Many have already spoken about Love Wins (Love Wins: A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived, Robert H. Bell Jr., HarperOne, 2011), and many will continue to talk in coming weeks and months.
I haven’t yet decided whether to post a running review by chapter (a device originated by other bloggers), but will address here my initial thoughts, then review the rest of the book at a later time.
Many might be familiar with Rob Bell because of his other books (Sex God, Velvet Elvis, Jesus Wants to Save Christians), or through his video shorts (NOOMA). Love Wins has gotten much advance publicity because of speculation (based upon Bell’s own releases) that in this book he champions a universalist theory of salvation.
We will see. If the views espoused in his previous books are any indication, his proposing such an idea would not be a huge surprise.
I can tell, at any rate, that reading Love Wins will not inspire in me an emotion consistent with the title: in fact, reading Bell will make me angry.
Not because Bell challenges us to examine an orthodox belief and make sure that the Scriptures actually teach it, but because he challenges us to examine an orthodox belief and determine whether we like it.
From the Preface alone, Bell foreshadows the themes he will apparently expound upon. Bell simplisticly reduces the gospel message to “For God so loved the world…” as the reason that Jesus came. This “message”, according to Bell, has been “hijacked” by other stories, presumably included among them those that recognize the biblical storyline that sin has left men under God’s righteous judgment — hence the need for Jesus — and that many will not come to Jesus.
Many people reject the God of the Old Testament who instructs the slaughter of nations because “my God wouldn’t do that!” Bell caters to that sentiment, and even establishes it as the test of truth, by appealing to those who think “I would never be a part of that.”
The idea that some will believe and gain heaven, while others will not believe and will gain hell, is obviously a strange one to Bell — actually, “misguided and toxic” — and to him actually impedes the “real” message of “love, peace, forgiveness and joy.” At the same time, Bell asserts that the faith he describes doesn’t avoid questions about salvation, judgment, heaven and hell. But as Martin Bashir pointed out in his interview, if Bell’s idea is true that God will ultimately prevail over men’s hearts, even post-mortem — if, in fact, Love Wins — then it does not matter one whit what man does during this life.
One of the most troubling aspects of Bell’s approach is that Scripture is not complete as it is. For, you see, all that “white space” between the letters waits to be filled with with our response. That is, the biblical revelation is not complete until we respond to it, and our response might be negative (“I would never be a part of that”). So the final word about the Word is whether man agrees.
Bell is correct that he hasn’t come up with a “radical new teaching”; self-made religion, after all, appeared in the garden.