Why I Don’t Need to Read Rob Bell’s “Love Wins”

3.9.2011 — 24 Comments

There has been enough media hoopla (especially in the Christian subculture) around Rob Bell’s latest book, “Love Wins” to fill hours of coverage.

When the pre-release banter began, I quickly jumped in the “don’t judge it until you’ve read it” camp.

I will always be quicker to jump into this camp – I think we Christians do a lot of pre-judging of things that we don’t know enough about.

That said, I wouldn’t ever take my “don’t judge it until you’ve read it” stance to the extreme that some have and do and say that we can’t judge anything without first ‘trying it’.

If you and I had to read everything ‘for ourselves’ before we could make a sound judgement on it, wouldn’t we be stuck reading for all of eternity? If I had to read every quasi-Christian article/book/newsletter that was available simply to make an educated-judgement on it, I would never do anything else.

The issue here is that we’re dealing with Rob Bell. He’s one of our “church superstars”. And so we feel even more apt to give him the benefit of the doubt and therefore jump into the “don’t judge it until you read it” bandwagon much quicker.

Case in point: if Charlie Sheen had written a book with the same title, sub-title, back cover description, and promotional video, we wouldn’t be having this discussion.

I’ve been challenged by Rob Bell in the past. I’ve been moved by some Nooma videos. I’ve been challenged by his sermons on the Mars Hill podcast.

This blog post was originally titled, “Why I WON’T read Rob Bell’s LOVE WINS”. I changed it to “don’t need to” because I still might, eventually. But for now, there are some trusted voices in the Christian world that are reading it and the reviews are still coming in and sadly, I’m not liking where things are going.

I don’t want to raise children to think that they have to “try it before they make a decision”, and there’s a difference between “judging a book by its cover” and “making educated responses to the facts”. Based on what reviews I’ve already read and as the reviews of Rob Bell’s “Love Wins” continue to pour in, I’m saddened to think as Bible-believing Evangelicals we’re going to continue to find increasing difficulty with its theological stance.

I would love for you to disagree or agree with me in this post’s comments.

  • http://www.stevansheets.com Stevan
  • http://www.ricknierwoo.blogspot.com Rick Nier

    I normally judge blog posts by their title. Is that the same thing?

    Stevan, I think you make good points. The fact is that we don’t have time to read everything. However, I do think that when we make a choice to not read a book, we should simultaneously make the choice not to make a public judgment call. We can point, as you have, to others with more knowledge in the area. But that is what many Christians will fail to do.

    Thanks for your thoughts and the shared links on this.

    • http://www.stevansheets.com Stevan

      Rick, you said, “However, I do think that when we make a choice to not read a book, we should simultaneously make the choice not to make a public judgment call.”

      I agree if you’re suggesting that some of those who made judgment statements based on a publisher’s back-page description and/or a promotional video were in the wrong. I think that those “judgments” would have been better-formed as “pre-release warnings” instead of anti-book articles. Our side of the “don’t judge it until you read it” would’ve been a bit less vocal had that been the case.

      • http://www.ricknierwoo.blogspot.com Rick Nier

        That’s not what I’m saying at all….oh wait…yes it is.

  • http://yourmom.com wes

    I’m going to stop reading all together…and then I’m going to write a book about it…called “you might be dumb but I’m not”…I expect it will turn some heads…

  • Greg Saldi

    I’m intrigued to read his words. I read the Koran and the Tao Te Ching to understand them better. The better we understand, the more effective we are at stating our case (that goes for a core understanding of the Bible first). Having said that, if the reviews are accurate I’m not going to encourage students I work with to read his book, rather explain why we aren’t going to use it as material to study.
    We live in a world where everyone has an opinion based on the simple fact that we can create a blog or a you tube page (I am in this class). I think if Charlie Sheen wrote this book, it would already be on the best seller list and would demand the same response.
    I don’t really think there is increasing difficulty. This stuff has been around since day 1.

