Chris's Reviews > Love Wins: A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived

Love Wins by Rob Bell
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's review
Apr 27, 2011

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Read in April, 2011

My verdict: I truly believe Rob Bell is one of the good guys. I really do. Yeah, I know, people are perturbed because he came up right under their noses and said stuff they didn’t expect him to say. They stocked all his videos in their church library, and read him in Sunday School. I was never a Rob Bell fan myself, never read any of his stuff or drank his Kool-Aid before this new book, so I’m trying to understand people’s hostility toward him. It’s not just that he’s controversial. I’m controversial and I’m not on the front cover of Time. Though I should be…I should be. I guess it’s that they trusted him, and they feel he turned on them. I can see how some people feel that way. He was a bad puppet. Bad!

I also think, for some, this book pushed right past the edge of 'safe' and recognizable theology. Now, to be fair, I have to admit that there is always the risk of progressive questioning and creative ideation in any sphere of thought becoming dissolute and far too abstract for anyone’s good. Thinking lames and action narrows. However, I don’t think this book comes anywhere close to pushing the envelope that far, at least not for me. Sure, Bell contests some traditions of literal Scripture interpretation, but who doesn’t? Does anyone really believe that Heaven has streets of gold, gates of pearl, and walls of Jasper? If we take the dimensions of heaven as delineated in Revelation to be literal, then Heaven is a 1500 mile square, with walls 1500 miles high, and only enough space to spread out in roughly as large as New Hampshire. With that in mind, does anyone really believe Hell is real fire? Or is anyone really comfortable with the thought of Hell being God’s own special torture chamber where the screams of damned float up to Heaven like incense to be a pleasing aroma for the eternal happiness (and eternal forgetfulness apparently) of the righteous?

Uh oh…I’m pulling a Rob Bell with my punctuated questioning. I guess there are people who believe those things literally, whether consciously or unconsciously. (Sidebar: why do people want to start talking symbolic about heaven to save it from the realm of fantasy for God’s good kids, but they viciously fight and condemn each other to protect the literalness of an eternity of tortuous hell-fire for God’s bad kids?) I absolutely believe the mind needs concrete symbols for faith, something to hang our hope on, but like one philosopher suggests, we need to be careful that our theology, or our philosophy for that matter, remains translucent enough so that we can see beyond the symbols themselves. Translucent theology can be linguistically substantial, but it ought not “block the very light it’s supposed to convey”.

We need to be asking ourselves, what role does our ‘hell’ play in our theology? We shouldn’t be blindly and unconsciously submissive to the beliefs imposed upon us by our community, but we should be fully aware of the influences of our convictions on our conduct. We DO have a choice in what we believe, and what’s more, we have a responsibility to shape our own beliefs. I know….blasphemy, right? Add it to the list. Bell stated that “we shape our God, and then our God shapes us”. Very similar to another author who wrote, “He who loves his god, chastens his god.” We are not the worms between God’s toes, nor are we blind beasts of burden. If the book of Genesis is to be believed, then the creative spark of the imago dei is within us (yeah, I’m fluent in Latin..what’s up), and we need to carefully construct a system of belief and action that gives us consistent, salutary results. God doesn’t want robots, he wants slaves. Wait. In the words of the great Wonka, “Strike that, reverse it.” No, he doesn’t want mindless creatures good only to be ‘taught to dance by scanty fare and blows’. God wants us thinking and filtering and assiduously creating an understanding of our world—and a world beyond the present world—that is firm enough to act upon, but flexible enough to grow with every new experience. We gather external data, but the end result is our own. We are ‘working out our own salvation with fear and trembling’.

Hell? EVERY system of belief—religion or science—has one whether explicit or subliminal. It’s the bad place where bad stuff goes. I’m not sure what Bell’s new metaphysical Hell is, but we can be sure he’s identified the Hell in this life…the one that is the place of physical/emotional suffering and loneliness. Bell stated in an interview that he is not a Universalist per se, but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t find Universalist ideas attractive. It appears that he does. He’s certainly not iconoclastic in his book, but he breaks open an oft-petrified Christian Orthodoxy (red herring?) and says in effect, “You have a choice here. You don’t HAVE to believe anything. What you believe is your choice. I just said that. Is this what you want to commit to?” He even opens up enough Biblical avenues for a fundamentalist to see that they won’t be burned alive for eternity because they asked questions. He gives us a birds-eye view of our funny little ideas, and reminds us that God, life, the after-life, and even we ourselves, are all bigger than our ideas after all.
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Comments (showing 1-3 of 3) (3 new)

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message 1: by Jen (new) - rated it 3 stars

Jen Shank In my world you ARE on the cover of Time. Good review.

message 2: by Megan (new)

Megan I saw all the controversy this book was generating on the news and not necessarily interested in delving in. I figured it was another quirky theologian pushing his belief system on an unsuspecting public. Shame on me for that thought. Because of what you wrote Chris I am now interested in reading this "radical" piece of writing. You should be a book reviewer. The points you highlight make it sound far more interesting than what I heard on t.v.

Chris Megan wrote: "I saw all the controversy this book was generating on the news and not necessarily interested in delving in. I figured it was another quirky theologian pushing his belief system on an unsuspecting ..."

Thanks Megan. Glad you found that helpful. Be prepared, Bell's writing style can be grating for some people at first with a lot of one-liner questions, and plenty of space between short paragraphs especially at the beginning. It gets better though, and you'll discover later that Bell's intention, as I understand it, was to make the book an easy read with his main points jumping out at you. You can definitely catch his artistic leanings, and I think his creative theology--his courageous imagination to believe in a bigger, more capable, more loving God--is the most attractive part of his whole message.

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