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Person of the Book or People of the Book? Love Wins by Rob Bell (Partial review)

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It’s too easy to fool ourselves.

Just how blind am I?

Recently I sat with some well-respected relatives who had devoted their lives to pursuing God. Our conversation turned to quick jibes at Rob Bell’s Love Wins. I had only vaguely heard of the book and the controversy surrounding his reading of the Bible. But knowing very little didn’t stop me from defending Mr. Bell purely based on my growing admiration for people trying to reframe stale old arguments.

My uncle said “You have to know the Book to know the Author of the book.”

I found myself in agreement and then in violent disagreement. I thought of my childhood and young adulthood growing up with the Book—that is, the Bible. We spent time in it every day. We memorized it, acted it out and generally knew it pretty well. But it wasn’t until solid conversations with others, both dead (that is, authors who left their books behind) and alive, helped me start to see the shortcuts I had taken in my own single-minded reading. That is, I started to see the blinders I wore that I didn’t even know about. I need conversation with others to help me see my blinders. I can now reassert my love for the Biblical texts, their authority in my life and the God behind those texts and Jesus the Christ who lived, died and lived—but I do so knowing faithful, admirable people can and do disagree over how some/many of those texts are read.

Can you be a person of the book without admitting others into your thought circle? There is a blindness that settles on us even more securely when we think we are just looking at the text and pulling out truth. The problem is not with the text. The problem is with our blindness, which is just another feature of the limitations of our humanness. This is not about more education. Nor is it about liberal vs. conservative. It is about seeking help to locate our blind spots. Of course, we don’t go looking for our blind spots. We go out looking for someone to tell something interesting too, and we end up finding out there is something pretty important we missed.

Also there is another piece: that of holding scripture in faith while allowing questions to sharpen and make visible some critical pieces we need to know to move forward. There is no letting go of faith here, but there is a willingness to help move closer to that truth.

I’m partway through Mr. Bell’s book and enjoy his fresh take very much. I find myself agreeing with his point that heaven is both in the future and partially present. Same with Hell. So far I don’t see anything anti-Biblical. And people from my particular tradition need only refer back to Dr. Ladd’s famous The Gospel of the Kingdom to be reminded of the now/not yet nature of Jesus’ talk about life on this planet. However, my reading of Mr. Bell’s third chapter makes me restless, because I believe there are consequences to what we say and do. I want to hear his full argument before commenting further.

My point: to be a person of the Book is to be a person of conversation.

My wife and I have been blessed by a group who will think together verbally about the Book. This group counters and challenges the inward-looking tendencies arising from my pietistic background. Certainly there is great benefit to carefully watching over our personal devotion. But real truth demands the relationships that talk.

Take-away: don’t rush to judgment in conversation.

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Image Credit: Achille Beltrame

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Written by kirkistan

June 23, 2011 at 9:42 am

2 Responses

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  1. […] in The New Yorker (The Hell-Raiser), where the author Kelefa Sanneh conjectured that in writing “Love Wins,” Bell was “dreaming of a world a world without arguments—as if the right book, written the […]

  2. […] (“The Hell-Raiser”), where the author Kelefa Sanneh conjectured that in writing “Love Wins,” Bell was “dreaming of a world a world without arguments—as if the right book, written the […]


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