Love Wins, Christianity Loses, and God Lies – A Review of Rob Bell’s Book
Love Wins is “A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived” by Rob Bell. This is important stuff for sure, which is why I tackle it in my book, 10 Things I Hate About Christianity: Working Through the Frustrations of Faith, as well. So I come to this review with some knowledge on the subject. If you’re interested on a comparison you can download my chapter on Hell here for free.
In a way, Rob has been part of my life for eight years. I have read nearly all of his books, used several of his NOOMA videos as a basis for small group discussions, and listened to hundreds of his teachings (last week I explained why I stopped listening to him on July 29th, 2007, which is another story altogether). I have deep affection and great respect for Rob. It is hard not to. That is why this review is so difficult.
That being said, let me begin by stating what I agree with in Love Wins:
• God is love and more generous than we can comprehend
• People we don’t expect to see in Heaven will be there
• People we expect to be in Hell may not be there
• We are commissioned to bring healing to this earth with our lives
• Our eternal destiny will ultimately be of our own choosing, either Heaven or Hell
• God is displeased with misrepresentations of his character and nature by his alleged followers
• Yes, is his fairness, God will allow children, the mentally challenged, and the Pygmy in Africa (or anyone else) who has not had the chance to decide on Jesus into Heaven
Beyond that, Love Wins is ambiguous, dangerous, and angry.
I wanted to like Love Wins. I really wanted to like it. But I didn’t. That doesn’t mean Love Wins is poorly written, dull, or unoriginal. On the contrary! In true Bell fashion, it is passionate, deep, and relevant. But if a movie has forced acting, a half-baked story, yet manages to come through with stellar special affects, it is still a bad movie. With all the perfect expressions, appealing conversational tones, and deep passion, Love Wins left me confused and frustrated—to such a degree, in fact, I still cannot determine what the book is truly about. Other than ‘talking’ about this stuff, I cannot figure out what the overall point is.
Love Wins is purposely ambiguous. It poses many questions and answers very few. While Bell loves to try to emulate Jesus by answering questions with questions, he misses one BIG thing: an answer always came when Jesus was around. Jesus simply posed questions that invoked a pre-existing answer in the heart of the individual. Jesus also had another approach; he would enter the temple and teach from the Scriptures, explaining and answering in great detail.
Jesus wasn’t at all ambiguous on the essentials, nor evasive; he was not ‘hard to pin down.’ Jesus provided clarity at a time, and to subjects, that desperately needed it. So much so that we are still talking about his answers 2,000 years later. It’s very fashionable to pose questions, remain distant, and commit to nothing. To most, it sounds enlightened (and keeps everyone liking you), but it’s also insincere and elusive.
Love Wins is dangerous because its use and explanation of Scripture is manipulative. Sure, if a person has a pulse, then that person has a bias. We are all prone to interpret the Bible through whatever lens or worldview we have. But when a bias becomes an agenda, or even activism, with regard to Scripture, it can become very dangerous.
For example, Bell does not seem to believe in a Hell with flames of any sort or at any level, as most of traditional Christianity has held for the last 2,000 years. He believes it will be either a state (or condition) we create through our actions and choices or just a separation from God. (I elaborate on all three in great detail in the chapter on Hell in my book.)
So while explaining the Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus as told by Jesus in Luke 16:19-31, Bell deals a fatal blow to the meaning of it. His assessment? This is not really a parable about Hell and the afterlife. It’s about the Rich Man holding on to his pride, status, and cultural hierarchy, because, even in his torment, he wants Lazarus, the beggar, to ‘serve’ him. For some reason, the Rich Man begging for a cool drop of water on his tongue because he “is in agony in this fire” or his plea for a special warning to his family about the potential torment in the afterlife goes completely ignored by Bell. Sure, pride can be an application of this story, but it is not the thrust. It merely serves to accentuate the seriousness of the afterlife, since the Rich (Jewish) Man is in the torments of Hell, while the (Gentile) beggar is in Heaven. It is clearly a warning about Hell and the afterlife.
Bell appears to courageously jump to the end of Revelation, since it cannot be ignored when talking about Hell. He elaborates on all the great descriptions of Heaven and healing and being reconciled with God—we all love this stuff. Unfortunately, he conveniently ignores the whole “Anyone whose name was not found written in the book of life was thrown into the lake of fire.” (Rev. 20:15)
There is more, but Love Wins tumbles like a house of cards on these two areas of Scripture alone. What exactly are we being saved from then? Just our bad habits and attitudes? Bell enjoys blasting the reader with an assault of seemingly contradictory verses. Then, while the reader is dazed, confused, and off-guard, he seizes the emotional moment to introduce a controversial view. It leaves the person feeling like, “Of course this must be true…I must be an idiot if I don’t agree with it.” The Bible is filled with apparent contradictions, if you are willing to bastardize and ignore context. It is a manipulative and condescending tactic to use, since it attempts to trick the reader into agreement.
