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: