I’ll admit I didn’t it read for my own personal journey. I didn’t really have a personal investment in the book, but the more I heard about it, the more important it seemed that I be familiar with the work. Bell does, indeed, ask questions that lots of people ask. I can’t say that I’ve lived in a world where those types of questions are thrown out or silenced, but I know it does happen.
As someone who stands in front of people and presumes pastoral leadership, I think it’s important to know what folks are asking…and what God says about it.
Is Everybody Going To Heaven?
Bell says a lot of stuff in the book. It’s important to note that the popular argument, “Jesus-can-handle-our-questions” doesn’t really apply here. There are a lot of questions in the book, but make no mistake. Rob Bell is trying to answer them. There’s no sentence in this book where the author states whether or not he’s a universalist. However, Bell has publicly stated that he’s not and the book does seem to bear this out. He speaks very clearly about choice in this book – that we can choose heaven or hell. It does get tricky, however, when he begins to reference a list of scriptures that reveal that everyone will give God glory. Bell seems to skip the context of these verses, projecting a very “positive” outlook on all these verses, which I’m not sure is really doing justice to the Bible. Every knee will bow…one way or another. In a few places, Bell seems to be offended by this idea, and even declares this view as “toxic.” So, it’s hard to know where he actually stands on the issue.
For my reading, the respective chapters on Heaven and Hell were the most interesting. The chapter on Heaven was good. Bell is such a good communicator and he does a good job of correcting the idea that Heaven is “escape”. As the discussion moves to the concept of Hell, the author’s more controversial leanings become a bit clearer. As I mentioned above, Bell says we have a choice…but he also seems to be saying that both Heaven and Hell are RIGHT NOW. That our choice to believe that God’s love can change the world is immediate. It is immediate, but it doesn’t seem like Rob Bell believes that an actual, physical lake of fire is a reality. I could be reading this wrong – but I was hard pressed to find it.
What About Jesus?
Bell absolutely believes in Jesus. There is no doubt about that. But there seemed to be an omission of the work of the cross. I want to be clear here. The omission of something doesn’t necessarily prove intention. I can’t say that Rob Bell omitted a discussion of the atonement because he doesn’t believe in it. Maybe that’s true, but there’s no evidence of that. I was discouraged to see that the reason for the cross wasn’t discussed because it really is a defining belief. I would have loved to hear Rob’s view on the sacrifice. Unfortunately, I was left wondering what all this boiled down to – a sort of, “what does the writer want me to do with this?”
Is It Bad Theology?
I heard one reviewer say it was a “lop-sided” book and I’d totally agree with that. There’s a lot there that lines up with scripture and comes from a very pastoral perspective that exalts God. But a lot of the very clear chapters transition to unclear points with no answer. Maybe that’s intentional…maybe Bell wants us to be scratching our head at the end of it. In my opinion, the book only paints half a picture and theologically speaking, that’s not a healthy thing.
Does It Matter?
This is the real question…does this book do harm? Is it a dangerous read for someone who’s struggling? Here’s my overall take on the book:
I think Rob Bell is approaching the Gospel with a very man-centered view. Some of the strongest, most emotional work in this book seems to come from a place where Rob is justifying that the Gospel can’t be this because it just doesn’t make sense to US. And I’d say that any book (or song or movie or sermon or church) that makes following Jesus about us is never a good thing. Love Wins isn’t the only book to ever do that, but is the most recent one and it’s selling like crazy.