Sunday, March 20, 2011

The Unprofessional Book Review: Love Wins by Rob Bell (Part 3 of 3)


You may notice, in the past two parts of my review, that I have been constantly and consistently giving page numbers, citations, showing where my quotes come from. I don't know if Rob Bell just thought nobody would be interested in where he got his quotes from or if he was purposely trying to make life harder for guys like me who really want to know where he gets his assertions from, but it is somewhere between annoying and (uh-oh) unconscionable (there's that word again!) that he would say things about the Greek word aion and yet give us no idea from which scholarly literature we might find aion translated as "intensity of experience that transcends time." You certainly won't find this interpretation in BDAG's Greek lexicon. I guess we'll just have to take Bell's word for it?

On top of this, his writing style is horrible. My English teacher from High School would never give writing like this a pass. We've already seen how he breaks up standard prose into lines so that it looks like poetry (which, once again, I chalk up to helping the book limp across the 190 page threshold). The book is full of three-word sentences. Now, I do things similar to that on the blog, but then again, it's a blog. But I understand - it's a popular level of writing. I just can't help but wonder if in ten years our theological discourse might not consist of books that look like they were written on somebody's phone. LRN 2 RITE. CIT UR SRCES ROB.

Also, he only gives chapters when he makes his occasional Scripture references. Instead of saying, "Jeremiah 37:32," he just writes Jeremiah chapter 32 and makes me search through 50 verses so I can find the verse he just cited. Again, after my 30th time searching for a verse, I began to assume that Rob Bell just hates me and wanted to make my life a living hell (literally, Rob Bell's kind of hell!) as I tried to find some context for his atrocious exegesis.

Another example of the awful scholarship involved in this book is the way that he tries to bring Luther to his side of things. Carl Trueman has shown the horror of what Bell does here, but I just wanted to mention in passing that when I originally read page 106, I was upset. But once I read the actual letter as a whole that Bell quotes Luther from, I almost turned over the card table and stormed out of the room (I'm that dramatic). The very idea that Bell could transform Luther from a defender of the absolute necessity of personally receiving Christ for salvation into someone who toys with the possibility of post-mortem salvation is (here comes the word again) unconscionable. What was the big idea not telling us where we could find the letter in Luther's writings? No citation. I guess I was just suppose to know that this quote came from Vol. 43, Page 51 of the English edition of Luther's Works.

There is so much horrible exegesis that is barely even sustained by actual careful argument that I can't possibly think to get into it all. I won't get into it all, mainly because I feel like Kevin DeYoung did a wonderful job overviewing the Scriptural problems in his own (now famous) review of the book. I will turn my attention to probably the most violent perversion of any text, however, which is his treatment of the story of Lazarus and the Rich Man from Luke 16:19-31 (aka Luke 16).

So Bell is especially interested in the rich man's attitude in the afterlife. He finds it noteworthy that the rich man, even in the afterlife, still wants to be served by Lazarus. "The rich man still sees himself as above Lazarus. It's no wonder Abraham says there's a chasm that can't be crossed. The chasm is the rich man's heart! (75)"

What an awful perversion of what Jesus was really saying. In fact, the real point was not that the rich man was keeping himself on the wrong side of the chasm, but that the chasm was objective, fixed, and that it could not be crossed! Even though Bell is right that the rich man is still selfish and thinks himself worthy of Lazarus' services, the truth is still precisely the opposite message which Bell is attempting to squeeze from the text.

Speaking of perversion, listen to why Bell says we take communion:
When we take the Eucharist, or Communion,
we dip bread into a cup,
enacting and remembering Jesus' gift of himself.
His body,
his blood,
for the life of the world.
Our bodies, our lives,
for the life of the world.

These rituals are true for us,
because they're true for everybody.
They unite us, because they unite everybody (157).
In this three-part review, I have tried to deal with the bigger picture of Bell's arguments and not to just offer sound bites or nit-pick. Doing this, of course, forced us to review the book backwards from his views of sin back to his view of heaven and hell that he explores early on in the book. The entire first half of the book as he complained about the "meanie hell" as I'm calling it, I kept wondering, how does he handle God's holiness, his hatred of sin, and his justice? He has all of these assumptions that really ought to be laid out in the beginning instead of at the end. But that wouldn't make for exciting reading, I suppose. I share many of his sentiments in the book (especially his criticisms of the mentality of many in the church who think that the bare minimum goal in life is getting to heaven), but the places where I agree with Bell are so few and far between that all I am left with after reading the book is an overwhelming conviction that the cure shouldn't be in the poison.

I could write more about this troubling book, but I have a feeling that now that Love Wins has been released, I will not be the only one offering criticisms of this book. Unfortunately, I know that the mind of evangelicalism is so wide at this point that many will let anything and everything float in and out, so long as it comes from somebody like Bell whom they feel has earned credibility in the past in their own eyes. It is my hope, for the sake of evangelicalism as a whole, however, that this book is roundly rejected as unbiblical, damaging to missions, damaging to the Gospel, and damaging to the church. If what Rob Bell is saying in this book is really acceptable to evangelicals, then it might be argued that the transformation of evangelicalism into full-fledged liberalism (ala Schliermacher) is truly complete. Now that Liberalism's foot is firmly in the dor, it's just a matter of leaning against the door. Lets hope there's some push-back.

1 comment:

  1. In his new book "Love Wins" Rob Bell says he believes that loving and compassionate people, regardless of their faith, will not be condemned to eternal hell just because they do not accept Jesus Christ as their Savior.

    Concepts of an afterlife vary between religions and among divisions of each faith. Here are three quotes from "the greatest achievement in life," my ebook on comparative mysticism:

    (46) Few people have been so good that they have earned eternal paradise; fewer want to go to a place where they must receive punishments for their sins. Those who do believe in resurrection of their body hope that it will be not be in its final form. Few people really want to continue to be born again and live more human lives; fewer want to be reborn in a non-human form. If you are not quite certain you want to seek divine union, consider the alternatives.

    (59) Mysticism is the great quest for the ultimate ground of existence, the absolute nature of being itself. True mystics transcend apparent manifestations of the theatrical production called “this life.” Theirs is not simply a search for meaning, but discovery of what is, i.e. the Real underlying the seeming realities. Their objective is not heaven, gardens, paradise, or other celestial places. It is not being where the divine lives, but to be what the divine essence is here and now.

    (80) [referring to many non-mystics] Depending on their religious convictions, or personal beliefs, they may be born again to seek elusive perfection, go to a purgatory to work out their sins or, perhaps, pass on into oblivion. Lives are different; why not afterlives? Beliefs might become true.

    Rob Bell asks us to rethink the Christian Gospel. People of all faiths should look beyond the letter of their sacred scriptures to their spiritual message. As one of my mentors wrote "In God we all meet."


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