Thursday, April 7, 2011

I Read "Love Wins" by Rob Bell

Rather than just read what others have said about Rob Bell’s new book “Love Wins”, I wanted to read it for myself so I would know exactly what he wrote. As I read, I was amazed at the amount of false teaching in it. His conclusions are wrong. His uses of biblical texts are incorrect; they are usually taken out of context and he fails to understand the passages. In many cases, he simply makes stuff up so that he can support his conclusion. It would take a great deal of time to review everything that is wrong with the book. Since I do not have that much time, I will provide some thoughts.

First, he is very critical of traditional biblical doctrine, which teaches a person, in order to spend eternity in heaven rather than a literal hell, must believe in Jesus Christ as the Son of God who died on the cross in order to take the punishment for that person’s sin and rose from the dead. In the introduction, Bell writes, “a staggering number of people have been taught that a select few Christians will spend forever in a peaceful, joyous place called heaven, while the rest of humanity spends forever in torment and punishment in hell with no chance for anything better. It’s been clearly communicated to many that this belief is a central truth of the Christian faith and to reject it is, in essence, to reject Jesus. This is misguided and toxic and ultimately subverts the contagious spread of Jesus’s message of love, peace, forgiveness, and joy that our world desperately needs to hear.” page vii. Not only is he critical, but he calls such a belief “toxic”. Personally, I find such language offensive. Bell’s proponents often complain that his critics are mean spirited, but his own words are very offensive to someone who truly believes the Bible.

Second, he criticizes many traditional churches for their unwillingness to discuss a person’s questions and doubts. He states, “Some communities don’t permit open, honest inquiry about the things that matter most. Lots of people have voiced a concern, expressed a doubt, or raised a question, only to be told by their family, church, friends, or tribe: ‘We don’t discuss those things here.” page ix. While this may be true of some churches, I believe that most churches with traditional, evangelical beliefs are willing to discuss legitimate questions, even if they are tough questions. Even if there is an unwillingness to discuss questions and doubts exists, the way to correct such unwillingness is not to create a new, false doctrine, like Bell does in “Love Wins”.

Third, while Bell is critical of those who will not discuss issues, he discourages anyone from disagreeing with him. At one point, he says that the story of “everybody enjoying God’s good world together with no disgrace or shame, justice being served and all the wrongs being made right is a better story. It is bigger, more loving, more expansive, more extraordinary, beautiful, and inspiring than any other story about the ultimate course history makes.” Pages 110-111. By saying this, he claims his views are superior to all other views. So, any disagreement is wrong – end of discussion; there is no room for disagreement.

He continues, “To shun, censor, or ostracize someone for holding [his belief] is to fail to extend grace to each other in a discussion that has had plenty of room for varied perspectives for hundreds of years now.” Page 111. Now, if you are critical and call him a false teacher, then you are wrong for not showing grace. He is unwilling to allow room for disagreement or criticism even though he criticizes tradition churches for not allowing disagreement or criticism. Regarding grace, it does not mean that we fail to confront false teaching. In fact, allowing false teaching shows a lack of grace and a lack of love because false teaching leads people away from God.

Fourth, Bell’s teaching is wrong. Most of the time, it is difficult to know exactly what Bell believes or what he is teaching. On page 107, he gives a summary of his teaching, “At the heart of this perspective is the belief that, given enough time, everybody will turn to God and find themselves in the joy and peace of God’s presence. The love of God will melt every hard heart, and even the most ‘depraved sinners’ will eventually give up their resistance and turn to God.” Bell’s teaching is contrary to the Bible. John 3:18 says, “Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.” Some people will not believe in God and will be condemned. If everyone were going to eventually “turn to God”, then no one would be condemned. Matthew 7:13-14 makes it clear that many people will end in destruction, “Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.” This is different from Bell’s way to God, which is so wide that no one can miss it.

Fifth, Bell seems to be encouraging God and Christians to be deceitful. Even though he does not believe a literal hell exists, he thinks that we should continue to use the word “hell” because it is such a terrible word conjuring up such horrible consequences, so that people will turn to God. He writes, “To summarize, then, we need a loaded, volatile, adequately violent, dramatic, serious word to describe the very real consequences we experience when we reject the good and true and beautiful life that God has for us. We need a word that refers to the big, wide, terrible evil that comes from the secrets hidden deep within our hearts all the way to the massive, society-wide collapse and chaos that comes when we fail to live in God’s world god’s way. And for that, the word ‘hell’ works quite well. Let’s keep it.” Page 93. I find it interesting that he believes we should continue to use the word “hell” when he does not believe a literal hell exists. This sounds very pragmatic and deceitful to me.

Sixth, while Bell emphasizes God’s love, he ignores other attributes of God, such as His justice and role as judge. Part of Bell’s argument is that the Bible says God is love; it does not just say that God is loving, but says that God is love. Therefore, love is an essential element of God’s character, so love must “win” over his other attributes. While making this argument, Bell ignores passages stating that God has other attributes, even passages that say “God is . . . “. For example, Nahum 1:2 says, “The Lord is a jealous and avenging God; the Lord is avenging and wrathful.” Here, God is avenging and wrathful, just as he is love in 1 John. Deuteronomy 32:4 says, “A God of faithfulness and without iniquity, just and upright is he.” Accordingly, God is just and upright. Psalm 7:11 says, “God is a righteous judge.” Most interestingly, only one attribute is used three times in a row. In Isaiah 6:3 God is described as “holy, holy, holy”. This attribute is mentioned three times in a row. Again, in Revelation 4:8, God is described as “holy, holy, holy”. While God is love, the Bible never says God is love, love, love. Since God is holy, just, and judge, he will condemn unbelieving sinners to an eternal punishment in hell. We cannot pick and choose which attributes of God that we like and dismiss those that we do not like.

Finally (while I could go on, I do not have time to write all of my thoughts), I think Bell created his own theology because he does not like the theology taught in the Bible. As stated earlier, he simply does not like traditional, orthodox faith. He even calls such belief “toxic”. He does not like the fact that sinners who do not place their faith in Jesus Christ will spend eternity in a literal hell, so he dismisses it. He replaces such teaching with a story that he likes better, which he calls “Love Wins”. He did not discover that the Bible teaches everyone will eventually end up in heaven and that a literal hell does not exist. Instead, he simply created this theology because he does not like biblical theology. He decided to create a “politically correct” theology. In reality, biblical truth is truth regardless of whether it is “politically correct”, whether it is a “better story”, or whether we like it. Bell’s “better”, “politically correct” story is false teaching.

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