1. I am glad he wrote this book. It is the single most important topic of consideration for every single human being living in this world. The title is excellent and intriguing. The book is rightfully generating a furor of controversy and that's a good thing. Another boring, dusty theology book couldn't have created the fertile ground for discussion that this provocative book and title have generated. CNN, Fox, ABC, NBC, CBS, the morning shows, youtube...fantastic debate has made it to the airwaves, and I have been wonderfully surprised that so many are engaged. I've never heard these topics make prime time in all my decades, so I would say that's a breakthrough of epic proportions. Bravo to Rob Bell for that.
2. I love his wide view of grace and God's mercy. That is, after all, what we are talking about when we say it's the gospel-- "Good News". I found his words on this topic to be his most eloquent and inspiring in the entire book. He debunks myths and bad thinking, and cracks the egg of grace wide open. He allows it to be a mystery instead of a formula. What he says here is quite beautiful. Grace has been bought by the blood of Christ and He can spend it anyway He likes...and He seems to do just that, as Rob points out through a variety of New Testament stories. A quick overview of New Testament passages confirms that there are, indeed, lots of ways to come to Christ. God is dynamic and personal. And Jesus tells us that we will be surprised at who will and will not be in Heaven. Ultimately, it is clear that Love Wins out in the end. Much more than any of us deserve.
3. Rob's questions, many that he himself answers imprecisely, inadequately, and naively are, nonetheless, fantastic, insightful questions. He is providing such rich fodder for the best thinkers, writers, teachers, preachers among us. I hope they will tackle them and give us better, more biblical, more rigorous answers than Rob has given to this point. Nonetheless, I salute him for asking them. That is the first and most important stepping stone in the process of knowledge, and he has kicked the ball into play. It feels portentous, like some very good things will come as a result of what he has done.
4. I love Rob's emphasis on the word ALL. He repeats a number of scriptures that say God seeks all people and will restore all things. He makes us really think about what that actually means. Does God get His way? I honestly admit I don't know how it works, I don't know the Greek and Hebrew, but I do love that it can't simply be ignored. God's great heart reaches out to save everybody and everything and how wonderful to be reminded of that again.
Those are some of the strengths of the book. The weaknesses? These are my personal objections to some of what he's written, from a layman's perspective without the benefit of a theology degree.
1. His view of the afterlife is such a mish-mash hodge-podge of verses on the new heaven and earth, paradise, the temporary heaven, hades, the temporary hell, the millenial age, the ongoing earth, that you wonder if he has ever taken a course in systematic theology. He makes bad sense out of something that Randy Alcorn in the book Heaven has already made much more clear. When you have an essential beloved person in heaven, you spend a considerable amount of time sorting what you can about the afterlife from scripture. On the basis of Rob's sloppy research, he has obviously never had a pressing need to do just that.
2. His argument that God wouldn't save a few and send billions to hell for not saying the "right" prayer is overwrought hyperbole. It makes the church look stupid, which isn't kind of him. I've never actually heard a preacher say a thing like that...at least no one that anyone is listening to. Jesus Himself said the road to life is narrow and few find it, while the way to destruction is broad and many go there-in. The terms, "few" and "many" are general terms that have no mathematical component to them, and to attach "billions" to it is a disservice. It causes people to stop paying attention to what Jesus said, (which was meant to inspire us to ask ourselves if we have entered by the narrow or broad gate --a question to which each of us intuitively know the answer), and to begin ridiculing the concept.
3. Rob's insinuation that Christians don't take care of social justice issues because we don't see the earth as ongoing, is a huge error. Christians are the largest, most generous supporters of human needs causes on the planet, whether they believe the earth will "continue on" or not. That generosity is motivated out of love and compassion, not simply trying to fix this place. I think it's pretty clear that this place will not arrive at "fixed". Revelation tells us it will eventually be consumed by fire and there will be a new heaven and a new earth. The demise of the earth is a bad chapter in a book that has a shining, happy ending, but loving the people on this earth has eternal value.
4. The most personally offensive to me? Rob's discussion of life and death as the cycle through which all good things come. His reasoning is that life and death are a cycle since creation, and therefore part of God's great plan. He uses the example that the plant has to die to give us life; the firefighter has to die to save someone else's life. I had a hard time with his shallow thinking on this topic. Having lived through the death of someone essential to my life, I don't see death in general as the mechanism that God uses to restore the earth. He used One Death, Christ's death, to make sure that death died and He tells us that death is the last enemy that will die. Death is an enemy, not a friend. An aberration, not the original plan. It is a result of fallenness, a consequence with which we are forced to live, not a blessing to the planet. How did he miss this great fundamental truth in seminary?
5. My last objection to the book is an assessment about Rob's character. I sense that Rob has never really suffered. He grew up loved and sheltered in an intact, Christian family. He is white, educated, and wealthy. He is a fantastically gifted communicator, he has a large and successful church, he appears to be happily married, he has healthy children, he is still young. How close has evil ever come to him? How much has he lost in life? It is not his fault he hasn't suffered. Who would wish that on anybody? But I have to say that he lacks experience and credibility with those who have suffered, and there is a blitheness in tone when people haven't suffered that can be instantly picked up on the radar screen by those who have. While he is compassionate toward the hurting, there is no indication that he has ever suffered enough personal pain to be left longing for relief and comfort and heaven. If he had, I daresay he would view this tired earth, and the glorious heaven to come, through somewhat different eyes.
Just a thought. My small two cents. What do you think of Love Wins?
But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself. —Philippians 3:20-21