Rob Bell &
A Book Review
The Apostate: “Ah, Dick, I shall never forget some of our talks. I expect you’ve changed your views a bit since then. You became rather narrow-minded towards the end of your life: but no doubt you’ve broadened out again.”
Dick: “How do you mean?”
The Apostate: “Well, it’s rather obvious by now, isn’t it, that you weren’t quite right. Why, my dear boy, you were beginning to believe in a literal Heaven and Hell!”
I just finished reading Love Wins by Rob Bell. He is the pastor of the Mars Hill church in Grandville, MI.
Soon after finishing it I couldn’t help recall the above quoted section from C.S. Lewis’ classic story: The Great Divorce. The Apostate Bishop had just come from Hell (the “grey town”) into Heaven, but still could not be convinced of the reality of the place where he had been. “Ah, I see” said the Bishop “you mean that the grey town with its continual hope of morning (we must all live by hope, must we not?), with its field for indefinite progress, is, in a sense, Heaven, if only we have eyes to see it? That is a beautiful idea.”
No literal Heaven or Hell? Hell and Heaven really the same place, just different perspectives?
Lewis…are you serious? Would anyone actually suggest this?
Fast forward about 60 years: in walks Rob Bell and Love Wins. As Bell tries to explain heaven and hell from the parable of the Prodigal son he writes “In this story heaven and hell are within each other, intertwined, interwoven, bumping up against each other (p. 170).” A little later on and he will write: “The only thing left to do is trust. Everybody is already at the party. Heaven and hell, here, now, around us, upon us, within us (p. 190).”
Rob Bell, like the Apostate Bishop, rejects the idea of hell as a literal place of eternal punishment. Hell, he says, simply expresses “very real consequences we experience when we reject the good and true and beautiful life that God has for us (p. 93).” [There is a strange and sad irony in this, because Bell actually recommends The Great Divorce for "further reading" on the subject of Hell. Lewis, however, did not write The Great Divorce to teach about the nature of Hell (as Bell seems to believe) but rather about the Danger of Apostacy (amongst other things) which Bell apparently missed.]
But although Rob Bell’s view on Hell has gotten a lot of attention, his book primarily revolves around 3 shocking and radical suggestions. Bell, however, wants us to believe he is not teaching or proposing anything new. He says: “I haven’t come up with a radical new teaching that’s any kind of departure from what’s been said an untold number of times. That’s the beauty of the historic, orthodox Christian faith (p. x).”
Here are, in my opinion, the 3 radical and unbiblical views that Rob Bell is promoting in Love Wins:
1) Those dying in deliberate and conscious unbelief still have the possibility to be saved after death. Rob Bell leaves open the door for all men to turn to God at any time in the future. “At the heart of this perspective is the belief that, given enough time, everybody will turn to God and find themselves in the joy and peace of God’s presence (p. 107).” He even tries to snatch an endorsement from Martin Luther for this position. But of course to do so he has to pull the quote out of context, and hopes…I suppose…no one will call him on it. Well, some did. And for a good explanation feel free to read Carl Trueman’s excellent response.
Bell frequently quotes “restoration” verses, implying they argue against eternal punishment: “I will heal their waywardness and love them freely for my anger has turned away from them (Hosea 14, p. 86).” Therefore, Bell writes, “when we read ‘eternal punishment’ it is important that we don’t read categories and concepts into a phrase that aren’t there. Jesus isn’t talking about forever as we think of forever (p. 92).”
Reading Rob Bell reminds me of a quote from Orwell’s 1984, as the author of the “Newspeak” dictionary said “it is a wonderful thing, the destruction of words.”
Dear reader: the Bible teaches that mankind does not have a “second chance” after death. "And as it is appointed for men to die once, but after this the judgment," (Hebrews 9:27) Jesus' sobering parable of the 10 Virgin’s depicts the sad and final state of those who wait too long “Afterward the other virgins came also, saying, ‘Lord, Lord, open to us!’ But he answered and said, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, I do not know you.’" (Matthew 25:11-12) Reader, right now is given to you the opportunity, if you haven’t done so, to confess your sins to God and believe in Jesus Christ His Son to save you. Jesus Christ died on the cross as a substitute for sinners. He is the "Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world." Do not delay: "because He has appointed a day on which He will judge the world in righteousness by the Man whom He has ordained. He has given assurance of this to all by raising Him from the dead.” (Acts 17:31)
2) Other non-Christian religions are equally valid as ways of salvation. Christ will save them, even where He is not “named” as such. Bell builds this argument primarily in chapter 6, entitled “There are Rocks Everywhere.” Just as the "rock" in the Old Testament produced "life giving" water was actually "Christ" (though not named as such in the Old Testament itself), so other religions may be "saving" people even where Christ is not seen or spoken of as the source of life. He knows this will make Christian readers uncomfortable. He admits this. He says “As soon as the door is opened to Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, and Baptists from Cleveland, many Christians become very uneasy (p. 155).”
