After reading the book for myself and considering the observations of those I trust, I have found that I would not recommend Rob Bell’s “Love Wins: A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived.” However, if you do indeed choose to read this book, you can find it at Amazon for under $12 at

First of all, allow me to express how disappointed I am that Bell released this work. He was truly one of my favorite authors and communicators. I was thoroughly challenged by “Velvet Elvis” and “Sex God” – though in his third book, I was a bit concerned with some statements that he made and how he made them. Second, I don’t pretend to be an expert in this field nor do I think that anything I can say to defend the key teachings of Christ has not only already been said in other blogs and articles – but in fact those individuals have said such things in such a better way than I could ever begin to say them. I believe that the real issue behind this discussion has less to do with hell and more to do with the holiness and justice of God. I encourage you to read . . .
* Justin Taylor of Gospel Coalition:
* Kevin DeYoung of Gospel Coalition:
* Resurgence by Mars Hill Church of Seattle:
* Richard Mouw of Fuller Seminary:

Some interesting (and quite troubling) videos to add to the discussion . . .

David Platt on Universalism, Rob Bell, Love Wins, Heaven and Hell from waterbrook multnomah on Vimeo.

I have decided to approach the topic from a different angle. Rather than spending a lot of time and effort on challenging Rob Bell, my takeaway from his book was to challenge myself. Am I preaching, teaching, embodying a holistic and Biblical understanding of heaven and hell? Am I guilty of misuse in this area (in either abuse OR neglect)? Because if I am truly leading in this area then those who are following me are less likely to be distracted, deceived, or disappointed by what I consider to be false teaching (whether Bell is intentional in this or not).

I do agree with Bell’s statement that reads, “It often appears that those who talk the most about going to heaven when you die talk the least about bringing heaven to earth right now, as Jesus taught us to pray: ‘Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.’ At the same time, it often appears that those who talk the most about relieving suffering now talk the least about heaven when we die” (Bell, 45.) The gospel is good news and good works. The church is to be a foretaste of God’s goodness and greatness. George Ladd famously stated, “The Kingdom of God is now but not yet.” One of my professors from my undergraduate work used to describe the Kingdom of God as D-Day and V-E Day. Calvary is our Normandy. The tide has turned. The enemy has lost. The battles are just not quite over. So we fight as if the war has not ended. But we know that it has. We await the day that we dance in “Berlin.” The Liberation. The Peace. We live in that tension. We teach in that tension. We do something about the mess now – even though we know the mess will be there until the Return.

Bell goes on to explain, “Some people are primarily concerned with systematic evils – corporations, nations, and institutions that enslave people, exploit the earth, and disregard the welfare of the weak and disempowered. Others are primarily concerned with individual sins, and so they focus on personal morality, individual patterns, habits and addictions that prevent human flourishing and cause profound suffering” (78). But should we choose? Doesn’t one have to do with the other? Aren’t both outside of the rule and reign of Christ and should thus be brought back under his transformative work? Bell suggests, “There are individual hells, and communal, society-wide hells, and Jesus teaches us to take both seriously. There is hell now, and there is hell later, and Jesus teaches us to take both seriously” (79).

And yet, what is so often the case, Bell then takes the whole affair way too far. The most troubling chapters in the book have to be “Does God Get What God Wants?” and “Dying to Live.” He proposes things such as, “. . . a belief that untold masses of people suffering forever doesn’t bring God glory. Restoration brings God glory; eternal torment doesn’t. Reconciliation brings God glory; endless anguish doesn’t. Renewal and return cause God’s greatness to shine through the universe; never-ending punishment doesn’t” (109). As if sin entering into the world – bringing all of that division, death, and destruction was God’s idea? As if we can disregard his holiness – his very character? As if those who live as if God does not exist will want to be with him forever? And in regards to Jesus being the way, the truth, and the life, Bell writes, “What he doesn’t say is how, or when, or in the what manner the mechanism functions that gets people to God through him” (154). Bell is right in that Jesus’ statement is not exclusive – as if he is highlighting the fact that only a few will ever be with him for eternity – but an invitation – that all are welcome to come to him. All. But very few will ever take him up on that invitation. This is the tragedy. Love does win. But love is still a choice. Bell focuses on when John says, “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him” but forgets “And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil” (John 3:17, 19, ESV).

