Love Wins: Rob Bell the heretic universalist…maybe

Well, I read it. Love Wins by Rob Bell has been a hot button topic for awhile now. Controversy tends to surround

Bell, and his latest installment in his impossibly cool line of books has given rise to an uproar in the Christian community. The subtitle: ‘Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person who has Ever Lived’ almost makes you hold your breath in tension (Uh oh… he’s going to talk about that?). The twittersphere was exploding with commentary on their opinion of Bell and his book, calling him a universalist, a heretic and any other degrading thing you can possibly imagine (and all of this done without even reading the book… yikes). In my opinion this wasn’t a good move for people who want to discredit Bell because all of the controversy has just made me and the rest of the world want to read the book. So after reading, what was my take? Does Rob Bell believe in hell? Is he a universalist?

In all fairness, the book really isn’t about Bell developing a theology on hell. Nor is he trying to make a statement on hell’s existence. Yes you can conclude (by traditional definitions) Bell is a kind of… mini… universalist, and yes he does deny the existence of an eternal hell(in an extremely ambiguous way that is impossible to tack down). But his real aim is to alter the way we approach the gospel. Bell argues that the gospel is good news and ultimately about the love God has for everyone on earth. And honestly who can’t jibe with that? When you have statements like:

When the gospel is understood primarily in terms of entrance rather that joyous participation, it can actually serve to cut people off from the explosive liberating experience of the God who is an endless giving circle of joy and creativity.

You aren’t going to find many who disagree with this. But is this conclusion only reached by changing our doctrines and dogmas?

The problem is, Bell diverts from the typical ideology of hell in order for the Christian story to be ALL about love. Bell would prefer to define hell (and heaven for that matter) as a place we create here on earth as a result of our actions instead of a place of eternal suffering and punishment away from God. Because how can a God that eternally punishes people be loving? It is a classic anthropomorphic argument (that means he’s ascribing human attributes to God) that attempts to rid God of any characteristics that would seem cruel or unloving if they were credited to humans.

One of the main things that I don’t like about Bell’s books is not his applications for Christians in his books, they are usually awesome, but his logic to get to these particular points always seems so flawed to me. His books, including this one, will have over extended metaphors, wild interpretations of scripture that seem to go beyond what the story is really trying to communicate, and my least favorite, he seems to know all these Greek and Hebrew words that have hidden meanings and concepts that unlock secret messages that have been concealed for centuries. And all of these words conveniently exclude any references or sources that show any evidence for these beliefs. For instance: Bell says that Jesus often used the word “heaven” and was simply referring to God. If this is true, cool. But I’ve never heard it, and you have no sources to validate your claim.

I love the fact that he wants Christians to separate from solely preaching turn or burn type messages, that’s good. (Even though it has worked in the past… see Jonathan Edwards and Jesus) But I don’t think the solution is to change our theology, that’s not the problem. There can be an eternal hell and a loving God. How it works… I’m not to sure. But I’m ok with these two seemingly contradictory elements to hang in tension on this side of eternity.

The book itself, in my opinion really isn’t that good. It has fragmented arguments and tends to ramble and repeat itself. If you enjoy his style give it a shot just to see what all the controversy is about. You’ll have to once again get past

Rob Bell’s




But the book certainly won’t hurt your faith. It made me want to emphasize God’s love more to others I come in contact with, which is of course a great thing. As always with Bell’s books, go for the application he is getting at, they are almost always great, just disregard a big chunk of the poetic but sketchy arguments he uses to get to the point.

2nd bookshelf of 5.


Rob Bell: Jesus Wants to Save… Christians?

“Jesus wants to save our church from the exile of irrelevance.”

Jesus Wants to Save Christians: A Manifesto for the Church in Exile by Rob Bell and Don Golden is a cool looking book. Let’s face it, the way Bell packages everything he puts out makes you go: “Oooooo neato!” With its hip lime green pages and mysterious puzzle cover, you are almost obligated to take it off the shelf and have a look at it. But does its attractive appearance reflect the content within the pages?

Recently I’ve been a part of a bible study that has been taking a closer look at Matthew, and a theme that has been blowing my mind is how the first book of the New Testament is designed to point to Jesus as a fulfillment of the Old Testament. It does this by quoting prophetic passages, but also drawing parallels to the Old Testament. Something that has excited me the most is the idea of Jesus being the 2nd Moses. Let me explain as briefly as possible:

Jesus wants to Save Christians

Pharaoh attempts to kill Israelite males that could potentially threaten his kingdom, thus Moses and his family must find a way to dodge the malicious intent of Pharaoh. This succeeds because Moses is the deliverer of the Israelites who will lead them out of the oppressing slavery of the Egyptians. This draws a striking similarity to Jesus and his family fleeing the massacre that Herod authorizes to kill newborn males. This is to preserve the deliverer of God’s people not from physical slavery, but from the slavery of sin.

