David Gregg'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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bookshelves: nonfiction, philosophy-theology-spirituality, reviewed

I am pleasantly surprised at how much I enjoyed "Love Wins". I've never been a Rob Bell fan, having started (but never finished) "Velvet Elvis" and "Sex God", but this book is worth picking up and wrestling with. For that reason — the value of wrestling with its topics — it will stand as one of the more important popular books of the decade. It isn't very deep. It isn't very broad. But it asks excellent questions and it has reached a large audience with those questions.

After having just read C.S. Lewis' "The Great Divorce" for the second time, I began Rob Bell's "Love Wins". The similarities are apparent. It's quite clear that Lewis' perspective on the subject of Hell has influenced Rob. I don't think that Bell's views of the Afterlife are identical to those of Lewis, but he's certainly not less orthodox in this area than Lewis.

One thing that struck me a little less than half-way through: "Love Wins" quotes from Scripture a lot — much more than the average Christian book, I would say. Significantly, Bell doesn't spend a lot of time trying to take verses that seem on the surface to contradict his points and show how they really don't contradict his points. Instead, he spends most of his time quoting Scripture in showing how frequently and in how strong language the Bible at least seems to indicate that eventually "all shall be well". This is significant because it's apparent that his purpose with this book is to get us to dialog about Heaven and Hell — about the tension between how we often view world history (in common Christian belief), as a tragedy, while the Bible frequently takes wing in the grandest and most poetic of all its superlatives, in the telling of a different story. The Bible does say powerful things like:
"As in Adam all die, so in Christ all shall be made alive." (1 Corinthians 15)
"All the ends of the earth will remember and turn to the LORD, and all the families of the nations will bow down before him, for dominion belongs to the LORD and he rules over the nations. All the rich of the earth will feast and worship; all who go down to the dust will kneel before him — those who cannot keep themselves alive. Posterity will serve him; future generations will be told about the Lord." (Psalm 22)
"Love is patient... it always protects... always hopes... Love never fails." (1 Corinthians 13)
"Having made known unto us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure, which he hath purposed in himself, that in the dispensation of the fulness of times, he might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven, and which are on earth, even in him." (Ephesians 1)
"At the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father." (Philippians 2)
"For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross." (Colossians 1)
"But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels, for the suffering of death, crowned with glory and honor; that he, by the grace of God, should taste death for every man." (Hebrews 2)
"Behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people." (Luke 2)
"For he must remain in heaven until the time for the final restoration of all things, as God promised long ago through his holy prophets." (Acts 3)
"He will swallow up death in victory; and the Lord GOD will wipe away tears from off all faces." (Isaiah 25)
"I will not contend forever, neither will I be always wroth; for the spirit should fail before men, and the souls which I have made." (Isaiah 57:16)
"The LORD is merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and plenteous in mercy. He will not always chide: neither will he keep his anger for ever." (Psalm 103)
"For I will not fight against you forever; I will not always be angry. If I were, all people would pass away — all the souls I have made."
"His mercy endureth forever." (Psalm 136)
Those verses sound pretty all-encompassing. And the list just goes on and on, in both Testaments. We need to talk about this. There are passages in the Bible that sound just as strongly certain of the ultimate reconciliation of all people as other passages do of the ultimate condemnation of some people. Scripture contains many forceful words on both 'sides'.

Who are we to dismiss either emphasis out of hand? Who are we to balk at such a serious issue? Not one drop of ink was spilled by the Bible's own authors to attenuate the clear strength of such phrases as "the final restoration of all things." A lot of us would feel compelled to pause our reading right there to clarify to an audience, "Of course, he doesn't mean 'the final restoration of all things." But Paul never corrects himself or bothers to lessen the force of his words, and James, who is often seen as Paul's critic in Scripture, doesn't correct him either. They leave the strength of the phrase hanging in the air.

So, how should we take such a difficulty? Do we try to write it off, saying, as many have, "Well, 'all,' of course, doesn't really mean 'all.'"? No. Besides, the same kind of flippant response could be used against the word 'eternal' in passages which speak of 'eternal hades' — and with surer linguistic support (we knew this about the word 'eternal' even in my diehard hellfire fundamentalist seminary: we just didn't like to talk about it much). But I don't think it's very helpful or healthy to approach the apparent paradox in this way at all.

What we should do: Accept that the Bible leaves many questions unresolved, and at least sometimes on purpose. Accept that the Bible forces us to trust God for the truth; it isn't here to spoon-feed us. Paradoxes aren't contradictions. They are truths we don't know how to reconcile. And we little fools have to learn to be okay with that. If an Infinite Being exists, then truth expands to infinity and that amount of truth which must forever be unknowable to any finite being is infinite! That is, there will always, always, always be for us far more mystery in the truth than certainty. We will always have gaps of infinite size in our knowledge. Don't you think it's time we admitted it? Our certainty must reside precisely in a Person, not in a knowledge of a fact — unless we are just another sort of Gnostic.

What the Bible tells us without question:
1) It's big trouble if we don't trust and obey God.
2) It's a big salvation which God has in store.

You want more detail than that? What for? I fear that we drive ourselves toward intellectual certainties in order to put off real, concrete behavioral changes in our lives.

Trust Christ and obey Him, and suffering will turn at last to joy. That's it. Some way or other, however God does it, whenever God does it, whoever it includes, love wins. Goodness wins. God wins. Whatever that means, it is the best possible of all outcomes, because it is the outcome the perfect God will have orchestrated. If we trust Him, then it will be enough.

That, I think, is the point of "Love Wins".

But if we merely assume that what we have been told as true is indeed true, then we merely perpetuate the very root problem that got us to the point where God allowed (at least) or encouraged (at most) a Reformation in the first place. The pursuit of truth requires a willingness to accept that which we do not already accept (this is the cornerstone of learning), and a willingness to accept that many things we do not know, and will never know, are also true.
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Reading Progress

March 7, 2011 – Shelved
March 23, 2011 – Started Reading
March 28, 2011 –
page 240
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March 28, 2011 – Finished Reading

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David Gregg It fascinates me that there are already three ratings for a book that hasn't been published yet. Unless you have read an early review copy or a draft, please refrain from rating books. We all know of books on subject matters with which we disagree, but it's dishonest to rate a book we haven't read. The presumption of ratings on a book review site is that the people rating have actually read the material in question. Just because we think we would disagree with the content (if we were to read it) does not make this ethical practice. At the very least, tell us why you think you disagree (or agree) with the presumed contents of the book you haven't read.


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