Love Wins has endured perhaps the most negative press from contemporary Christians of any book I know. Two friends recommended that I read it with an open mind. I accepted the challenge.
Author Rob Bell is the creator of the "Nooma Video series". If you have ever seen one of these inspiring and informative videos, you will understand when I say that Rob’s writing voice is similar to, and as compelling as his video voice and dialogue; more so in Love Wins than in his earlier work, Velvet Elvis, which I definitely recommend.
Love Wins is easy reading, which may be the source of the negative opinions. A reader can breeze through, absorbing some of the main points without really taking time to contemplate the ideas appropriately. I initially read it in a few hours. But when writing this review, I re-read the entire book considering each point, insuring that I would not misrepresent anything. When I re-read more slowly, I reached an understanding and clarity about the message.
Rob has a gift of not being afraid to ask questions, even if the questions tend to challenge long-held beliefs. For if the belief is sound, it can stand even in the face of uncomfortable questions.
He discusses heaven first. Funny, most of the negative press that I have heard is about his view of hell. I don’t remember hearing much about his views of heaven. He believes in a heaven after death. But like Dallas Willard in The Divine Conspiracy, he believes in the possibility of heaven on earth.
After heaven, Bell discusses Hell. This is the subject about which I have heard most of the negativity. I have heard that he preaches and writes that hell is not real. That is not true at all. His view of hell is similar to his view of heaven. He believes in hell after death, but he also believes in hell on earth as well. He provides scripture and life experiences for this belief.
But what he does advocate, and backs it up with stories and scripture, is that God is too merciful to banish anyone to hell for all of eternity. He believes that although God may allow punishment for a time, he will not continue to punish forever. This is directly in contrast to what I have been taught all of my life. Does it mean that he is wrong? Only God can answer. I don’t know.
He opens his discourse about hell by listing what he says is the exhaustive list of scriptures about hell in the bible. I found a difference between his list and the list in my bible’s concordance. The list in my bible’s abbreviated concordance was longer for Old Testament scripture. One reason for this may be translations, but I think that he was mistaken in this portion of the book. Whether or not this affects the subsequent theology is unknown. If he used a longer list of scriptures about hell in his theological consideration, would his view of hell be different? Is his view shortsighted because he did not use a complete list of scriptures?
He then writes about Jesus being the only way to the Father. He uses Paul’s interpretation of the story of Moses striking the rock in the Old Testament to make a point. According to Paul, the water came from the rock was provided by Jesus; the Hebrews were relying on Jesus without knowing it. His point is that just because people follow other religions, doesn’t mean that they don’t follow Jesus without knowing it. He makes that point to stress that as Christians, it is not our place to judge who will or won’t go to hell after death; there may be more to their story than we know. He uses other scriptural references to accentuate this idea. This is almost approaching Christian Gnosticism, but not quite. This is different theology than I have ever been taught, as well. Does that mean that he is wrong and I am right, or vice versa? Only God knows.
What I do know is that I can consider these ideas without feeling that my faith is threatened.
One thing that I recommend that he do differently is to note the verse of the scriptural references that he uses. Many times throughout Love Wins, he told a story or cited scripture using only the book of the bible or the book and chapter without the verse. Whenever I read a book like this, I like to look up the scripture to compare what it really says with what the author claims it says.
I do think that my horizon was broadened. I didn’t take on any new theology, but I did consider the ideas. My faith is strengthened in a way from being able to question the beliefs that I have long held. I don’t particularly recommend this book for reading. But I don’t recommend that someone not read it either. But I do recommend that if someone reads it, they do so critically, taking their time to consider the principles that are outlined from Rob Bell.
We definitely have not heard the last of him.
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copyright 2011 by Kathy Robbins