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Love Wins - Rob Bell

(HarperCollins: London, 2011)

Rev John Woods writes:

I like Rob Bell. He is creative, imaginative, passionate, and manages to connect with an age group that the church has been struggling to engage for decades. His books, sermons and video parables have painted a picture of Christianity as a script in which people want a part. 

Therefore, I have read this book with critical openness because I respect Bell as a human being and as a Christian leader of compassion and integrity. I have tried not to read much of what has been written about Love Wins before writing this review, but I understand that in some circles the book has been about as popular as a free steak supper in a vegetarian commune. Well this is a review, so here goes:

First, Bell acknowledges that what he has written is not new. I have to agree with him, what he writes he generally writes well, in his usual engaging style but the ground has been covered by others in the past, often more comprehensively, eruditely and evenly. There are also plenty of sane critiques of these views.

Second, Bell is right to question the narrow focus in classic evangelicalism on the need for a signing on the dotted line view of becoming, and being a Christian. Easy-believism, and unproductive ‘faith’ that fails to engage with reality needs to be challenged. 

Bell is also right to challenge superficial views of human destiny and careless and inaccurate portrayals of heaven and hell.

Yet, Bell in challenging evangelical narrowness appears to have opened a door to a breadth of ‘hope’ that is dangerously vague. We ought not to be too eager writing a guest list for heaven and hell, but nor are we to conclude that everybody eventually responds favourably to God’s love.

Thirdly, Bell’s focuses on the love of God; the first biblical text he cites is the first part of John 3:16. The end of John 3 (verse 36) speaks about the wrath of God remaining on those who do not believe. There is no mention of the wrath of God in Bell’s book, unless you count the reference to “this destructive, violent understanding of God” (p.183), or the following:

“God is love,
and to refuse this love moves us away from it,
in the other direction,
and that will,
by very definition ,
be an increasingly unloving, hellish reality” (p.177).

Does this measured prose ring a bell? This appears to be what is being said in John 3, in the end everybody experiences God’s love; either as love or as wrath.

Bell often talks in this book of a distorted view of God; and there are times where evangelicals reading the book must say themselves: “if the cap fits wear it”. Yet we could say to Bell: “Physician heal yourself!”

Bell has made an uncertain sound concerning the nature of God. Telling God’s story, however compellingly, by focusing on his love but dodging his wrath, leaves none of us a winner.

Rev John Woods is pastor of Lancing Tabernacle, West Sussex

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