Love Wins by Rob Bell

Love Wins by Rob Bell     ** out of ****

Let me begin by saying I think I understand Bell’s frustration with the current state of popular evangelicalism. The packaging of the gospel and the life it produces over the last 50 years in popular evangelical circles has been discouraging. Bell calls some of the thinking “toxic” and while I do not agree that the content of the message is toxic, the attitude with which Christians have delivered the content has been nothing short of embarrassing.

Bell is particularly frustrated with evangelical pictures of heaven and hell. I share Bell’s frustration over the pictures of heaven and hell evangelicals have given. I have watched people get excited when earthquakes hit because they think Christ’s return is soon. I’m not sure how the death of thousands of people can be “exciting” even if the end result is Christ’s return.

Bell spends time explaining the idea of heaven as a reality and not as a place floating around in the sky. His view of heaven is much more biblical than most people’s conceptions. (Randy Alcorn’s book Heaven as well as N.T. Wrights Surprised By Hope have already set forth to correct false pictures of heaven and life in the afterlife. However, Bell does add some new thoughts to develop their thinking.)  There is one problem, but I’ll get to that in a moment.

For the most part, chapter on hell is great until the final few pages. Bell says that in the same way heaven is a way of life now and later, so hell is a way of life now and later. I think this gives us all something to think about. His emphasis is the here and now and I wish he would have balanced it out, but so far so good.

The big problem with the chapters on heaven and hell are in his translation of the word eternal (as in eternal life and eternal punishment). The word in Greek is aionios. He chooses to translate aionios as a period of time. So, some might choose to live in hell for a period of time, but in the end the mercy of God wins out. It sounds a lot like The Great Divorce by C.S. Lewis. In the fictional work, Lewis said people kept themselves out of heaven because they would not give up their sin. Whenever they did, they moved from heaven to hell. Lewis flirted with the same ideas, he just had the wisdom to express these thoughts in fiction.

Bells big problem at this point is aionios as a period of time. So, those who are in Christ are only there for a period of time. If they rebel, are they out? Can they rebel? Satan did. Is everything in the afterlife in flux? How can love win if people are only given a “period of time” life?      

The chapter “Does God get what God wants?” is next and it is best to call it schizophrenic. On the one hand, Bell says God wants everyone to be saved. God is powerful enough to get what He wants. The Bible speaks of everyone dining at a feast and bowing and confessing to God. However, just as it looks as if the wheels are coming off of this bus and the thing is about to fall off of the side, Bell switches courses and says, “Will those who said no to God’s love in this life continue to say no in the next. Love demands freedom and freedom provides that possibility. People take that option now and we can assume it will be taken in the future.”

So, does love win or not? I can’t tell. Does God get what He wants and everyone is saved, or do people continue to rebel?

Bell will not answer the question. It is not that he avoids it. He simply says: We are limited. He do not know.

One thing he does affirm, we get what we want. If we want love in God, we can have it. If we do not want it, we do not have to have it.

To this point the universalist position seems to be the one he is most comfortable advocating, but each time it looks like he is ready to embrace universalism, he steps back from the edge.

Perhaps the most universalist chapter is chapter 6. Chapter 6 opens up the door for all people to be saved even if they do not know Christ or call on Him for salvation. Though he keeps his universalism vague and undefined, it is difficult to come to any other conclusion than this: Bell thinks all people will be saved. But, it is hard to tell because each time he is ready to jump into universalism, he backs off.    

The book suffers under the weight of Bell’s unwillingness to pin down what doctrine and practice should take the place of the one he rejects. It is not that he can’t pin down his doctrinal positions if he wanted to. He is a talented communicator. When he wants to be clear, he is. I know what he has rejected because he makes it plain. He wants nothing to do with the fundamentalism he grew up in. He wants us to know that fundamentalist types do not understand God is love. For most of the book he knows what he wants to reject, but unclear about what the doctrines should replaces the ones he rejects. Toward the end of the book he does begin to build some idea of his doctrine and practice, and that section is powerful. But, for most of the book, he seems to be wandering without a doctrinal destination. And that is the problem with many fundamentalist (and former fundamentalist) types – they know the doctrines they are against, but they are not sure what they are for.


4 Responses to “Love Wins by Rob Bell”

  1. Lisa Slippy says:

    Titus 1:9
    He must hold firmly to the trustworthy message as it has been taught, so that he can encourage others by sound doctrine and refute those who oppose it.

    thanks for your review of the book, Wes. While I have not read it, I have seen interviews with Rob Bell and am willing to take a bit stronger stand against him that you have set forth. Any error in the gospel is a damning error.

    Hebrews 9:27-28 Just as people are destined to die once, and after that to face judgment, so Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many; and he will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him.

    I firmly believe that we will die and face judgement once. There will be no second chances after death.

    Rob Bell is a wolf if he says anything else.

    • Wes says:

      Lisa –

      I obviously agree with what you say. The problem I ultimately had with the book is that it was both universalist and non-universalist at the same time. It is hard to examine an argument that refuses to take a position. I know post-moderns do not like to be defined (while they go around defining everyone else), but Bell refuses to even take a position.


  2. Ron Krumpos says:

    In his new book “Love Wins” Rob Bell seems to say that loving and compassionate people, regardless of their faith, will not be condemned to eternal hell just because they do not accept Jesus Christ as their Savior.

    Concepts of an afterlife vary between religions and among divisions of each faith. Here are three quotes from “the greatest achievement in life,” my ebook on comparative mysticism:

    (46) Few people have been so good that they have earned eternal paradise; fewer want to go to a place where they must receive punishments for their sins. Those who do believe in resurrection of their body hope that it will be not be in its final form. Few people really want to continue to be born again and live more human lives; fewer want to be reborn in a non-human form. If you are not quite certain you want to seek divine union, consider the alternatives.

    (59) Mysticism is the great quest for the ultimate ground of existence, the absolute nature of being itself. True mystics transcend apparent manifestations of the theatrical production called “this life.” Theirs is not simply a search for meaning, but discovery of what is, i.e. the Real underlying the seeming realities. Their objective is not heaven, gardens, paradise, or other celestial places. It is not being where the divine lives, but to be what the divine essence is here and now.

    (80) [referring to many non-mystics] Depending on their religious convictions, or personal beliefs, they may be born again to seek elusive perfection, go to a purgatory to work out their sins or, perhaps, pass on into oblivion. Lives are different; why not afterlives? Beliefs might become true.

    Rob Bell asks us to reexamine the Christian Gospel. People of all faiths should look beyond the letter of their sacred scriptures to their spiritual message. As one of my mentors wrote “In God we all meet.”

    • Wes says:

      Ron –

      Accept Christ teaches that we don’t all meet. In fact, Jesus told a story of two roads. One road is big and seems like a good road to take. It leads to destruction. The other road is small and tough. It leads to life. The two different paths lead to two different destinations.


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