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on April 9, 2014
Bell raises a lot of perceptive and fascinating questions about the Bible's treatment of the afterlife. I don't think he deserves the criticism he's received (for instance, that he's a heretical universalist); he doesn't take that position directly, although the questions he raises about the nature of God, and what really is or isn't said about hell in the Bible, might leave you with that impression.

Basically, if you want to walk away with clear ANSWERS to the questions he raises, this isn't necessarily the right book for you.

What Bell does do is, through his questions pop some evangelical/fundamentalist "bubbles" that may need to be popped, or at least thoroughly discussed. For instance, the contention (supported primarily by 5-point Calvinists, but also assumed by many other Christians) that at the moment of death, the curtain drops and your fate is sealed. That even if (when confronted with the majestic God who created you, in judgment) you fell to your knees and said, "I'm sorry I didn't believe in you and receive you earlier! I now understand the error of my ways. I believe in your now. Please forgive me, cover my sins with the blood of Christ!" God would shake His head and say, "Nope. Too late. Your fate is sealed, you will be tormented in hell forever for not taking this position 10 minutes earlier."

Bell points out that that doesn't sound like a loving father who "desires for all men to be saved" and he has a point. However, I realized that 5-point Calvinists will make two valid points (which Bell plays with but doesn't really address directly): 1) The words of Christ himself (in the parable of Lazarus and the rich man) seem to indicate that the decisions we make in this life, and the inclination to make those decisions (based on the "ordainment" of God, according to Calvinists) are effective for all of eternity; and 2) If God truly does ordain those whom He desires to be saved, to eternal life, and those whom He desires not to be saved, to eternal death, then He would certainly do so before the "it is appointed unto man once to die, and then the judgment" deadline.

However, I would point out to those who argue (on the basis of Heb. 9:27*, "It is appointed to men once to die, and after this the judgment"), "Once saved, always saved" and "Once you die in your sins, you are always lost," that even that proof text itself is not explicit about the amount of time, space, or other events that elapses between those two things (once to die, and then -- when? -- judgment). Catholics would probably insert into this space, "Hence, Purgatory" which of course is the view that an intermediary state of being is needed to fully purge/cleanse our souls from sin before we can be allowed into a sinless heaven.

Not being Catholic (and not seeing any direct evidence for Purgatory in Scripture), I naturally do not accept this contention, but something akin to Purgatory (and supported by the Old Testament metaphor of the "Outer Court of the Gentiles" when it comes to the Temple, or to similar outer areas of the Tabernacle) might possibly exist in the fringes of the journey to Heaven. C. S. Lewis alluded to this in his brilliant allegory, "The Great Divorce," wherein a busload of passengers are delivered on a day-trip from Hell to Heaven. They have great difficulty even stepping upon the grass, as they are so incorporeal, and it is quite clear that they must become "adjusted" to the realities of heaven (their souls cleansed from all that binds them to Hell) in order be able to traverse "inward and upward" toward the Center of God's universe.

The Great Divorce leaves us with the sense that all of the bus riders save one judge this journey too difficult to make. They are too comfortable in Hell, having gone there in the first place because they are too uncomfortable being exposed to the holiness of God, with all of its demands. In other words, they are too used to being the Captains of their own ship. The narrator alone leaves you with the impression that he is going to miss the bus ride home to Hell, and make the changes necessary to travel inward and upward. (I.e., repentance after death.)

Based on Bell's words in "Love Wins," I think he would agree with Lewis. Although I don't think he necessarily views Hell as a place of punishment (where God pours out his wrath on sin by torturing lost souls in eternal torment), he certainly does contend that "a hell of our own making" exists. He affirms free will, the fact that God gave men the ability to choose, and will never force them to do otherwise. He agrees that if God freely gives man the ability to choose his grace, there must be the possibility that some will not choose it, perhaps may never choose it.

But, at the same time, as I mentioned earlier, he raises some intriguing questions. Evangelicals agree that God is omnipotent (as expressed by Bell's phrase, "God gets His way"). And most of them agree with straightforward interpretation of the verse "God desires that none should perish." (Although I recognize that 5-point Calvinists might not acknowledge the straightforward interpretation of this verse. One friend said to me: "That verses doesn't mean 'everyone' ... just the elect." But, I'm sorry, that's not what it plainly says.) If God wants all people to be saved, and He ultimately gets His way, what does this portend for the future of all people?

Also, there is the intriguing passage in Isaiah 45:23 -- "By myself I have sworn; from my mouth has gone out in righteousness a word that shall not return: `To me every knee shall bow, every tongue shall swear allegiance.'" Which is reinforced quite heartily by Paul in Romans 14:11 and Philippians 2:9-11. If every knee will bow and every tongue will confess (swear allegiance to, according to Isaiah) the Lordship of Christ ... then where are His detractors now?

