As a parent who has lost a child I am very interested in how Love Wins relates to my questions about Infant Salvation and the fate of my son, Jude.
Therefore, this review of Rob Bell’s book Love Wins is rather specific and is limited to the topic of Infant Salvation.
A list of other more detailed reviews can be found at the bottom of m review of Love Wins and Infant Salvation – Preface.
Love Wins and Infant Salvation – Preface
Love Wins and Infant Salvation – Chapter 1 – What About the Flat Tire?
In chapter two Rob Bell talks about Hope, Heaven and Help, as well as flat tires.
What about hope?
While the Love Wins Preface does not speak directly to Infant Salvation, chapter one, What About the Flat Tire?, does.
For a book about heaven, hell, and the fate of every person who ever lived the context of infant salvation is rather dark and lacks comfort or hope.
Chapter two starts with the now infamous line of questioning about Gandhi’s eternal fate. These question, which were asked in the book’s trailer, helped ignite the firestorm that spread across the blogosphere.
Gandhi’s in hell?
We have confirmation of this?
Somebody knows this?
Without a doubt?
And that somebody decided to take on the responsibility of letting the rest of us know? (pages 1-2)
Along with these questions he goes on to ask dozens more.
Some silly. Some serious. All designed to generate an emotional response.
Like a caged animal, these questions quickly turn on us and attack the very heart of the Christian message; hope.
Several years ago I heard a woman tell about the funeral of her daughter’s friend, a high-school student who was killed in a car accident. Her daughter was asked by a Christian if the young man who had died was a Christian. She said that he told people he was an atheist. This person then said to her, “So there’s no hope then.”
Is that the Christian message?
Is that what Jesus offers the world?
Is this the sacred calling of Christians – to announce that there’s no hope? (pages 3-4)
Hope is a funny thing.
I have written about it often (here, here, here, here, here, and here) and I understand Rob Bell’s frustration.
While my frustration comes from empty or vague comments about hope, Rob Bell turns the tables like a New Jersey Housewife and implies that the traditional, historical, Orthodox Christian message is actually a message of no hope!
I think he knows better, but more on that in a moment.
What about heaven?
Immediately after assassinating hope he then goes all Emo on us and takes Infant Salvation to its (morbidly) logical conclusion.
The death of this high-school student raises questions about what’s called the “age of accountability.” Some Christians believe that up to a certain age children aren’t held accountable for what they believe or who they believe in, so if they die during those years, they go to be with God. But then when they reach a certain age, they become accountable for their beliefs, and if they die, they go to be with God only if they have said or done or believed the “right” things. Among those who believe this, this age of accountability is generally considered to be sometime around age twelve.
This belief raises a number of issues, one of them being the risk each new life faces. If every new baby being born could grow up to not believe the right things and go to hell forever, then prematurely terminating a child’s life anytime from conception to twelve years of age would actually be the loving thing to do, guaranteeing that the child ends up in heaven, and not hell, forever. Why run the risk? (pages 3-4)
I, too, have raised this very question.
I usually do it when a conversation turns into a confrontation.
When a conversation starts to get out of hand I bring up the same “logical” conclusion.
I know it is mean, but I don’t always bring it up and it is usually as a last resort to get someone to shut up or at least step back and acknowledge that the topic is not an easy one.
Why is it not an easy topic to discuss?
Because Infant Salvation is not directly discussed in the Bible.
It is indirectly discussed – and hinted at – but there is no one “chapter and verse” where it is defended or defined.
When people start acting like it is I usually bring up the same points that Rob Bell does in chapter one, about guaranteeing a child’s salvation.
Also, where Infant Salvation is at least indirectly addressed in the Bible, Age of Accountability is not. It is simply a logical assumption based on the indirect discussion.
And this is where Rob Bell’s writing style starts to get him in trouble.
Rob Bell likes to start with very general and high level comments, but end with specific conclusions and applications.
General (yet sometimes valid) questions will end with a specific (and usually misleading) response.
For example, “generally considered to be sometime around age twelve” (emphasis mine) is a general comment. He even uses the word “generally.” He concludes, however, with a very specific application stated as being absolution true; “Prematurely terminating a child’s life anytime from conception to twelve years of age would actually be the loving thing to do.”
With that he leaves the idea of Infant Salvation and begins to create a straw man of sorts in Age of Accountability.
