Love Wins – The Fallout

Rob Bell has written a new book. You might have heard. The internet is awash with the fallout.

I’ve not read it. I’m not sure I’m going to bother. Is that bad? I probably should. But there are just better books that I’ve yet to get round to reading. I’m currently reading Tim Keller’s ‘King’s Cross’ and Mark Driscoll’s ‘Death by Love’ and I don’t want to put those to one side. But today ‘Love Wins’ is number 35 on Amazon UK bestseller list. So I may have to repent.

It’s a book in which [apparently] Rob Bell argues that God is love and His desire to share it means that in the end His love wins over our rejection of it, he redefines the concept of hell so that it becomes what we create when we reject God’s love and denies that there is eternal conscious suffering under God’s punishment. You can see why the internet traffic might have increased!

I’ve skim read Kevin DeYoungs’ thorough critique. It’s very good. You can find it here.

I’ve listened to Rob Bell’s interview with Martin Bashir on MSNBC, in which Bashir turns the screw and Bell squirms uncomfortably. You can find that here.

I’ve also listened to Martin Bashir’s 30 minute radio interview with Paul Edwards. You can find that here. It’s interesting and worth a listen.

26 thoughts on “Love Wins – The Fallout

  1. Guy March 18, 2011 / 1:55 pm

    A shame that guys like Piper and Taylor couldn’t have waited a bit longer before writing Bell off.

    Although correct in their claims, both men tarnished their names by reacting to media hype instead of reading the book first.

    But good links above from DeYoung/Bashir.

    • theurbanpastor March 18, 2011 / 2:23 pm

      Thanks Guy
      I didn’t know that. Bashir got a pre-edition copy and I suspect that DeYoung must’ve have done as well. How do you know that John Piper and Justin Taylor didn’t read the book before commenting? I haven’t seen what they wrote or said. Did they acknowledge that they’d not read the book? And were their comments appropriately caveated?

      • Phil C March 21, 2011 / 11:58 am

        Justin Taylor said he read some advance chapters of the book before publication. As far as I know, John Piper’s (first? only?) contribution was a tweet that said “Farewell Rob Bell” and linked to Justin Taylor’s blog.

      • Lauri Moyle March 21, 2011 / 12:28 pm

        I suppose I should appologise for my inacurasies regarding Pipers tweet. But I think what I said still stands in relation to Piper.

  2. Phil Allcock March 18, 2011 / 2:49 pm

    I think Piper and Taylor got unfairly slammed. They never claimed to be responding to the book, but to the video Bell made. A lot of folks slammed them and accused them of taking Bell to say things he didn’t. Now Bells book is out and confirms what piper and Taylor thought the video said, I haven’t read many comments from people saying ‘ok, you had a point’. I don’t think the apparent prejudging is the issue, we just don’t believe anyone should be criticised…

    • theurbanpastor March 18, 2011 / 2:53 pm

      Cheers Phil. It would be absurdly perverse if, after what Rob Bell has written, the people being criticised are Taylor and Piper!

  3. Lauri March 18, 2011 / 6:35 pm

    I don’t know why I am not very surprised (is it tribal loyalty?) that Allcock defends Piper? Sir, Piper tweeted “Bye bye Rob Bell,” well before the book came out (and before TGC had full copies of the book), so no. You are wrong. He “excommunicated” Rob Bell before he had actually read the book, since he linked to Taylors blog post about it.

    But then perhaps you ARE right in saying that he never intended to respond to the book, in which case Piper was actually labeling Bell a heretic based on the back cover of his book?! What is worse? And that is beside the point about what the book actually says. Bells alleged heresy (I have not read any review in full that does not come from the side which would have him burn in hell…) does not excuse Pipers sin. If anything, Perks both Piper and Bell should be reprimanded. Its not a choice.

    The wisdom in prejudging the book before it was out, which is very much what Taylor did, was absolutely wrong because it meant that I automatically put more stock in Bell (whom I have never read), simply because I am not a fan of that sort of doctrinaire modernism.

