Love Wins by Rob Bell -- My thoughts on the preface and chapter one

Rob Bell’s Love Wins: My thoughts on the preface and chapter one (13% of the Kindle version of the book).

Note: I am reading the Kindle version of the book, so the location numbers are only helpful to those with a Kindle version. Otherwise ignore them. The following is from the preface until I get to the point of letting you know the comments are from my reading of chapter one. I welcome your input.

“That’s the story. ‘For God so loved the world . . .’ That’s why Jesus came.” On the surface it looks good but when you realize what Bell teaches in totality, you are bothered that he stops there at the verse. The rest of the verse is equally important: “That whoever believes in him should not perish but have everlasting life.”

Bell claims that Jesus’ story has been hijacked by a number of other “stories” that Jesus “isn’t interested in telling because they have nothing to do with what he came to do. The plot has been lost and it’s time to reclaim it.”

Location 44 of the kindle version, “This love compels us to question some of the dominant stories that are being told as the Jesus story. A staggering number of people have been taught that a select few Christians that will spend forever in a peaceful, joyous place called heaven while the rest of humanity spends forever in torment and punishment in hell . . . this is misguided and toxic and ultimately subverts the contagious spread of Jesus message of love, peace, forgiveness and joy that our world desperately needs to hear.”

In the full quote, he questions (i.e. denies) that it is a central truth of Christianity. Yet the Bible does just that. “Enter in at the straight gate, for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction and many go that way . . . straight is the gate and narrow is the way that leads to life and few there be that find it (Matt. 7:13-14).” There is that bothersome “few” that drives Bell so crazy and the Jesus of the Bible used it to speak of eternal life and eternal punishment. I am amazed at the wisdom of God that this teaching of Jesus is followed by a warning about false teachers who come in sheep’s clothing but are actually wolves (Mt. 7:15). Bell also avoids the disturbing nature of Jesus’ ministry, that the vast majority of the Jews rejected Him. Even when the Church exploded on the scene as recorded in the Acts, those thousands were a minority of the populace of that day. And that did not change.

Location 59: straw man argument. I have never heard anywhere a question being raised that was answered with a “we don’t discuss those things here.” Inquiries are answered to the best of the ability of the sound pastor/teacher from Scripture.

“The ancient sages said the words of the sacred text were black letters on a white page – there’s all that white space waiting to be filled with our responses and discussions and debates and opinions and longings and desires and wisdom and insights. We read . . . and then enter the discussion that has been going on for thousands of years. . . ”

Actually this illustration is disturbing and I will tell you why. He is basically equating the sacred Scripture with our input. The Scripture, to use his analogy, is then clouded, cluttered, etc., with our questions, input and “wisdom.” He is obviously viewing revelation as something to be added to, amended or changed. The warning in Revelation comes to mind (Rev. 22:18-19). While that warning is specifically given about the revelation given to John the Apostle, it does reveal the seriousness with which we are to take God’s Word and not to add to it from man’s opinion or to take away from it that which we find distasteful.

Location 59/75 – Bell does speak truth when he says that what he is teaching in the book is nothing new. It is in fact old-fashioned historic, orthodox Christianity denied by old-fashioned liberalism that has been given an extreme makeover – the Bell, Pagitt, McLaren edition.

Chapter one begins with Bell’s recounting of the art show at church and the reaction to Gandhi of someone posting a note, “Reality Check: He’s in Hell.” At that point, Bell says, “Really? Gandhi’s in hell? He is? We have confirmation of this? Somebody knows this?”

What Bell misses here is the plain truth that salvation is through Jesus’ shed blood that is applied to the believer upon faith in Christ. If Gandhi didn’t accept Christ as Savior before he died, then we have no Scriptural reason to believe he is anywhere but Hell. This is the difference between those who believe that man is conceived in sin and depraved and those who believe man is basically good. The Bible renders its judgment: “There is none righteous, no not one . . .” Rom. 3. “Our righteousness is as filthy rags” before God (Isa. 64:6). “That every mouth may be stopped and all be found guilty before God (Romans 3:19).”

In location 90 of the Kindle, Bell reveals his heart through the questions he asks. On this page, he questions the belief that only a few from the billions who were born ever make it to heaven. He questions the belief that the vast majority of the rest go to an eternal, conscious hell. He questions how God could do this and still be loving. He questions the belief that God would punish eternally those who sinned in the span of a lifetime. I find it interesting he never screams, “Unfair!” about the eternity spent in bliss for a mere 50 years or 50 months, or 50 hours or 50 seconds of faith in Christ. That, to me, borders on hypocritical to ignore such an obvious, opposite truth. Of course, he does so, because it doesn’t inflame people to follow his path or to put it in a more gracious manner, it doesn’t help his argument in the least.

