This is old news, which I’ve written about, preached about, and referred to, but here is another take on Rob Bell’s controversial Love Wins. The writer, Austin Fischer, is a student of Roger Olson, whose blog I recommend to you.
Fischer’s short essay offers an alternate explanation for much of the criticism aimed at Love Wins. It’s not that the book teaches universalism or denies the need for conversion (which it doesn’t), it’s that it doesn’t teach Calvinism. Specifically, many of the book’s critics can’t abide Bell’s free-will theism.
This criticism should pique the interest of all of us who are—as all Wesleyan Christians are supposed to be—free-will theists. By all means, we agree with our Calvinist brothers and sisters who say that human free will is enslaved to sin. Left to our own devices, we are unable to choose God. We are unable to choose to receive God’s gift of forgiveness and saving grace.
Fortunately, God doesn’t leave us to our own devices, nor does he, at the same time, run roughshod over our free will. The mediating position between human free will and God’s sovereignty—which, among other things, is the Methodist position—is prevenient grace. As Fischer correctly points out, prevenient grace “heals our fallen will to the point that we can indeed make a decision for or against God.”
Not that this mediating position answers all of our questions about the relationship between God’s sovereignty and human free will, but it does represent the consensus of Christian thought on the subject for the past 2,000 years, and it is, as we free-will theists would argue, the most biblical. Concerning one of Bell’s central ideas—that ultimately, by giving us heaven or hell, God gives each of us what we want—Fischer writes,
Along these lines, to say that the idea that God gives us what we want is unbiblical is, to a free-will theist, itself unbiblical. I would argue that every single time Scripture admonishes us to repent or perish, to do evil or good, to obey God or disobey, to follow or not to follow Jesus, it is telling us that God gives us what we want. And to put it mildly, there are a lot more verses in the Bible about this than there are about our will being fallen, though both are true and easily reconciled by free-will theism.
If you’ve read this blog for a while or heard my sermons on heaven and hell, you know that I’m not a fan of Bell’s book. I don’t entirely agree with Fischer that many of us fail to understand what Bell is saying because we’re not good readers. We fail to understand what Bell is saying because his writing is evasive. He raises challenging questions without attempting to resolve them. (Not to mention that, aesthetically, Bell’s writing style annoys me.)
It’s not that the Church, in its wisdom, is without answers to the questions that Bell raises, it’s that he fails to avail himself of those answers.