Sunday, March 20, 2011

The Best Response to That Book

Last time I posted about Love Wins I had not yet read the book (and still haven't), and was commenting more about the instant reaction to the book than anything else. Turned out my post was pretty opportunistically titled and tweeted and it got me ten times the readers I usually get, even putting my blog atop the google searches for about a day or so. That was kind of fun, but I have no such ambitions.

(I mean, have you seen the comments the popular bloggers have to weed through? I wouldn't mind a bit more interaction on my blog, but I prefer to keep it kind of manageable, and I like that I tend to have some kind of personal or contextual connection with pretty much anyone who is dropping by. That's not to say I don't invite the interaction of strangers, but I don't really relish the thought of refereeing mass disputes unless it is my full time job!.)

Anyway, now that it is has been a couple weeks, my readership is back to normal, and my copy of the book is currently waiting at the post office to be picked up, I have to ask myself if there is any reason to add one more blog-review to the mix. Certainly I had this in mind when I talked about "occasions for theological self-absorption" last week. Indeed, I've not only been holding off from commenting further on this platform because I want to read the book first (what a novel concept!), but also because I want to stifle the reactionary mode of theology that I find so tempting. With that in mind I've been reading the many reviews hoping someone else would do the job necessary and leave me with nothing more to say than to offer a link. Considering the incredible amount of response that the book has garnered, I thought I'd find it a bit sooner than I did. But alas, it did come! I will link to it below. But first let me say a few more things, and also explain why it is (so far) the best review going.

First, a few more thoughts. It will be no surprise to some of you that I have spent far more time writing comments on people's facebook statuses than my own blog (and unfortunately, maybe even my own dissertation!). Which reminds me: In the last year I've also done just as much if not more theological conversation via email and even handwritten letter than ever before. I don't wish to sound a death-bell for blogging, but I will say that I'm more and more attracted to and interested in theological conversation that is tied to a context -- be it relational, denominational, situational, or what have you. In my blog, too, I want to take to heart the fact that, even if I garner a wide audience somehow, I might do the ideas their best justice if I address them with at least one eye on how it matters in a particular context.

We all have contexts in which we have our part in the discussion, and I think it defensible to want to have that discussion where it hits home rather than always in the abstract and unconnected. Honestly, I'll be just as happy if I read the book and feel like the link below has done the work for me. I sure hope the guy sees the thing through.

Thus, at the very least I think I'm going to do a post or two on my denomination's statement of faith concerning hell, since I'd like to think through and address the degree to which the Christian and Missionary Alliance in Canada could or could not be okay with its pastors adhering more or less to the view Bell espouses. At the very least I owe it to myself and the church to which I belong to think seriously about such a thing. I don't think it is my place to deem Bell or his opponents heretical or to make a claim to the deposit of evangelicalism, but I think I can seek a responsible conversation within my church movement that tries to assess itself properly in its time. So look for that in the near future, and by all means come and take part in the discussion, if indeed there is one to be had. I will welcome your input from outside the C&MA, and would indeed welcome new readers from within the C&MA who could care less for my blog but would like to think this through along with me.

Okay, I think I'm done with that part. Now let me move on to the reason why the link below is the best review going. Until I saw it I was leaning toward David Congdon's five part response to the Christianity Today article about the book in question. I still recommend you read it, because it is excellent, but what I'm looking for is a review of Bell's book itself, and in that vein I think the link below is just the thing. So now let me (finally!) explain why. (I'm basically cutting and pasting this from a facebook conversation. Thus a few poor souls will recognize it from a previously hijacked status update, but they can rest assured that I'm not dragging them into my blog by name.)

I think the best way to approach this Bell episode is not by way of an Emergent Church/Gospel Coalition polarity. Now, from what I can tell (still having not read the book myself), Bell contributes to this polarization with some of the ways he communicates himself. But nonetheless, I really don't think that the reaction to him should play along 'party' lines, even if Bell does it himself (which, for me personally, remains to be seen). Here's why:

1) Bell's answers may or may not end up being entirely orthodox, or, where they shift to the area of interpretive variance and not core doctrine then maybe they will be highly critique-worthy. However, his questions have a long long history and I would suggest that his questions are indeed orthodox in the most important way possible (if a question itself can be considered orthodox). Throughout church history there have been tensions that have had to be held in play, and perennially re-brought up, in order for the doctrine to do justice to the revelation of God which is from beyond us all and confronts us in our worldviews and our interpretations. Bell's questions need to be addressed with something more than reassertion of the original position, even if the original position is still held. I do not see this happening and that is why even before I've read the book I have been quite vocal in calling for a better hearing and a better response.

2) Bell may have positioned himself against a certain reading of the Bible which may or may not coincide with Gospel Coalition commitments, and thus may have pushed this into a 'competitive' mode himself. However, from what I gather he has not named names but has dealt with the ideas that he is questioning. Thus there is opportunity to transcend the us v. them mentality and actually give a constructive response. This is what I think is called for, not because I think it is more culturally palatable or because I am a big fan of tolerance and fluffy sentiments, but because the very gospel with which we wrestle calls for it. We are one church by one spirit. We need to act from that belief for as long as is humanly possible. And then we can act from it for as long as is Christ-ianly possbile too.

This is why I found DeYoung's review so unhelpful. And I read stuff on the other side, like at Patrol magazine, and find it highly unhelpful too. And if Bell has been overly polarizing in his approach then we can say the same. But whatever the case, we can do better than that. Jesus says so.
So, in that vein, I highly recommend a response to Bell that comes from neither 'camp', but from a British theologian who is as readable as he is knowledgeable (and relatively aloof to the whole American side-taking). I won't pretend that he is simply a dispassonate and neutral observer (nor that I am either), but I sure hope he carries it through because I think it has a lot going for it that will be helpful for us all.

Now go read See Steve Holmes' Shored Fragments.


Brett Gee 英 明 said...

That is a nice little review. i look forward to hearing more of Steve's thoughts.

For anyone else interested in more reading, I found this guy to be quite inspiring:

By the way, Jon, the subtle background change to your blog is nice.

Jon Coutts said...

Thanks for that link Brett. I'm definitely not going all the way at this point on the 'losing hell' bit, but I definitely take the point that an over-realized doctrine of hell does damage in the same way that an under-dealt with doctrine of God's judgment does damage.

Oh, and on the background: I don't think I fully realized how much of an eyesore my last background was until someone pointed it out to me. I really liked it as a change from my old beige motif, but its days were certainly numbered.

Now we are reading our blog on the old picnic table out back on a brisk autumn midday, and we've got our serifs back. That's a bit better.

I just read by far the best bit of satire about the response to Bell's book: See

Brett Gee 英 明 said...

Yeah, the "losing hell" thing is a little out there all right. I just like the guy's honesty. He's got a few other posts that are nice to read as well.