Tuesday, 10 May 2011

Love Wins in the pub #ashmedia

Took time out from unpacking after the house move to meet up with some social media pals to discuss Rob Bell’s book Love Wins and Pete Rollins’ Pyro Theology. Looking back I realise that despite enjoying a stimulating conversation I found it a frustrating experience. In part my frustration was simply the constraint of time  which meant that I could only stay for just over an hour and didn’t  really get into discussion of Rollins’ theology. Primarily, however, my frustration was because of the material we were discussing. I felt that most of our conversation highIMG00513-20110509-1317lighted the weaknesses of Love Wins in that the book raises lots of questions that it never really gets round to answering and so our conversation was less about the book and more about our own soteriologies.

One of the most interesting questions raised came from Johanna Clare who wanted to ask why the book has caused such a stir? This is a good question because Bell is not saying anything new and what he does say is not very clear. One person commented that Bell is resisting the temptation to reduce his position to sound bites, fair enough but he should be able to articulate what he does believe in clearer and more unambiguous terms. Another commented that Bell is more theologically astute and literate than we given him credit IMG00512-20110509-1317 for. I’m not so sure. Bell does seek to give theological weight to his arguments by drawing on the Church Fathers for example, but they are never referenced properly nor their arguments set in context or developed and explored in any depth and so I am left wondering whether he just lifted a few patristic quotes that seemed to beef up his position. In the same way I think Bell has dipped in to Tom Wright (Surprised by Hope rather than The Resurrection of the Son of God) and C.S. Lewis (The Great Divorce) without really understanding what they are saying.

Pete Phillips offered some incisive comments about Bell’s linguistic and hermeneutical deficiencies which undermine the book’s use of scripture. I share Pete’s questioning of Bell’s exposition of Dives and Lazarus, though again others were more positive.

A few of the group had seen Bell on his recent tour in the U.K. and several said how surprised they were by the brevity of his presentation of the book and its themes. Bell is an engaging and charismatic speaker and the style of the book reflects the way he speaks and preaches. The impact he has had on thousands of people cannot be lightly dismissed and Bell has a passion for communicating the faith that puts many of us to shame. Nevertheless, I am left with a feeling that there is less to the book and Bell’s argument than meets the eye. Though I was frustrated at leaving the conversation early, I wonder whether there was much more to say about the book?

1 comment:

Pam said...

Interesting blog Phil - thanks. (And great to meet you!)

I came to the discussion having read the book with very little previous knowledge of Rob Bell apart from seeing one Pneuma video some time ago and seeing some of the comments on Love Wins which prompted me to read it and I did so carefully in order to participate properly - I tend to skim read things and take very little in.

To be honest I didn't read much in the book that I hadn't already worked out for myself as a Christian over two decades. One of his central questions for me is in the chapter Does God Get What He Wants? where Bell quotes the many scriptural statements about God's desire to redeem the whole of creation and asks 'When does he give up trying?' This question was expanded by the discussant who asked if we accept that a concentration camp guard who has been responsible for thousands of innocent deaths can repent before death and thereby be saved, how is this any fairer (in terms of people suffering the consequences of sin) than someone being offered the opportunity of forgiveness post mortem?

Another issue that wasn't raised but which could have been is the tradition of the Harrowing of Hell which I think rests on the statement in 1 Peter 3:19 that Jesus preached to the spirits in prison and the statement in the Apostles Creed that Jesus 'descended into Hell' between his death and resurrection. Both these statements predate Rob Bell by some time.

I was left with the impression that perhaps if as contemporary Christian think being forgiven is a soft option, we have lost sense of the fact that forgiveness entails repentance -a full consciousness of what the sin means to God. This is why stories of revivals always tell of people being 'convicted of sin.'

For this reason, and from my reading of the book, Bell is not saying when Hitler/Osama bin Laden died he would pat them on the back and say 'never mind.' Far from it!