In his new book Love Wins: A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived Rob Bell sets out to tackle the big issues of eternal life. I got the book after no small controversy erupted surrounding this promotional video and blurb from his publisher . Is he a universalist or not?
First, let me start by saying that there are so many things wrong with the theology of this book that it’s impossible to write a brief review addressing them all. If you’re interested in a more thorough review you can download Kevin DeYoung’s 20 page review (yes, that says 20 pages!).
So let me just give you 3 major problems I saw…
1. A Lack of Clarity:
Bell is known for this. He likes to ask questions. A lot of questions then give wishy-washy answers that leave people more confused. In many places, you have to dig deep and read between the lines to find out what what he believes.
If Bell is proclaiming the gospel (he says he is), he needs to give biblical answers to such weighty questions regarding heaven, hell, eternity, salvation, etc.
Which leads me to the second problem…
2. A Devastating Misuse of Scripture:
If you ask Bell if he is a Universalist he will say ‘no’, as he did in this interview with Martin Bashir of MSNBC. But he uses several passages of scripture in an attempt to show that all people will ultimately be reconciled to God (Phil 2, Ps 65, various passages from Isaiah).
The writers of the Bible have a lot to say about this love:
In Psalm 65 it is written that “all people will come” to God.
In Ezekiel 36 God says, “The nations will know that I am the LORD.
The Prophet Isaiah says, “All the ends of the earth will see the salvation of our God.” (Chapter 52)
Zepheniah quotes God as saying, “Then I will purify the lips of the peoples, that all of them may call on the name of the LORD and serve him shoulder to shoulder” (chapter 3).
And Paul writes in Philippians 2, “Every knee should bow… and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is LORD, to the glory of God the Father.”
All people. The nations. Every person, every knee, every tongue.
A plain reading of these passages in context shows us that God is not saying every single soul will be reconciled to God. But instead referring to the blessings of his covenant people Israel, the spread of the gospel to all nations, and lastly the fact that a day will come when all people will acknowledge that Christ is Lord (Phil 2), but this does not refer to a saving faith.
His bad interpretation also allows him to completely throw out the idea of a literal hell. Bell excuses Gehenna and Hades as words that have been misinterpreted to incorrectly refer to eternal punishment. Instead of a place where the unrepentant receive eternal due punishment for sins, it’s here and now. Hell is when we disobey God and undergo a period of pruning’ (91). In other words, Hell is what we get if we want it as well as a temporary place where God disciplines, but in the end, love wins.
God’s intent is not to confuse us with His word. While there are deep truths in scripture, it is an important rule of biblical interpretation to consider the plain reading of the text. Study passages like Matthew 25, Luke 16:19-31, and 18:18. Is the concept of eternal life real? Absolutely.
3. The Destruction of The Gospel
Bell takes sin lightly. It may not seem that way with all of his references to the personal pain that sin has caused to individuals (Chapter 3). While he is correct in pointing out sin’s heinous affect on individuals he fails to point out that sin, most of all, offends a holy God.
Without a proper understanding of man’s sin in light of the holiness of God one cannot properly understand the gospel. Bell doesn’t address passages like Isaiah 6 where the prophet pronounces woe (destruction) upon himself after realizing his sin before Holy God. He doesn’t address God’s consuming of Nadab and Abihu with fire because of their unauthorized priestly practices. Or what about God killing Uzzah for touching the Ark of the Covenant in 2 Samuel 6?
Scripture clearly teaches that our sinfulness deserves the wrath of God. Paul tells us that we were by nature children of wrath (Eph 2:3). The good news of the gospel is that it saves us from the deserved wrath of God. Bell thinks otherwise:
Many have heard the gospel framed in terms of rescue. God has to punish sinners, because God is holy, but Jesus has paid the price for our sin, and so we can have eternal life. However true or untrue that is technically or theologically, what it can do is subtly teach people that Jesus rescues us form God.
Let’s be very clear, then, 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)
With this Bell rejects the substitutionary death of Christ- a fundamental truth of the Gospel. Yes, God rescues us from sin. But He also rescues us from that wrath of God that awaits us because of our sin (Rom 1:18,2:1). This is the punishment that Christ bore on the cross from God. Yet it was the will of the LORD to crush him… (Is 53:10)
According to Bell, the death of Christ on the cross was more of a doing away with the Old Testament sacrificial system and less a payment of sin deserving death (125). But 1 John 4:10 says, In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Propitiation (Gk. hilasmos) refers to Christ’s sacrifice that bore the wrath of God for us (Rom 3:25, 2 Cor 5:21)
In short, there’s no eternal punishment, no justification by faith, no holy God who deals with sin. We all just need to live in the love that God has already been pouring out for all people, a love that will eventually melt every single heart of every single individual and save them. God is love but he’s not holy. He’s merciful but he’s not just.
This is not the gospel.
This is classic theological liberalism that seeks to make God and His word more accessible to the masses. The truth is that eternal punishment is real and we all deserve it because of our sin. Eternal life with God is a gift of God by grace alone, through faith in Christ alone (Eph 2:1-10, Rom 6:20-23, Rev 14:10-11, 2 Thess 1:6-9).
The truth is, I wish this book had never been written. But it has, and so my hope and prayer is that Love Wins will force Christians to study the scriptures on these issues and contend for the faith against such false teaching, helping the many who will be confused by this book see the true light of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
-Hell: Remembering The Awful Reality| 9 Marks e-Journal
-Panel Discussion on Love Wins: Moderated by Al Mohler
–We Have Seen This All Before: The (re)Emergence of Liberal Theology by Al Mohler
-To Hell With Hell? by Mark Driscoll
-A chronology of the whole controversy provided by Resurgence