Love Wins by Rob Bell is a controversial book that has had Rob Bell’s orthodoxy as a conservative Christian scholar in serious question. The hype about it was all how Rob Bell is this universalist or post-mortem evangelicalism scholar who is trying to add on to what the beloved Bible truly has revealed about Heaven and Hell. At least this is what I have seen from fundamentalist Christians. So I went into it saying to myself how this is so great that Rob Bell is a liberal scholar who promotes universalism. I left the book rather disappointed.
Rob Bell is not a universalist. And contrary to popular opinion, he doesn’t even deny the existence of Hell. Or Heaven for that matter. Admittedly, Bell does not go along with a popular traditional view of Hell as some sort of fiery inferno of eschatological doom which actually would be consistent with certain versions of universalism as well as the traditional eternal torment Hell and annihilationism. But Bell never denies the existence of Hell. He believes that people can experience Hell now and in the afterlife and that people can experience Heaven not just now but also in the afterlife.
In addition to this, Bell takes on an agnostic approach as to who exactly ends up in Hell and in Heaven and what-not. Bell seems to suggest that not just Christians but non-Christians will end up in Heaven. Bell also suggests that Hell will be a mixture too. For him, Heaven seems to be full of unexpected surprises and for the most part, it will be the people whom we expect the least who will end up in Heaven. He does this by analyzing some of the parables of Jesus and finding how a common theme seems to be that the rich king goes and collects the beggars off the street and brings them to his party. There is also the parable of “The Rich Man and Lazarus” that he sees a reversal of fortune in as well as the parable of “The Prodigal Son”. He even uses Jesus’s statement about the right hand and left hand paths to prove his point that Heaven is going to be a surprise.
Bell points out things in the Bible that I never would have thought of before. For instance, the man who wanted to know what eternal life was doesn’t try to do anything to get eternal life indicating that the Jews at this time did not quite interpret eternal life the same way that we do.
Finally, Bell concludes that Heaven is ultimately accepting God’s story about us. We can experience now or later or never. Hell is rejecting what God has to say about our story. We can experience Hell now or later or never. When we disobey God, we get Hell. When we do what God wants, we get Heaven. There are plenty of versions of Jesus out there that should be rejected. Bell has sympathy for those who reject God because of what Christians have done in God’s name.
Bell’s book is good but I was disappointed that it came out way too much on the conservative side of theology but I admire Bell for doing the research and the thinking required to make this book. This book is intended to be used for serious discussions on the issue. I would hesitate to show to an overtly fundamentalist Christian that believes that God’s wrath is “do or die” time or “lay down the force of law”. Bell appears to reject the penal substitutionary atonement doctrine in this book so that may cause some evangelicals to stir uncomfortably for a bit. Overall, a decent and thought provoking book, but not necessarily my primary style. A different spin and I would have preferred more footnotes and citations.