So once I heard from a trusted friend that Rob Bell’s newest book dealt with similar stuff, called: New Exodus Theology. I decided that I had to pick it up despite my opinion of Velvet Elvis and Sex God which I thought were OK at best. But Bell and Golden’s ‘manifesto’ argues that Jesus’ death on the cross was a liberating event that sets us free from any form of empirical rule. For the Israelites in the first exodus it was the rule of the Egyptian empire- for Christians today, it is not only freedom from sin but liberation from any oppressing force. And its here where the book gets a little bumpy. It becomes one of those hold your breath moments because you know you’re saying something controversial that is going to upset some of your readers.

Bell and Golden make the argument that Americans are an empire-like nation that draws resemblances to Egypt and Babylon. The similarities are primarily in our sense of entitlement and lack of aid given to those who are crying out for justice. Then, in classic Rob Bell fashion, he slams us with his overarching point: that THE CHURCH is essentially the agent God is using to liberate the captives from irrelevance and the consumerism of America, while aiming to end the oppression everywhere else in the world. It is quite a compelling argument whether you agree with it or not, and will undoubtedly cause you to take a closer look at your own views of God and country, and your role as a functioning member of the body of Christ.

Ultra Conservative Christians beware – if you think Christians should hold the bible tucked under one arm while waving an American flag in the other, this one is going to rub you the wrong way. Bell and Golden unashamedly bash consumerism, marketing, materialism, entitlement, the war in Iraq, and George W. Bush (and conservatism for that matter). I encourage you, if you read the book, to look beyond the political argument Bell and Golden make, and focus on what you can do as an individual as a response to the book. The staggering statistics will undoubtedly give you a sense of guilt and the feeling that you are sucking away the earth’s resources while others are dying around the world. But perhaps this isn’t such a bad idea… It is softened by Bell, admitting that guilt doesn’t do anything, but knowledge aids the situation.

The writing is typical of Rob Bell- he writes EXACTLY how he talks. And there are odd isolated double spaced paragraphs with no indention, and often only one sentence or one word per line.

I think he uses it…

Because he thinks,




Nevertheless, Bell’s unorthodox methods of writing read like a sermon and cultivate a sense of drama that feels like a JJ Abrams TV show. I’m not so sure I agreed with his logic or his oversimplification of worldwide events in light of the scriptures, nor do I like how far he extends the ‘exodus’ metaphor. But I certainly think there is a ton of truth in this book that will challenge any reader to become the body of Christ that Jesus truly meant us to be. The one thing I can never get past with Rob Bell’s book is the fact that the $20 item only takes 2 hours to read. It’s a decent work, but I would only pick it up if it’s laying on the shelves at Half Price Books.

Shelf 3 of 5

The Magician’s Nephew (Nostalgia, Narnia, and New Worlds)

This Sunday morning before church I woke up slightly earlier than usual with an idea. I was feeling quite nostalgic for some reason- you know that kind of day- a make pancakes and watch Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles or Boy Meets World kind of morning. And despite my initial desire to trudge along in my current enjoyable fiction endeavor, I was convinced to put the book down and pick up an old favorite: C.S. Lewis’ The Magician’s Nephew. It is a classic book that I knew would not only be a quick read, but a real joy, and a deeply satisfying adventure to cure those spontaneous nostalgic cravings that sneak up on us from time to time.

Most know the tale of Digory Kirke and Polly who, while exploring the row of terraced houses in London,  stumble upon Digory’s magician uncle who has created rings with the power to transport humans into other worlds. Through Uncle Andrew’s deception, he drives the comical, bickering pair to puddle-hopping into different lands, meeting evil queens, and finally stumbling upon the creation of Narnia. Lewis’ voice in this installment of the Chronicles of Narnia seems so much more playful than it’s companions, and had me laughing aloud thinking about how well Lewis understood the mind of a child. This time around I particularly enjoyed the witty arguments between Digory and Polly:

Narnia Falcor Nostalgia

It’s all rot to say a house would be empty all those years unless there was some mystery.” (Digory)

“Daddy thought it must be the drains,” said Polly.

