Question: What's your opinion of Rob Bell's new book, "Love Wins"?
My Response: This book is not for everyone. Some people need a simple and concise theological paradigm to govern their lives. They have no interest in theological discussions and just want to be able to get through their day with a sense of God's blessing. I respect that and I'd encourage those people to leave this book alone. Don't go there if you don't want to deal with the issues Bell raises. It really isn't necessary.
I am convinced that Rob Bell loves stirring the evangelical pot! Many times I've found him to make statements that I object to until I listen as carefully as I can without reading through my biased lenses. The goal of reading is not to wrap the text around my presuppositions but to fully understand what the author is really trying to communicate.
I've been told that Rob Bell says that there is no hell and that everyone will be saved and go to heaven. The book isn't as simplistic as that. Bell asks a number of questions that are fair for discussion and definition. I did not come across anything, other than perhaps through the questions he asks, that articulates his position. Here are some things I did find, though:
Bell suggests that a story of everybody enjoying God's good world is a better one than the story of a black hole of endless torment for those who did not believe the right things. He then says, "Whatever objections a person might have to this story, and there are many, one has to admit that it is fitting, proper, and Christian to long for it" (1378-85 Kindle). I have to agree with that. While I do believe in a literal hell for those who do not have a relationship with Christ, I take no pleasure in that. Is it Christian to take satisfaction in people going to hell, or would you be ok with God devising a means that everyone made it? I will have no disappointment in discovering that people that I didn't think would make it, made it, because I am fully convinced that God is just and will do right. It doesn't seem to me that Bell embraces universalism and he does allow for legitimate objections to his proposition. The book's intention appears to be to force the reader to deal with their attitude about people going to hell and those who might make it in that they didn't think would or should. I personally believe that hell is real while hoping that no one goes there.
"This doesn't diminish God's justice or take less seriously the very real consequences of sin and rebellion, it simply acknowledges with humility the limits of our powers of speculation" (1434-49 Kindle). I have always believed that God hasn't read our theology books! We want to simplify an infinite God and fit Him into our finite understanding. It is simpler and more comfortable to do that than to admit that we might not know everything about everything. Our powers of speculation on eternal matters needs to be limited. It is not my place to put anyone in heaven or hell. That belongs to God, alone.
"If we want hell, if we want heaven, they are ours. That's how love works. It can't be forced, manipulated, or coerced. It always leaves room for the other to decide. God says yes, we can have what we want, because love wins" (1477-82 Kindle). I think that statement is quite clear. God does not consign those who fail to go to hell. Those who reject His love go to hell of their own choosing. God cannot force people to live right or to accept His provision. Love demands that everyone's choices are respected. Anyone who goes to hell, goes there because they chose it.
Bell further amplifies this concept when dealing with the rich man and Lazarus. When the rich man is found in hell, it does not change the condition of his heart. He still asks for Lazarus to serve him by bringing him water. His heart is the same after judgment as it was before. The point seems to be that even if there were to be another chance after death, people would not change. They will die in the same condition as they lived, even when viewing reality from hell. Love demands that people have that freedom to choose.
"Life has never been about just 'getting in.' It's about thriving in God's good world" (2156-63 Kindle). "This distinction, the one between entrance and enjoyment..." (2178-87 Kindle). Great point! Are we living so we can get into heaven or living to enjoy God here and now. This is not an either/or, but a both/and. To live only focused on doing everything right so I can go to heaven carries with it the risk of missing His loving fellowship today. Christianity is about a journey, not just a destination.
I want to be clear. I believe in a literal heaven and a literal hell. However, this book seems to me to be less about an eschatological heaven and hell and more about eternal life and heaven and hell as it is manifested in this present world.