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Sunday, July 10, 2011

Book Review: Love Wins by Rob Bell

Love Wins: A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever LivedI don't think I've reviewed a book that has been as controversial and had as much written about it as Rob Bell's latest offering titled Love Wins.  Interestingly, much of the opposition to Bell's book comes from individuals who admit to not reading it.  Ironically, I have read it and have some thoughts.

In the interest of full disclosure, I've been a fan of virtually everything I've read of Rob Bell's thus far. In past books, he's fearlessly tackled a host of thorny issues with wit, wisdom and perspective - however, Love Wins is not one of those books.

In Love Wins Bell ambitiously strives - but overreaches - in an attempt to distance the Judeo-Christian tradition of hell, including its eternal punishment in fire, with a creator God who loved the world so much that He sent His only son in the person of Jesus to redeem it.

Ultimately, Bell purports several provocative ideas including: his belief that the biblical concept of hell may or may not be a real place; if hell is a real place there will likely be ample opportunity for the "damned" to work their way out of it once they're there after death and that it's much more important to focus and strive to correct the hell on earth we all see (e.g. child abuse, human trafficking, rape, genocide, famine...etc.).

Without getting down into the theological weeds on these issues, there are several problems that Bell creates within his arguments that undermine his ability to persuade, namely:

1.) Gross Overuse and Abuse of the Socratic Method: I recognize the fact that Socrates was one of the world's greatest teachers because he asked his students questions that intended them to think and solve for themselves. However, as a former reporter, I also know the concept of "tyranny of the questioner" where someone assaults a concept with an incessant barrage of questions with no intent of actually seeking answers but only trying to raise doubts - Bell's book clearly falls into the latter category. In the first chapter alone, I counted 85 such questions that Bell posed before I stopped counting. It seems that Bell is intoxicated with the Socratic method, but at some point the asker needs to start answering their own questions.

2.) Cherry Picking Information: This is a problem that plagues scientific researchers who must examine and present all the data that a study generates, regardless of where that data leads - even when the data contradicts the study's hypothesis or researcher's beliefs. In Love Wins, Bell succumbs to this very problem by choosing a select handful of biblical passages out of context; exploring the ambiguity around possible translation errors and then uses that ambiguity as support for his premises - ignoring dozens of other clear, contextual passages that counter him. Bell's arguments would have been more compelling and convincing had he selected tougher scriptures within proper context.

3.) Use of Underdeveloped Arguments: Bell posits a variety of positions in defense of his underlying premises, but some are not fully developed and undermine his main points. For instance, Bell writes the following on page 107:
 "...given enough time, everybody will turn to God and find themselves in the joy and peace of God's presence. The love of God will melt every hard heart, and even the most 'depraved sinners' will eventually give up their resistance and turn to God."
That sounds really good, but it raises one question that Bell completely ignores -  namely, can Satan be reconciled back to God too? I would think that the devil was among one of the most "depraved sinners." In fact, Jesus called Lucifer the father of lies and a murderer from the beginning - that sounds like a bad dude. But Bell's avoidance of that extreme, yet logical extension of his own argument of ultimate grace for all even to the worst-of-the-worst, erodes the strength of his key premise.

When it's all said and done, I'm left wondering whether or not Bell really believes what he wrote in Love Wins because it's not that well-written and appeals much more to sentimentality than doctrinal truth. However, one thing is certain - the controversy of Love Wins is driving its sales as it continues to be a best-seller on multiple lists. Apparently "Bell Wins"...ultimately

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