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A Divine Discussion

Thomas Whitley

Last night I picked up Love Wins: A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived"" for 40% off at my local Borders. I read the Introduction and first two chapters before I went to bed. I quickly realized that I do not like Rob Bell's writing style. Barely 50% of the first two chapters can be called paragraphs, proper. The rest of the chapters Is written like this. With a few words on each line. Designed to make a point.

This style works well when writing out a sermon manuscript so you pause at appropriate moments or when narrating a video (like Bell's Nooma"" series). This style does not work well when writing a book, though admittedly it does allow you to read more pages in a shorter amount of time.

Besides that I found myself continuously asking for footnotes, citations, examples to back up his points. Instead, I got statements like "...the woman who wrote the Letter to the Hebrews" with no citation. He makes this statement as if it is settled fact, but it in fact is not. The jury is still out, so to speak, on the authorship of Hebrews and while this theory has its supporters, it is by no means the only legitimate theory on the issue, nor does it have widespread support.

Nevertheless, I remind myself that Bell is writing for a popular audience, not for those of us who make a living (if you can call it that) studying religion academically. (Aside: Writing for a general audience, though, is never an excuse to play fast and loose with facts or to make statements sound as if they are settled fact, when they are not. We have a responsibility to present our readers with well-researched and factual writing. A hip writing style should never take precedent over appropriately nuancing statements and actually providing evidence for the arguments/statements we make.)

With that said, I think Bell gets the discussion of heaven, hell, and the afterlife going in an appropriate manner that highlights not only the importance of the discussion at hand, but also what is at the very essence of this discussion and others like it.

Some communities don't permit open, honest inquiry about the things that matter most. Lots of people have voiced a concern, expressed a doubt, or raised a question, only to be told by their family, church, friends, or tribe: "We don't discuss those things here."

I believe the discussion itself is divine. Abraham does his best to bargain with God, most of the book of Job consists of arguments by Job and his friends about the deepest questions of human suffering. God is practically on trial in the poem of Lamentations, and Jesus responds to almost every question he's asked with . . . a question.

Have you read Love Wins? What have your impressions been?