Love Wins by Rob Bell came out in 2010 while I was overseas with YWAM. I remember the uproar it caused in the Evangelical community, including John Piper’s infamous tweet “Farewell, Rob Bell.”
For years, I put off reading it as I assumed it would persuade me into heresy and the arguments would be so disruptive to my theology I would be swept away from the traditional views of existence before and after death.
Recently I decided that I have reached a point in my life where I am both open-minded enough to give it proper consideration, as well as educated enough to see holes in bad arguments. Fortunately, in Love Wins, I found both of these considerations to be fitting and I read it at the right time of my life.
After completing the book, I read Kevin DeYoung’s response to the book, and I will compare both here, using his as the typical Evangelical reaction to Bell’s arguments.
Love Wins was frankly not that surprising. He employed arguments I’ve heard in the past, after years of running around different theological circles, although overall, I didn’t think his arguments were terribly convincing. Most of the time, when he pulled scripture into his arguments, they were haphazardly thrown in, often rattled off ten at a time, yanked entirely out of context, and entirely unconvincing.
It turns out I had nothing to fear.
The danger here, however, is for readers who, unlike me, don’t have 10+ years of theological education. I recognize that I’m not the average Christian reader, and for that reason, I can see why the outcry against the book was sounded. For anyone newer to the faith, or less familiar with hermeneutical study and historical/literary context, the arguments made in Love Wins would be incredibly persuasive.
Now, much of what Bell wrote was very warranted and accurate. He did raise a lot of great questions about today’s church, and certain theologies and methods employed, but unlike what people often say about this tome, he is not simply “asking questions.” He is making a statement and is intending to lead the reader.
Some of the best things I pulled out of the book are:
The idea that what we do in this life matters a lot. Christians who are solely focused on the afterlife are missing (almost) the entire point.
It is possible to live in hell now. Today. Holding onto grudges, beating yourself up all the time, and the like are all ways of dwelling in hell today. Reaching out to people who may be in hell today is also a mandate of Christians everywhere. If we are concerned with people’s eternal destinies, but unable to give them dinner, we are missing the point.
God’s scope of salvation is far bigger than any of us expect. I am happy to ‘untether the beast’ of God and His plans for humanity, but there seem to be certain stipulations within orthodox, historical faith that can’t follow Bell all the way to the ends of his conclusions.
On the opposite side, DeYoung’s response seems radically limited in his own reading of scripture. Just as he accused Bell of yanking verses out of context for his own purposes, DeYoung seems to hold the authority on the singular ‘correct’ interpretation of scripture.
This is a pattern spread all across evangelical culture, and seems just as myopic a way of doing theology as he is accusing Bell of doing. Granted, DeYoung is incredibly educated and surely has deeper reasons for thinking the way he does that purely what he wrote, yet many similar-minded folks of his ilk will read his analysis and blindly accept it without even hearing Bell out. Evangelicalism in America today has a tendency toward small boxes and rigid lines, and perhaps they could take a few cues from Bell when it comes to loosening up a little bit and dreaming larger.
Bell has invited us to dream of a bigger, more beautiful God than we previously knew. If you can read Love Wins and come away with an expanded view of God and a more lovely view of Christ, enjoying Bell’s poetic prose, you’re doing it right. Bell is more of a poet than many Christian writers out there who simply state facts or build arguments, which I appreciate about him (I really liked What is the Bible?).
But make sure to read with your brain turned on, not blindly accepting every point proposed in the book, for there are certainly holes in his argument. It’s worth a read and it is definitely not the scary enemy of the Christian faith, as it is often portrayed.