Rob Bell “Love Wins”: Opening Thoughts

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.

15 responses to “Rob Bell “Love Wins”: Opening Thoughts

  1. I’m looking forward to your interaction with the book. Thinking I will need to buy myself a copy.

  2. Excited for this!! Picking up my copy today.

  3. I appreciate you doing this. I look forward to reading your thoughts.

    Right now, I’m completely unimpressed with what I’ve seen about the book. Part of me wants to read it to be fair; another part hates for a book to become a best seller just because it’s controversial.

    I may have to compromise and read it from the library. For now, I’ll read it vicariously through people like you.

    Grace and peace,
    Tim Archer

    • This is actually the first book by Bell that I will have read. Though I have been somewhat interested in “Velvet Elvis”, none of his books have really piqued my interest until this one.

      To be fair to Bell, I am not sure it was ever his intention to see the book stir up so much pre-publication controversy. Perhaps that was the intention of the publishers (after all, I am sure they are laughing all the way to the bank) but I don’t think it was Bell’s. But if Bell is going to be blamed for part of the controversy, then some of that blame must be cast upon those who reacted negatively to the book without even having read the book first.

      Any ways, thanks for stopping by the blog.

  4. Statements like “only a few will find it” and “only a few will be saved” continue to permeate my head. It is through much difficulty we will enter God’s Kingdom. This is what Paul told the Christians. Getting to Heaven is not about doing good deeds and we don’t inherit it because we deserve it or are better than others. God used Moses to tell the Israelites they were not inheriting the land because they were better than others, but because the others were worse and extremely sinful. When I hear about people making excuses as to why someone gets condemned or why someone should go to heaven I believe they are ignorant as to the grace and mercy of God and the redemptive plan of Jesus. Only in Jesus do we thwart the wrath of God that is being revealed against all the godlessness and wickedness we have brought onto each other and the rebellion we have brought unto God. Only by participating in the Gospel through immersion in water by faith in Jesus’ cleansing blood do we thwart our due and just condemnation. It gets no simpler than that. Rob Bell’s rhetoric, as many other flowery preachers and teachers who are post modern or universal in their thinking is just an attempt to dull, blur or grey in an otherwise clear and concise Gospel message of salvation. Let’s not be impressed by man made thinking and reasoning but with God’s awesome word and love for us!

    • Pedro,

      Thank you for stopping by the blog and leaving a comment.

      As I said in the post, I’m not a universalist and therefore I’m not here to defend a universalist interpretation per se. I believe that scripture is filled with seemingly paradoxes…sometimes there is great demand for entering into salvation (e.g., Mk 8.34-35) and sometimes the demand is simply belief (e.g., Jn 3.16)…sometimes scripture uses the word “all” people in regards to salvation in Christ that appear, at the least, to be very inclusive (e.g., 1 Cor 15.20-28).

      There are certainly more passages that affirm these paradoxes. Now I’m not saying that this is the only way to understand these passages but it is a possibility. What I would suggest is that since we all use theological reasoning as we read scripture (which I have done in this comment and you have done in your comment) is just to read Bell’s book and give him a fair hearing. Read from other’s too, since that is how we learn. And lastly but most importantly, keep reading scripture.

  5. good, looking forward to your thoughts

  6. Pedro, is there a possibility phrases like “only a few will find it” and “only a few will be saved” refer to the salvation we have in THIS life and not the one to come? Thinking aloud here.. (which I will probably regret). Salvation begins the moment we come to faith, not after the judgment.

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