A review of “Love Wins” by Rob Bell

Before I begin…I want to share how I became aware of Rob Bell.

Rob-Bell1 I first became aware of Rob Bell by attending the C3 2005 conference in Grapevine, Texas.  The conference was hosted by Pastor Ed Young at Fellowship Church.  Rob spoke once and what he spoke on captivated the entire room.  Rob said that true discipleship was “being covered in the dust of your Rabbi”.  A statement that rattled and still rattles my brain as I think through its implications.  It revolutionized my thinking on discipleship.  When I got home I instantly began searching for more teaching from Rob.   I then discovered that he was the guy behind all of those cool “Nooma” videos.  I had never watched one but had heard much about them.

From there I dove into Velvet Elvis, Sex God, Jesus Wants To Save Christians & Drops Like Stars.   Each one of these books was a great experience.  They challenged me and made me ask the questions that made my journey more rewarding. I then went out and purchased every single Nooma that came out.  I attended 2 of his speaking tours “The gods aren’t angry” & “Drops like Stars”.  I even went out to a pastor’s conference he hosted at Mars Hill named “Isn’t She Beautiful”.  I never fully agreed with 100% of the content, but then who do you fully agree with?  I took the great truths I learned and became more aware of what God was doing in and through me in the world.  To say that Rob had been a help and inspiration to me as believer & pastor would be an understatement.

I heart Rob Bell.  I admit it.  However, after reading the book 9780062049643 that perception of Rob is changing.  I need some therapy after reading this. I can’t justify some of the things that he says that I believe are in complete contradiction to Gospel of Jesus.  I can’t say I’m really surprised.  I have read and heard many things by him over the years that made me wonder.  Well…..here we go.

Before you jump to any conclusions I invite you to read the book yourself.  Or…hear from Rob explain it.


Synopsis : What is the main message of the book?  

God is Love.  Because God is Love..nobody will spend an eternity apart from God in “Hell”.  A truly loving God can’t send anyone to a literal place of torment for eternity.  God gets what He wants….(that none should perish). God’s love will eventually melt the hearts of all people and everyone will come to know God’s Love.  Although Rob doesn’t say it (it is obviously implied)….there is no literal place called Hell.  The Hell that the Rob talks about is only a present reality.  We choose Hell when we reject God’s Love.  It is important to note that Rob is NOT a universalist.  He still believes that a person has choices to reject God’s Love.  Christian Universalism says that all will go to Heaven…no matter what they do or want.  In Rob’s theology…people still choose God.

HELL

Rob begins the book with a story about Gandhi.  Someone at a church event put up a note  about Gandhi, saying “Reality check: He’s in hell.”  I agree with Rob here when he knocks down this idea about who is in hell.   Who really knows that?  Only God.  Only God knows a person’s heart.  To say confidentially that someone is 100% in hell is pure speculation.

Rob questions “Of all the billions of people who have ever lived, will only a select number “make it to a better place” and every single other person suffer in torment and punishment forever?  Is this acceptable to God?  Has God created millions of people over tens of thousands of years who are going to spend eternity in anguish?  Can God do this, or even allow this, and still claim to be a loving God?” (page 12 on iBook version of “Love Wins”)  

In the book Rob argues that Hell is determined by our choices.  Rob argues that Hell is all around us.  Rob speaks of Hell as the evil that is in the world.  A broken, suffering and groaning creation that is yearning for justice.  It is through all of this mess that people realize that they need “good news”.  The Gospel is the hope that God has not given up on the world.  Through this gospel we can be saved from our personal hell and end the hell around us.  Rob teaches that it’s through God’s love that these hell’s are defeated.  Rob says he does believe in hell because he sees the destruction people bring on themselves with their sin and poor choices.

