* This post originally appeared in my first blog [www.romanluther.wordpress.com]. I have moved this post to my new blog and edited the post a little. Please feel free to share your thoughts and feelings in the comments below, but know that if anyone’s words are hurtful or abusive, I will delete them. Thanks :) *
In case you are unaware, there has been much debate over Rob Bell‘s new book, Love Wins: A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person who Ever Lived. This is due to the fact that Bell questions and explores much of the common ideas held by conservative Evangelicals about God’s love, the Gospel, eternal life, eternal punishment, heaven, hell, and what happens to a person after he or she dies.
** This post will be broken down into two parts: (1) A summary of the book, and (2) my personal review of the book. NOTE: THE SUMMARY SECTION PRESENTS A SUMMARY OF THE BOOK, AND NOT MY AGREEMENT WITH WHAT THE BOOK SAYS. **
- “To begin with, a bit about this book. First, I believe that Jesus’s story is first and foremost about the love of God for every single one of us.” (pg. vii)
- “Second, I’ve written this book because the kind of faith Jesus invites us into doesn’t skirt the big questions about topics like God and Jesus and salvation and judgment and heaven and hell, but takes us deep into the heart of them.” (pg. ix)
- “And then, last of all, please understand that nothing in this book hasn’t been taught, suggested, or celebrated by many before me. I haven’t come up with a radical new teaching that’s any kind of departure from what’s been said an untold number of times. That’s the beauty of historic, orthodox Christian faith. It’s a deep, wide, diverse stream that’s been flowing for thousands of years, carrying aa staggering variety of voices, perspectivesm and experiences.” (pg. x-xi)
Keeping these three reasons in mind throughout one’s reading of the book is key to understanding the purpose of the book. According to Bell, he is not presenting some new idea that hasn’t been presented before in Christian history, and he is writing this book because he believes the story of Jesus is first and foremost about the love of God and also a faith that can handle the tough questions, such as, the one’s to be discussed in the book.
Bell, in is own words, is merely opening us up to the ongoing discussion: “If this book, then does nothing more than introduce you to the ancient, ongoing discussion surrounding the resurrected Jesus in all its vibrant, diverse, messy multivoiced complexity – well, I’d be thrilled.” (Preface, pg. xi).
Bell does not pick a certain theological stance on heaven and hell and defend it, rather, he opens us up to and invites us into the discussion that Christians have had about heaven and hell throughout the centuries. Included in the discussion is one such view that believes God could win a sinner over after death. In the book, Bell explains how and why someone could believe that, and that we should be open to the possibility of that being true.
Bell does not take a universalist stance in which he claims that all people will eventually be saved. He repeatedly states that our actions have consequences, and we can choose whether we want heaven or hell, because love gives one the freedom to choose, and God is love.
What Bell does do in the book is bring up the different understandings of how christians have thought about heaven and hell throughout the centuries. One of those understandings that Bell brings up is the possibility of God’s love softening and winning over the heart of a sinner after one dies, in which case, one could be saved after death.
(NOTE: Bell doesn’t say that this is the truth, but that we should be open to the possibility that this could be true. Bell also writes that there have been people who have held to this idea, these are the reasons why, and we should give them room to believe this since – in his mind – it is not outside the boundaries of biblical, historic, orthodox christianity).
Bell does not ignore Scripture or throw out Scripture, rather, he merely reads and interprets Scripture in another way. He does not deny Jesus as the atonement for our sins, or that we are reconciled to God through him (Chapter 5 is all about that). What he does do in the book, is seek to expand our understanding of who God is, what God is like, what the gospel is really about, the nature of Jesus’ love and grace, eternal life, and the possibility that God could save someone after death.
At the heart of the book, Bell seeks to explain how our view of God and the gospel effects our belief about heaven and hell, which effects how we live our life here and now.
It is important to note, that in the last chapter, Bell writes to the reader, urging he or she to make a commitment to trust Jesus, as those who did not trust Jesus ended up with consequences for their decision(s):
“This invitation to trust asks for nothing more than this moment, and yet it is infinitely urgent. Jesus told a number of stories about this urgency in which things did not turn out well for the people involved… While we continually find grace waiting to pick us up off the ground after we have fallen, there are realities to our choices.” (pg. 196-197).
What I like about the book:
1. I like how Bell explains that the gospel includes restoration and reconciliation, as well as the forgiveness of sins. Often, you will hear the gospel presented as merely a “ticket out of hell” card and nothing more. And while Jesus does save us from hell, sin, and death, the Scriptures DO declare that the gospel is about restoration, reconciliation, and the reuniting of heaven and earth (Matthew 19:28; Colossians 1:18-21; 2 Corinthians 5:14-21; Revelation 21-22).
2. I also like how Bell explains that eternal life is something that starts now and not a distant entity that begins once we die. (eternal life isn’t a stopwatch that starts once you die, rather, it’s something that occurs now and goes on into the future).
What I don’t like about the book:
1. Through the first 4 chapters, I felt like I was riding on a plane with no destination in sight. When I came to the end of chapter 4, I was left with more questions, doubts, and confusion. I admire Bell’s desire to open us up to the discussion of heaven and hell, but I don’t like how the first four chapters leave you feeling. Had the book started with chapters 5 & 6, and then gone through chapters 1-4, I think it would have been a much smoother ride (in fact, if you plan on reading the book, I recommend you first read chapters 5-6, and then come back and read chapters 1-4).
2. This would be a good book to read with your friends, family, or small group, but not alone. Since the book is meant to stimulate discussion and introduce you to the discussion that Christians have had for centuries on these topics, you are going to have lots of questions. If you don’t have an outlet to express your questions and receive feedback, you will get very frustrated and discouraged. (I talked to my parents and youth pastor about the book as I read it, and doing that helped a lot).
I’ve read all four of Bell’s other books, and I recommend you read all of them. (the list of them will be at the bottom of this post). However, because of the confusion and questions I felt throughout this book, I don’t recommend you read this book unless you read it with some friends and/or people with whom you can openly discuss these issues with. While there is a lot in the book I did enjoy reading, I fear that the book may leave you more confused, uncertain, and left with loads of unanswered questions. You will have many questions and thoughts as you read this book, and not having someone (or several people) to discuss it with will be frustrating. (And having someone you can read and discuss this book with is very helpful!).
I do not agree with everything Bell says in the book, particularly the part about the possibility of being saved after one dies. However, I do think there is much in the book to think about, discuss, and wrestle with. What I did enjoy reading was the part in the book about how our beliefs – particularly, our beliefs about what God is like and what the gospel is – effect how we live and how we view heaven and hell (Chapters 7-8).
NOTE: If you are someone who holds tightly to a theological system, and feel that their isn’t much room for discussion on theological topics, then you will have a big problem with this book. Also, it is a book that must be read cover to cover in order to fully grasp its message.
Bell’s Other Four Books:
1. Velvet Elvis: Repainting the Christian Faith
2. Sex God: Exploring the Endless Connections Between Sexuality & Spirituality
3. Jesus Wants to Save Christians: A Manifesto for the Church in Exile
4. Drops Like Stars: A Few Thoughts on Creativity and Suffering
Did you read “Love Wins”? If so, what were your thoughts and feelings after reading it?