Let's just assume (for the sake of argument) that there may have been one or two things in Rob Bell's book with which I disagreed.
Maybe you've heard about other people who have disagreed with a few things he wrote as well (e.g. Francis Chan, Mark Galli, Bobby Conway, and Kevin DeYoung).
Maybe you've even heard of people who have dismissed the book altogether. (I mean, if Francis Chan wrote a book against it, there's NO WAY it's any good).
Emotions, for one reason or another, are running high at the mere thought of someone releasing an unconventional book about hell.
Given this controversy, I have three preliminary comments before I actually dive into my review of the book.
First, as we approach this book, we can't allow our conversation to become dominated by anger. When we hear arguments we don't like - particularly when they are of paramount importance - we can tend to become quickly agitated. Then, instead of actually formulating a reasoned response, we resort to name-calling.
"This idiot is a scripture twisting maniac who has no idea what he is talking about!"
There's an old proverb that says,
"When you throw mud at people, not only do you get your hands dirty, you lose a lot of ground."
At it's best, anger allows us to channel an intense amount of negative energy into a sincere, heartfelt critique in an attempt to get to the truth.
At it's worst, anger manifests itself in a shouting match designed to flex our intellectual muscles and the truth gets forgotten about altogether.
Second, we can't allow our conversation to become dominated by fear. Nobody likes to think that something they believe is wrong. This can cause us to become terrified of hearing opposing viewpoints. "What if something I've always believed about hell turns out to be wrong?", we think to ourselves. Well, if something we believe about hell is wrong - isn't that the point of learning? To figure out what we got wrong, and what we got right?
Sometimes we're afraid to believe something because other people might label us a heretic. "If I don't believe THIS about hell or THAT about hell, my church will think I've gone off the deep end." If your church means that much to you, perhaps it's time to stop and ask yourself if you're really interested in the truth - or just man's approval.
Third, we can't allow our conversation to become dominated by pride. Years ago, I loved to debate. But that was because I was a cocky jerk who thought he knew everything.
I still love to debate. But now it's just because I actually do know everything. Seriously though, I think that humility is an open willingness to consider opposing viewpoints.
Pride says, "You're not allowed to seriously question central issues in our faith. If you want to debate about fringe issues that don't really matter anyway - be my guest! But if you're going to talk about things of eternal importance like salvation, heaven, hell, and Jesus Christ - well, I've figured all that out so don't waste my time."
I'll be honest. This book has really given me a run for my money. I feel like I've bitten off more than I can chew, but take heart, a review I've promised and a review I'll deliver! I even started reading a fiction book to ease my mind as I struggle to think through the many, many issues raised in Bell's book.
I hope to explore these issues in part two of my review, stay tuned!