As if you needed another review of Rob Bell’s book, and as if you wanted one from me, I thought I would at least share my thoughts.
First, let me say that from the beginning, I have defended Bell. This wasn’t because I agreed with him. Actually, I would say that I didn’t really defend Bell at all, but defended his right to write this book. I have never read anything by Bell, and so I couldn’t really defend what he believed. Anyway, this seemed to get me on the bad side of some. Oh well. Its fun over here, you should try it!
The first reason I defended Bell was because most of the people who talked about the book never actually read the book. They saw some things, assumed some things, and spoke from that. This is why the only thing I posted on my page with reference to this book was an interview with Bell. I think he should be allowed to speak for himself. I never stated whether I agreed with him or not, and the reason for that is because I just didn’t know. I hadn’t read it. Now I have, so I’ll speak to the book in a bit.
The second reason, and bigger, I defended this book is because, whether I agree with him or not, Bell is not debating creedal positions of the Church. I believe that those things contained in the Nicene and Apostle’s Creeds are fundamentals to the faith. In other words, to deny them is to deny Christianity itself. There is no mention of Heaven or Hell in the creeds, so differences of interpretation are allowed within Christendom. There are some who believe in the annihilation theory, universalism, the idea that “hell is locked from the inside”, and what we know as the traditional views evangelicals today. You can believe any of these things, and as far as I’m concerned, still be a Christian. I personally am okay with the discussion. In fact, I encourage it, because I believe it is healthy for us.
I know that for me there are many things I believe fundamentally, but are not fundamentals. I have debated them over the years, and some things have changed in my own theology. I have different views on the sacraments and end times than I did ten years ago. I imagine I will have even more things in my theology fine tuned as I continue to grow in grace and knowledge.
In addition to this, those things which I didn’t change, I found myself growing even stronger in those beliefs. I am a Wesleyan Arminian, meaning I am a 1 point Calvinist…I’ll let you figure out which one that is! I have debated these issues, and reached crisis points of my own within them, but have always come back to them believing them to stand solidly on Scripture and historical integrity.
Because I feel pretty strongly about this, I tend to try to spread my reading into books which I feel uncomfortable with, or am pretty sure I’ll disagree with. Some of the time I was right, some of the time I was mostly right, and other times I wasn’t very right at all! I’m sure that sentence makes sense.
There were a lot of people who were terrified when “The Davinci Code” came out. What was going to happen? Were people going to abandon Christianity because they had no faith in Scripture? But I heard someone, I think it was Lee Strobel, point out that there was no reason to fear. What do we have to be afraid of? When people started taking the claims made by a work of fiction and comparing them to actual history, it turned out they didn’t have much to worry about. Scripture stood strongly against the barrage of lies.
But on to Love Wins. It’s actually difficult on some levels for me to say how I feel. The more I read the book, the more I found myself not sure what I thought. Let me explain. I would read one page, and I would agree with everything there. Then I would read another page, same chapter, and disagree with everything there. It’s not as if there was one chapter I liked, and then the next I didn’t.
It finally dawned on me what was going on. Bell argues against a god I’ve never served, and for a god I have no interest in serving. So in a lot of ways, I agreed with him. He argues against a God who carelessly tosses people into hell for all eternity. He tells us that we need to be careful to state that Heaven and Hell are not only future things, but present realities. At this point in the book, I was totally with him. And, to be honest, I don’t know many Christians who would disagree. I remember hearing Colson, years ago, speaking on just this topic. He said that many people today think you have to go through hell on earth to get to Heaven, and heaven on earth would land you in Hell. Obviously, I don’t believe that, and neither did Colson, and neither does Bell.
This I’m okay with. I think there are many Christians today who live in complete bondage and fear (not the good kind) of God. That’s wrong. Jesus came to give us life, and life more abundantly. The problem is that instead of trying to find some type of center, Bell goes to the opposite extreme, and attempts, throughout the book, to show God as a God who doesn’t judge us for the way we choose to live. Now, I think there is an important center to the way God judge’s people. I’m not always sure what that center is.
So there were certainly things I liked about the book. He says in here that our “eschatology shapes our ethics.” I don’t know that I would make the statement that strong, but I certainly think that our view on the end times is important to our every day life. It does change the way we live today. So for him, the discussion of Heaven and Hell is important, because our view on these things will determine the way we live and evangelize today.
In light of this, I also appreciated how global his scope of evangelism was. That’s important. We need to see the world as our mission. Again, though, nothing new. “The world is my parish.” Ummm, that isn’t Bell, that’s Wesley.
Anyway, I think a lot of the good of this book is drawn from Bell’s unwillingness to judge someone’s eternal status. There’s nothing wrong with that. It’s not my place to judge a heart. I can judge someone’s actions while they are on earth, detecting whether they are truly bearing fruit, but that is only for corrective and discipleship purposes, not for eternal judgment purposes. One thing which was funny is that he tells us not to judge a person’s eternal destiny when, by all appearances, they are evil. Yet he is more than happy to do this when it comes to someone who is good. Where’s the balance? I believe there will be people in Heaven that will surprise me, and people who won’t be there that will surprise me just as much.
The problem is, there was a lot more which was bad in this book. There are several “rules” for Biblical interpretation, and Bell seems to ignore almost all of them. When he quotes verses, there is no fear of ignoring context. He doesn’t understand that some writings are intended to be taken figuratively, rather than literally, though a big part of his debate is wrapped around trying to do get everyone else to do that in regards to the passages concerning Heaven and Hell.
Also, he says he uses all of the passages on hell from the Bible, but he seems to have missed some, which apparently didn’t fit in with his concepts. Maybe Bell forgot his Strong’s Concordance?
There are also concepts of salvation that he either doesn’t get, or doesn’t care about, or just ignores for the sake of his arguments. The process of grace, then faith, then repentance, and then works seems to elude him completely. He argues some things that just don’t make sense when you read the Bible as a whole. One major problem I had is that Bell seems to ignore the idea of repentance. Non-repentance reveals an unchanged heart. That poses a problem when it comes to judgment. Speaking of judgment, Bell also ignores completely the Day of Judgment. Say what you will, this is not a minor issue in Scripture.
I do think that this book will bother those from the Calvinist view point more than those from the Arminian. The reason for that is because Bell talks about the fact that if people go to hell, God doesn’t get what he wants, and this is a failure on God’s part. So obviously God must get what he wants, which is the eternal option of Heaven. So also people must get what they want, so they have to have the eternal option of Heaven.
I don’t have a problem with God not getting what He wants. That is certainly Scriptural. There are things which happen which God doesn’t desire, and people who will go to Hell that God desires to be in Heaven. I also don’t have a problem with people having the option of going to Heaven. I believe everyone will get the opportunity to choose God; I just think that will happen here.
Whether or not I would encourage you to read this book is difficult. For me, it’s not a problem to pick up a book which is filled with bad Biblical interpretation. I know how to discern, and understand what isn’t being said, along with what is. If you fit in that category, this book may be helpful to you. It will, at the least, encourage you to study your own thoughts on eternity, and hopefully change the way you live today.
I guess I would say this; don’t make this the only, or even the first, book you read on Heaven and Hell. Study Scripture, look at some theologians and listen to sermons from trust sources. If you do read this, please remember that Bell writes from a pastoral perspective. He is not a theologian. That changes the way he writes, and the way we should read.