This is a chapter-by-chapter review of Rob Bell’s most recent book, Love Wins. I write as a professor, as a pastor, and as a parent. Thus, it is my desire to be both objective, edifying, and to write the truth in love. I will post one or two chapters a week.
Bell correctly identifies love as one of God’s main attributes. “Jesus’s story is first and foremost about the love of God for every single one of us…For God so love the world…That’s why Jesus came. That’s his message. That’s where the life is found” (p. vii). While it is very true that God is loving, gracious, and merciful, He is also holy, righteous, and just and He must punish sin. The author is reacting against people, who he says, have “hijacked Jesus’s story.”
“There are growing number of us who have become acutely aware that Jesus’s story has been hijacked by a number of other stories, stories Jesus isn’t interested in telling, because they have nothing to do with what he came to do. The plot has been lost, and it’s time to reclaim it (p. vii-viii). The topics of heaven and hell quickly come to the forefront. These topics are not new, and Bell admits that Jesus speaks about both. However, he is taking to task those who believe in different eternal states/destinations. “A staggering number of people have been taught that a select few Christians will spend forever in a peaceful, joyous place called heaven, while the rest of humanity spends forever in torment and punishment in hell with no chance for anything better” (p. viii). Bell uses strong words to contradict those who believe in a heaven for those who accept Christ and hell for those who reject Him. “It’s been clearly communicated to many that this belief is a central truth of the Christian faith and to reject it is, in essence, to reject Jesus. This is misguided and toxic and ultimately subverts the contagious spread of Jesus’s message of love, peace, forgiveness, and joy that our world desperately needs to hear” (p. viii). The author emphasizes that what he is saying has been said before, and he suggests, that this was accepted as orthodox teaching. There are no citations or footnotes to substantiate these claims at this time.
CHAPTER 1: WHAT ABOUT THE FLAT TIRE?
Rob Bell loves questions. However, it is not clear when his questions are rhetorical, or when these questions actually demand an answer. Here are some examples, “Has God created millions of people over tens of thousands of years who are going to spend eternity in anguish?” (p. 2). To use Bells Modus Operandi, we can also ask, Is Rob Bell saying that millions of people will not spend eternity in anguish? He asks, “What happens to a fifteen-year-old atheist who dies?” (p. 4). Is Rob Bell implying that just because he is 15-years-old, the atheist gets a pass? He also asks, “What about people who have never said the prayer and don’t claim to be Christians, but live a more Christlike life than some Christians?” (p. 6). Is Rob Bell implying that a non-Christian can live a Christlike life? How is that possible apart from the present of the Holy Spirit in someone’s life? Nowhere in the Bible do we have the teaching that a non-believer can live a Christlike life apart from Christ? Isn’t this concept oxymoronic? I think so.
The book is confusing since after asking these questions, Rob Bell correctly affirms that “all that matters is how you respond to Jesus” (p. 7). This truth is followed by the question, “Which Jesus?” Evangelical Christians would hope that the answer is “Jesus of Nazareth, the Messiah who was revealed to us in the Bible.” Instead of clear, biblical answers, more questions come. The question, “Which Jesus?” is followed by “Which Christ?” Is Rob Bell implying that there is more than one Jesus? If so, this is nothing new. Liberal scholars have replaced the real Jesus of the Bible with their crossless, miracleless Jesus for centuries.
Bell correctly states that “the phrase ‘personal relationship’ is found nowhere in the Bible” (p. 10). But he does not go on to explain that God’s covenants with His people are based on relationship. The covenant formula, “I will be their God, and they shall be My people” appears several times in both testaments. (Jer 24:7, 31:33, 32:38; Ezek 11:20, 37:23, 27, Zech 8:8; 2 Cor 6:16). The fact that God wanted to be a relationship with humanity is again couched in covenant language, “I will be your God, and you will be My people” (Lev 26:12; Jer 7:23, 30:22; Ezek 36:28). The relationship language is all throughout Scripture. God revels Himself as God the Father. Jesus teaches His disciples to pray by saying, “Our Father…” (Matt 6:9). Paul writes to the Christians in Rome that the Spirit by which we have been adopted into the family of God teaches us to cry, “Abba, Father” (Rom 8:15). Though Christ we are adopted in the family of God (Gal 4:4-5), and Jesus calls us “brothers” (Heb 2:12).
And then, another barrage of questions? “What saves you? What you say? Who you are? What you do? What you say you’re going to do? Who your friends are? Who you’re married to?
Whether you give birth to children? What questions you ask in return? Whether you do what you’re told and go into the city?” (p. 16-17). Bell does not answer the questions, even though at the end of chapter 1 he does promise that “this isn’t just a book of questions. It’s a book of responses to these questions” (p. 19).