I read the book (which already puts me in rare company for people giving opinions on it).
Perhaps my biggest thoughts upon completing the book have to do with other issues than what was in the book itself. Here's a couple:
It's amazing the amount of anger that Rob Bell has drawn from the evangelical Christian community with this book. People who consider themselves leaders in the evangelical Christian community have been launching angry rhetoric against Rob and the book since even before the book was released! The biggest claim thrown out is that Rob Bell is a "heretic" for making claims that don't fit with "orthodoxy."
For those of you unfamiliar with the term, orthodoxy refers to the way the Church has traditionally understood God and scripture through the years.
Here's the funny part to me: these cries of "heretic" and "unorthodoxy" come from the Evangelical protestant community whose heroes were "unorthodox heretics". You see, back in the day the Church was just the Catholic church until along came some guys who said, "I'm not sure if the church has gotten things right all these years, let's go back to scripture and make sure." And sure enough, the early Reformers came to some conclusions that quite differed from the Catholic church. They came to different conclusions than Church tradition...they were "unorthodox" (and as such excommunicated from the Church).
These Reformers have become the heroes of the Protestant Church. Churches name themselves after Calvin, Luther, and Wesley...all men who strayed from orthodoxy to go back and look at scripture with fresh eyes. And now their unorthodox positions are the standard for orthodoxy. Ironic, isn't it?
And now Bell does no different. He attempts to look at the scriptures (in this case regarding heaven, hell, justice and love, and, yes, he covers them all), not through the lens of what Luther, Wesley, and Calvin thought about them, but through the lens of what Jesus, Paul, and the other biblical authors might have been trying to say in their context. And he's being labeled as unorthodox.
And it begs the question: Is unorthodox always a bad thing?
Do we think the church got it wrong for fifteen and a half centuries until a handful of Reformers righted the ship to the one true way God meant things to be? And that they didn't miss anything? Even though they lived just outside of the dark ages and had little access to sources that shed cultural light on the context in which the Biblical authors lived? Even though they didn't have access to documents like the Dead Sea Scrolls and other historical documents that have shaped our ability to accurately translate ancient Greek and Hebrew?
People will no doubt read this book just to find out if Rob Bell contradicts orthodoxy. The problem with finding out if someone is orthodox or not is the assumption that orthodoxy is necessarily correct. I don't care as much about whether or not Rob agrees with Calvin, Luther, and Wesley as I do with whether or not he agrees with what the Biblical authors were trying to say. Those may or may not always be the same thing.
2) Correct vs. Beneficial
There are also many who will read this book who are just trying to find juicy quotes where they think Rob is incorrect. In the process, they would likely miss out on the parts that are still beneficial.
Whether you agree with 100% or 0% of this book, I believe it to be profoundly beneficial. Before Bell suggests responses to these difficult issues, he raises difficult questions--and these are questions the world is asking!
It saddens me that so many inside the church brush away the questions of the skeptics as illegitimate. If we are ever to truly love our neighbors, we must first understand the questions they are asking to be legitimate.
In school, I was taught, "perception is always true." If someone says, "i feel unloved by you," then that is true, whether you were intending to or not. We need to be aware of this.
As such, I hope that people can be discerning thinkers in all areas of their learning and pursuit of God. Bell says in this book that, "he's just trying to add to the discussion," not set the new standard for theology. Take that for what it is. See the benefit, even when you may disagree with some of the conclusions.
I haven't said much about the book yet, but I really liked it. I'm thankful that he voiced many questions that challenge us to continue to think and pray through the message of the gospel. I don't know that I agree with everything, but I'm pretty sure no biblical interpreter (including myself) has gotten everything "right". Either way, I recommend you read this book and think, pray, and discuss in your church communities--not to see if Bell agrees with the reformers, but to see what truth and benefit might be present in this book.
(SIMPLE REQUEST: I realize that this note will get sucked into Facebook from my blog. However, I am not using Facebook until late April. If you feel like asking questions, commenting, or discussing this, I would prefer that take place on my blog (ryanyazel.blogspot.com) so that I can participate :)