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Love wins

Love Wins: A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived by Rob Bell (224 pages)

This book is (surprisingly) controversial. Many Christian book stores refused to stock it. Some hid it under the counter, passing it across surreptitiously in a brown paper bag. Rupert Murdoch-owned Zondervan (publisher of NIV), the usual publisher of Rob Bell’s books, didn’t publish it.

Why is it so controversial? Rob Bell is founding pastor of Mars Hill Bible Church which has a Sunday attendance between 8,000 and 10,000. Rob Bell makes sure that he locates himself squarely in the American evangelical tradition:

One night when I was in elementary school, I said a prayer kneeling beside my bed in my room… With my parents on either side of me, I invited Jesus into my heart. I told God that I believed that I was a sinner and that I wanted to be a Christian… That prayer was a defining moment in my life. (pages 193-4)

A lot of those evangelicals see that prayer as being decisive for eternal salvation. Say the prayer: heaven. Don’t say the prayer: hell. But Rob Bell thinks it’s not quite that simple.

God loves us.
God offers us everlasting life by grace, freely, through no merit on our part.
Unless you do not respond the right way.
Then God will torture you forever.
In hell.

I read this book just to see what all the fuss was about. For you it might be, but for me it wasn’t riveting – it’s written more like the transcript of a very long sermon. For me it wasn’t life-changing. I like what Rob Bell says, appreciate and use his videos. But I’m not really his intended audience.

There are now books and responses treating Rob Bell’s book as if he intended it to be a theological treatise. Fundamentalists do not have a sense of genre. [Maybe I’m wrong and the genre of Genesis 1 is actually that of a science textbook, and Genesis 3 is a biological explanation of why women have pain in childbirth and the historical description of when snakes lost their legs – but I’m willing currently to risk that these are not the genres…] I don’t think Rob Bell thinks his book systematic in the way Barth might have thought of his works. [Just look at the sentence structures of my quotes – a sentence without a verb… when you read the book, look at the layout…]

Rob Bell is saying nothing that hasn’t been said before. For one example, Christ the Conqueror of Hell: The Descent into Hades from an Orthodox Perspective is a book by Orthodox Archbishop Hilarion Alfeyev in which “Using Scripture, patristic tradition, early Christian poetry, and liturgical texts, Archbishop Hilarion explores the mysterious and enigmatic event of Christ s descent into Hades and its consequences for the human race. Insisting that Christ entered Sheol as Conqueror and not as victim, the author depicts the Lord’s descent as an event of cosmic significance opening the path to universal salvation. He also reveals Hades as a place of divine presence, a place where the spiritual fate of a person may still change. Reminding readers that self-will remains the only hindrance to life in Christ, he presents the gospel message anew, even in the shadow of death.”

So, if your world-view essentially has an Almighty Ogre in the sky who appears to take sadistic pleasure in sending the majority of his sentient creatures to punishment for eternity, or if you move in such circles, or if you just want to take another look at heaven-hell-gospel-God’s-love, Rob Bell’s Love Wins is an accessible place to start.

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8 thoughts on “Love wins”

  1. Father Ron Smith

    Bosco, I read Archbishop Hilarion’s thesis on Christ’s descent into Hades as consonant with a couple of other pieces of Scripture; (1) where Jesus tells the dying thief “Today you will be with me in Paradise” (Hades?), and (2) Paul’s reference to Christ’s coming in glory at the end of ‘time’: (to collect) first, “those who have died in Christ, and then those who are left alive, to be taken up with him in the air”. Where to? – into the Courts of Heaven, where the Father is, and where are gathered ‘The Saints around the Throne’.

    This conjures up, for me, the idea of Hades (Paradise – a place of further growth into God) as a sort of ante-room to Heaven, accommodating our Departed brothers and sisters who have ‘died in the Faith of Christ’ (and any others whom God may be disposed to lead into perfection beyond the grave) – all awaiting the Second Coming of Christ in Glory.

    Sounds eminently possible to me. But then, who am I to judge the ways in which God’s mercy works! I’m not sure Bell does, either!

  2. I’d almost forgotten about Love Wins after all the controversy earlier in the year. Just goes to show, probably, that it was all a bit of a storm in a teacup. Bell has some interesting thoughts, but I hate the way he writes his books as though he can only think in short sentences and paragraphs. I’m sure that’s not the case, since we know from a couple of videos that he’s well up there brain-wise. He knows his audience, of course, which is something his detractors miss almost entirely, as you note.

  3. It is hard to claim “Love Wins” in tennis, but otherwise it’s hard to disagree with the title of the book. There was a TV series recently, called Justified, that had quite a few moral (and morale) questions, one of which was the shock of a massacre that seemed to suggest that love didn’t win against evil (unless you look deeper than simple Bible bashers might usually). So I’d *like* to see a good book with a title like this; I guess this isn’t it, though.

    1. This may very well be “it”, Mark. Certainly for some people. I’m not sure that it would be possible to create a book with such a title that would suit all. Blessings.

  4. I live in the heart of the US Bible Belt, where the popular concept of God is “only belive and be ‘saved’ ” though as a child in Britain we were raised to ‘the sure and certain HOPE of resurrection’, as in Matthew 25 if we feed and clothe those in need in Jesus’ name, thus pleasing God when we are finally judged.

    If you say that to many evangelical Christians here it will likely be seen today as controversial, the notion that some believers may indeed not be going to heaven, but it’s actually not so long ago in history that most Christians and Jews believed in the concept of purgatory and that we all spend some time after death preparing our souls for heaven, with those who outlive us interceding with prayers and requests for eternal grace!

    I am a Methodist and most Methodists in the US will not be aware of John Wesley’s views on this eg ‘our Lord says to Mary, after the resurrection, “Touch me not; for I am not yet ascended to my Father” in heaven. But he had been in paradise, according to his promise to the penitent thief: “This day shalt thou be with me in paradise.” Hence, it is plain, that paradise is not heaven. It is indeed (if we may be allowed the expression) the antechamber of heaven, where the souls of the righteous remain till, after the general judgment, they are received into glory. ‘ ( Sermon 112 http://new.gbgm-umc.org/umhistory/wesley/sermons/112/ )

    Wesley writes this in 1788 and concludes ‘So shall we preserve in all things the testimony of a good conscience toward God; and when our course is finished, we too shall be “carried by angels into Abraham’s bosom.” ‘

    Presuming oneself to be with certainty among the elect to heaven often inserts unnecessary arrogance- and exclusion of others with alternate ideas- into a group. ‘Belief in a cruel God makes for a cruel man,’ one of the US founders Thomas Payne said.

  5. I read the book not so long ago. Yes it does read like somebody speaking and no, I didn’t think he was saying anything new. But I think some of what he was saying would shock and upset people I know who are quite keen to decide who is in and who is out. I hope it causes his intended audience to pause and think, but I suspect they will not read it. As he said, those who think that some are in and some are out ALWAYS include themselves in the ‘in’ group.

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