In the last installment of my examination of Rob Bell’s Love Wins, the focus was on the character of God. Bell continues his questioning of the person of God in the remainder of chapter seven, “What is God like?”
Throughout Love Wins Pastor Bell struggles with the idea of a God who is just and punishes sin and a God who demonstrates His love by sending His Son into the world to die for our sins. A quote from a sermon by Pastor Alistair Begg best summarizes the interchange between God’s holy character and love – concepts Rob Bell cannot swallow:
If God in His love . . longs to forgive sinners . . . longs to enjoy friendship with sinners . . and if in His justice He cannot ignore our sins, how then He display His love and execute His justice? The answer lies in the cross of the Lord Jesus Christ. At the cross Jesus is an emblem of the Father’s love and Jesus is the one who bears the Father’s wrath. If He [the Father] were to excuse sin, He would not be true to Himself in the perfection of His holiness. Therefore, sin must be punished. But because of the magnanimous, unbounded nature of His forgiving love, He execute His justice on His Son so that those who deserve that judgment may find in the Son forgiveness, love and eternal life.
The Mars Hill Church pastor feels this kind of statement from Alistair Begg communicates a gospel that “subtly teaches people that Jesus rescues us from God” (pg. 182). Rather Bell offers his Love Wins Gospel as an alternative, “We do not need to be rescued from God. God is the one who rescues us from death, sin and destruction.” It is that Rob Bell ha a foggy notion of the biblical doctrine of salvation. On this point alone Love Wins loses out.
From the Old Testament we learn an innocent animal had to die in exchange for the life of the guilty sinner who offered the animal to find forgiveness of sins. Yes, under the Jewish sacrificial system an innocent goat had to die so the guilty sinner can have his sins atoned for.
In addition, much to Bell’s chagrin,we cannot escape the fact our sin earns God’s wrath as explained in John 3:36, “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God’s wrath remains on them” and Romans 1:18, “The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of people, who suppress the truth by their wickedness.”
When Jesus died on the cross, He satisfied the wrath of God against sin. The nature of God is not separate from the “death, sin and destruction” He pronounces against our sin. In fact, the consequences to our sin flow out of the holy character of God and not removed from His character as Bell implies. It is because God is just in dealing with sin that there sin death, sin and destruction. The wrath of God against our sin is due to God’s just character. It is this wrath that Jesus had to deal with on the cross for us to be forgiven.
Sorry That God’s Character Doesn’t Fit in Modern Society
Bell’s bottom line is that he is trying to dance around the biblical definition of the character of God to make the Lord more palatable to his modern hearers. Pastor Bell is even willing to water down the entire redemption exchange to make his readers feel comfortable enough to warm up to his version of the gospel message.
To massage the emotions of his readers Bell goes off on a wild tangent stating the view that believes Jesus rescued us from God’s wrath breeds a violent perspective on the nature of the Lord. From here the Michigan pastor crawls out on a limb blaming this “violent view of God” held by followers of Jesus to be the motivating factor in the Christian tendency to attack, defame and slander others who don’t articulate the gospel as they do (pg. 183).
It is true that many churches can portray a God that is angry, demanding, unforgiving and a slave driver. Consequently, Christianity becomes a religion in which the worshipper is trying to avoid the coming wrath of God upon every evil thought and sin he or she commits. Bell’s argument is well-taken and a necessary correction. However, he does not need to dismantle the biblical teaching on redemption to make his point about legalistic, angry churches.
Sorry that a Distorted View of God is Bell’s Creation
Bell is concerned Christians will be shaped by the view of God portraying God as violent. In the pastor’s attempt to correct these “violent Christians”, Bell creates his own distortion of God – a warm, fuzzy God who overlooks sin.
The Mars Hill Church pastor preaches a Gospel that does not consider the wrath of God against sin. He broadcasts a gospel unclear about the reality of hell and heaven. He promulgates a message that puts more emphasis on this life to the detriment to the crucial nature of the afterlife. James 4:14 notes, “What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.” Bell caters to the mist and ignore the substance of eternal life.
Bell’s version of the gospel is faulty and in direct opposition to the Scriptures. He is overly concerned with being “spiritually correct” like many emergent pastors. The Apostle Paul would say Pastor Rob Bell espouses a false gospel different from the one taught by the Apostles:
I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you to live in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel— which is really no gospel at all. Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ (Galatians 1:6-7).
Am I being too hard on Bell? Answer this question: Was God being violent in sending His Son to the cross? The cross is a perfect portrayal of Roman violence. Yet nowhere in the New Testament is the Christian called to be violent and to make Christianity a faith of fear in which the believer waits for God’s wrath to fall upon him.
The real problem with movements like the emergent church is that the leaders and their followers do not take sin seriously. Therefore, the cross appears to be violent and in contradiction to their warm, fuzzy and loving gospel.
Sorry for being a Christian that adheres to the Word of God
In drawing my examination of Love Wins to a close, let’s look at the kind of Christian Rob Bell portrays. The Rob Bell Christian has no fear of God. He or she is not concerned with the seriousness of sin. The emergent Christian does not see the importance of the cross. To me this proves Paul would not feel comfortable in a church where a pastor like Rob Bell is in the pulpit. Listen to the Apostle regarding his view of the cross:
but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified (I Corinthians 1:23, 2:2).
What kind of Christianity does Bell teach? How can the Rob Bell Christian be forgiven unless he sees his sin, the wrath of God his sin deserves and the violent act of Jesus dying on a Roman cross for our forgiveness.
A true follower of the Messiah Jesus knows that personal righteousness and law keeping does not make one right with God. Works righteousness is in opposition to the teaching of the Word of God. God does not love us because we are in “good standing” with Him. God does not owe me because of my good behavior. On page 187 the author is on the money on this point, “Our badness can separate us from God’s love . . . But our goodness can separate us from God’s love as well.” He correctly states “God’s love cannot be earned”.
But then Bell takes a theological nosedive when he incorrectly interprets the Bible:
On the cross, Jesus says, ‘Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing’ (Luke 23). Jesus forgives them all, without their asking for it (pg. 188).
Was this a prayer of Jesus or was it a statement of fact? Was Jesus offering forgiveness without repentance and recognition of sin? Were the people who crucified Christ forgiven of their sin or was Jesus merely praying for them? Your answer will make all the difference as to how you view the gospel message.
Was Peter contradicting Jesus in Acts 2:38 when he preached to his largely Jewish audience in Jerusalem, many of whom may have witnessed the crucifixion of Jesus and heard His utterance from the cross, “Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins.”
Bell hammers the final nail in his Love Wins theology when he writes, “As it’s written in 2 Corinthians 5, ‘God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them.'” Afterwards, Bell mentions nothing about confession or recognition of sin or repentance, He says, “The only thing we have left to do is trust. Eveybody is already at the party. Heaven and hell, here, now, around us, upon us, within us.” The pastor makes it seem everyone is automatically saved because Jesus died for our sins. In theological circles, this is called “universalism.”
The only public gathering that Love Wins merits is a funeral. Don McLean in his song “American Pie” lamented over the “day the music died.” With Love Wins we mourn over the death of biblical theology that honors the Word of God in exchange for a diluted gospel that demonstrates indifference to God’s Word.