Love Wins (part 4)

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.

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9 thoughts on “Love Wins (part 4)

  1. i am so glad you are reading this book!!! with all the fuss, i was tempted myself, but am a little busy these days! chris and i heard rob bell speak in person several years ago and have some of his nooma videos and chris has even read a book or two. i have always liked him. makes ya think!!! so, i will be keeping up with what you find out.

  2. Thanks for the thoughts Cuz. My thing is, is it helpful to simply get people to talk about this? At the very least (based on your brief reviews), Bell considers post mortem “faith” to be a possibility. Is believing it to be a possibility orthodox? Not in my opinion.

    A question: do you get the impression that Bell’s questions are more rhetorical than just questions?

    Why would he give support that others have believed what he is presenting as a possibility if he doesn’t actually believe it? Is he telling us what his cards are without turning them over to show?

    What do you think?

    • Jacob,
      I think the short answer to your questions is “Yes.”
      Remember, however, that one of the tenets of the emerging church is the freedom to ask questions and to live in the tension of all possible answers.

      • Jacob,
        In my understanding, “orthodox” refers to things that the church has believed through the centuries, and there are a lot of things that are “orthodox” that you and I may or may not believe anymore. A person could make a case that the possibility of another chance to accept or reject Jesus after death is part of “orthodox” faith, especially if a person believes Catholicism to be orthodox, and Catholicism has a belief called purgatory that somewhat fits what Bell may be talking about. I would be really interested to find out what the Eastern Orthodox Church believes. I have a feeling their belief may be more inline with Bell’s then with ours. Maybe one day when I get some time, I will look it up.

        I think what Bell may be doing is bringing up ancient and more obscure beliefs and taking a closer look at them. He does so in a way to try to convince people that these beliefs should be considered without saying he believes in them 100%. To me, he always leaves himself a way out. He can always say, “I’m just asking questions and bringing up possibilities.” He may actually believe what he is saying, but he will not say so one way or another. It’s frustrating, but it can be beneficial because it moves the discussion along. I kind of did the same thing when we talked on facebook but eventually you asked me what I believed and I told you. Bell doesn’t do that.

        I think Rob Bell would have made a really good defense lawyer. He seems to be able to take any position and, at least on the surface, make a good argument. You have heard the old saying, “Some people just like to hear themselves talk.” I am beginning to think that Bell likes to hear himself write.

      • Thanks man.

        Yes I’m with you on the orthodox thing (I couldn’t respond to that comment for some reason).

        A question on the EC: how do folks in this camp come to a conclusion about things they believe?

        Obviously there have been many people who have been much more harsh in their discussion of Bell’s book than you are being. Do you think any of the harshness is warranted? Is there ever a time that we are to be as confrontational as Paul was when he said to the Galatians that if anyone preached a different gospel, then they should be “anathema”? Or was that just something Paul could do because of his apostleship and isn’t something we should emulate?

        Thanks man, have a good day!

      • Hey Jacob, of course there is a time we should rebuke; and people who know Rob Bell are warrendted in their rebuke. If Rob Bell said that Jesus was not God, and that Jesus did not literally rise from the dead, and that everyone, everywhere, regardless of what they believe or don’t believe would go to heaven, then he would be preaching another gospel. Bell has not gone there yet. I am convinced he believes in the reality of hell; it’s just his view (or at least the view he is presenting) is different from mine. Right now, I would consider him orthodox but not evangelical, and most definately not fundamental.

        Bell paints on the edges, but I am not sure if he has fallen off yet. So, he is brother and needs to be admonished with love as a brother. The only reason I haven’t done so, is because others are doing it, and I simply wanted to read the book for what it was and try to understand as much as I could about what he was saying. I challenge anyone who is interested to do the same and decide for yourself what to think about Bell and not what other people have said you should think.

        I have not changed my views on heaven and hell and Jesus and salvation. Most of what Bell is saying can be refuted easily. When put to the test, most of his arguments fall apart.

        Recently, since all the controversy started, Rob Bell affirmed that he strongly believes in the Apostles Creed, which I guess is where he lands, and where a lot of EC people land.

        What about you? You went to hear him speak. You have first hand knowledge. How did that go?

      • Yes I heard him at Belmont. I am with you in that he didn’t sound like a universalist, although he was very close.

        He definitely left the door open for the possibility of someone being right with God without having a conscious faith in Jesus prior to death. Near the end of his talk he “reported” on a story of an atheist who died and saw Jesus across a river. Jesus told the atheist that He loved him. Then Jesus asked the man if he wanted to be with Him now or later. The atheist said later, so Jesus let the atheist live a little longer. The atheist woke up and went to tell his Christian friends who had condemned him to hell what Jesus told him while he was dead.

        Bell told that story and then said, “But I’m just reporting.”

        At the very best, Bell was unclear and iffy in his use of Scripture.

        I was surprised at the standing ovation he received when he was done from about 50% of the audience.

  3. Which Afterlife?

    In his new book “Love Wins” Rob Bell seems to say that loving and compassionate people, regardless of their faith, will not be condemned to eternal hell just because they do not accept Jesus Christ as their Savior.

    Concepts of an afterlife vary between religions and among divisions of each faith. Here are three quotes from “the greatest achievement in life,” my ebook on comparative mysticism:

    (46) Few people have been so good that they have earned eternal paradise; fewer want to go to a place where they must receive punishments for their sins. Those who do believe in resurrection of their body hope that it will be not be in its final form. Few people really want to continue to be born again and live more human lives; fewer want to be reborn in a non-human form. If you are not quite certain you want to seek divine union, consider the alternatives.

    (59) Mysticism is the great quest for the ultimate ground of existence, the absolute nature of being itself. True mystics transcend apparent manifestations of the theatrical production called “this life.” Theirs is not simply a search for meaning, but discovery of what is, i.e. the Real underlying the seeming realities. Their objective is not heaven, gardens, paradise, or other celestial places. It is not being where the divine lives, but to be what the divine essence is here and now.

    (80) [referring to many non-mystics] Depending on their religious convictions, or personal beliefs, they may be born again to seek elusive perfection, go to a purgatory to work out their sins or, perhaps, pass on into oblivion. Lives are different; why not afterlives? Beliefs might become true.

    Rob Bell asks us to reexamine the Christian Gospel. People of all faiths should look beyond the letter of their sacred scriptures to their spiritual message. As one of my mentors wrote “In God we all meet.”

  4. I guess a big question could be, would it change our relationship with Father if some people got a second shot? If the 11th hour worker freaks some people out, God help some folks if the game went into overtime and grace was extended.

    Do we love Him or is this a marriage of convience?

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