I just finished reading Rob Bell’s latest book, “Love Wins.” It’s been the source of quite a bit of discussion and controversy since the trailer for the book was released several weeks ago. There’s a great chronology of the events here at The Resurgence.
I’m not going necessarily review the book, mainly because there are much better ones out there already. In particular, check out the reviews from Relevant Magazine and George P. Wood, (the later being the best one I’ve seen).
Instead, I’m going to try to distill the main controversy of the book down to it’s simplest parts. The problem with some of the reviews is that they are LONG (like 20 page pdfs…) and most people (like me) don’t want to wade through that.
Here’s how I see it.
Most Christians believe that we have the opportunity to choose heaven or hell (by accepting or rejecting Jesus) here in this life. Once we die (or at the judgement when Christ returns) that is it. There are no more opportunities. We’ve made our decision and the time is up. Some go to heaven and some go to hell.
Bell’s view is that our choice doesn’t end at death. He concludes that a loving God wouldn’t limit our time of choosing to a short period here on earth. He says,
God would, in essence, become a fundamentally different being to them in that moment of death, a different being to them forever. A loving heavenly father who will go to extraordinary lengths to have a relationship with them would, in the blink of an eye, become a cruel, mean, vicious tormenter who would ensure that they had no escape from an endless future of agony.
Bell’s conclusion that choice continues on after death begins with his reading of 1 Timothy 2:3-4 “this is good and pleases God our savior, who wants all men to be saved and come to a knowledge of the truth.” Which leads him to ask the question, “Does God get want he wants?” In other words, will all men be saved?
Bell suggests in chapter 4, that God will reconcile everyone to himself. He’s careful though, to acknowledge that we still have choice in the matter. So, he doesn’t believe God forces anyone into heaven…we choose that (even if it’s after death)…but he strongly implies that all will eventually make that decision.
The other reviews I linked to above do a great job explaining some of the short-comings of “Love Wins.” As someone who used to listen to Bell’s weekly messages quite a bit (several years ago), I was disappointed with how it the book felt a bit one-sided. As I read it, I couldn’t help but feel that Bell was addressing some of the misunderstandings of a traditional view of hell. However, at the same time, I kept thinking he wasn’t really addressing my traditional views of heaven, hell or God. Instead, I felt like he was attacking a caricature of those things…a caricature that I didn’t ascribe to either (and I would guess that many others also don’t agree with). For someone who is known for raising questions and living in the midst of paradox…Bell doesn’t seem to be able to hold the tension of God’s love and man’s free will. Either God is loving and everyone is given eternal choice, or God is a mean, vicious tormentor who punishes people unnecessarily. For him, there doesn’t seem to be any other way to understand it.
So does Rob Bell believe in heaven and in hell? – Yes, as a present realities and ones that continue into the afterlife.
Is Rob Bell a unviersalist? He would say no…because he believes we have choice in the matter (God doesn’t just scoop everyone up into heaven). But he does indicate that God will eventually be reconciled with all men…so…kind of, yes.
My conclusion in bullet points:
- I’m going to keep my eye on Bell. I’m not sure where this line of thinking will take him.
- I don’t think Bell is WAY out there. But he goes farther than I’m willing to follow.
- I hope he’s right…but I don’t think he is. I love the idea of everyone being reconciled to God. However, even if people do have a choice after death (which I don’t believe), I don’t think they’ll turn from their selfish living after entrenching themselves in it during this life. (For a great video on this topic, see my post here.)
- In the end, a book like this gets us talking. This is good. We need to do a better job communicating who God is and what heaven and hell are all about. Sometimes we need to take a good, hard look at our beliefs and the way we communicate them.