"The Prodigal Gospel of Rob Bell" (aka JRP's long review)


#1

The Prodigal Gospel of Rob Bell.pdf (329 KB)
The Prodigal Gospel of Rob Bell.doc (437 KB)
Be warned, be very awarned: this is a lengthy review of Rob Bell’s Love Wins. By which I mean that the files appended to this opening post will print out at 105 pages–and I’m not even going to comment on (most of) the scriptural context issues! (That would be well worth doing, pro and/or con, but it’s also a whole other huge project in itself.)

One of our members, Gem, has started a different discussion thread here for chapter by chapter group discussion of the book. I certainly recommend participating in it! :smiley:

I posted up parts with a few days between (except for Parts 1 and 2 which went up together), so as to allow visitors time to digest the big gulps, and so as to allow members time to comment a bit between installments. (And to give me time to compose more!)

This opening post features a table of contents with links to the parts of the review; and I’ve added links at the end of each part to the start of the next in case readers want to skip over any subsequent discussion (if any).

Part 1: Goofy Introductory Comments Now (It’s also the immediately following comment, so there’s a good chance you can see it already… :mrgreen:)
Part 2: Duck Season
Part 3: A Really Short Review (And Why It Won’t Be Short)
The post with the “really short review” itself can be found here. It’s a paragraph.
Part 4: Tireing Of Suspicious Innuendo And Personal Relationships
Part 5: This Feels Like It’s Going On Forever
Part 6: Fishy For Hell
Part 7: Love Wins! (Or At Least Doesn’t Lose!)
Part 8: Taking it Personally
Part 9: Rock On (Rob’s chapter 6 is the key to everything else in his book. If you read only one part, read this one. If you read only one chapter, read that one.)
Part 10: The Prodigal Gospel (This is the grand finale, covering Rob’s 7th and 8th/epilogue chapters.)

I have also written a far more formal 13-page summary review, which is available for download here.


God Wins: A weak rebuttal to Bell’s “Love Wins”
What books are our members reading? Post updates freely! {g}
Book:Erasing Hell by Francis Chan
"Split Frame of Reference" blog updates
Christ minimized?
Gotquestions.org vs "ultimate reconciliation"
Review: Charles Watson's _Hell In A Nutshell_
Love Wins
JRP's summary review of Rob Bell's "Love Wins"
#2

Part 1: Goofy Introductory Comments Now

JEEZ! YOU’RE ONE OF THE FORUM’S MAIN AUTHORS AND YOU’RE JUST NOW GETTING AROUND TO THIS?!?

Yes. I have a list of reasons here if you’d like to–

WAIT, WHAT IS THIS? WHY ARE WE ASKING QUESTIONS IN ALL-CAPS?!

This is a FAQ. It’s a style pretty common on the internet, especially when authors want to have a little fun doing a review and/or commentary on something.

WHAT DOES FAQ MEAN?!

It’s an abbreviation. Usually it stands for Frequently Asked Questions–

BUT WE’VE READ QUICKLY DOWN THROUGH THE LIST AND WE CAN’T IMAGINE MOST OF THESE QUESTIONS BEING ASKED BY ANYONE, MUCH LESS FREQUENTLY SO!

–which, as I was about to say, is why this technically isn’t a frequently asked question list. It’s a fraternally anticipated question list. Same acronym. :slight_smile:

FINE, WHATEVER. ARE WE GOING TO BE COMMENTING AND ASKING ANTICIPATED QUESTIONS IN THIS SNARKY AND RATHER HOSTILE STYLE (AND AS IF “WE” ARE MULTIPLE PEOPLE) ALL THE WAY THROUGH?

Yeah, that’s part of the overall style when an internet author wants to borrow the general FAQ format for more informal and entertaining purposes.

BAH, WHY BOTHER TRYING TO BE INFORMAL AND ENTERTAINING?! ARE YOU INCOMPETENT AT THE TECHNICAL ASPECTS AND TRYING TO COVER UP FOR THAT!?

