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 http://www.amazon.com/Love-Wins-About-Heaven-Person/dp/006204964X/ref=ntt_at_ep_dpt_1.
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: http://thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/justintaylor/2011/02/26/rob-bell-universalist/
* Kevin DeYoung of Gospel Coalition: http://thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/kevindeyoung/2011/03/14/rob-bell-love-wins-review/
* Resurgence by Mars Hill Church of Seattle: http://theresurgence.com/2011/03/15/a-chronology-of-rob-bell-on-hell
* Richard Mouw of Fuller Seminary: http://www.netbloghost.com/mouw/?p=188
Some interesting (and quite troubling) videos to add to the discussion . . .
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.