Love Wins by Rob Bell (Chapter 1)

[This review is a review in parts.  If you are just joining this review, start with "Love Wins by Rob Bell (Prolegomena)."] 

Bell ends Chapter One by stating, "But this isn't just a book of questions.  It's a book of responses to these questions" (19).  I wish I would have read this statement before reading the first chapter because Chapter One is loaded with question marks--those printed on the page and many of my own.  Maybe the biggest question is how Bell is going to address all of these claims, questions, and puzzles in the remaining 177 pages.  That, in-and-of-itself, may take a divine miracle.  I'm somewhat concerned that Bell won't actually address many of these questions, leaving them hanging in the poor light in which he has presented them.  And if this turns out to be the case, the most fitting genre for Love Wins will be tragedy.  However, if Bell can manage to address each of the question marks that he's blasted into this first chapter, this book may be the greatest thing written in the past ten years.  But he's laid out a tough road ahead, and he has left an after taste with the manner in which he has asked the questions.

The chapter opens with a discussion about an art show that included a piece that quoted Mahatma Gandhi.  Evidently, someone had posted a handwritten note on the art piece that said Gandhi's in hell.  For whatever reason, Bell didn't feel the need to include what the Gandhi quote said and I wonder if it would have shed any different light on this story?  (If anybody knows what the quote was, please contact me and share.)  Following this brief narrative comes the first question marks.  Bell calls into question if Gandhi is really in hell and how anybody can possibly know this.  And again, Bell asks subtly attacking questions against the traditional Christian view of some going to hell and some spending an eternity in anguish (2).  He doesn't come out and make any claims here; he only asks questions.  But these questions were worded in a way that many of them could appear rather comfortably in a work by Christopher Hitchens.

Bell asks, "Does God punish people for thousands of yeas with infinite, eternal torment for things they did in their few finite years of life?" (2).  To this, I as the reader ask, "What does the Bible say about that?" Expecting some kind of support or biblical answer for any of the questions presented in Chapter One will only leave the reader wanting.  Bell doesn't get into the Bible for answers here, not yet anyway.  Instead he states, "This doesn't just raise disturbing questions about God, it raises questions about the beliefs themselves" (2).  Then comes many, many more questions.  Sixteen, in fact, before a sentence is written without a question mark.  And another five after that.

The questions sound like those coming from someone who really doesn't care for Christianity or God.  They are serious and legitimate questions, but I wonder if Bell has presented them in a way that is building the arguments for his book?  Maybe.  But through the specific questions, it becomes clear that Bell is using these questions to attack Christian ideas such is the biblical teaching that God chooses his creation, or the judgment aspects that the Bible teaches about God, and the reality of hell.  "What kind of God is that?" he asks (3).  Yes.  Indeed.  Bell seems to be asking just the right questions to pitch his argument upon.  And as he is asking, I keep thinking, what does the Bible say?  It doesn't matter what we want the answers to be if the answers about God do not line up with what God has told us about himself in his revelation to us, the Bible. That is, unless God is an evil liar, but Bell hasn't yet asked that question yet.

I realize that the Bellites, Bellinists, and Bell supporters will likely say, "He's just asking questions!" but it is the way Bell is doing so that I find so concerning.  It's the tone.  And it's how he's stacked the questions together.  There is an implication behind the way he's posed these questions.  Would the same defense apply if I asked, "Does Bell ever read his Bible?  Does Bell hate Christianity, and if so, is he wanting to create a new theological faith system?  What kind of pastor is this? And how could this possibly be biblical teaching that anyone would want to sit under?"  Just a few questions, but they come loaded with magnum charges.  Many of Bell's questions in Chapter One have the same tone, as if at any moment Bell is going to pull the trigger and sent a fiery volley at traditional Christianity.   

As the chapter advances, Bell begins to attack the Christian Church (although at times he's actually attacking his created caricature of the Church.)  Occasionally he draws from specific examples that are sad and unfortunate, but picking one or two cases like these is as unfair as treating Mars Hill Bible Church and the Westboro Baptist Church as one in the same.  At other times, he questions the general practices of the typical local church body, causing me to wonder why he is so troubled by the way his brothers and sisters teach and preach the Gospel.  I might be okay if he'd open up more rather than just asking the questions and moving on.  For example, Bell seems disturbed by the practice of an alter call, or at least a pastor (or anyone or that matter) leading someone in a specific prayer.  Why? What about it is troubling?  Maybe I'd agree if Bell expanded a little.  He's also seems troubled with any communication with God about the matter of salvation. Again, why?  And he also questions how God could elect some and not others.  Details might help me understand the problem.  So at this point, I'm left thinking it doesn't seem going to heaven has anything to do with God (at least the God Bell has presented) or the individual.  Is this where the book is headed or will this be an unresolved question?  But realize that he's only asking questions and it is my mind that is attempting to determine where he's trying to take me and how he's trying to get me there.

I'm not yet convinced I want to hop in the Bell-wagon.  From his questions thus far, I'm disturbed with Rob Bell as much as he seems to be with Christianity.

One area I found rather troubling is Bell's concern that Christians would teach people that when they die they will go somewhere.  I'm not yet sure why he's disturbed by this considering that on more than one occasion Jesus discussed going somewhere. (Luke 23:43, 24:51, John 8:14, 8:21-22, 13:33, 13:36, 14:2-4, for example).  He also asks about all of those people that don't claim to be Christian but live more Christlike than some Christians.  I hope if he answers this question, he will look at biblical passages like Romans 10:9, 1Corinthians 12:3, 1John 1:9, and 1John 4:3. Of course Bell masks this attack by ending every statement with question mark.

Then Bell takes a break, and when the roulette ball of questions has finally landed, it's on the topic of a personal relationship with our Lord and Creator.  He argues (not questions) that someone might interrupt his line of questioning to say that no matter how it happens, salvation comes through a personal relationship with Jesus (10).   "The problem, however," writes Bell, "is that the phrase 'personal relationship' is found nowhere in the Bible" (10).  Bell then goes back to asking his questions again.  But under this Bellonian logic/theology, neither is the Holy Trinity mentioned by name in the Bible--does this mean it doesn't exist?  As for personal relationship, I wonder how Bell reads John 15:12-15?  Or what about the passages that call believers brothers and sisters, or the comparison of a wedding feast? And what about Psalm 139? These all sound rather personal, even if they exclude the exact phrase, "personal relationship."

By the end of Chapter One, I found myself wondering if Rob Bell considers himself Christian.  Would he fellowship with the believers at my church?  He seems rather upset by Christianity, or at least how he understands Christianity.  Now, as I continue to read, maybe I'll start to see a different Rob Bell, maybe his answers will leave me feeling differently; I fully admit that.  But after the prologue and this chapter, I can see why some have had trouble with this book.  I'm having trouble with this book.  I sincerely hope that Bell starts to address these questions, specifically with biblical support, otherwise, he's merely on the bandwagon with the vocal critics of Christianity, and those that reject the teachings of the Bible.

If you haven't figured it out by now, Chapter One has left a foul taste in my mouth.

Next up, "Love Wins by Rob Bell (Chapter 2)."

*I have no material connection to Rob Bell or his book.