Tuesday’s 10: Thoughts One Month After Reading ‘Love Wins’

Even though I finished Love Wins about a month ago, I’ve not been all that anxious to weigh in with a review. Below, I will explain further. But as the publisher sent me a copy to review, I feel as though I should. And to be honest the more toxic the debate got, the more I wanted to at least wait if not just forget it altogether.  I’m pretty convinced waiting is always good idea. It is my chief concern in the whole affair – the desire for the heavyweights to weigh in as-soon-as-possible. And even before then.

The following are ten thoughts I have about Love Wins one month later. Please do not read into the order of these. For those who do, your condemnation is just.

1. The storytelling and the stories themselves were compelling. Bell certainly has a gift for telling a story. Most people have no idea how hard it is to do what he does and do it well.

2. On the whole, I did not like the way Bell’s book is written. The starkness felt shallow, not artsy. Choppy not profound. I think if you are going to challenge the traditional view of Hell, you may wanna play by the rules of the traditional book. You know, a footnote or two would have been nice.

3. Speaking of footnotes, it felt sloppy. I mean, if you are going to challenge a truth almost universally accepted throughout Church History, when you use Church History to defend your questions and assertions, you better damn well get your quotes right in context and let people know where you got such assertions from. (All puns intended.)

4. Just so you know, I do not agree with Rob Bell’s view of Hell. He does great violence to common sense and instead of doing what he sought to do – make the gospel more gracious – he actually strips it of its immediate meaningfulness. It becomes tangential whether one believes now if we know everyone will believe it eventually in a salvific way.

5. However, I do not dislike him for it. I get it. Like most in the Anabaptist tradition, their trajectory is off a smidgen to start with but every golfer knows it only takes a smidgen. But I understand his desire for an orthodoxy which is gracious and loving. I sympathize with his questions. And I am not unhappy he asked them. The church should be able to handle it.

6. I think Justin Taylor and John Piper should have waited till the book was read completely and released.  By not doing so, they made the book far more a threat to orthodoxy (their fear) than it would have been if they had waited. Instead of striking the tone of conviction, the din of prejudice.

7. More than anyone, I would have liked to hear an apology from John Piper. In a debate/discussion/argument, the way you do it is important, even if you are right. I find it hard to believe – and saddening that so few, who agree with his theology have not publicly asked him to apologize for his flippant tweet and his doing so, without reading the book first. Or is reading a book first only for others?

8. I think we need a robust discussion that takes into account John Stott’s annihilationsim and the Calvinist’s love of him.  Some argue that Stott is simply unsure and is floating a what-if? scenario. Really? Because that is precisely the criticism leveled at Bell. If this cannot be done in a dignified manner then we need to reckon with the fact that we are respecters of people.

9. I think the parodies of Rob Bell and his book are disgusting. Funny? Sure. But to make fun of Bell on facebook will only give geeky sophomoric neo-Calvinists something to puff up their insecure egos between listening to Lecrae albums. It will convince no one. And will win only the respect of those who already had it.

10. I cannot prove it, but a few people have seemed fairly cold towards me because of my criticism of the criticism. One criticism that some have of the neo-Calvinists is their tribalism. I always denied it till now. But it’s true. It’s not enough to think Rob Bell is wrong, you must defend his critics at all costs. If this is the case, God help us.

Truth and Love and How We Do Theological Disagreement

I still have not read Rob Bell’s new book. But I’ve read a few reviews of those who have. And it looks like he may in fact hold to some form of Universalism. (Update: I am in the middle of Love Wins and am no longer sure I would call his position Universalism. It is more like Lewis’ picture in The Last Battle.)

This is neither fascinating nor worrying for me. I am not worried he will lead too many people astray. Heck, I kinda assume that most of the people he pastored were believing in some type of Universalism anyway. I mean, this is nothing new…young hipsters having trouble with ‘eternal torment’ and all. It is troubling to think about.

What  fascinates and bothers me the most is how we talk about these things. And when I say ‘we’ I mean ‘me’ also.

I do believe it is loving in and of itself to talk about hell and warn people of God’s wrath against sin. And I agree, any lack of desire to be faithful in this as a pastor is derived from my own sin wanting to play nicely with the cultural milieu I find myself in. Maybe there are some people like talking a lot about Hell and how people are going there. Certainly there are. But we may also need to be careful of the tendency to downplay that element of the story. So I agree, hell is part of the gospel story and should not be mitigated.

But how we tell the story is also significant.

In a recent interview on MSNBC, Tim Keller alludes to this. Conservatives – theologically speaking – have a reputation for caring about the truth. Liberals on the other hand have a reputation for caring about kindness. Keller says Jesus does an attractive job of being both – the embodiment of speaking truth and being kind.

Usually the reply to such a statement is for someone to say, “It is loving and kind to be truthful with people about _______” Sure. But there is a reason why Paul called his people to speak the truth in love. Obviously there was the possibility of speaking the truth and not doing so in a loving way. The fact that this has to be pointed out – by Paul and by someone today – tells us something. It tells us we may be the kind of people who are prone to have truth so uppermost in our affections that we forget to be loving.

It makes sense that men and women of the faith would react to error with truth. But how many, when error raises it’s ugly head, see an opportunity to display lovingkindness to the world? I mean, if this is how we are supposed to be known as those who are his disciples, should it not be more of a concern to display the truth of the gospel of God’s love through love than through our our doctrinal convictions?

And I have doctrinal convictions that are not fuzzy. I love them and hold them dear. And would die for them and would debate them and grieve over the church’s loss of them. But Christians and non-Christians and those we might be unsure of will not be won over by our confidence in our convictions so much as their adornment in a love for men and women which reflects Christ love for those who were his enemies.

