This week Jeff Cook posted a response to the trailer for Francis Chan’s upcoming response book to Rob Bell’s book. I’m not sure why it’s acceptable to respond to one book’s trailer and not another’s, and I’m not even sure why they call them trailers (usually a trailer follows along behind—if your trailer is out in front of your car, you probably didn’t hitch it properly). Mark Galli then responded to Cook, in part because he has a forthcoming response book to Rob Bell. If you don’t want to wait another month and a half for these books, you could read my thorough response to Love Wins (Christ Alone) which came out last month.
Jeff Cook concluded his post by claiming that we conservatives aren’t allowed to simply say that our view is what the Bible says. He wrote: “However, it seems to me that those who affirm the traditional view of hell need to do more than say ‘this is what the Bible says and we’re just repeating it.’ Everyone involved in the debate about hell right now is saying ‘the Bible says.’ What those who affirm the traditional view must show is why that view is worthy of devotion.”
Cook is right that both sides are claiming the Bible for their view, but he is wrong to suggest that this means that conservatives cannot simply say that they are saying what the Bible says. Obviously we have to show that Love Wins wrongly interprets Scripture, but having done so (see Christ Alone), we may legitimately say that we are proclaiming the biblical view.
Last week Harold Camping declared that he had biblical support for his end time predictions, but his claim did not prevent anyone, presumably also Jeff Cook, from saying that the Bible says he was wrong (Matthew 24:36). I’m not saying that Love Wins has the same issues as Harold Camping, but I do think that their interpretation of Scripture is equally suspect. Love Wins variously omits the biblical passages that don’t fit its message (e.g., Revelation 20:11-15); offers offbeat, idiosyncratic interpretations for others (pp. 84-85—lighter judgment for Sodom means that everyone who ever lived there may be saved?); and sometimes even misrepresents what the biblical text actually says (p. 91—the Greek text of Matthew 25:46 is not what Love Wins says it is).
So yes, Love Wins declares that it is merely explaining what the Bible actually says, but so did Camping. And like Camping, the exegetical errors in Love Wins are obvious to nearly everyone. At least I have not yet heard anyone defend its use of Scripture.
We may defend our normal reading of Scripture as those on the political left defend their understanding of the U.S. Constitution or science. When they perceive that someone on the right is misreading the Constitution or the fossil record, they never say “I guess we have to do more than say, ‘this is what the Constitution says’ or ‘this is what science says.’ We must also show why our view is worthy of devotion.” They merely attempt to show that conservatives are wrong, and having perceived that they have done so, they then continue to say, “This is what the Constitution says,” or “This is what science says.”
Just as the political left is aghast at how some on the right read the U.S. Constitution and the fossil record, so theological conservatives are put off by the mishandling of Scripture in Love Wins. We don’t think that its interpretation of Scripture is equal to ours, and having demonstrated this, we will continue to say that our view is what the Bible says—and we will do so until someone can show us from Scripture where we are wrong. It really is that simple.