Book 6 – Love Wins: A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived

I’d watched some of his Nooma videos, but had never seen Rob Bell in person ’till he came to the Somerville Theatre a couple years ago. A friend had called earlier that day to say that Rob was in town and that Tara & I might want to get tickets and check him out.

Even before we got there, I knew something was up. For starters, there was no publicity – none. I couldn’t find it on the internet and there was no lettering on the marquee above the entrance. At the ticket office we were told that it was sold out but we could buy a “standing room only” ticket and watch from the back. The crowd inside was interesting – definitely not from the church scene around Boston. There was a lot of leather and many people was wearing black – artists, punks, musicians… Nobody moved for the next 70+ minutes as he told stories about altars and sacrifice and how the God of the Bible looks different from every other God ever worshiped. I was hooked – both by his style and by the way he told the story.

I didn’t know how controversial his latest book had become until I looked for it at christianbook.com and realized that, though they have Rob’s other books and videos for sale, they aren’t selling Love Wins. Ok…

I bought the book on Amazon and read it.

THINGS I LIKED

1.  Rob asks a lot of questions – there are literally hundreds in this little book. More than that, he pushes back on the answers we’ve all heard when they don’t really fit with the witness of the text. At times this is uncomfortable – but also good. It encourages those of us who read and love the text to really own and deal with these ideas honestly. Rob doesn’t do in depth exegesis of the text but does spend time on a few important passages (Luke 15 – the two sons and the waiting father, Luke 16 – the rich man and Lazarus, Luke 18 – the “rich young ruler,” Revelation 21 – the new Jerusalem, Exodus 17 – Moses and the rock, etc…). Each of these are incomplete but are fertile ground for further study.

2.  He challenges the followers of Jesus to “seek the kingdom of Heaven” to pursue it here and now.  He gives a list of suggestions on page 46:

Honest business,

redemptive art,

honorable law,

sustainable living,

medicine,

education,

making a home,

tending a garden–

they’re all sacred tasks to be done in partnership with God now, because they will all go on in the age to come.

in heaven,

on earth.

3.  His translation of Aion as “eternal” suggests more than just a length of time, i.e. “forever.” Instead, it points to a particular “quality and vitality of  life lived now in connection to God.”

Eternal life doesn’t start when we die;

it starts now.

It’s not about a life that begins at death;

it’s about experiencing the kind of life now that can

endure and survive even death. (p. 59)

4.  On hell – as with heaven c.f. The Great Divorce, Rob says that that hell is both a present and a future reality – and it is something that is chosen:

What we see in the Jesus’s story about the rich man and Lazarus is an affirmation that there are all kinds of hells, because there are all kinds of ways to resist and reject all that is good and true and beautiful and human now, in this life and so we can assume we can do the same in the next.

There is hell now, and there is hell later, and Jesus teaches us to take both seriously.  (p. 79)

God gives us what we want, and if that’s hell, we can have it. We have that kind of freedom, that kind of choice. We are that free. (p. 72)

5.  I love Rob’s phrase the gospel of goats (p. 182). It’s a sort of shocking image right? A picture of the scarcity mentality embraced by some, who like the older brother (Luke 15), won’t join the party that the Father is throwing for his son who has come home. They have been “slaving all these years” and haven’t even gotten a goat (an animal he points out doesn’t even have that much meat!) so they can celebrate with their friends. Yes, this is toxic. “This is why,” he says (p. 179), “Christians who talk the most about going to heaven while everybody else goes to hell don’t throw very good parties.”

THINGS I STILL NEED TO THINK ABOUT

1.  I’ve thought a bit about Rob’s suggestion that there may be a time after death during which God’s persistent loving pursuit engages those who have previously rejected his call. He even mentions a letter (p. 106) from Martin Luther himself as evidence that God could do it. I think it is a compelling idea and I hope that this is the way it works. But I just don’t read it in the Bible. In fact, Luke 16 suggests that, at least for those who have Moses and the Prophets, another witness isn’t going to help anyway. It’s like Lewis suggests in The Great Divorce—the choice which the damned spirits make to reject heaven is merely the summation of choices they have made their whole life long. Why, having lived their life with every choice made in a certain groove, in response to another invitation after death, would they choose now to yield to joy?

