Ok, I realize the twitter flash is over and fewer people are talking about Rob Bell. After a month to reflect and the task of discussing "Love Wins" with our young adults next Thursday I wanted to share some short thoughts on why I love Rob and why I'm struggling with "Love Wins".
Here's the first reason to love Rob...
1. He's a gifted creative genius.
God has gifted Rob in incredible ways. Back in the day we used "nooma" videos to help students understand and engage with truth. I'm so grateful for his giftedness and willingness to try something new. The first video we ever used was the one on "fire". Do you remember how powerful that was? Or what about the video when he was hiking and had his son on his back. I can still remember him saying, "it's ok buddy". Powerful stuff.
2. He's not afraid to ask tough questions.
Our churches and communities must be places where people feel the freedom to question. Let's face it, there is a lot of stuff we believe that doesn't make sense. Many of the questions that come up in "Love Wins" are important things for us to consider. People are asking questions about heaven and hell. They're asking questions about God's goodness and human suffering. They're asking questions about grace and forgiveness. I long for my church to be a place where questions come frequently without the fear of others condemning.
I don't believe Rob is afraid to ask questions, do you?
3. He's my brother in Christ.
As I wrote that I felt so "oldschool", but it's true. Rob loves Jesus and Jesus loves Rob. People should absolutely desire what is God's best for Rob and his family. This passage in 1st Peter has really grabbed my heart lately.
1 Peter 1:22-23
22 Now that you have purified yourselves by obeying the truth so that you have sincere love for your brothers, love one another deeply, from the heart. 23 For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God.
When we obey the gospel we automatically and supernaturally have "sincere love for your brothers". Rob is one of those "brothers".
Although I love and respect Rob and his ministry I have significant struggles with "Love Wins".
Here are 3 quick thoughts.
1. He belittles his would be critics.
Many have said they love the book because it creates great discussion. Great discussion doesn't usually happen if you cut off those who disagree with you at the knees. His use of exaggeration and sarcasm may cause the reader to feel that if they question or believe something different than Rob perhaps they've "hijacked Christianity" or "don't throw very good parties". Perhaps instead of using verbiage like "if your God is loving one second and cruel the next" it might be better to seek to understand God's love as it relates also to his holiness, righteousness and justice. Is God cruel? No. Holy? Absolutely. That would be a discussion worth having.
I love what Tim Keller has said...
"The first thing that disappointed me was not the content so much as the attitude. There is an immediate ridicule of apparent “close-minded” people. A conversation about conflict cannot begin with ridicule. We should not pit the doctrines of God against one another. At the cross, the love and holiness of God both win."
Perhaps it's just me but I've always felt better conversations resulted when respecting the thoughts of critics instead of belittling them.
2. His use of scripture is at best incomplete.
I'm no Bible scholar and I don't have my doctorate in Greek but I really do have a passion to handle the scriptures well and look at the whole council of God. In my limited understanding it doesn't seem Rob does that well. Perhaps it was an oversight on my part but there seems to be important passages excluded. Of course he couldn't or wouldn't put all the Bible in his book but there are a couple that seem crucial to his discussion.
Does he anywhere mention the whole "narrow road" passage of Matthew 7? There's no doubt I could have missed it but Jesus seems to believe there will be a few saved.
The other major passage strangely missing is the "lamb's book of life" and "lake of fire" passage in Revelation 20:14, 15. That's some scary *%$^%# right there. Take a look if you have time.
Scot Mcknight has this to say about omitting Rev. 20...
"The first one is fatal for his argument because he said “And that’s it.” He does not discuss the Lake of Fire, and it appears to me that it cuts across his central arguments."
It would be interesting to see Rob's thoughts on these and other passages.
3. He is clearly unclear in his position.
Some people I've spoken with say the book is very clear on it's position. Others have said they have no idea what Rob's position is and what he's trying to say. My struggle is that he says things very strong and then throws in a "get out of jail free" card. Kind of like 'it would be dumb to believe that God judges sin for eternity" and then turning around and saying "I'm not really sure what happens". (my words not his)
He does however say this...
"Will everybody be saved, or will some perish apart from God forever because of their choices? Those are questions, or more accurately, those are tensions we are free to leave fully intact. We don’t need to resolve them or answer them because we can’t, and so we simply respect them, creating space for the freedom that love requires. (115)"
It's kind of like trying to nail jello to the wall. If he purposely is trying to be ambiguous he's done an ok job, maybe. I'm not sure. We can't know everything and there are many questions left unanswered. But when dealing with issues as important as a person's eternal destiny shouldn't we be as crystal clear as possible? Sometimes it feels he's purposely been as muddy as possible.
So, why is all this so important and why should we care? There are many answers to that question. Again, Tim Keller puts it well when asked if the discussion is important.
"Yes. It’s sort of like the bird in the ecosystem who if goes extinct throws off everything. Anything other than endless punishment lessens sin and the God who has been sinned against. If you take away the infinity of punishment, everything diminishes."
That's a strong statement and probably worth unpacking. The bottom line is this discussion on heaven and hell, God's holiness and his love is important and not going away. That's a good thing!
So, may we as people who love Jesus as the truth and learn to love and respect each other. Is it possible to love someone and also disagree with them? I sure hope so.