Actually I’m the kind of person who writes eye-glazingly lengthy technical analyses on theology and exegetics. But Rob’s book is not a technical analysis by any stretch of the imagination. So if I wrote a technical paper in favor of his positions (more or less) I would only be giving my own arguments, not reporting on his (such as they are). Or alternately I’d be spearing him on technical grounds. Also, I don’t recall having seen anyone else report on his book this way yet, so…


#3

SO DOES BELL WRITE HIS BOOK IN THIS SILLY FAQ STYLE?

No no no! But he does write in an extremely informal style, pretty similar (as it happens) to how I wrote Cry of Justice, or to how I wrote the fifth Section of Sword to the Heart: he uses short paragraphs and sentence fragments and what I call meta-paragraphs (where an extra blank line is inserted between paragraphs or around a short paragraph in order to give a bit longer pause or to emphasize what’s being said in the short paragraph); and even intentionally decaps the start of some sentences (or sentence fragments) or leaves off punctuation at the end of a line, in order to try to represent how someone might be speaking.

I mention this, not only to shamelessly plug my own work (although that, too… plug… plug…), and not only to defend him against spurious complaints about his formatting, but also for a self-critical purpose: I have to testify that I am somewhat emotionally jealous and resentful that he’s scoring huge attention with this popular work when (1) I do the same thing dangit but I don’t get to have even distantly the same attention!–and (2) I do the same thing dangit but I bother to do the logical math first!

That fifth and final Section of chapters in SttH follows four whole Sections of chapters (more than 600 pages worth!) where (despite a few informalities along the way) I’m chewing constantly and progressively through a vastly huge number of topics on metaphysics and philosophy, many of which are quite difficult. I did my pushups, so I have leeway to play around in the final 80ish pages; and more importantly if someone critiques me on a position, I can point back to where I did the work and we can discuss the technical details pro and con. Even in the novel (and its sequels), while things are far from clear, that’s only because I’m keeping my plot cards close to my vest for entertainment purposes. I am not trying to be obscure in my non-fiction and especially not in my theology!–even though sometimes I may be talking densely.

But I get the impression sometimes that Rob hasn’t really thought all this through, and may not even be interested in thinking it through, which naturally leaves him unable to defend himself adequately on technical grounds against challenges–yet he also wants to definitely say that those people over there are doing something terribly, horribly wrong!

This annoys the urbanity out of me, at several levels, both personal and professional. But that annoyance could lead me to over-critique him, too, or to overlook things he may be doing correctly. Anyway I will be trying to compensate in his favor.


#4

SO IS BELL BEING INFORMAL AND ENTERTAINING BECAUSE HE’S INCOMPETENT AT THE TECHNICAL ASPECTS AND TRYING TO COVER UP FOR THAT!?

This was my suspicion going into the book, based on how he often evaded giving technical answers to technical challenges in preliminary interviews. I should add however that ever since I picked up a stomach virus a few weeks ago (see the interrupted answer to the first question above :wink: ), I’ve had a personal moratorium on his later interviews (and on articles sniping against him) until I could catch up with reading the book and writing this FAQ.

So he might be doing better now than he was before. It isn’t impossible. I guess.

THAT SOUNDS LIKE YOU AREN’T SURE HE MIGHT BE DOING BETTER IN THE BOOK, EVEN AFTER READING HIS BOOK.

Eh, no. But I can honestly say I do think more highly of the book than I was expecting. He does go into more biblical detail than one might suppose from his early interviews, for example, and I was especially pleased to see a plethora of Old Testament references.

YOUR ATTEMPT AT DISTRACTING US FROM THE “EH, NO” AT THE BEGINNING OF THAT PARAGRAPH FARES POORLY.

That’s because I’m more than a little iffy about the contexts of all those references panning out as well as he presents them for. (…I’m almost certain the grammar of that sentence added up.) I know some of them certainly do because I’m familiar with the references myself in my own apologetic work. But I haven’t looked up all of them (yet). And he doesn’t always present his refs with contextual discussion. From long experience debating theology exegetically, I can’t help but be suspicious about that.

SO WHY NOT LOOK ALL OF THEM UP BEFORE WRITING THIS FAQ?

Partly because I’m already running waaaaay behind in getting this thing out (which I feel bad about, considering I’m one of the guest authors and admins for the forum); and partly because I feel like I ought to review the book on its own merits as presented. People expecting contextual discussion and that sort of thing in his book will sometimes be disappointed.

SOMETIMES?

