An artist is, first and foremost, someone who sees the world differently than other people and helps others to see the world in that way.
Rob Bell is n...moreAn artist is, first and foremost, someone who sees the world differently than other people and helps others to see the world in that way.
Rob Bell is not a theologian; he’s an artist.
Bell’s new book Love Wins: A Book about Heaven, Hell and the Fate of every person who ever lived should be first and foremost understood as a work of art. From the vivid imagery and stories that he uses, down to the careful arrangement of words on the page for visual effect, Bell does a masterful job of evoking questions, providing insights and causing the reader to see age-old questions in new ways.
That said, Love Wins contains theology, most of which isn’t particularly new. Bell even says as much in the preface. The theology that is included, while worded differently, often resonates with many Anabaptist understandings of faith.
One of Rob’s central theses is that heaven and hell are real, but that they are more of a state of being than a physical place — heaven and hell are not reserved for some time in the future but have already begun.
As I read this, I couldn’t help but think of the Anabaptist understanding of the kingdom of heaven — that the kingdom of heaven has already begun in the death and resurrection of Jesus, but that it has not yet fully been completed. Bell’s understanding and the Anabaptist understanding necessitate participation on the part of humans. Overall, many of the core theological concepts that Bell raises or alludes to can be found within various Anabaptist scholars and leaders and have, at some point, been taught at all of our church colleges.
Controversy has surrounded this book, even before it was released, and has mainly centered on the doctrine of hell. However, what seemed more challenging to me was the chapter on different biblical images of atonement.
Bell describes the plethora of images found in the New Testament to describe and understand Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection. Bell challenges the idea that there is one clean, simple way to understand the atonement of Jesus. This seems far more controversial and important than whether or not we have a precise understanding of hell — yet it feels as though this has been overshadowed in the controversy about the book.
Ultimately, Bell provides a provocative book that is adding fuel to an age-old fire. So if you’re looking for a well-footnoted, systematic theological treatise, this isn’t it. It is, however, biblically-based and rooted in scripture.
The book challenges certain understandings of the doctrine of hell, heaven and atonement. But I think these doctrines are more human constructs than biblical truth and rightly should be questioned. Even if Bell challenges beliefs that are seen as “orthodox,” this should not scare off Anabaptists. If it were not for challenging the orthodox doctrines of infant baptism, church and state relationships and faith-based violence, we Anabaptists would not be here today.
For those of us who grew up singing I John 4:7-8 at a church camp, and have grown to have a deep, tested, and sincere belief that these words are true, then Love Wins should be familiar territory for us. At the very least, it raises deeply important questions to our existence as humans and causes us to see ourselves and God in a new way. But then again, great art always does that.(less)
This book is a must read for any social-justice-y christian who has written off working class whites as part of the problem. This book just rocked my...moreThis book is a must read for any social-justice-y christian who has written off working class whites as part of the problem. This book just rocked my world. After two years working as a pastor in a small rural town in Kansas, it instantly brought numerous situations, issues and people into focus. At the very least, every Mennonite pastor coming out of seminary needs to read this book.(less)
Alan and Eleanor Kreider's new book that draws on worship and mission in the early church to gain insights for what church can/should/will be in the c...moreAlan and Eleanor Kreider's new book that draws on worship and mission in the early church to gain insights for what church can/should/will be in the changing religious landscape as Christendom comes to an end. So far, it's fantastic. Although, anything by these authors is pretty much fantastic.(less)
Overall he does a very good job of articulating the core convictions of a particular group of people who are coming to Anabaptism from outside of the...moreOverall he does a very good job of articulating the core convictions of a particular group of people who are coming to Anabaptism from outside of the historical tradition. The core convictions (and the book) are strongly shaped by a lens of anti-Christendom, separation of church and state, and an understanding and skepticism of larger societal systems. If find myself resonating strongly with the 7 core convictions that he puts out, but I think that is because I probably come from a similar place on these others issues as well.
I did find myself questioning whether or not this description of the core of Anabaptism would apply to most modern Mennonites. I find myself coming to the conclusion that most Mennonites I know don't actually look like this. The most salient point on this though was that when talking about Anabaptism, there are many people who are outside of the historical tradition who are deeply rooted in Anabaptism and many within the tradition who are not, regardless of what title either might carry.
He seems to have a decent and strong grasp on the history of the 16th Ce. This is kind of a big deal because if one is going to call yourself an Anabaptist, then you'd better have the basics down.
My biggest critique is that he minimizes the influence of the Holy Spirit. I don't think he gives the influence of the real presence of the Holy Spirit enough credit in his analysis of the 16th Ce. history. Nor does he make it a core conviction either. Perhaps it's an accurate representation of the Anabaptist Network, but I would hope that it would have a bit higher place. This isn't to throw to many stones because, in practice, I would have a similar minimization of the Spirit, I just know it's a deficiency and am trying to remedy it.
Overall, I found it to be helpful and clarifying. It challenges my own beliefs and practices and it provides a helpful perspective of someone who has found, chosen and fallen in love with the tradition.(less)
This is a helpful addition to the canon of literature on men's spirituality. There really isn't anything like it out there. Most everything else simpl...moreThis is a helpful addition to the canon of literature on men's spirituality. There really isn't anything like it out there. Most everything else simply plays on unhelpful hyper-violent/sexual/domination images. This book challenges those in a way that provides not only a critique but a helpful reconstruction of a way to understand male spiritual growth and development.(less)
I loved this book. For a while now I've been struggling with the fact that out of my closest peer group in college (which at times was quite large) I...moreI loved this book. For a while now I've been struggling with the fact that out of my closest peer group in college (which at times was quite large) I can count on one hand the number of people that I know that still have any involvement with church. Rhoda expresses, almost verbatim sometimes, a deep and profound love/hate relationship with the Mennonite church. She reacts deeply to the confines of the community that she grew up in, yet when she is in her deepest moments of crisis she turns to that community for comfort and support.
I hated this book. I know that most everyone outside of the Anabaptist tradition doesn't know about the differences between the various groups and probably doesn't care. But even though my particular group is actually closely related (at least biologically and culturally) we very different theologically. She lumps all "Mennonites" into one category. For claiming to have a broad worldview, when it comes to her understanding (at least in this book) of the Mennonite and Anabaptist tradition, she is still has an incredibly small understanding of the world and of history. The Mennonites that she is referring to are from Russia, of German decent and conservative (more in a Pat Robertson kind of way rather than and Amish way). There is also no mention of the fact that being Mennonite is first and foremost a theological issue. She does a good job of critiquing the over attachment to a certain brand of cultural trappings. However, she never gets around to truly understanding the heart of her own tradition. In fact, I don't even think it's an issue of not choosing to deal with that for the sake of reaching a non-Mennonite audience. I don't think she has (and has explicitly rejected) the theological and spiritual maturity to even be able to articulate something deeper.
That being said, she's clearly on a journey. In this story she ends at a point where she is coming home in a time of pain but is also, ever so slightly, starting to open herself back up to her own tradition. I hope that her next step is to ask why it is that her home community is a source of comfort to her. Is it merely because the still make foods you knew as a kid? Or, just maybe, it's because their understanding of life, God, faith and community have shaped them into people who are able to extend grace, just when it's needed the most.(less)