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The range of responses to Love Wins

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).

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Arthur Davis

Arthur Davis is an Aussie living in Tanzania, writing at

9 replies

  1. I find that quote from Richard Mouw interesting. A thought I’ve been having recently is it seems like the Apostle Paul was often accused of being too generous and focusing too much on grace… So that’s why you get things like the Jerusalem Council in Acts and his defence of his message of grace in Romans (two random examples).

    Not sure what to do with that thought yet, but I think it’s got something to do with where the Bible preaches Grace and Love we should preach Grace and Love in an unlimited kinda way. But where it preaches other things like justice, righteousness, sin and judgement we need to do so in a similar way. Sometimes you can’t give, or your context demands and unbalanced answer…

    Developing thoughts!

  2. I don’t know what you mean by “in and out groups”, I sense a pejorative meaning but orthodoxy and heresy imply people are in or out. (I agree of course the labels can be rightly or wrongly applied.)

  3. Well, on the one hand, I don’t see in-group-out-group as a particularly useful way of thinking about orthodoxy. (I’ve found the idea of centred sets helpful, from missiologist Paul Hiebert.)

    On the other hand, if orthodoxy is about in-group-out-group, then the business of drawing the lines is pretty fraught. What do we do with the John Stotts and the CS Lewises — are they heretics?

  4. Orthodoxy is probably better thought of as a ‘narrow path’ that we stray from to either side, i.e. simultaneously as a way of thinking and living and a goal towards which we strive. In-group/out-group is unChristian ideological thinking, since the line that divides truth from error runs through every heart. Before you take the speck from your brother’s eye…

  5. Hey Arthur and friends. :)

    I don’t reckon labelling Rob Bell as in or out in terms of orthodoxy is the point. He says many, many things that I wish more ‘conservative’ type Christians would learn from and pay attention to.

    The question is, rather, about the ideas and perspectives that he is promoting at the moment. Are they true to Scripture or not?

    Those that are (to the best of my understanding), I will promote. Those that are not(same caveat), I will attempt to dissuade others from believing.

    There’s also a second issue. How will his actions pan out for belief in the truth? I suspect that here is where there will be (a) lots of interesting repercussions (for both good and bad) and (b) much America-specific culture to be taken into account.

    By the way, I think you’re being a bit sensational in your characterisation of Al Mohler’s statement. He makes no judgement on Bell’s position at all (having not read the book) but merely claims that universalism (which he doesn’t claim Bell holds to) is heresy and heresy isn’t something one ought to use to sell books.

    Those who are criticising Bell (that I have read) are mainly doing so on the basis of his lack of clarity on the issues. He only probes at them with questions that tear down one view without providing a clear and thought-out alternative. They generally seem to make this critique on the basis that this is pastorally irresponsible. (Couldn’t resist the irony)

    Those who you’ve quoted who criticise those who criticise Bell argue (a) that he’s right to be talking about the issues and (b) that we should be as rough on salvific stinginess as we are on salvific generosity. As for (a), those who criticise Bell are engaging in the conversation. As for (b), there could well be a cause for such a comment in the American scene. I’m not really across it all.

  6. Speaking of orthodoxy and America-specific culture, Scot McKnight wonders if American evangelicalism is dividing in two. (This is a strange phenomenon for us in Australia, not least because we have much more overlap between evangelicals and the mainline.)

  7. Mark Galli states of the doctrine of God’s judgment …”Or it may be altered, as have many doctrines, by rigorous theological discussion.” I agree. Luther saw the doctrine of justification by faith. But it was there all along. The doctrine wasn’t read between the lines, or presented as some mysterious, secondary teaching. McLaren says we need five years to ponder homosexuality. How many years do we need to determine what hell is and who goes there?

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