He again asks questions but provides no answers.
This is disingenuous as the questions certainly have implied answers that are very negative – or contrary – to traditional orthodoxy.
He may not give answers, but the questions are worded in a way as to show the answer he wants to give, but does not.
But it’s ok that the idea of Infant Salvation and the Age of Accountability don’t make sense; neither does Jesus when He talks about salvation.
Rob Bell goes on to imply that Jesus can’t even explain how someone “gets saved.”
He quotes many verses that seem to contradict each other about how someone “gets saved.” He goes so far as to imply that Jesus doesn’t even know how to save anyone.
His concluding straw man question is “which Jesus do we believe in?” Which Jesus should we follow?
For example, Rob Bell quotes Renee Altson’s Stumbling Toward Faith:
I grew up in an abusive household. Much of my abuse was spiritual – and when I say spiritual, I don’t mean new age, esoteric, random mumblings from half-Wiccan, hippie parents… I mean that my father raped me while reciting the Lord’s Prayer. I mean that my father molested me while singing Christian hymns.
That Jesus? (page 7)
The question, as presented in the context of chapter one, is should we follow “that Jesus?”
The problem is that this quote is not even about Jesus.
It is about a horrible man.
A real !@#%@$$ of a man.
It is horrible. It is heinous. It is disgusting.
But it is not about Jesus.
The emotions are real and the implied answer is a resounding “NO! WE WILL NOT FOLLOW THAT JESUS!”
But it was her father who was a monster, not Jesus.
It was the father who committed the crime, not Jesus.
It was the father who sinned, not Jesus.
Rob Bell ends the chapter by implying we don’t know to get saved, that we don’t know what to believe, and that our current understanding of salvation and faith is obviously wrong.
It is ironic that he ends the chapter by saying, “But this isn’t just a book of questions. It’s a book of responses to these questions.” (page 19)
So far he has asked a lot of questions, but has provided almost no answers.
Maybe he will in chapter two, Here is the New There, the chapter about heaven.
What about help?
So what about the flat tire?
While dissecting our (mis)understanding of salvation he also puts evangelism on trial.
If our salvation, our future, our destiny is dependent on others bringing the message to us, teaching us, showing us – what happens if they don’t do their part?
What if the missionary get a flat tire? (page 9)
Earlier I stated that I think he knows better. Here’s why.
It is one thing to ask questions (even misleading questions) about our understanding of salvation; it is another thing all together to question the purpose of the church and the role of the Holy Spirit in salvation.
As a pastor Rob Bell knows the work and purpose of the Church.
He knows our “great commission” (Matthew 28:16-20).
He even discusses it in the next chapter about heaven.
He also knows that the Holy Spirit – and not just missionaries with flat tires – has a role in our salvation (John 16:8-11, 2 Corinthians 1:21-22, Ephesians 1:13, Ephesians 4:30).
To imply that God has stepped away from His creation and left it all up to us is extremely arrogant. Even more arrogant than the person who thinks Gandhi, a man who publicly rejected Jesus, will be separated from God forever.
I find it funny that so many people will tell you that there is nothing you can do to get saved and then say all you have to do is believe.
Or when people say there is nothing you can do to be saved so say this simple prayer.
It’s funny. Not slap you knee funny, but ha ha funny.
But in the ends it is simply our way of trying to verbalize – explain – something spiritual, mystical, and supernatural.
It’s as if Rob Bell does not understand that there are different types of speech.
We say that we saw a beautiful sun set, even though the sun did not set.
The earth turned.
The sun did not set. But it looks like it did so we call it a sun set.
Also, belief, whether religious or not, leads to action.
If I believe I should help someone then I will help them. If I believe that they need to learn a lesson and do something on their own, then I won’t help them. In this case my inaction becomes my action.
For Rob Bell to play loosey goosey with his words as he tries to explain God’s words is irresponsible. I know he wants to defend his beliefs (oh yea, and even his actions are based on his beliefs) so I think he should defend them.
If you want me to agree to flush 2000 years of tradition and Orthodoxy down the toilet, at least show me why I should.
So far he has not.
As a parent who has lost a child and has (sometimes) struggled with Infant Salvation I have yet to find hope, or even comfort, in Love Wins.
Maybe I will find it in chapter three, Here is the New There, the chapter about heaven.
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Until next time.