With the release of Love Wins, it’s helpful to consider the different sorts of responses coming from the book’s primary context, American evangelical Christianity.
1. Some see danger: ‘This talk is heresy.’ Al Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, speaks of looming disaster. The Bible is clear but our culture simply doesn’t like the message.
Regardless of how Rob Bell’s book turns out, its promotion is the sad equivalent of a theological striptease. The Gospel is too precious and important to be commodified in this manner. The questions he asks are too important to leave so tantalizingly unanswered. Universalism is a heresy, not a lure to use in order to sell books.
2. Some see opportunity: ‘It’s worth listening.’ Mark Galli, one of the head honchos at Christianity Today, writes that there is a legitimate conversation here.
What is being lost in the anxious chatter is that faithful, devout Christians try to reconcile the love of God with the judgment of God in a number of ways. … The traditional view may well be grounded ever more deeply and solidly as a result of re-engaging this topic. Or it may be altered, as have many doctrines, by rigorous theological discussion. But we won’t be able to discern where the Spirit is leading if we don’t listen and respond respectfully to one another.
3. Some see enmity: ‘What has become of us?’ The well-known author Eugene Peterson writes,
I knew that people would jump on me for writing the endorsement [of Love Wins]. I wrote the endorsement because I would like people to listen to [Bell]. He may not be right. But he’s doing something worth doing. There’s so much polarization in the evangelical church that it’s a true scandal. We’ve got to learn how to talk to each other and listen to each other in a civil way.
Richard Mouw, president of Fuller Theological Seminary, writes,
Rob Bell is calling us away from a stingy orthodoxy to a generous orthodoxy. … Why don’t folks who criticize Rob Bell for wanting to let too many people in also go after people like that who want to keep too many people out? Why are we rougher on salvific generosity than on salvific stinginess?
The first response is using the language of in-group and out-group, demarcating the boundaries of orthodoxy, seemingly wishing that we didn’t have to have this discussion in the first place. The other responses see this discussion as positive, precisely because it’s between family members — or ought to be.
There are a number of good avenues for further discussion. Patheos has set up a page of helpful coverage. Christ And Pop Culture is posting an email exchange between two friends as they read through the book. Rob Bell’s own church, Mars Hill, has posted some FAQs about the book. You can watch Bell’s interview from the book launch (or read the transcript).
Arthur Davis is an Aussie living in Tanzania, writing at meetjesusatuni.com.