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Rob Bell’s New Book – Love Wins – Gets Judged Before Most Read It

I find it quite sad that so many have judged Rob Bell as a potential heretic because of a tweet they read from John Piper which says “Farewell Rob Bell”, or because of a provocative blurb that the publishers wrote about his upcoming book – Love Wins: A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Livedwhich is set to be released on March 29, 2011 [The book is now being released March 15th, 2011]


Part I: Introduction
Part II: Overview of Love Wins
Part III: Is Rob Bell a Universalist?
Part IV: Does God’s love and mercy extend beyond the grave?
Part V: Understanding Heresy and Orthodoxy
Part VI: My Judgment On the Matter and Conclusion

Here are some of the judgments people have made on twitter, which had Bell trending in the top 10 yesterday:

@John Piper: Farewell Rob Bell (he then linked to Justin Taylor’s blog article  Rob Bell: Universalist?)

@HarrisJosh: There’s nothing loving about preaching a false gospel. This breaks my heart. Praying for Rob Bell. (linking to same article)

@between2worlds (Justin Taylor’s blog)  Universalist?:  John Piper once wisely wrote, “Bad theology dishonors God and hurts people. Churches…

@CindyCook12345 :Rob Bell, Rob Bell, so glad u took off ur sheeps clothing and glad I threw ur book in the trash years ago!

Most all of this got started by Justin Taylor’s blog post, where he now admits, “I have not read all of Bell’s book, though I have read some chapters that were sent to me… I think that the publisher’s description combined with Bell’s video (later in this post) is sufficient evidence to suggest that he thinks hell is empty and that God’s love (which desire all to be saved) is always successful.”

So that is enough to make a judgment? Actually, I think Justin’s blog post, along with John Piper and Josh Harris’ tweets will probably have more people reading Rob’s book than would have ever read it otherwise. The pre-sales, as of this writing, had it #1 in Christianity and #70 overall on Amazon.  I’m guessing the marketers are quite happy right now.

Of course not all twitters are quick to judge, in fact, some recognize the importance of actually reading a book before making judgments:

@kristimcarlson: Wow, people. I can’t believe why Rob Bell is trending. Read the book or ask him.  Remember: “Judge not lest ye be judged”. That’s God’s job.

@Matthew_Talley: Aren’t we going a bit overboard by literally judging this book by it’s cover? RT@JohnPiper: dsr.gd/fZqmd8

So what was the publishers blurb that caused such a stir:

“Fans flock to his Facebook page, his NOOMA videos have been viewed by millions, and his Sunday sermons are attended by 10,000 parishioners—with a downloadable podcast reaching 50,000 more. An electrifying, unconventional pastor whom Time magazine calls “a singular rock star in the church world,” Rob Bell is the most vibrant, central religious leader of the millennial generation. Now, in Love Wins: Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived, Bell addresses one of the most controversial issues of faith—the afterlife—arguing that a loving God would never sentence human souls to eternal suffering. With searing insight, Bell puts hell on trial, and his message is decidedly optimistic—eternal life doesn’t start when we die; it starts right now. And ultimately, Love Wins.”

But of course, the line – “arguing that a loving God would never sentence human souls to eternal suffering” must be read very carefully.  Tom Batterson (someone who actually read the whole book) talks about in his post about this book that a well known preacher said that Rob Bell said in Velvet Elvis that he didn’t believe in the virgin birth.  But when he actually read the book the context was an example of “doubt”.  So because Rob Bell has been trending and Christians have been saying a lot of nasty things about Rob, he felt it important to share a couple of direct quotes from the book.  Batterson writes:

“As a book seller I received an advanced pre-pub review copy. The author does go in the direction that this well known preacher claims. But, he once again does it to cause us to ask serious questions, to dig deep and wrestle with our beliefs. The author then lands on what I consider solid orthodox ground (though I’m sure the well known preachers legions of minions will disagree).

First he articulates what ALMOST seems to be a Universalist point of view:

“Could God say to someone truly humbled broken and desperate ‘sorry to late?’ Many have refused to accept the scenario in which somebody is pounding on the door apologizing, repenting, and asking God to be let in only to hear God say through the key hole ‘Doors locked, sorry If only you had been here earlier, I could have done something but now its to late.”

But he then goes on to give a brief over view of Revelation and focuses on the last few chapters. He lands with this:
“… In speaking of the expansive, extraordinary, infinite love of God there is always the danger of neglecting the very real consequences of God’s love. Namely God’s desire and intention to see things become everything they were intended to be. For this to unfold, God must say about a number of acts and to those who would continue to do them ‘Not here you won’t.’ Love demands freedom. We are free to resist, reject, and rebel against God’s ways for us. We can have all the hell we want.”
I certainly hope all those who saw fit to re-tweet this garbage tweet an apology after they calm down and get a chance to actually read the book.”

