Love Wins – Rob Bell
Here I am sitting down in front of my computer to write my review of Bell’s new book Love Wins. After finishing the book and reading numerous reviews of it on various blogs, I have come to the conclusion that several people quite a bit smarter than myself have broken down the book in a rather thorough manner. If you are interested in reading one of these, I will recommend three of them upfront. Tim Challies and Aaron Armstrong produced one of the first reviews and provided much needed insight – http://www.challies.com/book-reviews/love-wins-a-review-of-rob-bells-new-book. Kevin DeYoung’s review is the most comprehensive I have seen – http://thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/kevindeyoung/2011/03/14/rob-bell-love-wins-review/. Finally Denny Burk also deconstructs Bell’s thoughts quite meticulously – http://www.dennyburk.com/revising-hell-into-the-heterodox-mainstream/. So if you want a full review and critique of the book go to one or all of those sites. I do not wish to clutter the blogosphere by just repeating things that have already been stated more eloquently and forcefully than I would put them. Plus as a pastor of a local church I feel it is my primary obligation and responsibility to respond to things in a manner that best serves the congregation amongst which God has placed me. So I want to respond to one particular idea and really one sentence/paragraph (I get confused as to what’s what with his continuance of ignoring proper writing style). I will address some of the thoughts and statements leading up to that paragraph so that I am dealing with it in its context. In doing this I am choosing to counter the one statement in the book that most offended me and caused me to set the book aside and prayerfully weep for those being mislead. Also, given that our church is in the middle of a 12 weeks series on the Cross of Christ, by structuring my review in this way, I am remaining faithful to my local congregation by focusing on the attack the book launches upon the Cross.
Here is the offending paragraph from the book.
Although the cross is often understood as a religious icon, it’s a symbol of an elemental reality, one we all experience every time we take a bite of food. (Bell, 131)
Even as I typed that sentence on my laptop, it caused me to cringe. When I first read that statement while sitting on my couch a few nights ago, everything inside of me screamed out NO! This cannot be! This is not allowable! To reduce the cross to point that it is no different than from me grabbing a thin mint cookie off my desk right now and eating it is deplorable at best and blasphemous at worst. I can feel my emotional reaction well up within me, but why? Why does it do so? Why does every fiber of my being scream out against this with a holy fervor? The simple answer could be that this coming Sunday I will be 7 weeks into a 12 week sermon series on the Cross, and my whole course of study since the middle of January has focused on the Cross. I will allow that this could play a part in my reaction. However before the Cross series, I did a 4 week series on stewardship. I read a lot of Dave Ramsey and Randy Alcorn in prepping for that. I dug deep into the scriptural principles of money and financial wisdom. Still, during that time I did not want to throw my shoe at the television whenever I saw a credit card commercial spouting off blatant lies and half-truths. I simply laughed at their absurdity or changed the channel. So there must be something deeper about the Cross beyond just my recent intense study that causes this reaction.
That deeper thing is this. The Cross is what gives me hope. The Cross is what gives you hope. The Cross is what gives all of us hope. Bell, in this book, wants to define God by a single attribute. That sole attribute is love. Bell wants to ignore and deny any justice on God’s part. However God’s justice and love are interwoven throughout the Old and New Testament; in fact much of the New Testament is figuring out how to reconcile God’s love and justice. It all comes to a head in the cross. That is where God’s justice and love meet and become one. On the Cross Jesus absorbs the full wrath of God for our sins. When Christ takes on our sin and pays the extreme cost associated with them, we gain His righteousness. 21For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. 2 Corinthians 5:21. Martin Luther called this the great exchange. Jesus takes our sin; we get His righteousness. It is love and justice being shown at once. God the Father is just by sending forth His wrath against sin. He is loving by providing a way to forgiveness for us. This is the reason for our hope! This is where it springs from and flows overwhelming into our life. This is the Gospel. This is the focus of all the New Testament. The Cross is the center of the entire Bible and all its theology, doctrine, prophesy and history. The Cross is the crux of human history. In the end love and justice win because God ultimately wins.
Yes saying love wins lessens and degrades the cross and puts one further down the path toward universalism. Does it give us (myself included) on the other side a right to throw stones at Mr. Bell for this and act haughty and practice theological snobbery? No. It should instead drive us to pray for Rob Bell. It should also cause us to examine our own hearts and practice of our faith. Are we guilty of functional universalism because of our laziness towards evangelism? Do I preach atonement alone by Christ on the Cross on Sunday then live as a Universalist during the week as I fail to share the gospel one-on-one? I want to say no. But, when I am honestly take stock of my life I have to say yes. I am more heartbroken over this than anything in Love Wins. That is my biggest take away from this book; that no matter how much I want to label Bell a Universalist, when it comes to practice, I am one too. I want to change this. I want to start being faithful in practice to the theology I believe. Please join me in this and may we see a revival spring up in our midst.