Francis Chan on Rob Bell’s Love Wins

Francis Chan has joined the ranks of Christians responding to Rob Bell’s recent New York Times Bestseller Love Wins.

Here is Chan’s video, with his book-length response coming this summer:

Chan has a genuine concern for the people involved; for him it’s not just a doctrinal issue, it’s a serious human issue, though his doctrine is much the same as several other Christian leaders who have disagreed with Bell’s book.

Unfortunately Chan commits a classic college freshman-level philosophical error. He points out (though not by name) that Bell is appealing to his own sense of right and wrong while he himself (Chan) is simply looking at the Bible. The glaringly obvious shouldn’t have to be pointed out, but since Chan bases much of his argument on this error, here it is:

Francis Chan is not unbiased. Rob Bell is not unbiased. Both Chan and Bell approach the Bible with conceptions of what God is like, and their reading of the Bible further shapes their understanding. Bell has searched the Scriptures and decided God is like this, while Chan has searched the Scriptures and decided God is like that. Neither are unbiased. Neither are relying only on what they think God is like or what they want God to be like.

Chan is saying that he’s just reading the Bible for what it says and taking God at his word, but this isn’t true at all, and here’s one of many reasons why: Jesus said that if your right eye causes you to sin you should gouge it out. Does Francis still have two eyeballs? Yes. So he is either disobeying Jesus or he doesn’t sin, right?

No, this passage must be interpreted. Chan has read the words of Jesus and interpreted that Jesus doesn’t actually mean what he says, not literally anyway. He gets to keep his eyeballs. Is Francis putting himself above God by saying, “Surely Jesus couldn’t have meant what he said?” No, he’s making interpretations.

This says nothing about Chan’s or Bell’s interpretations on Hell. It’s possible that Bell is completely wrong about Hell, but unfortunately the crux of Chan’s argument rests on a simple, blatant error: that he himself is simply reading the Bible and taking God at his word while Bell is only relying on his own mental faculties.

11 thoughts on “Francis Chan on Rob Bell’s Love Wins”

  1. At last! Thank you for recognizing this! I am so frustrated with people who claim to be teaching the Bible, and everything they say contradicts each other. This is such a valuable point.

  2. This argument you point out against Chan is simply flawed. Of course, everyone has a culture and everyone has biases. And, Chan’s perspective is potentially erroneous.

    But, the only way this is a “philosophical error” is if there is no such thing as a legitimate truth claim. That is a big assumption that cannot stand up to scrutiny. if that is the case – then there is no reason for reading the Bible ever. You are ultimately headed to meaninglessness if you are consistent.

    When Chan argues that Bell is appealing to his own sense of right and wrong versus Chan’s view based on Scripture – it is not a philosophical error; it may well be a legitimate point. Either he’s right or he’s wrong but it’s not a necessary conclusion that both are doing the same thing. The determination of that will depend on the arguments.

    Of course, we interpret scripture (as we interpret any communication every day). I do think one can argue that Bell, who is a serious student of the Bible, has blatantly ignored texts (and this point does not depend on whether Bell is right or not in his conclusion, it is conceivably possible he is. But, his arguments are based more in a desire than in a full-fledged exegesis of the text – that is demonstrable based on his book itself). Bell simply ignores and overlooks passages that present thorny problems with his argument. And, even his wording belies a desire in one direction over another. Whatever one wants to say about that “desire” (whether good or bad) it is evident that it is there and that it drives the theology – blatantly so.

    Reducing views to “cultural bias” legitimates views of “Christian” white racists in the south in the 1950’s-60’s (and before/after). “It’s just their cultural reading of Scripture that allows this – and that’s as legitimate as any other.” No. It was a cultural reading but it was a flawed reading and a flawed perspective based on their “own sense of right and wrong.” Good for the goose …

    Yes, we “interpret” Scripture (b/c we interpret all communication) but that doesn’t negate that one can have a correct understanding nor that another is starting with a deeper presupposition of “right and wrong” in their approach to Scripture.

