I’m just beginning Rob Bell’s new book. I can feel the conspiracy surging through my veins… #lovewins â€” Jeremy Jernigan (@jeremyjernigan) March 16, 2011I wrote that tweet a few days ago after the excitement had already been building. Since I first posted about the promo video for this book and watched 55 comments erupt afterward I’ve been eagerly anticipating reading through it for myself. I’m referring to the now infamous book “Love Wins” by Rob Bell.
UniversalismEvery time I’ve seen him interviewed or heard it talked about someone immediately asks him if he’s a Universalist (all roads lead to God). And every time I’ve watched him say no. It’s an ineffective question since a word like that is supercharged and we all might define it slightly different. While I believe he’s answering truthful, the problem is that he’s redefined universalism. Where as traditionally it is the idea that all roads lead to God in this lifetime, Rob is a believer that all roads lead to God in the afterlife (that’s the part about love ultimately winning). This is the big point of the book and the reason why it’s so controversial. My thoughts on that at the end.
Quotes That I Liked
“So when we hear that a certain person has ‘rejected Christ,’ we should first ask, ‘Which Christ?'” “Heaven is that realm where things are as God intends them to be. On earth, lots of wills are done. Yours, mine, and many others. And so, at present, heaven and earth are not one.” “What you believe about the future shapes, informs, and determines how you live now.” “To say it again, eternal life is less about a kind of time that starts when we die, and more about a quality and vitality of life lived now in connection to God.” “God gives us what we want, and if thatâ€™s hell, we can have it. We have that kind of freedom, that kind of choice. We are that free.”
My ReactionFor the record, I’m not down with the neo-universalism (not sure what to call his stance). It’s a stretch at best. He uses concepts and Scriptures that I agree with (God’s desire for all to be saved, God’s ability for redemption, i.e.) but then falsely applies that to universalism after you die. We both agree with the Biblical side of it but we draw radically different conclusions. The other faulty way he presents this argument is to setup straw men and then pose his solution as a response. He depicts God in ways that I certainly don’t think of Him and then declares his stance as the “right” answer to the “wrong” view of God. I think the overall issue I have with the book is that Rob is trying to solve a tension that needs to be managed (hat tip to my man Andy Stanley). I believe both that God is good and that God has the ability to allow people to live apart from Him. If He allows it on earth, it makes sense to think He allows it for eternity. Kind of the reality of free will. Rob seems to have no room to reconcile such an idea and so manages away the tension by his postmortem universalism. But maybe the biggest issue with Rob’s stance is if it’s true, what’s the point of our response to Jesus in this lifetime? I watched an interview where Rob was asked this and all he said was that it does matter. Why? If love wins, eat drink and be merry and you can reconcile with Him later. Our response to Jesus matters more than anything else. And on a side note, two of his chapters read very much like books I’ve previously read through. His chapter on hell was very similar to Brian McLaren’s book The Last Word and the Word After That and his chapter on the prodigal son was very similar to Tim Keller’s book The Prodigal God. However, in the last example they drew radically different conclusions. Keller concludes that both sons show ways to be alienated from God. Rob concludes that this shows that neither action matters at all. I agree with Keller.
Does God Get What He Wants?This was a big question to Rob and he seemed to use it as a trump card. It was almost as if he doubts anyone would answer differently than him. I do. Rob’s big argument is that yes, God gets what He wants and every person is ultimately redeemed. My answer is that no, God doesn’t always get what He wants because He doesn’t force Himself on us. His heart breaks as He allows people to choose something other than Him. An interesting question that was raised as I read this was does Rob think that Satan and the demons will be redeemed? Does love win with them? He doesn’t mention anything along these lines but it is a logical conclusion to his argument and I’d be more than curious to hear his answer.
My Stance on SalvationI think it comes down to what you do with what you know. The beauty of this definition is that only God is in the position to do anything with it and so it deflates anyone who tries. I don’t think God is bound by our methods or definitions. But our involvement in sharing Jesus with the world truly matters because it gives them a chance to hear more to respond to. Can God save someone who has never physically heard the Name of Jesus and so doesn’t follow God by that Name? I believe He can. Yes, I think God is loving. But I also think He’s a perfect judge and we don’t have to lose any sleep over the eternal decisions that He’s making. He knows us to the heart and I believe He is watching to see our response to what we know of Him. And we all know of Him to differing degrees. Jesus’ death on the cross is God’s tool for salvation. How God applies that is something only He can grasp.
ConclusionI was pretty disappointed with this book. Not because I disagreed with it but because I think that Rob confidently argues something that doesn’t make as much sense as he thinks it does. My ongoing critique of him has always been that he presents his opinions with too much assumption of fact with them. He’s a brilliant guy with some brilliant ideas, but pitch those ideas as they truly are and acknowledge room for error. I’ve been a fan of him for awhile so I’m definitely not in the “bash Rob for fun” camp. As an example of his over-confidence he mentions (in passing) that the book of Hebrews was written by a woman. He doesn’t say which woman or why he believes this. Again, a bit annoying. Overall, it’s a book worth reading but probably my least favorite of all that Rob’s written thus far.
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