Thoughts on Kingdom, Church, and Grace from an American living in Hong Kong

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

My review of Rob Bell's "Love Wins"

I realize I'm a little late to the party on this one.  Rob Bell's book, Love Wins has been out for more than a year now and the controversy surrounding it has moved on to other targets....but I've been on a book roll lately and this one was one I was meaning to get to.

Most of the controversy centers on Bell's flirting with universalism, which for those of you with a real job means that everyone will eventually be reconciled to God and no one is going to be left in hell to burn for all eternity.  What I always find interesting in any debate, and this one particular, is the attitude of peoples hearts when discussing it.  Seeing some Christian's reaction you'd almost believe they would be furious if many people were not thrown into the flames for all eternity.  Like a celestial crowd in a gladiatorial arena they  gleefully give a thumbs down to Caesar as he seeks their decision on whether a victim who has fought in the games should live or die.

Fortunately Bell brings a bigger and more loving interpretation to the debate.  Someone asked me after I finished the book what I thought.  I said I agreed with a large part of it.  Some of it was a bit of a creative stretch at times (Bell is an intelligent and creative guy).  For example his interpretation of the story of Lazarus and the rich ruler after death had me scratching my head a little but ALOT of what he brings to the table are questions that need to be asked and most church streams and denominations won't touch them with a ten foot pole.

And why?

Because if they do Pandora's Box would be opened and the whole thing could collapse. (which could lead to dancing :)

But didn't Jesus do that very thing?

Didn't he travel around asking questions that made the religious establishment very uncomfortable.  He'd say the Kingdom of God was like "this" or the Kingdom was like "that" in a way that made the priests and pastors of the day crazy with jealousy and anger.  Didn't Jesus then start saying that certain people were "in" when the religious leaders and holy men had declared them to be "out"?

(Believe me, humans are far more enthusiastic about throwing people into hell than God... could that affect our theology at all?)

For example when God says he desires all men to be saved, that every knee will bow and confess Christ to the glory of God the Father, that all creation will be reconciled in Christ... Does God get what he wants? Does the Creator and Author of Life get what he declares he wants to see happen?

Or does the Alpha and the Omega, The Beginning and the End, Does "I AM" give up at a certain point and admit, "I did what I could but that's about the best I'm going to get." 


Much of the book though deals with heaven and getting away from a Christianity that seeks primarily to get people a ticket to paradise rather than participating in Christ's plan of bringing reconciliation and "heaven" to earth now.  That we would be active participants in fulfilling Jesus' prayer that His will be done on earth as in heaven.

Bell says right now the earth is filled with a lot of different "wills" and Christianity should be bigger in scope than has often been the case.

I actually have a good friend who I have known closely since high school.  At one time he was a strong Christian believer but after some years left the faith.  He told me not long ago that he believed in God again but one of the reasons he didn't consider himself a Christian anymore was that Christians made God far to small.

And you know, I agree with him.  We have made God to small. Bell's book seeks to get our view of God back to the standing and scope it should be at.

Do I agree with every aspect of what Bell suggests in "Love Wins".  Probably not...but it is an important contribution in making Christianity the Body of Christ that will bring Life to those in our world that are desperately looking for it.

In the end though I agree with Bell that "Love Wins."


Andrew said...

Yep, whatever one things of Christianity or Christian theology, Bell has the attitude and outlook that everyone bearing the name of Christ SHOULD have. The world would be a much better place if they did.

Bob said...

Thanks for the review, Steve. I have been thinking about reading this but of course was afraid of the hellfire and damnation that would engulf me once I picked it up . . . . I jest, of course.

It's moving up on my 'to read' list!

Logan said...

Great review Steve! FWIW I don't think Bell is actually a universalist per se; his position as far as I can see is closer to that of C.S. Lewis...i.e. the doors of hell are locked on the inside. Bell certainly hopes for universal salvation but he doesn't insist upon it.

Two related notes: Have you seen the trailer for Hellbound: The Moviet yet?

And, while you are on a book-roll, read "Bad Religion" by Ross Douthat. It is well worth the read, and I think you'll appreciate it!


Bob said...

Good review Steve. I've been wanting to read this but have feared for my mortal soul . . . joking, of course. Moving it to the top of the list. Thanks.

Unknown said...

At least you can always rely on someone else being later to the party than you, Steve...
I'm some 80% of the way through the book and what's jumped up and slapped me around the face is God's refusal to be defined by our dogmas; as soon as we think we've got him in the box, suddenly he's outside it again.
I attended a 'progressive' Anglican church when I was younger - a church that was very proud of the fact that it only 'did' three sacraments - baptism; communion; and marriage. It was something at the time, that I too saw as 'progressive'. But, of course, Jesus only actually gives us two [sacraments]. Don't get me wrong, I 'believe' in marriage, but I also think that Jesus' intentional directives towards only the bread and wine and baptism have welcome 'kingdom' consequences for the unmarried couple and the homosexual. But, then I guess that's Rob Bell's point entirely...

Steve H. said...

Thanks "Anon"! Yeah, I'm seeing more and more like you that many of our institutional arrangements and "dogma" are not only not bringing Heaven to Earth but is actually inhibiting it.

Adrian said...

It's me Steve (anon, above) - evidently I didn't have a name associated with my account before! Very prolific blogging at the moment, by the way ;-)

Steve H. said...

Thanks Adrian. See, with you gone I have more time to blog!