Friday, 30 December 2011

Love Wins, by Rob Bell

Photo Credit: Eric Wilcox
"The Final Judgment"

"Why do you pass Judgment 
on your brother? 
Or you, why do you despise 
your brother? 
For we will all stand before 
the judgment seat of God" 
(Romans 14:10; ESV)

Augustine has been quoted to have said, "In essentials, unity. In non-essentials, liberty. In all things, charity." Is the discussion of Heaven and Hell an essential to the Christian faith? I suppose that all depends on who you talk to. Personally I'm a little less concerned with all eschatology (end time stuff) and a little more concerned with a proper Christian walk today. Whatever tomorrow does or doesn't hold, I rest knowing that we have a Heavenly Father who has it all sovereignly and perfectly in control. I have peace in that.
“Inquisitions, persecutions, trials, book burnings, blacklisting – when religious people become violent, it is because they have been shaped by their God, who is violent. We see this destructive shaping alive and well in the toxic, venomous nature of certain debates in the Internet. For some, the highest form of allegiance to their God is to attack, defame, and slander others who don’t articulate matters of faith as they do.” (Rob Bell, “Love Wins,” p.183)
Ever since it was released, there has been no shortage of noise on Rob Bell’s controversial new book, “Love Wins.” In my way of thinking, simply jumping in on the bandwagon without actually reading the book for myself would be a huge mistake.

So now I’ve also read it cover to cover. There were a couple times I just about didn’t bother continuing as, like my son also said, I thought of throwing it. However I didn’t throw it. It was, after all, a borrowed book. However, there was another reason that I didn’t throw the book, and that was because I thought it best to finish trying to hear what the author was saying. I guess I just wanted to try and hear his heart in this book, regardless whether I agreed or didn’t agree.

Though Rob Bell doesn’t actually come out and say so, in reading this book one gets the idea that he is a Universalist. Universalism basically says that in the end, all people will be restored to God, regardless whether or not they have personally responded to Jesus. Taken to its logical conclusion, all people regardless of what they believe or don’t believe, regardless of what religious views they hold or don’t hold, regardless of how good or evil they may be – all will be with you and me in glory one day. In such a view there can be no literal Hell because we will all be one giant family in Heaven. Adolf Hitler will be sitting at the same table as Billy Graham, Osama Bin Laden will sing in the same choir with the Apostle Paul, Emperor Nero will be drinking tea and playing cards with Mother Theresa in the courtyard of the Pearly Gates, and the pedophile and his child victim will one day find themselves together again in that big playground in the sky. It doesn’t matter what you and I believe, because in the end, life is one giant funnel depositing all humanity in the same place.

For me, that is the one main negative issue that I see in this book. I do believe in a literal Hell and I do believe that it is a “loving” God who has so ordained it. Rob Bell often appeals to the love of God as justification for disproving the existence of Hell. I think that the love of God actually requires a literal Hell. How so? In keeping with Bell’s style of asking questions, let me now also ask a question. Would it be “loving” of God towards His children to allow all the unrepentant evil people who ever lived to sit in glory with the godly children? I think not! Besides that, there are a host of other Scriptures that Bell does not mention (or conveniently omits) that the church has historically understood to refer to the damnation and eternal punishment of the unrepentant sinner. In this regard, if I’ve understood him correctly, Rob Bell and I are polar opposites. Then again, maybe I’ve misunderstood him. Maybe my own doctrine is somewhat flawed in this area. It could be. There have certainly been other areas in which my faith walk has been revised in recent years.

However, in my way of thinking, “Love Wins” isn’t necessarily all negative either. There were also many parts of the book that I enjoyed and even agreed with. It has certainly challenged my thinking. Being somewhat controversial myself, as well as believing that much of what we hold as orthodoxy today is simply a culmination of years and years of traditions and religious indoctrination, I do enjoy a good read that forces one to think outside of the religious box. In that vein, I would recommend it to those who wish to be stretched out of their comfort zones. However, if such a stretching does not get you excited, then perhaps it’s best that you do not read this book, as you will then most likely also just want to throw it.

Yes, love does win, but love also includes a final judgment. In my way of thinking, the Bible is quite clear about that too. Still, I won’t argue that point with anyone. I prefer to simply learn to walk in love and relationships with whomever Heavenly Father chooses to bring across my path. Love is the trump card.

“The faith that you have, keep between yourself and God. Blessed is the one who has no reason to pass judgment on himself for what he approves.” (Romans 14:22; ESV)


  1. OK, first let us ALL get this one thing straight: What Rob Bell says is one thing, what the Bible says about Biblical Universal reconciliation is another. The Bible makes it clear that no one gets into the Kingdom / heaven without confessing Christ as Savior and Heir to all God's creation; It also teaches that ALL mankind will do so - either by free-will or no free-will. ALL shall bow their head and ALL shall bend their knees. let us ALL get this very clear: Biblical Universalism does teach the believing in Christ as a part of this salvation. Rob Bell may say one thing and then another and even say things different from the Bible, but that is his opinions. let us not define Biblical Universalism on what Rob Bell says.

    1. Ross, thanks for the comment.

      The accusation you seem to be making, if I’m hearing you right, is that I (or we as a community) are somehow defining Universalism based upon what Rob Bell has said in his book. On the contrary, all I said was, “in reading this book one gets the idea that he is a Universalist.” I know what (Biblical) Universalism teaches, and I know that there are a lot of people who have difficulty with the (Biblical) doctrine of Hell. Ultimately, neither of those points were the purpose of this blog post. Rather the purpose was simply to share my impressions and thoughts on Mr. Bell’s book.

      Yes, there are some Scriptures that say that ALL will be saved. No argument here. However, there are also many other Scriptures that seem to say exactly the opposite; and many of those attributed to Jesus himself. At the very least this ought to cause one to wonder about how we tend to interpret Scripture.

      For example, based on the common interpretation of “Gehenna” as “Hell,” we must not overlook the fact that Jesus had a lot to say about this as being a place of final separation of the wicked from the godly. (Yes, I know of the arguments by some that Gehenna was simply a garbage dump and has no spiritual application). Jesus spoke of hell (Gehenna) as a place of judgment and a place where the body of the wicked will be thrown. He spoke of the wisdom in being afraid of the One who can destroy both the soul and the body in hell (Fear of the Lord). He spoke of torment in the fires of hell, which never go out, and the sons of hell. He spoke of an impassable chasm between heaven and hell. He even asked some how they expected to escape being condemned to hell. Peter and Jude added that blackest darkness is actually reserved for those who do evil, and James says that the tongue itself will be set on fire by hell.

      (References: Matthew 5:22,29; 10:28; 18:9; 23:15,33; Mark 9:43; 13:30; 13:49; 25:32; Luke 12:5; 16:26; 17:34; James 3:6; 2 Peter 2:17; Jude 13; to mention but a few).

      How are we to reconcile the two?

      I do not pretend to have the answer except to say that Hermeneutics teaches us, among other things, that Scripture must interpret Scripture, and that we cannot simply take a verse here and there out of context to say what we wish. In other words, what do the other Scriptures (and especially Jesus’ own words) say about the Scriptures dealing with (Biblical) Universalism? Therein is the dilemma.

      Does the Bible contradict itself? Of course not. Yet obviously somewhere between these two “apparent” opposites lies the truth. Perhaps the answer lies with the Apostle Paul who said, “Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known. And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love” (1 Corinthians 13: 12,13; NIV). Can we rest in that?