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Customer Review

2,819 of 3,118 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars a mixed bag: the good, great, bad, and ugly, March 20, 2011
This review is from: Love Wins: A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived (Hardcover)
First of all I want to say that I have greatly admired the preaching and books that Rob Bell has put out before "Love Wins". I will continue to recommend "Velvet Elvis" and "Sex God". He is a brilliant communicator of God's Word. I listen to his podcasts more than any other preacher.

The Good
I applaud Rob for taking a risk and writing about this extremely important, touchy, weighty, and often not talked about topic. It is a topic upon which Evangelicals are underdeveloped in their thinking. In writing about this topic publicly Rob gives us permission to talk more freely with each other about it.
The more thinking and study of this topic the more we will be careful in our sometimes overly simplistic views or verbal slams against others.

Bell writes, "I've written this book because the kind of faith Jesus invites us into doesn't skirt the big questions." Amen. Completely agree.

The Great
The book is favulous, compelling writing. Bell paints pictures, turns a phrase ("It's as if we're currently trying to play the piano with oven mitts"), illustrates, and illuminates the biblical text in a way few others can.

He clearly sets the gospel in its cosmic framework, not just its human salvation framework. Jesus came not only to save sinners, but to redeem the world--every atom. He articulates a gospel that transforms trees as well as people. This is a good thing and should stretch Evangelicals to understand what Colossians is getting at when it says, "This is the gospel that you heard and that has been proclaimed to every creature under heaven" (Colossians 1.23). "A gospel that leaves out its cosmic scope will always feel small." (p. 135) Agreed.

The Bad
"At the center of the Christian tradition since the first church have been a number who insist that history is not tragic, hell is not forever, and love, in the end, wins and all will be reconciled to God." (p. 109) Well, if universalism has been at the "center" of Christianity since the very "first church" I guess it's strange that there's such controversy around this book! Come on Robby, this isn't intellectually honest writing. The whole reason this book is swirling in controversy is because universalism has not been at the center, it has not been a belief from the beginning, and the first Christians did not think hell was temporary. It's one thing to present different views and theologies, it is another to do so with revisionist history.

The Ugly
In Matthew 25, Jesus the judge separates the sheep from the goats and sends the goats to "eternal punishment". Only, this doesn't fit with Bell's theology so he simply translates the phrase differently. He says "eternal punishment" should be translated as "a period of pruning" or a "time of trimming"!

"The goats are sent, in the Greek language, to an aion of kolazo. Aion, we know, has several meanings. One is "age" or "period of time"; another refers to "intensity of experience". An aion of kolazo. Depending on how you translate aion and kolazo, then, the phrase can mean "a period of pruning" or "a time of trimming", or an intense experience of correction. In a good number of English translations of the Bible, the phrase "aion of kolazo" gets translated as "eternal punishment," which many read to mean "punishment forever," as in never going to end. But "forever" is not really a category the biblical writers used." (p. 91-92)

First of all, he doesn't even quote the Greek text correctly! He says the phrase is "Aion of kolazo". That's not how the Greek text reads! It reads, "Eis kolasin aionion." The Greek word "aionion" is a different word than "aion"! This is very misleading. I can barely believe that he wrote so erroneously. It's as if he wished so hard that there is no reference to eternal punishment in the Bible that he found a way for it to go away.

The actual word used in Matt 25.41, 46 is "aionion". Now, it is true that the root word of "aionion" is "aion". But, they are two separate words, with two different meanings. For Bell to go on and on about "aion" meaning "age" and not "eternity" is completely irrelevant since he is talking about the wrong word!

"In a good number of English translations of the Bible, the phrase gets translated as 'eternal punishment'". Understatement of the aion! NIV, NRSV, NASB, KJV, New Living Translation. How about Eugene Peterson's "The Message" since Peterson endorsed Bell's book? The Message reads "eternal doom". Bell is off his theological and exegetical rocker when trying to get this verse not to mean what it actually means: "eternal punishment".

But imagine for a moment that he's right. Let's imagine that this verse isn't about eternal punishment, but just an "age" of time. So, theoretically, after an "age" or two of time, the goats will be set free. However, the sheep are sent to "eternal life" in the same verse. It is the same word used for the sheep as it is for the goats: "aionion". If Bell is right then "eternal life" is temporary. It's the same word used in John 3.16 "everlasting life". So whosoever believes in Him should not perish but have temporary life? I don't think so.

Rob Bell is not a biblical scholar or a theologian. He has no credentials to write his own translation of the Bible. I pray that there is not a Rob Bell Study Bible complete with a "fresh" translation of the scriptures coming our way in the near future.

conclusion:
If Bell is interested in raising more than just questions and really wants a thorough re-evaluation of hell, it would be helpful if he would either publicly debate other public figures, or co-write a book of "various views" on heaven/hell that includes other, more qualified, theologians and biblical scholars to help us all get a better handle on the topic.

I am also surprised that he keeps saying that he is not a universalist when that is what this book is about. "Love Wins" is a declaration that God's love will melt all hearts eventually, and all will be saved (maybe not right away but given enough time). If you go to the mars hill website they defend that Bell is not a universalist as well, but under their "download a resources list" they list "The Inescapable Love of God" as a good resource to help the reader understand "Love Wins" better. But the book "The Inescapable Love of God" is a book arguing for universalism. So, which is it? It's a strange mixed message.
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Showing 1-10 of 729 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Mar 21, 2011 11:33:31 AM PDT
Excellent and fair review.

