How would you summarize Christianity in 2 words? Could you maybe say, “Jesus saves”? Or maybe something more relevant like “Got Jesus?” For Rob Bell, Christianity is this: Love Wins. Rob has been using the phrase for years at his church and it has even shown up as bumper stickers at my church and printed on Starbucks cups. The curiosity has been, at least for me, what he meant by that phrase. Does it really capture the essence of our faith?
Several years ago a read a few books by Richard Bach. Bach, most renowned for his book Jonathan Livingston Seagull, wrote a book called One. In the preface he talked about Seagull and another book called Illusions: The Adventures of a Reluctant Messiah and commented that he wrote those other books in essence to have the guts to write the book he really wanted to write: One. Having now read every book that Rob Bell has written and watched each of his tour videos, I have to say that this book is Rob’s One, his magnum opus if you will. This is what he has tried to say all these years and what he finally got the nerve to put down on paper and send to his publisher.
Early works like Velvet Elvis essentially challenged readers to scratch their heads, to deconstruct their previous notions of Christianity and Jesus, and to consider a different way of understanding the Bible, a way that is hardly suggestive as much as it is directive. Bell does not really offer a different perspective, but simply admonishes his readers against believing what they were taught.
The most classically criticized portion of Velvet Elvis has been Rob’s analogy of a trampoline and different doctrines being springs. He suggests that one or more springs, say the virgin birth of Jesus, could be removed and the trampoline would still function. While obviously faulty, he gives no real picture of what he thinks this different theological perspective should look like.
Where I see Bell really laying foundations for Love Wins are in his tour videos, Everything is Spiritual and The Gods Aren’t Angry, and his book Drops Like Stars. These works each appear in summary in Love Wins and obviously form a basis for Rob’s perspective on the gospel, the afterlife, redemption, resurrection, and the “restoration of all things.” Essentially Bell teaches that Christ’s death was only for psychological benefit for a people who made up a system on their own to please God through animal sacrifice.
Casting the Old Testament as a cultic construction of an imaginative people who were not directed by God by by their own fears, Bell then declares that the whole of the created world is a testimony of the goodness of God and it is sufficient in itself for people to know and desire his love and attention. And that desire, which every person has along with inherent goodness as created beings themselves, is what God retains when he remakes the world.
The book is mainly reactive. He asks a tirade of questions with no pause for answers, most of them questions that have overtly come from his upbringing in a conservative Christian church background. Most of the questions are not even complex or difficult to answer, but left unanswered Rob uses them to build a case for how conservative theology must have taken a wrong turn. This becomes terribly obvious when in the last 20% of the book Bell lashes out at conservative (biblical) Christianity and essentially calls God bipolar and then warns against anyone believing in “that God.” As fellow blogger, Jay Miklovic observed, ” It seemed to be simply to be a license for unbelief for those who already don’t believe.”
Summary of the book: you choose heaven or hell right now, because in this life is the only time they even exist. All people experience God’s goodness to some degree and that goodness is Jesus, even if you hate his name and want nothing to do with him. When God “restores all things” every person will get wrapped up in God’s love for all eternity, no matter what. Orthodox Christianity cages God and makes him bipolar so we should not put limits on his love.
My thoughts: for the sake of brevity (and because I will continue this discussion in further posts) I will say that if a Christian invalidates the inspired Word of God and then recapitulates it as an unreliable testimony about a psychotic deity, no reliable truth can manifest. To deny the truth of heaven and hell as a result of the coming judgment invalidates God as just and righteous. If there is no judgment there neither is no opportunity for grace or mercy.
God is a god of love because he is angry at sin and sinner. God is love because he is willing to do what it takes to rid the universe of evil to eliminate its temptation of and damage to his saints, those who he bought with his own blood. Bell laughs at the cross to call it a psychological relief and at sin when he teaches no provision for its damnation.
Instead: thanks be to God for his grace, his mercy, his justice, and his violence against sin. Thanks be to God for coming to our aid when we neither deserved it nor were willing to accept it. Thanks be to God whose justice is sound and whose judgment is final. Thanks be to God for his provision to some day live with no stain of evil or sin and to instead live in the glory of the one who did all the work for us and anticipated no other return on his investment but our praise and adoration.