In the weeks prior to the release of Rob Bell’s latest book, Love Wins, it seemed that it was all anyone could talk about. What is Christian universalism? Is our only opportunity to be saved in this life or are there more opportunities after death? What does the Bible really say about heaven and hell, anyway?
These are all good questions, and ones that we should be asking as we work out our understanding of the Scriptures. One of the challenges that evangelicals face in responding to questions that cut to the very heart of the gospel is doing so with grace, wisdom and humility. Michael Wittmer does that superbly in Christ Alone: An Evangelical Response to Rob Bell’s Love Wins as he follows Bell’s arguments, offers praise where it ought to be offered and addresses several key areas of contention.
A Personal Challenge
As the co-author of one of the first reviews of Bell’s book, reviewing Christ Alone has been an interesting challenge in that my desire has not been to retread that well-covered ground. So many words have been spent on this controversy that it is difficult to know where to begin as I seek to faithfully interact with Wittmer’s assertions in this book. Time (and possibly some additional proof-reading) will tell how successful I’ve been. While space prevents me from interacting with every chapter as deeply as I might wish to (I’d rather not have this be a series), I trust you will find these few highlights helpful.
Clarity and Charity
Wittmer lays his cards out on the table early on, making it clear that his desire is to help readers understand the biblical and theological issues raised by Love Wins so that “whichever positions you eventually take, you’ll at least be making informed decisions,” examining where Bell fits historically as a theologian even as he responds winsomely to the ideas he expresses. Wittmer makes it clear that his desire is that readers will be persuaded to side with the historic orthodox position on these issues (p. 3), but he also doesn’t hide another very important detail: he genuinely likes and respects Bell as a person. When critically examining what one believes to be errant theology, one can easily slide into examining the person, rather than the beliefs he or she espouses. I’m thankful that Wittmer is acutely aware of this and seeks to defuse a potential complaint from the get-go.
Mystery. Following Bell’s outline, Wittmer reminds us that questions are the right place to start when it comes to the issues addressed in Love Wins. “Jesus is an immense God and the Bible is a spacious book, so there is bound to be a rather large remainder every time we do our theological division. And Bell wastes no time pointing out the leftover bits and pieces that don’t easily fit into our tidy theological systems. Why would a loving God send anyone to hell forever? Why wouldn’t God eventually soften up and save them?” (p. 6)
Wittmer notes that besides these enduring questions, Bell raises many questions that “few evangelicals are struggling to answer;” questions that in Wittmer’s view seem to raise doubts about the evangelical view of salvation, as he attempts to poke holes in the traditional view. “If he can persuade us that our standard line, ‘Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved’ (Acts 16:31), is a facile misreading of Scripture, then perhaps we’ll be open to what he says about hell and salvation” (p. 8).
As he presents his argument, Wittmer shows us that Bell’s answers are incomplete; Scripture is not silent on how we are to be saved. In fact, on this issue, it’s incredibly straight forward. This is important for us all to remember. God did not intend for us to have to wrestle with the question of how we are to be saved. He has spoken clearly. “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved. . . . If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved” (Acts 16:31, Rom. 10:9). These are but two of dozens of examples.
Ultimately, he feels that Bell is presenting a one-dimensional God that lacks the “greater, more mysterious transcendence of the Christian God. Bell’s view of God too often reads like a souped-up version of us—a God made more in our image than we in his” (p. 18). Questions are important, but we have to remember that God has given the answers. [Read more...]