Friday, April 1, 2011

Critique of "Love Wins" by Rob Bell

Today I read Rob Bell’s book “Love Wins.” I had my Bible in front of me as I did so. Frequently I turned to passages he addressed as well as many he tragically neglected. About every five pages I have question marks in the margin of my book.

My conclusion is that this book is quite unbiblical, reductionistic, misleading, universalistic, and caters to our feel-good culture. It is outright dangerous.

Here are my comments and concerns about the book:
1. He takes God’s love at the expense of God’s holiness. We cannot pick and choose which attributes of God we like and discount the ones we don’t like. Here is a good example: “Many have heard the gospel framed in terms of rescue. God has to punish sinners, because God is holy, but Jesus has paid the price for our sin, and so we can have eternal life. However true or untrue that is technically or theologically, what it can do is subtly teach people that Jesus rescues us from God. Let’s be very clear, then: we do not need to be rescued from God” (p. 182). What does Bell do with Romans 5:9: “Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from the wrath of God through Him”?
2. He is quite reductionistic (i.e. reducing the truths) about God’s character, heaven as a real place, hell as a real place, salvation as needing to “call on the name of the Lord” as Romans 10 says, and the Bible as God’s inerrant Word.
3. This statement pretty much summarizes the book and you can see how unbiblical this is: “At the center of the Christian tradition since the first church have been a number who insist that history is not tragic, hell is not forever, and love, in the end, wins and all will be reconciled to God" (p. 109).
4. Though he never says he is a universalist, he pretty much is in that he says everyone (except those who outright deny God and say they want nothing to do with God) is in God’s family and will go to heaven. He says “Jesus forgives them all, without their asking for it” (p. 188). So we don’t have to “believe on the Lord Jesus” (Acts 16:31) … “repent and believe” (Mk. 1:15) … “call on the name of the Lord” (Rom. 10:13) … “confess with your mouth and believe in your heart” (Rom. 10:9) … “receive Him” (Jn. 1:12) … etc., etc.?
5. He completed overlooks passages like 2 Thess. 1:5-12 and Rev. 20-21 that would be very problematic to his teachings about hell.
6. He allows the many complexities of sin and people’s issues cloud his theology. I am all for being sensitive to people’s pain and abuse and questions about God, but people’s experience can never trump God’s Word.
7. Unfortunately this smells of classic liberalism – reducing God’s truth to that which we can more easily stomach and present to others without offending them.
8. It seems he has an ax to grind with Christians who have turned off people by their “turn or burn” approach.
9. Bell admitted in an interview that much of this book comes out of his own struggles with things in the evangelical movement. It is dangerous when our experience in this respect shapes our theology.
10. He makes the “all” in certain verses about the atonement apply to the whole world, regardless of their response to Jesus. Yes, Jesus died for all in one sense, but this doesn’t guarantee the “all” respond in faith.
11. This book again shows how important Systematic Theology is. Bell takes a few verses about a topic and builds a case that excludes so many other verses that speak of the same topic. Systematic Theology takes the whole of Scripture about various doctrines.

Are there any positives? Well, at least in the last chapter he talks about the time he prayed to receive Christ as a child and how life changing this was. This was very good to hear since everything up to that point had been critical of the typical evangelical way of doing evangelism.

In conclusion, once again this is a reminder that theology matters. We must be sharp in our biblical understanding, because as the time of Christ gets closer, many will fall away (Mt. 24:9), be seduced into the doctrine of demons (1 Tim. 4:1), and gather teachers who say what their itching ears want to hear (2 Tim. 4:3). We better be like the Bereans who examined everything they heard (the teachings of Paul at that time!) to see if it is consistent with God’s Word (Acts 17:11)!

Oh Lord, we cry out to You for discernment and wisdom. Help us to stay true to Your Word in all we say, do, and teach others. And may we defend Your truth with love, in the power of Your Holy Spirit.

For a much more thorough critique of the book, I encourage you to check out the one by Kevin DeYoung found at the Gospel Coalition: