Why I Am Not Blogging about Rob Bell's "Love Wins"

I’ve been asked by friends and readers (overlapping, but not identical, categories!) to opine about Rob Bell’s new book, Love Wins. Some of you won’t know that Rob Bell pastors a large church in Michigan and is increasingly well known for his innovative approaches to communicating Christianity. Some of his innovations greatly please some of the people some of the time. His latest book has greatly displeased some of the people, and the blogwars have begun.

So why am I, a professional Christian teacher, not joining the fray?

Two reasons.

1. Rob Bell gets too much attention. I’m sure he’s a good guy: he seems like a good guy from what I have seen of a few of his Nooma videos and what I have read of his books. I’m sure he gets good things done. I’m sure he inspires other people to get good things done. And I’m sure he makes mistakes, doesn’t speak as carefully as he ought, oversimplifies this and caricatures that, along the way.

And if he does something harmful, I am quite confident it will be noticed and noted and announced loud and long. Oh, boy, am I confident about that.

But really: Is he really saying or doing something all that innovative, all that different, all that important that mainstream news media should be picking it up? Is he really a harbinger of doom, a wolf in sheep’s clothing, an Antichrist deserving of excommunication–and nasty, extended, “let’s make sure we crush every last atom of this guy and his teaching” excommunication? So far, I can’t see it. So I’m not going to get excited about it.

2.ย  (And this is by far the more important reason) Lots of other books and people deserve lots more attention. I mean, really: Are the most important Christian sources for pastors, church leaders, serious Christians, and thoughtful inquirers of other stripes really Rob Bell and Mark Driscoll and John Piper and Charles Colson and James Dobson and Franklin Graham and Ravi Zacharias and the guy who wrote Blue Like Jazz and those good-hearted barely-out-of-grad-school folk down Durham way? Are Alister McGrath and Tom Wright supposed to be the only meat in the soup?

How about Christian Smith? Or Rodney Stark? Or Miroslav Volf?

How about Luci Shaw, or Alan Jacobs, or Richard Bauckham?

Do you even recognize these names?

(Readers of this particular blog might, but you’re by definition an odd group. The real question is, Who among your friends would recognize these names?)

Have you ever heard of David Martin? He’s only one of the most intelligent, eloquent, perceptive, savvy, and godly people I have ever met–an Anglican priest who also happens to be Professor Emeritus of the London School of Economics. And David, possessed of one of the world’s great Christian minds, could not get his last book of sermons published by a major press. “No one wants to buy published sermons,” David and I kept being told as we made the rounds at a major conference of publishers. As if what most of the Big Names are publishing as books aren’t lightly edited sermons, talks, or e-mails! The sermons finally saw print through our small publication arm at Regent College: Sacred History and Sacred Geography: Spiritual Journeys in Time and Space. Any mention of it recently on Facebook?

David’s brilliant and cogent essays on Does Christianity Cause War? languished in an inaccessibly expensive hardcover edition from the UK division of Oxford University Press (which, when it comes to book prices, might as well be the Venusian division: that’s why I always work with the US division). Again, I worked with him to shop it to American publishers, but without success. So now we at Regent have brought it out in paper. I’m guessing, though, that you haven’t come across any blog posts about it yet…

The same problem afflicted a superb set of reflections on kenotic Christology, the fascinating question of just how the Son of God became a human being such that he could truly experience the world as a human and thus serve as a proper model for us, too. The book, edited by the redoubtable American philosopher C. Stephen Evans, is Exploring Kenotic Christology: The Self-Emptying of God. Now you can actually afford to buy it. But has it shown up on Twitter so far?

Another book of sermons I have found eminently quotable (and how many books have you read recently that you’d like to quote to others–at length?) we enjoyed bringing out in an affordable reprint, by the late Scottish divine and NT scholar, James S. Stewart: Walking with God. If you find the current Big Names in Preaching just a trifle thin, read Brother Stewart. But you’ll have to look for him: Haven’t heard much about him, have you? Not unless you happened to be reading my blog a few years ago, I’ll bet.

And lest you think this post is simply an informercial for Regent College Publishing, or lest you are tempted to accuse me of selfless high-mindedness as I point generously to other people’s work, I will say that it also bugs me more than a little that my own books, the most recent being Making the Best of It: Following Christ in the Real World (OUP, 2008) and Can God Be Trusted? Faith and the Challenge of Evil (rev. ed., IVP, 2009), don’t get one-tenth of one per cent of the attention garnered by the books of the too-famous people I’ve mentioned.

Now, envy is an ugly thing, so let’s not dwell on my own little disappointments!

But if it were simply an issue of my pathetic little envy, you could respond to this post with whatever mixture of contempt or pity seems appropriate and we could move on. The issue is not just me and my books, is it? It is book after book, and author after author, being swamped in the tsunami of marketing, blogging, and warring that constitutes most people’s only access to what’s being published today.

So I’m not going to say one more thing about Brother Rob and his book–shamelessly as I have used its current notoriety to draw attention to my own message. (Yes, I’m not completely unaware of how the blogosphere works.) I’ll do what I can to draw your attention to other books I think are worthy of your notice.

I hope you’ll do the same with your own favourite under-noticed books–ideally, starting here and now in the comments section below, but also shouting far and wide–or Twittering, or Facebooking, or Skyping, or smoke-signalling–to help your social network find and read the best available. The best available is certainly not always the “currently most noticed.”

0 Responses to “Why I Am Not Blogging about Rob Bell's "Love Wins"”

  1. Kessia Reyne

    It seems as though it would be a simple task to identify thin theology as the reason I often find myself so annoyed at the mainstream books and newsletters and blogs that advertise themselves across my life. It seems as though it would be a simple task, easy enough for a thinking person, and yet it was just now reading this post that I realized the truth of it.

    Thank you. I feel now much freer to read other things ๐Ÿ™‚

  2. Mark Petersen

    @Doug: The last time you recommended a book to me it was Heroic Leadership by Chris Lowney SJ. It was so memorable, I’ll definitely follow up with your latest recommendation above… Thanks.

    @John: Bravo for not getting on the bandwagon (like I did :). You are right, there are many other notable people worth reading. Let’s keep posting them here and elsewhere! A new author to me is Deborah Joy Corey … I plan to enjoy her books this summer… a New Brunswicker who now lives in Maine. Catch a short story by her in the latest Image Journal magazine.

  3. Josh Mueller

    Since we’re on the topic of meaty but affordable books and shameless plugs – books I have personally greatly benefited from or have been recommended by close and trusted friends who hate shallow concepts and arguments, here are three I’d like to mention (and yes, it’s pure coincidence that two of them have “imagination” in the title!):

    John Paul Lederach: “The Moral Imagination: The Art and Soul of Building Peace” ($ 14.98)

    Miroslav Wolf: “Exclusion and Embrace” ($ 17.73)

    Jonathan Brink: “Discovering the God Imagination” ($19.99)

    Those who cling to 5 point Calvinism should watch their blood pressure if they decide to read the last one – it may be more than a bit upsetting to look at a completely different paradigm of sin and atonement!

  4. Keith Shields

    Thanks, you did not mention several of your other books so let me again draw attention to another great book by John G. Stackhouse Jr.: Finally Feminist: A Pragmatic Christian Understanding of Gender, 2005, Baker Academic.

  5. Josh Mueller

    that’s Miroslav Volf of course, not Wolf!

  6. Daren

    Whether we like it or not, the sales success and readership of most books today is more related to marketing than the actual content of those books.

    If we have written a book worth reading then perhaps we should borrow from Bell’s brilliant marketing tactics, notably the one video in which he asks question after question in a way guaranteed to stir an emotional reaction.

    To push the marketing issue even further, most purchases are made on emotion and justified with logic. It doesn’t matter if people love you or hate you, as long as they aren’t indifferent they will give you some (or in this case, lots) of attention.

    Great writing still needs great, imaginative marketing.

  7. PatrickM

    John, I did read “Making the Best of It” (and recommended it to others) and have an article coming out (on civil partnerships) in an evangelical journal using it as a discussion partner. Hope that makes you feel a wee bit better :)!

    A recommended book; just finished Larry Hurtado’s recent, “God in New Testament Theology”.

