Love Wins: Hell’s Bell Still Ringing

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The 2011 TIME 100: Rob Bell

The 2011 TIME 100: Rob Bell

LOVE HIM OR HATE HIM, there’s no disputing Rob Bell’s growing influence as a spokesperson for a more open Christianity, a Christianity that sees open doors and opportunities in place of the obstacles and obnoxiousness that seems to pervade much of western Christianity. With the likes of John Piper and Mark Driscoll dismissing and/or condemning Bell as a heretic, you could be forgiven for thinking that he’s come up with something new or that he’s been expressing views that run counter to the gospel when in fact the only crime he’s committed is to challenge the status quo by asking questions and offering hope to the disenfranchised. Bell is no Messiah, of course, but the attitudes displayed towards him by many Christians, conservative evangelicals in particular, do seem to echo the attitudes of the religious leaders towards Jesus way back when, when he dared to suggest that prostitutes and tax collectors would enter the Kingdom of Heaven before they did.

But if it’s the question of whether or not Bell is a universalist that’s vexing you, look no further than his profile page in TIME Magazine’s Top 100:

Bell argues for mystery, not certitude. “In the book, I write about how some have believed that all will be reconciled,” he told TIME, “and while I long for that as I think everybody should long for it, I don’t take a position of certainty because, of course, I don’t know how it all turns out.”

Love Wins - also available from your local Christian bookshop...

Love Wins - also available from your local Christian bookshop...

Makes sense to me: Love Wins — that’s the ultimate message of Easter; but whatever the level of Bell’s popularity, there seems to be no hope in hell for that increasingly rare breed, bricks & mortar booksellers, to benefit from sales whilst the likes of Amazon (current offer £8.07) and the Book Depository (current offer £8.06) continue their battle to outdo one another on the price reduction stakes. One can only wonder at what’s going on in the ZonderCollins supply chain to enable such ludicrous discounts — somehow I think it has little to do with an altruistic desire to help spread Bell’s message…

Responses and reactions to the book continue unabated: two of the simplest ways to keep track are via the #lovewins twitter stream or The #lovewins Daily, autogenerated from the twitter stream.

Of particular note:

19 thoughts on “Love Wins: Hell’s Bell Still Ringing

  1. Has anyone actually read this book? I have. In one sitting. Here’s what I think of it:

    We can all breath a sigh of relief: God, as we knew him, has been reported to the authorities. He has been replaced by a God that is much more palatable to us western intellectuals. That is, if Rob Bell would have it his way.

    Heaven, the eternal age of anything politically correct, is made of a new society of political activists and eco warriors, of those who can show good deeds, of those who want what they like best to go on eternally. God himself does not feature that much there, apart from the fact that he will leave the gates of heaven open to those who want to change their mind, to those in “hell” like that evangelist with the megaphone (bullhorn) who only cared about winning lost souls instead of righting the wrongs of this world, all those who have turned their backs on this nice God. If you thought hell was an eternal fiery punishment for those who did not trust in Christ for the removal of their sins, you have to think again. It is a loveless, politically incorrect eternal state, out of which one can choose to flee to heaven. Rob Bell does admit at the very end that Jesus uses “strong, shocking images of judgment and separation” and he carries on “in which people miss out on rewards and celebrations and opportunities.” And there we are comforted again: Hell is all about missing the party. But then, hey, there might be another one round the corner.

    Mind you, Jesus still is the only way to heaven. But his arms are open very wide, so that Muslims, Hindus, Baptists from Cleveland – you name them – who looked after this world, their neighbours, war victims etc will all find entrance to this eternal age of bliss.
    Do you believe that Jesus died on the cross for your sins? That’s ok, but not essential. Beliefs, doctrines etc don’t count that much, really. In any case, Jesus shedding his blood as a sacrifice for sins is only a metaphor anyway, to help those tribal Jews understand what it means to have a clean slate.

    All this is put into very smooth, convincing words. Unwelcome Bible passages are conveniently ignored, like the words with which John the Baptist describes Jesus: “He shall baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire; whose winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will thoroughly purge his floor, and gather his wheat into the barn; but he will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.”

    Smooth, clever, enticing – a dangerous book.

    Christian booksellers need to warn their customers that it is a dangerous book for non-Christians or new Christians to read. They might not know the Biblical truth about Heaven and Hell and redemption.

    • Nonsense. There is nothing new in the book. Go back and read some Church Fathers, Thomas Aquinas, and the many excellent theologians and thinkers up to the modern day. More importantly read the Bible – the idea of an everlasting place of torture for the unsaved is NOT a biblical idea. For a start, the word ‘hell’ isn’t biblical. Do you mean Gehenna – the rubbish dump – or Hades and the Greek idea of the place of the dead?

      Let’s have a proper debate if we’re going to have it …

      • The “proper debate” has been done by many other people. For a quick read into what the Bible actually says, may I refer you to the little booklet “What is Hell?” by Morgan&Peterson, 9781596381995, distributed by Evang.Press. When Bell does his “Bible study” on hell, he does a rather incomplete job, as he only refers to the actual word hell, when there are many other teachings about it in the NT without using that word.

        • I haven’t read the booklet you refer to, Michael, but given its provenance I’d hazard a guess that it offers a conservative evangelical perspective on the texts it examines — and that’s not “what the Bible actually says” is it? It’s simply one way in which the biblical texts have been interpreted down the millennia. I appreciate that many evangelicals believe that their way of reading the Bible is the only legitimate approach, but happily for the rest of us, Christian tradition is in fact much broader than that 🙂

        • Phil, you apply double standards when you assume a book’s rightness or wrongness by its “provenance” without having read it. I could have assumed Rob Bell getting it wrong again without reading his latest, but I expect I would have received rather cynical remarks from you.

