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4.0 out of 5 stars A 61 Year Old Evangelical Pastor's Take, April 27, 2011
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This review is from: Love Wins: A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived (Hardcover)
I am not a Rob Bell fanboy; however, I do have a generally positive opinion of the little exposure I've had to his ministry. When Love Wins was first being reviewed and its author was being held up in many quarters as satan's chief apostle my first instinct was ignore it. (There are only so many books one can read.) Finally, the clamor reached so close to home that I had to give in and read it for myself. I don't like to let third parties do my thinking for me.

The uproar is understandable. Bell has a habit of asking hard questions. He also has a tendency to not provide definitive answers to the hard questions he asks. And when those questions concern the issues of heaven and hell and the possibility of universal salvation...well, the sacrificial fat is clearly sizzling on the altar.

It is hard to pin down Bell's position and I am strangely OK with that. I suspect the reason is because these are some very complex questions and the Bible is somewhat lacking in absolute clarity. Where the Bible is lacking in absolute clarity we extrapolate dogma at our own risk. Honestly, when it comes to eternal things I think the Bible gives us the best picture we can possibly process from our finite frame of reference. Sometimes that picture seems confusing because things that seem exclusive of each other in this world can actually be essential to each other in the various dimensions of eternity. (What sense does it make in this world to die in order to live?)

Do heaven and hell exist? Of course they do, and Bell would be one of the first to assert their reality. He does have a little different take on what, and when, heaven and hell are but he certainly doesn't deny their existence. Far from making them smaller and less meaningful he actually makes them bigger and more meaningful. I think there is room for disagreement among true believers on this topic especially since none of us have ever really been to either place. I actually find Bell's concept of heaven to be challenging and somewhat more exciting than big mansions and streets of gold.

The real problem most Evangelical believers will have with this book concerns the question of universalism. Is everyone going to be saved? Can a person find redemption after this life? My inclination on both of these questions is to say, "No." However, "No" does give rise to some legitimately serious questions and both positions can be argued from scripture with some powerful verses backing up each camp.

At this point I feel compelled to point out that Bell's position on universalism is essentially identical to the one held by C. S. Lewis. Having read almost everything by Lewis my thoughts had already turned to The Great Divorce and The Last Battle as well as various quotes from his lectures. I was not at all surprised when Lewis was cited in the end notes. Both Bell and Lewis seem to essentially hold the position that God is going to save everyone He can. They both believe that a person can go to hell but they have to really want to go there. That assertion is not as strange as it may sound. Lewis' The Great Divorce is a fantastical story but it shines a big bright light on human nature.

Am I comfortable with the notion that if everyone is going to be saved, or can be saved after this life, then strenuous efforts need not be made to bring people to Christ in this life (and the sooner the better)? Not at all, and that is not what I hear Bell saying. Am I comfortable with allowing God the right to do what He wants however He wants and would I be thrilled if everyone did get in to heaven? You bet. Do I know exactly what God is going to do about all of this? No, but I trust Him.

This is a short book and Bell doesn't even try to tie up all the loose ends. (I would be quite interested in hearing his take on the "second death".) What he does do is open a conversation that the vast majority of Christians who have ever lived would be comfortable having. It is only in the Western (mostly North American) church and over the last two to three hundred years that these issues have been considered resolved and beyond discussion. Hopefully once the journalistic hype and reactionary hysteria have died down this little book can make a positive contribution to the advancement of God's kingdom. Frankly, after all the hate and vitriol in the current Evangelical dialogue I'm quite ready to see love win.
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Showing 1-10 of 100 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Apr 27, 2011 10:38:07 AM PDT
Last edited by the author on Apr 27, 2011 10:57:00 AM PDT
Brentley says:
Greetings to Springhouse Worship&Arts Center in Nashville.

Pastor, how do you define 'Evangelical'? (your statement of faith has major contradictions with this book you endorsed?)

Do the Lord Jesus & Apostles make crystal clear what happens to mankind based on repentant faith in Christ or not? Do the simple parables help here? Any ambiguity re the fate of every person whoever lived based on the Gospel?

Why has what the apostolic classic faith believed for so long become questionable doubtful up for grabs all of a sudden?

Is Paul's Galatians 'Anathema' ever justified with a prophet like Bell, McLaren, The Shack or how bad does it have to get before the apostolic injunction applies to protect Christ's lambs from harm? How does Ezekiel 3 watchman warning apply to today's pastoral shepherds?

Any similarities here with Jehovah Witness Kingdom Hall Watchtower preaching about perdition?

