Several years ago there was a lot of buzz on the internet about Rob Bell’s new book titled, Love Wins. The conversation in the blogosphere was heightened though when Justin Taylor released an article on Bell’s book before the book was officially released. Taylor’s article was titled, Rob Bell: Universalist? Specifically, the controversy over the article was due to whether or not it was justifiable to accuse Bell of Universalism before his book had actually been published.
For the record, Rob Bell is a very gifted communicator and skilled writer. I have read his book Velvet Elvis and have read several books from his contemporaries, such as Brian McLaren. I have also watched and naively used Bell’s Nooma videos in my past ministry. With that said, my following critique is not coming from a blind eye nor from an ill-informed perspective, but from a well-informed and concerned theological disposition.
While it would be beneficial to spend time doing a book review of Bell’s newest book, I think our time is better spent examining a short promotional video for the Love Wins book. In other words, by examining the video we can be more efficient with our time and we can get straight to the heart of the theological issues and concerns.
The section of the promotional video that causes me the most distress is where he says,
“What is God like? Because millions and millions of people were taught that the primary message is that God is going to send you to hell unless you believe in Jesus. So what gets subtly taught is that Jesus rescues you from God, but what kind of God is that, that we need to be rescued from this God? How could that God ever be good? How could that God ever be trusted? How could that ever be good news?”
What is so disturbing about this comment above is that this comment is viewing God through what Luther called a Theology of Glory. Luther tells us in the Heidelberg Disputation that the problem with glory theology is that a theologian of glory calls evil good and good evil. This is exactly what is being said above. Bell is essentially calling God’s holiness and justice evil, consequently making mankind morally good. Furthermore, the comment also makes God’s salvific atonement of Christ evil when it is in reality really good news.
Bell’s theology is actually rooted in the theology of the 16th century theologian and Catholic humanist named Erasmus. In layman’s terms, it seems as if Rob Bell’s main problem and issue, as laid forth above, is with God and not mankind. His problem with God is due to his presupposition that mankind is morally neutral, good and free. When one is consumed with the idea of radical free will and the moral neutrality of mankind, then the inevitable result is to shift blame for this sin problem upon God. “Mankind isn’t at fault, therefore, God is too strict, can’t be trusted and is indeed a moralistic monster. God is the problem!” As a result, Bell’s theology makes God into a small god (possibly a different god altogether) whose omnipotence and holiness are radically reduced.
How does this whole ideology change when we reverse the presuppositions and make mankind the problem rather than God? Think about this for a moment: mankind is the one that sinned in the garden; mankind is the one that continually turns away from God to self; mankind is the one that runs from God; and mankind is the one that has made war with God due to sin. Mankind is not the victim but the instigator. The problem of sin is mankind’s problem not God’s. Viewing things through this lens changes everything. If mankind is the instigator then God is totally just to punish sin; it means that God’s holiness is good, not evil. If mankind is the instigator it also means that God is good in that He maintains His holiness, yet sets out to pursue His creation for reconciliation through the death, burial and resurrection of Christ. On the Cross, Christ made the problem of sin His problem; this is good not evil! Because of Christ, God’s holiness is maintained and mankind is reconciled, this is so good and is the Theology of the Cross.
Thus, the theology of Rob Bell makes evil ‘good’ and good ‘evil’, resulting in love losing. There is another way though, and that is the way of the cross. Isaiah and the Apostle Paul tell us,
Yet it was the will of the Lord to crush him; he has put him to grief… For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. (Isa. 53:10 & 1 Cor. 5:21)
The way of the cross my friends calls evil ‘evil’ and good ‘good’. This is how Love Wins.