Only three possibilities, as far as I can see: 1) Rob Bell is right, Love Wins in the end, and ultimately God gets his way. All repent and are covered by the grace of God in Christ Jesus. 2) Those who fail to repent (the goats) are destroyed in the "Second Death," the lake of fire reserved for the Devil and his angels (Revelation), and all others (the sheep) worship God forever as He intended. Or 3) This verse doesn't really mean what it seems to mean ... either "every" doesn't really mean "every," or as my Calvinist friend might contend, "bowing to the Lordship of Christ" is forced upon unbelievers somehow, which raises the question: is forced allegiance really allegiance?

I've ordered those three possibilities in accordance with what I HOPE is true. But, scripturally speaking, I think the best argument really is for option #2. Scripture doesn't really seem to entertain the possibility that Satan and his demons will ultimately repent and serve God, although I don't see this as outside the realm of possibility for God's grace, certainly. (Remember, "He who is forgiven much, loves much.")

The bottom line is, just as Scripture really isn't clear on these things (what we need, after all, is to trust God today, and having clear answers to these questions doesn't necessarily lend itself to that trust, does it?), I don't think we as fallible human beings can be completely clear, either. Bell makes a good point that there is not a hard-and-fast clear-cut interpretation of these matters. My Calvinist friends might cry "Heresy!" but such hand grenades haven't helped the cause of Truth much when discussing such things, as far as I am aware. I certainly don't see that Rob Bell's conclusions (or at least the questions he raises) are anti-biblical in any way (unless C.S. Lewis' are ... and, I don't see that either), so I'm certainly not ready to throw the first stone. (And, might I add ... I've actually read the book! Many of his critics have not.)

Bottom line: Some things in Scripture are very clear. (Jesus is the Son of God, for instance!) Some things are less clear. (The exact nature of hell, for instance.) When debating the latter, a good dose of humility can go a long way. I believe Pastor Bell showed good humility in the way he wrote this book, and am a bit embarrassed by the lack of it in many of those who have responded to him.

There are some things about the WAY Bell writes (his imprecise, somewhat vague, poetical style, which I assume comes from the way he preaches) that annoyed the heck out of me. But once I survived this in the first half of the book, I felt like the second half made wading through the first half worth the wait. (Hence, the three stars.)

*By the way, even hardcore Calvinists will agree that Scripture presents several different types of "judgment," and it is not immediately clear which type Heb. 9:27 is referring to. If "judgment" refers to the Great White Throne Judgment, the final judgment at the end of days, depicted in Revelation, then certainly there is some "space" which must be inserted where the word "then" occurs in this verse.
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on November 22, 2015
I just finished Rob Bell’s “Love Wins” and I HIGHLY recommend it to all Christians. Even to the people who have left Christianity. The people who left due to a view of God that is violent, vengeful and angry; that Christians caused you to view God as such.

Rob Bell paints a picture of God that is loving and merciful. He writes in such a humorous way, while also questions things that will inevitably cause you to ponder as well. He asks the hard questions. But he doesn’t provide the answers outright, which is honestly frustrating at times. But it forces you to come up with the answers yourself.

He brings a lot of facts into the book, specifically about hell. Which as a Christian universalist I appreciated.

I finished this book feeling peaceful. I loved it, and I highly recommend it to everyone
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on March 7, 2014
What Rob Bell has done with Love Wins is nothing short of revolutionary. Bell proposes a reimagining of our conceptions of Heaven, Hell, and salvation. Surely we each have our own idea of what these things mean and how they apply to us - and there are certain concepts that have mainstream sway, to the point that they seem like the "only" view. But Bell challenges us to be open-minded to alternatives. Now, when I say open-minded, you may think I'm talking about some new-age, anything-goes spirituality.. but Bell actually looks to the Bible for his exploration of these concepts. This makes Bell's exploration simultaneously more convincing and less absurd.

We each have our own conceptions of this faith, mostly grounded in the people we observe on a daily basis. What Bell challenges us to do is to set aside the baggage of the way Christianity functions at this point in time, and examine the fundamentals of the religion. Bell asks us to consider what it really means to be Christian, stripping away the excesses that various people and groups have piled onto the basic definition.

Bell's message represents the message that Jesus gave us: one of unconditional love. Plain and simple. Bell frames all of his arguments around this common thread, making it abundantly clear throughout the book.

I recommend this book to anyone who wants to learn more about faith - and I think we all do, at least to some degree. Whether you are a committed Christian or a hardcore atheist, I think you can learn a lot about what Christianity really is from this book. Bell is the exact opposite of an intolerant, annoying preacher; he is welcoming and friendly to people of all backgrounds and beliefs. Remarkably, Bell manages not to critique traditional evangelical beliefs without castigating them, and challenges atheist assumptions about Christianity without demonizing them.

