Love Wins: Preliminary Thoughts
I have been working my way through Rob Bell’s latest book, Love Wins, over the course of the last few days. The book has sparked an insane amount of controversy in the blogging world, and it seems that everyone with a blog has something to say about it. I haven’t finished the book yet, and so cannot comment on the book as a whole. Instead, I intend to offer some initial impressions and a few comments on the debate.
Before I began reading the book, I was expecting that I would disagree with Bell, but find his method of asking questions to be interesting and helpful to Evangelical circles. Asking questions, especially the right ones, is almost always a good thing. I did not know much about Bell before this, except that many people disagreed with him, and some found him extremely profound. This is the first book I have read by Bell, so keep that in mind as I get into the book sometime next week.
The debate has been raging since long before the book came out. After Bell released his promotional video for the book, people immediately began labeling him a Universalist. After touching on Bell’s book, this seems a bit over-zealous, even if I end up thinking Bell’s conclusions are wrong. He may even believe some things Universalists believe, but his views do not align with what most people think of Universalism. People who attacked this particular work before it was released jumped the gun, even if their conclusions end up being correct.
After reading the first few chapters, the thing that struck me the most was that Bell keeps asking rhetorical questions, attempting to anticipate my answer, and his next sentences demonstrate that I did not mentally answer the way he wanted me to. I wondered a few times if my reaction was problematic; if perhaps I was supposed to feel the way Bell expected me to, or if the problem lay in his expectations. After I responded contrary to Bell’s clear expectations many times, I began to suspect that Bell and I simply think about the world in different ways. This will color the way I read the book, but if I can get around his implications by simply answering his questions in a different way than he does, what weight does the book hold? Only a full read will tell.
My other initial impression is that, in general, his exegesis of Scripture is simply off-base on many counts. I recognize that Bell’s intention here is not to write a systematic defense of a particular theological stance, Universalist or otherwise, but rather to raise questions and provoke people into asking those same questions. If he were seeking to make a full-fledged defense, he would have begun with exegesis of Scripture and moved on to questions provoked by Scripture. Instead, his goal is to raise questions based on the understanding of Jesus and Hell that Evangelicals of today often hold. This involves using Scripture, but his primary purpose is not exegesis, commentary, or systematic theology. This does not excuse the poor interpretation of Scriptures, but perhaps makes that complaint less viable when discussing Bell’s book on its own terms.
Within the next week or two, I will finish off the book and write up my thoughts.