  8. Joel

    Thanks for that. I’m so sick of hearing about this book (and having to answer emails from parishioners about it).
    I’m bookmarking this so that once I clear off my “To-Read” shelf (okay-“shelves”) a bit I can get a few of these. The trouble–which I think you’re pointing out–is that those of us are no longer in seminary don’t always come across these names.
    For the record, I like to read books of sermons–but I’m a preacher so I don’t count much.
    And Volf–oy vey. I just read “Against the Tide”–wonderfully accessible, and lots of preaching material to boot.
    Oh, I still like that guy who wrote “Blue Like Jazz.”
    And by the way, thanks to your blog, I did buy one of your books (Humble Apologetics). Looking forward to reading it–but who picked that font?! ๐Ÿ™‚

  9. Joyce Lindemulder

    Although published many times My Utmost for His Highest by Oswald Chambers is one of my favourites.

    Of course, Finally Feminist ranks right up there too…seriously!

  10. Chris E

    Jaroslav Pelikan’s book “Jesus through the centuries” is an interesting – if unusual – trip through church history.

  11. D C Cramer

    Four recent posthumous books by John Howard Yoder:

    (1) The Warsaw Lecture: A Brief History of Nonviolence (Baylor U)
    (2) The War of the Lamb: The Ethics of Nonviolence and Peacemaking (Brazos)
    (3) Christian Attitudes to War, Peace, and Revolution (Brazos)
    (4) A Pacifist Way of Knowing: John Howard Yoder’s Nonviolent Epistemology (Wipf&Stock).

    And since you asked, I’ll give a shameless self-promotion:

    Jared S. Burkholder and David C. Cramer, eds., The Activist Impulse: Essays on the Intersection of Evangelicalism and Anabaptism (Pickwick, forthcoming) with a forward by George Marsden and afterward by Sara Wenger Shenk.

    (The latter text will probably sell about 20 copies. And I wish I could blame Rob Bell for it!)

  12. Matthew D. Young

    Dr. Stackhouse I could not agree with you more about the whole Rob Bell book thing. Well said — as were your comments on the Manhattan Declaration a while back. As a country pastor of Presbyterian Church in Pennsylvania,I yearn for this sort of discourse and thirst for alternative evangelical voices like yours. This helps keep me going. Bless you in your great work. And, you should know, I was just talking with my wife about “Making the Best of It” a couple hours ago, before I read this blog entry. There’s not a doubt in my mind it deserves to be more widely read, as does your book “Humble Apologetics.”

  13. Rob Harrison

    To D C Cramer: that wouldn’t happen to be Jared Burkholder of Grace College, would it? (I ask because if it is, while I don’t know him well, our wives and kids are good friends through school and MOPS.)

  14. katz

    “Thank God” was all I could think when I read the title of this post.

    The flash-in-the-pan approach to Christian literature also causes the classics to fall by the wayside (which, in turn, leads to “reinventing the wheel” as new books get attention for making points that were thoroughly covered 50 or 100 years ago). When new books come out, I always think, “Is this more fruitful than reading Bonhoeffer, or MacArthur, or Augustine?”

