Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Rob Bell - Love Wins

The time has come for me to contribute my part of the hype that has surrounded this book. I've heard murmurings of Rob Bell being a universalist, of blasphemy, of herecy, of blatant lies, of confusion, all sorts of really nasty things. The worst part? They've all come from within the very church Bell claims to be a part of ... well, sort of. Bell probably wouldn't say the church he follows would support such claims or attitudes. But the point is, they both claim to follow Jesus!

I'm going to cut to the chase and tell you my conclusion. Ready? Here it is:

I still don't understand what all the hype is about.

I didn't really understand what all the hype was about in the first place. Not understanding what people are upset about really helps one keep an open mind when diving into said controversy, at least it did in my case. I also tried to avoid hearing what most people were saying until I had read it for myself. I did listen to one interview with Rob Bell on Relevant Magazine's podcast. I thought I would allow myself to hear the thoughts of the person who penned such controversial material.

What I understand now is that some people think Bell is saying everyone will go to Heaven, because in the end Love wins. I see the argument. If God is all-powerful, and everything is subject to His will and His will is that no one should perish, then it seems everyone will go to Heaven, right? I see that argument. Bell, I think, also makes that argument. But. Bell also says that true Love is choice and it wouldn't be very loving of God to send/bring people to Heaven if they don't want to go to Heaven. So not everyone goes to Heaven.

Bell also challenges the generally accepted view of Hell as a real place, experienced after our life on this Earth has ended, and separate from this Earth. And that one I'm not going to touch with a ten-foot-pole because 1. I just don't care 2. I really don't know anything about it and 3. I just don't care.

My impression throughout the whole book was that Bell is offering humbly his understanding and possible view of Heaven and Hell and then gives some reasons for his understanding that. I also leave with the impression that Bell really doesn't know how it's all going to work out, and it's all a big mystery because who of us can really say until all is said and done? But that we shouldn't be afraid of mystery; we should dive in, as long as we remember we're really just making guesses, some more educated than others.

I've read three of Bell's previous books, and I subscribe to his church's sermon podcast. Perhaps I wasn't the most neutral to begin with. I'll confess that I've heard a bit more liberal leanings come from his church's sermons, especially as of late. But I also try to listen carefully to what's being said, what's being meant, and how it all lines up with what I know from my experience with Scripture and the leadings of the Spirit. I think that last part is really the key point in this entire controversy. It is important that we remember, well meaning and well-versed as our pastors and spiritual leaders may be, they are still fallible (unless you're Catholic, but even then ...), they are still human, still finite beings, trying to elucidate the infinite Creator. Tell me we're all going to get it right every time!

If you're already upset with Rob Bell for his cultural relevancy, or whatever other reason (there can be many), then you're probably not going to like this book either. If you're already a fan of Rob Bell, you're probably going to love this book. If you're already carefully weighing the words of every pastor you hear, you're probably going to like some parts of this book and not other parts of it. But I'd still recommend it. I found it to be an enjoyable experience.

Here are a couple of the passages I particularly liked:
"Jesus consistently affirmed heaven as a real place, space, and dimension of God's creation, where God's will and only God's will is done. Heaven is that realm where things are as God intends them to be." (Page 42)

"There are individual hells, and communal, society-wide hells, and Jesus teaches us to take both seriously. There is hell now, and there is hell later, and Jesus teaches us to take both seriously." (Page 79)

"Restoration brings God glory; eternal torment doesn't. Reconciliation brings God glory; endless anguish doesn't. Renewal and return cause God's greatness to shine through the universe; never-ending punishment doesn't." (Page 108)

"Love demands freedom. It always has, and it always will. We are free to resist, reject, and rebel against God's ways for us. We can have all the hell we want." (Pages 113)

"Will everybody be saved, or will some perish apart from God forever because of their choices? Those are questions, or more accurately, those are tensions we are free to leave fully intact. We don't need to resolve them or answer them because we can't, and so we simply respect them, creating space for the freedom that love requires." (Page 115)

Finally: "Grace and generosity aren't fair; that's their very essence." (Page 168)


bethanyplanton said...

Heather, what a great analysis of the book. I have many of the same thoughts you expressed in your blog. Anytime Bell publishes a new book there seems to be a lot of negative criticism from other pastors and church leaders. I think you are right on about those who like Rob Bell stuff will like this book and those who don't won't like this book. We all come with our certain biases. Thanks for writing this!

amyrose said...

I might read this book based on this quote alone: "Love demands freedom. It always has, and it always will. We are free to resist, reject, and rebel against God's ways for us. We can have all the hell we want."

As always, thanks for the thoughts Heather.

Anna said...

yes! i've been waiting for this review. :D