    But not only because of that, but also because it was slander and gossip. This is all confounded because I think Taylor and Piper have not listened to the people whom Bell does attract (because they have a blind spot), particularly in relation to understanding culture.

    But you know, perhaps I am being unfair. Piper did recently rewrite a Bob Dylan song… Oh but hand on, the rewrite was a pile of dung. Maybe I am being unfair. Perhaps Piper et al, have recognizes that the way we present things is also as important as what we present. However, those that have gone into this issue with a critical lens have not given me personally any reason WHAT so ever, to think higher of a rigorous understanding of scripture and the history of the church (Bell actually did by raising the question) which makes me want to study the subject of punishment and hell. No, that took a humble seminary student who is a friend of mine to quite something back to me:

    “Thomas Weinandy has wisely pointed out that the importance of God’s immanent activity and mercy is predicated in direct proportion to His transcendence and majesty. It is precisely because God is holy and majestic and utterly transcends the whole created order of time and history that His immanent actions within time and history acquire their significance.”

    This quote is in relation to Bells week response to Martin Bashir in relation to the Japan question, but I think in at least part it opens up the framework on talking about Love Wins in a way that sidesteps the problems within Bells hermeneutic and teaching and points to God. I want more of that, not some sort of talking past what the core issues in Bells book are…

  4. Phil Allcock March 18, 2011 / 11:21 pm

    Hi Lauri. You are unhappy with Piper and Taylor for nailing Rob Bell without knowing the facts, and yet you seem happy to impugn my motives without a shred of evidence – is that fair?

    But more substantively and importantly I think you missed my point. Piper and Taylor were very clear that they were not responding to Bell’s book, but to his video with which he promoted the book. Piper was not responding to the back cover of his book – but to a professionally produced video, the contents of which had clearly been thought about carefully phrased. And, as I pointed out, Piper’s conclusion has been proven correct by the contents of the book. So it is deeply unfair of you to accuse them of slander and gossip. In fact, aren’t you doing the very thing to them that you accuse them of doing to Bell…?

    I’m glad Bell got you to think more deeply by asking his questions. However, my personal experience and that of so many I know in ministry is that Bell’s books cause real damage to real people – causing them deep confusion about what Jesus said and promised and muddying the hope of the gospel. It’s not tribal loyalty. I don’t want people to doubt the eternality of hell, because in Matthew 25:46 Jesus uses a precisely parallel phrase for the eternality of hell and the eternality of life in him. Start encouraging people to doubt what Jesus says about hell, and you end up causing people to doubt the salvation their great God promises them.

    Some might call it innovative theology or bold, courageous and thought-provoking. But I struggle to share that view when the methods are misrepresentation of Scripture and church history, and the results are struggling Christians losing the certainty of their hope in Christ.

    For that reason I can understand some of the intemperate comments and the relief of some that Bell has said something so clearly contrary to Scripture when they spend their days tending those damaged by his teaching, and hope that now people will be more wary of what he is saying.

    Clearly you are theologically astute enough to pick the good and leave the bad. But Bell’s books are aimed well below your level and are consumed so often by people who are not equipped the way you have been. That’s why I agree with Perks’ assessment, and why I will warn those I serve about them (and before I get shot again for tribalism I warn them that there is only one wholly reliable book out there, and it wasn’t written by Piper, Taylor, etc…)

    Blessings

  5. Lauri March 19, 2011 / 11:05 am

    With regard to your first paragraph (and the tail end of your comment) No Phil, I asked a question about whether you might be tribal, and thank you for responding. Obviously you are not tribal, but rather can relate to Piper and Taylor because they have to deal with the mental fall-out from folk like Bell. (As an aside, its ironic really that Bell has to deal with a different sort of fall-out, legitimate concerns by people who have been burned by reformed evangelical culture, and not necessarily teaching, though because of the culture the teaching can be tarnished as well… Think on that for a little.)

