Kevin DeYoung Reviews Rob Bell’s “Love Wins”

DeYoung has provided a prompt, comprehensive and much-needed review of Rob Bell's step into outright heresy. You should, of course, read the whole thing but here's a taster…

…there are dozens of problems with Love Wins. The theology is heterodox. The history is inaccurate. The impact on souls is devastating. And the use of Scripture is indefensible. Worst of all, Love Wins demeans the cross and misrepresents God’s character.

On the subject of conversation, it’s worth pointing out that this book actually mitigates against further conversation. For starters, there’s the McLarenesque complaint about the close-minded traditionalists who don’t allow for questions, change, and maturity (ix). This is a kind of pre-emptive “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” approach to conversation (cf. 183). In essence, “Let’s talk, but I know already that the benighted and violent will hate my theology.” That hardly invites further dialogue. More practically, Bell includes no footnotes for his historical claims and rarely gives chapter and verse when citing the Bible. It is difficult to examine Bell’s claims when he is less than careful in backing them up.

Love Wins has ignited such a firestorm of controversy because it’s the current fissure point for a larger fault-line. As younger generations come up against an increasingly hostile cultural environment, they are breaking in one of two directions—back to robust orthodoxy (often Reformed) or back to liberalism. The neo-evangelical consensus is cracking up. Love Wins is simply one of many tremors.

Universalism has been around a long time. But so has every other heresy. Arius rejected the full deity of Christ and many people followed him. This hardly makes Arianism part of the wide, diverse stream of Christian orthodoxy. Every point of Christian doctrine has been contested, but some have been deemed heterodox. Universalism, traditionally, was considered one of those points. True, many recent liberal theologians have argued for versions of universalism—and this is where Bell stands, not in the center of the historic Christian tradition.

If that weren’t bad enough, the other discussion on Sodom is even worse. Because Jesus says it will be more bearable for Sodom on the day of judgment than for Capernaum (Matt. 11:23–24), Bell concludes that there is hope for all the other Sodoms and Gomorrahs (85). Bell takes a passage about judgment—judgment that will be so bad for Capernaum it’s even worse than God’s judgment on Sodom—and turns it into tacit support for ultimate universalism. Jesus’ warning says nothing about new hope for Sodom. It says everything about the hopelessness of unbelieving Capernaum.

One last general point about Bell’s exegesis: Bell has a reputation for being brilliant and creative, and he probably is in certain spheres. But his use of Scripture exhibits neither characteristic. In fact, it is naïve, literalistic biblicism. He flattens everything, either to make traditional theology sound ridiculously inconsistent or to make a massive point from one out-of-context verse. He makes no attempt to understand metaphors, genre, or imagery (either in Scripture or in his grandmother’s painting).

What’s wrong with this theology is, of course, what’s wrong with the whole book. Bell assumes all sorts of things that can’t be shown from Scripture.

Most readers of Love Wins will want to talk about Bell’s universalism. But just as troubling is his Christology. 

To suggest the Lord’s Supper unites all people makes a mockery of the sacrament and the Christ uniquely present in the bread and the cup. The Table is a feast for those who trust in Christ, for those who can discern his body, a family meal for those who together will proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes again. It brings us together under the sign of the cross. 

Bell categorically rejects any notion of penal substitution. It simply does not work in his system or with his view of God. “Let’s be very clear, then,” Bell states, “we do not need to be rescued from God. God is the one who rescues us from death, sin, and destruction. God is the rescuer” (182). I see no place in Bell’s theology for Christ the curse-bearer (Gal. 3:13), or Christ wounded for our transgressions and crushed by God for our iniquities (Isa. 53:510), no place for the Son of Man who gave his life as a ransom for many (Mark 10:45), no place for the Savior who was made sin for us (2 Cor. 5:21), no place for the sorrowful suffering Servant who drank the bitter cup of God’s wrath for our sake (Mark 14:36).

At the very heart of this controversy, and one of the reasons the blogosphere exploded over this book, is that we really do have two different Gods. The stakes are that high. If Bell is right, then historic orthodoxy is toxic and terrible. But if the traditional view of heaven and hell are right, Bell is blaspheming. I do not use the word lightly, just like Bell probably chose “toxic” quite deliberately. Both sides cannot be right. As much as some voices in evangelicalism will suggest that we should all get along and learn from each other and listen for the Spirit speaking in our midst, the fact is we have two irreconcilable views of God.

The jubilation of “No condemnation now I dread; Jesus, and all in him, is mine!” is muted inLove Wins. The bad news of our wrath-deserving wretchedness is so absent that the good news of God’s wrath-bearing Substitute cannot sing in our hearts. When God is shrunk down to fit our cultural constraints, the cross is diminished. And whenever the cross is diminished we pain the hearts of God’s people and rob them of their joy.

Bad theology hurts real people. So of all the questions raised in the book, the most important question every reader must answer is this: is it true? Whatever you think of all the personalities involved on whatever side of the debate, that’s the one question that cannot be ignored. Is Love Wins true to the word of God? That’s the issue. Open a Bible, pray to God, listen to the faithful Christians of the past 2000 years, and answer the question for yourself.