Not all the time. I’ll provide examples later.

SO ARE WE DONE WITH YOUR GOOFY INTRODUCTORY COMMENTS NOW?

Yep!

ONWARD THEN!


#5

Part 2: Duck Season

LOOK, WE JUST WANT TO KNOW IF ROB BELL IS A HERETIC. THAT’S ALL WE WANT TO KNOW.

Of course he is! Duh.

…WAIT, WHAT?

That’s because he’s trying not to be a universalist. But actually he is one. Since I myself am a universalist, naturally I’m going to think that his insistence on being non-universalistic is heretical. Fortunately he’s less heretical than he thinks he is. Although, he isn’t trying to be heretical, he’s trying to be orthodox, and doubtless believes he’s orthodox, just like I believe I’m orthodox, and Olsen believes he himself is orthodox (but Calvinists like Piper and we universalists are heretics), and Piper believes he himself is orthodox (but Arminians like Olsen and universalists like myself are heretics).

So it’s complicated.

NEVER MIND. WE SHOULD HAVE KNOWN BETTER THAN TO ASK YOU IF A UNIVERSALIST IS A HERETIC ANYWAY.

Especially since I’m going to be picky and nuanced and detailed and charitable to my opponents in their favor (adding more picky nuanced details thereby)…

SO IS BELL CHARITABLE TO HIS OPPONENTS?!

Um… no? I think the answer is no.

YOU AREN’T SURE?

From his attitude in other regards, one might have expected him to go out of his way to talk about how Calvs and Arms are both getting some important things right (especially since he works hard to explicitly affirm some things important to both Calvs and Arms, including against each other). But I don’t recall this ever happening in the book (or in the few interviews I heard from him before reading the book).

I might be mis-remembering about that. I might just not recall it. I do however recall him strongly dissing non-universalists of various stripes. Without mentioning, when he does so, that they’re also getting a lot of things right.


#6

YET FROM WHAT YOU SAID HE’S A NON-UNIVERSALIST HIMSELF!

Well, non-universalists do have a tendency to diss each other for not being the right kind of non-universalist, you know. :wink: And what I said was that he actually is a universalist. He’s just trying not to be.

YEAH, ABOUT THAT…?!

Categorically he’s a universalist the same way Roman Catholic systematic theologian Hans Urs Von Balthasar is a universalist yet not. And the same way Protestant systematic theologian Karl Barth is a universalist yet not. And the same way Eastern Orthodox systematic theologian Sergius Bulgakov is a universalist yet not.

All three of those other (far more technically oriented and detailed) theologians, who are hugely famous and well-respected among scholars of their respective branches of Nicene-Chalcedonian ‘catholic’ Christianity, go very far out of their way to strongly stress the scope and the persistence of God’s salvation of sinners from sin. And all three are aware (to at least some extent) of apparent revelation from God in the scriptures that He will someday eventually succeed in saving all sinners from sin. But none of them consider themselves to be universalists, because none of them affirm that God will certainly save all sinners from sin (despite apparent revelation indicating so). In fact all three go out of their way to deny that they are universalists, pretty much on that ground.

Rob Bell, despite being much more loosey-goosey with his theological presentation than those giants (at least in Love Wins), fits that paradigm precisely. He goes out of his way to strongly affirm both the scope and the persistence; he goes out of his way to mention various scriptures seeming to reveal that God will surely someday succeed in that scope and persistence of salvation; and he goes out of his way to deny that he believes this will certainly happen. He never uses the term ‘universalist’ or ‘universal salvation’ or anything of similar meaning like that. But he still, in effect, denies being one in his book; and when people have charged him with it (in the few early interviews I’ve seen) he still denies it. (Or evades the question.)

On the other hand, just like those three systematic giants, Rob also refuses to state for sure that at least some people will not be saved from sin. In this he (and those other gentlemen) could be considered half-a-step farther toward universalism than C. S. Lewis, whom Rob has some familiarity with (and admiration for): Lewis strongly affirmed the scope and even on occasion strongly affirmed the persistence, which is why he could pretty directly affirm an expectation (if not straight out teach a belief) that Christ can and will save at least some souls post-mortem, even out from hell. But Lewis on other occasions also strongly affirmed that we had to accept that at least some sinners would not be saved from sin by Christ; and, not incidentally, to explain this Lewis turned around and denied the persistence of Christ in saving from sin. (Not that he believed Christ would willingly give up persisting in salvation, but that the sinners would make Christ do so by damning themselves beyond Christ’s power to save.)