Let me add this note here.  I agree halfway with Rob.  There is hell all around us.  There are Tsunami’s, Earthquakes, murders, pride, social injustice, abuse, violence, slavery, poverty, porn, starvation, diseases, financial nightmares, marital unfaithfulness, etc.  There are people hurting everyday, everywhere.  These “hell’s” can’t be ignored.  We are living in the consequences of a fallen world. However….that’s where Rob stops.  For me hell is not just a present reality……it’s also a very real future reality as well.  You can’t ignore or replace a future hell for the current hells we all face now in this lifetime.   At the same time you can’t ignore the current hells in light of eternity.  Since eternity is….well….eternal.

The biblical response to this is….that God is a God of Love, yes!  But He is also a God of Justice.  He is a Holy God.  People sin, disobey God and separate themselves apart from God.  We deserve hell because “The wages of sin is death……”  Obviously I disagree with Rob.  I just don’t see how  you can interpret certain passages on Hell any different.  He really tries to reinterpret Luke 16 (Rich man and Lazurus) but does not do it justice.  How about this one?

Rob says we shouldn’t look at this as who is “in” or “out”.

“A gospel that repeatedly, narrowly affirms and bolsters the “in-ness” of one group at the expense of the “out-ness” of another group will not be true to the story that includes “all things and people in heaven and earth”.  (page 180 on iBook version of “Love Wins”)  

How do you interpret this any differently?

“Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it. The earth and the heavens fled from his presence, and there was no place for them. And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Another book was opened, which is the book of life. The dead were judged according to what they had done as recorded in the books. The sea gave up the dead that were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead that were in them, and each person was judged according to what they had done. Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. The lake of fire is the second death. Anyone whose name was not found written in the book of life was thrown into the lake of fire.” – Revelation 20:11-15

 Hell is to be without God and separated from his presence in a real place for eternity.

HEAVEN

This book is just not about Hell….it’s also a book about Heaven.  For Rob…the Christian life is not about evacuation.  It’s about bringing Heaven here.  It is not about escaping this earth but awaiting the new creation.  The new Heaven and the New earth that God will create.  Rob notes that the Bible ends with Heaven crashing into earth.  For Rob…Heaven like Hell…..is a present reality.  God is restoring and renewing creation until one day this one passes away and a new one is unveiled.  God created this world good and He wants to return the shalom (peace) that existed in the garden of eden.  Heaven is the completion of God’s plan for creation.  He created it good….and it ends good.  Heaven is a present reality that we bump into everyday here on earth.

I have very little beef with Rob’s view of Heaven.  I am very much in agreement that living, and breathing the ways of Jesus bring Heaven to earth now.

Rob says – “If you believe that you’re going to leave and evacuate to somewhere else, then why do anything about this world? A proper view of Heaven leads not to escape from the world, but to full engagement with it, all with the anticipation of a coming day when things are on earth as they currently are in Heaven.”  (page 68 on iBook version of “Love Wins”) 

He says – “Jesus teaches us to pursue the life of Heaven now and also then, anticipating the day when earth and Heaven are one.”   Sounds a lot like Matthew 6:33.  “Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness…..”

I believe that Heaven is what God fully intended the universe to look like.  John explains this in Revelation 20 and it’s a beautiful picture! When the gospel is lived out…we bump into Heaven here on earth. It is my view that “being the salt of the earth” & “light of the world” are implications of bringing Heaven to earth now.   Heaven is also to be with God in a real place for all eternity.

Then I saw “a new heaven and a new earth,”for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea.  I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away. He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” Then he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.” Revelation 21: 1-5

 THE GOSPEL & THE METAPHOR OF THE CROSS

One of the more troubling aspects of the book is Rob’s portrayal of the cross.  Rob doesn’t deny that Jesus died on the cross for our sins.  He says,

“‘Jesus died on the cross for your sins’.  Yes, we know.  We’ve seen that homemade billboard by the side of the road countless times.  Anything else?”. (page 163 on iBook version of “Love Wins”)

It’s that lackluster attitude towards the cross that makes me disgusted with the book. Rob continues to argue that the sacrifice that Christ offered on the Cross to God was a metaphor that the first Christians used to explain what happened. He says that It was a metaphor that reminded the first believers of the Old Testament sacrificial system.  It was a way to tell the story so that the first Christians (Jews) could understand. Here is the shocking part….. it’s a metaphor that no longer applies today.  Why?  Because Rob says we no longer sacrifice animals.

