1. Let’s be willing to ask the hard questions.
Rob raised a lot of them in Love Wins. But for me the biggest are still:
- What about those who never had a chance to accept or reject the gospel?
- What about those who seemingly reject Christ but in reality are rejecting a misrepresentation of him, as opposed to the real thing? Who will God hold accountable? Those who reject the distortion or those who created it?
What might a God who is “rich in mercy” have in store for those who never had a chance to embrace the real thing? If God has “overlooked such ignorance” before, what’s to keep him from doing so again?
Furthermore, if you believe (as I do) that infants who die go to be with God — in spite of the Bible’s silence on this question — why is it so unthinkable that God might save those who never heard or those who were presented a toxic caricature of the real thing?
These are not easy questions. And my goal here isn’t to answer them. But as Scot McKnight recently suggested, to play the agnostic — to answer “I don’t know” or “It’s in the Lord’s hands” without seriously considering the issues at stake — is a copout.
These questions have to be wrestled with. And simplistic, patronizing answers will not do.
Loads of people were asking these questions long before Rob Bell wrote Love Wins. He may have given a fresh voice to their inquiries, but they’ve been asking for a long time. We might as well create a safe space for questions like these to be explored.
6. For those who disagree with Rob: stop putting words in his mouth.
To say that Rob soft-pedals sin, denies the bodily resurrection, or rejects some other tenant of orthodoxy (all of which has been postulated in response to Love Wins) is not only reading between the lines; it’s reading the worst possible meaning into his book.
Granted, if you’re one for doctrinal checklists, you may never be satisfied with what Rob has to say. But consider the evidence from Love Wins:
- Rob acknowledges every human being is affected by sin (p. 42).
- Rob acknowledges that heaven and hell are real (p. 42, 55, 71, 79).
- Rob acknowledges the incarnation — the fully divine, fully human Christ (p. 146-149).
- Rob acknowledges the resurrection (p. 133).
It is possible to disagree with Rob without being inquisitorial. (Scot McKnight provides a good example of the right way to disagree with someone.) Unfortunately, far too many have taken it upon themselves to denounce Rob as a heretic. What kind of hubris does it take for some random blogger/pastor/armchair theologian to decide for the rest of us who’s a heretic and who isn’t?
7. Also for those who disagree with Rob: practice what you preach.
Rob could’ve been more careful citing Scripture and other sources to make his case. No argument there. But you might want to stop misquoting Love Wins before you take him to task for such alleged carelessness.
Exhibit A: Martin Bashir. After his confrontational interview with Rob, Bashir went on the Paul Edwards Program to explain what got him so worked up. Bashir was irritated at how Rob (allegedly) misquoted key sources — namely, Martin Luther. Actually, Rob didn’t misrepresent Luther, but I digress.
Bashir explained he cannot tolerate anything less than the highest standards of journalistic accuracy when quoting a source.
Then he proceeded to misquote Rob:
He says in his book, God’s love melts everything in the end. And that at the end of the day, you can be antagonistic to Christianity, but after you die, God’s love will melt your opposition and you will walk into heaven.
Except Rob never said this. He says many believe that God’s love will melt even the hardest heart in the end (p. 108) but that we can’t know for certain whether this will, in fact, be the case (p. 115).
Let’s all deal with the planks in our own eyes before worrying about the speck in someone else’s, shall we?
8. We can (and should) do a better job telling the good news.
Near the end of Love Wins, Rob Bell makes perhaps the most important statement of his book: “The good news begins with the sure and certain truth that we are loved” (p. 172).
Is that really the story we tell? The one where “God so loved the world”? Really?
When the fledgling Jesus movement was getting off the ground, what drew people in by the thousands? Was it the threat of judgment? Was it Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God?
Or was it the promise of victory over death? Was it the radical, equalizing love the believers had for one another?
Read the book of Acts and count how many times the apostles use the threat of hell in their proclamation to outsiders.
Read the gospels (particularly Matthew, which scores highest on the “hellfire and brimstone” meter) and ask: who was Jesus speaking to when he warned of judgment?
You may find the answer a bit unsettling if, like me, you’re a religious insider.
Love Wins is not a perfect book. Nor is it the heretical train wreck some have made it out to be.
There were things I resonated with and things I disagreed with. But in Love Wins, Rob does what he does best: he forces difficult questions to the surface.
And that’s a good thing. Because people were asking them long before Rob wrote Love Wins. So let’s dispense with simplistic answers and self-righteous denunciations and actually wrestle with the questions in this book.