Love Wins is angry because it has all the makings of an immature, rebellious teenager trying to teach his overbearing old-fashioned parents a lesson about the new ways of the world. First and foremost, if you (or any Christian) believe that Jesus is absolutely essential to salvation or in a literal Hell with flames, Rob would like you to know that you are helping perpetuate a ‘strain’ of Christianity that is destructive, violent, toxic, venomous, and abusive. Got it?
While Bell presents himself as very magnanimous in interviews and graciously expresses that he has no desire to call out or criticize his detractors, he has done far more in this book. Bell uses fighting words throughout. If believing 1) the name of Jesus is essential and 2) there is a literal Hell with flames, makes me a fundamentalist, pre-modern, unenlightened, barbaric, blind, villainous, and idiotic, then so be it—although I would dispute the charges. Sound at all passive aggressive? It is. I know because I ‘are’ one.
So apparently all you crotchety, outdated, grandpa-like Christians need to realize (or else!):
• When God says He will reconcile all creation to Himself, He means everyone can get into Heaven regardless of your belief in Jesus
• God will let people decide to accept Jesus even after death, if necessary He will take as long as needed to convince them to come in
• You’re making people think Jesus came to rescue us from God, whom you seem to think is hot-tempered, switches modes, and is inconsistent
• While there needs to be room in Christianity for a wide range of opinions and views, there just isn’t room for your finite views on Hell, sin, or salvation
• Don’t worry about confessing the name of Jesus to be saved, just make sure you are living His story out in your own life
• There is a vein of God’s story in every culture, so whatever that plan of salvation is, it is perfectly acceptable to God and don’t judge them either
• Jesus died on the cross because that’s what they needed and understood back then, and that wouldn’t need to happen today since we’re, like, way more smarter than that
• Being ‘spiritual’ is probably enough for God, so don’t worry so much about being Biblical
• The Hippies had it right because it is actually possible to meet Jesus through smoking pot
• If Jesus and Christianity have put a bad taste in someone’s mouth, God doesn’t necessarily need them to follow Him because wherever they find truth is fine with Him
It’s funny, I commented on the last idea in my book a couple of years ago:
Since discussing God and Jesus can so often be divisive, why not create a new secular humanist faith that avoids all that? One that’s totally dedicated to promoting good deeds and good will among all. This would probably be more readily accepted. Coexistence and harmony between all creation—man, animals, and environment—would create universal peace and a heavenly state. Who could argue with that? This less offensive, more congenial religion would probably have more impact on society and culture as a whole. All we have to do is leave God and Jesus out of the equation. No biggie.
I guess my overall problem is that I read Love Wins in the context of Rob Bell being a pastor, not a writer. One of the primary roles of a pastor is to bring clarity, predictability, and truth whenever possible. But I suppose this isn’t really feasible if you believe all truth contains a vein of the truth and is therefore equally true. This explains the evasiveness and confusion. I do not believe Bell to be willfully deceptive, but I do believe he is still knowingly guarded in his opinions. He should simply be more honest, rather than opting for the creative guise of cool and distant. You just can’t have it both ways—or should I say all ways.
Bell admittedly likes to interpret Scripture as pliable and versatile (his words) if at all possible. This takes particular shape if a Scripture is especially uncomfortable. In doing so, he unavoidably opts for the guilt-free feel-good trappings of moral relativism and philosophical pluralism. I wish I could do the same. I wish it were all true and this easy. But in his framework, the Hebrew story of God and the Christian experience with God is of no affect and no importance, since following Jesus specifically or confessing his name is not totally essential. In fact, why should I even follow Jesus if everyone gets a pass in the end? Because he was really nice or said neat stuff? So what. So did a lot of historical figures. Why not live a life if debauchery and hedonism? Basically, it doesn’t really matter, right?
These thoughts fill me with great sadness. Why? Because based on what Bell says, God cannot hold us to his own standard, since He will not hold Himself to His own words.
I can make no other conclusions, according to what Rob has presented, than:
1. Love doesn’t win because there is no true choice and subsequent consequence (and this is what the nature of love is built on).
2. Christianity loses the very punch line of the ‘Greatest Story Ever Told’, since Jesus is not essential to the story.
3. God is a liar because he has called us to righteousness (and to follow Jesus) while rewarding apathy.
I am left wondering, what the heck is Christianity, what does it mean to be a Christian, and does that even matter? How does love win? Love should win because God sent his son to be a substitutionary atonement for our sins and to save us from them and Hell: He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness (1 Peter 2:24). That is the extent of His love. Nowhere does Bell make that abundantly clear. To me, that is the real story behind Heaven, Hell, and the fate of every person whoever lived.
I love Rob, but I hate Love Wins.
