I know that the controversy over Rob Bell and his latest book, Love Wins has died down somewhat. I have liked FB comments and retweeted comments from both sides of the debate. Now that I have finished reading Love Wins for myself, I feel that I am prepared to make some comments of my own.
You may have been told that Love Wins promotes universalism, inclusivism, and other heresies incompatible with Scripture. Let me be perfectly clear: it does not. Whether these accusations are intentional lies or simple misunderstandings I cannot say, but this book does not support anti-biblical heresies.
Let me summarize the message of Love Wins with some direct quotes from the book.
“There’s heaven now, somewhere else.
There’s heaven here, sometime else.
And there’s Jesus’s invitation to heaven
in this moment,
in this place.” ~chapter 2, Here is the New There
“There is hell now,
and there is hell later,
and Jesus teaches us to take both seriously.” ~chapter 3, Hell
“What happened on the cross?
Is the cross about the end of the sacrificial system
or a broken relationship that’s been reconciled
or a guilty defendant who’s been set free
or a battle that’s been won
or the redeeming of something that was lost?
Which is it?
The answer, of course, is yes.” ~chapter 5, Dying to Live
“…Jesus is bigger than any one religion.
He didn’t come to start a new religion, and he continually disrupted whatever conventions or systems or establishments that existed in his day. He will always transcend whatever cages and labels are created to contain and name him, especially the one called ‘Christianity.'” ~chapter 6, There are Rocks Everywhere
“We are free to accept or reject the invitation to new life that God extends to us. Our choice. …
When people say they’re tired of hearing about ‘sin’ and ‘judgment’ and ‘condemnation,’ it’s often because those have been confused with the nature of God. God has no desire to inflict pain or agony on anyone.
God extends an invitation to us,
and we are free to do with it as we please.
Saying yes will take us in one direction;
saying no will take us in another. …
We do ourselves great harm when we confuse the very essence of God, which is love, with the very real consequences of rejecting and resisting that love, which creates what we call hell.” ~chapter 7, The Good News is Better Than That
So to recapp, there’s a real heaven and a real hell. Jesus’s died on the cross as a supreme sacrifice to end all sacrices. This resulted in victory over sin and death for all creation and reconciliation with God. This showed us that God is love. We can accept or reject God’s love, and our choices have consequences in this life and the next. If we accept God’s love we get heaven. If we reject God’s love we get hell. Can someone explain to me why this is un-biblical or controversial?
So why do so many people think Rob Bell is a heretic and that Love Wins preaches universalism? At the beginning of most of the chapters, and on the inside cover and back of the book jacket he does pose some very controversial questions. For example, on the back of the book jacket it says,
“‘God loves us.
God offers us everlasting life by grace, freely, through no merit on our part.
Unless you do not respond the right way.
Then God will torture you forever.
Aha! I knew it all along. Rob Bell is a universalist!
Hold on there, killer! Haven’t you ever heard you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover? I suspect that most people who believe Rob Bell is promoting universalism or inclusivism saw this statement and similar statements at the beginning of each chapter and ignored Bell’s conclusions. He sticks to what the Bible actually says on the subject.
However, there is one area that I will criticize him on, and that is that he leaves the question open as to whether people can choose Jesus and be saved after death. He does NOT say anywhere in Love Wins that all will eventually be saved, after some change their minds in hell. He does imply that this might be possible, but does not insist it will be. In chapter 4, Does God Get what God Wants, Bell writes,
“Will everybody be saved,
or will some perish apart from God forever because of
Those are questions, or more accurately, those are tensions we are free to leave fully intact. We don’t need to resolve them or answer them because we can’t, and so we simply respect them, creating space for the freedom that love requires.”
We can clearly establish from Scripture that we can choose to accept God’s love and grace and enter His kingdom, or we can reject it and enter hell. Why delay the choice until after you die, when we do not know that you whether you can change your mind and be snatched out of the hell fire? Choose salvation now, and as Bell says get a taste of the heavenly age to come even now (this is Scriptural, just read Hebrews chapter 6).
In conclusion, I would say that Love Wins is a helpful book for several reasons. Bell makes abundantly clear that God loves all people, and wants to save all people.
Love Wins clearly states we must accept God’s love to be saved. It promotes the gospel message that God expressed His love by sending His Son to die for us, and there is salvation in no one else. Bell reiterates over and over that there are painful consequences for rejecting God’s love, and that hell is real. The book is also helpful in that it makes a good argument that there are consequences for our choices after we die, but we experience certain consequences in this life as well. Even Bell’s controversial questions help us to consider carefully and examine what the Bible really says.
Read a book for yourselves if you want to know what it really says.