Friday, April 15, 2011

My Opinion On The Book: Love Wins (Rob Bell)

Like so many other people, I first heard about this new book through the promo video that swarmed through every corner of the Internet earlier this year.  Needless to say, I was intrigued by the seemingly controversial nature of the “book about heaven, hell and the fate of every person who ever lived.”  People were claiming Rob Bell to be some form of Christian Universalist, and according to Mars Hill church, their lead pastor had (almost overnight) become more popular on Twitter than both Justin Bieber and Lady GaGa.  This book became a best seller even before it was released, so my hubby and I, being somewhat consistent followers of Bell’s works, ordered our copy at Barnes and Noble and finished reading it yesterday.  So there’s the history.  Onto the review.

To someone who reads a lot of books and reads them fairly quickly, I recommend this one to you if for no other reason than to join the discussion and to form your own opinion.  However, if you’re choosy about what you read, my advice: choose something else.  The ideas presented here are interesting and emotionally gripping, but they sadly lack the research, thoughtfulness, and academic responsibility that I feel are an absolute must for a book that wants to perform such an overhaul on orthodox Christian doctrine.  My two most frequent thoughts while reading this book were, “Where did he get that information?” and “Oh, I just wish someone else would have written this book.”

If you have had the pleasure of flipping through Drops Like Stars or watching any number of the Nooma videos, you will know that Rob Bell is a master when it comes to crafting stories, drawing connections, and really just making you feel.  But to me, with a subject as serious as “the fate of every person who ever lived”, you’ve got to have a little less fluff and a little more meat.  This book tends to blaze some new trails when it comes to ideas such as the eternity (or lack thereof) of hell, the concept that heaven and hell are actual places, the people who are “in” and the people who are “out”.  Yet as soon as the bridge starts to get a little rickety and the logic starts to falter, rather than arduously sticking with it and carrying it through for us to prove a point and take a stance, Bell just seems to conveniently change the subject or at some points, end the chapter.

He continuously and dismissively mentions what “the people in those days” or “those hearing the message of Jesus” would think; yet he never provides a footnote, an annotation, or even a hint as to where he got his information.  The closest thing we get is a section in the back called “Further Reading,” which feels more like a friend’s blog and less like a thoroughly compiled bibliography. 

My concerns were heightened when I looked up a few things he did reference only to find that he seemed to be stretching the words to make them fit his claims or leaving out some extremely vital information.  An example of the former was in talking about the Biblical story of the rich man and Lazarus, who both die and the rich man is taken to Hades while Lazarus is taken to “Abraham’s side.”  If you know the story, the rich man asks Lazarus for a drink of water to quench his thirst and sooth his burning mouth.  The answer?  “…between us and you a great chasm has been set in place, so that those who want to go from here to you cannot, nor can anyone cross over from there to us.” {Luke 16:26}  Rob Bell explains that even in hell, the rich man is still asking Lazarus to serve him, meaning he hasn’t truly died to himself yet and admitted humility.  Supposedly then, the chasm that cannot be crossed is only in the rich man’s heart.  Does that seem like a stretch to you, too?  An example of the latter is in explaining that the word used for “eternal” (as in “eternal punishment”) can be taken more as the intensity of the experience and less as the actual amount of time it takes.  From this premise, Bell seems to suggest that maybe hell doesn’t last forever; maybe it’s just so intense for awhile that it feels like forever, but then it’s over.  I like this idea and I want it to be true.  However, what is left out is that the same word used in “eternal punishment” is also used in John 3:16 when referring to those who believe in Jesus and will therefore receive eternal life.  That seems like an important point to mention.  (Both of my examples are from Chapter 3 – “Hell”.  For a review of Love Wins that deals more with the actual content of the book, I recommend reading this one or this one.)

I deeply care about Rob Bell’s ideas, and I believe he longs for truth and God’s Word more than a lot of people are giving him credit for right now.  But I just wish someone would have instilled in him the importance of citing sources, backing up claims, and writing responsibly.  Especially on so crucial a topic.  I would love to believe some of what he’s saying, but it is so hard without the evidence to support it.

Unfortunately, because of this, I ended almost every chapter with a feeling of frustration and a desire for a deeper treatment of the topic at hand.  I, like so many others, have questions about heaven, hell, what the Word of God says about them, what the character of God says about them, and what it all means. 

Of course, I realize many of these questions will remain unanswered, but I sincerely yearn for a book to be written (or a book to be recommended to me if it already has been written) that will deal more reliably and thoroughly with this eternally (pun intended) important and crucial subject.  If you know of one, do tell.  And if you’ve read the book, I’d love to hear your thoughts as well.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

A Death and a Birth

In the past two weeks, I have witnessed both the death of someone I have known my entire life and the birth of someone I will know for the remainder of my life.  One occasion brings extreme sadness and moments of despair and one brings extreme joy and moments of wonder; yet I am struck by the similarities of these two starkly contrasting events.

The first parallel that I notice, and the one that made me detect the others, is that both of these instances make people involuntarily speak in hushed tones when entering a room.  There is a loud silence that accompanies both the end and the beginning of a life – in one instance, an empty silence and in one a very full one.  There are no signs hung that say “please be quiet”, yet there is a holiness there that makes us do it anyway.

People drop all of their plans, calendar pages stop turning, and loved ones travel for hours and hours in order to be together.  It doesn’t matter what plans we had – we will drop them and celebrate this life.

My mind is filled with thoughts and pictures of those closest to the celebrity – the bereaved spouse, the new parents.  I feel intense amounts of emotion, of grief, of joy, of worry, of astonishment.  I wonder to myself, “What will their life be like now?”  I am sleepless with wondering.

In both cases, the leading lady is amazingly unaware of the commotion she has just caused.  She might experience a similar disruption at certain times in her life, when another dies or another is born.  And in that way she can understand a little better about her own death or birth.  But she is not really there to witness it for herself.

A great number of hugs, photographs, and casseroles are shared.  And an even greater number of prayers.

I am amazed every time I think about the humanness of it all.  The life-ness.  We have all faced birth – in a variety of ways, of places, of hands.  And we will all face death.  There is mystery involved.  And hope and curiosity and fragility. 

If you think about it too hard, your eyesight will start to change, and it feels like you’re floating just outside of your head.  I have no conclusions to be drawn here.  Simply commentary.