Love Wins isn’t really about Hell…

Love-wins-home
So I'm not sure Love Wins is really about what people think it is about. 

Yes, the subtitle suggests that the book is "about Heaven, Hell and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived"… And yes, many people have become especially worked up about Rob Bell's elusive construct of Hell…  But after reading the book today, I think that all of this is his intentional, subtle ploy.  I think the book is ultimately about something else… and Bell has actually caught us in his trap.

The critique of Bell's opinions about Hell have revolved around the idea that he is messing with some timeless doctrines in order to make Christianity "palatable".  (Watch Martin Bashir's impatience while pressing Bell during a CNN interview… and then imagine thousands of tweets, blogs, comments, sermons, etc all jumping on Bell for popularizing and contextualizing Christianity as "palatable"… in many cases even before the book was published.)

And yet, isn't that a curious critique?

If I've read my Bible correctly, I recall Jesus urging us –

Take and Eat.

Maybe I'm all confused.  I think "eating" is a palatable experience, is it not?  Or perhaps I have it all wrong and eating is actually supposed to produce a horrible, gagging suffication?  I'm not saying the meal is never bitter.  But neither am I saying that Communion with Jesus is supposed to make me throw up.  In fact, I believe the Christian message might just nourish me.  I think I read Jesus saying something like that somewhere… along with something about an invitation to a feast or two.

So here's what I think about Love Wins and why it is not really a book about Heaven and Hell…

I think Rob Bell's real purpose for the book is to confront American Christians with our tendency to misuse "Hell" as a motivator for conversion.  Hell as a primary motivator, Bell would say, is a prideful misemphasis of evangelism that creates a stumbling block keeping people from the love of Jesus.

At the end of it all (irony intended), Rob Bell indicates that he doesn't really care if people agree or disagree with his ideas about eternity.  And that's the subtle, if not a bit twisted, irony here.  From my reading of the book, I think Bell cares that people practice a more loving witness of the Gospel.  I really don't think the book is supposed to be much more profound than that simple idea.  (Is the material in this book controversial?  Yes.  And it is meant to be.  There is no hidden agenda.  Bell clearly wants Christians to exhibit more love and less damnation in the way they share the Gospel.) 

Though he doesn't name any group or person in his book, he questions the Westboro-Baptist types who condemn people to Hell in the name of witnessing for Christ.  Bell suggests that some Christians have assumed an arrogance of truth proclamation that misemphasizes their own permitted entrance into Heaven while virtually celebrating everyone else into Hell.  So ultimately, even more than the goal of deciphering propositional definitions of Heaven and Hell, I suspect that Bell's real concern is addressing North American Christians who are Hellbent on presenting Jesus as the key to avoiding future damnation.  Salvation through Jesus (and Bell does say it is only through Jesus- though you should read his ideas on this for yourself) is much more rich than that.  He writes:

        "I've written this book for all those, everywhere, who have heard some version of the Jesus story that caused their pulse to rise, their stomach to churn, and their heart to utter those resolute words, 'I would never be a part of that." (viii)

I've had that experience.  I know many others who have also had that experience.  Angry, Hellish Christians present in unpalatable gospel.

– Now does Bell use all the biblical passages correctly?  Many, but not all. 

– Now does he push logic too far in some paragraphs?  Yes, in some paragraphs he does.

– Now does he state things that will get people bent out of shape theologically?  Yes.  Some of things he says are traditionally unorthodox and will disturb and frustrate people.

– But does this book warrant such vehement reactions?  No.  That gives Bell far too much credit.  But, yes, I do strongly think that this book warrants compassionate dialogue. 

And here's why:

Rob Bell states that he wants what God wants: that none should perish.  This is a compelling desire.  And it is a compelling prayer.  And it is a compelling truth.  And we must agree!  And so we need to wrestle with it. 

Christians should stop championing Hell and start championing the Kingdom of Heaven.  Those are my words.  Not Bell's… though I think he would agree.

And all while Bell discusses this and as I dare enter the fray, several Christians are dropping their coats at Saul's feet, collecting their stones, and getting all fired up about Hell's Bells… or Bell's Hells…

And thus his point is proven.

