A Review of Christ Alone. By Michael Wittmer.
Edenridge Press, 2011.
There have been plenty of articles and book reviews of Rob Bell’s Love Wins. I penned a few myself. But this may be the first book-length rebuttal of Bell’s controversial volume. The brief assessment (160 pages) is fair minded and even handed.
Wittmer is conversant with biblical, historical and systematic theology, so he is quite capable of dealing with the rather loose and scatty reasoning of Bell. But he treats him as a friend, not an enemy, and is more than courteous and gentle throughout, while showing how Bell veers from orthodox Christianity.
Since Bell seems to get so many of the basics of the gospel wrong, Wittmer deals with all the major biblical themes: God, Jesus, sin, salvation, heaven, hell and so on. In clearly written and biblically-based chapters Wittmer interacts with Bell, showing how his views are deficient both in terms of the biblical data and historic Christianity.
For example, Wittmer argues that Bell has a “one-dimensional view” of God. Because he so focuses on the love of God, while virtually ignoring his holiness, righteousness, wrath, and so on, Bell presents us with a very lopsided portrait of God.
Real love requires real holiness, and God is not being loving if he does not treat sin seriously, and in fact punish it. Wittmer rightly argues that for all the talk about love, Bell’s God is not loving enough. Indeed, the way Bell presents things, God’s “love is more like the squishy indulgence of an overmatched parent than the solid, firm resolve of our infinite God.”
Indeed, his view of God “too often reads like a souped-up version of us – a God made more in our image than we in his. Is Bell really talking about the biblical God, or just about ourselves in a really loud voice?” It is because Bell has a sub-biblical view of God that he tends to get all the other doctrines wrong as well.
The doctrine of hell only makes sense if we are really sinners who have sinned against an infinite, holy God. But with a fuzzy view of God comes a fuzzy view of sin. Bell makes it clear that our main problem is not that we are sinners, but that we are simply ignorant.
Bell says that we are all part of God’s family, and our problem is we just don’t realise it. All we have to do is realise that we are already in, and everything will be just fine. So when Bell does talk about sin, it is mainly about social sins – sins toward one another.
But he overlooks the truth that at heart all sin is ultimately against God. Bell seems to think sin is no real big deal for God, and thus eternal punishment simply makes no sense. But it certainly is a big deal to God – so much so that he sent his own Son to die in our place, taking the punishment we deserved upon himself.
Indeed, Bell confuses Christ as creator with Christ as redeemer. Yes we all belong to God by creation. But only those who come to Christ in repentance are his by redemption. Bell seems to think that the fact of creation is enough to include us all into God’s family. But it is not.
Sin keeps us out of God’s family, which is why we all need a redeemer. But because Bell has a Pelagian, and therefore deficient, view of sin, he has a poor view of grace as well. We don’t really need grace. We can basically please God on our own by our own efforts.
He is quite happy to say that we are all the recipients of God’s lavish common grace, but he does not want to admit that without God’s special saving grace, we are all lost. Not only can we choose God freely any time we want in this life, but we can also in the next life.
That of course is another major problem with Bell’s book. He teaches that we all have many chances to get in sync with God’s love, even after we die. Never mind that Scripture plainly teaches us that once we die, there are no more second chances.
But Bell so much wants everyone to be saved, that he simply has to ignore, twist or trample on the many clear passages of Scripture which so strongly refute his case. He just wants universalism to be true, so he rejigs the whole Bible to make it fit into his humanistic theology.
So his beliefs effectively render the cross of Christ of no effect. It does not really do anything, except present a general picture of what already can be found in nature: things die, things come to life again. He has stripped the cross of its efficacy and necessity, and turned it into a just neat symbol.
Indeed, his view on all this simply “minimizes our need for Jesus. If all we need from the cross is an inspirational example to follow, then we must not be in very serious trouble.” Quite so. What Bell is really giving us is something not all that much different from the old theological liberalism.
Years ago H. Richard Niebuhr very nicely expressed it this way: “The liberal gospel consists of a God without wrath bringing people without sin into a kingdom without judgment through a Christ without a cross.” That pretty well summarises what we find in Bell’s book.
Concludes, Wittmer, “the largest problem with Love Wins is that ultimately it changes the biblical meaning of the gospel”. It sure does. Thus what we are left with is no gospel at all, except a false gospel.
Regardless of what one thinks of Bell, I encourage everyone to read this book carefully and prayerfully. It is good, strong spiritual and theological medicine indeed.