  • http://www.pastorjoe2.wordpress.com Joseph Gormong

    I too am troubled with Rob Bell and his belief system and have been for some time, and due to that fact I have not purchased his material and with more information about him has confirmed it.

    I pray that I can keep my focus on CHRIST and HIS WORD and not add too or take anything away from it.

  • http://www.chaseyourlion.com Heath

    Stevan, thanks for bringing this review to my attention. It’s nice to hear from someone who has actually read the book. You make some great points here. As for me, I will still read the book. As a Rob Bell fan, I’ve invested a lot of time, money, and energy reading his books, catching his tours, and watching his videos. If “Love Wins” turns out to be what everyone says it is then I will have a hard(or easy) decision about his other materials. Keep up the good work.

    • http://www.stevansheets.com Stevan

      I just read Eugene Peterson’s “blurb-review” again in which he states that “Bell goes a long way in helping us acquire just such an imagination–without a trace of soft sentimentality and without compromising an inch of evangelical conviction.”

      That “without compromising an inch of evangelical conviction” is challenging. I’m looking forward to the reviews that continue to come in as more and more pastors and theologians get their hands on the book.

  • Greg saldi

    Bell has never said his word is absolute. Why do we treat his, groschel, jakes, beth moore, andy stanley, bob russell, rick warren, dave crowder, chris tomlin, matt maher, billy grahams, kirk camerons words as if they are?
    (i might have spelled graham wrong, sorry)

    • http://www.stevansheets.com Stevan

      Good question, Greg. I don’t have an answer – as many times as we’ve been reminded not to put other leaders up on pedestals and take their word as “absolute”, we continue to do so. I think maybe it’s somewhat bound in our similarity to the Israelites who, when God wasn’t present, needed an idol to worship… yikes.

    • Mark

      Couldn’t the same be said about the letters from Paul to the early churches? The difference being that we believe that God divinly inspired Paul to write those words. Why would it be such a stretch that God had also inspired some, if not all, of the people that you listed here?

      While I am not saying that I agree with Mr. Bell in his views, specifically as it applies to this book, I am not saying that I disagree. I am saying that, along with the people on your list, my own pastor included, that I will prayerfully consider what he has to say. Jesus was trend breaker. So was Paul, and all the disciples. And all of them were considered heretics for what they said.

      Again, not saying that I agree, but what if we have had it wrong this whole time?

  • http://www.standfirminfaith.com/?/sf/page/27295 Jeremy Freeman

    Perhaps i’m reading it wrong or takeing the wrong thing out of this reviews snipit. But I don’t see what this review is talking about “universalism”. Maybe it’s just out of context which would also make it seem different. But from what I read it isn’t all that different from what you and I talked about when I was just a teen, that even though it’s called the straight and narrow there’s off ramps and on ramps and detours and many different things that may change your walk or how you come to christ or come back to him. I don’t this is just an idea I hope things are good talk to you later.

    • http://www.stevansheets.com Stevan

      JTFree – Wow. First time I’ve heard from you in forever and it’s through a comment here on the blog! In the introduction of the blog post, I alluded to the ‘hoopla’ surrounding the release of Rob Bell’s latest book, “Love Wins”. There has been quite a firestorm surrounding it due to a video his publishers produced as well as the description of the book that they’re using. Both the video and the description can be seen here – http://amzn.to/lovewinsrobbell

      Thanks for chiming in, brother! Hope you are doing well!

      • Jeremy Freeman

        As you know Steven you intro’ed me into Rob Bell so I respect your veiws on your him and this book…but yeah he’s kinda coming out of left field i’m going to read it just to see what the heck he’s trying to say. Because if do believe firmly that you don’t have to accept Jesus to get to heaven then he must be missing that verse. But What I truly think and feel he is trying to say is the other questions the one that even as pastors …they got to be hard to answer and easier to avoid. ie. People sacrficing their lifes for someone else…I mean thats a lame example but who am I to judge how or in what way God will judge my sins or anyone else…I simple don’t know. Oh well just though i’d put my two cents in. Talk to you later ….and yeah i’m doing good i’m in waraw again I work at a box factory as a designer CAD and getting back in at church.

