In chapter 7, “The Good News is Better than That”, Rob Bell uses Jesus’ story of the Prodigal Son and his Older Brother (Luke 15) to build the case that if a person objects to his view of heaven and hell then that person is the older brother and somehow jealous of prodigal sons who return. Basically, he was again emphasis that God never gives up on people and God will always give people a second chance, even after death.
I mentioned in an earlier post that Bell’s view of hell is probably more Eastern Orthodox than Western Christianity. Well, I did some research, and I was partially right. His view on hell does sound a lot like the Eastern Orthodox view of hell. (Eastern Orthodox is a part of Christianity.) However, the Eastern Orthodox reject any time of view that there is an opportunity to accept God’s grace postmortem. Outside of the Catholic doctrine of purgatory (which Bell never specifically mentions), no mainstream Christian doctrine teaches any type of postmortem salvation. Yes, you can find individuals who may have believed and taught that, but no doctrine can be found that I am aware of. Bell is on his on with that view, and, in my opinion, has built a weak case for their being such an opportunity. I hope I am wrong and he is right. I just see no justification for such a view. (For more on the Eastern Orthodox view of hell, click here.)
I think, one of the things Bell is trying to get us to see is that there could be other ways people become Christians besides saying and memorized prayer and besides stressed individuality. Here is a rather lengthy quote:
- “This story, the one Jesus tells about the man with two sons, has everything to do with our story. Millions of people in our world were told that God so loved the world, that God sent his Son to save the world, and that if they accept and believe in Jesus, then they’ll be able to have a relationship with God. Beautiful. But there’s more. Millions have been taught that if they don’t believe, if they don’t accept in the right way, that is, the person telling them the gospel does, and they were hit by a car and died later that same day, God would have no choice but to punish them forever in conscious torment in hell. God would, in essence, become a fundamentally different being to them in that moment of death, a different being to them forever. A loving heavenly father who will go to extraordinary lengths to have a relationship with them would, in the blink of an eye, become a cruel, mean, vicious tormenter who would ensure that they had no escape from an endless future of agony. If there was an earthly father who was like that, we would call authorities. If there was an actual human dad who was that volatile, we would contact child protection services immediately. If God can switch gears like that, switch entire modes of being that quickly, that raises a thousand questions about whether a being like this could ever be trusted, let alone good…Does God become somebody totally different the moment you die?” (pp. 173-174).
This technique of debate and logic is called building a straw man so you can knock him down. Bell describes a god that does not exist, and then knocks that god down. Here is another example of Bell building a straw man. (Warning, the following quote is the one quote that I actually said out loud after reading the quote, “That’s just not true!”)
- “Many have heard the gospel framed in terms of rescue. God has to punish sinners, because God is holy, but Jesus has paid the price for our sin, and so we can have eternal life. However true or untrue that is technically or theologically, what it can do is subtly teach people that Jesus rescues us from God.” (Comment: the part I underline is the part that caused me to say, “That’s just not true!” Bell is way off at this point.) “Let’s be very clear, then: we do not need to be rescued from God.” (Comment: Do you see how he built a straw man and is now tearing him down? I don’t know any believer anywhere who has ever said Jesus rescues us from God. Jesus rescues us from ourselves; or better put, God rescues us from ourselves through faith in Jesus Christ.) “God is the one who rescues us from death, sin, and destruction. God is the rescuer. This is crucial for our peace, because we shape our God and then our God shapes us” (p. 182).
I think Rob Bell misunderstands the holiness of God. Bell states that love is the very essence of God. Again, this is not true. The very essence of God is holiness. Nowhere in Scripture does God say, “I am love. Therefore be love as I am love.” But over and over again, God says, “I am holy. Therefore be holy as I am holy. Yes, God is love, but it’s a holy love. God is just, but it is a holy justice. God is merciful, but it is a holy mercy, etc… This, in my opinion, is Bell’s biggest misunderstanding and explains how he has come to the conclusions he has come to.
Here are some other quotes:
- “God has no desire to inflict pain or agony on anyone. God extends an invitation to us, and we are free to do with it as we please. Saying yes will take us in one direction; saying no will take us in another” (p. 177).
- “So when the gospel is diminished to a question of whether or not a person will ‘get into heaven,’ that reduces the good news to a ticket, a way to get past the bouncer and into the club. The good news is better than that” (pp. 178-179).
Chapter 8 is a short chapter. In it, Bell tells a little about his own conversion experience and then states that he greatly appreciates all the things he was taught as a child, but has now grown into new understandings. He challenges his readers to grow in that same understanding.
I only have one quote from the last chapter:
- “Love is what God is, love is why Jesus came, and love is why he continues to come, year after year to person after person. Love is why I’ve written this book, and love is what I want to leave you with. May you experience this vast, expansive, infinite, indestructible love that has been yours all along. May you discover that this love is as wide as the sky and as small as the cracks in your heart no one else knows about. And may you know, deep in your bones, that love wins” (pp. 197-198).
Well, there you have it. I hope you have read an honest and fair overview of Bell’s book, Love Wins. Thanks for reading my thoughts. I hope in the next couple of days to write another blog expressing some overall thoughts and feelings about the book.
As always, I am interested in your thoughts.