2.  In addressing the uniqueness of Jesus for God’s redemptive work in the world, Rob underscores John’s statement in 14:6, “I am the way the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” However in place of exclusivity or inclusivity Rob proposes something he calls exclusivity on the other side of inclusivity (p. 155) Basically, this is saying that nobody is saved apart from Jesus but how this works is unclear. It may be that many people of other faith traditions – “Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, and Baptists from Cleveland” could be saved by Jesus apart from knowing or coming to Jesus. Here again, it is a compelling idea that I don’t find in the invitations of Jesus in the Gospels to leave all and follow him.

3.  Rob suggests that our process of being fitted for heaven isn’t concluded as the bass in Handel’s Messiah sings, “In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye…” Instead, he says “our heart, our character, our desires, our longings—those things take time.” (p. 51) I don’t know about that but my wife is not going to be happy about this.

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About Jeff Barneson

Husband to Tara Edelschick Dad to Zachary, Ezra & Nafisa Keeper of Bees Campus Chaplain Bicycle Racer Coffee Drinker Follower of Jesus View all posts by Jeff Barneson

6 responses to “Book 6 – Love Wins: A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived

  • Cindi

    Let me preface by saying I have read Love Wins, unlike some others I’ve encountered who proceeded to critique the reading. I really liked the many thoughtful, engaging questions Rob mentioned. I did not agree with everything in the book, but that is not why I read. I did enjoy it and stretched in very positive ways through it.

    Regarding your “Still Considering” section…
    1. I’m having fun musing on the redemption opportunity after death. In the Old Testament, the pattern for redemption in my observation has been a repeated cycle…people stray from God, people struggle, God call’s them back and offers a way (eventually Christ is the way)…over and over. Also, so many of the parables reflect the drop everything and find the lost thing intensity. I can’t quite picture that coming to a dead end, so to speak, from what I understand of the character of God. When I think I deserve a sort of merit pay of heaven by choosing rightly and on time, I get in that uncomfortable place where I think heaven is exclusively (in an achievement sense, not a grace sense) for all those trusting Christ by the deadline, pun sort of intended. I’ve heard strong Christians then query, “Why would someone trust Christ now, if there’s a back stage entrance to heaven?” At that point, I ask why did you trust Christ now? I have my reasons. And my joy, which I won’t go in to here.

    2. The part about other faiths getting to heaven did not trouble me. Perhaps I read too quickly or did not intuit enough, but I took it to mean that Jesus–God–the Holy Spirit will draw all men to himself and can use other religions to bring people to a place of trusting Christ’s work, seeing that other faiths fall short. I probably need to give that more thought. I just feel if someone is seeking a relationship with God they are perhaps tender and open to what Christ reveals along the way through the Holy Spirit…in spite of their current faith posture, and in spite of my logic.

    3. Good one. 🙂

    Three cheers for Rob Bell for boldly getting this topic and conversation center stage, acknowledging it is not new thought, only new level of attention. I love learning more about God who I think enjoys these theological rodeos and is beyond big enough to work in us through it all, without being threatened.

  • John Murphy

    Things I liked:
    1. Rob is media savvy enough to know what he was doing in his teaser video for the book which (thanks to Justin Taylor among others) ignited the firestorm that promptly sent the book to the top of the bestseller lists. It was embarrassing to see the rush to judgment based upon either not reading the book at all! or reading a chapter or two. Sometimes we evangelicals are nitwits and Rob certainly exposed our nitwittery. This was humbling and good.

    2. He got a discussion going on a crucial biblical doctrine. Thanks Rob!

    Things I did not like:
    1. Rob’s tone towards especially those who hold a different (read conservative) view from him is often dismissive and denigrating.

    2. Rob’s exegesis is very poor. Aion being a prime example. “Forever is not really a category the biblical writers used.” One wonders what his explanation of Rom 16.26 (eternal (aion) God). A God of a period of time? A God of a particularly intense experience? To be faithful to the text one has to teach what is there, not what one prefers to be there.

    3. Perhaps most troubling is that Rob gives no clear and compelling reason for anyone to actually come to Christ in this life. What difference does it make if one follows Christ now, or after death? We will all (except for those who choose not to) be in heaven anyway, why quibble over how one gets there? This seems radically at odds with both the teaching and practice of the New Testament, and to the extent that the book drives people’s thinking on this issue and (if Bell is wrong) leads them astray, then he has made a terrible, terrible mistake.