Wow.  This is exactly what Rob says.

“This is especially crucial in light of how many continue to use the sacrificial metaphor in our modern world.  There’s nothing wrong with talking and singing about how the “Blood will never lose it’s power” and “Nothing but the blood will save us.”  Those are powerful metaphors.  But we don’t live any longer in a culture in which people offer animal sacrices to the gods. People did live that way for thousands of years, and there are pockets of primitive cultures around the world that do continue to understand sin, guilt, and atonement in those ways.  But most of us don’t.  What the first Christians did was look around them and put the Jesus story in language their listeners would understand.” (page 171 -172 on iBook version of “Love Wins”)  

People…this is not just a metaphor.  This is foundational.  The atonement on the cross was necessary.  It was not just a way for the first Christians to understand it.  This is true all throughout scripture…(Abraham, Cain & Abel, The Temple) If we don’t understand that God the Father poured out his WRATH on Jesus because of our sin on the cross….we are in loads of trouble!!!!!!

IN CONCLUSION

I really hope I’m wrong. It would be much easier to believe that Rob is right. I want to believe that Rob is right.  I really do.  It would be so much easier.  But he’s not.

I believe the book does have it’s good parts.  It has it bad parts.  And then it has it’s downright ugly parts.  As I said in the beginning of this post.  I highly admire Rob.  I have been blessed by his teachings.  I just can not agree with his view of the Gospel,  which ultimately leads to warped views of Hell & God himself.

I agree that love does win.  Again and Again.   I agree that God is love.  God is not just loving.  He is the very essence of love. However, to solely focus on this attribute of God and ignore all the others; will allow one (like Rob Bell) to miss the grander story of what is happening in the biblical narrative.

The cross shows us why Hell is real.  Jesus took Hell for us so that we can escape getting what we deserve.  I deserve Hell.  Without Him….I am lost, hopeless and and doomed.  In Him, I am found, restored, and invited to live in relationship with the God who made me, forever.  The Gospel is not a fire escape.  It is how God brings me back into relationship with Himself.  The Gospel is also the good news that is lived through my life as a result of being saved by God.

Love wins. It really, really does.

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5 thoughts on “A review of “Love Wins” by Rob Bell

  1. Great review Dan. As I have read the quotes from Rob’s book I found my heart breaking. Breaking for all the people who followed his teach but more importantly for for Rob himself.
    As my heart breaks I think about the misconception that people have of this dark brooding God who is sending people to hell instead of seeing a merciful God who made a way for people, who deserve hell, to experience heaven. Like you and every other person who has ever lived, beside Jesus Christ, I deserve hell. To deny that I deserve hell is to deny the Holy and Righteous perfection of God. To me it is like saying God is okay with my sins though the Bible is very clear that He is not.
    The fact remains that the Bible teaches that hell is eternal and is just but the gift of God is eternal life THROUGH Christ Jesus. Jesus’ death on that cross means everything!!! And until we grasp the depth of the love that God showed on that cross we will never truly know what it means that “God is Love” and “Love Never Fails”
    I pray that Rob Bell will know the beauty of the Gosple that teaches the power of God’s love to those who are destained for hell and the urgency we should have to share God’s love mercy and grace with the world before it is to late.

  2. Thoughtful review, Dan. I appreciate your insights since this is a current topic among Christians. This quote from J I Packer’s book “Knowing God” seems to pertain to this topic . . .”The unbeliever has preferred to be by himself, without God, defying God, having God against him, and he shall have his preference. Nobody stands under the wrath of God except those who have chosen to do so. The essence of God’s action in wrath is to give men what they choose, in all its implications: nothing more, and equally nothing less. God’s readiness to respect human choice to this extent may appear disconcerting and even terrifying, but it is plain His attitude here is supremely just and it is poles apart from the wanton and irresponsible inflicting of pain . . .”

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