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9 comments on “Kevin DeYoung Reviews Rob Bell’s “Love Wins”

  1. Hi David. Most of this life is a masquerade. You might find this review of interest: http://mingkok.buddhistdoor.com/en/news/d/18718

    Universalism isn’t all bad, for a Christian or a Buddhist. I was raised a Christian (Congregationalist), was baptized, went church services weekly, sang of the choir, attended Sunday School, and was confirmed. Unfortunately, mysticism was never mentioned.

    I’m now quite active in PeaceNext, the social network of the Parliament of World Religions. I think Rob Bell would like it, although you may not.

  2. hi Ron,

    You’re beginning to sound like we’re all just in the Matrix. As for universalism not being all bad for a Christian or Buddhist, I don’t have a clue what you’re talking about.

    I’m familiar with PeaceNext but don’t have much time for it. Good luck persuading everyone that mutual incompatible “truths” are all really correct. I’ve never quite had the chutzpah to so readily patronise so many people at one time but I see that it seems to work for some people.

  3. Absolute Truth trumps all transient truths: of any religion, in any era, or of any person. To explain it you will have to read my ebook; it is only 88 pages, plus lists of mystics of five faiths and three bibliographies…and it is free.

    Rob Bell has 10,000 in his congregation. Every three months I email 500 professors who teach mysticism at universities on five continents. 100 have responded: most were in agreement, with some caveats, but the three who did not were Christians.

    There is a crack in the matrix that lets the light of truth shine through.

  4. Absolute Truth trumps all transient truths: of any religion, in any era, or of any person
    I totally agree.
    So I’m Jesus when He said,
    John 14:6 “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”

    Ultimately, for all the fine sounding ideals of a great big global group hug, you have to decide if you agree with Him, Ron. If you do then repent of your claim to know that higher truth. If you don’t then for goodness sake give up your patronising claim that we’re all really right – because it just doesn’t take Jesus seriously.

  5. In his new book “Love Wins” Rob Bell says he believes that loving and compassionate people, regardless of their faith, will not be condemned to an eternal hell just because they do not accept Jesus Christ as their Savior.

    Concepts of an afterlife vary between religions and among divisions of each faith. Here are three quotes from “the greatest achievement in life,” my ebook on comparative mysticism:

    (46) Few people have been so good that they have earned eternal paradise; fewer want to go to a place where they must receive punishments for their sins. Those who do believe in resurrection of their body hope that it will be not be in its final form. Few people really want to continue to be born again and live more human lives; fewer want to be reborn in a non-human form. If you are not quite certain you want to seek divine union, consider the alternatives.

    (59) Mysticism is the great quest for the ultimate ground of existence, the absolute nature of being itself. True mystics transcend apparent manifestations of the theatrical production called “this life.” Theirs is not simply a search for meaning, but discovery of what is, i.e. the Real underlying the seeming realities. Their objective is not heaven, gardens, paradise, or other celestial places. It is not being where the divine lives, but to be what the divine essence is here and now.

    (80) [referring to many non-mystics] Depending on their religious convictions, or personal beliefs, they may be born again to seek elusive perfection, go to a purgatory to work out their sins or, perhaps, pass on into oblivion. Lives are different; why not afterlives? Beliefs might become true.

    Rob Bell asks us to rethink the Christian Gospel. People of of all faiths should look beyond the letter of their sacred scriptures to their spiritual message. As one of my mentors wrote “In God we all meet.”

  6. Welcome, Ron. I’m glad to see that you’ve graced this little corner of the www in order to make a shameless plug for your ebook, masquerading as a comment.

    You’d probably be more at home with Rob Bell himself, although he may not find you a comfortable partner – you don’t pretend to root your own position in any actual substantive text. It is, frankly, more honest than Bell’s position which pays lip service to his religious text without doing due service to the intended meaning of the same. Actually, on review perhaps it isn’t.

  7. David, I do take Jesus seriously.

    My initial comment was primarily about alternate views of an afterlife. Rob Bell has never claimed to be a mystic, but is open to contemplative prayer and meditation. While not a Universalist, he does respect people of other religions.

    Even within Christianity there are differing views of afterlife between Protestants, Roman Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, Mormons, etc. In any discussion between people, there will be varying personal opinions and interpretations of scriptures. Most mystics, of any faith, would agree with Jesus: “The Kingdom of Heaven is within.” If you want to find Hell just read, watch or listen to the daily news or study the unkind history of humankind.

  8. Most mystics, of any faith, would agree with Jesus: “The Kingdom of Heaven is within.”
    Well, then most “mystics” are agreeing with a pretty poor translation of Jesus’ words in Luke 17:21. He was speaking to the Pharisees (17:20), hardly candidates for membership of the Kingdom. The point He makes is not that the Kingdom is internalised but that there is no spectacular arrival – the Kingdom is already growing around and

    amongst

    the Pharisees – the one place that it is certainly not is inside the Pharisees.

    If you want to find Hell just read, watch or listen to the daily news or study the unkind history of humankind.
    And yet that is the one thing that Jesus

    never

    says. Instead He says,

    Luke 12:5 But I will show you whom you should fear: Fear him who, after the killing of the body, has power to throw you into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him.

    Jesus moves our attention far beyond suffering in this life to the punishment that God Himself will justly exact into eternity against all that oppose him.

    Once again, Ron – take Jesus’ words (and not your own cherry-picking of them) seriously.

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