  15. Wesley

    Brother Stackhouse –
    i agree wholeheartedly with your first point in particular and this post in general. I all fairness to the issue at hand however, i don’t feel that your comment, “if he does something harmful, I am quite confident it will be noticed and noted and announced loud and long.” is accurate on a few counts.
    1- the book was released in the US March 14th and has since reached Canadian soil so we’re well past the “let’s wait and see” phase; so think the addition of an “if” clause is misleading. If Bell we’re arguing A-Mill over pre-Mill, or gender issues, or styles of worship, this book would not receive a fraction of the attention it’s getting. Even secular media gets that Bell is presenting an altered gospel to the world and you MUST agree that is very harmful on many different fronts.
    2 – i wish it were so obvious that Bell’s errors would be seen and heralded loud and long, but, in reality, there are not as many as we might imagine. And here’s where i’ll spend a moment longer. This altered gospel where all people enter God’s eternal rest despite how they respond to Christ in this life, is – it would appear – a “line drawn in the dirt” in many ways. Some usual suspects are crying ‘foul’ in intelligent (and some in not so intelligent) ways while other usuals are praising Bell’s work in helpful (and not so helpful) ways. But what is striking to me is the number of voices who, like yourself included i guess, choose to remain silent on the issue. And whether from fear of being counted amoung one side or the other (for this issue is divisive even as Christ is) or whatever other reasons one may have not to stand up somewhere, i believe the implied understanding of the silent voice is one of assent – i may change that view sometime, but presently that’s how i see it.
    So, if i may be so bold as to press you: i’m a bit surprised that you would speak and write and champion an open-handed issue like women in ministry (by that i mean one not essential to salvation) but choose to remain silent on what must be a closed-handed issue of the necessity of having Christ’s sacrifice applied to our sinful heart THIS side of the grave.
    As teachers and authors and proffs, you’all have an incredible influence that you must steward well before God and others – Bell is currently using that influence to preach an inclusivist gospel and deceive many. Those who respect and look to your influence i think deserve a reasoned and faithful response to what Bell is presenting to the world. I don’t think Jesus was worried about giving the Pharisees more “press” when He spoke of them; or Paul of Hymenaus and Alexander, or Willberforce of the slave traders, etc. etc. etc. I think as someone who holds an audience and an influence in Christian and secular circles, you have a duty to speak when something of this blatant nature arises against the gospel; not to “tell people what to think” about something but to encourage them with the truth of what the Bible says about something. The world is screaming to our kids about unbounded sexuality and, b/c we love them, we point them to what the Bible says to correct false and harmful messages. Doesn’t your audience deserve that same love?
    Yes, what Bell says, has been said before – it’s nothing new – but there were also men and women back then who stood up and said, “that’s not right!”, and it’s b/c of them and by God’s grace, we know those things that were ‘said before’ are false today. I mean, bought any indulgences lately?

    • John Stackhouse

      For those who can’t find good responses to Bell on the Internet, let me recommend three that don’t line up exactly, but ought to give you good critical understanding of the issues at stake:

      Richard Mouw, President of Fuller Theological Seminary;

      Mark Galli, Managing Editor of Christianity Today magazine; and

      Ben Witherington III, Professor of NT at Asbury Theological Seminary, who begins a long, good series on these matters here.

      As for me, thanks for the exhortation, but I’m pretty sure my calling is elsewhere. These brothers tell you, I would think, what you need to know.

      • Steve Wilkinson

        I think the general apologist, at least, is going to have to deal with it… because lots of people are reading it and talking about it (and being influenced by it). Could they be reading much better? Most likely. Are they? Probably not. ๐Ÿ™ Each will have to decide what duties lie within their calling at the moment, for sure. (ex: my priorities can’t be on this right now)

        And… I have to agree with Wesley, that this is core stuff Bell is talking about. Haven’t read the book yet, but I have listened to Bell in an interview about the book. Scary! It’s been said before for sure, but with Bell, is repackaged in a manner which is quite appealing to many Christians today (whereas, mainstream protestant liberalism, the primary source, isn’t so much anymore). I think it is just the lot of the apologist.

        • John Stackhouse

          Well, Steve, I don’t think every apologist is called to respond to every challenge, not least because very few apologists I’ve ever met, heard, or read have the competence to be the Universal Answer Person.

          In fact, we have far too many wannabes of this sort who give embarrassingly and misleadingly superficial answers to difficult questions.

          Better, I think, to trust the Body of Christ and its several members to provide appropriate answers and to go look for them in a given instance, rather than feeling obliged to “load up” for everything that comes along. Indeed, better to do that AND to become truly expert in certain questions so as to become a resources for others.

          Too many apologists feel they have to be microcosms. Isn’t it better we act as members, in both our distinctive contributions and our distinctive limitations?

          • Wesley

            Brother Stackhouse –
            i agree with what you’ve said here to a certain degree: truly, this is why different proffs teach different courses in seminary b/c they have spent significant study and are, thus, more specialized in teaching on a certain subject.
            That said, i struggle to imagine an Christian apologist worth his salt whose was not first and foremost an expert at answering questions about the gospel. ‘Specialize away’ from there how you will. Rob’s book touches on everything from our understanding of the gospel, to eschatology, to faithful Biblical hermeneutics, to the nature and character of God, and obviously the doctrine of hell.
            Surely a defense of the gospel question alone is easily within your scope and, i would add, the calling of every Christian, apologist or not.

