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Book Review: Love Wins: A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate Of Every Person Who Ever Lived by Rob Bell

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You can’t argue with spirit but you can argue that Rob Bell has done a remarkable job bringing God’s love to life. Yes, love wins in this worthy work of theology and non-fiction, a book I can see some Christians calling heresy or science fiction.

In Love Wins we meet a small cast of characters in a small tome with a big mission tackling the existence of eternal hell or the lack of it according to author, pastor Rob Bell. We meet and greet and spend a lot of time with the greatest wordsmith of the Bible: Saint Paul who predates early Church fathers who filled books with philosophy and logic that changed the course of Christianity in Europe.  

Love Wins is a remarkable, easy, interesting read that I am glad I undertook without expectation or previous knowledge of the author.The problems with the book were more editorial and less literary or theological. Perhaps Pastor Bell should have checked with rules for writers which advises writers to avoid short sentences especially when they create fragments. Ouch!  I am sure that Bell sought to inspire with poetry and poetic license, but I found it distracted from his central and solid message about God’s unconditional love for his creation: man.

Timelines and talk of time fills Bell book; including but not limited to what happens after death and the meaning of time, eon, “foreverness,” time contraction and dilation. Pastor Bell writes beautifully about the impact of time as we know and understand it from pages 57-59 and even waxes Einstein-like in summary on page 59:

We live in several dimensions.

Up and down.

Left and right.

Forward and backward.

Three to be exact.

I get it — but does he mean it or does he just like the way it sounds? Because surely that segment does not hold up to editorial scrutiny — proof when the lines are highlighted as sentence fragments, poetry maybe, sentences never.

Fragments aside, let’s take a faithful look now at Bell’s hammer on the mountain: trust. We are asked to trust that God’s timeline is infinite, so far so good. Not only do we move and have our being in him but God throws in eternity (from page 59):

Eternal life does not start when we die;

 it starts now.

It’s not about a life that begins at death;

 it’s about experiencing the kind of life now that can

endure and survive even death.  

Eternity shifts under the questioning of Pastor Bell, and we find it pushed into the here and now living room. Is this heresy? If so, then heretic Bell is not alone; he has company such as the French philosophers Heloise and Abelard whose intramural conversations, letters and roles as abbess and abbot respectively kept them busy writing about and questioning everything from the Trinity to the “Golden Rule” which is not one of the ten commandments but Biblical.

The Golden Rule was attributed to Jesus and in English translated as “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” Bell, on the other hand, continually questions the role that eternal hell plays for Christian and non believers alike. In the above-quoted passage Bell has summarized abbess Heloise’s “any corner of heaven.”

The cloud of Christ coming and bringing with him the new age contains Bell’s missionary zeal.  It is truly a “new age” with a new earth and Jesus welcome as its king. It’s too easy to be true. What then is the role of humanity who does not believe, who is not saved, who is not baptized, who have not accepted Jesus as savior?

Bell’s thesis resounds with this: repentant or not heaven is at hand, not hell, which begs the question of two criminals crucified with Jesus. In profile we learn that one repents and gains the promise of paradise that very day. So does the other sinner go directly to hell? The Bible is silent on the other man. Surprisingly, the forgiven thief is not the universal metaphor for how Jesus will deal with those not born again. That’s the official stance, but Bell creates his own stance and contradicts the conventional teaching about redemption.    

St. Paul is credited with the creation of Christianity as we know it. Paul writes about the mission of the Christ and the church like no other. St. Paul informs us that we have two bodies: one corporeal and one heavenly — or “imperishable” to use his word. Bell’s use of fine imagery created by St. Paul and the words of Jesus to the man on the other side of the cross are undeniable: heaven is at hand.

In the last full chapter of the book Chapter Seven, “Good News is Better Than That,” Bell discusses the unbearable meanness of God. And how many turn their face away from God due in large part because he is painted as the uncaring father who would condemn and kill his own children with fire and hell. That is the God we hear about but — in truth “God is the rescuer” according to the author. 

In the last chapter which is more like final thoughts Bell reminds us to trust, trust time, trust its forward-looking nature. He goes on to interpret some judgment images wherein Jesus invokes wrath as he compares weeds tied together and burned to the fate of the wicked. He uses Jesus’ words to make a new point about the finality of this linear life by returning to his time theme.

Bell officially dashes any acknowledgment of the wheel of life as a turning and returning: “Time does not repeat itself. Neither does life.”  To my dismay Rob Bell circles the drain on the laws of rebirth and the circle of life. At the end of his 197-page book Bell jumps to questions of “effort versus grace,” a deeply philosophical concern, one that sits at the heart of his thesis and at the end of the book. The seeker is continually warned that without adult baptism, without movement towards God, that redemption is impossible. We must win God; win his love by effort in addition to grace. Love Wins turns the effort-versus-grace argument on its head, and one must ask: how did Christianity get it so wrong?

The seeker and the baptized Christian must make the effort towards God who in the end will rescue them from sin. But, wait, didn’t Jesus already do that back then? According to Bell that is what humanity needs reminding of: it’s done, finished; we are ripe for the return of Christ and his heaven on earth.

I enjoyed reading this book from cover to cover, for many reasons and on many levels. I wanted to read how a young popular preacher from Grand Rapids, Michigan created so much buzz with his bestselling books. He did it. With his words, Bell nails trust to the cross and asks his reader to see it there but not to execute it. In other words don’t kill trust; don’t kill love; and, most of all, don’t kill heaven with hell.

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About Heloise

  • Weather you agree with Rob Bell or not it’s is hard to deny that he has the power to reach an extremely large audience. In his latest book, Love Wins, he uses this ability to ask serious questions that deeply affect the faith of, well “Every Person Who Ever Lived.”

  • HELOISE! I was interested to see you reviewing a book like this. I am one of those Christians who says, “I HOPE I’m not heretical for enjoying Ron Bell’s writing, because some of it really sounds like truth that needs to be broadcast, but some of it is…out there.”

    As you say, Ron Bell does proclaim the fact that Jesus’ merciful pursuit of all of us, even atheists and people who don’t know His name yet, continues day after day in THIS life. Grace is a gift we CAN’T earn, it is something He is wanting to lavish on all of us. I sometimes think of us “gotta be a good person” types spraying ourselves with all sorts of semi-nasty perfume to cover up the stink of our selfishness and pride, and God’s chasing us around wanting to bathe us with the only thing that will get us really clean: His own blood. Also, Jesus was the type of guy who went to parties and hung out with sinners and other religious misfits, and he got invited BACK.

    On the other hand, I wonder what the last line of this exchange, on the OTHER side of death, would be:

    God: “Well [fill in name of Aggressive Atheist here], welcome to the judgement seat. You’ve spent the best years of your life turning people against me, but SURPRISE, I’m going to display my magnificent mercy and let you into Heaven anyway.”

    [Aggressive Atheist]: “Get lost, God. I still feel the same way.”

    God: ?

    I’m not the one having to do the deciding. Thank God.

  • Emily Dixon

    I loved getting an “outsider’s” perspective about Bell’s writing. I have not read this particular work but it is on my summer reading list. I simply wanted to add a note about his writing style. If you watch his award winning Nooma videos you will find he writes exactly as he speaks. While leaving his writing stylistically flawed, his oral presentations are beautifully worded. For those of us who were introduced to Bell through the videos, it is impossible to read his books without hearing his voice.

    Complete with,
    Not neglecting,
    His carefully constructed stops.
    And thought provoking

    Making his books feel like a conversation with an old friend not dry pursuit of theology.