North American Christians are obsessed with Hell.

And that obsession is keeping people from looking to Heaven.

It was very interesting to me that Love Wins devotes almost as much attention to Heaven as it does Hell.  Why hasn't there been a fire-and-brimstone-storm about that?  After all, Bell approaches the traditional perspectives of Heaven with the same inquisition given to his treatment of the traditional views of Hell.  I wonder, where is the debate about Heaven?  Why have so many people become so concerned about his view of Hell but neglected to speak to his concepts of Heaven?

And so this reactionary Hellgate is ironic.  In Love Wins, Bell is concerned that the Christian tradition has become a "rescue-from-Hell" message more than a "reconciliation-with-God" message.  The Good News, he says, has been largely limited to a reactionary salvation from Hell concept.  Bell would say that's a gospel of goats, not sheep (178).  So, he asks, shouldn't the Gospel actually be about our response to Jesus rather than our avoidance of Hell?  Great question.  Nothing wrong with that question at all.

Reality check: I'm certain that those who are over-eager for propositional truth and levitical systems are wondering where to throw their stones… perhaps even at me.  And even though most stone throwers might be surprised to find themselves in agreement with my rather systematic J.I. Packer-style views of Heaven and Hell, it is my willingness to dialogue on Bell's perspectives that somehow makes me a questionable follower of Jesus in the eyes of some Christians.  So even though I think Bell manipulated some Scriptures, and even though I think some of his conclusions are non-sequitor arguments, and even though I think some of his opinions are reactionary… the way I have written this post will cause some people to wonder about my pedigree of salvation.

So the debate can rage on… and it probably will.  After Bell there will be another who questions dogma and doctrine and practice and more people will come to throw grease on the fiery heretic.    Rob Bell is just another person in a long line of people who question the party line.  Just because the questions are asked doesn't mean that Christianity itself is threatened.  Think Psalms.  Think Job.  Think Ecclesiasties.  Questions, and I mean real questions, deep heart-struggle questions (e.g. Is my Grandfather in Heaven with Jesus?  What must I do to be saved?  God, how can you be all-loving and let people suffer forever in Hell?), can actually be used by the Holy Spirit to draw people to God. 

Look, let's be honest, part of the uproar over Bell right now is that he hasn't spoken in power-point language and so people struggle to aim the rocks at something concrete.  His answers seem uncrisp and narrative in style.  He appears non-committal, elusive, parabolic, and, yes, non-propositional.  And yet few are willing to admit that in this book Bell asks great questions and that he affirms the Incarnation, the Cross, the Resurrection, the exclusivity (see his definition) of Christ for salvation, the consequence of sin, as well as the reality of "Hell" (a non-propositional definition) and the reality of Heaven (an "Already/Not-Yet" Kingdom).  Bell also affirms the eventual and actual recreation of Heaven and Earth, along with the need for repentance and a high view of Scripture. 

Oh, and Bell also dares to say that the Love of Jesus will reconcile all things to God… 

Oh, man, what a heathen.  And quoting Scripture even! 

And the problem with Bell and the book is that he says things in a way that many Christians don't like…

And that's the point of the book.

Yes, such a response has proven the ultimate purpose of the book…

… That perhaps many Christians are more concerned about doctrinal debates of Hell than they are about loving their neighbor (and enemy) and sharing the Kingdom of Heaven with the world.  I think this is Bell's concern.  Bell wants Christians to start loving people into the Kingdom rather than scaring them away from it.  In actuality, Bell wants LOVE to WIN Christians over to Jesus… and then to have the Love of Jesus spill over in our world.  Now.  In this age.  And also in the age to come.

I don't agree with his view of Hell.  There I said it.  I think he has some wrong constructs of Hell.  But Rob Bell doesn't really care what my conclusion is.  And ultimately, I don't care about his.

Because whether Christians agree with the particulars of his view of Hell isn't the ultimate goal of Love Wins.  It's the fact that God so loves the world and it is the fact that how we respond to Jesus is of ultimate concern.  Does that make me a liberal?  Or does that actually make me more truly evangelical in the "Good News" sense of the label?