    Having agreed that you are not tribal however still does not assuaged the problem that you are willing to let what Piper and Taylor did not only go by, but in my opinion put such a spin on what they did in your earlier comment above in response to Guy, that I feel your charity to them misunderstands the very problem that Bells whole work is aimed at (even if misguided and at points heterodox).

    Letting the sort of arrogant attitude seen in parts of TGC go by (for goodness sake, they could have waited one week!), still has not addressed my anxiety that there is indeed a problem amongst reformed folk which is tribal in nature (you are not, as you have said…)

    With regard to your next couple of paras. I think you will find that we don’t know what Piper was responding to, but that he did link to Taylors post which related both to the video and the back cover of the book. Moreover, to restate the staggeringly obvious point which you are ignoring was that in his tweet he stated “bye bye Rob Bell”. Stop defending the indefensible?!

    No I am not wrong in calling them to account. What they did was wrong, which is in no way slandering them or gossiping about them because the evidence is there for all to read. (You say this about the effects of Bells teaching: “causing [folk] deep confusion about what Jesus said and promised and muddying the hope of the gospel.” This is also true about reacting without evidence so the accusation cuts both ways and is exactly what Guy said, and appropriately so.)

    The video which you said was what Piper reacted to was left intentionally vague, but which very admittedly pushed the right buttons. Now that we see they where partially right does not change the fact that at one point they made a judgement without enough evidence, hereby tarnishing Bells name in the eyes of those who knew nothing about him. (I wander why it was DeYoung not Taylor who wrote the review?)

    Tell me Phil, if somebody says something heterodox, even if they are a leader of a church and are very influential and do the things that you say the do, namely misrepresent scripture –which is actually not heterodoxy but is heretical (right?)– and the difference between those two words is fine at points and needs a lot of wisdom and patience to disentangle the two (De Young does this in his review), if that is happening, how is tweeting “bye bye Rob Bell” helpful?

    I am not disagreeing with Perks post. He didn’t say anything controversial apart from the fact that he could have said something about Piper and Taylors response. But as he says he did not know the timeline etc. Guys points are important. Your response to them is what I am concerned with.

    As to your comment about the Bible being the only reliable book out there, that is such a cliche which betrays the problem we face rather than answer anything, or giving me hope. This whole problem exists because the Bible doesn’t function as a systematic theology, or a statement of faith or a confession. Moreover the attitude plays into the strength of those that do have a systematic understanding of the bible, have a strong knowledge of church history and understand Greek and Hebrew, which means that we all have to rely on folk like Piper and Taylor to tell us what we should think… And when I read that Stott was an annihilationist, and NT Wright talks about hell happening when people reject Gods will… C.S. Lewis’s vision of hell and heaven, being described so vividly in The Great Divorce… And you say we should trust the bible and the Spirit and have the freedom to read the book ourselves, yet when somebody does and understands the book differently the behavior is inconsistent with the outcome because we need to read it in a specific way, namely the way Piper and Taylor read it and understand it, i am left feeling empty. Now, Stott, NT Wright and Lewis are good company to be in, though they are quite diverse. But ultimately God is the best company to be in, and as somebody who is a Calvinist, I must rely on him to save me. But why don’t they behave that way when it comes to speaking truth in Love and refuting heterodoxy? “bye bye Rob Bell”?

    • Phil Allcock March 19, 2011 / 12:19 pm

      Thanks Lauri.

      I think we’re going to have to agree to disagree on a few things. I’ve had very little sleep too, so this brief response may not be as coherent as I would hope…

      In my mind one of the issues is instant communications: there is a fine line to be trodden between the need to think and evaluate before commenting, and the need / desire for instant comment.

      Maybe Piper shouldn’t have tweeted – I don’t like Twitter – too easily misunderstood, too immediate for thought, too brief for nuance. Was he weeping as he saw a man casting doubt on important truths that will damage people? Or was he opening the door and loudly booting him out?

      But I don’t think I agree that Taylor’s original post was wrong. I think it was legitimate comment and balanced the demands of consideration and instant comment.

      I don’t think either of them is above criticism, I’m just not convinced that this is an instance in which to crit. Though I would probably suggest anyone in a post where what they say matters to ditch twitter. Leave it to vacuous celebs.