  • Jeremiah Clements

    I Think the parts of the review(s) that need challenged is the quick dismissal of the question. I may not end up in the same camp as Bell (I’ll check out the book), but I think the questions remain valid. Ultimately, this is the fullest extension of “what about those who never heard- is the cross sufficient for them?” If we say yes (which I am inclined to with the caviat of being thankful I don’t have to make that call- it’s God’s department), we open the door to just such a conundrum as the one Bell is tackling. If we say no, I think we do have to offer a legitimate answer to those who think that makes God “mean.” I still can’t shake that there is some Reformed/Calvinist/Determinist theology lurking behind Bell’s challenge- If God is arbitrarily damning those who have not been chosen, how does that square with his holiness? Not trying to turn the discussion to another topic, merely pointing out that I get the impression that this question underscores much of the controversy.

  • Mark


    While normally I would agree with you, I beg to differ in this situation. As a pastor, or any person in leadership, when something is created that threatens the very core of what we do or what we believe should we not challenge that head on in the most educated and effective way possible?
    I spent 2 1/2 years in Iraq, and during that time gained a lot of first hand experience into what Islam is and what it looks like. Now, being back state-side, when I hear a church member or pastor bash a specific part of Islam and get it wrong, it really erks me. Fighting a war requires that you know your enemy. Having better weaponry, technology, or tactics certainly helps but if you don’t know your enemy better than he knows you, you won’t win. I see this in the same light. I can’t refute him or the ideas that others around me may bring from this book if I don’t have a full understanding of what it is this book says.

    • http://www.stevansheets.com Stevan

      Mark – I love the opportunities we have (and permission) to have different opinions. You make valid points, and the “knowing your enemy” statement is spot-on. However, my ‘argument’ here is that I don’t believe 100% we (pastors, church goers, leaders, Christians) must all read this book in order for us to have a “full understanding” (as you put it) of what the book says.

      I’m not saying it is WRONG to read the book in order to know what it is saying and to be able to increase our arsenal with knowledge.

      I simply find it interesting (and wrong) that the Christian subculture is necessitating reading THIS book from THIS author before we can have an adequate understanding of its possibly misleading theology…

  • Chris Powell

    If you buy the book then in some respect you are literally supporting the viewpoint like it or not. The bible is so clear cut and dry in many matters. We humans always try to find some new revelation when there is none to be found. This is what bothers me the most. Everybody wants to discover something new so they can be the one to say ” look at me “.

    • http://www.stevansheets.com Stevan

      Chris, while I agree that purchasing the book could be viewed as ‘supporting it’ like it or not, I think this argument is also quite dangerous. I’ve purchased gasoline at gas stations that sell magazines that aren’t the kind I’d allow in my house. I’ve purchased items from Internet retailers that also sell items I would never purchase. I haven’t done adequate research into some of what some of the Big Brands that our family supports with our business spend their money on or support.

      I don’t think buying this book (and thereby putting money in Bell’s pocket) is a bad thing. I’m not voicing an option of boycotting the book. I’m simply voicing my concern over the argument that we MUST (in order to have an opinion on it).

      I’m finding myself in the middle here. I don’t want to stand in the you MUST buy this book “camp” or the you MUSTN’T buy this book “camp”. Make sense?

      (by the way, THANKS for commenting, my friend!)