Here's something from the book with which I do agree: "Let's be very clear, then," Bell writes, "we do not need to be rescued from God.  God is the one who rescues us from death, sin, and destruction.  God is the rescuer." (182). 

Amen.  I can live that truth for eternity.

Ken Castor

Ken Castor is a husband, dad, pastor, writer and teacher. He serves as a professor at Crown College, Minnesota, where he equips students to pursue Jesus-Centered Faith and Next Generation Ministry. For 20+ years he's focused on equipping the next generations in places like the U.S., Canada, and Northern Ireland. He's the author of Grow Down (Simply Youth Ministry, 2014), Make a Difference (Broadstreet, 2016), the Blue-Letters Editor of the Jesus-Centered Bible (Group, 2015) and numerous other articles and Bible Study guides. But, whenever possible, he gets down on the floor and builds Lego with his kids. Connect with him @kencastor.

27 thoughts on “Love Wins isn’t really about Hell…

  1. Thanks for your time and input in this, Glen. I value the effort you’ve put into this dialogue. Thank you! You have some points here that I’ll certainly give further thought too. You might find interesting a couple hours of Q&A online (eg YouTube) with Bell concerning this book (some from his church after a message and some interviews). In these interviews he tackles some of same the comments you have made– occasionally with proposition-directness and occasionally with narrative-whimsy.

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  2. Ken,
    I just finished the book last night, a few comments…
    1. I think you’re right about Bell wanting us to look at the “good news” in a different light, focusing more on the positive aspects (reconciliation) vs. the negative (Hell) ones.
    2. I found the book difficult to read in that he has this “cute” (and I’m using this term sarcastically) way of speaking and writing that doesn’t really get to the point. Why is that? Personally, I think it’s so he can be whomever he wants in whatever situation he’s in.
    3. Though he makes some interesting points in the book, his overall premise is not only flawed, it’s unbiblical, and ultimately it’s heretical. Effectively he says that if God is really in control, if God is ultimately going to be victorious, then everyone must eventually end up in Heaven. If that’s true, then why the personal connection in all of the Gospels and all of Jesus writings for us to accept His sacrifice? If Jesus generically died for all, thus all will be in Heaven – why does Paul focus so much on personal accountability for our relationship with Christ?
    Also, he suggests multiple paths to Heaven – and that traditional, orthodox (I think he views this word as a four-letter one) Christianity does not have the “upper hand” when it comes to salvation…why then is the Church called the Bride of Christ?
    Overall, I found the book to be very dangerous. He is a compelling, articulate, gifted man…unfortunately, I think his calling is to slam the “traditional” church so those who have been burned by it and some false teachings (Westboro Baptist for instance) will have somewhere to go.
    Disturbing…

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  3. Interesting. He is a compelling speaker but when I was asked by a friend to view one of his videos as they were using them in their ministry my immediate thought was that he was a false teacher. I had a college teacher who, like Rob Bell, challenged our thinking. We believed but why. But he led us back to the path of orthodoxy and did not leave us wallowing in our questions. I did not see that in Rob Bell. My daughter is 12. She will grow up in a world where everything is challenged and nothing is sure. She is not being taught NA Christianity but she is being taught the faith that has withstood the assaults of the ages. Last night I was listening to Sinclair Ferguson on the book of Jude. What a comfort. So like Jude I can say:
    To him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you before his glorious presence without fault and with great joy— to the only God our Savior be glory, majesty, power and authority, through Jesus Christ our Lord, before all ages, now and forevermore! Amen

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  4. Yep. Not so much in recent years… but, yes, several years ago as discussion tools for youth and for small groups (from 2004-2006 especially). The Nooma videos helped many people I knew to deeply consider real relationship with Jesus… as well as a fresh love for Scripture and for the church. I enjoyed Bell’s books _Velvet Elvis_ and _Sex God_. And the passion from Mars Hill’s “Isn’t She Beautiful” conference really impacted me too– a renewed appreciation, instead of a bashing, of the church as the bride of Christ.

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  5. Really really solid thoughts, Lonnie. Thank you for being a voice for compassionate clarity in the middle of confusion and chaos. I’m encouraged to do the same. Blessings my friend!

