I have recently been invited to participate in a discussion panel about Rob Bell’s new book “Love Wins.” So I have read the book. I have been reviewing many writings and commentaries regarding the accusations against Rob Bell himself, his book, the charge of universalism. I have even examined what seem to be radical statements questioning the legitimacy of Bell’s salvation and consequently, his title as an evangelical.
With this posting, I am taking the opportunity to deliberate various thoughts of mine and of other professionals. The articles and authors that follow I strongly recommend you spend time reading… their insights can develop your worldview as a rich basis for what you believe and how you interpret reality.
(To read an article just click on the title and you will be linked directly to that article)
I agree with many commentators that Bell is a likeable person and well-gifted speaker. But I think what I appreciate about Bell the most is that he himself is really a great example about where the Contemporary Christian culture is intellectually and spiritually seated. For this reason there is a lot to be learned from this book. This is proven in part by the amount of Christians that resonate with the language of this book. On a less cheerful note and with all due respect, this resonation also points out a status, embarrassingly much mainline Christian thought and discussion suffers from any studious pursuits. The term “deep” refers more to a spatiotemporal gratification than an epistemological quest thereby conforming one’s view of reality.
If for only one reason, I like this book as it exposes a discussion that is an anxiety at the heart of all contemporary church thought – an anxiety of doing it differently than the conservatives. It finds its passion and missionary drive from rejecting the traditional orthodox Christianity and revamping it to a more congenial-to-life worldview. This is a topic that needs serious civil thought and deliberation, it is here I find “Love Wins” falls short.
Reductio Ad Absurdum
Bell has produced caricatures, and by doing so tried to make a mockery of views considered Traditional Orthodox Christianity. He, thereby, implicitly cheapens the doctrinal positions advocated in the Nicene and Apostolic Creed, the creeds most noted in Evangelicalism. It is school-boyish and just as intellectually uncouth as the excessive conservatives who caricatures a wrathful God extremely upset to all his subjects, soon going to throwing down the gauntlet of eternal torment and punishment to those He gave no chance for repentance because that is what a sovereign God would do.
Bell’s book is a careless reductio ad absurdum argument. Bell uses these caricatures in an effort to reduce the validity of traditional Christianity and then tries to show these caricatures as absurd. To be more precise, this is not even a poorly constructed reductio ad absurdum argument but rather just the reductio ad absurdum because there are no arguments that follow the caricatures. Mockery or belittlement is not an argument.
This book is not a constructed argument, yet Bell seems to be hoping for some conclusions. Some have said that Bell could be the next C.S. Lewis or that the two men have many similarities; I just don’t see this. Whenever C.S. Lewis wrote something incongruent to a traditional thought, he carefully, methodically, biblically, and theologically applied due diligence respectively to both seemingly opposing views. C.S. Lewis was much more than just a gifted rhetorician looking to move people; he used his aesthetic skills to promote rigorous arguments and deep thought.
John Mark Reynolds, Director of the Torrey Honors Institute – Biola University wrote this clever posting about how the publishing company, Harper Collins, is the real winner. I think that John is correct – this book (pamphlet as John refers to) was careless, poorly edited, not well thought through, and certainly unwarranted of any academic standards; yet it has expectations of a more encompassing and embracing interpretation of the Christian worldview. This book has major logical errors, misrepresents certain theological and philosophical ideologies, and
inaccurately references history (John points out Origen in his article).
This book, heavily lopsided with questions, is an irresponsible publishing. It has been given a status by some as a Socratic method of writing and thinking. I regard Socratic thinking as one of the finest ways of probing and forwarding thinking, but I do not think Bell’s book deserves a stamp of Socratic methodology. Socrates asked leading questions; his pursuit was an honest one to truth. Bell’s questioning is sarcastic flippancy; his quest is to undermine objectivity and encourage more “open-minded tolerance” of some of the sagely traditional thoughts he sees as “tragic” and “crushing.” My suspicion is Socrates would have some questions for Bell regarding the responsibility of writing and publishing.