    You have mistaken the classic postmodern critique of modernism (which has a level of legitimacy) with a full fledged postmodernist bent (which ultimately has no legitimacy b/c it rejects all truth claims – at which point, one may as well follow Hitler as Jesus).

    1. Jeff, thanks for the comment.

      You said, “When Chan argues that Bell is appealing to his own sense of right and wrong versus Chan’s view based on Scripture – it is not a philosophical error; it may well be a legitimate point.”

      It is an error, and here’s why: Chan is assuming that he’s just reading the Bible for what it says, setting himself up as the standard and making no distinction between himself and the Bible/God. Instead of recognizing his own bias, he points to Bell’s.

      You said, “You have mistaken the classic postmodern critique of modernism (which has a level of legitimacy) with a full fledged postmodernist bent (which ultimately has no legitimacy b/c it rejects all truth claims – at which point, one may as well follow Hitler as Jesus).”

      Clearly I’m not rejecting all truth claims, as I said Bell could be wrong about hell. What I’m saying is that Chan’s argument doesn’t recognize his own bias. There can be no discussion with him because he’s simply “telling it as it is” by quoting the Bible while the people who disagree with him are just relying on their own opinions. And that’s disingenuous.

    2. Baptists believe that in order to be saved one has to be baptised first

      Many Evangelicals believe a simple prayer is enough to save you

      7th day adventists believe that eating meat is wrong.

      In the 80’s Many christians in my community thought isolating themselves from the world was the correct answer to living a chrisitan life

      We all have bias

      My problem with Chan is that he reads the bible and pretends that his view is the correct one. At least with Rob Bell and his book he doesn’t make the claim that his view is correct he more opens the topic up for discussion

  3. Chan is simply aware of human interpretation. Hell has always been seen as a metaphorical depiction by many believers, there’s nothing strange about that. Someone who wants to believe in a literal hell is no more sacred or a more loving Christian just because of that, nor am I condoning evel just because I don’t believe in a literal hell in the afterlife (but I do believe in a lot of hell on our own planet, and it happens while we Christians are playing theologians).

    So yes to Chan. This is a good video. Very, very honest of him, to say the least.

  4. I just bumped into this blog while searching. I’ve read some of both Rob Bell and Francis Chan. I also just purchased the Francis Chan book to better understand his perspective.

    I think that Francis Chan would actually agree with you. In his book “Forgotten God” he does talk a lot about wrestling with the Bible, not assuming you can know things that the Bible says we don’t know. He explicitly talks about the difference between chasing down the heart of a thing and more academically pursuing a contextual and historical understanding. So I think he gets that he does have to wrestle with examining the word and drawing certain conclusions.

    Having said that, I believe you may as well be playing into a classical blunder of examination. Not everything is simply up for interpretation. The Bible is not one big metaphor open to subjective interpretation. There are clear moments where metaphor exists and other moments where there is a retelling of a story. And even when dealing with metaphor there is a moment where a point is drawn out of the metaphor. If I were to describe an intense moment of judgement akin to a fire and that analogy included descriptions of suffering contextually wrapped around consequences then that is fairly heavy metaphor to deal with as well and I don’t believe Rob Bell is “interpreting” a metaphor of hell genuinely, if it is only a metaphor. In my opinion, Francis is drawing a distinction not simply between the literal interpretation of those scriptures referencing hell, but rather not interpreting at all and simply taking the concept of hell and reinventing it without regard to the contextual scenarios in which it is presented.

    In the book Velvet Elvis Rob Bell announced that it is the duty of Christians, as if OT rabbis or priests, to redefine the context of the Bible. This philosophical talking point is the problem Francis is addressing. he isn’t discounting the trouble with interpreting metaphors (and the potentially nebulous understanding that results) but rather deciding that the Bible can be rewritten in a sense by laying it alongside a more modern context (which Bell admittedly does believe we can do). There is a difference in understanding historical context and transliterating that context into a modern mindset (this would be Francis Chan). But reinterpreting authorship written in one period of history and redefining by another (Rob Bell has been known to quote a cult of desert hebrew spiritualists that didn’t exist for 300 years after the writing of the new testament as if their known perspective was a valid contemporary contextual understanding of the scripture when it was written… let alone giving himself license to be the canon of priesthood called to transliterate the scriptures directly within a modern context).

