Summary of Rob Bell Reviews

From my personal perspective, Scot McKnight stands as one of the greater, 21st century theologians. In what I have read from him through his blog, Jesus Creed, as well as being able to engage with his book, The Blue Parakeet: Rethinking How You Read the Bible, he is a very solid evangelical theologian. But he is also an extremely gracious character as engages with theology all across the historical, Christian perspective.

Just today, McKnight posted a summary of the varying views that have been posted within the blogosphere in regards to Rob Bell’s new book, Love Wins. I recommend reading the article, and possibly even the articles to which he links. I imagine it is easy for most of us to only read those with whom we agree. I find myself easily falling into this camp. But I believe we must be willing to engage with those who disagree with us.

So, if we have had more of a positive response to Rob Bell’s book, maybe it’s time we heard from some people who are either cautious or very much against the book. And if we have had more of a negative response to the book, then it’s probably time we engage with some people who are trying to relay the positives. Of course, I suppose that, if we want to fully and properly interact with what the books says, we should probably be willing to read it ourselves.

But I do recommend checking out McKnight’s blog post today.

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22 thoughts on “Summary of Rob Bell Reviews

  1. We looked at Bell this week in one of my BTh classes. The lecturer rightly criticised universalism as heretical, but wrongly claimed it denies free will by “forcing” God’s love on us (a bizarre interpretation, to say the least).

    Universalism does not deny free will. On the contrary, it says all will be saved regardless of how they exercise their free will. That’s not a case of God forcing His love on people; it’s a case of God extending His love beyond measure. Anyway, even if universalism did deny free will, why should evangelicals care? That would make it no worse than Calvinism.

    Bell’s soteriology appears to be a form of nuanced universalism, similar in many respects to Origen (which is appropriate, since Origen was the father of universalism). Of course, even a nuanced universalism is heretical, so Bell will be out in the cold no matter how he tries to spin it.

    Very interesting to watch this unfold. I wonder if Bell would have felt the same call to universalism if his theological background hadn’t involved the traditional concept of hell?

  2. Dave –

    I think Bell would fall under the terminology universal reconciliationist or evangelical inclusivism, like what I understand the missionary Leslie Newbigin has written about or George MacDonald. Traditional universalism points to all saved regardless of belief. The others would point out that the reconciliation and including comes through the all-benevolent saving work of Christ.

  3. Yes, that’s why I said “nuanced universalism.” Bell doesn’t strike me as a religious pluralist.

    I was surprised to see his book endorsed by Greg Boyd. I thought Boyd leaned towards the conservative side of the evangelical fence (apart from his strong Anabaptist stance on disestablishmentarianism, which I greatly respect).

    • I found it informative and interesting both because the article had a lot of direct quotes from Rob Bell–either from the reporters interview with him, or quotes from his book–that I hadn’t read before. It threw further light, at least for me, on where Bell is coming from in all of this.

      Sorry, I don’t have time for more detail then that right now. My day is getting away from me very quickly here.

      BTW, have you read that particular article, Scott? Just wondering if it added anything to your understanding of the situation.

  4. Cheryl –

    I did read that article that you left the link for. I also watched the NYC interview, have read so many articles, watched other videos, and am now currently reading the book. So I feel like I am hearing from all sides.

    Robert –

    I don’t think Bashir proved anything about Rob Bell. I do believe his questions were fiery. But Bell approached them the same way as in NYC or elsewhere.

    • ScottL,

      To me, anyway you cut this.. Bell got his clock cleaned, simple! He looked foolish and like a theological novice, whether he is one or not. I am amazed myself that any Evangelicals try to support him? And I say this as he represents at least something of the Church Evangelical, though he is really an “emergent”. I am really sad, and I mean this! For Christian Truth, at least the perception takes the hit! As Pilate said to Christ I might add, “What is truth?” (John 18:38)

      • I just don’t really know how you see this. Bell didn’t respond any differently than in other interviews, other than laughing at the ‘hard-nosed’ perspective of Bashir. But we see what we want, including me.

      • Scott,

        You are correct there, it is something of our different biblical presuppositions I would say. And laughing at your interviewer was pretty lame. That is my conclusion. The book is not based on good theological inquiry. But that is of course my opinion. The Evangelical Church is in a hard place right, and also Bell’s inability to answer Bashir’s question in a true biblical fashion about Japan, was very sad.

  5. Scott,

    You have obviously read a lot more of this then I have. I am not reading his book, at this time anyway, so I am relying a lot on the reveiws of others that are or have.

