Thank you Tom. I agree, Love Wins is a beautiful and inspiring book. Thanks to the mean-spirited and largely ignorant criticism it will also be the most widely read christian book of the year. Praise God!
I haven’t read the book, but from the interviews I saw, “poet” is an apt description.
This is awesome. I agree with Sonia.
And once I get a copy myself (I will probably request one to review) I’ll be sure to post my thoughts on Amazon!
Getting the story straight and retelling the tale to capture people’s imaginations is how you draw people in. It’s also how you make sense of all your explanations so that people have a bigger picture and framework to interpret all the arguments by. A great way for the good to be sorted from the bad, too; those who agree with the basic essence of this Gospel or would like to would be drawn in, while those who are enemies of it would oppose it. If only more of those who understand and believe in the heart of the Gospel would see its implications!
I’ve appreciated him asking and bringing attention to important questions. And Alex’s wife said it best, “He’s a breath of fresh air.” I too would like to see us support him, if even we know it’s lacking some depth. Perhaps some are not ready for that approach, such depth? It’s good to just have a book causing people to consider aspects they never had and giving them a new appreciation for God that they’ve desperately wanted. We, here, all want to dive in to the deep end, but wading in the pool is good too, especially if you are trying to adjust to the water.
Hello again Tom – and could not agree with you more! Thanks for this.
Among my initial impressions was “boy! this really is “light” reading!”
Then I settled down and began to see the “poet” side. Which is a great perspective to have. When I want Talbott, I read Talbott! So, very different styles; but very similar messages! (Though Bell yet seems to resist “coming out” fully in favor of UR…) His questions and writing do however seem to clearly lead to that destination it appears to me.
I must confess however that I continue to find one difficult flaw (difficult for me at least) in the writings that suggest (Bell) or endorse (you) Universalism and that is it’s avoidance of the topic of God’s violence. Or perhaps what may be called the “evil” at God’s hand. And maybe including the larger topic of a proper theodicy.
I asked this question early on here, Problem: Universalism “shrugs” at God’s violence and still find it vexing.
And indeed the topic comes up from time to time in our ongoing conversations on this site. And the options seem to range from an outright acceptance of evil as part of God’s ordained creation to those for whom the image of God creating evil remains a kind of anathema. I see both sides; I really do. But it does trouble me that when confronted with the charge that Universalism has no real basis to protest against violence and evil (even as practiced by God) – given that we believe all these things are but tools in the hand of a saving God – I find I really am unable to muster a coherent argument against violence and evil under the rubric of Universalism…
Any guidance/direction on this point would be deeply appreciated Tom!
Is there a “proper” way for a “proper” Universalist to answer this problem? (understanding that I see you as the pinnacle of what a “proper” Universalist is!! )
It actually is in Bell’s favor that he resists, it is not for him to convince people of this conclusion (should that be his belief), but that by what he writes, let the audience come to the conclusion themselves.
To me Bell seems to be a hopeful universalist, but because he values the transcendant mystery of God, human autonomy, and openess to the greater body of Christ, Bell resists driving a stake in the ground and saying “This is what I believe…” Rather, he raises questions, probing and convicting questions, and encourages people to think for themselves, come to their own conclusions. But of course, the doctrine of Hell is core unquestionable belief in many/most denominations and churches.
The reaction of the evangelical community to Rob Bell’s book, Love Wins, continues to be quite remarkable, in some cases even disgraceful, and reveals a lot more about today’s evangelical community than it does about Rob Bell or his book. So when a host of evangelicals began pointing to Martin Bashir’s interview of Bell as if it were a tour de force and had supposedly made him squirm, I decided to watch the interview for myself. I was stunned, not by Bell’s answers, which were both intelligent and appealing, but by the absurdity of Bashir’s questions, which were more like dogmatic assertions than real questions.
Consider this. Bashir quotes a critic who claims that Love Wins is “historically inaccurate” and its use of Scripture “indefensible.” Then, without even naming the critic or, worse yet, without citing a single example of a supposed historical inaccuracy or an indefensible use of Scripture, Bashir declares, “This is true, isn’t it.” As anyone who listens to the interview will discover, moreover, Bashir’s tone suggests a challenging statement, not a genuine question. Had he cited even one example of a supposed historical inaccuracy, for instance, there would then have been something worthwhile on the table to discuss. But in the absence of a single example, how on earth is one to respond? It is as if I were to interview Bashir and cite a critic who claims that, as an interviewer, he is simply incompetent. In the absence of a single example of the alleged incompetence, the additional charge, “This is true, isn’t it,” would serve no useful purpose beyond a sophomoric attempt to smear someone.
As the interview came to an end, I found Bashir’s approach merely bewildering—until, that is, I later learned that he was a member of a conservative Calvinist church at the heart of the firestorm. I then understood why he repeatedly confused post mortem repentance with the idea that our choices in this life are “immaterial” or “irrelevant” to the whole issue of salvation. That, however, is absurd. No Christian who accepts the possibility of repentance after the age of twenty need hold that a teenager’s choices are therefore irrelevant to the teenager’s salvation; and similarly, no Christian who accepts the possibility of repentance after physical death need hold that our choices in this life are irrelevant to salvation either. The truth is that all of our choices, both the good and the bad, those made before the age of twenty and those made after the age of twenty, are what God takes into account and works with as he brings us into a proper relationship with Jesus Christ and thus saves us from our sins.