        • Michael, please note that I haven’t said anything about the book being right or wrong: I’ve merely observed its provenance.

          Are you saying the book doesn’t offer a conservative evangelical perspective on things? That would be most remarkable for a book distributed by EP…

    • I’m with Ian on this; and I’d also say that it’s not a Christian bookseller’s responsibility to act as their customers’ thought police: on the contrary, I’d say booksellers should act as agents provocateurs, encouraging customers to read and think outside their comfort zone…

      • Well, Phil, that’s funny how things have been turned upside down. When Paul wrote his letters, he talked about the “offense of the cross” to those who don’t believe. Now that Rob Bell has taken the offense of the cross away, you want us to be offensive to those who believe by selling his book. If I was a bucket seller, would I sell buckets with hidden cracks just to provoke my customers? Buckets that hold no water are no good. Love Wins holds no water either, in this case the Living Water. Sometimes I wonder if we in the West have lost it because we don’t experience persecution. So we have to make up our own agent provocateurs. Strange…

        • Bit of a difference between books and buckets, I’d say, Michael…

          Curious about how you’ve worked out that Bell has taken away the offence of the cross, though: would you like to expand on that? I and I daresay most of my friends will always find the idea of an innocent man condemned to death offensive — and when God takes hold of that event and turns it into a lynchpin for saving the world, that’s always going to offend, surely? Except most people today have become used to the idea and the shock value disappeared long before Bell arrived on the scene…

        • Ok, just one last reply, lest I outstay my welcome: If you take away the necessity of faith, i.e.believing that your case is hopeless had it not been for the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, and instead offer salvation by good works, you take away the offence of the cross. This is not an invention of Calvinistic evangelicals but the message of the New Testament throughout. That’s all.

        • You’re not going to wear your welcome out, Michael, so don’t worry about that.

          … and I’m sure you won’t be surprised that I’m going to disagree with you on that interpretation of things: I think faith as you define it is nonsense. I don’t think God gives a damn about what people believe as long as they live in love: “Those who live in love live in God and God lives in them” — “By their fruit shall you know them.”

          Faith alone saves no one: it’s faith lived out in love; and I’m sure you know that…

          I’ve met atheists and pagans whose lives are a greater testimony to love than many Christians; and Christians who think such people are damned to everlasting torment have long since lost the gospel plot…

        • I think I don’t need to say anymore – may God speak for himself through his Word. Thanks for hosting my comments.

        • No worries, Michael – thanks for stopping by again. Interesting interview with Rob Bell in the June 2011 edition of Christianity as it happens in which he speaks about the offensiveness of the gospel:

          Interviewer: So what should we do? How do you re-conceive the divine if you’ve got a slightly messed up picture of it?

          Bell: Then Christians need to be saved. I mean the gospel. I mean it’s offensive. It’s offensive to the religious person. It’s like, no it can’t be that good — mmhmm, it is. It is. It offends your sense of fairness. All the workers get paid the same in the vineyard? The grace is offensive. So maybe we think about how it offends, maybe it offends in more ways than we realise.

          It’s a tough one, isn’t it Michael? Discovering how generous God’s grace is, that the gospel really is good news, not just for the chosen few but for the world. Yep, seriously offensive, especially if you’ve already made up your mind who’s in and who’s out…

          Well as you say, may God speak for himself through his word; and may those who have ears to hear, hear.

  2. I’ve read Rob Bell’s book and all I see is a man concerned for something called “the love of God” – a reality that seems to be forgotten by much of evangelicaldom. So many Christians talk about hell in such an off hand and mechanical way – with no tears, of course, and no personal agony over the sheer hideousness of that fate for those who (if some theology is to be believed) happen to be unfortunate enough to die with the wrong set of ideas in their minds. I don’t agree with everything Bell writes, but he makes some very good points, such as, for example, the ridiculous notion that at the moment of a ‘lost’ person’s death, God’s entire character is transformed from one of utter love and desire for that person’s salvation to total hatred and sadism for all eternity. It’s a good point, especially in view of the fact that “Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever” and that God’s mercy endures forever.

    I have never yet met a Christian who really really truly believed in hell such that this reality was evident in their demeanour and attitudes. Anyone who truly believed it would be in a state of such overwhelming panic and turmoil for all those for whom Christ died (everyone, unless you’re a TULIP Calvinist), that he would be barely functional as a human being. Clearly the entire interpretation of hell is false. My view is that hell is actually the love of God in the experience of those who hate that love. That love is a torment to those who are incorrigibly evil. Nothing to do with some legal requirement to destroy people. In fact, dare I say it, those who fell under the severest condemnation during the ministry of Jesus were the religious leaders, and not the ordinary ‘worldly’ people.

    I am sick and tired of the childish witch hunts in the Christian world, where anyone who dares to think for himself and has a slightly different take on the Word of God is smugly dismissed as a heretic. No wonder so many turn away from the back stabbing church and turn to atheism. I spend much of my time reasoning with atheists, and frankly much of what goes on in the Church is an embarrassment from which I have to distance myself. Why don’t we make the effort to try to really understand what Rob Bell is saying, even if we don’t agree with it all, and give him the benefit of the doubt? Who knows we might actually gain some valuable insights from the Bible that we had never seen before!

    • Wholeheartedly agree, Graham; have lost track of the number of times I’ve had to apologise to my atheist friends for the behaviour & attitudes of some of my fellow Christians…

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