by Mason Slater
on September 5, 2011
It’s been over six months since a video trailer for Love Wins sparked countless blog posts, late night debates, and one (in)famous Tweet.
Now, with a little distance between us and the initial fireworks, I thought it might be an appropriate time to offer a few reflections on Love Wins and the reaction to it.
1. The Reaction On Both “Sides” Was Too Often Driven By Emotion And Sensationalism
Because this discussion evolved mostly online, and because everyone involved saw so much at stake in this discussion, tensions were high, grace was a rarity, and rushing to judgment was the norm.
Case in point, thousands of people speaking out against a book they hadn’t read. This of course resulted in people who appreciate Rob feeling like he’d been treated unjustly, and instinctually coming to his defense – often before they had read the book either.
Also, the way the media discussed the book was entirely unhelpful, leading to false impressions of what Rob was saying and stoking passions in a debate that was difficult enough to begin with.
Soon the book became a boundary marker: those who were sympathetic to Love Wins were often deemed liberal at best and universalist heretics at worst (and at times driven from their church), while those who took issue with the book were accused of being unloving or even wanting people to go to hell.
None of this did justice to those involved.
2. There Was Much Worth Saying In Love Wins, Though Little Of That Was New
Ironically, very few of the ideas in Love Wins were new, despite the controversy they caused. Rob says as much early in the book.
In fact most of the book was solidly Evangelical and restated points about the doctrines of heaven and hell that were already being made by authors like Scot McKnight, Mike Wittmer, C.S. Lewis, and N.T. Wright.
Books such as Surprised by Hope or Heaven Is a Place on Earth had already started to refocus Christians on a biblical hope which looks very little like Christian pop-theology or Dante’s fiction. A focus on new creation, resurrection, heaven coming to earth, and how our eschatology influences our ethics – none of that was new to Love Wins, but all of it needed to be said.
3. Some Of The Questions Rob Raised Were Needed, Because The Traditional Answer Is Lacking
After the book was released Rob was often criticized for his questions. At times just because he raises so many of them, but often because he questions the way we hold doctrines that are considered central to the faith.
But it’s naïve to think these questions originated with Love Wins. People have been asking many of the same questions around kitchen tables and over cups of coffee for a while now.
Rob was simply articulating what many of us were already saying.
And there is a reason these questions are being asked with increasing volume – the traditional answers are often intellectually and theologically unsatisfying. The ways we talk about the nature of God, about heaven and hell, about the fate of the unsaved, these are words which matter. And much of the time how we speak of these things seems radically out of place with the rest of the biblical story.
Whether we agree with Rob’s answers, there are many areas in which I think he was right to raise questions and push for us to do better.
4. On A Few Issues Rob Went In An Unhelpful And Unbiblical Direction, Which Made The Rest Easy For People To Dismiss
Many of the books written against Love Wins focus on a handful of problematic sections, and then on the basis of faults found there quickly dismiss the rest of the book.
The thing is, some of the critiques are spot on. There are ideas in Love Wins which are impossible to support from the text, and others that rely on reading the text in ways which are questionable at best.
Ideas like infinite chances to repent after death, for example.
I have no interest in pretending there were not problematic areas to Love Wins, there most definitely were and we should own up to that. But the way some bits of shoddy exegesis and speculation became an excuse to dismiss the rest of the book, and even to ignore the questions Rob raises, seemed to be missing the larger point.
So, what do I think of Love Wins after six months? It was a provocative – albeit flawed – book, which raised questions we need to be able to openly discuss, and was often restating solid evangelical thinking with a bit of Rob Bell flare.
In the pages of Love Wins Rob states that he doesn’t intend the book as a final word, but as the start of a conversation. Personally I think it’s a conversation worth having, and I hope Rob continues to be a part of it.