How do you understand 'Second Death'?

What are your favorite authority sources/recent authors that led you to these pro-Bell conclusions (other than C.S.Lewis)? Would you unreservedly recommend this book for your church, friends, seekers to be saved from perishing as Jesus warns/promises?

See Ben Witherington (Kentucky) blog posting 'for whom bell tolls'.

Thanks!

In reply to an earlier post on Apr 27, 2011 11:53:02 AM PDT
I believe C.S. Lewis' position is annihilationism (the view that the unsaved cease to exist after death). Bell seems to be espousing universal reconciliation (the view that the unsaved after death will still be conscious and given enough time will finally choose Christ and 'love wins' win all have moved out of hell into heaven.)

If I've stated their positions accurately, then they are two very different takes on the afterlife.

-mark almlie

In reply to an earlier post on Apr 27, 2011 12:07:28 PM PDT
Last edited by the author on Apr 27, 2011 12:09:15 PM PDT
Ronnie Meek says:
In the Great Divorce Lewis tells of a group of people in...someplace, call it Hell or Purgatory, being transported to the outskirts of heaven where they encounter beings (usually ones they had known in life) who try to persuade them to stay. Clearly he believed that people could be saved after this life. Later in the same book he has George MacDonald (one of his major influences) explaining that Hell was actually a tiny little place in relation to reality. This is not the same thing as annihilation. I really don't recall running across anything in Lewis' writings where true annihilationism is addressed. I would be interested in having you point that out to me.

In The Last Battle as people enter the "door" some think they are in a dark shack awaiting destruction while others see it as a marvelous open place. The difference is inside them rather than in their actual physical surroundings. This seems to be where Bell is drawing much of his ideas about heaven and hell from and is strikingly consistent with Jesus saying that the kingdom of heaven is within you. (Yes, I do believe in His literal kingdom being established on earth; however, Revelation tells us that even after a thousand years of Christ literal reign there will be those who will reject it.)

Also, concerning universalism Lewis stated his position quite concisely saying, "The Bible tells us that Jesus is the only way to the Father; it does not tell us that there is only one way to Jesus."

I think their positions are quite close.

In reply to an earlier post on Apr 27, 2011 12:19:21 PM PDT
Brentley says:
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In reply to an earlier post on Apr 27, 2011 12:45:55 PM PDT
Kathleen says:
Mr. Meek, I'm surprised by your take because you are a pastor. I read the book and posted my review this morning (although it's dated April 4). The book is poisonous to genuine faith. C. S. Lewis aside, Rob Bell is preaching another gospel and another Jesus. A more fitting title for "Love Wins" would be "Unbelief Loses."

In reply to an earlier post on Apr 27, 2011 1:01:56 PM PDT
Ronnie Meek says:
B.D.

My authority is the Bible, not your take on it, but the actual Bible and what it says. Believe it or not, I actually think that the beauty of Christ rather than the terror of hell is a more powerful incentive to accept the gospel. Jesus said that if He is lifted up He will draw all men unto Himself. I'm sorry you don't see it that way. All I can say is that you should reach those you can reach and I'll reach those I can reach and we'll populate heaven that way rather than trying to populate it by tearing each other down.

My review does not contradict our Statement of Faith and I refuse to argue you about this.

May God Bless you, sir.

In reply to an earlier post on Apr 27, 2011 2:37:20 PM PDT
"But I notice that Our Lord, while stressing the terror of hell with unsparing severity usually emphasizes the idea not of duration but of finality. Consignment to the destroying fire is usually treated as the end of the story-not as the beginning of a new story. That the lost soul is eternally fixed in its diabolical attitude we cannot doubt: but whether this eternal fixity implies endless duration-or duration at all-we cannot say." C. S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain. London and Glasgow: Collins, 1940, p114-115

At least in this passage he leans towards annihilationism (though he implies that he is agnostic towards it)....however, he explicitly states that "the lost soul is eternally fixed in its diabolical attitude"....I don't see how from this we can get that he thinks you can switch sides after death. I realize, like you said, that in the great divorce, some from grey town at least have the possibility to switch sides, but it is a work of fiction unlike Bell's book. Is there any non-fiction works of Lewis where he thinks that souls can still choose Christ and leave hell? Certainly the above quote would make one think that Lewis believes that the soul it eternally fixed after death.

