Panel to discuss popular book’s controversial theology

By Stori Long

Before Rob Bell’s latest book even hit the shelves on March 15, it was already a source of heated debate.

Bell, founder of Mars Hill Bible Church in Grandville, Mich., has been criticized by some in the Christian community who claim his book, “Love Wins: A Book about Heaven, Hell and the Fate of Every Person who Ever Lived,” promotes the idea that everyone goes to heaven.

The video advertising the book was enough to raise eyebrows, and the controversy surrounding the book has continued since its release.

In an effort to foster an open dialogue concerning the issues presented in Bell’s book, the religion club is hosting a discussion of the book, which will be held from 3:45 p.m. to 5 p.m. today in Kayser Auditorium.

Dr. Jonathan Tran, assistant professor of theological ethics, said the book’s national publicity and his students’ discussion of it inspired his desire to organize the formal discussion.

“I think this book has been largely misunderstood,” Tran said. “Bell is a very polarizing figure and the topic is one that is can be a very difficult one.”

According to The Grand Rapids Press, one day after the book’s release it launched to No. 5 on the best-seller list. Bell was also added to Time magazine’s annual list of 100 Most Influential People.

Religion professor Dr. David Moseman serves as an adviser for the religion club.

“This is a book that a lot of people are reading,” Moseman said. “And it needs to be discussed and what we are trying to do is frame that discussion in a conversation. Issues like this can be sticky and thorny and have a lot of opinion surrounding them, and hopefully this will help to promote good and useful discussion.”

Tran also sees this discussion as relevant to students.

“I have heard a lot of students talk about this and we really want to meet and engage students where they are, and they are reading this book,” Tran said.

A panel made up of George W. Truett Seminary professors, religion professors and a pastor will be present at the discussion. Despite the panel, those involved hope that the discussion and questions come primarily from the students who attend.

“The field of theology is unique in that unlike advanced mathematics or something; students are on an equal field with their professors,” Tran said. “In that, we are all Christians, or even if a student isn’t, they can have the freedom to discuss these kinds of topics.”

Tran said he hopes the conversation will shed light on some of the issues and accusations surrounding Bell’s book and encourage students to ask hard questions.

“I wanted to kind of go against the backlash Bell is receiving,” Tran said. “Not necessarily because I agree with him, but because as a theologian these questions are very important and need to be asked. I think people have read this book, or haven’t read it, and then painted Bell into a corner and claim he’s saying things he is not.”

Moseman agreed this kind of discussion will be good for students in challenging them and helping them to grow.

“Bell asks questions and challenges us on what it means to be a Christian and what that could look like,” Moseman said. “We need to have a conversation about that, and one that is truly a conversation, where we listen and hear. … This will help students engage this topic in a university setting, allowing them to grow and study, and not remain static people or Christians.”

Tran said he hopes to use the panel to help students learn.

“We really wanted to provide a place where students could articulate their concerns and questions,” Tran said. “We wanted to give them a space where they could think about these things, and to, as the Scriptures say, love God with all our minds.”