  • Mike Hofer

    One of the things that bothers me about our ‘Christian-Sub Culture’ is our jumpy-ness! I know that’s not a word but you get my point, :-)! Although I agree with Stevan on the intent of his original post that we don’t HAVE to read this particular book to have enough sound theology and biblical knowledge to refute some of the claims that are being made about this particular book, it does bother me how we as Christians will take the opion of a person who ‘reviewed’ the book or formulate an opion based on a publishers blurb or video (that great marketing says CREATE BUZZ, which they obviously have) instead of reading or seeing something for our selves and being educated enough, firm enough, and confident enough in our own spiritual walk to formulate an opinion! We do this oftwn with things that challenge our core beleifs (harry potter, twilight, pokeman)! So we jump to defend or attack the side that makes us the most uncomfortable based on our own agenda or what we have been taught. Instead we should get educated and allow the Holy Spirit to lead! Sometimes he leads into the desert! Ask Jesus on that one!

  • Greg saldi

    Lets just read the book and have some form of discussion about it? When i graduated from bible college i thought i was the only right one in doctrine issues. Now i see there are varied ideals that all reach the same conclusions. Doesnt mean i agree, but god doesnt need my opinions.
    Ps- i think theres a difference between inspired and absolute.

  • Lauren

    How ridiculous! You have formed an opinion that “you don’t like where things are going,” and you haven’t even read the book for yourself. You would rather take the opinions of “trusted” critics. This is laziness and ignorance on your part.
    Weren’t the pharisees and saducess “trusted” in their day? And oh, how wrong they were. How dare you make a public statement regarding someone heading in the wrong direction with their views when you won’t even educate yourself on what the man is saying.
    You are what is wrong with Christianity today. You have made a judgment call based on others’ opinions, which makes what you have to say the least respected of all views. Your article contradicts itself in every way.
    You know, so many non-believers I am friends with have no desire to read the Bible because of “reviews” they have heard. It has gained a reputation, according to them, that they would rather not associate with. While I would not compare Bell’s book to the Bible, the principle is the same…how can someone know what they are missing or not missing if they don’t read for themselves? I love debating with non-believers who HAVE read the very book, in some cases God’s Word, that they don’t like. I respect them for their critical thinking skills and their desire to actually know what they disagree with specifically.
    You are like the non-believer who would rather camp out in his corner with his buddies and form opinions based on others’ opinions and a general sense of going with the crowd, then to put forth any effort to actually read something and give specific examples of what exactly is so wrong with the book. Like you said, you obviously can’t read everything ever written, or you would do nothing else; BUT, I would argue that you ought to at least take the time to read those you feel this strongly about and which you feel the need to write an entire article about! Wow, quite an elementary concept when you think about it!

    • http://www.stevansheets.com Stevan

      Lauren –
      Lauren, thank you for your comment. I welcome the difference-of-opinion and am even willing to admit that you are right on a few levels in your response to my post. That said, I do still stand by my opinion that we can’t take your argument to the nth-degree…

      You said,

      “How dare you make a public statement regarding someone heading in the wrong direction with their views when you won’t even educate yourself on what the man is saying.”

      I think this argument, when we run with it to the fullest-extent leads us to an ever-increasing and time-consuming “reviewing job” that can never be completed or satisfied.

      You also said,

      You are what is wrong with Christianity today.

      And to that I have to say, “ouch”. I would hope that responding to such a hurtful statement statement in love would seek to disprove it. I am willing to admit that I’m wrong and willing to have conversation when I am and when others have differences of opinion. I didn’t set out to post an “personal” opinion on the book (still haven’t and won’t unless I do choose to read it for myself). If you’ll read through some other posts of mine here on my blog, you’ll see most recently I re-posted links to a blog by Asbury Theological Seminary’s President’s blog post reviewing the book in which he gives criticism AND praise for the thought-provoking questions raised by “Love Wins”.

      I hope that you can see my intentions in my post that you commented on were not to condemn the book, but rather to point out that sticking with an idea that I can’t have a personal opinion on it without purchasing and reading it was my initial-reaction to the hub-bub about the book and is not an argument I want to argue anymore because of where it leads further down the road.

      Thanks again for your comment. Reading through your comment again just now, I can’t help but read into some of the emotion you must’ve experienced while writing, and if it is possible on my-end, I want to seek to restore a relationship with you as a sister-in-Christ by any means necessary.