One topic about Bell's book that has really gone overlooked is this: on what biblical basis does he posit endless second chances after death? Heb 9.27 says "people are destined to die once and after that face judgment." The last judgment--final judgment kinda strongly implies that once you cross the jordan you are out of time. Bell seems to imply that it would be "cruel" of God to not allow endless second chances post-mortem, but in all seriousness deadlines are a part of life. Our mom's are very loving to us, but if we are supposed to be in bed at 9pm, and we're still up at 10pm she becomes "cruel" and ushers us to bed. If you don't turn in your term paper on time, you're out of luck. If you miss your plane--well the plane has flown off without you.......there is a time for choice and decision, and then comes the time for being called to account for your decisions in this life.

In reply to an earlier post on Apr 27, 2011 3:30:17 PM PDT
Ronnie Meek says:
Thanks for your thoughtful input Mark. I think we are going to have to disagree on this to some extent.

I would agree that this passage of Lewis' might lean toward annihilationism but in the vast body of his work I would consider this to be a pretty slim reed on which to base that assertion. Concerning the distinction between Lewis' fiction and non-fiction I would strongly argue that he considered both to be equally valid expressions of truth and that he even considered fiction an even more effective vehicle for conveying truth. I would not consider Jesus' parables any less capable of conveying truth than His other discourses because they were "fiction." To me it is pretty clear that in writing The Great Divorce and The Last Battle Lewis gives us the most telling glimpses into his view of "what happens next" that we find in his writings.

I am well aware of the Hebrews passage. Every time I ever asked the question, "How do we know a person can't be saved after death?" that was the proof text offered. I just don't think that text supports an air tight dogma. When after death is the judgement? Immediately? At the resurrection? Does anything else happen between death and judgement? This verse doesn't say anything does but it also doesn't say anything doesn't happen. I don't see this verse giving us the license to fill in all of the blanks.

In my review I stated that I lean toward thinking that one cannot be saved after death; however, I really don't see how holding open that possibility will damn people's souls. Could it be that some people truly do not (perhaps "cannot") respond to the gospel because the only gospel they have ever heard consigns virtually every child who is born and dies at the age of two in a Muslim or Hindu home to the flames of everlasting damnation? Could it be that those people actually out number the ones who might read Rob Bell's book and think, "The gospel sounds great, but there might be a chance after death so I'll just hold out for that"?

I don't see Bell coming out clearly as a universalist here. He does hold open the possibility that some will ultimately opt for hell. Furthermore, I see a lot of people throwing up proof texts for Bell to answer but I don't see anybody trying to explain the proof texts that Bell himself quotes.

The bottom line for me is that people should turn to Christ now for a multitude of reasons. Concerning what happens next we really do see through a glass darkly, but I trust God. The Judge of all the Earth will do what is right no matter what I think.

In reply to an earlier post on Apr 27, 2011 3:41:36 PM PDT
Last edited by the author on Apr 27, 2011 3:55:21 PM PDT
Brentley says:
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In reply to an earlier post on Apr 27, 2011 11:00:53 PM PDT
Last edited by the author on Apr 28, 2011 6:39:58 AM PDT
CS Louis says:
Mark,
You mean you would use the metaphor of a deadline for bed or a term paper for that of an eternal hell? I agree that life is full of deadlines and God has His own but to say the failure to meet His deadlines are punished with eternal torment as opposed to a fatherly or motherly discipline is incomprehensible. Your metaphor should say "when your mother says to you, 'if you don't eat your green beans I will send you to your room for the rest of your life!' " "Yeah right mom". I think that's what the world is saying. If we can't even understand it, wrap our brains around it, fathom, think about it too long or it would drive us insane, then how can it be a motivator or deterrent for anything? To compare the threat of an eternal hell with a curfew is first of all a mockery of the finality you and others place on hell and second it's a ridiculous metaphor.

Also you said "mom's are loving to us". Yes, that's the point. Mom sets a deadline for bed. Deadline broken. Child ushered to bed. Where's the part of the loving mom locking the child in their room for the rest of their life?

Also, the verse everyone quotes for no second chances from Heb 9:27 is about judgement not an eternal hell. Yes, there are things we must accomplish and do because of and through our faith in Christ before we die. But then it says there is "judgement". There are myriads of verses that speak of judgement in the context of all people and specifically believers. Heb 10 says, "The Lord will judge HIS PEOPLE. It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God." "We will ALL be salted by fire" etc., (JMG actually quoted quite a few of them on your comments not distinguishing between those for the world and for the Church).

Judgement is not equal to eternal separation from God and eternal torture. If we stopped passing the buck on these verses to the world and actually took them to mean we, God's people, are going to be held accountable for our actions and that there are some very important things we will lose out on and perhaps even a "refining fire", then maybe the Church would look a little more holy.
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