If I had to give a one word summary of my feelings about Rob Bell and his book, Love Wins, that word would be disappointment. In my very first post I mentioned that I was not a Rob Bell fan. I have respect for him, but have not followed his ministry, or viewed much of his material. I have nothing against him; I just have not been a fan. However, I approached this book wanting to give him the benefit of the doubt. That benefit of the doubt may not have been deserved.
I am disappointed in the overall quality of the writing. Love Wins, is simply not a well written book. At times it is hard to follow, and after reading it, you don’t walk away with any clear idea about what you have just read. It’s kind of like listening to polished politician speaking. You find yourself enjoying the delivering, but at the end of his speech you realize he really didn’t say much. To me, that summarizes Bell’s writing style.
I was also disappointed in the quality of Bell’s logic. He continually built up straw men and then tore them down. He also used Scripture out of context, which is always a dangerous thing to do, though every minister has done it from time to time.
Most of my disappointment, however, is with Bell’s weak theology. I liked his view of heaven. His view of hell, while different from mine, does fit in the large stream that is Christianity, and so that doesn’t bother me all that much. His idea that there are chances postmortem to receive God’s grace has no scriptural support (in my opinion), but if I am wrong, and he is right, that would be fine with me. Where his theology bothers me is his view of the cross and how Jesus’ death on the cross makes salvation possible. Nowhere in the book does Bell explain the holiness and justice of God and how Jesus’ death on the cross doesn’t just forgive sins but pays the complete penalty of sin. The cross shows both the holy love of God and the unholiness of sin. Jesus, doesn’t just forgive me of my sins, and look the other way, Jesus paid the penalty for my sins so that I stand before God completely whole and innocent, in Him.
While reading this book, I have been working on a chapter for an upcoming book. That chapter is about Satan and hell. Here is a rough draft of part of that chapter:
“The reality of hell shows both the holiness of God and the seriousness of sin. Before God is anything else, He is holy (Leviticus 19:2). Yes, God is love, but it is a holy love. He is a God of mercy, but it’s a holy mercy. His justice is a holy justice and His grace is a holy grace.
God is holy. You and I are sinful. Holiness and sin cannot coexist. Thus, sin has to be punished. If God did not punish sin, He would cease to be holy; He would cease to be God. The punishment for sin is death, and since God is eternal, and since all sin is ultimately against Him (Psalm 51:4), the punishment for sin is eternal death (Romans 6:23). The pain of death is separation. The horribleness of hell is not the fire or the worms or the darkness or the torture. The horribleness of hell is that it will be an eternity totally separated from the holy love, holy grace, and holy forgiveness of God. Hell is a necessity, not because God is vengeful, hateful, or angry, but because He is holy and our sins are serious.
How could a loving God send people to a place like hell?
The holiness of God explains the necessity of hell. But in reality, God doesn’t send anyone to hell; people choose to go to hell through their rejection of Jesus Christ. Because of sin, we all deserve hell. The question is not, “Why does God send people to hell?” The question is, “Why does God allow anyone into heaven?” Since all deserve hell, the opportunity to avoid hell must be given to all as well. Why? Because God is a just God and His justice is a holy justice. Through faith in Jesus, God has offered salvation to all who believe.
God’s holiness demands sin be punished. But His love (and it is a holy love) provided a way for the penalty of sin to be paid without me and you spending an eternity separated from God. That way is through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Because Jesus was fully human He had the right to die for your sins. Because Jesus is fully God He had the power and ability to die for your sins. By dying on the cross, Jesus, an eternal being, was able to pay the eternal penalty in a moment of time. By raising Him from the dead, God accepted His payment for sins. When you, through faith, confessed Jesus as Lord and believed God raised Him from the dead (Romans 10:9-10), at that moment, Jesus’ payment for sin became your payment for sin and you were brought back into a right relationship with God. Through Jesus your sins have not just been forgiven, the eternal punishment for those sins has been paid in full and you are no longer condemned (Romans 8:1).”
So, I am most disappointed with Bell’s weak view of Jesus, the cross, and salvation.
Another major criticism I have with Bell is that it seems to me that Christianity has become more of a philosophy than anything else. He seems to be more philosophical about what he believes instead of theological. Philosophically a person can take an issue and look at it from many different angles and ask questions and “think out loud” without having to land on any certain point. Philosophically a person can argue from any point of view and be “right.” But theologically, while it is ok to ask questions and look at things from many different angles, eventually you have to land somewhere and take a stand. In the words of Francis Schaffer, Rob Bell “has his feet planted firmly in mid-air.”
Do I think Rob Bell is a heretic?
Calling someone a heretic is a serious charge and should not been done quickly. Also, you can’t call someone a heretic based on one book and one aspect of his theology. Therefore, no, I do not think he is a heretic. He does believe in the Trinity. He does believe in the deity of Christ. He does believe that Jesus is the only way to God (though he defines that differently than I do). And while it is not a necessity for salvation, he does believe in the reality of hell, the eternalness of hell, and the horribleness of hell. So, no, I don’t think he is a heretic.
While I do not recommend the book, if you are going to read it, I think it would be helpful to do some research on the Eastern Orthodox Church and their view of hell. You will see some similarities there that may help your understanding. However, the Eastern Church does not believe there will be the opportunity to accept God’s grace after death.
There you have it. Those are my thoughts. Thanks for reading. I would be honored to know what you think.