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The eminent critic and philosopher George Steiner reminds us in Real Presences that a certain courtesy is necessary when treating a work of art, and a piece of literature in particular. Steiner insists on the word “courtesy” because, he maintains, we are dealing with a being, an author, a “real presence” behind the curtain of syntax: “The arts are most wonderfully rooted in substance, in the human body, in stone, in pigment, in the twanging of gut or the weight of wind on reeds. All good art and literature begin in immanence. But they do not stop there. Which is to say, very plainly, that it is the enterprise and privilege of the aesthetic to quicken into lit presence the continuum between temporality and eternity, between matter and spirit, between man and „the other‟” (227). In a very real sense, the work of art exhibits living qualities that must be treated as such, qualities that demand a level of care and respect similar to what we would extend to a fellow human being. Steiner would protect the story from the reader‟s intrusion. “There are a growing number of us who have become acutely aware that Jesus‟s story has been hijacked by a number of other stories,” writes Rob Bell in his new book, Love Wins (page 1). Perhaps his most important sentence occurs on this first page. Throughout the book, Bell repeatedly returns to the metaphor of stories. Scripture, in Bell‟s estimation, is an elaborate anthology of stories that unfold with all the verve, complexity, and ambiguity of our daily lives. Hence Bell‟s dogmatically un-dogmatic approach to his source material. In his scheme, the story, the journey, the narrative takes priority over critical considerations. From this standpoint, the second most important section of the book reads as follows: “it‟s important that we be honest about the fact that some stories are better than others. Telling a story in which billions of people spend forever somewhere in the universe trapped in a black hole of endless torment and misery with no way out isn‟t a very good story” (110). Conversely, “everybody enjoying God‟s good world together with no disgrace or shame, justice being served, and all the wrongs being made right is a better story” (111). Love Wins met with controversy before it even hit shelves thanks in no small part to a brilliantly provocative promotional video featuring Bell doing what he does best: asking open-ended questions. This time, however, said questions bore directly on the eternal fate of humanity. The book‟s subtitle is A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived. The initial response to the book was every bit as dramatic. Like Bell, the video is content with ambiguity, but in it, he tantalizes the viewer with the possibility that we as Christians may need to rethink our conceptions of hell, that hell, in fact, may not be the eternal destination of anyone. And so the blogosphere continues to swell along with the book‟s sales. Much of Rob Bell‟s literary output is characterized by a streamlined sensibility that is not so much pastoral, theological, or poetic, as corporate in consistency. His style is simultaneously provocative and disarming; sentences meander over the page in haphazard configurations, often terminating prematurely. Though the effect is clearly intended to be poetic, what often emerges is a faintly aphoristic admixture of abundant questions, vague conjectures, and sentence fragments: “It‟s as if we‟re currently trying to play the piano while wearing oven mitts” (61). “Right now, we‟re trying to embrace our lover, but we‟re wearing a hazmat suit” (ibid). It‟s tempting to speculate that the surfeit of questions is an attempt to inoculate the reader against any proposed solution. On conversion, he writes: “So is it what you say, or who you are, or what you do, or what you say you‟re going to do, or who your friends are, or
but I hope he is. Sharper than any double-edged sword. An apt question arises: is Bell‟s treatment of the stories under investigation legitimate? My concern is that Bell is frequently careless with the stories he chooses. So primitive and barbaric. I came across a telling comment from a Rob Bell advocate while perusing a blog that was critical of Love Wins: “I understand what you are saying here. in spite of all the conversing and exploration. it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit. he is frequently guilty of putting them to a rather programmatic use. . and it‟s pretty close to what I have believed for a good portion of my life. At a certain point. Bell appears to ignore the theological implications of this system that reach their culmination in Christ‟s sacrifice (Heb 10: 9-12). humility and even surrender: “For the word of God is living and active. or better yet. I am put in mind of John‟s somber warning in Revelation 22: “I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this scroll: If anyone adds anything to them. Indeed. however. truth must supplant the analogy. Rob Bell continually refuses to grant the text the courtesy of speaking for itself and frequently chooses to leave things open-ended that are fiercely final. a certain manner. it seems. stories demand adequate readers. I think he makes a grave error in representing the Levitical sacrificial system as little more than a historic curio : “Just the thought of such practices and rituals is repulsive. God will take away from that person any share in the tree of life and in the Holy City. The author behind the biblical text assumes an unprecedented authority. ignoring the authorial presence immanent within them. courtesy assumes reception.” This response happens to be emblematic of Bell‟s approach. is limited. There is no stronger argument for the primacy of the text nor is there a clearer breach of the partition between reader and author than here. A metaphor‟s life. God will add to that person the plagues described in this scroll. For instance. It doesn‟t even cross our minds to sacrifice animals” (123). At any rate. What we‟re left with is not so much a conclusion or any kind of final elaboration but a certain tone. The “real presence” behind Scripture demands more than courtesy and respect. and I can‟t find a clear transition in Love Wins. or whether you give birth to children” (15)? The gravity of the book‟s central issues elevates the material in Love Wins. Rob Bell‟s most compelling argument is the same argument made by his reader in the paragraph above: my version of the story makes me feel better and is therefore preferable.who you‟re married to. intended. assumes presence. Such outbursts indicate a resolute disregard of authorial intent in favor of contemporary sensibilities. is remarkably flexible if it becomes the end rather than the means. The same reticence characterizing the comment above characterizes the book. I hesitate to use a word as definitive as “viewpoint” or “conclusion” because Love Wins draws conclusions by default only. In spite of his narrative approach. I am mindful of Steiner‟s admonition. And if anyone takes words away from this scroll of prophecy. He may not be right. But I find Bell‟s vision of God and the future more compelling. Not to mention unnecessary. The story metaphor. joints and marrow. which are described in this scroll” (18-19). What we need is a story that is true. any scholar attempting to indict Homer on the basis of the mistreatment of a Cyclops would be met with incredulity. to placate readers who find certain severities or harsh proclamations unpalatable. it turns out. He demands reverence. it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart” (Heb 4:12).
please see Paul Copan‟s Is God a Moral Monster? Making Sense of the Old Testament God (Michigan: Baker Books.For a thorough treatment of the Levitical sacrificial system and its historical and theological implications. 2011). .