How this book has generated so much controversy (look at the reviews) is simultaneously baffling and familiar. On the one hand, one cannot help but be overwhelmed with joy at the positive and uplifting message that Bell delivers. It's a message that I want to share with everyone on the planet - just as a Christian missionary wants to share their love of Jesus with everyone on the planet. On the other hand, realizing that we are all flawed human beings who cling to our factions, I'm not too surprised that people are bitterly divided about this book. The wonderful things that God does in our lives give me at least some hope that people will harden not their hearts to the message here, and will at least in some way engage in the discussion to which Bell is inviting us. The mere fact that Bell has broached the topic means the cat is out of the bag and that people are considering the topic, and that others might feel more comfortable engaging in similar discussions.

Whether you agree with the specifics of Bell's argument, I hope you can at least take one emphatic message away from this book: that God is full of love. That God brings us love. That God is love.
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on May 16, 2013
Rob Bell caused controversy when he released "Love Wins" in 2011. He was accused of espousing universalism and promoting heresy. The debate around the book’s message centered on questions about the existence and nature of Hell and who will end up there. In the early years of Christianity, some scholars were more open minded about Heaven and Hell. Clement of Alexandria, in the second-century, regarded posthumous salvation as a logical possibility: “God being good, and the Lord powerful, they save with a righteousness and equality which extend to all that turn to Him, whether here or elsewhere.” Clement’s student, Origen, imagined life and the afterlife as a place, in which souls undergo progressive purification until they are fit for reconciliation with God. As the church matured, such views were viewed as unacceptable.

Protestants have traditionally believed that Hell is a place of eternal, conscious and irreversible torment. In 1741, Jonathan Edwards delivered a sermon called “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.” To many modern readers Edwards’s sermon seems to lack proportion: the endless horror of Hell seems excessive punishment for the unsaved.

Christian Universalists have always been a minority, but they include Karl Barth and William Barclay. Universalists believe an eternal hell is against the nature and character of a loving God. Bell never denies the existence of Hell, and he never promises that all people will reach Heaven. He argues that the references to Hell in the New Testament are infrequent and often ambiguous; it’s never quite clear who’s going, or for how long, or what happens there. Bell suggests that Hell might be a form of purgatory, where we are all given a second chance to repent and escape to heaven. Only those who can demonstrate that they are capable of living in Heaven are selected for Heaven. Many people may be left stranded in Hell until they complete this re-education process. Bell finds it hard to believe that non-Christians like Gandhi who lived good lives, will end up in Dante’s inferno.

Bell quotes I Timothy 2: “God wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of truth.” And then he poses the question around which the rest of the book revolves: “Does God get what God wants?” Bell's bibliography indicates that read the works of Julian of Norwich, an English mystic. Julian was troubled by the question of what would befall those who had never heard the Gospel of Jesus Christ. She believed that whatever God does is done in love. Julian believed that God loves everyone and wants everybody to be saved.

Bell reinterprets the prodigal son parable to illustrate that we may have a second chance at redemption. God is like the father in the story who is happy to forgive the son who wastes his inheritance and returns home with nothing. The older brother is bitter about the sacrifice he has made by staying home and is keen to judge and condemn his brother. The prodigal son represents fallen humanity. He is forgiven by the father, even though he doesn't deserve it. Bell asks the question whether God as a loving father, would really allow the "unsaved" to suffer torment for all eternity?

Bell uses the parable of the rich young ruler to illustrate the type of behavior required for those who are ready for heaven. Bell suggests that Jesus considered obeying the commandments an important requirement for salvation, however the rich young ruler failed Jesus' test because he wasn't interested in perfection. Bell suggests that only perfect humans will be admitted to Heaven. Bell mentions C.S. Lewis's "The Great Divorce." In the story, one of the characters has a dream where Heaven and Hell remain options after death. You can move from Hell to Heaven if you repent and embrace Christianity. It suggests that only the Godly will be let into Heaven and muttering a few magic passwords may not be enough to gain you admission.

Bell's ideas are attractive for those are uncomfortable with the idea that 90% of humanity will be consigned to Hell, forever. John Piper, the theologian, speaks for many in the evangelical mainstream: “Hell is unspeakably real, conscious, horrible, and eternal.” Amongst evangelicals Love Wins was not well received. For some, Bell is now viewed as a heretic who is preaching a false gospel. However, Bell seems to have a following amongst young people who like his ideas. I enjoyed the book and would like to believe in second chances.
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on June 27, 2016
Rob Bell brings up interesting and provocative thoughts.

