I finally finished my copy of Love Wins: A Book about Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person who Ever Lived by Rob Bell (hereafter, Love Wins, HarperOne 2011, $22.99). Some wondered why I have not already written a review. Others questioned my motives for posting a Reformed scholar’s review, while one blogger even strangely implicated me in surfing the internet looking for positive reviews of Bell’s book to post. Two quick points: a) I did not sense the urgency in critiquing Bell’s position before I actually read Bell’s position as did The Gospel Coalition bloggers (along with a few Southern Baptist bloggers); b) I do not schedule blogs to be posted based on others’ curiosities or desires. I have a limited amount of time to dedicate to this site. In short, I can only do so much>>>
As it turns out, so far as I am concerned, my initial gut sense about Love Wins was and remains correct. The book hardly poses a new or serious threat to biblical Christianity’s understanding of eternal torment, and for that reason alone, those bloggers who felt the need to "expose" Rob Bell before the book was even published cannot be considered prophetic or pastoral in any sense of the term. Knee-jerk remains a very good descriptor. So, borrowing Rob Bell's words, "Let's keep it!" (p.93).
The fact is, Love Wins is little more than a standard slice of postmodern confusion about absolute truth and final, definitive answers on most any religious question one may raise. Those who suggested Bell finally “outs himself” are surely mistaken. Denny Burk early in the cyber-frenzy wrote, “the best thing to come of this may be that he [Bell] is declaring himself plainly. Hopefully more evangelicals will be able to see his teaching for what it is.” Bell declaring himself plainly in Love Wins? Hardly. Indeed, the very fact that Bell is so fundamentally confusing stands as good reason why his book cannot be considered dangerous—at least dangerous in so far as having any type of lasting influence concerning evangelical Christianity. Additionally, those who likened Bell to C.S. Lewis must have had too many onions on their hamburger. To compare Bell to Lewis is to compare a spit wad to a scud missile.
The obvious question everybody wants to know is, does Rob Bell embrace universalism? The most honest answer I can offer is, after reading Love Wins, I could not tell you. I don’t know. His exegesis of relevant biblical passages is virtually non-existent, and his theological affirmations are at their very best moments, vague and non-committal. For example, he writes of hell’s existence,
“There are individual hells, and communal, society 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… . To summarize then, then, we need a loaded, volatile, adequately violent, dramatic serious word to describe the very real consequences we experience when we reject the good and true and beautiful life that God has for us. We need a word that refers to the big, wide, terrible evil that comes from the secrets hidden deep within our hearts all the way to the massive, society-wide collapse and chaos that comes when we fail to live in God’s world God’s way. And for that, the word “hell” works quite well. Let’s keep it” (pp.79, 93, embolden added)
Whatever Rob Bell affirms in this selection has nothing necessarily to do with a person’s eternal fate. However, note as well: Bell does not explicitly deny eternal hell in the afterlife either.
I could offer several more examples of both Bell’s confusion and crafty maneuvering around a commitment to a certain position. No need nor real desire on my part exists for it, however. Being sold out to a thorough-going postmodern hermeneutic, the last thing Bell wants to do is offer a definitive answer to any question posed. That's perhaps why he repeatedly asks questions rapid-fire with rarely (if ever) a personal committment to explaining why one answer is better than another. For Bell, grand metanarratives hardly exist in reality. Indeed this aversion to definitive answers itself should have been a tip-off to knee-jerk critics who wanted to instantaneously solidify Bell into a particularly strong theological category. And, universalism is, after all, a definitive theological position—albeit it a wrong-headed theological position—but a definitive theological position nonetheless, a category prima facie suspect to thinkers like Rob Bell.
Love Wins stands as the quintessential marketing ploy to get people to buy books. It worked. Somebody deserves a raise at HarperOne--a big raise. But Love Wins adds exactly zero value to the church's historic views on the eternal fate of unbelievers. Why would it? Rob Bell never offers an answer clear enough to the questions he raises which warrant him an earned voice in the historic dialog. But Love Wins sure is a pretty book.
In short, I plan not a another think about Love Wins. Nor do I imagine will most Bible-believing Christians.
With that, I am…