Posted by: Ed | April 6, 2011

LOVE WINS – Rob Bell’s very controversial book

What the world needs is someone to blog their take on Rob’s new book, LOVE WINS. So, being the giver that I am, I will meet that need.

Seriously, I eventually stopped reading all the web-clogging artillery flying around over this book.

There is a lot to discuss here, so there will be a part one and a part two (and maybe more). I guess this is as good a time as any to share that I know Rob. We had talked a few times before he really blew up (pre-Nooma videos) and one weekend, he spoke at Journey. We surfed on Saturday and, later in the day, met up with a group of pastors to hang out and discuss. Not to mention that Jason Dennison served with him at Lake Avenue church. I like Rob. I think he’s probably the most interesting preacher in the U.S. All that to say, Journey’s tendency is “pro-Rob.” So, here goes my review.

PART 1, this post could be titled “When Christians Attack”.
Before I get into the book or the issues it raises, I have to unload my utter disappointment over many people’s reaction to the book — BEFORE THEY READ IT! I’m especially saddened by John Piper’s “Farwell Rob Bell” tweet. Those of you that know me well know in how much esteem I hold John Piper. I couldn’t believe how eager people were to attack Rob and to argue against a book they hadn’t seen.

I am becoming increasingly convinced that those of us who would call ourselves “evangelicals” have become the neo-Pharisees. Pharisees were ostensibly about defending the Torah and championing obedience to God’s revelation; however, what they really were doing was vociferously defending their UNDERSTANDING of God’s word, their school of thought. They had a continually narrowing range of acceptable understandings and interpretations of the scriptures. This, as much as anything else, put them on the wrong side of God when He appeared to them in the person of Jesus. In the gospels, Jesus ripped into them (See Matthew 23), accusing them of “straining out the gnat and swallowing the camel.” Most blatantly, they missed commandment #1 and #2 – both of which are about LOVE. (See Matt 22:36-40;Mark 12:28-34)

Honestly, the way in which lot of pastors and bloggers couldn’t wait to tear into Rob was profoundly disturbing. This hostility is particularly true of those who tend to self-identify with Reformed theology. Don’t get me wrong, I respect Reformed theology. I’m sympathetic to it. I have read tons of books by John Piper. I love J.I. Packer (who is not part of this feeding frenzy as far as I know). But let me be clear – disagreeing with this fairly narrow take on the scriptures does not make one a false teacher. There are things in Rob’s book with which one can and maybe should take issue, but if you can’t do it in love, then back away from the keyboard and leave it to someone else.

“How do you know they didn’t rip into Rob ‘in love’?” you may ask. Well for starters, “love is patient…”— it’s the first flippin’ one, for crying out loud!

And speaking of patient, there is something else to be said before I get into a discussion of book’s ideas. Let me state it as a question: what is the job of a writer? What is the job of a speaker, teacher or pastor? Some people seem to think that the role of a pastor is to confirm that their take on the scripture IS the correct one, that they are “right.” There are times to reinforce people’s basic beliefs, but when you examine the way Jesus rolled, you won’t find a whole lot of this reassurance. Have you ever noticed how often he asked Bible experts, “have you not even read . . .” (See Matthew 12:3,5; 19:4; 22:31; Mark 12:10,26; Luke 6:3) The kind of stream in which we swim in has a “back to the text” current. Many of our kinds of churches have the word “BIBLE” right in the name. It follows, then, that we need to keep going back to the scriptures, re-examining the things that we think we know. In fact, lots of the stuff we assume to be absolutely bedrock is really more assumption than text.

When someone looks at something such as “Hell” and says, “Really? Are we sure that the Bible teaches this?” they are doing us a service. Let’s face it. Almost everyone who’s not a Christ-follower will eventually ask us this question and with the presumption that this simply can’t be true. A good teacher helps you to think differently. There is no learning without this. Being blunt, I’m not thrilled with the number of people out there who insist that everyone color inside the lines that they have decided determine who is in and who is out, lines that serve as fences determining your “in-ness” or “out-ness”; whether or not you get the ol “Farewell”.

O.k. I feel better.

Next: some thoughts on the book.



  1. Ed – This is the best post you’ve written in a long time. Preach it, brother!!!!

    Your statement, “I am becoming increasingly convinced that those of us who would call ourselves “evangelicals” have become the neo-Pharisees” is exactly why I stayed away from the church for years and why I still struggle to identify myself as an evangelist at times. I might say that we’re moving beyond Neo-Pharisee status to grossly perverting the gospels and hurting one another. “Forgive them father, for they know not what they do…” MLKJr. writes, “Devoid of intelligence, goodness and conscientiousness will become brutal forces leading to shameful crucifixions.”

    Not to add to the list of blogs on Rob Bell’s book…. but I like what Fuller’s president had to say on this topic. And speaking of hell, your sermon on the “Valley of Hinnom” rings in my mind to this day for its authenticity, insights and compassion.

  2. Correction: As the Pharisees did grossly pervert the Gospels, I should have worded my sentence differently (about moving beyond them), but you get my point.

  3. Thank you Ed. A voice of reason! And really, as important as the book is, you simply have to acknowledge that the “theological” feeding frenzy was almost as important. You can hardly comment on the book without starting where you did.

    I agree that “a good teacher helps you think differently.” Having waded through the vitriolic commentary on Rob Bell (not really even on the book, but on the person) I have been so disheartened. Rob Bell drives us to investigate, to think, to explore, to dig deep. When we stop being able to do that, and we decide who is “in” and who is “out” how can we offer anything to the world?

    I love this quote by Anne Lamott, another rather controversial, not so mainstream christian author…”You can safely assume you’ve created God in your own image when it turns out that God hates all the same people you do.” Ouch. Funny, but ouch.

    Looking forward to the rest of your thoughts!

