Posted on: March 24th, 2011 Bell, Wright, MacIntyre (Love Wins, intro)

In his introduction to Love Wins Bell clearly says that he does not take himself to have all the answers. Rather, he is asking some questions, rooting his thought in the categories the Bible itself gives us. In this he is doing the very same thing that NT Wright has been doing, and in fact, a great many (even most?) of the “bombshells” he is dropping, particularly in chapter 1 (dealing with “heaven”), are nothing more that what NT Wright has been teaching for years. Thus, Bell is traveling nowhere that Bp. Wright has not travelled before.

The second big claim Bell rightly makes in the introduction is that, to the extent that he has a “position” on this “issue,” this position of his is nothing new, and is well included within the mainstream of the “ongoing discussion” (p xi) that the church has been having for centuries. In this he is utterly correct. In fact, he is essentially espousing a view of Christian tradition which has been articulated by Alisdair MacIntyre:

The traditions through which particular practices are transmitted and reshaped never exist in isolation for larger social traditions. What constitutes such traditions? We are apt to be misled here by the ideological uses to which the concept of a tradition has been put by conservative political theorists. Characteristically such theorists have followed Burke in contrasting tradition with reason and the stability of tradition with conflict. Both contrasts obfuscate. For all reasoning takes place within the context of some traditional mode of thought, transcending through criticism and invention the limitations of what had hitherto been reasoned in that tradition; this is as true of modern physics as of medieval logic. Moreover when a tradition is in good order it is always partially constituted by an argument about the goods the pursuit of which gives to that tradition its particular point and purpose.

So when an institution–a university, say, or a farm, or a hospital–is the bearer of a tradition of practice or practices, its common life will be partly, but in a centrally important way, constituted by a continuous argument as to what a university is and ought to be or what good farming is or what good medicine is. Traditions, when vital, embody continuities of conflict. Indeed when a tradition becomes Burkean, it is always dying or dead.

– Alisdair MacIntyre, After Virtue, p. 221

In this sense tradition is an ongoing dialogue that takes place over large periods of time within particular communities.

In conclusion, Love Wins (in the introduction at least) is in the very good company of NT Wright and Alisdair MacIntyre, and, thus, is a welcome and much needed articulation of theology especially since it is written at a much more popular level.

A final critique, however. Bell clearly has a “catholic” way of understanding tradition. It is too bad, therefore, that he does not have (or has not expressed, or has not acted on) a catholic ecclesiology.

That is, what is the church? Would that Bell were in a communion of churches, an actually embodied tradition (note what MacIntyre says above about communities: these are concrete communities of bodies & souls. Indeed, they are eucharistic communities (at least for scripture & tradition).

Here again, the emergent church slouches toward catholicity, but still lacking the actual ability to embrace the catholic church of history.

Here again (as has been the case for about a decade) “eccleiology!” is my mantra.

Oh how I wish Rob Bell would read John Milbank & Radical Orthodoxy.

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7 Responses to “Bell, Wright, MacIntyre (Love Wins, intro)”

  1. Alan K Hunt Says:
    March 24th, 2011 at 9:36 am

    I’ve found Douglas Groothuis helpful in his recent posts on Rob Bell, e.g., his latest on Bell: and several previous related posts.

  2. matt Says:
    March 24th, 2011 at 9:44 am

    Thanks Alan. I’ll check it out.

  3. matt Says:
    March 24th, 2011 at 9:49 am

    Alan, I must say, I don’t really like Groothius’ “first response.”

    In his first response to the book he zeroes in on something in the “recommended reading section?” Really?

    His first attempt to give people an impression (a summary?) of the book, and he focuses on something in the very last section of the book, starting on page 201, which is basically an addendum?

  4. Alan K Hunt Says:
    March 24th, 2011 at 12:29 pm

    Please give Dr. Groothius at least a modicum of the grace that you offer so generously to Bell. After all, he did lead with the disclaimer that he had yet “only paged through it.” Groothuis’ concern was that the one book Bell recommends on the nature of God is by a perennialist. That seems a valid concern to me, as I think it would to most orthodox Christian readers.

  5. matt Says:
    March 24th, 2011 at 1:50 pm

    Alan, I’m not extending one shred of grace to Bell, beyond the general rule that we should read charitably.

    The book is just good work. I have zero motivation to “support” Rob Bell (or any other “emergent” type).

    Frankly, I’m sick of all the charged politicization, and I’ve just come to the point of thinking that he is a good teacher / pastor (although I take issue with his apparent lack of ecclesiology), and that I can use his work in my ministry, especially in terms of starting conversations with folks who are unchurched.

  6. Alan K Hunt Says:
    March 25th, 2011 at 2:29 am

    I think I meant by “giving grace” roughly what you mean by “reading charitably.” I notice a lot of folks are concerned that Bell’s “Love Wins” thesis at least SEEMS to be equivalent to universalism, and that he at least SEEMS to relish coloring outside other lines of Christian orthodoxy as well. Those I’ve read have not issued a verdict, but they’re concerned. From the little I’ve heard and read from Bell, I tend to share their concern. Is that what you’re calling “charged politicization?” Anyway, you needn’t quibble with me further about this. It sounds like our orientations are nearly opposite on this one. I hope you’re right and our concerns are based on a misunderstanding about Bell.

  7. Jonathan Says:
    March 26th, 2011 at 3:55 pm

    I like how Bell opens up the book and steps all over reformed theology. Obviously if you are a strict Calvinist then there is no way you are going to agree with anything Bell has to say. In my opinion if John Piper is pissed off at you chances are you are approaching the truth. Kudos for that Mr. Bell. I love his recommended reading list and some are on my shelf. I feel similarly about Gregory Boyd as I do with Bell’s theology some of it is very good some of it is wishy washy and sometimes they way in which he delivers a position doesn’t have the same tact that a seasoned theologian may employ. The way Wright approaches a subject is one that first challenges the mind by using scripture and evidence then brings emotional stories to give these abstract concepts a reality, while Bell (so far in my reading) attacks the emotion first (and employs a little exegetical acrobats) then fires off and steps on a lot of toes in the process. I like it though. It is certainly not universalist – I read spong’s “sins of the scriptures” and I think that was more of a universalist view of salvation, heaven and hell than Bell. The view that God’s love is for everyone is still controversial, especially with Piper and the reformed theologians pushing ideas of election – which is prominent here.

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