For Whom the Bell Tolls (ha)

I blame Rob Bell for a lot of things.

Inspiring me is the first and most prevalent charge held against him.

Writing in one-line paragraphs is the second.

I don’t completely agree with any theologian, and I hope you don’t either. Luther, Barth, Augustine, Bonhoeffer, Eminem; they, just like me, have flaws in their thought. Rob Bell is no different. We are all theologians and philosophers trapped within our own context. Each of our maturing thought processes and frameworks from which we work are built inside of the systems that we are in. This can make for a great strength when connecting with our peers and contemporaries, but it makes us unbelievably fragile in regards to our ability to think from God’s perch.

So, when I read Rob’s latest book Love Wins, I didn’t expect to agree with him completely, but I did expect him to challenge me in some places that I was stale and rusty.

And, of course, he did.

In a general summary, he writes of a loving God that cannot be restrained, or eternally ignored. Bell paints the picture of a God of such relentless desire for relationship that no person in all of creation can infinitely walk away from his perfect love. Taking the stance that love (specifically God’s love) is undefeated and invincible, Bell projects ideas into christian orthodoxy that are undeniably bold; that God genuinely desires and works perfectly towards a reality in which no one misses out on relationship with him – and that if someone did, that God’s invincible love would be, vincible…(?)

Enough has already been written of the book. I am more than willing to go to bat for Bell’s position, he has every right to view God’s love the way he does. It’s a part of his theology, that God has built up in him. I believe this as much as I believe that God has done the same in those critics who charge Bell with heresy and blasphemy (Side note: Even though currently grouped together in common mud-slinging, those people do not see theologically eye-to-eye either, and are strongly opposed to each others’ views; but I won’t go into that right now). It’s a big house, and there are many rooms.

Do I agree with the whole book? Nah. Not right now at least.

Do I see truth in a lot of it? I sure hope so. I can’t in good (God-given) conscience follow a God who is oriented in punitive punishments and judgment over reconciliation and love.

As Bell writes about that God:

“Loving one moment, vicious the next. Kind and compassionate, only to become cruel and relentless in the blink of an eye.

That kind of God is simply devastating. Pyschologically crushing We can’t bear it. No one can.” (174)

Do I recommend the book? YES! We (people, all of us) need to re-learn the art of thoughtful dialogue. We’ve traded much of that in for dismissive, one-off, sensationalistic comments than garner a lot of attention, and not much intellectual credibility.

And so for the book Love Wins, I say thanks to Rob. You’re a brother I am proud to walk next to.

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2 Comments

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  1. Not really on the topic of the post, but I’m interested.

    “I don’t completely agree with any theologian, and I hope you don’t either.”

    This has gotten me in trouble with some folks because I don’t agree completely with Paul. Paul, a man, a theologian trapped in his own context. Is there a difference between Paul and any other theologian?

    • I think it’s a completely fair question, Cody. And a really good one.

      I suppose I have often seen Paul as a church elder that I don’t necessarily like, but I submit to the position that God put him in. If I believe his account of his experience with the Christ in Acts to be true (and, I do), I suppose there is a special calling that he received that I have not (yet at least).

      I guess it boils down to what the disagreement is. Is it something deeply contextual to his time that he write that we try to pin in our culture? Or do you have something in mind that he wrote in his own time that was theologically or philosophically destructive to his recipients?

      I guess my broad brushstroke thought is that Paul, just like the rest of us, was hemmed into his context. Paul was no Messiah. Paul sinned as we sin (his theology was skewed). He was just used in a special context to minister to a fragmented church.

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