  • CALHOUN ADELE

    I’ve read the response to love wins by Mark Galli called “God wins.” He takes Rob to task in a fairly non-polemical way. But I have to admit that God winning seems less stunning to me than love winning. Of course God wins. Who has a chance against God. But if love wins this means weakness trumps power, vulnerability stoops to conquer, and the way we look at heaven is beyond comprehension.

  • Dave

    Read the book then it mysteriously disappeared. Hmmm. Try this on for size: most, if not all of the NASB citations of hell are saturated in metaphor. The same passages seem to be cited directly to the religious leadership of the day, a group Jesus is pretty pissed at for their very poor leadership. Jerusalem falls in 70 AD in judgment. That fall was hell or hellish. What does poor leadership deserve, a leadership that saw itself serving in the temple in the after life? To be left outside the temple after temporal destruction. Book of Revelation? Now the bad guys are the secular world leadership figures of Rome, rather than Jerusalem’s leadership, also suffering temporal destruction. Just a few thoughts.

  • Ryan Andrew Moore

    What I liked:

    Rob Bell does an excellent job at making us FEEL the scriptures instead of just categorizing and classifying them as the study of theology often encourages us to do. After reading this book, I spent a day or two really thinking excitedly about new ways of understanding eschatology and processing some of the points Rob makes in Love Wins. I looked up some of the church fathers Rob cites and also some of the theologians/”heretics” that others have cited as Rob’s forebears. After those couple days, I realized that while the emotion around the afterlife is true and real, I think I was pretty close to hitting one of those “adventures in missing the point.” One of the things I like most about Rob’s work seems to be the same thing the “Reformed” establishment is infuriated by: Rob doesn’t give concrete answers or develop new systematic theologies to replace the old ones. No one can deny that there’s a part of us (either of human nature or from our Industrialized-Enlightment mindset) that looks for concrete answers. Yet, I feel more and more as I have read Rob’s works (I picked up Velvet Elvis right after Love Wins last week) that he does an excellent job of emulating Christ’s ethos in that Christ was also extremely reticent to give hard and fast answers (which is why most systematic theology draws on Paul who throws out more hard and fast normative statements than he can seemingly handle at times).

    What I need to think more about:

    How important is it for us to “get it right”? So I’m of the opinion that even if I indefinitely locked myself in a bomb shelter full of canned food and all the Biblical commentaries you could ask for (a frightening image if you ask me), I don’t think I would ever come to a hard and fast answer to the questions Rob raises. Does this mean that these type of questions should be ignored? Certainly not. But how hard do we need to search for a right answer. In other words, while the effort implied in locking myself in a bomb shelter would certainly yield some fruit, does it mean we should ignore seeking the Kingdom in other ways. A reasonable answer is we should do both, but I think that might be an easy-out to yet another question that doesn’t have a hard and fast answer.

    I’m open to pushback on my (theo)logical framework if any of you aren’t convinced.

    Thanks again, Jeff, for your leadership here. Blessings to you and your family!

  • Jason

    I haven’t read the book; I don’t get a summer vacation and this just isn’t on my list of the most pressing books for me to read. 😦 So I will limit myself to a question about the way in which Christian brothers and sisters relate to each other in the context of speaking about Jesus.

    I’m not sure I would praise the “media savvy” (John’s term) demonstrated by the teaser video. To my ears, John, you seem to be saying that Bell intentionally set up a trap that his conservative opponents fell for hook, line, and sinker. That doesn’t seem like the model of charitable discourse we want to encourage within the Christian community.

    Of course, one can point to other instances in which more tradition-minded Christians have not been charitable to Bell and people like him. But this particular thing was raised as a positive item in an earlier comment, so I thought it was worth presenting a different view.

    @Jeff: Given the currency of this book, I’d love to see you comments on one of the conservative responses to Bell. While respectful discourse is still important, I think it’s particularly important for books like Love Wins to be tested in the crucible of cross-examination, and everyone who reads Bell should probably read what his critics have to say too (even if not in book-length form).

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