"Love Wins" by Rob Bell
Christians are fascists.
Let’s see how many death threats I get over that one. The fact is while Christians are certainly not all fascists, a sizable and vocal number of us appear to be. The controversy surrounding Rob Bell’s new book is more than adequate to demonstrate that, especially considering most people haven’t even read it yet.
Bell’s theology aside for a bit, I would like to point out briefly what I believe is symptomatic of a trend in some Christian circles. Rob Bell has questions. According to some, because he has questions, he’s going to hell. Because he doesn’t subscribe to “mainstream” demagoguery concerning heaven, hell, and the afterlife, he’s to be consigned to an especially hot whirlpool in the lake of fire. Sound harsh?
Sadly, I’m only mildly exaggerating. Truth is, God gave us the freedom to be intellectually obtuse; so, we can hedge our bets that there will always be people who choose to be doctrinal reactionaries over constructive contributors to theological discourse. Well, how do we respond to these fusspots who do nothing but vilify those not in mesh with the party line? We love them anyway and move on.
Now, to Bell’s book.
Like I said, Rob has questions. A lot of them. In fact, his book is comprised mostly of questions. But not just any questions. No, these questions have sting, they have bite. They demand answers, even if they aren’t easily determined. They stoke the fires of doubt and the lingering doctrinal questions that undoubtedly smoulder in the backs of our minds.
His questions dig at the underpinnings of the modern Evangelical understanding of eschatology in a way that basically says, “Do you really believe that?” And, it should be pointed out, he does so not without basis. Point-by-point, Bell takes the reader through Scripture to demonstrate that many prevailing notions amongst modern Christianity (or, at least, the modern Christianity that he’s familiar with) regarding heaven and hell are hopelessly distorted.
Of course, the real question on everyone’s mind is this: “Is Rob Bell a universalist?” Hmm, now that’s an interesting question, primarily because “universalist” is such a loaded label and one which constitutes conviction as a heretic in most of Christianity. Rob Bell isn’t Carlton Pearson of course, but you can see why labeling someone a “universalist” is no small action so I’m not going to do it.
What Bell challenges is the popular, comfortable concept of an orderly, predictable God who does things in neat, commercializable ways. He contradicts the idea that Christianity has a monopoly on Christ and that God’s love and desire to redeem stops at the grave. He counts as ridiculous the teaching that “salvation” comes only through praying a specific prayer under specific circumstances.
Of course, his ideas are much more complex than what can be articulated in so few words, yet in the end they are poignantly simple. So, what’s the verdict on “Love Wins?” Well, that’s difficult to say.
Is it controversial? Obviously.
Is is challenging? Without a doubt.
Is it groundbreaking? That depends. On what, you ask? Whether or not you choose to read it.
Sorry to disappoint, but I’m not going to summarize the book. That would make it too easy for the people who make a living smearing ideas they haven’t taken the time to understand. Whether or not Rob Bell’s book constitutes new insight into transcendent cosmic and spiritual truth or stands as a testament to one man’s intellectual folly is a question that needs to be decided after prayerful consideration and thoughtful discussion.
Who knows, we might ultimately realize that something has in fact been missing from our modern, human understanding of timeless, eternal truth. Actually, that’s what Rob Bell really seems to be saying: “Hey, you know this good news you’ve heard? Yeah, it’s actually way better than you ever thought.”