Saturday, September 3, 2011

A Book By Its Cover: Jake Rivers Satirically Reviews "Love Wins"

     Over the past several months it seems that just about everybody has found time to read, review, and comment on Rob Bell's new book Love Wins. Why is it so popular you may ask? According to common hearsay, Bell is calling into question traditional teachings and understandings about what the Bible actually says about Hell and raises a number of ideas to suggest that maybe what we grew up believing in Sunday School isn't fully accurate. Needless to say this book has created quite the firestorm of debate within the Christian community. Words like "Heretic", "Narrow-Minded" have been thrown around like hand-grenades.

Naturally I want in.

However, I must be brutally honest and confess that I still have not read this book. In fact, apart from the promo video, I haven't got passed the cover. Nevertheless, in the interest of staying relevant with the culture, I intend, in this review, to give my honest, unashamed, critique of this very book cover and what I believe its implications are for the future of evangelicalism.

The Book that Inspired the Legend
     To begin, lets take critical analysis of the title. Maybe I am on the lethargic side, but a title like "Love Wins" isn't going to make anybody want to read more. Let's be honest, the rest of the world has a million and one things on the mind and probably none of them involve going to the religious section in the local bookstore and grabbing what sounds like a cheesy romance novel and hoping to be divinely inspired. THIS IS THE 21st CENTURY BELL! As a pastor, you should know by now that Christianity isn't going to avail anyone if it doesn't sound exciting and popular. Save your boring words for after you get them into church, but until that time you need to use more flare! As most modern Christians could testify, this isn't so hard to do. Here is just a brief list of alternate titles submitted by other "recognized" Christian authors:

Joshua Harris: I Kissed Hell Goodbye
Joel Osteen: Your Best Afterlife Now
AC/DC: Bell's Hells
(And my personal favorite)
Robert Palmer meets Charlie Sheen: Might as Well Face it, I'm Addicted to Love Winning

It's not rocket science Rob. But after going over your title again and again, I just can't help but feel you were so concerned about what you believe, that you forget about the world you are trying to reach. Frankly, I don't think that's the example we see set out for us in scripture.

A Theologically Correct Christian Book Cover
     Number two: the cover illustration. Let's start with the background. It really only took me a few moments into my examination of Rob's book cover for be to seriously begin to question his theological grounding. For countless decades it has seemed second nature for biblically-grounded Christians to depict images of creation (waves, mountain ranges), classical art depictions of Jesus, or at the very least an image of teenagers staying in school. (see example on left) Yet after long minutes of studying, I was unable to detect any of these traditional evidences. Instead there was only this weird, darkness with a bit of red on the side. Upon further analysis, I came to realize that Bell actually has the book title re-printed in italicized grey letters in the background. Now maybe I'm wrong, but I don't recall that type of font displacement appearing anywhere in scripture or even on any of the other Christian books on my shelf. Now I know I'm not dealing with anything explicit here, but I think this is strong evidence that Bell has left the realm of orthodoxy and is wandering into title-page apostasy.

Actually my idea for a better cover would have been a depiction of the devil, sitting in an alleyway outside Bell's church with a cardboard sign that says "homeless". But that may have to wait for the sequel.

     Last of all, I want to take an honest look at what so many people forget about when reviewing the cover.

The back page.

It is here that we find what many would deem the most controversial subject matter and that is the quotations from others who have read and endorsed  the book in question. I'm speaking of course about the Eugene Peterson quotation which (in all appearances) gives a hearty amen to the book's content.

‘It isn’t easy to develop a biblical imagination that takes in the comprehensive and eternal work of Christ…Rob Bell goes a long way in helping us acquire just such an imagination — without a trace of the soft sentimentality and without compromising an inch of evangelical conviction.‘”
- Eugene Peterson, Author of The Message

Now what stands out to me, (as I'm sure it does to every astute critic) is that this quotation is entirely without reliable evidence. Why should we so quickly assume that just because it's printed on the back, we should accept it as truth? Eugene Peterson has ACTUALLY read this book? Furthermore, he has ACTUALLY written and submitted this quotation? Really? We have evidence of this? Someone was there, reading over his shoulder, who can attest to this? We have  photographic evidence? Or are we all just to accept it, simply because we've been brought up believing the quotations on the backs of our books are always accurate? 

Is this the kind of arrogance the world needs?

     In summary, while I'm sure this cover may lead to some interesting discussions, it may be that it causes more division than it's worth. I'm not one to judge a book by its cover, though I maintain that as far as covers go, Love Wins certainly doesn't play passively. It's a cover looking to (no pun intended) raise a little Hell. As for impact on the church of tomorrow, I anticipate that there will no doubt be many more controversial covers of this same caliber. But that's never been something new for the church. So next time you're in the bookstore don't be shocked if  there ends up being more to a book than meets the eye. The era we live in calls for discernment in what we choose to read, how we read it, and how we choose to respond. But a need for wisdom is nothing new. It's human nature to assume we're smarter than we really are.  In fact,  it's the fate of every person who ever lived.

1 comment:

  1. "The era we live in calls for discernment in what we choose to read, how we read it, and how we choose to respond. But a need for wisdom is nothing new. It's human nature to assume we're smarter than we really are. In fact, it's the fate of every person who ever lived."
    If I ever write a book, this will be on the back cover. thanks for making me laugh this morning, think, and wonder about the books I've picked up to read lately. see you at Grace.
    - Kitty Lizzy Fitzwilliams