So I promised quite a while ago that I would give you a book review of Rob Bell’s book Love Wins. So here it is!
I’m going to systematically go through each chapter and tell you the thoughts and opinions that I agree with and disagree with and then give an over all critique of my main issues with the book.
Preface “Millions of Us”: Bell is discontent with the stories that Jesus is being included in. I think that it is true, some “stories” or views of Jesus engaging our world and culture are inadequate and maybe even false such as, the “God Hates Fags” view by the Westboro Baptist Church. Bell seems mostly concerned with debunking the dominant stories such as the one that orthodox Christian evangelicals espouse about Christians being in Heaven and everybody else being sent to Hell. That is where my first problem with Bell begins. After criticizing the stories Jesus is included in he points out that some Christian communities don’t allow people to ask questions on these topics and that it concerns him. I would agree, I think the best thing we can do is discuss the important issues of life such as God, Heaven, and Hell as a Church body because then we can find out if we have inconsistencies in our understanding of God and what the Bible says.
Chapter 1 “What about the Flat Tire”: Bell, a master of using anecdotes and personal experiences in this book (I’ve never read any of Bell’s other books) begins with the story he tells in his “Love Wins” trailer about Ghandi being in Hell (http://wp.me/p1oVBU-19). He then begins a massive amount of questions about Hell and salvation. He then goes to ask if a person’s salvation is dependent on others obedience or availability to tell the Gospel. Then he tries to use Scripture to back up that there’s alot of uncertainty about how we are saved by looking at Matthew 6-8, 10, 16, Mark 1,2, 3, Luke 4, 7, 11, 18-20, 23, John 3, Acts 22, Romans 11, 1 Corinthians 7, 1 Timothy 2, James 2. You might say, wow! This is great that he deals with so many passages. The problem is that he doesn’t do well at contextualizing these passages and he doesn’t deal with what their salvation claims are actually addressing, instead he tries to make all these statements part of his “larger question.” As a pastor, that is not acting responsibly with the word of God towards people who trust you to lead them deeper spiritually.
Chapter 2 “Here is the New There”: Bell begins his discussion with Heaven. Right away he goes into a personal anecdote and then dives into Matthew 19. From there Bell tries to explain that Evangelicals have really missed something and that Jews in Jesus’ context weren’t worried about missing out on Heaven, they just wanted to “enter life” in the age to come. Then comes Bell’s biggest mistakes in the whole book: going back to the Old Testament and explaining what it means. I couldn’t believe how much twisting he had to do to make his view palatable. Then he comes back to Jesus’ conversation with the rich man and asks “What does Jesus mean when he uses the word ‘heaven’?” He goes on to say that Heaven merely means the restoration of earth. I do that God will restore a New Earth and Heaven and dwell among men (Rev. 21:3-4) but I do think it’s much more complex than everything that we do now will be better like “redemptive art” and the like that Bell describes in his notorious one-sentence paragraphs. I like many of Bell’s statements (not associated with his use of Scripture) such as “Our eschatology shapes our ethics.” I don’t agree with where his conclusions about bringing our attitudes to Heaven and having to evolve to be more godly and “nice” because I think that when we are glorified our bodies (heart, mind, soul, physical,emotional) will also be made perfect (1 Cor. 13; 15:42-44) and because we have aligned with Christ (Phil. 2) we will have his attitudes and heart of love.
Chapter 3 “Hell”: Again, Bell goes back to the Old Testament, this time trying to explain what Sheol meant to the original audience and then to the New Testament to talk about Gehenna and hades. Bell affirms the reality of a literal hell but the more I read the book the more I came to understand this from Bell’s perspective meaning a place of selfishness, emotional isolation, and separation from God; but perhaps not a physical separation. This bothered me because God is holy and could not allow sin in His presence. Therefore, hell is all of those things Bell mentioned and a otherly spiritual place where people who have rejected Christ’s message of hope reside for eternity. Bell writes, “There are individual hells, and communal, society-wide hells…there is hell now, and there is hell later, Jesus teaches us to take both seriously”(ellipsis added). Sure, it’s true there is lots of pain and suffering in this world, but nothing compares to the separation from relationship to God and others that the real, literal, eternal hell will bring.
Chapter 4 “Does God get what God wants?”: My favorite chapter because I think it exposes why Bell has a problem with the traditional Evangelical ideas of Heaven and Hell: Bell’s god is what satisfies his desire that God should do…save all people. I don’t think it’s wrong to desire all people to be saved, in fact I would question the motive of love of any Christian who would say or think “I hope this person or certain group goes to Hell.” So Bell’s desire for God to save all isn’t wrong, but his theology that he supports that unless everyone is saved, somehow God failed is wrong. Also in this chapter is where Bell explains that not all orthodox Christians from ages past have had the same answer about these topics. He also states that the Evangelical story is very unattractive and that “everybody enjoying God’s good world together with no disgrace or shame, justice being served, and all the wrongs being made right is a better story.” It may be a better story, but is it the right one? The biblical one? I’m also kind of offended when he talks about the Apostle John as just simply a “pastor” that wrote the book of Revelation. This is the same John who was at Jesus’ side and one of the greatest writers in the New Testament. Come on Bell, you should know better! Bell claims that if God did let everybody into Heaven “This doesn’t diminish God’s justice or take less seriously the very real consequences of sin and rebellion, it simply acknowledges with humility the limits of our powers of speculation.” Really? God’s justice is not diminished if he rewards everyone with Heaven?
This statement reminded me of this video (although I disagree and don’t think Rob Bell is a moral relativist):
Tomorrow I will finish my review of the chapters and give some closing comments about Rob Bell and universalism.