Here is the urgency of the mission. We do believe in heaven and we do believe in hell. We understand that heaven does come to earth every time someone trusts and obeys Christ. We understand that hell is shown every time someone doubts and disobeys. We understand that due to sin, humanity experiences physical death and is vulnerable, if it was not for the sacrifice and Resurrection of Christ, to spiritual death as well. And we shudder at the thought that both deaths might meet. But we know Hell does not have the last word. That there will be a day that we will see God in all of his glory and goodness – if we believe. So we pray for a church that gets it. A holistic gospel. And they pray. And they give. And they go. And they serve. Because they want a broken world to be made whole. Because they want love to win.

Official Book Description: Millions of Christians have struggled with how to reconcile God’s love and God’s judgment: Has God created billions of people over thousands of years only to select a few to go to heaven and everyone else to suffer forever in hell? Is this acceptable to God? How is this “good news”? Troubling questions—so troubling that many have lost their faith because of them. Others only whisper the questions to themselves, fearing or being taught that they might lose their faith and their church if they ask them out loud. But what if these questions trouble us for good reason? What if the story of heaven and hell we have been taught is not, in fact, what the Bible teaches? What if what Jesus meant by heaven, hell, and salvation are very different from how we have come to understand them? What if it is God who wants us to face these questions? Author, pastor, and innovative teacher Rob Bell presents a deeply biblical vision for rediscovering a richer, grander, truer, and more spiritually satisfying way of understanding heaven, hell, God, Jesus, salvation, and repentance. The result is the discovery that the “good news” is much, much better than we ever imagined.

Official Author Biography: Rob Bell lives with his family in Grand Rapids, Michigan, where he’s the founding pastor of Mars Hill Bible Church. He also teaches in a short film format called NOOMA, and his books include “Velvet Elvis: Repainting the Christian Faith”, “Sex God: Exploring the Endless Connections Between Sexuality and Spirituality”, and Jesus Wants to “Save Christians: A Manifesto for the Church in Exile” written with Don Golden.


14 thoughts on “Bell

  1. hi, farly. i had a few random thoughts and reactions to your post i thought i'd shoot your way while i continue thinking about my response to “love wins” and if i can still avoid reading it myself.

    i read the reviews you posted and i noticed all of them come from a calvinist perspective. i suppose it makes sense. one would expect that calvinism (and evangelical calvinism in particular) would be the tradition with the biggest problems with bell's hypothesis.

    but i thought it was interesting that in the one dissenting opinion you posted, mouw identifies himself as a calvinist, yet turns to c.s. lewis for guidance—a decidedly un-calvinist source. lewis is a good counterpoint because i think he argued a similar case as bell does while remaining a bit more tethered to christian tradition. in fact, the next time we feel the urge to look to an amateur pop theologian for answers to the question of who goes to heaven and who goes to hell, i propose we bypass bell altogether and return to lewis.

    and on a largely irrelevant note, i was wondering if the choice of all calvinists was a coincidence or might reflect a theological preference. even though i grew up in the assemblies of god and i feel like i have a good handle on its ethos, i don't really know much about the formal theology of the denomination and how it developed. i'm curious if you think it would be appropriate to label it calvinist (or arminian) in its soteriology and/or if you'd associate yourself with those labels.


  2. oh, i also wanted to ask if bell simply implies that everyone will eventually enter into heaven and full communion with god or if he actually explicitly asserts it. a lot of the reviews i've read are kind of hazy on this point which, to me, is the most important one.

    and thanks for the post. there's so much interesting stuff here.


  3. I disagree with saying that Calvinists have a bigger issue with Bell than Armenians – they have just been the loudest. Both seem to agree on this one. And though CS Lewis seemed to show some tendencies that Bell has (The Great Divorce and Last Battle come to mind) – I would agree with you in saying that he was a literary teacher not theologian. Along with that, he often was using FICTIONAL scenariors to make paint a spiritual truth. I would also point out that he was a believer in purgatory – which makes sense considering the fact that he was part of the Church of England. AND YET, he never would have agreed with Bell's suggestion that left in eternity long enough everyone will choose heaven. In fact, one of the very ideas behind the Great Divorce is that the individuals' true heart is revealed while in that place. Again – a literary device more than a literal one.

    To answer your question in regards to the two sides of Calvinism/Arminian discussion specifically and the AG is generally – more arminian for sure. But I would agree with a professor I once had who called himself Calminian. The truth is somewhere in the middle. But again, I don't think that this has much to do with the Bell discussion – and I might add . . . this is where I don't want to be. I want to focus less on who is right and wrong more on what I can do right rather than wrong. I do believe there is time to correct false teaching and protect the truth as long as it is done in love and for the mission of God rather than the pride of people. Looking forward to having coffee with you sometime.


