. He might believe that refusing God long enough makes you something other-than-human. He might not. He might believe that eventually God will get what God wants and ALL PEOPLE will love him. He might not. I guess I am just not smart enough…or Bell is just not clear enough. All in all though, I felt like it was a tad unfair of me to like his stuff on heaven and dislike his stuff on hell—when both seemed equally as rooted in the Bible. Not easy stuff here, but I strongly encourage you (though it may be tempting) not to dismiss it just because you are not comfortable with it. We do not develop true faith like that.
All said, I end with this quote from Rich Mouw, President of Fuller Seminary, which I think really captures my own conclusion about a lot of this:
Why don’t folks who criticize Rob Bell for wanting to let too many people in also go after people who want to keep too many people out? Why are we rougher on salvific generosity than on salvific stinginess?”
PS- If you are interested in these things, read the book. But may I make an even stronger recommendation? Read “Surprised by Hope” by NT Wright. In this book, you will get all the same basic stuff except explained in brilliant theological and historical detail. Every question that Bell leaves unanswered, Wright answers with Biblical genius.