Friday, April 8, 2011

Rob Bell and the Mirror of Erised- My review of Love Wins

"Yes and no," said Dumbledore quietly.  "It shows us nothing more or less than the deepest, most desperate desire of our hearts. You, who have never known your family, see them standing around you. Ronald Weasley, who has always been overshadowed by his brothers, sees himself standing alone, the best of all of them. However, this mirror will give us neither knowledge or truth. Men have wasted away before it, entranced by what they have seen, or been driven mad, not knowing if what it shows is real or even possible." 
-Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone          
Writing a review of Love Wins weeks after it seems to have been reviewed to death might seem pointless. It might even come off as narcissistic. I hope it doesn't. I'm writing this review for three reasons. First, not everyone is taken in by the blogosphere. Not everyone has the time or desire to read reviews or read blogs all day but have stumbled upon this one. Secondly, everyone has a unique voice. Nothing I say here hasn't already been said, but I hope I say it in a slightly unique way though. If you're looking for the most in-depth review, Google "Kevin DeYoung" and you'll find his 20 pager. Finally, maybe you're still unconvinced that Rob Bell is saying what he's saying in Love Wins. I hope that this review spins a new light on the matter for you and that the purpose and message of his book becomes clear.

Before I jump into the book I want to just say a bit about Rob Bell. I don't hate Rob Bell. Some might dispute that but I just claim that I've recognized his trajectory on this issue for awhile now. I've met Rob Bell personally. He wouldn't remember it but we met at a minor league baseball game a couple of years ago. It was immediately evident that he loves his family. After seeing interviews with Bell I believe that he genuinely loves his church and that he desires for people to know Christ.

Desire is not enough though. Love Wins paints a different portrait of the Christian faith than Scripture does. I know that that's a bold statement to make but I'm going to focus on three of the main issues of the book and I hope you'll see where I'm coming from.

"You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means."
Bell paints a picture of hell in his book as a present reality rather than a separate, future destination. He makes this claim by separating the idea of hell into simply what Jesus had to say on the matter. Bell owes it to the reader to spend more than half a page covering the New Testament references to hell. Yes, he mentions the other uses in Scripture but it is from Jesus' words that he gets his foundation. The word Jesus uses is "Gehenna" and it refers to the burning trash dump. Bell uses the phase to point out that Jesus was talking about a place where things were burned away. Thus, hell is an experience. It is not a pleasant experience but it's the experience we have when we "choose our story over God's."

Yes, Bell is right about Gehenna being the burning trash dump. How did we get the idea of hell out of that then? It's because Bell doesn't paint a large enough picture. Besides ignoring other references to the lake of fire or of judgment, Gehenna  would immediately have brought images to the minds of the people listening to Jesus that are a bit more vivid than an uncomfortable life circumstance. In the Old Testament period, Gehenna was the place where Baal and Molech worshippers came and sacrificed children. In the New Testament, it is referred to in Mark 9:43 as an unquenchable fire. Jesus did not have uncomfortable circumstances in mind when he used this word.

God is love... and He is just.
So, does Rob Bell believe in hell? Yes. Does he believe that you have to stay there? No. He spends a great deal of time explaining that it is God's desire for everyone to be saved. Which is true. It's not all that's true though. It's also true that Romans chapter 1 lays out pretty clearly that we, unless we have been justified by Christ, are a people that naturally suppress the truth of the Gospel. We choose hell. Rob Bell wouldn't disagree with that but he can't imagine that God would not allow people an escape route once we get there. The problem is that we wouldn't choose the escape route, even if there were multiple chances at salvation. We choose our own path. We exchange the truth of God for a lie. We will always choose hell. God sending His grace upon us is the only way we seek after God.

Bell argues that since God wants everyone to go to heaven, if He is as great of a God as we like to say He is, He's going to get what He wants. Bell fails to mention that God also seeks justice. He is holy and He cannot stand sin. His wrath is completely deserved because we are a people of sin. Rather than focusing on the fact that some may never escape His holy wrath, it should leave us speechless that any of us escape it. Bell's downfall is that he doesn't recognize how deeply sinful we are. He might not be doing that intentionally but it's evident in every single page of Love Wins that Bell has a much higher view of man than Scripture does. God is great because He shows mercy to anyone. He's not under any obligation to show mercy to everyone.

"There is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved."
The third problem with Love Wins is that Bell is intent on leaving the door open for people to come to Christ by an avenue other than Christ. He uses the example of Paul referring to Christ being present in the rock that gave Israel water as an example that Christ can manifest himself anywhere around us. Besides missing Paul's point in referring to that rock (that Israel had the presence of God with them but still chose idolatry) Bell takes his point to the extreme. Never coming out directly and saying that people can be believers in Christ without actually knowing about Him directly, he still makes his point about Christians thinking they have the market cornered on Jesus.

I could argue with that point by pointing out that it can't be supported by Scripture but even at a more basic level, it isn't logically possible. One faith system cannot say something completely opposite of another faith system and both of them be true. The law of non-contradiction is the technical term but I think if we're all being truthful with ourselves we know that to be true. Yes, people in other faith systems do commit good deeds. Yes, many of those people are faithful to their convictions. This is well and good but if  they didn't believe that Jesus Christ is  the only way to salvation, if they didn't believe that it is only by His grace that they can be saved, then they believed in something other than the Gospel. They believed a lie.

The Mirror of Erised
I opened this review with a quote from Harry Potter. Besides being a shameless attempt to look well-read, I couldn't believe how well this quote fit this entire situation. I believe Rob Bell is doing his best to love and serve Jesus Christ. I believe that he wants people to know Christ. I believe he wants to free people from the hurt they may have experienced by the church in the past. I also believe that he sees Scripture as he wants to see it, not like it actually is. Yes, his view would solve the hard issue of those who never hear the Gospel. Yes, his view would comfort those who have had loved ones die without knowing Christ. Love Wins does not give us truth though.

Bell paints a picture of a faith that is based entirely on his idea of what love should look like. It doesn't paint a picture of reality, either of Scripture or of humanity. The truth is that hell is a terrible place that each of us has chosen for ourselves unless we put our faith in Christ. And it is eternal (Daniel 12:2, Matthew 25:46). The picture he paints isn't acceptable because it gets the core of the Gospel wrong. And I have to root for truth.

I do not root for hell though. If something good has come out of Rob Bell and Love Wins, it is that it has pushed me to live like I believe hell is a real place. That means being serious about seeing people come to faith in Christ because at the end of all things Christ will win, both with love and with justice.

And I want as many people to be on the winning side as possible. 

1 comment:

  1. I appreciate your humble and genial approach, Joe.

    Also: a quote from Harry Potter, and one from The Princess Bride, all in the same post? You rock.