“Pooh! Grown-ups are always thinking of uninteresting explanations,” said Digory.

Or how about this one?

And if you want me to come back, hadn’t you better say you’re sorry?” (Polly)

“Sorry?” exclaimed Digory. “Well now, if that isn’t just like a girl! What have I done?”

“Oh nothing of course,” said Polly sarcastically. “Only nearly screwed my wrist off in that room with all the waxworks, like a cowardly bully. Only struck the bell with the hammer, like a silly idiot. Only turned back in the wood so that she had time to catch hold of you before we jumped into our own pool. That’s all.”

The Magician’s Nephew, though traditionally (since the 1980’s) placed 1st in the chronicles of Narnia Series, was actually published 6th, and after another read it is easy to see why. As you’re unraveling the tale you see the origins of different enigmatic elements within the land of Narnia: where does the lamp post come from in the Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe? How does the wardrobe actually have the ability to bring the Pevensies into Narnia? Why is professor Kirke so willing to believe that the land of Narnia is real?

The riddles presented throughout the books are satisfied in The Magician’s Nephew, and I would argue that it should be read sixth because the reader will experience the excitement of understanding the compelling world of Narnia that so effortlessly draws you in to its adventures.

Lewis (as always) has a power to make you feel the longing of something that I can never quite put my finger on. Maybe it’s adventure, or the simplicity of childhood, or the purity of a Narnia character that I long for, or perhaps the way Lewis communicates theological ideas with such an unmatched emotional force through his creative fiction. Whatever it is, the Magician’s Nephew makes for a great read that will always be on the highest bookshelf I have.

God of the Possible by Gregory Boyd

God of the Possible by Dr. Gregory Boyd was a difficult read for me. It is a theological book that challenges the traditional view of God (mostly my ideas) and argues for the ‘open view of the future.’  It was difficult for me, not because the writing was poor or that the logic was faulty, but the exact opposite. This was an easy-to-understand book that took me awhile because I had to put it down so frequently to think about the ideas that were being presented. (Mainly because he launched an arsenal of WMD’s on my theology).God of the Possible

Boyd received his Ph. D. from Princeton Theological Seminary, his M.Div. from Yale Divinity School, and taught theology for 16 years at Bethel University in Minnesota. He is undoubtedly a smart dude. If I was being gut-level-honest, prior to reading this book I would have just assumed you called it, ‘an introduction to what bad theologians think.’ Pretty arrogant huh? But, lately the idea of the ‘open view of God’ or the ‘open view of the future’ has gained some traction with close friends. I wanted to investigate for myself what the theology was all about, honestly expecting to better refute the ideas once I learned them.

In a nutshell, the open view argues that the future is partly open – that means it includes BOTH possibilities and certainties. An open theist, in their opinion, is NOT arguing against God’s omniscience (this was my primary misunderstanding). They instead will argue about the nature of reality and the future, which is why the theology is also called ‘the open view of the future.’ This view says that God knows ‘all things that can be known’ but the nature of reality prohibits God from knowing the future exhaustively.

I know what you’re thinking, and believe me, I’m thinking it too: But God knows ALL THINGS past, present, and future!

Gregory Boyd argues that the ideas of God knowing all things exhaustively, God functioning outside of time, and being COMPLETELY unchanging, are ideas that have transferred over from classical Greek philosophy, namely Plato. Boyd refutes classical theological notions of God foreknowing all things and predetermining every outcome by pointing to the overwhelming amount of times that God relents, repents, changes His mind, and reacts to human behavior. These examples in the classical/traditional motif are described as ‘anthropomorphisms’ or the attribution of human characteristics to God. And for some reason that explanation has never quite jived with me… maybe in a couple of examples I can understand – but dozens and dozens of times seem too much to write it off as a human way of understanding what God is doing.

I’m not at all saying I’m buying into these ideas but it has certainly launched a search for me to investigate why I believe what I believe… are my beliefs rooted in scripture, or are they derivatives of teachings and hand-me-down notions of God that have been around for hundreds of years? Our view of God should always be drawn from the conclusions that we extract from the Word of God, as opposed to blindly believing what is said by people we respect (that is not to say these traditions are wrong). My opinion of people who adhere to the Open View has dramatically changed… It is not a dumb theology that ignores logic and scripture, nor is it based solely on emotional arguments. It really does raise a great deal of questions for me that I need to answer. And if anything, it helped me to see again that our disagreements with our brothers & sisters over doctrines and dogmas do nothing to either of our positions in the body of Christ. We are still family.