    Once upon a time I listened to a friend explain the miracle of the loaves and fishes as a metaphor. I would agree with him that an experience can have a metaphorical meaning, but that view is closer to picking shapes out of clouds. The loaves and fishes story wasn’t written in a style or proximity to metaphorical stories (which do exist in the Bible and are known to be contained within styles of writing.) So at that point, it is less a question of “what does it mean?” and more a question of “do you believe it?”

    Rob is saying he doesn’t believe in hell, so for it to make sense he needs it to be a metaphor. Chan is simply challenging the notion that it is explained within the Bible as a metaphor. And I believe Chan is also saying that he thinks Rob Bell doesn’t like what hell might mean if it is real (it doesn’t fit into what Rob wants his world view to be) so in Chan’s book he also addresses how to wrestle with the Bible when our values come in conflict with what God seems to value.

    I think that is pretty darned honest! Chan is saying, “let’s wrestle with it!” I think Rob is saying, “I can wordsmith hell!” it is Rob’s view that actually creates the problem you are talking about. if words can mean anything (and they don’t… context is everything) then he can make them mean whatever he wants (despite context). So Chan’s book is after context (a context he believes Bell to be ignoring apparently).

    I will check back once I have read Chan’s book completely.

    Final thought: Assuming your problem to be true, correctly interpreting something is not a zero-sum game. You may be degrees of closer to a truth and not simply right or wrong, correct? So even if they were struggling with understanding words and context, then it would be our responsibility to review both cases to determine who is aligning with context more accurately, right? That leaves it up to us and is less of a problem (for Chan or Bell).

    1. Interesting commentary on metaphors and the Bible. If you read Love Wins, though, you’ll see that Bell believes hell is real right now and when you die. He doesn’t think hell is a metaphor.

      The point of this post, however, is that Chan is saying he’s simply taking the Bible for what it says while Bell is making interpretations. Philosophy 101 will tell you that this is not possible–everybody makes interpretations. Check James K.A. Smith’s “Who’s Afraid of Postmodernism?” for a primer on this.

  5. Like I said I haven’t read the Rob Bell book. It may be my next one. I was just responding to what Chan was saying.

    So, since you’ve read the book, does Bell believe in hell as described in the Old and New Testament or does he talk about another view of hell, as in, hell is here and now in poor places on the planet and human suffering? In that sense hell would be “real” but simply as a descriptive metaphor for suffering, right? As in “war is hell” or “this is hell on earth”… a linguistic analogy evoking traditional images of fire and brimstone (or whatever, Bible or not).

    I am interested to know what you’ve read so far.

  6. and then maybe the thing i am most concerned about is his arrogance, in isiah 55 God says “your thoughts are not My thoughts and your ways are not my Ways”

    So when you think “I wouldn’t believe in a God who would” do what? do something you wouldn’ do or think in a way you wouldn’t?

    This was an interesting qoute from the video. In it Francis Chan accuses Rob Bell of trying to make God fit his world view, but he is completely unaware that he could be doing the same thing

    I liked your post it is refreshing to find open mindedness about this discussion rather then dogmatism

  7. I think a lot of the discussion misses the fundamental point that Mr. Chan is trying to make: That too often we, as Christians, try to formulate a god that is comfortable and compatible our values and our intellect. We are wwaayy below God’s infinite level. The idea that “I couldn’t believe in a God that would do that!” reduces God to our level…or something below us- subject to what we want Him to be or how we want him to act. I know in my case I’m better off when I get my intellectual ego out of the way and just focus on reading the Word. As my pastor likes to say…”More of Him means less of me.”

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