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  6. Hey Ken, I think I’ve decided I do want to read the book. I was watching Rob’s Love Wins trailer again and something struck me: the tone of Rob’s voice and the phrasing of his questions made me think of Genesis 3; “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?”.
    Rob Bell asks a lot of questions, but does he provide truth in answer to those questions? As we see in Genesis 3, and as I’ve experienced myself, when mankind is confronted with a question, we look for an answer. By our own nature, that answer generally serves our own desires, not necessarily and often not the truth.
    With all the “conversation” and “dialog” surrounding Love Wins, there seems to me to be a gross lack of anything concrete being presented. There are many reviews, many critiques, many defenses, and many praises of Rob’s words; but in the conversation, there is an atmosphere of confusion an chaos.
    The truth, God’s truth does not confuse, it does not create chaos. The truth reveals, exposes, and enlightens. Thus far, those have not been the results Love Wins.

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  7. And Glen… that long reply of mine is more about me than about your comment, by the way. I’m thinking a bit too much about all this stuff! 🙂 — As to your #2: Absolutely. And this principle goes for me and all other bearers of the cross. Amen. Good word my friend.

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  8. Hey Glen, thanks for the comment. I think your concerns are really valid. And I hope you’ve read in my comments a similar concern that the Gospel is preached. You are a great old friend of mine, so if it’s alright, I’ll use your comment to provide a bit more insight into where I’m coming from.
    You know, I’ve tried to be really careful to state that I disagree with not only some of Bell’s conclusions but also with some of his flippancy in all this. I’ve also been careful to state that I disagree just as much with some of the responses against him that have misrepresented the witness of Jesus.
    As for the interview… I suspect he got sideswiped by Bashir a bit. I suspect that CNN enticed him to do the interview to communicate his message and then Bell discovered while on air that Bashir had a different goal. This is speculation on my part… but it’s a regular journalist tactic… and as a result Bell really never got to finish saying what he was in the process of saying. I’m not defending Bell… I’m questioning the fairness of Bashir’s approach. But I think many people have been cheering Bashir’s bashing of Bell because we Christians love it when judgment wins. (That last line is a play on words and yes it is a bit overstated to get my point across.)
    The interview made me sad on many levels: 1) for the reason you state, 2) because Bashir fueled the debate rather than dialogued with it, 3) especially because it was a public forum outside the realms of the Christian faith… meaning that many non-Christians just saw another example of one Christian beating up another… and this time (as it often is) it was the propositional guy beating up the “nice pastor”, 4) which makes the propositional guy look worse than he already does in the minds of the un/non/anti-churched society even while many Christians claim victory. The victory of the interview, if it is one at all, is a very sad one to me… and may simply serve to ignite the divide further down the road with people already stinging from bad, judgmental church experiences.
    One of the big tensions in all this debate is that many people are approaching it as a propositional debate while Bell is approaching it as a narrative debate. These are two forms of communication that don’t always converse well together. Bashir was propositional, Bell was narrative. With propositional questions framing the argument, the narrative conversation won’t be heard and therefore it won’t make sense and therefore it can’t actually be addressed. (I think this was the problem with Carson’s book _Becoming Conversant with the Emerging Church_ many years ago– Carson may have been propositionally correct, but the book didn’t do anything constructive to actually help people become conversant with the Emerging Church movement. The title wasn’t even correctly portraying the difference between emerging and Emergent. If anything, the book promoted further ostracism/division instead of dialogue… even if the doctrine was true… the behavior of the book was not true.) The narrative conversation takes patience and listening… and doesn’t answer the propositional questions immediately or even directly… I suppose I’m asking conservative Christians to be the bigger person in all this and to approach the debate with loving dialogue… because the world is watching.
    Is one way of communicating more biblical than the other? No. Both proposition and narrative are used in Scripture. Both command and parable. Both noun and verb. I think that’s why I’ve been approaching this debate the way I have. I truly believe that there is a blending of proposition and narrative that can lead us to both right doctrine and right behavior. At times, doctrine will have to be emphasized… and at times, behavior will have to be emphasized… but all of it for the glory of God and for the sake of the world.
    Having said all this, the book is surprisingly propositional… but in a narrative sort of way. Kind of unsettling, huh.