Very insightful, I could deliberate on this article all day. It is full of thick thoughts and I had a hard time choosing one to enunciate on but here I go:
Bell’s god will not take “no” for an answer. Like some cosmic lounge lizard, He follows you for eternity until you give Him a sympathy date. Bell’s god has more in common with Zeus, whose “love” always got what it wanted, than the Triune God of Scriptures. The good news about the God of the Bible is that He is nothing like Homer’s Zeus: God will let you love somebody else.
It is true that God will take no for an answer, it is impossible for God to force or choose for a free being, to accept His grace because, if love is to have any value, love demands a choice to the lover by the beloved. If God does not take but rather determines than either He is not a lover of his beloved or as John indicates above – Zeus it is.
But this is comical… Like some cosmic lounge lizard, He follows you for eternity until you give Him a sympathy date. As if God has no self-respect – what kind of ‘lover of his created’ would God be if He appeased our narcissistic desires and egocentric timelines?
Bell Book and Candle is a 1958 romantic comedy about a free spirited but unlucky in love witch, Gillian Holroyd, who, after watching him from a distance, admires Shep Henderson. Gillian learns that Shep is going to marry her college enemy Merle. So Gillian casts a love spell on Shep and ends up falling in love with him herself – but because of her love for Shep, Gillian will lose her powers. Eventually, all parties find out and hearts are broken.
Bell is like Gillian (not because he is a witch of course) but because his “unlucky love” and now his “free spirit” have led him astray. Bell now feels he must choose a better “love” away from the over-aggressive conservative background. However, in his efforts to cast a spell mitigating a new and robust Christianity, like Gillian’s use of magic for her own status, Bell’s theology is turning out a God that looks precariously like himself. Is this now magic or, in fact, is it a curse?
This article is a good read!
Dr. Walls has spent just over two decades applying academic thinking to Heaven, Hell, Eschatology and Soteriology, and admirably, works very hard to be objective in his writing about these logically and intellectually demanding topics. Dr. Walls breaks down three ranges of universalism – hopeful universalism, convinced universalism and necessary universalism.
On one end of the spectrum is the view we can call “hopeful universalism,” which as the name suggests, is the stance of hoping and praying that universalism might turn out to be true. We can’t be sure it is, nor can we be sure it is not, but we should at least hope for it. Second, there is the view we might called “convinced universalism,” which is the view that everybody will in fact be saved. While the reality of human freedom makes it at least possible that some will not be saved, we can be pretty sure that as a matter of fact all will in fact repent in the end. Finally, there is the view we can call “necessary universalism,” which is the strongest position on the universalist scale. This is the view that the only position that is even consistent with God’s perfect love and power is universalism, so it is the only view that is even possibly true…
Be that as it may, the only sense in which Bell is a universalist is the first of these options. While he points out that there are noted spokesmen for universalism in the history of theology, and he admits that it would make a “better story” if all ended up reconciled to God (110-111), he stops far short of saying he believes it must turn out this way, or even that he is confident that it will.
I am going to let Dr. Walls explain by way of you reading the article how he determines this position. He is not necessarily in favor of Bells opinions but I believe Dr. Walls entire thesis is that, if any worthwhile discussion is to be had, the facts must be precise… something many on both sides lack.
Dr. Craig is a scholar, academician, Evangelical spokesmen, debater and research professor at Biola University. Dr. Craig spends much of his time researching and debating all over the U.S. and abroad, arguing for the validity of God and the Christian worldview.
In this debate, Dr. Craig and Dr. Bradley have an excellent exchange of why heaven, a place with free creatures but without sin and suffering, would not be feasible for God to have actualized without first having an antecedent world where free creatures have free choice of God and heaven. If there was such a place, without this prior antecedent world, it would have a population of just one, because you cannot guarantee that, in a world of free creatures, they would all choose the same thing – namely God.
