Well, I read it. Love Wins by Rob Bell has been a hot button topic for awhile now. Controversy tends to surround
Bell, and his latest installment in his impossibly cool line of books has given rise to an uproar in the Christian community. The subtitle: ‘Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person who has Ever Lived’ almost makes you hold your breath in tension (Uh oh… he’s going to talk about that?). The twittersphere was exploding with commentary on their opinion of Bell and his book, calling him a universalist, a heretic and any other degrading thing you can possibly imagine (and all of this done without even reading the book… yikes). In my opinion this wasn’t a good move for people who want to discredit Bell because all of the controversy has just made me and the rest of the world want to read the book. So after reading, what was my take? Does Rob Bell believe in hell? Is he a universalist?
In all fairness, the book really isn’t about Bell developing a theology on hell. Nor is he trying to make a statement on hell’s existence. Yes you can conclude (by traditional definitions) Bell is a kind of… mini… universalist, and yes he does deny the existence of an eternal hell(in an extremely ambiguous way that is impossible to tack down). But his real aim is to alter the way we approach the gospel. Bell argues that the gospel is good news and ultimately about the love God has for everyone on earth. And honestly who can’t jibe with that? When you have statements like:
When the gospel is understood primarily in terms of entrance rather that joyous participation, it can actually serve to cut people off from the explosive liberating experience of the God who is an endless giving circle of joy and creativity.
You aren’t going to find many who disagree with this. But is this conclusion only reached by changing our doctrines and dogmas?
The problem is, Bell diverts from the typical ideology of hell in order for the Christian story to be ALL about love. Bell would prefer to define hell (and heaven for that matter) as a place we create here on earth as a result of our actions instead of a place of eternal suffering and punishment away from God. Because how can a God that eternally punishes people be loving? It is a classic anthropomorphic argument (that means he’s ascribing human attributes to God) that attempts to rid God of any characteristics that would seem cruel or unloving if they were credited to humans.
One of the main things that I don’t like about Bell’s books is not his applications for Christians in his books, they are usually awesome, but his logic to get to these particular points always seems so flawed to me. His books, including this one, will have over extended metaphors, wild interpretations of scripture that seem to go beyond what the story is really trying to communicate, and my least favorite, he seems to know all these Greek and Hebrew words that have hidden meanings and concepts that unlock secret messages that have been concealed for centuries. And all of these words conveniently exclude any references or sources that show any evidence for these beliefs. For instance: Bell says that Jesus often used the word “heaven” and was simply referring to God. If this is true, cool. But I’ve never heard it, and you have no sources to validate your claim.
I love the fact that he wants Christians to separate from solely preaching turn or burn type messages, that’s good. (Even though it has worked in the past… see Jonathan Edwards and Jesus) But I don’t think the solution is to change our theology, that’s not the problem. There can be an eternal hell and a loving God. How it works… I’m not to sure. But I’m ok with these two seemingly contradictory elements to hang in tension on this side of eternity.
The book itself, in my opinion really isn’t that good. It has fragmented arguments and tends to ramble and repeat itself. If you enjoy his style give it a shot just to see what all the controversy is about. You’ll have to once again get past
But the book certainly won’t hurt your faith. It made me want to emphasize God’s love more to others I come in contact with, which is of course a great thing. As always with Bell’s books, go for the application he is getting at, they are almost always great, just disregard a big chunk of the poetic but sketchy arguments he uses to get to the point.
2nd bookshelf of 5.