Thursday, March 10, 2011

Was Rob Bell just misunderstood? "No", says Tim Challies.

A number of bloggers it seemed jumped the gun, condemning Rob Bell for hersey before the book was released based on some preview chapters, a video and Bell's previous track record for confusing theological statements. There are two questions: was Bell just misunderstood and is he wrong?  Tim Challies reviews his latest book Love Wins: A book about Heaven, Hell and the fate of every person who has ever believed, and finds that no, he wasn't and yes he is.  I think it's good to think about the questions Bell raises, because they go to the heart of several topics I'm interested in such as the nature of sin, the scope of salvation and the question of theodicy.

Tim Challies notes that Rob Bell over-realizes his eschatology, the focus says Bell, of Heaven and Hell are now.  This is no doubt in reaction to those who keep Heaven and Hell as completely separate to our present reality.  But the truth is somewhere in the middle, as Oscar Cullerman correctly noted, the battle of Normandy is won but VE-day hasn't taken place yet.  According to Challies, Bell wants to raise the questions and then slide away into ambiguities and confusion.  There's nothing wrong with asking good questions but what's wrong with making a clear case? As Challies notes the book's tag line, "love wins" is misguided.  "God's holy love wins", otherwise love is reduced to a Jedi-like force in the universe.

[Update]  I think I jumped the gun on the reviews; Challies' review is supeceded by a much more comprehensive and clearly outlined review by Kevin DeYoung, about as far from Bell on the ecclesiastical spectrum as you can get.  In many ways this controversy highlights the diverging streams of Evangelicalism more than anything else.  There is Bell setting up shop outside the traditional church and DeYoung seeking to transform things from the inside.  In some ways Bell is to be applauded for provoking such a controversy, these questions need to be discussed and so I'm grateful for DeYoung's response.

[Second Update] Bird conforms something I predicted about this controversy and teaches me something.  Bird says Bell's book will ultimately be "a flash in the pan".  Not the deeper, larger more potent issues of salvation, but Bell's method of presenting them. (I think if anything Bell's method highlights growing fragmentation within Evangelicalism.) But Bird's observations highlight the value of taking the time to consider something, he finds criticisms of Love Wins that both Challies and DeYoung overlooked: for example Bell overlooks Jesus first century Jewish context.