      I know the Bible point sounds cliched. But it is not. It doesn’t need to be a systematic theology/confession to be our ultimate authority. No systematic theology, confession, book or author can stand in the place of God’s word. Every human word stands or falls against that touchstone. That doesn’t mean we can’t do what we do day to day – relying on a systematic book / confession / theologian. But as culture shifts and new movements develop, and questions about those books / confessions arise, we stand not on those confessions per se, but on them inasmuchas they accurately summarise Scripture (to the best of our understanding).

      Please accept my apologies if I don’t manage to reply to further posts on this – I’ve got my hands full of this afternoon. I may log on later, but it’s not arrogant dismissal or refusal to engage if I don’t.

      Blessings,

    • Phil C March 21, 2011 / 12:07 pm

      Wow! George Eliot and van Gogh were former evangelicals?! This book I have to read. Do you have it?

      • Lauri Moyle March 21, 2011 / 12:30 pm

        I have ordered a copy. van Gogh was training to be a minister, and his father and grandfather where both Calvinist preachers.

  6. Lauri March 19, 2011 / 11:30 am

    Sorry, I did not mean to say that the “bible is the only reliable book out there,” what I meant was the general point that we are all accountable to what the bible says… (I hope this makes it clearer).

  7. Lauri March 19, 2011 / 12:11 pm

    And I suppose calling parts of TGC arrogant is also not very charitable. So please, I retract that.

    • Phil Allcock March 19, 2011 / 12:23 pm

      Ok to say if it was accurate 🙂

      … which it is bound to be at times. Arrogance is always a danger with education.

  8. Lauri March 19, 2011 / 1:33 pm

    For those interested the relevant post by Taylor is: http://thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/justintaylor/2011/02/26/rob-bell-universalist/

    No worries if you don’t get back to me. I don’t expect that this is an ongoing discussion I feel.

    We can disagree about mode with regards to Taylor and Piper.

    I agree with you that the Bible is accessible to all, but when we get into the debate about specifics and translation the question then does arise as to what words are used when. So as I understand from my limited knowledge of these things that some of the words which relate to the Mathew passage you mention above (I think in relation to what eternity means) might mean different things according to how you translate the words and what context you put them into…), which opens up the debate about annihilation and the ramifications of that sort of thinking on day to day life. The gospel is simple but its application and the story of God, handed to us in human language is not.

      • Lauri Moyle March 21, 2011 / 2:21 pm

        Now I have to read the book. That FAQ just busted open the deYoung review quite a bit for me.

        I think the tentative nature of Bells conclusion is something that those who have made their mind up about how God works cannot handle? Is that fair?

      • Phil C March 23, 2011 / 9:40 am

        Lauri: Not quite sure what you mean. Is it that:

        “Rob Bell’s conclusion is tentative. This is difficult to accept for people who have already reached a clear conclusion about how God works.”

        If that’s what you mean, it may be true, but I’m not sure that’s the main issue – his conclusion might be tentative, but it has tentatively stepped outside what both tradition and the Bible teach (from the reviews I’ve read, Bell effectively acknowledges this by trying to translate some passages in a more favourable light, but fails to do so convincingly). Now, if tradition and our interpretation of the Bible can be proved to be wrong, then that is necessary and good. But it seems (if the reviews are to be trusted) that Bell hasn’t been careful or responsible in using his skills, and he’s misleading people as a result.

        I wonder if Kierkegaard warned against just what Bell is doing:

        http://liambyrn.es/post/3784193196/the-matter-is-quite-simple-the-bible-is-very

        That said, it seems to me that Rob Bell understands what motivates people. He shows empathy. He understands that these questions are hugely important and difficult for people to understand. Those characteristics are not clear among the responses to his book.

  9. Ian March 22, 2011 / 12:45 am

    Rob Bell is speaking in London next month (18th I think .. anyone going?