    I will read yours when you get it written I am sure. So far the reviews have been mixed, that is for certain. I read a couple of them by folks that read the pre release copies and found myself thinking that it was almost like they weren’t even talking about the same book.

  6. Cheryl –

    I think it does have to do with already formed opinions before many read the book. I think some of the stuff that went on blogs before the book was released has 1) led some to already have a more negatively formed view of the book and 2) led some to look for anything and everything good in the book to combat some of the overly negative perspectives. And, of course, there are other approaches. I have been tempted towards the second one, as I was saddened and frustrated by the reaction of some of the ‘theological police’. But I want to try and be a faithful follower of Jesus with sound discernment as I read the book.

  7. Robert –

    And laughing at your interviewer was pretty lame. That is my conclusion. – I don’t think he was laughing in some kind of cynical, smart-alec way. He was probably shocked with the forthright, hard-nosed questions. But I would have thought Bell was ‘floundering’ if he would have turned tomato red and never answered anything.

    The book is not based on good theological inquiry. But that is of course my opinion. – Though I am not wanting to be as harsh as some, I would agree with this statement in some of his ways. Again, only a quarter into the book, but his stuff on heaven is actually very good (nothing too different from an NT Wright). But it’s other stuff that is causing controversy.

    The Evangelical Church is in a hard place right, and also Bell’s inability to answer Bashir’s question in a true biblical fashion about Japan, was very sad. – He did answer with God crying tears when we cry. I wouldn’t have answered that way, but Bell answered. I think Bell just didn’t answer as directly as you or I would.

    • Scott,

      Let’s just say then that the Evangelical Church was not well represented! Btw, I have skimmed the book, but have chosen not to read it fully. But then I am just an old theolog type, and a book like this asks the wrong questions. Again, we are brought back to Christian Presuppositions!

  8. I thought DeYoung’s review was very good. Bell is clearly a good pastor and evangelist, but he is no theologian. His exegesis is poor, and his misrepresentation of historic Christian teaching on this subject is nothing short of outrageous. Nevertheless, he stands up for his beliefs, and you have to respect that.

  9. Dave –

    This comes as a bit of surprising comment – ‘his misrepresentation of historic Christian teaching on this subject is nothing short of outrageous.’

    Of all people, I thought you would be ok with this.

    Bell is missing some things, but I still think we need to engage [more positively] with some of his challenges. I will read DeYoung’s review later this week after I finish the book. But I wonder if DeYoung approached the book with an already formulated [negative] outlook, like we all do.

  10. Scott,

    Of all people, I thought you would be ok with this.

    Why? I’m not a Universalist, and from what I know of early church history, Bell has got it very wrong. He says:

    …beginning with the early church, there is a long tradition of Christians who believe that God will ultimately restore everything and everybody

    …at the center of the Christian tradition since the first church has been the insistence that history is not tragic, hell is not forever, and love, in the end, wins.

    These claims are demonstrably false. Universalism started with Origen and has only ever enjoyed a marginal following throughout Christian history. It has never been “at the centre of the Christian tradition”; it has always been a minor, heterodox position. Even Unitarianism has a better pedigree.

    The statement from Mars Hill is confusing:

    No. Rob isn’t suggesting Universalism [all will be saved, regardless of their faith]. He is proposing that God’s love is so big that the invitation to God’s grace may extend into the next life so that all could be saved.

    First we are told “Rob isn’t suggesting Universalism.” Then we’re told “all could be saved” (well hey, that’s Universalism). So what exactly is their position? It’s not clear.

    Then we get this:

    Love Wins clearly points to the centrality of Jesus and the work of his life, death, and resurrection and the hope that Christ’s work will bring restoration to all. Jesus is the only way to God. God’s love does not force anyone and there may be those who continue to reject the invitation extended to them.

    Continue to reject it… when, exactly? When they’re in heaven? When they’re in hell? I don’t understand what this is supposed to mean. Is Mars Hill trying to have a bet each way?

  11. Dave –

    I recognise you are not a universalist. But I know you are part of a group that has challenged the status quo of what is known as historical, orthodox Christianity.

  12. Scott,

    Over and over the information about the theology and historical study of Bell’s book, shows badly! I just cannot understand this whole “pop” culture theology? And remember I have been around theologically myself, at my age and even education. Lord help your dull Church! But, just what is the Church, historical/Body? This is always a perennial question and issue! The Church Visible & Invisible . . .

  13. Scott:

    I recognise you are not a universalist. But I know you are part of a group that has challenged the status quo of what is known as historical, orthodox Christianity.

    Sure, but that doesn’t mean I’ll go along with any old thing. 😛

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