If you’re enjoying the discussion here in the Dojo with my buddy Jake (“Are the Young/Restless/Reformed crowd jerks??“), stay tuned for more that I will share in coming posts as I deal with the specific issues involving critique verses attack and how we can tell the difference.
For now, let me just share a few bullet point observations about the book and the controversy now that I’ve had a chance to read “Love Wins” for myself:
1) Is Rob Bell a heretic? No. For reasons that I will share in coming posts, the title of “heretic” (which, as Jake points out has not been used by Taylor, DeYoung or Piper specifically–but which HAS been used by a number of Bell’s critics in the blogosphere and online videos) is one that is SERIOUS and should not be applied to someone who openly acknowledges and confesses Apostolic Christianity, as Bell does in no uncertain terms HERE.
2) Does the book contain some sloppy theology, out-of-context interpretations and over-simplified ideas about what Scripture teaches? Absolutely. And Bell, like ANY teacher of Scripture, should be ready to be challenged and corrected when he publishes.
3) Does the book answer sufficiently all of the questions it attempts to raise? Hardly. I can see why people who pride themselves on providing systematic answers to theological questions as completely as possible (i.e. apologists, theologians, proponents of fully-developed theological confessions such as the Westminster Greater Confession) would quickly get annoyed with Rob’s approach.
4) Does almost EVERY popular-level Christian book–including any I might ever write in the future–do so as well? You betcha! It is almost impossible to find a popular-level book on theological or Biblical topics–especially one with NO footnotes or endnotes!–that does not fall victim to the same problems…including anything by Mark Driscoll, Max Lucado, Philip Yancey, Ben Witherington, Beth Moore, Shane Claiborne, N.T. wright, Billy Graham, and yes, even Justin Taylor, Kevin DeYoung & John Piper.
5) Have the harshest and most vocal critics of the book and of Bell in general overreacted and overstated their case? Without a doubt. I may be wrong, but I sincerely believe that the majority of the criticism the book has received is based more on the critic’s dislike of Rob’s teaching in general than on the book’s claims itself–though I will be rereading Kevin DeYoung’s 20-page critique because of all the ones out there, his carries the most weight, was used by Martin Bashir in his interview with Rob, and because Kevin is a smart cookie who went to a PHENOMENAL seminary! 😉 I think Kevin has gone out of his way to put aside his dislike of Bell’s ministry in general and focus on the book, so his represents the strongest, in the good sense of the word, critique coming from the Young Reformed crowd.
6) Does this mean then that Rob or his book should be exempt from solid serious criticism regarding his choice of rhetoric and implied conclusions? Not at all. This is part of the very fabric of Disciple Dojo–theological sparring! If you publish something, you waive any right to be offended or shocked if it is challenged (though you can be annoyed by the MANNER in which such challenges are presented at times!).
7) Would I warn people to stay away from or not read “Love Wins”? No. If you’ve ever read C.S. Lewis, N.T. Wright or Tim Keller, you won’t be shocked or dumbfounded by almost anything Rob says (BTW, those are three authors he specifically puts forth in his “Further Reading” section at the end of the book!)
8 ) Would I recommend that people go out of their way to read “Love Wins”? Not really. I didn’t think it was as good as “Jesus wants to save Christians” or “Velvet Elvis”, but if all someone has ever heard about Christianity is the Westboro Baptist cult or the far Right conservative/fundamentalist message then this might be a good book to get them thinking about their stereotypes of Christians and that the Jesus they reject may not be the actual Jesus who loves them dearly.
Okay, there you have it (for those of you who have specifically asked for my thoughts). Stay tuned to the Dojo and to Jake’s blog for more on the issues raised by all of this and why they matter.