#7

SO… WAIT, WE’RE CONFUSED AGAIN. WHY IS BELL A UNIVERSALIST WHEN HE DENIES ALL PEOPLE WILL CERTAINLY BE SAVED?

As I just mentioned, there is a subtle but strong distinction between Rob and Lewis on this. Lewis outright denied universal salvation, even though he affirmed post-mortem salvation. Rob refuses to deny universal salvation.

BUT HE REFUSES TO AFFIRM IT, TOO!

True.

SO WHY ARE HIS NON-UNIVERSALIST OPPONENTS JUMPING UP AND DOWN ON HIM FOR BEING A UNIVERSALIST?!

Because he is. He isn’t the kind of universalist who affirms universal salvation will certainly happen! He rather confusedly thinks this means he isn’t a universalist. But he is.

WELL WE’RE CONFUSED, TOO! WHY WOULDN’T THAT MEAN HE ISN’T A UNIVERSALIST!?

While I’m very sympathetic to the notion that people should be taken seriously when they claim to be or not to be something, there are also logical limits to how far that freedom extends. The limit here is a subtle one, and I think it’s very forgivable and understandable that Rob considers himself to not be a universalist, especially since the vague popular notion of universalism is that everyone just goes to heaven regardless of any consideration. It’s this notion of universalism (which certainly is a type of universalism) that most people currently bother believing or opposing. Rob is very definitely not that kind of universalist, and many of his opponents are being extremely unfair to him (as well as being grossly inept at evaluating claims, including his) by trying to paint him that way.

Rob doesn’t help matters here because he himself tends to promote (in a sloppy ill-defined sort of way) the notion that the only real universalism is that popularistic automatic free passcard universalism; consequently that by refusing to affirm God will certainly succeed in persistently saving all sinners from sin, he is only (and rightly) denying the vague non-Christian popularistic notion. As if God being successful in leading all sinners to repent of their sins and reconciling them personally with the people (God and man both) whom the sinners have sinned against, would somehow be tantamount to the “whee everyone goes to heaven regardless of anything let’s party” party.


#8

UH… YEAH WHATEVER, BUT NONE OF THAT EXPLAINS WHY YOU KEEP SAYING HE’S A UNIVERSALIST ANYWAY DESPITE HIS OWN DENIALS OF BEING ONE…

I know, I’m getting there. In my roundabout way I’m also trying to lead up to explaining why his opponents aren’t only being massively ignorant gnat-wits in trying to insist that Rob is being “heretical” about something, namely about being a universalist.

See, they’re picking up on something, too: that subtle but crucial technical distinction between what Rob is claiming (and not claiming) and what Lewis was claiming. Lewis would sometimes strongly affirm the persistence of God in saving sinners from sin, but he would turn around later (sometimes in the same book!) and strongly disaffirm it, too. This is why Lewis was Arminianistic and not Calvinistic, categorically–as even Calv admirers of Lewis agree–and also why Lewis was definitely Arm instead of Kath (Katholic, Christian Universalistic). It wasn’t only that Lewis explicitly affirmed hopeless damnation (whether annihilationism or eternal conscious torment, though more toward the former than the latter). It was because Lewis explicitly denied the persistence of God’s salvation (despite affirming it elsewhere.)

Rob only affirms the scope and the persistence. He’s consistent about this. He doesn’t turn around and deny one or the other later, even when trying to explain how in fact some people might continue being punished by God as impenitent sinners and maybe even punished forever! This is also the big distinction between the Big Three Bs of 20th century ‘catholic’ systematic theology (Balthasar, Barth and Bulgakov) versus Lewis on soteriology: they also all refused to turn around and definitely deny the persistence or scope of God’s salvation. (I’m admittedly a bit fuzzier about Barth on this, but I think I’m right. I’ll certainly welcome correction!)


#9

AND WHY DOES THAT MAKE A DIFFERENCE? OTHER THAN BEING AT LEAST ADMIRABLY CONSISTENT (UNLIKE LEWIS OF ALL PEOPLE!) ON THIS TOPIC?