  4. As for if his thoughts are assertions or claims – he is classic Bell. Mostly vague. Asks lots of questions that he does not answer (he was trained by rabbis – who ask lots of questions). Very helpful and thoughtful technique. However, there is a time to show people where to go and have the courage to state your ideas and hopes. I would also say that he did finally make some of those claims – and it was the reason behind what he said that troubled me even more than what he said. For example – he never even made mention of why hell was there in the first place. He talked as if God would be a failure. He took numerous verses out of context . . . etc. It really was too bad.

    and thanks for the post. there's so much interesting stuff here.


  5. Yeah, I don't know why I brought up Arminianism later but not before. What I meant was on this issue, I think they're similar in that they both emphasize total depravity and God's justice and wrath. So I meant to combine them, not contrast them. The contrast I wanted to draw was against other Christian traditions that put less emphasis on hell and punishment.

    I guess I was just surprised at what a hardcore Calvinist DeYoung came off as. I thought it was interesting that he rightfully took Bell to task for his poor biblical analysis and then turned around and asserted that love was just one of God's characteristics and that justice and lawfulness are God's primary attributes. Whatever happened to all the law and the prophets being summed up in the dual commands of loving God and loving your neighbor or God desiring love, not sacrifice?

    So I guess I was wondering where you saw yourself and the Assemblies of God with relation to DeYoung.


  6. Well, I would hesitate to speak on behalf of the entire AG. This conversation calls for some coffee! I see the narrative of Scripture a bit different than Bell does (and probably DeYoung as well). Jesus will return and set things right . . . but some will continue to rebel and therefore will be judged. The first time he entered inton Jerusalem on a donkey – the next time on a horse.

    As for all of the law and prophets being summed up by loving God and loving – absolutely. God is a God of grace. We could go through – which I would love to do that next time we connect – all portions of Scripture of God pursuing humanity. Loving God and loving others is our response to our love. But that does not change the fact that . . . as an act of love . . . he says enough is enough (for lack of better words) and makes things right . . . . But this is not about us being right and others being wrong (that is what ticks Bell off and quite frankly has set him on the wrong track) . . . it is about God making us right and us being compelled to make things right on his behalf.


  7. And with regard to Lewis, I just mean that Lewis definitely emphasized God's love and mercy over and against his judgment and wrath.  In “The Last Battle” Emeth is admitted into Aslan's Kingdom even though he actively rejected Aslan all his life. 

    I found it relevant because Lewis is clearly intentionally asserting that some will be saved that DeYoung is convinced will be damned. DeYoung implies that to depart from his interpretation on these matters is to plunge off the cliff of orthodoxy into the abyss of liberalism which is essentially unbelief and Lewis does disagree with DeYoung, yet is beyond reproach when it comes to the accusation of unbelief and of liberalism and heresy. 

    And while I agree that Bell goes further than Lewis, unless he actively asserts that hell will be empty, to me the difference is one of degrees of optimism, not a categorical shift.

    In short, I applaud DeYoung for taking a stand on his strong assertions. But I think he's out of bounds when he dismisses his opponents as false teachers at best and essentially heathens. 


  8. Yeah, sorry. I'm at the gym and I end up writing a lot on my phone while on the exercise bike. There's not a lot else to do. Plus I just think better in writing. And I had a very strong reaction to DeYoung's piece which is sort of beside the point so I thought I'd explore it here a little bit.

    Also, sorry about misspelling your name in the first post. Initially, spell check changed it to 'Fairly' and I saw it and knew the i was wrong but I forgot to add the e!


  9. As for Lewis, I agree – that is why I mentioned the Last Battle. Though I don't necessarily agree with Lewis either. But that is a discussion for another day. I agree with you to a point when it comes to DeYoung's treatment of Bell. We have to approach these discussions with truth/love. However, Paul took seriously false teaching. He did not to defend his ministry or authority – but the very message of Christ. In fact, in Philippians, he did not care too much of people's methodology – if they preach Christ – well let them! But he did have a problem with legalism without love AND liberty without accountability. I still think the emphasis need not be on thrashing Bell and instead on clarifying what we believe AND what we choose to do about it. The mission of God compels me to make disciples.


  10. None of us are going to say all of the right things in all of the right ways. I just pray that people are able to point to Christ in all of this – and do it in a way that Christ would. Holistically. Biblically. Attention on Christ and his Rule/Reign rather than on what we think is fair and good. Until next time . . . .


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