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8 Reasons Why “Love Wins” is a Winner and Loser

(This post is Part 1 of a 2 Part series. Read Part 2 here: 8 Reasons Why Love Wins is a Loser.

It’s easy to dismiss something without even engaging it.

As humans we love to classify and categorize: love or hate, good or bad, in or out, truth or error, friend or foe.

At times, drawing lines like these are necessary and even Biblical. Other times, our categories prevent us from interacting with the reasons behind the writings.

When Rob Bell’s book Love Wins hit shelves, like any pastor I felt compelled to give a response and I did…immediately. I still support my original statement:

I think Rob is a gifted writer, communicator, artist, and marketer. He has God-given talents I envy (if I’m speaking the truth). 

But in the end, I think that Rob is one that I just can’t agree with. I think as pastors, our jobs are to clearly communicate Truth. I think the parts of Rob’s new book that I have read, do just the opposite.

That being said, I’d like to weigh in with 8 positive take-aways after reading the book (read Part 2 for the critical take-aways). 

1. Questions Please:  Many of us can relate to Rob’s quote: “Many have these questions…Some communities don’t permit open, honest inquiry about the things that matter most.” (ix) I appreciate the fact that Rob is bold enough to dialogue about a subject  that many of us have struggled with, but have never dared to explore. Not only does Rob invite questions, but he tends to voice the exact ones we’ve been told are irreverent, off limits, or unacceptable. I believe God is big enough to handle all our questions (The book of Job alone contains over 300 questions). And God invites us into a relationship that invites questions.

2. XXXL view of Salvation: Throughout Love Wins Rob continues to expand our view of salvation. If you’ve been sold the lie that the Gospel is only escapism – a ticket out of this world and into the next – then be prepared to have your view enlarged. A few of Rob’s quotes on this topic: “If that’s the gospel, the good news-if what Jesus does is get people somewhere else-then the central message of the Christian faith has very little to do with this life other than getting you what you need for the next one.” (6)  ”This God whom Jesus spoke of has always been looking for partners, people who are passionate about participating in the ongoing creation of the world.” (178) Many of us long for a Gospel Story big enough to include the whole world, big enough for this life AND the next one.

3. Free Admission for Everyone (even for those that don’t want it): For those of us who have lost a loved one that rejected Christ on earth, Rob’s message is one that we’d love to believe is true. Who wouldn’t? When there is free admission for everyone, nobody loses…(except for God – more on this in the next post). Relevant quotes by Rob, “As soon as the door is opened to Muslims. Hindus, Buddhists, and Baptists from Cleveland, many Christians become very uneasy, saying that then Jesus doesn’t matter anymore, the cross is irrelevant, it doesn’t matter what you believe, and so forth. Not true. Absolutely, unequivocally, unalterably not true. (155) ” People come to Jesus in all sorts of ways…Sometimes people use his name; other times they don’t…Some people have so much baggage with regard to the name “Jesus” that when they encounter the mystery present in all of creation—grace, peace, love, acceptance, healing, forgiveness—the last thing they are inclined to name it is “Jesus.” (159)

4. The Heart of Envy: This point hit me right between the eyes. Like most humans I covet. Not about possessions as much as position. No matter, whether it’s a T-Bird or a Title, coveting is a sign that something is wrong. “Coveting is what happens when you aren’t at peace” (41) I changed the phrase slightly. Jealousy is a sign of unrest with ourselves and our Creator. Thanks for this stream of thought Rob.

5. God is not a “Slave-Driver”: God revealed to me years ago that I tend to be like the “older brother” in the Prodigal Son story. Rob expounds on this story with some great insight. “Grace and generosity aren’t fair; that’s their very essence.” (168) “This can be especially true in missionary settings or in pastor’s families or in church communities where people have picked up along the way the toxic notion that God is a slave driver. (180) {About the older brother} ”You can sense the anxiety in his defense, the paranoid awareness that he believed his father was looking over his shoulder the whole time, waiting and watching to catch him in disobedience. (184) Prior to discovering my Secret Name, I was the essence of the older brother-unhappy, angry, and over-worked-trying to unsuccessfully please a slave-driver God. Thankfully, my image of God has been transformed into a view that is more Biblically accurate, one of a Heavenly Father pleased with me because of Jesus Christ in me.

6. More Bible than your Grandma knows: Rob uses more of the Bible than most of us have used our entire lives. We can (and should) question his use of the Bible, but let’s not just write off him as a ignorant idiot. I’d argue that Rob knows his Bible well, in fact better than 95% of believers in Bible-believing churches across the country. His knowledge allows him to bob and weave, twist and turn, fade in and fade out. He knows what part of a verse to include to make a point and how to layer apparent tensions within the text to create a compelling story. He’s one step ahead of most. He knows more Bible than your grandmother. I’ve been a student of the Bible since the day I was born. In addition to Catholic grade school, Christian high school, graduating from a Bible Institute, Christian college and 2 seminaries, when reading Rob’s book I had to continually rely on my training in order to discern the truths from the untruths within Rob’s writing. The novice will tend to write it all off or drink it all down.  A dangerous extreme.

7. Rob admits he prayed the Sinner’s Prayer: I found this story amazingly interesting. The same prayer that Rob exposes in a negative light in the first chapter (5-6) , is the same prayer that Rob presents in a positive light in the last chapter (193-194). “One night when I was in elementary school, I said a prayer kneeling beside my bed…With my parents on either side of me, I invited Jesus into my heart. I told God that I believed that I was a sinner and that Jesus came to save me and I wanted to be a Christian. I still remember that prayer. It did something to me. Something in me.” Rob somehow felt the need to tell us the importance of his experience, even though throughout his book he tells us that in the end Love Wins and everyone is “in.”     

8. Creativity is King: Rob’s book is poetic and risky. It’s flirtatiously conservative and scandalously liberal. His tone, pace, and style are original. Based strictly on literary categories (and not theological integrity), Rob’s book is entirely creative.

Read Part 2: 8 Reasons Why Rob Bell’s Love Wins is a Loser