But didn’t Jesus say that He alone was the way? “I am the way the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father but by Me.” Sure, says Bell, this is true. He then proceeds to work his double speak again. He goes into vague and obscure language about “exclusivity on the other side of inclusivity (p. 155).” He develops odd definitions of the church so that it can embrace all faiths of all people: “A church is a community of people who enact specific rituals and create specific experiences to keep this word alive in their own hearts, a gathering of believers who help provide language and symbols and experiences for this mystery (p. 156).”
Dear reader, do not think that any can be saved apart from faith in Jesus Christ. The Bible says "Nor is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.”" (Acts 4:12)
The world has always hated the "exclusivity" of the Christian faith. Rob Bell attempts to take the edge off exclusivity. He provides a Christianity that will not offend. But the trade off is a Christianity that cannot save.
Philip Ryken in his book “Is Jesus the Only Way” once wrote some words that readers of Bell should weigh heavily “Authentic, biblical Christianity has always been an exclusive religion. This became apparent during the Roman Empire. When the Emperor Alexander Severus heard about Christianity, he placed an image of Christ beside the other gods in his private chapel, just to be safe. The Romans were happy to welcome Jesus into their pantheon. What the Romans couldn’t understand was why Christians refused to reciprocate. If the emperor was willing to worship Christ, why weren’t Christians willing to worship the emperor? Yet the early Christians insisted that in order to worship Christ at all, they had to worship Christ alone. They were even willing to stand up for this conviction by playing “Christians and lions” at the Colosseum (p. 10-11).”
3) Eventually everyone will be saved (he couches this one carefully, but really it is the whole idea behind the title "Love Wins"). He argues that "God gets what He wants." God wants all to be saved. Therefore...well...you figure it out.
Bell frequently tries to make his position sound well within the boundaries of Biblical Christianity throughout the centuries. For example, “And so, beginning with the early church, there is a long tradition of Christians who believe that God will ultimately restore everything and everybody (p. 107).” He fails, however, to provide any real evidence to support this.
Bell creates straw men to build his case for the ultimate reconciliation of all people. He says things like “Could God say to someone truly humbled, broken, and desperate for reconciliation, ‘Sorry, too late?’ (p. 108)” It never seems to occur to Rob to ask if hell actually has any “truly humbled” and “broken” souls.
Dear reader, the most important issue in the world is not whether "everyone" will be saved. The question is this: Will you be saved? Consider these words of Jesus Christ: “Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it. Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it. “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves." (Matthew 7:13-15)
One Final Thought:
Maybe you are asking: Where did Bell go wrong? How did someone who probably started well end up so far out in left field? The answer, I think, is sprinkled throughout this book. Lurking behind Bell’s radical departures in these 3 key areas is a woefully inadequate and unbiblical view of sin. Our sins, even the worst of them, simply couldn’t (according to Bell) merit eternal punishment. Several times in the book Bell raises questions like this one “Does God punish people for thousands of years with infinite, eternal torment for things they did in their few finite years of life (p. 2)?” Again he writes of the supposed injustice of people “suffering infinitely for the finite sins they committed in the few years they spent on earth (p. 102).” Throughout the book Bell seems to only see sin with respect to the inconveniences it causes us, and the sad consequences it brings into our lives. There is nothing of the supreme offensiveness of sin to a holy God.
This low view of sin ultimately poisons, in my opinion, the rest of his theology. When we dilute the significance of sin we must, consequently, dilute the response of God as well. The significance of the cross is lost. And in this dilution, a totally different God is created. One more tame, one more safe, one less bothered by sin, one…more like ourselves. That is the real and final consequence of Mr. Bell’s book. He has created a new god. A god that will not punish sin. A god that has no wrath. A god that is not a “consuming fire.” Listen to what Bell says “Let’s be very clear, then: we do not need to be rescued from God (p. 182).” That is a very different God than the one depicted in the Bible as Judge of all the earth.
Bell thinks he has given us a better God. In reality, his god is worse. The true magnificence of God's love can only be understood in contrast with the severity of sin and the rightful punishment it deserves. Take away the wrath of God and you lose the love of God as well.
"...among whom also we all once conducted ourselves in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, just as the others. But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved),"
Love Wins is NOT the good news.
Christ Wins IS the good news for all who believe and trust in Him alone for salvation.
"Yet in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord." (Romans 8:37-39)