Several weeks ago I read Rob Bell’s book Love Wins: A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived. I have wanted to comment on it for some time, but also wanted to wait until all the hoopla died down. You may remember that Bell received some harsh criticism for the book before it was published. AP ran story about a United Methodist pastor in North Carolina who was “fired” from his church for supporting the book. I don’t think I’m any more of a heretic than I was before reading it. (An aside: Can we stop criticizing and condemning that which we have not read?)
I am surprised by the magnitude of the controversy this book stirred up. This is not a dangerous book. Bell questions some common assumptions, makes assertions I would like to have seen either expounded upon or footnoted, and suggests alternate ways of thinking, but he does not renounce basic tenets of Christianity. I recommend Christians and non-Christians read this book to rethink what it means to be a believer in Jesus.
Love Wins is not a theological treatise on the afterlife. Read NT Wright’s Surprised by Hope for that type of treatment. In Love Wins Bell, whose sermon podcasts I have been listening to for more than three years, writes sermonesque chapters that are intended not just to teach but also to move the heart, change the life, and stir the spirit of the reader.
This is where Love Wins is most valuable. Bell will not allow his reader to confine belief to simply a determinant of which bin we go in when we die; whether we take the up or down escalator. He writes instead that our faith influences how we think about ourselves, how we act toward others, how we live our lives right here, right now. We can choose today to follow God’s story for our lives (heaven), or our own (hell).
Readers will be introduced to some theological concepts that may be new – at times I felt like I was reading a summary of NT Wright’s theology – and will be challenged to rethink long held conceptions of the afterlife. This may cause one to struggle with something we may have thought we had nailed down. That is always a valuable exercise.
In the end, many may disagree with Bell but I am glad he has asked these questions that have plagued me too. I appreciate the conversation and his willingness to share his thoughts.