          • Steve Wilkinson

            I’m torn on your response to be honest. Normally I’d agree, and you’re completely on target when it comes to higher scholarship in the field. Specialization and contribution is needed. I’m quite thankful for the specialists everyday.

            However, I think there is a huge shortage of apologetic generalists, who might be likened to the grade and high-school generalists in education. Imagine if we had no K-8 or high school, and then just college profs and research specialists! There would be very few students for them to teach or influence.

            Sure, it isn’t like we have too many specialists, but we certainly aren’t doing a great job of educating the average person in the pew on apologetics… and it is a numbers game. The specialists can’t do it. We need MORE generalists to do that.

            A good generalist, then, would have to know a basic level on everything relevant, and also be good at pointing to the experts where applicable. I’m guessing that is where most of the generalists have a lot of room to grow. Yes, many try to be lone rangers, but apologetics is somewhat of a ‘entrepreneurial’ discipline for many, kind of like the early worship wars when people recognized some things had to change, but there wasn’t a formal outlet to do so with proper guidance. This is starting to change in apologetics, but slowly.

            Concerning Bell, a couple of the statements he made in that interview didn’t require all that much competence to answer. So, either Bell is a) incompetent, b) his book is clear and he’s just bad at expressing his beliefs in public speech, or c) his theology is in trouble. (I’m guessing C.)

  16. Philip Ney

    Thanks Dr. Stackhouse. If Christian readers are to find edifying books to read outside of those promoted by controversy and significant marketing campaigns, then they will need blogs such as yours. Those of us without our own blog can still be part of the conversation by reviewing books on Amazon, or by submitting reviews to magazines and blogs. Reading your post has me motivated to go and do this.

  17. F.

    I’d have bought at least one of your recommendations on the spot if they were available for Kindle or iBooks. I may still get around to it (I’ve bought, read, enjoyed, and learned from Making the Best of It, Can God Be Trusted?, Humble Apologetics, and Finally Feminist). But with so little time, and plenty of good books on my “To Read” list that are more easily accessible, the ones you recommend are at a disadvantage. Which is really unfortunate.

  18. Lu Daoming

    Another review of Bell’s book that might be worth considering is Greg Boyd’s at http://www.gregboyd.org (Christus Victor Ministries). Stark and Bauckham are heroes of mine, John. Thanks for giving them a little exposure here ๐Ÿ˜‰

  19. Micah Smith

    Thanks for this, the recommendations of what to read on this topic have been helpful to me.

    I have to read for a class, and would like to recommend here as helpful for understanding God’s expressions of love towards us:

    Hans Boersma
    “Violence, Hospitality, and the Cross: Reappropriating the Atonement Tradition” ($23.33 / Amazon)

  20. tim ellison

    John thanks for your blog. I find it always insightful and I am glad you are passing on the “Bell thing” – it is already yesterday’s news. A book that has really challenged my life is The Upside Down Kingdom by Donald Kraybill. Thanks again!!

  21. Preston

    This is bad news for my book budget. I just added several new books to my growing wish list!
    Seriously, though. Thanks for pointing out some good reads, I look forward to them!
    Two great books I’d like to recommend are by Mike Mason, The Mystery of Children and the Mystery of Marriage. I don’t know much about him as a person, but his books are profound and poetical. Preston

    • calgalpatricia

      Preston,
      I read Mike Mason’s Mystery of Marriage for a Regent Course. Yes, a special read and quite prayerful too.
      Somewhhere along the line I heard he had written it before he was married. I was very intrigued by this notion of how one could have written so well about something he had not been a part of yet. So instead of wondering, I looked him up and called him.
      Yes, he did write it before being married. We had a wonderfully long chat. I thanked him and he thanked me for calling him clear up the “mystery.”
      ~Patricia

  22. Poetreehugger

    Although my ‘to read’ list is already long, and my ‘to read’ shelves are quite full, I can never resist new (to me) books or authors that come well recommended. I own most of the Stackhouse titles, and may have to buy a second copy of Finally Feminist, as I lent it out to a friend who has not returned it. I guess I will now consider it a gift I have given her.
    One of my recently read books which I would recommend is Patience with God: the Story of Zacchaeus by Tomas Halik.

