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Christ Alone: An Evangelical Response to Rob Bell's "Love Wins" Paperback – August 2, 2011
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About the Author
Michael Horton (PhD, University of Coventry and Wycliffe Hall, Oxford) is J. Gresham Machen Professor of Systematic Theology and Apologetics at Westminster Seminary California. He hosts "The White Horse Inn" radio broadcast and is editor-in-chief of "Modern Reformation" magazine. He is the author/editor of more than twenty books, including "Christless Christianity", "The Gospel-Driven Life", and "The Gospel Commission".
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Top Customer Reviews
As the title of this book implies, the focus audience of this book is for a much narrower audience then the audience of Rob Bell's book Love Wins. I suspect that most of the sales of this book will be to evangelicals who are "safe in the fold" and have already made up their minds about Rob Bell and his message, and are simply looking for a fluid and convincing voice to verbalize their mindset. And Mr. Wittmer does not disappoint his intended readers. He is an excellent communicator, and comes across as one who genuinely respects Mr. Bell. Unlike others who have reviewed Bell, or interviewed him, or even had a knee jerk reaction to the book even before reading it...such as Piper's famous tweet: "Rob Bell is history!", or Rob Bell's detractors who praised Martin Bashir for "ripping apart" Bell during an interview and "theologically bitch-slapping him". I have to take Mr. Wittmer at his word that he really respects Rob Bell and even likes him.
Christ Alone follows a systematic approach to discussing Love Wins...this would only be expected from a professor of Systematic Theology. The arguments, from my perspective, are quite predictable since I have been born and raised in Evangelical traditions and dogmas.
Early on, Mr. Wittmer says that Bell asks questions in Chapter 1 of Love Wins that few Evangelicals are struggling with. I can't help but wonder if he also believes that few Evangelicals are struggling with the issues raised throughout Love Wins? And that would make sense to me. If, like most evangelical pastors and theologians one is exposed only to those who think like they do, it would be no wonder to think that Evangelicals are not seriously asking these questions...but just looking for a valid defense against someone they have already decided to disagree with. But what about the thousands...maybe even millions of people who are leaving the Evangelical fold because the Evangelical dogma is failing to answer the burning questions of the heart? Certainly these people ARE asking these question. And Mr. Wittmer seems to come up short in answering many of these questions. The standard answer often seems to be that "it is the mystery of the fall...it is a mystery that we cannot understand".
Mr. Wittmer faults people who use moral reasoning when asking "How can a God of unchangeable, infinite love torture someone for eternity?" And then he goes on to poorly reason how a God of love must punish unrepentant sinners or else He wouldn't be truly loving. Certainly, he knows that Jesus, in the Sermon on the Mount, encourages us to use our moral reasoning faculties when he says: "Which father among you will give your son a stone when he asks for a piece of bread?"...and "Look at the birds of the air...your Father cares for them, don't you think He will care for you?" So, here Jesus encourages our moral, logical reasoning when it comes to thinking correctly about God.
Mr. Wittmer brushes off Bell's definition of the Greek word Aion...based on what...his own authority? He would do well to research what even secular experts in the Greek have to say...and they are much more in line with Bell's definition of the word.
Mr. Wittmer does address Bell's theological view of the cross...something that others have failed to do. I suspect that without using the theological terms he is basically discussing Penal Substitutionary Atonement versus the Christus Victor view of atonement. This, he does quite well defending the traditional view of Christ's death as being PSA. However, in so doing, he seems to eliminate any truth that the Christus Victor view of the cross might contain.
When it comes to early chuch history, Mr. Wittmer, certainly puts his own interpretation on what the early church fathers believed about hell and ultimate reconciliation, without giving any substantial documentation.
All in all, this is a very well written book that will be well received by Evangelicals. However, it still leaves much of the baggage that is attached to the modern Evangelical view of hell and judgment.
While reading the book, I couldn't help but wish that I could actually hear Bell and Wittmer discuss this topic in a real live conversation. Knowing the gracious nature of both men I suspect that such a discussion would be very profitable.
The other thought that came to me stems from my long exposure to lawyers. I suspect that if an intelligent person from virtually any theological point of view...whether Preterist, Catholic, Orthodox...or whatever flavor of Christianity....were to write a "Response to Love Wins" it would be very convincing from their perspective.
I recently read this: "You know, the more I read different theological view points and arguments, I am increasingly seeing the beauty of the Bible....it is profitable for under-girding just about any theological point of view one chooses to espouse...and furthermore, it can be very useful in undermining all the theological points of view that I may happen to disagree with. What a wonderful book!"
In the book Christ Alone Wittmer uses terms like "functional universalist" and "functional pluralist" to describe Bell. It is my suspicion that most Evangelicals...including pastors and theologians are "functional non-believers in the Hell of Jonathan Edwards" It is easy to speak of all this theoretically, but our lifestyles give us away. If we really believed in the "hell of Jonathan Edwards", how could we live like we do knowing that our neighbors and millions of people we know and don't know will suffer burning napalm for eternity? Wouldn't every waking minute be devoted to "pulling them back from the brink?" Wouldn't every spare dime above our bare bones needs for simple existence be given for the purpose of "saving the lost" before they are thrown into torment forever? I dare say that a pastor, or seminary professor will not be so quick to comfort a family member, who has lost a rebellious 14 year old daughter before she "accepted Jesus into her heart", with the words that a God of unchanging love is demonstrating His goodness to your deceased child right now by allowing her to be tormented in the flames of hell...and this demonstration of love will continue on forever.
And so, I think that this is a well written book, by a sincere and genuine theologian. I am just thankful that Jesus told us that he would send us "the Spirit of Truth to guide us into all of the truth" (John 16:13), and that he didn't say that he would send us "theologians to help you to find the truth". I am not sure I buy into the God of Bell or Wittmer...I will stick with Jesus.
Christ Alone moves quickly, is filled with creative and illuminating application, and, most of all, takes a definitive stand on an important and complex issue. While it tackles difficult theological concepts, the material is accessible to the average reader who simply wants to continue to explore the questions of hell, eternal suffering, and salvation in Christ Alone.