Love Wins by Rob Bell
I’ve been itching to get my hands on this for a while. Thankfully, my husband was, too, so my parents bought it for him for Christmas and everything that’s his is mine, right? Yay!
This book has created a pretty big fuss. It’s inspired several authors to write rebuttals to Rob Bell’s argument. I’ve seen blogs and articles and I’ve heard Christian friends saying that Rob Bell is a heretic. That’s quite a claim. Zondervan refused to publish it, even though Zondervan published his previous books. Why?
Whether or not you think you know what Rob Bell is saying in this book and have formed an opinion on it or Rob Bell, read the book first. Then I give you leave to talk about it and call Rob Bell a heretic if you will. I will give you my summary of the book, but my summary is not enough. Also, I will not give my opinion on what he says. There’s a lot to this book. Some of it is controversial, and a lot of it is not.
So. Here we go. I’m going to phrase the questions the book brings up and give you a summary of Rob Bell’s answers to them.
1) What is Heaven?
Here’s what Heaven isn’t: It’s not people lounging on the clouds in long robes playing harps and eating Daisy whipped cream. It’s not people getting to kick back and relax all day. Heaven = “life in the age to come.” “Heaven is that realm where things are as God intends them to be.” In biblical times people would not have been referring to an other, only-spritual realm where just their souls will go when they die, because that concept didn’t exist back then. When they talked about having eternal life, they meant being part of the new kingdom God would bring to earth. Rob Bell says it is literally here on earth. Jesus started it, and we are part of it. The Kingdom is both now and coming, here on earth.
2) What is Hell?
Gehenna – the garbage dump outside the city where there was always a fire burning and the dogs fought over scraps, gnashing their teeth at each other. War and violence and rape are all part of a literal Hell that we see. Hell is the painful consequences of sin. Hell is “our refusal to trust God’s retelling of our story” – i.e. not believing when God says that He has died for our sins and that we are His children. Hell is not separated completely from everyone who is in Heaven, as evidenced in the story in Luke 16 when the rich man in Hell talks to Lazarus and Abraham, who are in Heaven. Communication is possible because Hell and Heaven are states of the heart.
3) Does Hell last forever?
Yes and no. If you want it to. First of all, Bell says, “forever” in the Bible doesn’t necessarily mean “forever” like we mean it. In the Bible it could just mean for a long time. Second, Bell does not believe in irresistible grace. For him, God’s love is shown in that He lets us make the choice, and then gives us what we want. If we decide that we want Hell, we get it. For as long as we want it. Even after death, we are free to accept or reject God’s gift to us. But Heaven is for all of us because Jesus died for us. Basically, we are welcome to take part in it whenever we choose to. “Love wins” in that God’s love will not force us to choose Him or reject Him.
4) Who goes to Hell?
Here’s Rob Bell’s interpretation of John 14:6, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” Pg. 154: “What he [Jesus] doesn’t say is how, or when, or in what manner the mechanism functions that gets people to God through him. He doesn’t even state that those coming to the Father through him will even know that they are coming exclusively through him.” In other words, Rob Bell says that some people believe in Jesus even though they don’t know that’s what they believe in. And some people specifically refuse to say they believe in Jesus because they know so many hypocritical Christians and have so much negative baggage about Christianity. But that doesn’t mean they really don’t believe in Jesus. He says Heaven will “include all sorts of unexpected people from across the cultural spectrum…. What Jesus does is declare that he, and he alone is saving everybody.” I’m not sure what Rob Bell would say about Romans 10:9-19: “If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved.”
5) What do we do?
What’s the point of doing anything good on earth, what’s the point of claiming to be a Christian and living in obedience to God, if I can just change my mind after I die? The point is that we are “participating now in the life of the age to come.” We are accepting that eternal life starts now, not just after we die, and we are acting as if we are already in the Kingdom of God – because we are. There is no place in Heaven for lying, coveting, greed, violence, etc., and so we do our best to spread this reality of the Kingdom.
Like I said, I won’t say what parts I agree or disagree with, if I do in fact agree or disagree with any parts. But I will say that there are a couple good points Rob Bell raises that, whether or not you disagree with him, we all must consider.
1. We don’t know exactly what Heaven will be like, but it will surely surprise us.
2. God is sovereign and able to do anything, forgive anyone. Ultimately, it’s God’s call, not ours.