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  9. Ken,
    Thanks for your post…I would like to read the book to be better informed, but I’ve got two concerns, and they both come from his interview:
    1. He had ample opportunity to give clear testimony to the SIMPLE message of the Gospel – and he blew it.
    2. It seems to all be about Rob Bell. As a preacher, his main responsibility is to get out of the way and allow the Holy Spirit to work – seems to me like he’s missing that.
    Glen

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  10. Thanks Brandon. Yes, this is true. I intentionally posted a blog about Jesus the Judge just before this one because I want to make sure to keep Love and Justice together.

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  11. Thanks Rob for your well-thought reply. I also really appreciate your tone in dealing with such difficult subject matter. Thank you. And you raise some very profound comments. I am sure I’ve overstated some hyperbole to make some points and you’ve called me on that. Thanks.
    Let me listen to your comments, just for a moment, through the lens of Rob Bell (as much as I’m able that is— again not because I agree with him but because this is the source of our discussion). Bell says in the book that judgment must be preached. It’s interesting that Bell makes a big deal of judgment and sin in his book actually. No one who is clinging on to sin can be in Heaven, he says. A person must go through the saving work of Christ, he says. Everyone stands condemned already because of sin. He is, I thought at least, surprisingly clear about all this.
    It’s also interesting that Bell tackles this topic and suggests that Hell is all too real (even if he gives it an overhaul)… and he uses Scripture as his authority in this (rightly or wrongly). So, he suggests, we have to talk about it and we definitely need to talk about the consequence of sin and destruction. So Bell doesn’t wash over wrath and judgment… and he doesn’t avoid it.
    Perhaps the tension comes in this:
    1. Bell questions some orthodox tenants… and offers some alternative understandings of some tenants… And I think he does this intentionally as a subtle method to rebuke some N.American “evangelical” Christians.
    2. Bell’s rebuke is pointed towards Christian leaders… whose spiritual practices he likens to the abusive power of the Pharisees. (Who knows, I might traditionally fit into the camp that Bell is labeling and rebuking.)
    3. As a result, he is being lambasted by many Christians for this… as well as for his theological conclusions.
    4. As a result, people are worked up and entrenching their beliefs on “both sides” — though there are probably many more sides than just two.
    My fear in all this… and in this I think Bell was sloppy… is that people will once more have a reason to be turned off to the Christian faith. I hold Bell, Piper, Taylor, others and myself for any part we’ve played in presenting Jesus in anything but a awe-inspiring light.
    I really appreciate your heart and ministry and pray for it to continue. Blessings, Rob.

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  12. Isn’t of the revelations of God in Scripture that he is both the judge and the rescuer? Why do we need to focus on only one. If there is no wrath of God against sin, what do we need to be rescued from? I liked the post, it was very fair. I don’t want to give Rob too much credit either, but the beauty of the cross is that God rescued us from himself, it was the wrath of God Jesus was sweating over in Gethsemane.

