The Love Wins Companion: A Study Guide for Those Who Want to Go Deeper Paperback – Oct 28 2011
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From Publishers Weekly
As Franken gleefully points out, Slate editor Weisberg has found a true gravy train, discovering enough previously uncollected nonsensical utterances by President Bush to fill a third volume. The president may have begun watching what he says since the publication of the first two volumes; Weisberg has to return to the 2000 campaign trail to fill out this collection. At least one statement, substituting "plowed" for "proud," raises the question of a presidential speech impediment, but that excuse won't get the self-proclaimed "master of low expectations" out of any of the other verbal missteps recorded here for posterity.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
“It contains insights and commentary by a wide range of theologians, Biblical scholars, and parish ministers; Biblical passages that deal with heaven, hell, and salvation; and discussion questions for individuals and groups along with more probes on Love Wins.” (Spirituality and Practice)See all Product Description
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Some initial thoughts:
I expected Rob Bell to use scholars to "prove" his leanings toward universalism. However, The LW Companion did not appeal to anyone contemporary who is overtly universalistic. At the end he quotes some early church fathers (and others who are hopeful universalists and one annihilationist). I found it compatible with LW in his non-committal universalism. He makes what appears to be a very strong case for it only to later claim he's agnostic: "Ultimately no one knows the answer" (pg 79). (This created for me a major tension that I will mention later.)
Rob Bell is clearly a lover of Scripture. He includes a chapter entitled "Becoming a Deep Reader of Scripture" where we are encouraged to "take in great swaths at a time" in order to see the big picture of God's Story. He cites and quotes copious amounts of Scripture throughout and even devotes an entire chapter as a step by step tutorial on how to do word studies using a lexicon, concordance etc.,
A brief overview of the book:
Bell utilizes many different voices, giving them considerable space, to fill out the vision of the Kingdom through their stories of grace and redemption. Some of the authors include N T Wright, Don Miller, Anne Lamott and Frederick Buechner. There are questions at the end of each chapter to gently help people work through their religious baggage of fear and censorship and also for working through the texts of Scripture.
The book starts out with two foundational premises: God is love and can be trusted: therefore "it's ok to think" and ask questions. (BTW, this is the opposite of Chan who chided questions as most likely arrogance and relegated the point of "God's nature as love" to BEYOND the last pages of his book...to the LAST question of his appendix!)
We are reminded that we all come to the Bible with filters, lenses and in some cases blinders. So we are challenged at the first with the question, "do we want to see"? That is, are we willing to see if we may be wrong on this? Now here is my frustration with the book. Wrong about what? He makes argument after argument how it appears that God is going to restore "ALL" (ok, hope's up) and later concedes by saying we can't really know (hope's down). So the question is if Bell is remaining agnostic on this issue what is he asking us to be willing to see? I must assume he is referring to seeing God's redemption as wider (not necessarily a guarantee for all). But most Christians secretly believe this anyway. Perhaps he means to push those farther along who are on the edge of universal reconciliation while not alienating those who are just not ready to embrace a full fledged evangelical universalist (?)
As in LW his treatment of the Kingdom was timely and prophetic. Once again he generates the passion and urgency to participate in the Kingdom that is now. Not surprisingly N. T. Wright was chosen to fill out this topic reminding us that, "the 'kingdom of heaven' is not about people going to heaven. It is about the rule of heaven coming to earth". Eternal life is sharing in the life that is God's, a quality of life which begins now. Not a linear quantity.
All in all the Companion was not quite the material I had expected but I believe it is an important addition to the conversation over the topic of "heaven and hell and the fate of everyone who has ever lived". There is much that speaks to the heart and that paints the picture a little brighter and clearer for those just exploring the idea that the Story of God may just be bigger than they have been led to believe.
One of the last questions asked in the book is "How have your views changed since reading Love Wins?" I will say briefly that LW+C brought about a leap in my understanding of and response to the call to discipleship. Instead of trying to hit the moving target of believing "this" so as to make sure I ended up "there" when I die I now see the call to follow Christ now, today (and LOVE is not a moving target). LW+C places the vision of discipleship within the overall Story of God's Kingdom using human stories to increase and empower that vision.
I hope this book will ignite a hunger to know more and to wonder: "Is the thing God is up to in the world through Jesus going to be smaller or bigger than our imagination? Is it going to shrink, or is it going to be something more expansive than we first thought? ...Does God fail? Is history tragic?" (pg 78) I pray wonder will grow into certainty within the church that God is good, that "He is loving to all He has made" and that He is "making all things new". This is the news that is truly good and the news that is an unconditional and irrevocable proclamation that, "God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself...therefore be reconciled to God".
For further study of Ultimate Restoration see:
Talbott's, The Inescapable Love of God,
Gregory MacDonald's, Evangelical Universalist,
Gerry Beauchemin's Hope Beyond Hell The Righteous Purpose of God's Judgment
or godslovewins dot com: A Case for Evangelical Universalism ("Is everything sad going to come untrue?")