Posted on Mar 21, 2011 11:35:42 AM PDT
"But imagine for a moment that he's right. Let's imagine that this verse isn't about eternal punishment, but just an "age" of time. So, theoretically, after an "age" or two of time, the goats will be set free. However, the sheep are sent to "eternal life" in the same verse. It is the same word used for the sheep as it is for the goats: "aionion". If Bell is right then "eternal life" is temporary. It's the same word used in John 3.16 "everlasting life". So whosoever believes in Him should not perish but have temporary life? I don't think so. "

This is a classic argument for eternal punishment. However, "eternal life" in this place, and every other place that aionian is used, is not referring to life unending, it is referring to "life in the age" or "life age-during" as so many of the literal translations render it. Life in the Kingdom Age or Millenial Age is the inference. There are at least three other New Testament passages proving eternal life that do NOT use "aionian".

In summary, the argument above is not sufficient to prove eternal punishment. Never mind the abundance of other biblical evidence dispelling the notion.

In reply to an earlier post on Mar 21, 2011 11:41:36 AM PDT
Thank you Dan. So, how would you translate aionian for both the sheep and the goats in Matt 25:46?

Posted on Mar 21, 2011 11:51:32 AM PDT
Last edited by the author on Mar 21, 2011 11:56:55 AM PDT
A. Gonzalez says:
...for the BAD: I have not read the book. But I think that when Bell says at the "center" of the Christian tradition, he does not refer to its variations (as you say, universalism). If you have followed Bell's messages, maybe you have heard him to indirectly quote Col. 1:20, and then say: "and the Greek word for ALL, means: ALL". And that IS at the center of Christian tradition.

...for the UGLY. Looks like you like to study the Bible, and have some knowledge on the use of Greek words and the nuances of it's different conjugations. That means that you ARE AWARE that there is no absolutes in interpretation. Would there be, all qualified theologians would sit together and settle the scriptures for all of us but, why hasn't that been done? Because there is always the mind, the experience, the life of the interpreter involved in the reading. Bell may be wrong, so may you. So, What makes the difference? Somebody famous said, "By their fruits you will recognize them" or as Gamaliel said, give them time, ...lest you find yourself fighting against the will of God.

Posted on Mar 21, 2011 12:00:48 PM PDT
Emil Posavac says:
Terribly helpful review, but maybe not in the way you hoped. I found the Mars Hill site. One of the additional resources is George MacDonald. I was concerned that I was alone in my views.
You might rethink your comments on the quotation from p. 109. I have not read the book yet, but the quotation says that the some people at the center of the early church taught as Bell suggests---the words you quoted do not say that his view was at the center. Maybe there is more to the quotation that might support your interpretation, but at it stands it seems that Bell did not intend what you suggest he intended.

Posted on Mar 21, 2011 12:11:46 PM PDT
A reader says:
Excellent review! You wrote: "He says the phrase is 'Aion of kolazo'. That's not how the Greek text reads! It reads, 'Eis kolasin aionion.' The Greek word 'aionion' is a different word than 'aion'! This is so misleading! It's inexcusable! It is intellectually dishonest, and I can barely believe that he wrote so erroneously. It's as if he wished so hard that there is no reference to eternal punishment in the Bible that he found a way for it to go away."

I am no Greek scholar myself, but something rang terribly untrue to me when I read that portion of the book. I thought: if Rob Bell claims not to be a scholar or theologian, why is he making absolute statements about the way a huge majority of Bible translators have handled the text?

In reply to an earlier post on Mar 21, 2011 12:17:38 PM PDT
Emil, there is no evidence that "some people at the center of the early church" taught universalism (or universal reconciliation to be more precise). The earliest person generally thought to have espoused a universal interpretation is Origen. He lived around 220 C.E. So, again it's difficult to see how universalism has been at the "center" of the "Christian tradition" from the "first church". It is a very massaged sentence I'll grant you, but even if Bell meant that universalism itself wasn't at the center in the beginning, but only "a number" of Christians thought it was at the center in the beginning, he offers no evidence of these people who believed in universalism from the 'first church'.

In reply to an earlier post on Mar 21, 2011 12:25:18 PM PDT
Thank you A reader. Bell and I both went to Fuller Seminary for our master's in divinity. I am not a biblical scholar or theologian either, but when I looked up what he said the Greek text said, I was astonished that he quoted the root word and not the actual word "aionion." "Aion" is strong's concordance #165 entry and "aionion" is strong's concordance #166. He is right that the word "aion" CAN be translated as "age" or "age to come", but even the word he actually talks about is 75% of the time translated as "eternal" or some form of "perpetual existence." The actual word used, however, "aionion" is NEVER translated as just "age"--which is why, I assume, he only quoted the root word "aion" rather than the actual word "aionion." It just did not seem that he was taking scripture seriously at that point. It was the turning point in my reading of the book. I began to double check his other references since he got this one so wrong......Not that I'm happy the phrase "eternal punishment" is used in the New Testament! I wish Rob Bell was right! But if we are going to try and get our theology to match scripture, rather than trying to get scripture to match our theology, we can't treat the text like a wax nose.

Posted on Mar 21, 2011 1:28:25 PM PDT
Mark...thanks for the detailed review of Rob's book. I too attended Fuller for a short time, but even I know that he did not learn this heresy at Fuller (although Fuller does tend to allow or create people who become heretical, such as Mel White, etc).

Anyway, I noticed that what you said about the universalism being on the Rob Bell church website appears not to be so. I'm guessing that after much controversy, they decided to remove the reference to "The Inescapable Love of God."

In reply to an earlier post on Mar 21, 2011 1:57:16 PM PDT
I just double checked. It's still there. Click on the "love wins" on the bottom right hand side of the main page. Then on the "Love Wins" page there are two downloadable documents. One says "download updated FAQs" and the second one says "download a resources list"....when you open up the "resources list" the sixth book title down reads "The Inescapable Love of God" by Thomas Talbott. -Mark Almlie
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