Monday, January 2, 2012

Bell's Hell - Another look at "Love Wins"

Much has been said about Rob Bell's controversial book "Love Wins."  Also, much has changed recently for Rob Bell, as he is now moving out of pastoring a mega-church to do more writing and concentrating on various speaking engagements.  In reviewing his book, I'm sure I will add nothing new since its release in March of 2011.  Having said that, I wanted to share some thoughts on my impression on not just Bell's views, but on the "Emergent Movement" in general.

Before reading "Love Wins" I had an impression of Bell already formed.  I had read some of his Internet articles and viewed some interviews, and so I had formed some opinions of him beforehand.  I must say that my impression of his views did not change after completing the book.  I have had the opportunity to visit with many Rob Bell-like people.  What I mean by Rob Bell-like people pertains to individuals who fall in line with the "Emergent Movement."  Maybe, fall in line is not a good description of the "Emergent Movement", because nothing with in the movement is perfectly lined up.  A friend of mine once said that the "Emergent Movement" is like trying to nail jello to the wall.  This is what bothers me and others who try to assess individuals within the movement.  The problem with the movement centers on the lack of answers or conflicting answers given, but more on this later.

Bell's book opens true to "emergent" form, with a barrage of questions.  It was almost like the serpent questioning Eve, "Did God really say?"  I am not comparing Bell to the serpent, only saying that all traditional beliefs (according to Bell) need to be questioned.  I am not arguing against questions.  Questions are good and necessary.  However, Bell doesn't seem to question for the sake of dialogue, but to deconstruct everything for the sole purpose of his own agenda.

Much of the book Bell raises some good points.  Although I disagree with much of his exegesis, he does rightly point out some of the problems with the church today.  He does a good job highlighting the need to have a heart for serving people, although at times his political beliefs seem to match a "Wall Street" protester.  He addresses legalism within the Church, as this too is a necessary point that constantly needs to be raised.

Now to a few points about his overall beliefs concerning hell.  Bell's biggest hangup with hell seems to be how a loving God could punish people for finite sins.  For Bell this seems insurmountable.  For God is not God if this is how God is to be seen.  Bell would see the traditional view of an everlasting hell being contra the nature of God.  Bell cannot even conceive how God would allow individuals to be eternally separated from a holy God.  For Bell, God is a monstrous being if this is reality.

Bell seems to believe that heaven and hell exist side by side.  According to Bell, "heaven and hell are at the same party." [1]  He never clarifies how this is or what justifies this position.  He does use the "Prodigal Son" of Luke 15 to relate the side by side nature of both realities, but to my knowledge this story has never been used to justify the duel realm of heaven and hell.  Bell's duel realm view is bizarre at best.  What is also bizarre is how this works out on Bell's view, for no other explanation is fleshed out to support this idea.

Trying to wrap my mind around Bell's views is a tremendous struggle.  One of the disturbing views of Bell is how all are eventually saved.  I say disturbing, not because his ideas conflict with mine, but disturbing because he doesn't seem to justify why his views should be seen as conforming to reality.  For example, it seems clear to me that Bell feels all will eventually be saved, hence forth, love wins.  The overall theme of the book is that God's love will win out and all will be saved.  Bell can say he is not a universalist, but the book is clear that this is not what is promoted.  It is Bell's view that all will be saved, however no explanation is given as to how this will work, except that God's love wins in the end.  Bell even seems to promote that post-mortem sanctification will take place.  Bell is adamant that only the nature of God's love is what counts and His love trumps all.  In other words, God's hands seem to be tied on Bell's view.

The final comment about Bell's view revolves around his view of God.  The most disturbing aspect of Bell's view is his lack of interaction with the tradition view of God's judgment.  Bell tries in a way to address the traditional view of God as a God of judgement, but he falls short in providing any scholarly argumentation to show why this aspect is not part of God's makeup.  The traditional view of the God of judgement that I am referring to is that God does judge individuals and separate them throughout eternity.  Bell seems closed to this aspect of God's nature.  If God saves all in the end because love wins, then Bell needs to leave the business of trying to lead individuals to Jesus, because salvation is guaranteed.  The need for responsibility in this life is unnecessary, because on Bell's view nothing really matters.  If God is not a God of judgment and his hands are tied in having to save everyone, then Bell's God turns out not so much a God of love, but an amoral being at best.

[1]  Bell, Rob, Love Wins, p. 176
  • A great article dealing with the exegetical problems of Love Wins.
  • A short debate revealing Bell's view of God and hell.


Pamela said...

The stance that God is a God of judgment is not biblically sound. There is a verse in the NT that clearly states that Jesus will be the judge on that day. Can't recall it off the top of my head, of course, but it's there.

whatthehellbook said...

God is love though and Bell was right to portray Him as such. Paul gives the best description of what Love is in 1 Corinthians 13.