Perhaps the most astonishing thing about this unjustly celebrated interview is the way in which Bashir shoots himself in the foot at the very beginning of the interview. Citing the recent earthquake and tsunami that devastated Japan, he tries to impale Bell on the horns of a familiar (but utterly false) dilemma: “Either God is all powerful,” he insisted, “but doesn’t care about the people of Japan and therefore their suffering, or he does care about the people of Japan and their suffering but is not all-powerful.” Remarkably, on three different occasions he asks in a challenging way, “Which is it,” as if there were no third possibility. Although Bell is just too sweet a person, it seems, to have done so, he could easily have turned this false dilemma back on Bashir in a way that would make many traditional Christians squirm. For most of those who died in the earthquake and tsunami were non-Christians, and these, according to Bashir’s own theology, were thus destined for eternal torment in hell anyway. And given the traditional picture of hell, the degree of suffering there is far greater than what anyone suffered in Japan. All of which raises a much more serious dilemma for Bashir. Either God is all powerful and doesn’t care about those who experience eternal torment in hell, or he does care about them and is not all powerful. So which is it, Mr. Bashir?
Anyone who has been at the receiving end of bullying by someone who professed Christ will sympathize with Rob Bell and feel defensive on his behalf against Basher. Basher tried to force his own words into Bell’s mouth and Bell didn’t go along with that program. Good for Bell!
Like the rev drew says
Here is a fairer interview: Rob Bell Interview MSNBC Morning Joe: Pastor’s new book causes controversy
Thanks Tom for pointing out this beautiful irony. I think he attends Tim Keller’s church in New York. I was amazed to hear Keller, during the Gospel Coalition’s highly biased panel discussion last week [Carson: Love Wins is blasphemous), trotting out the old idea that only infinite punishment is adequate for any offence against an infinite being.
I’ll have to get back to the posts in here, but just wanted to say that I’ve read up to chapter 3 on the way to the Tulip Festival here in Skagit County WA and so far it’s mind-blowingly awesome. Just as Tom said, it gives fresh vision and might I add with rigorous attention to scriptural themes and context. I’m very pleasantly surprised! He answers many questions and is even helping give me that picturesque context to adequately sort all my own beliefs together (which, I might add, align exactly with his). He expresses and frames things in a way I would like to do so myself. I have great hope in the kind of effect this will have on a widespread sector of the populace (and not just Christians). It will really strike a chord, and best of all it does more justice to the nuances of Jesus’ overall teachings than anything I’ve encountered yet.
My husband bought Love Wins last night, and stayed up all night reading it. He thinks it’s great.
So, I’ll get to read it soon–he’s rereading now. Bell has really struck a chord with him … much more so than Tom Talbott or Robin Parry were able to.
That’s great news! Enjoy the wait. Rob Bell is certainly very accessible to the non-specialist and has a great style. I can recommend “Love Wins” to people who would probably give up before reaching the end of Robin or Tom’s books. I’ve ordered a load of copies for our Church bookstall too.
Yeah, he definitely has that way of communicating. Also, the book’s a quick easy read, what with big text and ultra-frequent paragraph breaks. I’m almost through it after probably less than three hours.
For what it’s worth, I just finished “Love Wins,” and found it far superior to what the discussion had inclined me to expect (I was left wondering if some critics had really read it). I agree that Talbott and Parry are far better for intellectuals like me that seek greater depth of discussion. But we shouldn’t take that as diminishing Bell. I see his book as a creative and brilliant work that raises many of the right questions that we raise and introduces in simple language some of the best N.T. scholarship. When I see people like Mouw, Eugene Peterson, or Roger Olson say that it’s orthodox and largely reflects their sentiments, and compare that with Piper, MacArthur or D. A. Carson’s reactions, I think we have a Rohrschach Test on our hands. I suspect that it would be the most effective book to give many in the church who are at all open to the questions that universalists pose. Beyond anything I’ve seen, it’s lack of a dogmatic conclusion or of footnoted arguments may actually allow it to plant more of the inspiring seeds that rethinking requires. I encourage you to consider who might be receptive to receiving a copy!
I’ve just recently finished reading it myself (Sunday to Tuesday night), though I haven’t gotten around to writing up anything on it yet. I want to do so while re-reading it.
I was pleasantly surprised to find it somewhat better than I was expecting. It’s a very accessible introduction to the topic–keeping in mind that Rob never mentions “the topic” per se, and kind of denies he’s going that far.
Yes, an “accessible” introduction is precisely the description for which I was looking!
Thanks for all the reviews, Brothers and Sisters. I had vacillated over whether to bother reading this book as I have a kind of prejudice (unfair, I’m sure) against popular books. It seems I’m always having to buy stuff from Amazon merchants because whatever it is I want has gone out of print. But I love poetry – I’m more right-brained than left. I have been called a space cadet and been rather pleased. So I’m going to get it this very night. My Kindle has got to start gaining weight one of these days. I am also enjoying all the excellent (more heavy-weight) writings you all have suggested for me.
I started reading it over the weekend, and am now near the end. I think what I find most refreshing about it is Bell’s accessible, this-feels-so-familiar-and-comprehensible style. I had not even heard of Rob Bell or Mars Hill until earlier this year. Actually, my first exposure to Bell was probably a few months ago, via a very succinct, almost matter-of-fact youtube video someone recommended.
Okay, so, as I began reading it, I was under the impression, based on comments I had heard, that Bell does not actually espouse universalism. I was chuckling while reading because I thought: perhaps he doesn’t use the “u” word (or does he?), but the entire gist of the book is clearly a call to us all to consider the vastness of love, the unfathomable dimensions of a God whose love is most assuredly capable and willing to reach all creation, a love that seeks out the lost 99, a love that is steadfast and patient, a love that refuses to lose anyone within its reach–and its reach is mighty. So I chuckled because it was about as universalistic as it could possibly be without blatantly declaring it.