  10. Lauri Moyle March 23, 2011 / 10:22 am

    I guess what I mean is that he is happy to be ambiguous (perhaps not in this book though surely in others, or in NOOMA) and I think that is a problem for more robust, preachy direct or perhaps (literal, but unfortunetley not very literary) types.

    What in the FAQ do you think is unorthodox? I have not read Love Wins but if the book indeed does say what the FAQ says, there is still enough room in my understanding of orthodoxy to keep Bell in that “narrow path.” But perhaps I need to be “re-educated”, or I did not read FAQs well enough.

    As for Soren, well yes, the passage applies to the Liberal Scholarship he was critiquing at the time, but I also think that the passage is meant to be read as a Provocation, namely that it confronts what our fleshiness does not want to hear. However, saying that God is infinitely patient is not unorthodox is it? If Hell is indeed an existence without God?!

    But Kierkegaard, from what little I have read of him, would also very much be critiquing (or poking, if you like) the stuffy nature of religiosity found in cultural Christianity all around the world. That can be found as much at Marshill as in Bethel Baptist. If indeed Piper or Bell behaved as if God required from them that which Jesus talked of in the Sermon on the Mount they would be dead or in the lunatic asylum, unless Westley was right and we are capable of living in a sanctified state in the hear and now (not that what I say above excuses in any way Sin…)

    So no, Kierkegaard was not critiquing the pursuit of understanding, but rather the fallen nature of those that misunderstand reality and run away from it. God is large, as is his glory; the crushing use of that beauty however cannot be placed on the shoulders of those who cannot bare it. Hence Jesus who does bear (in both senses of the word) the full brunt of that Glory, allows us to be in His presence whether we are tax collectors, prostitutes or bad theologians (though some will have to pay a dearer price for their indulgence in sin as Dante discerned, whether in the 5th, 6th, 8th or 9th circle.

    • Phil C March 23, 2011 / 6:49 pm

      I think DeYoung highlights the unorthodox points in the book. I would trust his opinion over mine – he is better informed, and has read the book, unlike me! But surely the idea that people can be redeemed after death is unorthodox?

      I am not saying that I think Rob Bell is not in the kingdom. Dodgy theology does not mean you are excluded. But Bell seems to undermine the thrust of Jesus’s teaching (repent and believe before it’s too late), and more than that, some of the quotes that DeYoung provides make me feel very, very uncomfortable, and not for good reasons. Teachers of the gospel have a real responsibility to reflect the truth in love, and whatever you think of the motives behind DeYoung’s review, he makes a good case that Bell has not reflected the truth.

      There is a wider point – that the gospel, when articulated by many evangelicals, sounds like bad news. And Rob Bell’s version sounds like much better news to many people (take Mark Vernon’s article in The Guardian about it). It seems to me that we can try to get our heads round why there is this disparity – it’s not purely about “man-pleasing” – and hopefully the upshot will be that we can show people Jesus in all his glory, without depending on dodgy inferences and pseudo-scholarship.

  11. Lauri March 23, 2011 / 7:30 pm

    Couldn’t agree more. But I would say that one thing which may have been lost and which I was trying to articulate earlier is a weakness which Soren did not suffer from, but which many evangelicals do, and namely that there is a moment, and it is right that there is an instance, in which the unknown can be expressed. In which the tension, fear and anxiety can be voiced. If that was not the case Jesus would not have shouted “why have you forsaken me.” It is that place, which when it is not allowed to be articulated through theology, or art, or in emotional expression, a holding of the tensions within a paradox, that leads to religiosity, pomposity, and kills people. For ever. So the danger that you quite rightly articulate around teaching theology (a critique of Bell) can also happen we “sure” evangelicals assume that, because our theology is “right”, the reason why somebody might have a problem with us is because they are a sinner and are rejecting Gods message, when they are actually rejecting pseudo-love.

    • Phil C March 23, 2011 / 11:27 pm

      “we…assume that…the reason why somebody might have a problem with us is because they are a sinner and are rejecting Gods message, when they are actually rejecting pseudo-love”

      That’s good stuff, I’m going to get me some Kierkegaard

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