Rob Bell, Love Wins 3

(2500 words, and I’m not past the three-page preface. This could be a long series.)

‘Many have these questions…’ (p. ix)

The last couple of pages of the preface discuss what in academic terms is called methodology. Bell is concerned to allow, even encourage, questions about central matters of faith. He criticises those communities which shut questioning down, asserting that ‘I believe that discussion itself is divine.’ (p. ix) pointing to Job and other Biblical examples.

There is no doubt that restless and urgent questioning is an authentic part of Biblical spirituality. If something seems wrong or unfair to us, we do well, Biblically, to speak openly about our doubts and questions, to refuse to be told to simply accept a received orthodoxy (Job…), to take our questions to God in prayer (see the psalms!). There is also no doubt also that asking provoking questions is a good teaching technique, sometimes – Bell points to Jesus, appropriately; within the world of education we more often reference Socrates.


Biblical spirituality is honest and open about doubt and questions, but never celebrates them. Job wants answers, he wants to understand, he doesn’t just want a good discussion with no resolution. And (as any teacher knows) all the skill in education is asking the right questions. Rather too many of Bell’s questions through the book are unhappily loaded, of the ‘have you stopped beating your wife yet?’ variety. Others implciitly invite us to assume that caricatures are accurate portraits. Bell, who in his previous work has always come across as laid-back and amiable, is out to bait people here. That seems a great shame.

The graciousness and generosity of God should be defended in a gracious and generous manner.


  1. Eric
    Mar 20, 2011

    Hey Steve,
    I really enjoyed your explanations so far on the book. I have read the entire book, marking and outlining things I want to go back and re-read and check on. I think you are completely in line when you said that it almost seems that Bell is out to bait people with some of the questions he asks. While I do agree with asking questions and seeking answers to the faith, I don’t feel that all of the ones posed in the book were helpful in that area. Thanks again for the commentary, and I look forward to reading about your views on the other aspects of the book.

    • Steve H
      Mar 21, 2011

      Hi Eric, welcome.
      See new post (4) on my thoughts about the unhelpful nature of some of the questioning. Briefly, though, I agree.


  2. peacedinners
    Mar 21, 2011

    My hosanna is born of a furnace of doubt.– Fyodor Dostoyevski

    I want to believe what the Bible says as true, but unless I experience truth of it, I merely hold the facts in my head…not live out the truth.

    I’ve not read Bell’s book, but seems to me as a Pastor encouraging one to take responsibility for one’s journey is an amazing gift!

    Thanks for your voice on this topic! In a spare moment I’ve read some response to Bell’s book and have been saddened by what many have to say. I’m encouraged by what you say.

    Praise the living God!

    • Steve H
      Mar 21, 2011

      Ah, yes, Dostoyevsky was so much better at asking questions than Bell is. There is nothing here as threatening as Ivan Karamazov’s rebellion, certainly.

      Welcome to the blog.

  3. Ken
    Mar 25, 2011

    There is another Christian perspective on heaven & hell! Since the time of the early church fathers, the Eastern Orthodox Church has taught that heaven and hell are the same “place” — that is, both are in the bosom of God. Some experience the presence of God as paradise because they have allowed Jesus Christ to cleanse their sins and transform their hearts. Others, on the other hand, experience the presence of God as eternal torment because their hearts are tarnished with sin and can’t bear the holiness and purifying love of God. But both are in the loving arms of God.

    • Steve H
      Mar 25, 2011

      Welcome, Ken.
      This position is reasonably well known, and is not far, I think, from some of the things Bell is saying; see post 7 on hell for some comments about this. I think claiming it is the settle position of Orthodoxy is rather ambitious, with due respect to Fr Mettalinos, however.


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