A PERSONAL REVIEW OF ROB BELL’S LOVE WINS
My hope in writing this isn’t to upset anyone, but to shed light on and offer a different perspective to Love wins. Bell is author and Pastor, founder of Mars Hill Bible Church in Grandville, Michigan and featured in the NOOMA short films.
There have been quite a bit of press about Rob Bell’s latest literary effort. People have hurled accusations against him such as heretic, Universalist, and enemy of Christianity. John Piper even twittered, “Farewell, Rob Bell.” I think the worst is that the majority of those who flung these allegations were before the book came out (John Piper) and without having read a single word of Bell’s book. As a self-professed bookworm its one of my main rules to not comment on a book without having read it, I believe to do so is pure laziness and intellectual dishonesty. So, it may help to know I have read Love Wins three times so far. This book has prompted me to study more on this topic.
Bell should be applauded for taking a risk and writing about this extremely important, touchy, weighty, and often not talked about topic. A topic Evangelicals are underdeveloped in their thinking. In writing about this publicly, Bell gives us permission to talk more freely with each other. The more thinking and study of this topic the more we’ll be careful in our sometimes simplistic views or verbal slams against others. Through compelling writing, Bell paints pictures, illustrates, and illuminates the biblical text in a way few others can. I, personally find his biblical illustrations intriguing and challenging. The book is full of questions that Bell doesn’t resolve or try to, he’s willing to ask the questions that many people are struggling with today and not force an answer or conclusion to. This can be an obstacle for many, but for me it was a bonus. Many of these questions we will never have an answer for and sometimes the more mature thing to do is live with the questions.
Many people are voicing concern about this book and one of the biggest concerns is postmortem salvation. Many people in the conservative wing of the church will declare that no such thing exists and aren’t open to dialogue on this. I believe this is John Piper and others main obstacle to hearing Bell out. I wonder how they can know for sure God wouldn’t offer or present some way that wayward prodigals can find their way home (to heaven). Haven’t they read the parable of the prodigal?
My pastor has reminded me that “God’s grace is sufficient and it’s up to God.” So, whether or not there is postmortem salvation is God’s business and who are we to limit God’s saving power?
I do wonder how Piper and others would feel if they find themselves in heaven and are sitting next to some of those other people; the people they figured would be condemned to hell. Would it detract from their bliss? For some I fear that it would.
Bell writes, “How we think about heaven directly affects how we understand what we do with our days and energies now. Jesus teaches us how to live in such a way that what we create, who we give our efforts to, and how we spend our time will all endure.” Bell emphatically argues that how we act now will influence and mirror how we spend our time after we die. He suggests, “Taking heaven seriously means taking suffering serious. Not with our mistaken modernist notion that we can create a man-made utopia, but because we have confidence that “God has not abandoned human history and is actively at work within it, taking it somewhere.”
Bell says that Jesus is not so much concerned with who’s in and who’s out as he’s interested in our hearts being transformed, so that we can actually handle heaven. “To portray heaven as bliss, peace, and endless joy is a beautiful picture, but it raises question: How many of us could handle it, as we are today?” That is why “Jesus calls disciples to teach us how to be and what to be; his intention is for us to be growing progressively in generosity, forgiveness, honesty, courage, truth telling, and responsibility, so that as these take over our lives we are taking part more and more in the age to come, now.” I know that I have more to learn and become before I can step fully into life in the kingdom and that is why I am a disciple of Jesus. I agree with Bell when he writes, “Jesus invites us, in this life, in this broken beautiful world, to experience the life of heaven now. He insisted over and over that God’s peace, joy, and love are currently available to us, exactly as we are.”
Bell argues that Jesus didn’t use hell to scare non-believers, but to warn religious people about the consequences of straying from their God-given calling to show the world God’s love. So, maybe when we who call ourselves Christian refuse or are unable to show God’s love to the world then we are stepping into hell. I am, as I believe we all are guilty of this sometimes and need to act and live in more healthy and loving ways. Bell says Hell is what happens when we intentionally abandon all that is good and right and kind and humane.
Heaven and hell are about beliefs and actions; I believe that our real beliefs are showcased in our actions. We, as Christians need to act more and more in the ways of heaven and less and less in the ways of hell. We need to love are neighbor, we need to love everyone. That’s what Jesus did and that’s what Jesus calls each of us to do. I trust that whatever happens on the other side of death is just fine. I can find comfort and meaning without clinging to any particular belief about the afterlife.
My favorite chapter of this controversial book, chapter 7 ‘The good news is better than that’, Bell begins by mentioning one of his parishioners who approaches him after each sermon he gives and hands him a piece of paper with the number of days that she hasn’t cut herself. Bell writes, “She’s struggled with self-injury addiction for years, lately a group have been helping her find peace and healing. She still struggles…” Due to what she’s experienced in life, she has a hard time accepting God’s unconditional love.
He uses her story to introduce another, one told by Jesus in Luke 15, the story of the prodigal. He goes into detail fleshing out this story, using it to ask who God is. Is God a loving God who wants to reconcile with his son or is God a slave driver. Does God run to us as we turn back to him? Or is God demanding and unrewarding? Bell suggests how we see God is how we will picture our story. Some will find themselves in the younger son who understands he doesn’t deserve God’s free gift of grace. Others will find their story in the older resentful brother who doesn’t want to let those kind of people in and takes it personally when they’re let into God’s grace.“Hell is our refusal to trust God’s retelling of our story.”
“What the gospel does is confront our version of our story with God’s version. It begins with the sure and certain truth that we are loved. In spite of whatever has gone wrong deep in our hearts and has spread to every corner of the world, in spite of our sins, failures, rebellion, and hard hearts, in spite of what’s been done to us or what we’ve done, God has made peace with us.” The Gospel is the good news that God hasn’t given up on us and will heal and transform us into His hands and feet in the world.
Bell address the dichotomy of a loving God who accepts you one moment, but in the next sends you to hell. “If your God is loving one second and cruel the next will punish people for eternity for sins committed in few short years no amount of clever marketing, good music or great coffee will be able to disguise that glaring, unacceptable, awful reality. Hell is refusing to trust, and that is often rooted in a distorted view of God.” A right view of God is important to a healthy view of our self and the world.
“God extends an invitation to us; we are free to do with it what we please. Saying yes will take us in one direction; saying no in another.” Each of us has a choice to make. Will we affirm with our life that God is love and love wins, or will we reject God, love and heaven for our own plan. A choice each of us makes in every moment.
Bell suggests at the closing of this chapter that we all have a bit of his parishioner in us. That we have all done things we aren’t proud of, but we can choose to listen to the story God is telling us about our own life. “We listen, while we’re told a better story. Because the good news is better than that.”