I haven’t consistently written any Closer Look posts, those midweek focuses on Scripture, which have been the result of my devotional reading and personal Bible study. This is primarily because I’ve been immersed for three months studying and reading about a particular subject, which initially piqued my interest when I read Rob Bell’s Love Wins.
I’d decided to read Bell’s book, because it was highly criticized even before its release. Something I’ve learned is that I should actually read a book before I condemn it—and its author. Also, Love Wins became a bestseller, so I figured I should be familiar with it.
I write book reviews here on SWYW for two different publishers. It’s nothing special, as there are hundreds (maybe thousands) of blog reviewers for just these publishing houses. We all swap reviews for a free books.
Unapologetic about the Gospel
As it fit the topic of my current study, I chose Bobby Conway’s Hell, Rob Bell, and What Happens When People Die. Really, I hadn’t read any critiques of Bell’s book, so I thought it would at least be interesting to see how one would pick it apart carefully, rather than simply reject it as heresy. Conway is a pastor in North Carolina and the founder of an apologetics video ministry on YouTube. I’ve never personally been interested in apologetics, which is “a branch of theology concerned with the defense or proof of Christianity” (dictionary.com). Although, I pray that my life would be apologetic, that who I am—or rather, who I am becoming—would testify to the truth of God’s grace.
What I most appreciated about Conway’s book was his gentle approach to both Rob Bell and Bell’s conclusions in Love Wins. He didn’t write off the book and its author with broad swaths, saying, Ah, I hate how Bell answers a question with an endless string of further questions or That lunatic is full of s*@#!
Conway’s primary argument is that we shouldn’t water down the gospel, which he charges of Bell, simply to make it more attractive to the world.
While no Christian honestly likes the idea of hell, we don’t have the right to redefine God’s Word to make it more palatable. Christians should never seek to offend, but they must never forget that the gospel will offend. -Conway
Indeed, as Paul wrote to the Corinthians, the message of the cross, of what Jesus set out to do and did accomplish on earth, continues to be folly to those who are spiritually dying (1:18). Until the Holy Spirit enlightens people to understand spiritual things, they will resist the message of the gospel.
Concerning hell, Conway asserts that churches have hidden it away, like that crazy uncle you don’t want anyone to meet. Because the pulpit in recent decades has been silent on the subject of hell, even many Christians can’t seem to reconcile the concept of a loving God and an actual place of “eternal, conscious torment.” But the Bible doesn’t singly portray a merciful God but also one who is storing up judgment to be poured out on the wicked—and I’m not referring only to the irrefutably wicked like Hitler.
The combination of false teaching and people simply failing to read their Bible creates the perfect recipe for baking up a “tastier” Jesus for the masses. -Conway
Having the Gall to Ask
I still have, and probably will until Jesus answers them for me, questions about hell. For instance, Christians for the past two millennia have argued over the idea of whether hell’s torment will be eternally conscious. Conway asserts this idea throughout his book, yet he never states the basis for this widely accepted (and just as widely rejected) belief. I think I’m okay with not knowing and am becoming more comfortable with unanswered questions.
I’ve been working on a song for a coffee house open mic night, R.E.M.’s “Man on the Moon.” In the song, Michael Stipes drones, “Mister Charles Darwin had the gall to ask,” followed, of course, by “Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah.” Though I don’t agree with Darwin’s theory or Rob Bell’s universalistic conclusions, I appreciate an environment where we’re encouraged to ask questions.
Churches and preachers frequently force answers to questions that on this side of eternity are unanswerable. Conclusions reached by one group of Christians can easily be argued against by another group. I’m grateful for Bell’s book because it caused me to consider a topic I hadn’t been much interested in, and it set me on a whirlwind of discovery of an even greater hope than I’d known, a hope without conjecture found in the message of the gospel.
I’ll be writing further on my study of heaven and hell. Until then, Bell’s book, for those who are open to an honest discussion, and Conway’s rebuttal of said book are both worthy reads. Thank you, Pastor Conway, for your sensitivity and compassion easily identified in your careful critique.
===Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book for free from WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group for this review I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 <http://www.access.gpo.gov/nara/cfr/waisidx_03/16cfr255_03.html> : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”