We dissected this book during our study group at church over the course of many weeks. Rob Bell raises lots of questions and makes you take a look at things in a new light. Heaven, hell, "innies and outies", and a whole lot more are questioned and answered in this book.
I thought the book was interesting but I have to admit that I got tired of the writing style. Rob Bell often writes in short choppy sentences which is reminiscent of his Nooma videos. It is an effective way to speak for emphasis when making a point in a video but for me, it became tedious. That is not to say that his points weren't interesting, they were.
Overall I enjoyed the book and I agree with many of the points he makes.
Lets all hope love does indeed win.
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on February 21, 2014
Evangelical and fundamentalist Christians will not like this book...as well as a lot of Catholics (which I am). Rob Bell disassembles the tightly clung too notions of heaven and hell. Critics will say, and in fact are saying, that Bell is trying to erase the very notion of hell altogether. They could not be more wrong.

Hell is a very real dimension of our spiritual lives for Bell, but than it being something God does to us, he presents it as something we choose for ourselves. This fits perfectly with a God of unconditional love who has gifted us with the free will to choose things that are of God or that are not. Bell takes away the ammunition used by the self-righteous to "know" God's will for others. Rob Bell's book does not give everyone a "free pass" as some critics are falsely claiming, but rather forces us to take a good long look at ourselves and the choices we make in life. Love wins. Will we let it?
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on July 9, 2013
This is the second time that I have read the book. On the first reading, I was not sure whether I fully understood or agreed with the concepts in the book. As with many of Rob Bell's books, I have had to read them multiple times because his viewpoint is so very very different than my background and thinking. I am so used to thinking a certain way that when someone presents a differing viewpoint or perspective, it is hard to see it. Rob Bell has a very different perspective which I find challenging both in my thinking and behavior. It is too easy to read something that disagrees with my thinking and then stop really listening and understanding at that point.

I gave the book a high rating for the following reasons:

1. I found it challenging to my life and my current way of thinking
2. I like his style of writing. It is creative, flowing and almost conversational
3. I like the fact that he is not afraid to ask difficult questions.
A good example is his whole section around what qualifies for salvation which I thought was excellent
4. He presents his concepts well with good examples and analogies
5. I could easily follow his line of thinking.
6. The concepts were well developed, not over (too wordy) or under developed (too brief)

I did not find the book saying what many of the critics stated. I found that what he was actually trying to convey has been misinterpreted or over emphacized.

I continued my reading with the follow on book "Love Wins Companion" which I also found very good.
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on January 28, 2015
It seems that often evangelicals read scripture with an unconscious filter based on a theology we have learned. I have seen myself to this and others do this regularly. We read passages to say what we expect them to say instead of reading them for what the words actually say and trying to figure out what the author or speaker meant when writing them. I have found that this book challenged me to go back and read passages, especially in the Gospels, to see if they say something different than the way I have always read them. Bell does a good job of arguing that what Jesus said about heaven and hell isn't really what we have made it out to be in modern times and he presents questions that make you stop and think about what you believe in God, your place in His plan, the world around you, what the future holds, and what you should be doing with your time right now. I need to think more about some of his theological concepts and figure out where I stand on them after reading back through the packages he references, but I generally found the book very inspiring in my pursuit of faith in Christ.
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on December 4, 2013
Bravo. I attend Redeemer Presbyterian and Trinity Lutheran Lower East Side in NYC. Pastor Bell's book is the first book that I've encountered since the writings of CS Lewis and Tim Keller that propel my faith forward in such a way. I've read and watched online a number of critiques and attacks on Pastor Bell (including one by MSNBC anchor Bashir who supposedly attends Redeemer). But I can't honestly understand their basis. They come across as blind zealots who aren't really listening to what he's saying. Bell writes with honesty, humility and his take on the Gospels and the narrative of love and redemption through Jesus as revealed in the old and new testaments is thought provoking and brilliant and offers a vantage of our faith that is logical and inspiring. In many instances he demonstrates plausibly how age old orthodox dogma likely misses the mark. If you or someone you know struggles with the angry punitive G*d or the hypocrisy of many churches or the self-righteousness of many Christians, I implore you read this book or give it as a gift. It may literally change your life.
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on November 15, 2015
I find this book very interesting. I find rob bell to be a great pastor teacher and author. I think all of this criticism of him has to stop. When I mean criticism I mean negative criticism. I don't have a problem with rob bell being critizied. I can understand that there are some viewpoints of his that I find contradictory to scripture such as his view on homosexuality but I don't think he is a false prophet or a wolf in sheep's clothing. He just sometimes comes to wrong conclusions at certain times and I Don't have a problem with it. People were criticizing his book before it even came out. And most of the critics never even read his book.
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