In addition to this, a guy named Kurt Willems makes this comment on Justin Taylors blog post:
Come on Justin! I am disappointed in your assumption. Rob Bell will be arguing what is called “Conditional immortality” which is an evangelical view…although it is not the popular one. THIS IS ANOTHER EXAMPLE OF THE NARROW JUDGEMENT OF THE HYPER-NEO-REFORMERS THAT IS MAKING ALL US EVANGELICALS QUITE FRUSTRATED!

Is Eugene Peterson a Universalist? Here is what he says on his endorsement of the book:

“In the current religious climate in America, it isn’t easy to develop an imagination, a thoroughly biblical imagination, that takes in the comprehensive and eternal work of Christ in all people and all circumstances in love and for salvation. Rob Bell goes a long way in helping us acquire just such an imagination. Love Wins accomplishes this without a trace of soft sentimentality and without compromising an inch of evangelical conviction in its proclamation of the good news that is most truly for all.”

Eugene H. Peterson, Professor Emeritus of Spiritual Theology, Regent College, and author of The Message and The Pastor

And Evangelical theologian pastor Greg Boyd:

“Love Wins is a bold, prophetic and poetic masterpiece. I don’t know any writer who expresses the inexpressible love of God as powerfully and as beautifully as Rob Bell! Many will disagree with some of Rob’s perspectives, but no one who seriously engages this book will put it down unchanged. A ‘must read’ book!”

Greg Boyd, senior pastor at Woodland Hills Church and author of The Myth of a Christian Nation

Sarah Pulliam Bailey, of Christianity Today for a late night article yesterday asked Scot Mcknight “if he had seen a book get so much attention before its released, and he e-mailed me the following response”:

I’ve not seen anything like it. And, yes, the quickness of social media have made this such a big issue … today … and in a week it will all be gone. Justin Taylor once generated almost 100 comments by quoting a blurb of mine that was on the back of IVP’s book by Tom Wright on Justification.

Justin may be right about what Rob believes, but if he is wrong then he owes Rob Bell a huge apology. I want to wait to see what Rob Bell says, read it for myself, and see what I think of it. Rob is tapping into what I think is the biggest issue facing evangelicalism today, and this fury shows that it just might be that big of an issue.

The publicity approach of HarperOne worked perfectly. They got huge publicity for a book. They intended to provoke — and they did it well. I think it is wiser to wait to see the real thing than to rely on publicity’s provocations. Justin bit, and so did many of his readers.

Frankly, John Piper’s flippant dismissal of Rob Bell is unworthy of someone of Piper’s stature. The way to disagree with someone of Rob Bell’s influence is not a tweet of dismissal but a private letter or a phone call. Flippancy should have no part in judging a Christian leader’s theology, character or status.

Scot makes a great point here.  I’m going to see if I can get a hold of a copy of this book early and review it.  So what do you think about all of this? By the way, here is the “controversial video”, which by the way had 37.9 K hits just yesterday:

LOVE WINS. – Available March 15th from Rob Bell on Vimeo.

Additional Thought
After reading Jon’s comments below, which I think are important, I wanted to conclude this post in my response to him. Here it is: Jon, you bring up an important element, in that, how do we as Christ followers remain civil in public when we disagree with another person who self identifies as a Christian, and well known Christian leader at that? It seems to me that those who are making a lot of buzz by their reflections on Bell and those seeking to “defend” Bell both have some uncharitable elements to their approach, and all this before most (other than Batterson) have even read the book. That is probably the thing that saddens me. I do believe that after people have read the book, people need to make their judgments, but hopefully in a way that thinks through the history of the church and in a way that they would want to be judged themselves. I think that is what Jesus was saying about “Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.” Obviously we are all called in other places to judge, but we must be prepared to be judged in the same way that we judge. I think we need to engage with a book that we have read, not one we have not read.

I love these words that C.S. Lewis wrote to the introduction of St. Athanasius on the Incarnation. The main point for his words about the article is that we should be people who read primary sources, even though in his context he is talking about sources that are historical in nature. Here is what Lewis says:

“There is a strange idea abroad that in every subject the ancient books should be read by the professionals, that the amateur should content himself with modern books. Thus I have found as a tutor in English Literature that if the average student wants to find out something about Platonism, the very last thing he things of doing is take a translation of Plato off the library shelf and read the Symposium. He would rather read some dreary modern book ten times as long, all about “isms” and influences and only once in twelve pages telling him what Plato actually said. The error is rather an amiable one, for it springs from humility. The student is half afraid to meet one of the great philosophers face to face. He feels himself inadequate and thinks he will not understand him. But if he only knew, the great man, just because of his greatness, is much more intelligible than his modern commentator. The simplest student will be able to understand, if not all, yet a very great deal of what Plato said; but hardly anyone can understand some modern books on Platonism. It has always therefore been one of my main endeavors as a teacher to persuade the young that firsthand knowledge is not only worth acquiring than secondhand knowledge, but it is usually much easier and more delightful to acquire.”

Let’s read Rob’s book, and then seek to engage in fruitful discussion.

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