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  13. Ken:
    I wrote a VERY long comment with lots of scripture references/quotes and right before posting, internet explorer had a problem and refreshed the page. I don’t have time to rewrite all of it . . . That said, I’ll note in brief that hell/punishment/wrath is a very prominent part of the Bible in general and of the New Testament in specific. See:
    II Peter 2; Luke 16; Mark 9; Matthew 10; Matthew 5; Matthew 25; Romans 11, Romans 2:5; Romans 1:18; Colossians 3:6; John 3:36; Ephesians 5:6; I could likely go on another 20 or 30 references.
    I note that John 3:36 has the wrath of God ABIDING on the sinner – at all times. And God is angry with the wicked (sinners) every day – Psalm 7:11.
    Shouldn’t the sinner be made aware of these facts?
    I agree that God’s goodness should be preached – it IS, after all, the goodness of God that draws men to repentance. Romans 2:4. However, we are to behold the goodness and the severity of God – Romans 11:22 – and He is severe to those who disobey – and even those who have once been obedient and do not abide in His goodness will be cut off.
    I note, also, that Romans 2:4 is IMMEDIATELY followed up with warnings of sinners storing up wrath and judgment.
    Thus, while some churches go to one extreme (little to no preaching of God’s goodness) and some go to the other (little to no preaching of God’s severity), both need to be preached. And I’d note that in my experience, most churches I’ve visited preach almost NONE of God’s severity (my regular church covers it with some regularity). It’s usually all happy teaching with little to no reproof or rebuke. That’s because, while reproofs of instruction are the way of life, most people won’t receive reproof. Thus, my church has remained relatively small – because .
    You ought to automatically be suspicious of the sincerity of leaders of mega churches. It is written in Luke 16:15 ” for that which is highly esteemed among men is abomination in the sight of God.”
    That’s not to say that a preacher can’t have a lot of followers. But large crowds tend to mean a lack of reproof and/or a softening of the message. Jesus Christ had 12 disciples and a bunch of people who followed Him around out of curiosity or looking for food, miracles, etc. . . some of those people were sincere believers and many were not or did not stick in the long run. Even the 12 disciples didn’t stick under the pressure of the crucifixion and they were not willing to go to the death until after they were filled with the Holy Spirit.
    The prophets of the OT were, more often than not, not popular people – they were persecuted because they spoke against evil. Paul was persecuted to no end. He established and led a lot of churches, but he reproved them with some regularity.
    I don’t know the answer to this, but has Rob Bell EVER said ANYTHING that would make people want to stone him to death? Jesus Christ called the religious leaders hypocrites, snakes and vipers to their face. Do you think Rob Bell would say that to the Pope? I doubt it.
    My pastor, on the other hand, has been physically assaulted on two occasions for preaching the gospel here in SE Ohio. Based on the scriptural statements that Christians – especially leaders – will suffer persecution – would you suppose that Bell or my pastor is the more zealous preacher?
    For that matter, do you think that preaching from Bell’s book would ever cause you to get persecuted?
    From what I have seen of Bell (I’ve read interviews, haven’t read the book and don’t intend to), he’s twisting scripture. You imply that in your post – “Now does Bell use all the biblical passages correctly? Many, but not all.” If, indeed, he’s twisting scripture, that’s a BAD thing. 2 Peter 3:16; Galatians 1:7. I note that in the interviews of Bell I’ve read, he makes little reference to scripture and speaks his opinion A LOT.
    We are to emulate Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ often said, “It is written” followed by a quotation from the Words of God. That is calling upon authority. Rob Bell’s opinion is NOT authority. I couldn’t care less what Bell’s opinion is. What does the Word of God say?
    God desires that NONE should perish. Absolutely. The fact remains that few will be saved because most people are so evil that they refuse God’s goodness.
    Rob Bright

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  14. My judgmental past changed in 1971 when I was asked ” Do you think alcoholics
    go to Heaven?”
    Without hesitancy I answered “Yes!”
    I was told “That’s the wrong answer”.
    I responded “Do you think alcoholics go to Heaven?”
    He said “The right answer is “I hope so.”
    That brief exchange changed my life.

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  15. Hi Jason, Thanks for your encouragement. Your words are very gracious and kind. I’m not sure I’ve modeled humility and gentleness as well as I should have… I can be a bit sarcastic at times. I have made so many mistakes in my attitude regarding this issue and others like it over the years. Thanks again.

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  16. Ken,
    I really appreciate your willingness to work through the questions, dialogue about the tough stuff and do it in a gracious and kind manner. Thank you.
    -J

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  17. Hi Tim. Thanks for your comment. I like your emphasis on the atonement through the cross AND the response of a humble walk of faith in Jesus. You’d probably find it interesting that Bell spends a good amount of time talking about the fire of Heaven… how Heaven is a place where all of our sin is burned away, so to speak. Heaven is not for sinners… and so there is a built in fear/awe/respect/love for God that stems from that.

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  18. I like what you say here, Lonnie. Well thought. Thank you for the time it took to write this comment. It’s interesting to me that Bell’s book is really more about Heaven than it is about Hell… and his presentation of Heaven is very interesting. I’d love to hear your comments about the book if you were to read through it. You have a good mind!

