Thursday, June 23, 2011

My Brief Review of Love Wins

Article first published as Book Review: Love Wins: A Book About Heaven, Hell, And The Fate Of Every Person Who Ever Lived by Rob Bell on Blogcritics.

There is a long-standing belief that Christians go to heaven and that God sends everybody else to burn in hell, in eternal conscious torment.

This way of phrasing the situation is common. It is also unhelpful. It misrepresents heaven and hell, God and Christians. And so Rob Bell decided it was time to present another way of of looking at this controversial belief, thus Love Wins: A Book About Heaven, Hell, And The Fate Of Every Person Who Ever Lived.

In covering ground from Genesis through Revelation, pastor Rob Bell concludes heaven and hell are right next to each other, and that you get endless invitations from God to enter heaven and depart hell — both now and in the life to come. The implication is that there will be people in hell, that hell will be temporary, and that eventually every person who has ever lived will repent of their sins in response to God's love as demonstrated through Jesus.

For Christians who are repulsed by the long-standing belief of hell as eternal, conscious torment, Bell's idea are a welcome relief. But Bell has also fired up immense controversy amongst those Christians who adhere to eternal conscious torment — which is a majority of conservative evangelical Christians. Using the same Bible, both sides have conjured up opposing views of God and the afterlife. Whose interpretation is right?

In his book, Bell methodically addresses some key ideas that undermine the traditional view of hell as eternal, conscious torment while making the case for his understanding that love wins. He tackles what the Scripture teaches about heaven, hell, free-will, resurrection, atonement, gospel, and love. Each of these topics are highly-contested theological ideas. Scholars have written thousands of pages on each of those topics, denominations have been formed on varying interpretations of these ideas. And Bell wrote a short book trying to summarize the whole Bible — not an easy task, one open to much criticism and misinterpretation.

Love Wins insists that Jesus' death on the cross atoned for the sins of the whole world, of every person who ever lived. Love Wins understands hell as necessary and needed judgment for evil actions and thoughts, but it is restorative and corrective judgment. Love Wins frames the gospel as good news for the wicked, forgiveness of their sins and the grace-full offer of reconciliation by God. Love Wins believes that people can choose heaven or hell, now and then; and that every person will someday choose heaven. Love Wins demonstrates how resurrection explains the way the world works, and that Jesus' resurrection points to a day when God will make all things new. Love Wins sees heaven as that time and place where God will get what God wants — the rescue and restoration of all Creation.

Love Wins requires the reader to rethink what they've been taught to believe about heaven and hell, God and love, Jesus and the gospel. But it's a requirement that takes thinkers back to the Scriptures, the primary source for what Christians believe about heaven and hell. Rob Bell takes you back through the two Testaments, presenting a Biblical view of the world that is Jewish in its origins, and Jesus-centered in its proclamations. This will result in an understanding of heaven and hell that differ from what has become pop-culture visions of the afterlife.

Pastor Rob Bell's interpretations are certainly open to debate, his controversial conclusions need scrutinized. And while many may dismiss or reject the idea of Love Wins, it is certainly proper and Christian to hope for it.

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