Review: Rob Bell’s Love Wins
Ever since the book came out the blogosphere has been blowing up with discussions about this controversial book. I am far from the first to write a review of the book, and I don’t think I’ll be the last. But I have read the book and I wanted to put down my thoughts about the book somewhere.
First, I want to be honest about my commitments. I am theologically conservative, to the point where I’ve been labeled as a neo-calvinist. I actually like to think of myself as a theological slut because I do see value in other theological perspectives. They might not be true, but at least they raise some great questions. Nevertheless, I admittedly came to the book with a bit of cynicism. For the sake of my friends and others who respect Rob Bell and what he is saying, I really attempted to try to give the book a fair shake. I will own the fact that I am totally bias and brought my commitments to the table as a read the book. But here’s my review.
What I Liked:
1. Bell’s Pastoral Heart- It is hard to deny that Bell genuinely cares about people and the real struggles that they have. This book seem to be a definite attempt to recognize the struggles of some people and let them know that they have been heard. His book is a good example of framing a discussion in a way of walking people through the process of discovering the truth. Instead of just giving a packaged answer, Bell asks questions and subverts certain assumptions in order to help the reading come to a specific conclusion. I don’t agree with how he framed the discussion, but I like the fact that he did frame it, instead of just throwing out an answer.
2. Christianity is Not an Exit Plan – This seems to be one of the biggest points that Bell was after. He seemed to want to make the point that Christianity or the Gospel is not an exit/evacuation plan. With his whole discussion of living heaven or hell on earth, he seems to be making the point that eternal life does not start upon death, but now on Earth. The Kingdom of God is here and yet to come. Bell seems to be focusing on the present reality. Without getting into his specific view of the finality of heaven and hell, I do think his point on not living as if the Gospel is an exit plan is a valid point.
3. Bell is a Gifted Communicator – Bell’s use of words and how he framed the discussions revealed that he is very much a great communicator. One of the things that I took away from Bell’s writing is his ability to frame the discussion in such a way to where it seems like you’re not presenting a truth claim, but allowing them to come to your conclusion. Call it manipulation, I call it being a good communicator.
What I Disliked:
1. Bell’s Lack of A Pastoral Mind – In the section of what I liked, I stated that I like Bell’s pastoral heart. He obviously cares but his care for people seem to cloud his pastoral mind. He could retort that he is not a theologian but to be a pastors means he must also be a theologian. When Paul told Titus to select pastor-elders in the church he told him that one of the requirements is to be able to give instruction in sound doctrine.
 He must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it. (Titus 1:9 ESV)
This is the mind of a pastor. Bell’s goes to great length to attempt to show how the doctrine of heaven and hell are a little more pliable, and in doing so he compromises all academic honesty in order to make his point. His use of historical figures, Scriptures, and words in the Bible cannot even be considered academically honest. Rather, Bell presents a clear case of eisegesis in the Scriptures as well as with history.
2. Framing the Discussion – I’m sure that there were many who were frustrated with the way Bell wrote. There was a sense of, “GET TO THE POINT BELL!” But he seemed to do it as a way of guiding the reader to a specific conclusion instead of tell them what they ought to believe. The only problem with framing the discussion is that it can be manipulated. The greatest danger of framing a discussion is that a person can easily build a straw man. For example:
God is loving and kind and full of grace and mercy – unless there isn’t confession and repentance and salvation in this lifetime, at which point God punishes forever. That’s the Christian story, right? Is that what Jesus taught? – Pg. 64
His use of language and how he framed this discussion in many was an oversimplification of the issues at hand. He built up an opposing view by over simplifying it and by his use of language, and then he knocked it down with his “rhetorical” questions. To rely on straw men argumentation to frame a discussion is just a subversive way of having a monologue. I like when discussions are framed fairly because it encourages dialog, but when a person relies on straw men, they are guilty of having a monologue.
3. Inclusive exclusion – As far as I understand the purpose of the book, Bell wanted to open a discussion about the realities of heaven and hell. He seems to welcome dialog however his 2nd to last chapter was really disappointing. Bell writes,
Inquisitions, persecutions, trials, book burnings, blacklisting – when religious people become violent, it is because they have been shaped by their God, who is violent. We see this destructive shaping alive in the toxic, venomous nature of certain discussions and debates on the Internet. For some, the highest form of allegiance to their God is to attack, defame, and slander others who don’t articulate matters of faith as they do. – pg. 182
This another example of framing the discussion that is built on straw man. Who would want to even call into question this book after that statement? This is simply fuel for the fire of Bell fan boys, “Why should I listen to you, you serve a violent God because you attack others who don’t articulate matters of faith like you!?!” You can have it both ways Bell. You can’t make another truth claim and label it a “different perspective” and expect people not to call into question. You can pretend to include others into the discussion, while excluding those who “serve a violent god.”
4. Different Gospel – “We shape our God, and our God shapes us.” – SMH.. The great uniqueness about the Christian God is that he does not look like any other gods of the time. The biggest difference between the other gods and the Biblical God was the fact that the other gods look a lot like the people that worshiped. The people would shape the stories about their gods after themselves and ultimately worship them in hopes that these gods would shape them. The Biblical God is one who is so transcendent and who is not shaped by man, rather who calls humanity to be shaped by him. Bell’s gospel is not a Biblical Gospel, it is a different gospel.
If you don’t like any part of my review you’re being an ignorant, exclusive, arrogant, elitist. Jk. I just wanted to give a shot a being inclusively exclusive. Would I recommend this book? Honestly, if you want a book that challenges the concept of heaven and hell but with more academic honesty, this is not the book to read. Bell is not saying anything new. I think HarperOne has already made enough money off of this book and its controversy. All this to say, I wish Bell would take his pastoral heart and connect it with a pastoral mind.