God of the Possible is a great read that utilizes powerful rhetoric. And despite what conclusions I may come to, it made me think about the nature of God all week, and then some – something I believe a 5 point Calvinist or an intense Open Theist would agree is a good thing (I hope). And for that reason, I would put it on the 4th bookshelf out 5.

Everybody owns it! Who has read it? ‘The Screwtape Letters’ by C.S. Lewis

The Screwtape Letters is a unique book. I can think of no other work of literature that I have read or have heard of that is even remotely similar. Lewis’ writing assumes the voice of a demon, Screwtape, authoring instructional letters to his nephew, Wormwood, on how to effectively tempt the man he has been assigned to, in order to pull him away from ‘the Enemy’ (God). It is an unmatched work of Lewis’ grasp on human psychology seen through the lens of Christianity.

The plot of the book traces the practicing temptations of Wormwood upon his subject, and then follows the continuing cosmic battles of God and the demonic throughout the events of what is seemingly everyday

Demythologizing the demonichuman life. The ultimate aim of the book, I believe, is for Christians to understand how demons/tempters utilize the mundane occurrences of life to lure us away from God. It is a spectacularly revealing book that helped me to realize that wickedness is not the absolute aim of Satan, but to promote repeated actions and thoughts within us that keep us from approaching God.

I understand that the Screwtape Letters may seem cliche to many, because it sits atop every Christian’s bookshelf as one of the absolute must reads along with the books we know everyone has: ‘Mere Christianity,’ ‘Desiring God,’ ‘Narnia,’ etc. (I would like to note that the presence of these books doesn’t mean for a second that anyone has read them) It is like the Christian book equivalent of a star on your Christmas Tree- it just isn’t right until it’s there. But it really is a book that is more than worth its time to read. The Screwtape Letters will not only help you in more thoroughly thinking through your own faith, but also thinking through ‘the little foxes’ that seem to attack your system of belief. I think what amazes me most about the Screwtape Letters, is that while Lewis is a using a fictitious demon as his mouthpiece, there are wholly reverent, and worshipful ideas that are presented to the reader, despite the devout thoughts coming from a character that completely despises God. The Screwtape Letters will undoubtedly present to you ideas and theologies that help to foster a greater love and passion for the one in the book who is referred to as the ‘Great Enemy.’

I remember vividly when someone very close to me was hesitant about reading ‘The Screwtape Letters’ because the very idea of a demon being assigned to temp an individual was scary. I agree, the idea certainly isn’t one that makes you want to party like its 1999. However, it is a reality that our enemy Satan is seeking to destroy us, and having a better grasp on his battle plan is like knowing the formation and strategy of an attacking army- it’s going to help.

All that being said, in no way is this a scary book to read, nor will it promote thoughts about the demonic in an unhealthy way. Your child is not going to be a practicing warlock that attends Hogwarts after reading the book. At worst you will notice areas in your life that you have forfeited to temptation that you never noticed. At best (which is what occurred to me, and I think every other Tom, Dick, and Harry that has read the book) you will find yourself emotionally stirred, and have a greater love for God who readily thwarts the attacks of the demonic.

Put it on the top shelf, as cliche as it seem. It belongs there. Trust me.

The Weight of Glory

C.S. Lewis’ ‘The Weight of Glory’ is another piece by a brilliant thinker that challenges the reader to examine their own beliefs and practices in light of Lewis’ strikingly clear logic. It is difficult to pen point an overall feel for the book, as it is 9 independent essays compiled into one work. Lewis is mentioned in the same breath as several classical theologians and philosophers, but his true gift lies not in his ability of understanding the divine, but in having a remarkable grasp on what makes us human. The tendencies and compulsions we have as a fallen race are thrown into the concepts of war, pacifis

m, relationships with peers, theology, tensions between the spirit and physical realm, forgiveness, and more in ‘The Weight of Glory.’

If you decide to read this book (as you should) you will find yourself moved to pause after Lewis’ breathtaking prose, and if you’re like me,

stirring your almost sleeping wife to read her a quote or two that resonates in your spirit while simultaneously challenging you.

Lewis’ ‘The Weight of Glory’ is spectacular not necessarily because it introduces new truths, or that his practical applications seem sim

ple, but because Lewis had a gift unlike any other to assign feeling, passion, and purpose to a concept that you have probably always believed in while exercising his power to do so frequently in this masterpiece.

This one should be proudly displayed at the top of your bookshelf along with the other works thatgive you warm feelings merely by looking at them and remembering the volumes they spoke in their limited number of pages.