I have read Rob Bell's Love Wins five or six times. I get it. Maybe because of this fact, I find this companion book to be more of a 'Primer' to Love Wins. An overview of what Bell wrote in Love Wins. I discovered that this companion book offered little new information. I am curious if others think the same as I?
Personally, I have a thought as to WHY this book was written. I think it has more to do with all of the criticism Bell received than it does to expand on the subject matter. I think Rob Bell wrote this book as a clarification to those critics who did not get the point of Love Wins. Yet, I doubt my reasoning as that doesn't seem to be Bell's style. STILL, I think my hypothesis is closer to the mark than what this book is being touted as.
This is a book meant to be read and studied corporally. As a matter of fact, it demands it. I love all the thought-provoking questions that go with each chapter. I look forward discussing them with a group.
In closing, since I consider this book to be a primer to Love Wins, I suggest just reading Love Wins. If you have some extra money the Love Wins Companion makes a great Cliff's Notes.
As expected, Bell's argument provoked an avalanche of controversy. Critiques and reviews popped up in every Christian circle. TIME magazine even devoted a cover story to the issue. All of which meant that hell, excuse the pun, was the hottest theological topic of 2011.
One year later, Bell is back with a follow-up book titled The Love Wins Companion: A Study Guide For Those Who Want to Go Deeper (HarperOne, paperback, 198 pages).
Even though his name appears on the cover, Bell contributes a mere dozen of the 198 pages. Most of the book is old material from other writers--excerpts from past books and reprinted essays. The contributors are admittedly diverse, though most are in line with Bell's thinking: progressive Emergents like Peter Rollins and David Dark, and creative writers like Anne Lamott and Frederick Buechner.
However some will raise eyebrows. The book features an entry from Pope Benedict XVI, which I see as a veiled attempt to say, "See, even the Pope agrees with Rob Bell!" Benedict's essay is excerpted from Spe Salvi, his encyclical on hope, and explores the ineffability of eternal life. The excerpt never touches upon the more controversial elements of Love Wins, namely the topics of hell, salvation, and universalism. Yet I worry that many people will see the Pope's entry and take it as an endorsement of Bell's work.
To its credit, The Love Wins Companion contains some thoughtful study questions at the end of each chapter, which might make it a good book for a small-group study on heaven and hell. If you have already read Love Wins, though, you probably want to pass on this companion.
This book is not actually written by him but it is an accompanying text to take you deeper into his type of teaching. It is OK but not as inspiring as Rob's direct comments.
That is just what "The Love Wins Companion" promises. The cover describes it as “A study guide for those who want to go deeper.” Unfortunately, as it turns out, deeper is not much deeper, and the Companion does little to expand on the ideas of the original book.
Each chapter of this book corresponds to one in "Love Wins." Each is built on the same structure: (1) a brief overview of the chapter, written by Rob Bell, reprising the main ideas; (2) a section called “Going Deeper,” written by David Vanderveen, which ostensibly broadens and deepens the concepts presented in the text; (3) a “Bible Study,”; (4a) a “Group Exercise” (not present for all chapters) that prompts small-group members to share their perspectives and stories; (4b) a set of discussion questions; and finally (5) one or more brief excerpts from other authors on the theme of the chapter.
This is a perfectly reasonable structure for a study guide. It’s just not put to very good use here. The “Going Deeper” sections are usually very brief (a few pages at most) and feel cursory. The “Bible Study” is more Bible than study: it marshals passages related to the chapter’s subject, but almost never provides context, background, or other aids that might help readers better grasp what the Bible actually says on the topic.
The discussion questions and readings are more varied in quality. Many of the questions involve simple parsing of the "Love Wins" chapter, but a few are thoughtful and could spark genuine conversation or self-reflection. The readings are sometimes interesting, but are often too brief or too tangential to really shed light on the chapter subject. (It’s telling that one of the best readings is an essay which, according to introductory blurb, was specifically commissioned for the Companion.)
Probably the most interesting thing in the book is relegated to the back matter—a collection of excerpts from Christian thinkers, ranging from the earliest Church Fathers to contemporary writers, on the subject of “last things” and what happens after we die. The excerpts certainly tend in one direction—they mostly suggest that what happens is something other than a straightforward judgment based on whether or not one “accepted Jesus”—but they’re the best indication in the book of the wider, deeper river of thought that Love Wins partakes of.
That’s the real problem with the "Love Wins Companion": it claims to “go deeper,” but really seems to skim along the surface, recapitulating but not developing the ideas expressed in the main book. Readers who are interested in genuinely exploring the directions in which Love Wins points might benefit from books like "The Evangelical Universalist" or Thomas Talbott’s incomparable "The Inescapable Love of God." The authors of the Companion are asking a full “book” price for it—but that money would almost certainly be better spent on other titles.