Rob Bell announced this week that his book Love Wins is now being re-released with a companion church study guide as well as a new e-version of the book with new video content. I will not rehearse here my earlier response to Bell’s book except to say that I pointed out several things about the book I liked and several points where I think he remains seriously misguided in his theology. If you go back in my blog you will find the posts beginning March 18 and continuing through March 23. The overall title of that series of posts was “Why Rob Bell Needs to Return to Seminary… and bring along quite a few contemporary evangelical pastors.”
Now, nearly a year after the book first surfaced, I want to say that I stand by what I said then. Since that time Rob Bell has left his position as pastor of the Mars Hill Bible Church and is spending his time, among other things, on the speaking circuit spreading his inclusivistic message that, in the end, none will be finally lost because “love wins.”
Since it is highly unlikely that an even busier-than-normal Rob Bell will take time to go back to Seminary, I would like for him to at least attend one lecture which I had in my first year systematic theology class. It was a lecture given by the late Roger Nicole. Dr. Nicole was lecturing on the attributes of God. He began by drawing a big flower on the board with numerous petals. He began to label each of the petals after different attributes of God. One petal he named “justice” another he named “love” and another he named “holy” and so forth, as he worked his way around the petals of the flower. We all sat there taking notes and most of us had beautiful flowers drawn in our notebooks with carefully labeled petals. Dr. Nicole then paused and looked at the class and said, “this view of God’s attributes is unbiblical.” We all looked up in shock. He then began to demonstrate (and this continued over several days) how each of God’s attributes is informed by the other. There is no such thing as an attribute of love which is not also fully informed and understood through God’s holiness and justice. Likewise, God’s justice is understood via mercy, and so forth. God’s attributes cannot be separated out in isolation from one another. God’s attributes are not like separate petals on a flower. God’s love is a just love. God’s mercy is a holy mercy, and so forth.
So, as Rob Bell’s book (with the new study guide and enhanced video messages) begins its circuit through the churches, we should be reminded that there is no logical separation between God’s love and God’s justice. God’s love is not “the last petal” left standing. God never denies his justice in order to demonstrate his love. Rather, part of the way His love is demonstrated is through the just recompense of evil. If the cross teaches us anything it is that the greatest act of God’s love – the cross of Christ – is simultaneously – the greatest act of his judgment upon sin. In the cross we see the perfect integration of justice and love enacted. Those who spurn God’s provision in Christ are refusing to accept what God has freely offered in love to satisfy the justice of God. Even in the New Creation, the Scripture indicates that there are those who persist in their rebellion against God (Rev. 21:8). However, even these who experience the full weight of God’s justice, do it in the shadow of the cross and in the face of the eternally open gates of the New Creation (Rev. 21:25).