05/01/2014

Love Wins (by Rob Bell)

Although I heard of Rob Bell some years ago, as a somewhat unorthodox and thought-provoking American Christian writer and speaker, I had only previously read one of his books: Jesus wants to save Christians. I liked some of what he said, but felt that the style was too repetitive and rather annoying, and in the end found it a frustrating read.

So it's taken me three years to get around to reading anything else that he wrote - and I eventually picked up 'Love Wins' because the rest of my family had read it and were talking about it - mostly in positive terms, but not entirely. I knew it had caused huge waves in Christian circles, some loving it, others denouncing the author as a heretic. It seemed like a good idea to read what it actually says.

The style, once again, has some short sentences, but they're not as spread out as the first book I read, and I didn't find them annoying at all. There are proper paragraphs too, so they stand out more to make a point. Unquestionably informal, they feel almost as if someone is talking, pondering, asking the kind of questions I might ask myself.

For, essentially, this book asks a lot of questions. Some of them are quite awkward questions - ones which some Christians may see as over-challenging, the kind of thing that 'ought not' to be asked. But today's young people need to ask this kind of question and to be able to find responses themselves rather than being given pat answers.

So the reader - and this book is not necessarily intended just for those with Christian faith - is invited to start thinking about God, about the Bible, and about what they do and don't believe. We all have preconceived ideas - those we have been taught, those we have assumed or gathered from the way life has treated us.  Rob Bell does an excellent job of getting back to first principles, of asking who this God is whom Christians worship, and what the Bible means by love, by redemption, and by Heaven and Hell.

Critics have said that Bell picks and chooses what parts of the Bible to quote. Indeed he does - but so does any writer of Christians books. They could hardly quote the entire thing. The problem (for some) is that he chooses verses that - apparently - give credence to his viewpoints. But then, so do most Christians writers, and evangelists, and tracts. The references are mostly given in the book, and a good concordance (or online search) makes it simple enough to check the context, to look at different ways of translating the verses, and also to find those on the same topic which he does not quote.

Overall, I found 'Love Wins' to be very readable and quite thought-provoking. It doesn't give all the answers, and those it gives are left open to the reader to consider, and perhaps to respond to differently. The main focus, which I thought very positive, was of the importance of how we live, and how we grow in relationship with God and each other, and how we continually need to question our assumptions - the 'stories', as he puts it, which we tell ourselves, or perhaps which other people have told us.

While this book is undoubtedly controversial, and has many critics, I thought it a helpful overview of what many Christians believe, and would recommend it to anyone, particularly those who have been hurt or damaged by images of a slave-driving or vengeful God, or indeed by well-meaning Christians who don't really answer genuine questions.

Available in paperback form on both sides of the Atlantic, and also in e-book form for the Kindle.

Longer - but mostly fair - reviews of 'Love Wins' from a more theological stance can be found at Relevant Magazine and Christianity Today.

Review by Sue F copyright 2014 Sue's Book Reviews

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