  23. Vicki Kendall

    This one-eyed-dog has lived in a spiritual void for so long that I have no clue what to read other than what is crammed down my throat by the media and mainstream. I am so thankful for having encountered you and this blog so that I now have resources for intelligent reading so I’m not feeling compelled to engage in pointless dialog over Rob Bell’s latest antic. Ray and I are fighting over your books I’ve got (Can God Be Trusted is the main one!) and I’ve finally wrestled it out of his hands. You have a few fans down here! Check Facebook before this dog gets vicious and bites. Vicki (alias, your good friend “Gary”).

  24. Jeremiah Duomai

    I thought that there is much we can learn from Nick Wolterstorff as well. He is one I admire, besides Volf, Stark, McGrath and Wright.

  25. brgulker

    Dr. Stackhouse,

    I rarely comment, but I thoroughly enjoy your blog. I’m excited everytime a new post appears in my feed reader, and I appreciate the time you take to offer thoughtful, reasoned posts on issues that matter. It’s truly a labor of love, and it’s appreciated.

    I do respectfully disagree with one of your assumptions, which seems to drive your entire response to Rob’s book. To put my concern as simply as possible, Rob Bell is a lot more important to American Evangelicalism than you seem to be suggesting here.

    Not to academic evangelicals, to be sure, but to the laity. I know this is true from experience, having been born and raised in Michigan.

    People know Rob, not just in Michigan, but all over the country. They’ve seen his videos. They follow his social media efforts. And that’s been evidenced by the reaction to this book — his voice, for better or for worse, is a very loud and important one to the people who fill our churches week in, week out.

    Further, this is also true for people who don’t fill our churches week in, week out.

    Again, I say all of this with the utmost respect for you and your work. And I don’t object to several of your points; in fact, I think you’re absolutely right that we’re largely ignorant of voices that should be very important.

    But Rob’s voice does matter to lots of people, and I think you’ve underestimated that point significantly.

    • Steve Wilkinson

      That is my concern as well. Your bolded sentence sums it up much better than I did. And, I’d add not just in the USA. Not too far back, a family Bible study I was involved in suggested going through the NOOMA series… HERE in CANADA! When I mentioned, nicely, that I thought we could find better material, I got kind of an eye-roll response. (Apparently I’m always being too picky about this kind of thing.)

      • John Stackhouse

        Guys, I appreciate both your zeal for the truth and your confidence in me. I do.

        But just because an issue is important doesn’t mean it is The Only Important Issue, as I’m sure you’d agree.

        And just because an issue is more important than another issue doesn’t mean everyone should deal with the former issue and not the latter–as I trust you would both also agree.

        So what do you expect me to do? I have signalled my sense that Rob Bell’s ideas will be competently treated elsewhere, and I’ve gone the extra mile to point interested people to where they have been treated competently. Meanwhile, I have prepared and given lectures at Harvard and Taylor Universities, co-led a retreat with Len Sweet, met my three (!) classes, written three responses to essays for a new “Four Views” book on evangelicalism, read a new manuscript by Richard Mouw to blurb it (a fine book on Abraham Kuyper), helped three students finalize thesis proposals, helped another student edit his first book manuscript, preached at Regent College chapel, consulted with a screenwriter on a new film on the doctrine of hell, and–oh, yes, been a husband and father and faculty colleague.

        So I trust you will understand more clearly now what I mean when I say that I think my writing my own blog post on what I happen to think is right or wrong about Rob Bell’s new book is not necessarily my particular calling. These other matters clearly ARE part of my vocation, and anyone who can’t find guidance on Rob Bell by themselves and comes to me instead will see that I have in fact offered three good blog posts by others instead.

        I’m glad you have pressed this issue with me because I hope it will help all of us think more clearly about what is or isn’t our vocation in any given situation, especially when some issue is getting a lot of attention and responding to it may be a temptation, not a calling.

        • Steve Wilkinson

          I think we agree with you on all of this. The problem is that your original post gave the impression that the issue maybe didn’t deserve being addressed, or at least being jumped on so heavily. I re-read it and still come away with that impression. It appears brgulker does as well. Maybe we’re just misreading.

          On the fact that other competent folks are dealing with this, and your using the publicity to point towards some other great stuff that isn’t getting enough attention… I say Bravo!