Another article, very academic in nature but well worth the time is:
Lecture – Pluralism, a Defense of Religious Exclusivism – Dr. Alvin Plantinga
Dr. Alvin Plantinga is a retired Professor of Philosophy; his last position was the John A. O’Brien Professor of Philosophy at the University of Notre Dame. Dr. Plantinga is a distinguished Christian Philosopher whose work in the early 70’s was the start to revitalizing the Evangelical Christianity Worldview back into an intellectual public square and academic prominence.
Exclusivism is rarely understood or represented properly. I have listened to many arguments defending an inclusivist position and refuting or challenging exclusivism, but the propositions assigned to represent exclusivism generally take on an overly strong conservativism.
Dr. Plantinga gives a lecture illustrating the fallibility of assigning these overly strong conservative propositions that allow for false representation of exclusivism. Dr. Plantinga then gives an argument for the logical and biblical reason to support exclusivism.
A book like Bell’s does speaks volumes about the lack of intellectual power that postmodern thoughts and existential expressions are capable of developing
Epistemological Relativism – this ideology is a derivative of postmodern thought. It can be recognized by vagueness, or rhetorical flipping of questions, illustrated by statements like “I don’t know what do you think?” or “can we really know for sure?” This skepticism too often, seems justifiable because it gets mistaken for having a disposition of being humble or religiously tolerant.
The postmodern Christian is skeptical about the overuse of objective facts and certainties of doctrine found in “traditional” Christianity because history reveals that by these is a formation of religious monsters. Honestly, there have been inferences promoted as objective truths and soteriological doctrine that fall short of a justifiable epistemic standard, and have lead to dismissive attitudes and support heinous crimes in the name of Christianity. But to withdraw to an anti-intellectual position of epistemological relativism (saying we can’t know for sure) is intellectually and morally invalid. It means, as Christians, we are not being honest to the doctrines nor the pursuit for clear understanding. St Anselm of Canterbury said, “fides quaerens intellectum
– faith seeks understanding” – not a tolerant disposition.
Existentialism – is an ideology that prefers to retain its knowledge and “view of life” through experiential propositions. This ideology is known for having a logo of “Existence precedes Essence.” In Rob’s book and among much of today’s churches, this thought has infiltrated the theology and practices of the church.
Love Wins really is about everything and nothing; Rob’s experiences are relative to his experiences. His whole book is a circular argument of sorts; my experience informs my experience – a sort of empirical standard for empirical purposes. It is the same as me saying – I am the world’s most leading authority on Rob Bell because I know I am, and I am also the standard of my authority. Rob’s existence informs his essence of who he is. But traditional Christianity says you are made in the image of God therefore you have an essence, and that essence, however close to the image of God you have submitted it to become, reflects the way you exist.
For the book, the question is still left begging: how good is Rob’s knowledge, intuitive and perceptual capacities, analytical skills, critical thinking and so on? It would seem that rational thought and reasoned proposition is not necessary, just the ability to clearly articulate your own experiences. Rob writes his book imparting knowledge consequential of his experiential relevance and not from a reasoned worldview.
I mentioned at the beginning of this article that the contemporary church has moved from a position of serious intellectual theology and philosophical rigor to that of determining how Christianity is more congenial to life. At the expense of a “narrow-minded, conservative sounding” cliché, this ought to be distress language to Evangelical leaders of a disposition of existentialism.
There are serious theological and philosophical issues that the book mentions but never makes serious attempt at answering. It is hard to trust a book that reads more like a biography of experience and personal interpretation than one expounding in some polemic manner. This book, however, is not a surprise. The indulgence towards experiential relevance and the dismissive disposition of reason and logical aptitude will turn out a work that expresses passion, a misconceived tolerance, a narrative more charitable to its inhabitants, and a nature of God whose primary responsibility is just to give me some love.