Keep in mind, most Calv and Arm theologians are just as admirably consistent on this topic, too. Lewis had to be inconsistent because (in my estimation) he was so awesomely competent that he came to see how both sides were correct in important ways (even though against each other)–but couldn’t quite figure out how to make this jive with what he thought was hard-core evidence against universalism being true. So (logically, in its own way) he had to flatly contradict himself on a point; and being a huge proponent of rational action and real (though derivative) free will, he turned around in a way that protected free will at the expense of protecting sinners from being successfully saved by God! As a Calv might disapprovingly (and in a way quite correctly) put it, Lewis sacrificed the omnicompetent Lordship of God to the lordship of Man.

Rob refuses to do that; which is ironic since his Calv opponents (and even some Arm opponents) paint him as sacrificing God’s Lordship for Man’s, too. But because Rob refuses to sacrifice God’s Lordship to the free will of Man, Rob also refuses the softer Arminian route taken by Lewis: sinners don’t get to finally defeat God (by God’s permission or otherwise).

But also because Rob refuses to sacrifice the loving Lordship of God, affirming this Lordship instead (if on rather vague grounds, which his opponents see plenty of avenue for attacking, and rightly so in a way), Rob refuses the harder Arminian route taken by hardcore Arms: God eventually loses patience and just gives up trying. Or even stops trying for anyone after Christ (analogically speaking) opens the door of the fold, leaving it entirely up to the sheep to wander in if we care to and not if not (even if we’re out stuck on the hillside and simply have no opportunity to get to the fold of the door!)

On the other hand, and in much the same way, because Rob refuses to sacrifice the loving Lordship of God, affirming it instead, Rob refuses the Calvinistic route of claiming God acts to save some sinners but not to save all of them.


#10

And that’s the nub of the matter. Rob claims that God acts with ultimate broadness of scope to save sinners, and Rob also claims God acts with ultimate deepness of persistence to save sinners. He doesn’t put the matter in quite that fashion, but that’s what it adds up to. And he doesn’t turn around later and deny one of those positions.

Calvs think Arms are in doctrinal error (which is technical heresy even if not the sin of heresy) for insisting on the scope of God’s salvation. So logically they’re going to think Rob is heretical too for exactly the same reason. Depending on how charitable they are, Calvs might bother to mention that Rob is entirely correct about God’s persistence in salvation, but they have to call a spade a spade and coup him for heresy on the scope.

Arms think Calvs are in doctrinal error (which is technical heresy even if not the sin of heresy) for insisting on the persistence of God’s salvation. So logically they’re going to think Rob is heretical too for exactly the same reason. Depending on how charitable they are, Arms might bother to mention that Rob is entirely correct about God’s scope in salvation, but they have to call a spade a spade and coup him for heresy on the persistence.

Moreover, a lot of people (even trained professionals) are unable to see any difference between a technical error and the ethical sin of heresy. So that adds a lot of nitro to the fire.

More moreover, a lot of people (even trained professionals) believe in salvation by correct doctrinal assent (even though ironically this is the heresy of gnosticism!) So even if they might allow that Rob isn’t sinning, he’s still (if they’re right) leading people into hopeless damnation by teaching them not to believe the right doctrinal passcards to get into heaven. No one is tolerant of ebola; nor should they be!


#11

To give another relevant example: I strongly affirm and refuse to deny the scope and the persistence of God’s salvation of sinners from sin. I do so for picky technical reasons involving my assent of orthodox trinitarian theism being true, rather than for vague emotional reasons of the sort Rob talks about in his book; but we’re still at the same subsequent doctrinal result.

Now I can believe this and still believe (and even insist) that, out of love for the sinner, God will not simply treat the sinner as a puppet or brainwash the sinner into doing right with an omnipotent poof of power. Rob is exactly on board with that, too. Consequently, I could believe that some sinners might choose to keep on rebelling forever; or they might not, who knows? Once again, this is exactly where Rob ends up in the book. If God saves them, love wins. If God keeps them in existence and able to rebel but also able to repent someday (even if they themselves never choose to do so) and keeps leading them to repent forever (even if they never do), then love at least still hasn’t lost!–and love is still loving those sinners with an actively saving love.

