Rob Bell’s Love Wins Revisited

A year ago, I reviewed Rob Bell’s Love Wins. As it comes out in paperback, I thought I would revisit this book and its author. I hope my reflections will help you see why I am such a fan of this book and its author. I may write a series of reflections on each chapter of the book. It may help to know I have read Love Wins five times so far. I am sure I will read it again and again. This book has prompted me to study more on this topic. My pastor led class last summer on this book and while it ended up pissing me off I am thankful for it.

Accusations were hurled against Bell such as heretic, universalist, and enemy of Christianity. I have looked deeper at Bell and his theology over this past year and none of those insults are true. Bell is deeply Christian and as evangelical as I am. John Piper can twitter “Farewell, Rob Bell,” as much as he wants to it won’t change the simple fact that Bell is a Christian and eager to lead others into a relationship with Jesus. I am sure if John Piper or any of his ilk were to read my blogs I’d be called heretic or enemy of Christianity too.

In writing and speaking publicly, Bell gives us permission to talk more freely about this extremely important, touchy, weighty, and often not talked about topic. The more thinking and study of this topic the more we’ll be careful in our sometimes simplistic views or verbal slams against others. Bell’s compelling writing paints pictures, illustrates, and illuminates the biblical text in a way few others can. Personally, I 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, an obstacle for many, but for me it was a bonus. Many of these questions will never be resolved.

One of the biggest contentions is postmortem salvation. Many conservatives will declare that no such thing exists. I believe this is John Piper and others main obstacle to hearing Bell out. How can they 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?

Whether or not there is postmortem salvation is God’s business and who are we to limit God’s saving power?

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. That is why I go to bible study, why I study and attempt to apply what I learn in my life daily. I emphatically agree with Bell when he writes, “Jesus invites us, in this life 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. 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, maybe more than we care to admit even to ourselves 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; our real beliefs are showcased in our actions. We, as Christians need to act more in the ways of heaven and less in the ways of hell. We need to love our neighbor, 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, meaning, and purpose without clinging to any particular belief about the afterlife. I can begin to live towards my divine calling without knowing how the future will turn out or what it will look like. Today matters as much if not more than tomorrow and yesterday is over.

Rob Bell doesn’t need me to defend him or his work. I read Bell because he is an exciting and illuminating writer on God’s word. I find more hope, excitement, and freshness in him and his writing than a lot of what goes by the Christian name. If I am not a Christian or even an enemy of Christianity for reading, enjoying, and being nourished by Bell then so be it. I will Follow Jesus in spite of what anyone calls me or thinks of me. I follow Jesus not because I want to conform to any orthodoxy or fit in, but because in Jesus I find the deepest, fullest, most beautiful, enduring revelation of who God really is and what this life and the next is really all about.

.If you have not read Love Wins I hope you will pick a copy up.

If you have not read Rob Bell than, I hope you will pick this or one of his other books up.

Grace and peace be with you always.

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