One of the things I appreciate most about Rob Bell’s latest book, Love Wins, is his desire to tackle a very important subject, the fate of every person who ever lived, and bring to the table the questions people have been asking for years – without reservation. While taking on the subjects of heaven and hell will always be risky business, he feels that the topic is important enough to discuss again, and I couldn’t agree more.
What Rob confronts more than anything are our biases and traditions about who we believe will make it into heaven and who will not; views that stipulate that only a select few will be chosen for heaven, while the vast majority of people will be co-signed to eternal conscious punishment for the sins committed in the short few years they lived on earth.His response is multifaceted and covers a broad range of other possibilities that have been presented throughout church history.
Some have claimed that Rob is a universalist based on their reading (and in many cases their non-reading) of this book. Universalism is the idea that everyone will eventually find salvation through Jesus Christ at one time or another. Some take this belief to an extreme and say that even Satan will find salvation. However, Bell categorically denies this accusation and has made this abundantly clear throughout the text.
He writes that hell is a topic Jesus discussed time and time again and He used those moments to communicate the “very real experiences and consequences of rejecting our God-given goodness and humanity” (73). Hell is the word we use to illustrate what happens when we continually decide to reject the good and beautiful life that God has for us. Such ongoing rejections carries with it intense and real consequences, in this life and in the life to come.
Rob doesn’t suggest a universalist approach to the Gospel, but one that takes the human capacity for real choices seriously. If love demands freedom, and it does, then included in this freedom is the right not to love in return. God cannot unilaterally overrule the freedom He created and must allow it to take its proper course. In this sense, love wins. God loves us enough to allow us to choose our own path, even if it is diametrically opposed to His best goals for us (116). As Bell puts it, “love demands freedom. It always has, and it always will. We are free to resist, reject, and rebel against God’s ways for us. We can have all the hell we want” (113).
Yet, God’s love and desire is that everyone will come to him and embrace the good life He has made for us to participate in through Christ. And, He will stop at nothing to see that everyone has the opportunity to participate in the life He has provided for us. In this life, and maybe in the life to come.
Bell presents us with a hopeful, wide and grand vision surrounding God’s beautiful plan and desire to bring everyone into His kingdom. I appreciate his willingness to enter into the conversation, while attempting to plot a way forward that encompasses, and at times surpasses, the traditional views about the fate of everyone who ever lived. Why he does leave a number of important questions unanswered, what book doesn’t? However, I see this book as a great starting point for further research and dialogue, not the final word on the subject.
I would recommend that you take the time to further investigate other works as well. Bell lists a number of them at the conclusion of his book. A further recommendation is too read widely. Don’t read only those books whose views you already agree with. Read through a plethora of views as you consult the scriptures for guidance and direction. Be open to new possibilities. What may be a difficult pill to swallow at first, could turn into something helpful and uplifting in the end. If, however, you end up back at the same place, that’s fine too. But only after you have taken the time to look through the options and not because you arrived there because of a priori arguments.
I highly recommend this book to everyone who would like to better understand the very real and important consequences of our free choices. Hell and heaven are not religious myths. And, God has given us the freedom to choose. In this way, love wins…