But I would be a universalist, even if I believed that and no further. I know because that was in fact how I first came to be a universalist: I came to realize God’s salvation was both universal in scope and universal in persistence. That’s neither Calvinistic theology nor Arminianistic theology.

That’s universalism.

And that’s why Rob is also a universalist.


#12

As it happens, I also affirm in favor of the scriptures that seem to indicate God will eventually succeed in saving everyone. Rob knows and talks about at least some of those same scriptures, and he shows that he knows perfectly well what they add up to. Unlike me, Rob doesn’t interpret those over against other scriptures appearing to talk about hopeless damnation. Based on things he writes in the book, I expect this is because he thinks he is somehow preserving human free will. And he may just not see any principle clearly strong enough to serve as certain ground for interpreting one set in light of another set.

I do think I see such a principle, namely the uniquely foundational love of the Trinity which also serves as the one and only ground of morality and ethics–against which love, not coincidentally, we act when we are sinning! When all contextual exegetics are said and done, and I am left with ambiguous results in some cases, then I check to see if one or another interpretation is affirming or denying the doctrines of the Trinity (of which there are a much larger number than even most professionals keep in mind or maybe even are aware of!) If one affirms and another denies, I go with the affirmation: and I find and believe that this affirmation of the Trinity leads to universalism.

So I would say love wins, and I would mean love wins, not that love doesn’t lose.

Rob says love wins, and means love may or may not win who knows but at least love doesn’t lose (much less never ‘plays’ at all.)

A non-universalist, however, hearing someone affirm the scope and the persistence of God’s salvation who also affirms very strongly that “Love Wins” in regard to “Heaven and Hell and the FATE OF EVERY PERSON WHO HAS EVER LIVED ZOMG!!!1”, is going to think… what?

…THAT THIS PERSON REALLY BELIEVES LOVE WINS IN REGARD TO HEAVEN AND HELL AND THE FATE OF EVERY PERSON WHO HAS EVER LIVED?

Ding.


#13

BUT DESPITE THE TITLE OF ROB’S BOOK, ROB DOESN’T REALLY BELIEVE THAT? HE ONLY BELIEVES LOVE WINS IN SOME CASES AND MAY PERHAPS WIN ALTOGETHER BUT AT LEAST WILL NEVER OUTRIGHT LOSE?

Doesn’t make for quite as an attention-catching book title, hm? It’s still technically universalism, though.

MARKETING FOOFARAW?

Maybe. But I doubt it. Sometimes authors don’t get to choose their titles, but in this case based on some things he says in-text I think he at least approved the title. And maybe chose it. And maybe insisted on it.

Whether I’m right about that or not, non-universalists are correct to be hopping up and down about him claiming universalism to be true. He’s claiming universalism to be true, even if not in such words; he is not claiming “love wins” in the fashion that either Arms or Calvs might try to claim it; and he outright refuses to deny “love wins”.

And he claims that non-universalists (even though not using that term) are certainly making a terrible and even ethically horrible mistake by preaching (what amounts to one or another kind of) non-universalism.

If he walks like a duck and quacks like a duck and swims like a duck and has a bill like a duck and downy feathers like a duck and webbed feet like a duck and wings like a duck and eats the same kind of food as a duck–then he might be a baby swan who hasn’t grown up yet (and doesn’t believe he’s a swan)! But he’s still that kind of bird, and not a eagle/vulture/falcon kind of bird, nor an ostrich/moa/cassowary kind of bird. And people who think they ought to shoot ducks but not eagles or cassowaries will naturally be opening up duck season on him (even “in season and out of season” as they would believe the apostle expects against ducks!) when they hear him loudly quacking in the air overhead.

(Keeping in mind, ducks and swans can be as ill-tempered and pushy and unpleasant and even in their own ways as dangerous as the other two kinds!–I’m not borrowing nice vs. nasty bird analogies here. I think cassowaries and falcon/eagles are both excessively awesome sometimes, and at least admirably impressive even when they’re being annoying or hurtful. But they aren’t duck/swan/goose types of bird, nor vice versa.)

ENOUGH QUACKING THEN! ARE YOU GOING TO BE DONE ANYTIME SOON?