The cross is really a great place to see this truth and love on display. As he hangs there he is saying, “I am God. I am King. I am the Messiah. And I want you to be forgiven for what you do. That is why I hang here in shame and pain, enduring the ridicule.” If he were only about truth? Well, I think we can only assume, no cross.

The irony is we don’t want people to be fuzzy but clear on doctrine but we are libel to be very fuzzy in our love to them. But Paul is not only clear about the eternal fire but is also very clear on what love looks like. The unbeliever and the person we think may be drifting into doctrinal error will certainly question our love by our relentless pursuit of them to believe what we think to be true. But there has to be some kind of expression of love which they will recognize. We should be able to exhibit a love for each other and others that betrays to the world we are in fact disciples of Jesus.

I was actually talking about this very issue with a friend the other day. We were talking about a particular pastor’s response to Rob Bell. He called it “tough love.” I responded with something along the lines of “Funny, I don’t remember that being part of Paul’s list in 1 Corinthians 13. But ‘patient love’ is.” I actually assume tough love is sometimes needed. But the problem is only a few people will look at tough love and call it so. But patience and kindness? Maybe we theological conservatives should work on those a little more.

It is true that Rob Bell’s Universalism – if that is what he holds to – will possibly lead people into error. Maybe. Probably. However, I am more sure of this – an evangelical subculture that cannot muster up lovingkindness in a way that mirrors Christ and is recognizable to those we remain at doctrinal odds with will do far more damage.

More Thoughts on the Rob Bell Controversy

There are still lots of people talking about this. My main concern is not about the Universalism issue and whether it is true or not. If Rob Bell is a Universalist then I think he is wrong. Simple as that. I actually think even if he is one, it is of less importance and will have less of an impact on the evangelical landscape than the present response to his book…which has not been released. I have already posted some thoughts on this issue. The following are some more:

1. John Stott’s annihilationsim is important to this discussion. There is no person (Piper, Taylor, Burk, Wax, DeYoung, et al) who has been critical of Bell who is not a fan of Stott. I love Stott. But young neo-Reformed men and women are more likely to listen to Stott’s views on hell than Bell’s. The young people I work with are more likely to read Stott’s the cross of Christ and then take seriously his eschatological views than they are to read a Rob Bell book period. Last night I sat in a room and discussed this one some of them. Only one person in the room had read one of his books.

2. We need a Gamaliel.  I assume the best of those who I think have acted poorly. I assume Piper and the rest have done all their tweeting and blogging because they love God and his people and want to protect the sheep as shepherds are wont to do. But the Reformed world needs someone – with gray hair and years – to stop this madness and ask everyone to wait till the book comes out so we can have a discussion on this issue. My hope would have been for John Piper to be that man. That is now out of the question. I would love for someone like Keller, Duncan or Sproul to do this.

3. Rob Bell is now considered a Universalist. Again, the book is not out. But if you look on Twitter (I use Tweetdeck to watch all the tweets about “Rob Bell”) he is now called a Universalist without equivocation. It went from concern about his supposed to view on hell to now him being branded as such within a few days. This should not be so.

4. Have I mentioned the book is not out yet? Should we know about his views before now? Maybe. Sure. But, in a way he has asked me – all of us – to wait. Where is the harm in waiting? Where is the harm in saying, “I would prefer clarity now but out of love and respect I will wait. Can we then seriously and passionately debate it all after it comes out?”

5. Speaking of clarity, we have all wanted the Scriptures to be more clear on certain things. Haven’t you ever wished Paul was more clear on the Trinity? The Hypostatic Union? Predestination? Creation? Even Penal Substitutionary Atonement. I believe in the Trinity but a verse or a letter from one of the Apostles that said, “3 persons, one God” would be nice. Should I want other people – especially pastors – to be clear? Yes. Should I want to be clear as a pastor? Yes. Should I write someone off for not being clear about the questions I want answered? Not so sure. Can I think about it?

Thoughts on Rob Bell and the Controversy Surrounding His Yet-To-Be-Released Book

If you have no idea what is going on, read this.

The post that started it all is here.

If you are clueless on who Rob Bell is, go here.

Update: Here is a really interesting post on Rob.

1. I have never read a Rob Bell book. And have never wanted to till now.

2. I have however prejudged a book of his before and then been found to be wrong.

3. It will not commend the gospel of grace to anyone who does not believe the gospel (or who you might think is in error), to denounce a book and it’s author before it has been released. The young people we keep saying we are worried about will not take us and our concerns seriously. Only the ones who agree with orthodox views on hell will listen. And retweet.

4. Rob Bell may be a universalist. Or he may just not be all that on clear on purpose.

5. John Stott is an annihilationist. Lewis believed in Purgatory. Would we be nicer to Bell for these beliefs?

6. I love John Piper but his ‘farewell’ tweet to Rob Bell was poorly done.

7. Harper Collins Wins.

8. The Synod of Dort took 6 months, the council of Nicea at least two months. Not sure if 6 days is enough.

9. If I had to make a prediction, I think this will end up being a non-issue when the book comes out. The worried one will not see a crystal clear declaration and the fans of Bell will keep on being fans. Again, all it would have taken to get a listen from those who do not already agree with them, would be for the Calvinist bloggers to wait till the book comes and and be able to say, “I have read it, this is what I think.” But now? Impossible.

10. I’m hoping the Publisher sends me a free copy. If I have to wait I may forget about this by the time it comes out. (Just heard from publisher and I should get a copy soon.)