After much of the brouhaha that has taken place in the blogosphere and twitterverse in anticipation of the release of Rob Bell’s latest book Love Wins: A Book Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived, I purchased the book earlier today (it’s day of release). My plan is to read through the book a chapter at a time and write a blog post about each chapter. This will not be necessarily a review but more or less an ongoing conversation/dialogue with the book.
Before I go any further, there are some things you need to understand about me. First, I am not a universalist. I believe that all people sin and engage in evil. I also believe that redemption from sin and evil comes through Jesus Christ alone, namely through his crucifixion and resurrection. I used to be a sectarian who thought only those in my church tribe (the Churches of Christ) were saved. No longer holding that view, I am open minded enough to consider that my current understanding is still to narrow…or too wide. What I am firmly convicted of is my belief that Jesus of Nazareth is the Son of God, that he died, was buried in a tomb, and was raised from death, and now reigns as Lord and Messiah.
Second, because I believe that the scriptures are a truthful witness I believe in hell as Jesus and the writers of scripture believed in it. But it’s that last part of the second clause that serves as a qualifier. I have never really studied for myself the doctrine of hell. I know enough to know that there are several possibilities for understanding what hell is and that all solid interpretation must take into consideration the historical context for interpretation. So I refuse to be dogmatic about the doctrine and continue to be open to other possible understandings than my current confused understanding…and so should you. For a brief discussion of some alternative interpretations of salvation and hell, see the recent blog post by minister/preacher Sean Palmer here.
Third, like Bell, I am neither a theologian or scholar in the academic sense. What I am is a disciple of Jesus Christ, first and foremost. Secondly, I am a leader and thinker who ministers in a church as a preacher, pastor, evangelist, teacher, etc… So a concern of mine is not only whether Bell’s book will help people have a healthy view of the gospel but whether it enables people to live the gospel more faithfully.
Fourth, just because I have an open-mind does not mean I am incapable of critical thinking and discernment. I will give consideration to what Bell writes in light of my understanding of scripture, theology, church history, reason, experience, and Bell’s own arguments. Then I will make my own mind up. The one thing I would caution us all against is resorting to biblical proof-texts just to prove our interpretations against others…just about anything can be proved in the Bible by proof-texting but that does not make what’s being proved biblical, it just proves that anyone can proof-text scripture.
Lastly, I will leave you with a provocative statement from the preface the book which gives us insight into Bell’s reason for writing the book:
A staggering number of people have been taught that a select few Christians will spend forever in a peaceful, joyous place called heaven, while the reset of humanity spends forever in torment and punishment in hell with no chance for anything better. It’s been clearly communicated to many that this belief is a central truth of the Christian faith and to reject it is, in essence, to reject Jesus. This is misguided and toxic and ultimately subverts the contagious spread of Jesus’ message of love, peace, forgiveness, and joy that our world desperately needs to hear. (p. vii, italics mine).
I am sympathetic to this claim because in my experience I have seen people subvert the gospel for peripheral issues, interpretations, etc…and call those the gospel by which judgements are made. Nevertheless, that seems to be a big claim that needs further explanation, evidence, and discussion…hopefully to come in the subsequent chapters.