Not unless you don’t want to read a summary and commentary of the book.

… {TRYING TO PARSE OUT THE GRAMMAR OF THAT REPLY…} UH… SURE? WAIT, YOU MEAN ALL THAT WASN’T THE SUMMARY AND COMMENTARY??? OH HELL…

I’ll move along quickly. Relatively quickly. Part 3 next.


#14

I don’t think you are getting the point of Bell’s book. He wants people, just average everyday people, to be able to know Jesus and be whole. He is not making a theological treatise. Traditional theologian led Christianity has lost the gospel, It is the theologian who has made the good news into bad. He wants people to find Christ in spite of the theological mess that we have made. Look at his Nooma videos; they are about real people turning to Christ and being transformed. I have read two books by Tom Talbott and Robin Parry and they were very informative to me, but I was once a doubting Neocalvanist who went to seminary briefly and has studied systematic theology. I could not hand either book to my Buddhist teacher friend who is beginning to look at Christianity. Her biggest problem in seeking Jesus was the general concept of Hell. I could and did give her my copy of Love Wins. That is the point of his book. I could not have given her the other two no matter how sound their arguments are.

Jesus came to seek and save those of us who are lost. Be very careful not to become as damnably proud of your theological system as the Pharisees were and Calvinists and Arminians have become. The fact that Jesus spends so much time correcting the thinking of the religious people of his day must inform us, warn us. All of us need to walk in faith in Jesus. He tells the sinners he encounters to follow Him and leave the sin. In contrast He tells the religious that they must be born again. They have to start all over and be as children to have faith in him. When we walk with Him only that which is love, joy, peace patience, kindness, gentleness, etc. will survive. That which is good walks on with Him the rest falls off.

By the way, Talbott’s and Parry’s books convinced me intellectually that the Calvinist view was incorrect and were a great help to me. However, the night I finished reading Love Wins I turned to Jesus and I was born again. I could say to Him, “that’s what I want” and dove in. It touched me where I lived not just intellectually.


#15

Dave, what you wrote, well said. Particularly this:

Jason, I have read everything on this page so far (14 posts) and all I can glean from what you’ve written is that Rob Bell is a universalist but he doesn’t want to say he is. Seems like a lot of posts to say that. I would normally assume 14 posts would be enough for me to have a pretty good idea about a book being reviewed. Unless I’m missing something. **


#16

I’m deleting my post. I overreacted and am withdrawing my comments. Sorry.


#17

True! On both counts! I’ll be talking about that later. As well as about some other things. Such as…

…whether it makes any difference if he makes a theological mess himself along the way. :wink:

Which brings up, not incidentally, his charges (which are quite strong though not numerous) that theologians (by which he means other theologians, not himself) have made a horrible mess of things.

Well any hick preacher off the street could say the exact same thing about Rob Bell, without wanting or (in his opinion) needing any valid grounds and accurate data for saying so. That wouldn’t be fair to Rob, though. So why is it fair for Rob to make that accusation without providing valid grounds and accurate data for saying so?

Oh, does he provide valid grounds and accurate data for saying so? Then we ought to be able to check those over ourselves to see how well they hold up. If they don’t hold up well, though, then what is his defense going to be?–that he’s only trying to be an informal casual preacher reaching out to people at a popular level and so doesn’t need to provide accurate reasons for doing so because the common reader wouldn’t understand or appreciate it–even though they’re implicitly supposed to be trusting him to have done his homework and to know what he’s talking about?

Then we’re back to him having no evidently good reason to be slagging other teachers and preachers.

Anyway I’ll be covering things of that sort, pro and con, as I go along. This opening “Duck Season” entry was not aimed at assessing any of that.

That’s excellent advice!–and one way to keep from getting that damnably proud is to make sure one acknowledges as much real credit as possible even to one’s staunchest enemies (as, by the way, Christ did even for the Pharisees).

Does Rob do that in LW?

(I’ll be talking about that, too, along the way.)

And thank God for that!–especially being born again!

But are you not aware that the teachers and preachers Rob condemns also lead people to be born again in Jesus? And should they not be critiqued if they have sloppy theology, if their sloppiness involves being unfair to their opposition? (Not to say if the sloppiness of their theology turns out to be misleading their congregations on some matters?)