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  19. Ken, I have not read this book, but I have a few comments. I know that the wages of sin is death. I know that I am cmmanded to continue to work out my salvation with fear and trembling. Yes, god is love, but he is also to be feared. I guess it doesn’t really matter what my view of he’ll is as long as I realize that I am a sinner and God cannot tolerate sin. If I place my faith in the atonement of the cross of Christ and walk humbly with my LORD through life, then I will live with him in eternity.

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  20. Ken, thank you for this review. No having read the book for myself, I have been hesitant to comment. I do, however, have a concern with some of the dialogue surrounding “Love Wins”–actually it goes beyond that. In reading Dr. Richard Mouw’s post, “The Orthodoxy of Rob Bell”, I was struck by the quote from Newsweek’s “Pilgrim’s Progress” article on an interview with Billy Graham.
    The quote: “When asked whether he believes heaven will be closed to good Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus or secular people, though, Graham says: “Those are decisions only the Lord will make.”
    Now, I believe Billy Graham’s statement is absolutely true. What bothers me about it, is the implication that might be drawn from it. When we read Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, secular society, do we associate ethnicity, culture, or religion.
    God requires righteousness, and the presence of sin is the absence of righteousness. Reflecting on Paul’s letter to the Romans, it’s clear that:
    1. no one is righteous (Romans 3:10), all have sinned (Romans 3:23)
    2. the consequence of sin is death (Romans 6:23),
    3. God left sin unpunished (Romans 3:25b) until Jesus bore all mankind’s sin (1 Peter 2:24), becoming the atoning sacrifice for those sins through the shedding of His blood (Romans 3:25a)
    4. Jesus sacrifice is to be received by faith (Romans 3:25), and righteousness is given through that faith (Romans 3:22)
    Now, in order to receive the sacrifice of atonement that God presented through His Son, we, mankind, must acknowledge the necessity of that sacrifice. This is not simply acknowledgement of our sin, for sin itself does not expose our need. Our need is exposed by God’s righteousness, and His law, which demands a consequence for our sin. That consequence is death. Revelation 20 speaks about this death. Apart from the consequence, there is no need. Apart from recognizing the consequence, there is then no recognition of the need, and therefore no acknowledgment of the necessity of Jesus’ sacrifice.
    Now, with the understanding that the noted cultures and/or religions do not acknowledge the sacrifice of Jesus, or simply do not recognize the necessity of that sacrifice, if a person is truly of one of those cultures or religions, according to Scripture, heaven will be closed to them. While it is certainly God’s decision to whom heaven will be closed or open, His criteria has been clearly stated. I think Billy Graham’s response to the question might lead people to believe otherwise.
    Now, Ken, with that as background, let me get back to “Love Wins”, and your review. I agree with you that too often, Christian society has used hell as a club to beat people with. However, without the contrast of “Hell”, the concept of Heaven often holds little meaning for many people, myself included. Reconciliation with God holds little meaning if I’m not attracted to Heaven because I simply don’t feel the need for it. Perhaps this is most prominent in Western society, but Heaven often doesn’t really seem all that important or interesting, because we’re all wrapped up in our own lives and what we want here and now.
    This is why I would consider Rob Bell’s approach (or at least my impression of his approach) to be negligent. As a rather typical human being, I’d like nothing better than to enjoy the knowledge of Jesus’ love for me and look forward to life in Heaven some day, with less focus on all that other stuff like sin and consequences. Quite frankly, I don’t like to think about my shortcomings, my failures, and my need for improvement. The point is, though, that I do need Jesus’ sacrifice. It is in light of my desperate need of Him that I want to respond whole-heartedly, and without the appropriate response my need will not be fully met.
    If Rob Bell asks, “shouldn’t the Gospel actually be about our response to Jesus, rather than our avoidance of Hell?”, then I would counter with this: Why should I respond to Jesus? Ok, so He died for me, but why is that significant? I’m doing fine on my own, I didn’t ask Him to do that. What’s so bad that He would die to save me from?

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  21. Wow Ken this is awesome, I saw a news article and video about people claiming Rob was a heretic. I think it’s true that a lot of Christians can become so over-consumed by doctrinal arguments that they miss out on the true point of being a Christian – following Jesus. How silly

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