He asks how a person ends up being one of the few. His abundant use of that word is disturbing as well. Yes, historic Christian doctrine from the Bible has spoken repeatedly of a remnant, OT and NT, and the Gospel is portrayed by Jesus and His disciples as a Gospel that is opposed, seen as foolishness, etc. by the world at large. Yet, that “few” he references is actually a number that is more than likely in the hundreds of millions from all of time. It includes the pre-Jesus followers of the one true God and Christians since His atonement for us and subsequent defeat of sin, death and Satan.

To answer his question biblically, which by the way Bell doesn’t seem to desire to do, it is by faith in Jesus who died for the sins of mankind that one enters into the league of the “few.” That is what is so alarming about the world: millions alive today are in danger of eternal, conscious torment in hell if we don’t reach them. “How will they hear unless they have a preacher. . .” We must spread the Gospel, the good news of salvation in Christ.

(location 105) He questions the kind of God and the kind of faith that this understanding of the Gospel represents. To me, then, he questions the character of God as represented in the Scriptures. This is very dangerous indeed.

He raises up an illustration of a tragedy in which a young man died in a car accident. A discussion is had between a Christian and a friend of the deceased as to whether he was a Christian. Upon finding out he was an atheist, the believer, with a shocking display of insensitivity says that there is then no hope. While it is true that if he didn’t accept Christ’s payment for his sins, he would have to appear before God and answer for those sins himself at the Great White Throne, it certainly is a truth that could be better communicated in a better way and in a wider context that doesn’t inflame and cause more pain. In that particular case, the belief system isn’t on trial and found wanting; the Christian’s methods and sensitivity are.

At location 138, Bell postulates that Christians believing in salvation through faith in Jesus would lead to a group of believers who are horribly unconcerned with the suffering and the plight of millions around the world. The opposite is true. Those who believe the Gospel have a strong missionary mindset for the world. Believers in Jesus have been instrumental in stopping abuses around the world, establishing schools and hospitals and even the early universities in the USA, etc. In fact, one of the leading Christian organizations that does disaster relief around the world is that bothersome, Bible-believing, Samaritan's Purse led by the intolerant, only through faith in the Jesus of the Bible, Franklin Graham and funded by us Bible-believing Christians who don't care about the world's suffering (sarcasm in full swing here, folks. I love Samaritan's Purse and Franklin Graham).

I’m getting the idea that the premise off of which Bell is working is that the majority rejecting the Gospel is primarily, if not only, the fault of Bible-believing Christians and that centered on our beliefs rather than our actions or attitudes. So, if we would just change what we believe, then the world would embrace us? See 2 Timothy 4:2-4 on “itching ears.”

In location 155 it is easy to see Bell equating Bible-believing Christians with the father who rapes his daughter while reciting the Lord’s prayer or molests while singing hymns, or the Christians who reportedly opened fire on innocent Muslims. That is outrageous, inflammatory and utterly false to equate these abhorrent actions of a few with all of Bible-believing Christians. Did Bell inquire as to whether any of those actually believed the Bible to be God’s Word and expressed faith in Christ? No, he just assumes so. This is the equivalent of secular liberals declaring us to be the Christian Taliban or equivalent to Muslim extremists who kill innocents and commit terror attacks on a grand scale. He declares us to be anti-science, anti-gay with a message that is all about burning in hell rather than the full message of the Gospel that includes the good news that Jesus died so as to save us from Hell. This is character assassination in the extreme.

Location 183 – He argues against the terminology of a personal relationship with Jesus. While that concept isn’t taught with those words, the Bible does speak of becoming a disciple of Jesus. That’s entering into relationship with Him. We communicate with him through prayer. He communicates to us through the Word and through His Spirit to our minds. We confess and repent of behaviors and attitudes, sins of omission and commission and seek to have a right relationship with Him. So, isn’t the Bible clearly speaking of a personal relationship with Christ even though it doesn’t use those terms? Bell uses terms that are not in the Bible either. Are they then not valid because you can’t find them there? How about Emergent or Emerging? Since it isn’t in the Bible, does that alone make it invalid to be used?

Bell then goes on an absurd blitzkrieg of out of context verses to mock professions of faith in Christ and upon this, he ends the first chapter. However, his examples from the biblical text include no doctrinal teaching but mere experiences of people with Jesus. Perhaps that is Bell’s point, it isn’t about what Romans or any of the Epistles say about how to be saved but he encourages an experience with a Jesus that he admits that is different than the one proclaimed by Bible-believing Christians.

Disclaimer: If, as I go through more of the book, I find my conclusions needing clarification or amending, I will do so. I will seek to be fair but I will not compromise the Word in doing so.

The downside of posting this way is that they will be in opposite order on my blog. However, the good part is that you can read it in pieces without having to go through my exhaustive analysis all at once.

I welcome your thoughts. Thanks for reading.

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