        • brgulker

          Dr. Stackhouse, I sincerely appreciate your reply.

          So I trust you will understand more clearly now what I mean when I say that I think my writing my own blog post on what I happen to think is right or wrong about Rob Bellโ€™s new book is not necessarily my particular calling.

          I absolutely understand and respect your position. I had no expectations that you would or that you should be critiquing Bell’s work. What you post here is a labor of love, and I appreciate that labor, whatever direction you choose to take it. Further, I certainly agree that Bell has been taken to task (positively and negatively) by very capable voices. Further still, I agree that there are voices that should be more important than Bell’s.

          My criticism was very specific, namely, that I think you’ve underestimated how “important” Bell is to American Evangelicalism. Regardless of whether he should be or not, he is very well-known and influential, and thus he is important (whether he ought to be or not), in other words.

          I was simply pushing back on that point, and I didn’t intend to go any further. I certainly didn’t intend it to come off as a suggestion that you should be treating Bell’s book in this space. I hope that makes more sense now.

          • John Stackhouse

            Thanks, guys. I apologize for misunderstanding your point, which I am glad to receive. I do know Rob Bell is widely known–my goodness, his book was #4 on Amazon before even coming out. Your reports and views help to confirm that judgment. All the more reason for us to point people to richer offerings AND to do our own teaching, as Steve says, as we have opportunity and calling to do so.

  26. Larry Gregan

    The best Christian book blog I have found is Adam DeVille’s “Eastern Christian Books”:
    http://easternchristianbooks.blogspot.com/ .

    As an added bonus, he has a concise, sharp survey and comment, not so much on Mr. Bell’s book as on its perennial theme.

  27. Kickatthedarkness

    I have to chime in and recommend Alan Jacobs’ “A Theology of Reading: The Hermeneutics of Love.” I still frequently feel gratitude toward the friend who gave it to me a few years ago, such has been its impact on the way I read, and the impulses that guide my interpretation. Actually, it had a great deal of influence on my recent review of “Love Wins,” which I think has frequently been read with a shortage of either intelligence or charity, the two qualities Jacobs extols in his book. As an unknown blogger, I have to shamelessly take advantage of controversy to attract readers, so consider this recommendation my act of penance!

    Since I’ve never posted on Dr. Stackhouse’s blog before, let me try to make a tiny dent in his frustrations about his own books (bearing in mind his qualification that, as a reader of his blog, I am in a special category already) by saying that I found his “Finally Feminist” to be one of the most insightful, balanced, impartial, and generally helpful treatments of the gender question that I have ever read. It certainly made me hope to find time for his other books in the future.

    • Steve Wilkinson

      I’ve yet to read ‘Love Wins’, as I’ve got too many other things on my plate at the moment. However, you don’t even have to read it to see the problems in Bell’s theology (which I can’t imagine didn’t creep into the book). They are quite clear in the promotional video for the book (https://www.robbell.com/lovewins/) and with various interviews he has done on the book, which I have heard and/or seen.

      • kickatthedarkness

        Steve, rather than reply to you directly, can I refer you to my review of “Love Wins” at http://kickatthedarkness.wordpress.com/

        That will allow us to avoid clogging up a post that was meant to avoid conversation about “Love Wins,” with conversation about “Love Wins.”

        • Steve Wilkinson

          Sure thing… that sounds like a good idea. I probably won’t show up there until tomorrow night or Tuesday, but I’ll be sure to read and make a post.

  28. C. Ehrlich

    Prof. Stackhouse,

    I really appreciate your second reason. It calls to mind my own uneasy position. I have deep aversions to much of what is popularly proclaimed in the name of contemporary evangelical Christianity. Since much of what I most despise is the current cultural impact of evangelical Christianity, my aversions are probably not groundless, despite my ignorance of the thinkers you mention. Often, however, I notice that my aversions spread to the broader target of Christianity generally. This is my unease, since I also expect that that there are formulations and defenses of Christianity untainted by what is despicable in its popular forms.

    So thank you simply for mentioning these names. What, however, can you recommend on the topic of hell in particular? It seems to me that the doctrine of hell is often tangled with absurd and abhorrent doctrines. Who treats this doctrine well, and where exactly is this done in writing?

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