I suppose the internet is about ready to implode due to all the recent tweets, Facebook status updates, blog articles, and other various internet mediums being used to talk about Rob Bell and the release of his new book, Love Wins: A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived.
I initially shared my own disappointment with some of the preliminary thoughts that surfaced just under 3 weeks ago. For me, the plethora of postings seemed to come all too fast, and even some without much grace, at least from my perspective. And most of it came from watching a 3-minute promo video for the new book and a preview of a few chapters of the book rather than the whole book. Even more, I was disappointed to find very few quoting anything from the book.
Now, as of 15 March 2011, the book has been released and reviews have started to pop up everywhere. I suppose it will be like this for the better part of the next month, maybe longer. Most who want to get in on the action got their copy of the book yesterday upon its release (paper or e-copy). And I expect some read the whole text that day and have already posted their review, all to be part of the first group out there to share some thoughts. This would not be too dissimilar to 3 weeks ago when the first wave began.
I did buy my copy of the book yesterday via my Kindle app. I will probably read it next week on my train ride from Brussels to London, or the following week once my iPad2 arrives. I want to read it, but I am thinking the advice of Scot McKnight might be better.
Just yesterday, I was able to watch the Rob Bell interview from New York City that took place the evening before, 14 March. I was asleep in Belgium while it was taking place, hence watching it the day after. If you haven’t watched it yet and would like to, visit this link. And as a side note, the actual thing doesn’t start up until the 10-minute mark.
At this point, from what I have read about the book, what I saw in the interview, and what I just expect as I engage with the book, I probably won’t agree with everything Rob Bell has to say. Like Brian McLaren, I think Rob Bell does evade some more straightforward answers to questions. That was evident in a couple of places in the interview. But I also believe he would have it that way.
I don’t necessarily think that not being able to give answers to questions is a bad thing. I am learning more and more that questions are ok and tensions do exist in the biblical text. In the more western, Greek-mindset, we say A + B = C. In the more biblical, Hebrew-mindset, at least as I understand it, A + B = A + B. This is why I am stirred more towards biblical theology these days, rather than systematic theology.
Though I definitely agree with Bell for allowing tensions and not formulating dogmatic answers to some of the questions, I don’t think evading questions is the best practise. We can at least acknowledge that we are uncertain or don’t want to be dogmatic.
So definitive answers are not always the best answers. Bell knows that and is fine with that. In the past, formulated answers have been important. But living life, interacting with the tensions of Scripture, and being in pastoral leadership these days, I am lot more relaxed than I used to be.
In all, I am very aware that the conversation surrounding the topics in Bell’s book can be and is a healthy thing. A dialogue, or debate if some want it that way, about these topics is truly important. The reformers heralded the phrase semper reformanda, meaning that we are to always be reforming. And that means with regards to our tightly held theological stances as well.
I believe most people’s ideas of heaven and hell are very, very opposed to actual biblical teaching. Therefore, there is a desperate need to rethink and re-study what the Scriptures actually teach about the kingdom of God, heaven, hell, Sheol, Hades, Gehenna, death, destruction, as well as understanding the Hebrew-biblical genre of apocalyptic and poetic prophecy. Even if Rob Bell were a full-out universalist, I would say that much of evangelicalism’s view of heaven and hell are just as off. The only problem is that we are off-base as we come at it from another angle.
I do look forward to interacting with the book, as well as other one’s sitting on my shelves or one’s yet to be bought. I think it is time for the church, not just the scholars but the whole church, to rethink some things in regards to these topics. It won’t be the first time, nor the last – with these specific topics or others. But our lot in this life is change, first and foremost into the image of God’s Son, as well as with our theological beliefs.
So let’s engage with the topic at hand. And as we do, I think we might just see semper reformanda taking place in our lives and theology.