Thoughts on Rob Bell’s Love Wins

Last night I finished reading Rob Bell’s new and very controversial book about Heaven and Hell – Love Wins. I have taken a week to read the eight chapter book deliberately reading a chapter a day so that I can digest and think about what he is saying rather than rushing through it for the sake of adding my two cents to a very crowded discussion.

I have read all of Rob Bell’s previous books – Velvet Elvis, Sex God, Jesus Wants To Save Christians, and Drops Like Stars. His previous books have been very well written, engaging and challenging. Love Wins starts off in a similar fashion to his previous works in short half-sentences and a thought provoking conversational tone. Chapter’s one through three deal with how you become saved (which is left open) and biblical descriptions of heaven and hell (which is more than gold, fire and brimstone).

The middle two chapters deal with free will, death, and redemption and in these chapters Bell makes some really powerful and interesting points. His particular focus is on the present age and the age that is to come. How in the present we can have “heaven on earth” and “hell on earth” as a direct result of our actions and our approach to life. When talking about the heaven that is to come he makes an interesting point about the gates of heaven never being closed and suggests the possibility of redemption still being available in the age that is to come.

However, my disappointment with Love Wins is the final three chapters. In these chapters Bell deals with how people are rejecting established religion but still finding God, how the condition of the heart matters, what if people never hear the good news, and the idea of a vengeful God. All of these topics are important but Bell’s points seem to be rushed, muddied, and not entirely clear.

The biggest and most controversial of these topics is universalism. While discussing the condition of the heart over following a religious script Bell throws it out there that Muslims, Hindus and Buddhists may be in heaven saying “… that there is only one mountain, but it has many paths.” What grates me about this comment is Bell is making this comment after talking about John 14:6 – “I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”

Writing about this Bell states: “What he [Jesus] doesn’t say is how, or when, or in what matter the mechanism functions that gets people to God through him. He doesn’t even state that those coming to the Father through him will even know that they are coming exclusively through him.” And this is where I begin to have a problem with what Bell is writing.

I will happily agree that the condition of the heart is far more important than following any religious script. I am also happy to believe that we may have a few surprises in heaven; there are plenty of stories in the bible about people’s faith in the unknown God seeing them saved. I will even go as far to leave open the possibility of people of other faiths who in their deepest of hearts believe in God and his redeeming grace and have never had a chance to openly and fully examine the “Christian” story of God will somehow be saved.

However, I do not believe that when someone makes a deliberate choice to reject Jesus as the son of God and instead just see him as a prophet or good teacher that they are still saved because they are a good person. The first commandment is “to have no other Gods” and I cannot see how continuing to serve a different god after hearing about the true God will get you saved.

I can accept wide diversity in the Christian faith, I can accept people have differences in how they express their faith, how they see and practice their relationship with God. However, a rejection of Christ’s virgin birth, sinless life, death on the cross, and resurrection is surely a rejection of “coming to the Father through me.”

Overall Love Wins is a good read; it provokes in typical Rob Bell fashion, however, the muddied last few chapters leave a lot of questions without clear answers of even what Bell thinks about a lot of things. And it is that unknown which has left me so unsatisfied with Love Wins, and as a result there is little wonder it is getting so much controversy.

Finally, I will leave the last word to Bell himself speaking the other day:

5 Replies to “Thoughts on Rob Bell’s Love Wins”

  1. It is not about condition of heart or other crap. It is about God’s standards: perfection. We are never perfect, and that is why we need JESUS (and nothing else). Muslims (and others) work hard to achieve something close to perfection, but that is NOT enough to God. There is absolutely no salvation without Jesus. To say so is to deny that Jesus is the Son of God.

  2. Not about the heart or other crap?

    Then how do you explain Matthew 22:36-40?

    36: “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”
    37: Jesus replied: “ ’Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’
    38: This is the first and greatest commandment.
    39: And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.
    40: All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

    God’s standard is not perfection. It is love. Without love we cannot have God.

    1. Matthew 5:17-19 (NLT)

      17: Don’t misunderstand why I have come. I did not come to abolish the law of Moses or the writings of the prophets. No, I came to accomplish their purpose.
      18: I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not even the smallest detail of God’s law will disappear until its purpose is achieved.
      19: So if you ignore the least commandment and teach others to do the same, you will be called the least in the Kingdom of Heaven. But anyone who obeys God’s laws and teaches them will be called great in the Kingdom of Heaven.

      There are 613 laws of God in the old testament. It would be impossible for us to obey ever single one. Hence why in Romans 3:23 it is stated “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”

      So it is impossible for us to obey every single one of God’s laws, and Jesus makes it very clear that he does not replace the law. So where does that leave us?

      It leaves us needing God’s grace, forgiveness, and mercy. Accepting that he died on the cross as an atonement for our sins and through him we are made anew. However, this does not mean that after we are saved that we can ignore God’s law. After all many laws in the old testament are foundations of civil society, common law, and widely accepted moral values. It also means that we should not ignore God’s defined ‘religious’ festivals.

      And this is where the church and religion has got things so wrong. We have thrown out God’s calendar and replaced it with our own. Things like Easter instead of Passover. At the last supper Jesus said “do this in remembrance of me.” Do what? Celebrate his death and resurrection at Easter? Sure, maybe. But the last supper was actually the Passover Seder and Jesus’ death and resurrection is the fulfilled of that exodus story. ‘Easter’ as we know it didn’t start at Jesus’ death but back in Egypt with the first Passover.

      It is wrong to say that all you need is Jesus and the rest of the bible is just the historical back-story. Jesus was there from the start of time, weaving his way through the bible, through the laws. The laws are not there to control us, they are there to lead us closer to God.

      1. When did I say that the Bible is just a historical back-story?

        All I am saying is: my salvation depends solely on Jesus, and not on what I do or don’t do. I am dead anyway (when Jesus died, I died). There is absolutely no hope otherwise.

        And about “God’s” defined religious festivals… I think the Bible is clear about dates, and festivals and things like that: they don’t really matter. However, if I wanted to celebrate the old testament festivals, I am more than capable of doing so… I even own a shophar (two, actually, but one of them is in Brazil).

        And to me, “church” and religion get things wrong when the people who belong to them waste time discussing things that don’t matter instead of focusing on Jesus. Jesus is the focus, the whole Bible talks about Him, the whole Bible is the story of Jesus. He is the alpha and omega, He is everything. The “church” and religion get things wrong when they focus on something else.

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