  4. Ed: Thanks for sharing your thoughts. It seems that at times we in the christian community devour our own. We exercise the grace, patience, and understanding of a loving God in our own journey, but then demonstrate quite the opposite toward others. Especially in the area of doctrine. We can be vicious. This behavior is bad enough when confined to the christian community, and it becomes absolutely repulsive and appalling when directed to others outside the christian faith. No wonder the world looks at so many of us and just says “no thanks.” Keep up the good work. Don

  5. I don’t know much about Rob Bell. Now I’m forced to buy his book. I rather like the riled up Ed. The attacks on Rob Bell remind me of when Falwell completely destroyed the Bakers years ago. He doesn’t own a satellite I hope. Thanks, Rodger Sevier

  6. Thanks Ed for encouraging ME!
    It astonishes me that so many people are so ready to write off our brothers.
    You know my gig is healing and my book has caused a stir and I have felt a small bit of the heat that Rob must be feeling.
    But you have encouraged me in doing what I am called to do….promoting a Jesus who not only still can heal but a Jesus who wants to heal more!
    In the present healing class, over 20 people have reported either being completely healed or getting significant improvement and more is coming!
    Would these people have gotten what they got if you had been swayed by pressure….I think not.
    Where would the world be if Jesus was swayed by the pressure of opinions and the fear of man?
    Thanks for being who you are!

  7. God bless you. Thanks!!!

  8. We belong to a long line of fractured saints! Back in the day, they used burn each other at the stake for implying some theology that was contrary! Not to deminish the rich teachings of these, my fractured cloud of witnesses, but I love what Paul tells the young pastor Timothy: “People caught up in a lot of talk can miss the whole point of faith. Overwhelming Grace keep you!” Love that you, Ed, are leading us towards missional acts of love to this sick and broken world. Keep it up.

    P.S. LOVE the Ann Lamont quote!

  9. Ed,

    I understand where you are coming from (i.e. an irenic and open perspective), but with all due respect I disagree with much of what you are saying. First, one does not have to read the book to have a fair and coherent opionion about it as long as one understands the gist of it. To suggest otherwise is at best naive and at worst is arrogant. Second, there are a great amount of theologians, some of whom I know you highly esteem, who have already read and provided fair and reasonable critiques of what they found both fruitful and that which is concerning regarding Rob’s book. So, one can have a great respect and understanding of the book based on several of those who have written reviews and form an opinion based on their reviews; again as long as they have a basic understanding of the book. This is not to say that one ought not read the book. I am reading it of course, and I will also come to my own conclusion. So, far I find this book very concerning not to mention damaging to those who may be escpecially new in the faith. The promotional video also leaves much to be desired. That is one of the many problems with the Emergent Movement and Emergent Village, it’s all about the “conversation” and dialogue with no concrete solutions or resolutions. Which, by the way, conveniently fits with the postmodern mindset of today…sigh.

    Like Scot Mcknight, who also has good relations with Rob like yourself, has also given a critique or review of the book. Granted, I am greatly dissappointed in Scot’s overall review of the book and specifically with some of the strawman points of contention, which really don’t address the primary concerns of what I would consider, along with many other “evangelicals in the traditional historical orthodox tradition” regarding serious doctrinal error (Universalism). Granted, I get it that you, Scot, Brian McClaren, and the whole other host of emergents [et el] are circling the wagons in support of Rob. It is only natural to do so; it’s human nature, and I would probably do the same. And, for this I commend you. On the other hand, one must at a certain point in time ask oneself, ‘to what extent am I willing to be associated with and/or support such ideas that break from not only orthodoxy, but embrace that which is fundamentally error. Mark Driscoll chose wisely several years ago when he chose to distance himself from the extreme ideas and teachings of those in the Emergent Church and Emergent Village. I am grateful that he did. But, I seriously pray that you earnestly seek God for his direction and wisdom for an opportunity to help your friend. A friend loves at all times.

    en Kristos


  10. Wow, William. I’m not sure where to start.
    I’ll just say this, to say that you don’t have to read a book to have have a fair and coherent view of it… well frankly I find that, well… absurd. You have lost all credibility when you dismiss and attack a brother before you even hear him out. THAT is blatantly unscriptural (see James 1:19).
    Read the book. It’s a pretty good book. Enter the discussion. Whatever you do or say do in love or don’t do it.

    • What is absurd about having an opinion that is based on anothers assessment of the book that you respect? The qualifier, of course, would be if the person whom you respect has honestly read and grasped the primary concepts and ideas of the book and has honestly critiqued it. This certainly does not fall within the confines of a logical fallacy the last time I checked, and I personally don’t think this is an issue of creditbility. If the assessment or critique of another is incorrect, imbalanced, unfair or totally off base and irrational, then yes, I would agree with you, that would be absurd. But, this is not the case here. I’m not suggesting one not read the book. I am reading and rereading the book to determine my own personal conclusion, but I don’t think, nor discount others for having an opinion, if it is solely based on anothers well respected reputation. Additionally, this is not an attack on a person, but on an idea. There is a difference! I’m afraid that the postmodern confusion of categories has crept in here unfortunately. According to the classical definition of tolerance, one can disagree with an idea, and by disagreeing with the idea, in no way does mean one is unloving or is attacking the person. Controversly, the postmodern definition of tolerance does not separate the person from the idea, and that is why maybe you are suggesting that I am attacking a brother, which is not the case here either.

      Of course what I say or do is hopefully grounded in love, otherwise I would be in violation of scripture. But, it is also a sin if one does not stand for the truth and against false teaching. I love to be part of the discussion and conversation, hence the reason why I am here. The Bible has some very strong language regarding false teaching. The Bible warns us and instructs us to be discerning about what we hear and contemplate.

      en Kristos

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