I actually agree with most of what Rob is aiming for. Heck, I actually agree more with what he is aiming for than Rob himself apparently does. :wink: But that in itself doesn’t mean I should give him a pass, just because it happens to be convenient for my own beliefs to do so.

(There could be other reasons to give him a pass. But if giving him a pass means also acquiescing in anything unfair he himself happens to be doing…? Then no: I’m not going to go along with that.)


#18

Of course it only takes one sentence to say “Rob Bell is a universalist but doesn’t want to say he is.” There, I just said it myself in one sentence. :slight_smile:

But that one sentence opens up a number of issues. Starting with: if he says he isn’t, then why am I saying he is?? My mere sayso in one sentence is not a sufficient explanation. This also leads into the question of why his opponents typically agree he is, even though he says he isn’t. Do they have any good reason at all to be saying so? And why would he say he isn’t anyway?

All that took me some time to hash out–not least because I am strongly sympathetic to the notion that a person ought to be taken seriously when he’s making claims about himself. And that was before even starting the commentary on his book per se!

Remember in Chapter 1 when Rob started with one concept, the “age of accountability”, and went on an epic run throughout most of that chapter pointing out how that question leads to ever-growing complexity in trying to suss out what it means, and how attempts at trying to “simply” answer that question were too over-simple and led to even more complexity with ever more questions needing answers? Especially once scriptural testimony starts to be factored in?

That took a while. And all he was doing (for the most part) was asking questions! Imagine how much time and effort it would have taken him to chew over even a few sets of answers to those questions!

(But this starts to get into the question of whether he is trying to make an implied argument by innuendo without really spending time addressing attempts to answer those questions. And how fair it is for him to be trying that. :wink: More on this in the next part. I will say here, though, that that was my favorite thing he did in Chapter 1. :slight_smile: Even though I’m not so fond of other things he did along the way.)


#19

Jason,

My perception of Bell’s basic assumptions and type of universalism seems very close to yours, and yes, I think it overlaps Barth and Balthasar a lot. I think it corresponds to “hopeful universalism.” Would that term encompass your take? I sense that one reason he distances from the term “universalist,” is that it is often understood as ‘dogmatic universalism,’ and he wants to most fully preserve a sense of the reality of our responses and genuine human freedom to resist God, even though I suspect Bell’s deepest intuition is that God will surely prevail. I think this puts him essentially close to Talbott and Parry’s approach, but much more effective at changing lives among those to which he can much better communicate on a popular level.

My own sense is also that he is much more familiar with some of the basic theological and exegetical debates than many commentators have suggested. So of course, especially in such a popular work for the masses, we can easily critique lack of precision and documentation, unconvincing incoherence, etc. But my impression is that most doctoral dissertations are also regularly criticized as being unconvincing for the same basic reasons. Critiques of Talbott’s book in the evangelical journals certainly consistently argued that it was shoddy, unscholarly, etc, even if some of us would recognize that it is a much more high caliber work.


#20

Let me come from a different angle. I work in a place that is an academic “lifeboat station” for at risk troubled kids, therfore from a Christian perspective I watch people being destroyed by pure evil daily. One of my greatest struggles within myself is a general inability to show them the loving God who can save them. The common gospel with hell as the center point was usless, telling shattered students that gospel is like throwing gas on the fire. I need real practical ways to share the real truth of God with these kids. The two books mentioned in the first post laid the theological posibilities out but did not help me work out the practical implications for sharing the reality of a real loving God. George MacDonald was where I first saw the possibility of sharing a truly real and loving God. I would read with tears of joy, my soul being transformed. But it was after all books of fiction, the question remained does this really work in reality. I could not give one of MacDonalds books to any one I know and expect them to understand what I am trying to tell them. So when I read Love Wins I found someone who is laying out a modern practical explenation of a loving God who is activly trying to save every one. It is practical basic and freeing in its basic presentation. I can present that gospel to an abused street kid and offer him hope. I can give my Buddhist friend the book to remove the barrier of a wrong view of Hell and explain a strait forward gospel. Basic people can understand it. It is not designed to answer the questions of the theological Christian. If you have another book, a better simple and strait forward explenation that regular people can understand tell me about it, I hunger for it.