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Review: Love Wins: A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived by Rob Bell

Love Wins: A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever LivedLove Wins: A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived by Rob Bell

My rating: 1 of 5 stars

Bell presents a universally appealing version of Christianity stripped of its offensive qualities. He interprets the Bible to say what we as humans want to hear: love, tolerance, and fairness (as we see them). He makes a few good points about how Christians shouldn’t focus so heavily on the afterlife that we ignore the lives we lead and the people we affect. Overall, I found Bell’s Christianity to be a politically correct fantasy, not a religion grounded in the Bible and Jesus’ true message. The book is short; his explanations are shallow and the verses he uses to defend his views are rarely presented in context. I’ll leave others to write lengthy refutations of Bell’s theology, and I’ll just hit a few points here.

I admit that by nature, I wish the Bible and Christianity really were as inoffensive as Bell teaches. I’m generally non-confrontational, so a faith that’s all smiles is tempting. But the truth is that God isn’t worried about offending humans, and the Bible contains His message of both salvation and judgment. Yes, it may leave a bitter taste in our mouths, but that’s because it’s beyond our sinful, mortal ability to understand. God exists on a plane of consciousness so much higher than our own that we can’t possibly apply our rules of happiness and fairness to His perfect plan and expect them to function properly.

I wasn’t clear on Bell’s interpretation of Heaven. At one point, he summarizes it as “now, somewhere else; here, sometime else; and here and now”. Here’s what I gather: the “now, somewhere else” is a place souls go when they die, but it’s very similar to our current lives and habits. The “here, sometime else” is simply a continuation of the current creation, redeemed and perfected by Christians, achieved through political and social means and the eradication of suffering. This doesn’t seem to fit with the destruction of the universe and its recreation in Revelation 21. The “here and now” is the state of living in harmony with God.

Bell reinvents Heaven to fit human desires; he says everyone’s friends and family will be there and we’ll continue to pursue our hobbies. Bell doesn’t have room for anything God may have prepared for His people; it’s all about what humans want. Nevermind that what we want in our earthly lives is usually twisted by sin, and that the Bible teaches that we’ll be purified in body and soul when we arrive in Heaven, so our desires will be entirely different.

Bell does make a good point that the people most concerned with Heaven in the future are usually the least concerned with doing good now. Shamefully, this is often true. God calls us to live holy lives, to be good stewards of our time and resources, and to love our neighbors. This life definitely does matter; it’s not that our lives here are meaningless just because we’re going to Heaven.

According to Bell, Hell isn’t a place of torment, the opposite of blissful Heaven, but simply an earthly state of living in rejection of God. He says that Hell is nothing more than a violent word describing the consequences of not living God’s way, with an emphasis on social ills. Bell seems to ignore the many places where the Bible presents Hell as a real destination (Revelation 20, among others).

Similar to his point about Heaven, Bell points out that the people most concerned with Hell in the future are the least concerned with relieving suffering now. I agree to a point; we often overlook rather than relieve the suffering of others because it’s only temporary (whereas the afterlife is eternal). Still, it’s important to retain perspective; it really is more important to bring the gospel to people than to bring them material comforts. The soul is more important than the body.

Bell’s Jesus died to save everyone in history. He says that yes, Jesus is the way, but not only for a select group of people, but for everyone, even if they don’t know him or consciously follow him. As tolerant and appealing as this is, the Bible teaches throughout its pages that God saves certain people and rejects others (Romans 9, among others).

Bell makes a good point that Christians can be desensitized to the story of Jesus and the wonder of the gospel, especially if they’ve grown up with it. I also liked his point that God isn’t a slave driver; the Christian life is one of joy, not sorrowful sacrifice. We should want to share our joy and the gospel with everyone we meet.

Bell spends a lot of time extracting lessons from the story of the Prodigal Son from Luke 15, and makes several valid points. The older son is a lesson that being good doesn’t earn anything, and the prodigal son is a lesson that sins can’t cause the saved to lose salvation. The parable teaches the futility of people trying to achieve salvation on their own, and the mercy of God toward sinners.

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