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 highlighted 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 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?
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