This is my fourth post on Rob Bell’s book, Love Wins. I feel like I need to back up and remind you of what I am doing. Reading Love Wins was not high on my priority list, and right now, there are hundreds of other things I could be doing and probably should be doing. But over the last few weeks, every time I turned around someone else was saying something about Rob Bell and Love Wins. Some of what people were saying was positive, but most were negative. So, I decided I needed to know what he said for myself. That is why I am reading the book. I thought, however, that as I read I would blog my thoughts, and by doing so, maybe add to the discussion.
The purpose of my blogs is to neither defend nor judge Rob Bell. My purpose is not to debate him and to answer every point in the book that I agree with or disagree with. I will leave the apologetics to others who are more capable than me. The purpose of my blogs is to simply read the book, “as is,” without trying to find what I disagree with and how I would respond to those parts in which Bell and I disagree. All I am doing is reading the book and giving my first impressions; nothing more, nothing less.
Chapter 4 is titled, “Does God Get What God Wants?” The bible says that God wants everyone to come to repentance and no one to perish (1 Timothy). So, in the end, does God get what He wants, or does He fail somehow? I think chapter 4 is the chapter that has gotten the most attention from critics.
It seems to reason, according to Bell, that if God wants everyone to repent, then everyone will repent, and if they don’t in this life, maybe there is a chance in the next life to do so. The idea is that God never gives up on people. There are other verses in the Bible (both the Old Testament and New Testament) that talk about how one day the entire world and all of creation will bow and worship God. Bell points these verses out.
As I was reading this chapter, two questions came to my mind. First, if it is possible for someone to reject God in this life but then repent and turn to Him in the next life, is it also possible for someone to accept God in this life and then reject Him in the next? Bell does not answer this question. He talks about the gates of the new city in Revelation 21 being open and never shut. He thinks this implies that people after death can repent and enter the city. But if the gates are open would that not also imply that people could leave the city? The second question I had was how does the opportunity to accept God after death happen? Bell doesn’t answer this question either. Maybe he will in another chapter, but he doesn’t do so in this one.
Bell points out that throughout the history of the Christian church, people have believed and taught the possibility of turning to God postmortem. He mentions early church fathers like Clement of Alexandria, Origen, Gregory of Nyssa and Eusibius as examples. He also mentions that church fathers like Jerome, Basil, and Augustine believed that most people will be reconciled to God. He even mentions that Martin Luther believed in a second chance after death. Now, I don’t doubt he is correct about any of these guys, but he gives no footnotes as to where he got his information. I assume that many of our church fathers had such views and that the doctrine of purgatory developed from those views.
I am not sure if Bell really believes what he is writing, or if he is just pointing out what people in church history have believed and then trying to bring these old beliefs up in modern times for us to consider. I wonder if all Bell is doing is getting people to talk about this possibility. Bell never clearly states what he believes, and I bet he never will. Bell also points out, or at least implies, that what a person believes about hell (or doesn’t believe about hell) is not a requirement for salvation.
I think you have to really stretch some biblical verses to build a case that there is a chance to repent after death, but there is a part of me that hopes there is. It would not bother me in the least if God’s grace gave people a second chance, and it would not surprise me either. God’s grace is beyond my comprehension. Please understand, I am not convinced there is a chance after death, and it’s a dangerous game to play, but if there is, to God be the glory!
Bell does end this chapter with an interesting twist. He says that the question is not, “Does God get what God wants?” The question is, “Do we get what we want?” He concludes that the answer to that question is “Yes.” In the end, because of God’s love for us, He does give us what we want. So, if we want hell, that is what He gives us, in this life and the next. But if we want heaven that is what God gives us as well. His conclusion sounds a lot like Romans 1. I may not agree with how Bell reaches this conclusion, but I do agree with his conclusion. To me, what he means is that God doesn’t send anyone to hell. People choose to go there, and God gives us what we want. Love demands it.
Bell is tricky in this chapter, at times he talks in circles. But based on his conclusion I don’t think you can call him a universalist. I don’t think he believes everyone will be saved, but he does believe that God will never give up on people. It also seems to me that Bell believes hell is real and it is horrible and it is eternal if you want it to be eternal because ultimately God’s love gives you want you want.
Here are two quotes:
- “Will everybody be saved, or will some perish apart from God forever because of their choices? Those are questions, or more accurately, those are tensions we are free to leave fully intact. We don’t need to resolve them or answer them because we can’t, and so we simply respect them, creating space for the freedom that love requires” (p. 115).
- “If we want hell, if we want heaven, they are ours. That’s how love works. It can’t be forced, manipulated, or coerced. It always leaves room for the other to decide. God says yes, we can have what we want, because love wins” (pp. 118-119).
If you have been following my posts about Love Wins, or if this is the first one you have read, I would be interested in your thoughts.