Few men are as polarizing in the Church world today as Rob Bell. In his latest work, Love Wins, Bell takes on the age-old debate regarding heaven and hell (and “the fate of every person who ever lived”).
The big question that was on everyone’s mind when the trailer came out last month was this: is Rob Bell a universalist? In my earlier post regarding the fallout from the release of his book trailer I said that I’d be waiting until after I’d read the book to weigh in on whether Bell is a universalist.
But I’ve decided to avoid answering that question altogether since many of the better versed and smarter leaders in my “camp” of Christianity have released better rebuttals than I could ever hope to form.
Kevin DeYoung wrote an extensive review of Love Wins, which you can download here.
Here’s DeYoung’s summary of Bell’s book:
“Hell is what we create for ourselves when we reject God’s love. Hell is both a present reality for those who resist God and a future reality for those who die unready for God’s love. Hell is what we make of heaven when we cannot accept the good news of God’s forgiveness and mercy. But hell is not forever. God will have his way. How can his good purposes fail? Every sinner will turn to God and realize he has already been reconciled to God, in this life or in the next. There will be no eternal conscious torment. God says no to injustice in the age to come, but he does not pour out wrath (we bring the temporary suffering upon ourselves), and he certainly does not punish for eternity. In the end, love wins.
“Bell correctly notes (many times) that God is love. He also observes that Jesus is Jewish, the resurrection is important, and the phrase ‘personal relationship with God’ is not in the Bible. He usually makes his argument by referencing Scripture. He is easy to read and obviously feels very deeply for those who have been wronged or seem to be on the outside looking in.”
Instead, I’ll try to find a practical response to all this since this book is now within the top 5 bestsellers on Amazon and is probably the topic of many spiritual discussions in offices, coffeeshops, bookstores, and pubs. And because of this, no doubt the concepts of heaven and hell are on many people’s radars as well.
When faced with questions of God’s goodness—”How can a good God send people to hell for eternity?”—it’s important to know that God doesn’t operate within our concepts of good and evil. Bell’s operating premise is that God is love and cannot act outside of love. But his assumption is that our understanding of love is also God’s understanding of love.
Yes, God is a God that rescues and liberates us from sin, death, and destruction, but it’s often easy for us to dismiss the fact that God is also a God of justice and perfection.
One example of Bell’s misuse of scriptural concepts is the way he handles the parable of the lost son from Luke 15. While he correctly takes the emphasis off the character we often refer to as the “prodigal son,” he makes an incorrect correlation between this parable and the realities of heaven and hell.
But perhaps my opinion on that matter should be reserved for another day.
Throughout his book Bell makes strong statements regarding the roots of Christianity and how our concepts of heaven and hell were formed fairly recently in the history of Christianity. But is it really possible that he’s stumbled on truths that thousands of pastors, teachers, and theologians have missed for centuries?
Jake Johnson, Media & Communications Pastor at Redemption Church had this to say about Love Wins:
“Could it really be that Rob Bell has rediscovered lost truths of Christianity, this man who claims so often not to be a theologian but rather an artist? Could it be that the vast majority of church fathers, theologians, and believers have been wrong all this time? Is Rob Bell, alone, saving the church from two millennia worth of wrong thinking? Does it even matter?
Or is it possible that this one man may be wrong and misguided? And that it matters a lot?
I’d opt for the latter.
It’s clear that Rob Bell is motivated by love for people. He has many moving stories about pain and sin in his book. He definitely has a pastor’s heart. He badly wants people to have hope and love Jesus. The problem is that he has let his version of love for people become more important and a ‘better story’ than the way in which love is actually displayed by God in the Bible. It is not love to tell someone they will eventually go to heaven when the Bible is clear that they may not. That is hatred in the end, even if unintended.”
Then what can we say when our friends, coworkers, and relatives ask us these questions about heaven and hell?
Perhaps we should simply tell them the truth—that God loves them and longs to spend eternity with them, but that our sin keeps us separated from him. That until we accept Christ’s gift of eternal life with him beginning in this life (for our choices here reverberate through eternity), we will forever be separated from God.
Only after we communicate this truth can we honestly say that love wins.