This entry was posted by Jason Berggren on April 4, 2011 at 6:30 am, and is filed under Book Reviews, Churchy Stuff, Reviews, Touchy Subjects, Unauthorized Blogs. Follow any responses to this post through RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback from your own site.
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[…] wrote a book called Love Wins which I wrote a fairly scathing review title Love Wins, Christianity Loses, & God Lies. I didn’t want to, but I felt I had to be honest. Rob has recently left his church to move to […]
I have been reading the book for about a week. I only picked it up because i’ve read Bell’s books before. As i start reading it, i could kinda tell that it was different. So i looked it up and saw it was causing so much controversy. I wonder what’s happened. I’m not sure how this book was written. But i think Bell has dug himself into a hole that will be impossible to get out. I think that he might have just “started writing a book” and then this came out. And now he has to stand behind it. Crazy!
I think you may be right. Although, I suspect he was always aware of the waves it would create. It’s part of his genius.
[…] questions fascinating. LIke when I discussed how a person ends up in Hell. Or when I dissected Rob Bell’s answer to this in his book Love Wins. So today, here is the big […]
[…] your email or something. It’s been an interesting week for me. Following my review of Love Wins by Rob Bell titled Love Wins, Christianity Loses, and God Lies, I have been inundated by many […]
Hello Jason and Chad,
I think this last exchange between the two of you was the most informative and helpful for me. It is a great example of two people who disagree still trying to understand and empathize with one another, having a thorough understanding of the topic (the Bible and Bell’s book), and at the same time respectfully upholding what they are convicted of as the the Truth. Creating an intelligent dialogue between people who don’t necessarily agree provides distillation of information that works like nothing else to bring oneself and others (like me) closer to the Truth. I’m still looking for it, but this helps– keep it up.
Many thanks, Ruth! I hope you’ll check out the free chapter of my book and register for a free copy.
I’m not sure I read the same “Love Wins” that you read. Rob Bell makes it clear that salvation IS through Jesus, and only Jesus. The big break that Rob makes from traditional thinking is that there’s still an opportunity to “find” Jesus after our time as living, breathing humans has passed. EVERYONE doesn’t get to heaven, just those who accept Jesus.
“Love Wins” is based on the idea that God/Jesus love us so much that they will forgive us for anything if we ask, even if that asking is not while we live on earth. You say Rob Bell picks & chooses scripture, yet you do the same. You’ve picked verses from the Bible that support your bias as well. Also, as an ancient document, written for people who didn’t have a couple of extra millenia to think things through, the Bible uses a lot of symbolism. Fire and Flame…are those REQUIRED for your definition of hell? Might Rob be right that Jesus was using a burning trash heap at the edge of town as a metaphor so the people he was talking to would have a mental image of something unpleasant, unwanted and something to avoid?
The people that post on here this (or something like it) “…I…had planned to grab a copy of it the next time I was out. Now, however, I will be getting a copy of yours instead…” as a result of this review are doing themselves a disservice in depending on your review to convey what the book means and says. You’ve picked out phrases and ideas and presented them out of context (which you seem to dislike as you accuse Rob of doing the same thing) and you’ve taken examples to stress your point and poke fun, hoping to pull people over I guess to your way of thinking. The bit about hippies smoking pot…Rob Bell pokes fun of this too, as a joke to say most people would think “…must’ve been some good weed…” when the man who was smoking said he felt the presence of God. The point of that section of the book was to say that that man felt God enter into him not because of the drug, maybe is spite of the drug. “Venomous” would be a good way to describe your review, using the definition of “spiteful; malignant: a venomous attack; a venomous tongue.”. My belief if Jesus doesn’t require a firey hell. I believe Jesus died for everyone, and that the acceptance of Jesus’ sacrifice of Himself to pay the price for our sins is required for a path to heaven. My belief is that there is opportunity to make that acceptance – time not necessarily as defined by us here on earth, but as defined by the eternal nature of God Himself.
Thank you for taking the time to respond. Let’s be clear though, I never said “everyone” goes to Heaven. I said “everyone can get into Heaven.” There is a bit of purposeful distinction in how I phrased it. As much I as wish it were true (and hopefully I am wrong), there is nothing to support postmortem salvation. So as much as I’d like to entertain the idea, I can’t back it with confidence.
Again, you do what Rob does, avoid the statements of the Rich man’s own words of being in “is in agony in this fire” and the end of Revelation where it says “Anyone whose name was not found written in the book of life was thrown into the lake of fire.” (Rev. 20:15). While I hate those descriptions (like I say in the chapter dealing with Hell in my book), they can no be avoided.
While I’d love to leave the smoking pot story (in Rob’s book) at God reaching the man in spite of the drugs he was doing (which I believe is true), the problem is the conclusions (or applications) that happen from here. It leads to the idea of “don’t worry how people meet God, all that matters is that it is real and sincere. Remember, there’s Jesus-energy everywhere.” I just can’t hang my hat on that idea. Every ‘spiritual’ experience is not necessarily authentically Jesus-sourced.
And let me get this straight, disagreeing with someone respectfully (and I might add that I fell my review was very civil) is “venomous”? Let point out again, Rob started this fight with what he said in the book (rhetorically speaking of course).
Thank you so much for this review. I am not a Rob Bell follower or fan but my 22 yr old daughter is. I really appreciate this thoughtful review. I feel that I can safely forward this to her and let her decide for herself.
Having 11 children keeps me busy so finding the review helped me out a lot. I look forward to reading your book and following your blog.
11 children! Them you know there is a Hell for sure. Just kidding! Thanks for stopping buy with your precious minutes.
The referenced book is actually “Hope Beyond Hell”. Sorry about that!
Hi Jason: I just came across your website. Very interesting. I disagree with your take on Rob Bell. I believe that all mankind will ultimately bow before Jesus and confess that He is Lord. There is a ton of published material dealing with “Christian Universalism”. I urge you to check out a book entitled “The Aboltion of Hell”, by Gerry Beauchemin…well-reasoned and backed by score of scriptures! PS: Since embracing the hope that all will be saved, my love for Jesus has multiplied and I am more eager than ever to live a pure life.
Well, we disagree on a few things, but I appreciate you stopping by and adding something respectful.
I first heard Rob Bell 2 years ago when my son showed me his video about the “Bull-Horn Evangelist”. I am a street evangelist in Berlin, Germany. Watching this video was enough for me to “see” who Rob Bell was….a man EMBARRASSED of Christianity. A man who felt “big” criticizing Christians. I am criticized all the time for being a street evangelist in Berlin. Paul was stoned and imprisoned for being a street evangelist. I have learned that ALL ways of evangelism are not to be despised. God can and will use EVERY method. I have learned that Christians should stop tearing each other down and instead BUILD each other up. I think most Christians like Rob Bell would have been embarrassed of Jesus and the Apostles as well if they had lived then. Being a Christian is definitely NOT a way to get popular.
Ich bin Ihnen sehr dankbar!
Wow Jason! Thank you so much for such an insightful review. I have heard a great deal of scuttlebutt about his book and had planned to grab a copy of it the next time I was out. Now, however, I will be getting a copy of yours instead because I don’t need any more fuel to get me even angrier about the state of some of our “modern” churches and their “all paths lead to God so don’t worry, be happy” mentality.
To be honest, when I read your email, and saw the title of your review and that it was Rob Bell’s book, I was prepared to be offended because a. you were just another guy “picking on” Pastor Bell and b. ‘”Love Wins, Christianity Loses, and God Lies” … God LIES???? So I came to your site with a bias right off the bat. However, your compassionate way of presenting an indisputable truth won me over.
John 14:6 makes it pretty clear that there is only ONE way to God (unless you view Scripture as pliable and versatile), at which point, “No one comes to the Father except through me” could be expanded to read “unless it’s the first Tuesday of the month and your last name begins with the lucky letter of the day.” I appreciate the fact that you don’t waver from that.
Wow Kim! Your words are very kind. I tried to be civil and respectful in the review. I am so glad to here that came through.
I certainly look forward to hearing YOUR review of my book. Many thanks.
Hi Jason, hope you are doing well.
After reading your review I won’t be reading this book at all. I don’t agree with the humanistic point of view of love and if hell does not exist or it is minimize then what are we getting save from, just a state of mind. I don’t thing so.
Thanks for your review and GOD bless you and your family.
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THANK. YOU. For far too long, the “cool, modern, and hip” young Christian ministers have discredited the Church (the bride of Christ) and many good pastor God has chosen to lead his Kingdom in these days. Instead of strengthening the cause, they have greatly weakened it. Thank you for taking a stand from the “cool, modern, and hip” side of the camp!
I’m cool, modern, hip? Wow…I’m telling my kids right now!
LOLOL Better re-read her comment Jason. she was thanking you for NOT being cool. I get what she means. I think its possible to lose the true message in a cloud of hipsterisms.
Dude, you just ruined my night.
This is the best review I’ve read on this book. I really appreciate all of your insight. It is incredibly sad that he is so deceived. Far sadder, is all the followers who are influenced by his thoughts who may also end up being deceived.
Jason, thank you so much for this thorough review of Rob’s book. I’ve loved Rob’s writing for years, now, and am really sad to hear that this latest one confirms what people have been saying — that he’s very Emerging Church, and off-the-beaten-path. I’ve always defended Rob, based on his other book, “Velvet Elvis“, saying I’d read it more than once, and that I couldn’t find anything in it to show me that Rob was misled. 🙁
This is the best review I’ve (yet) read of “Love Wins“, and I really appreciate your sending me the link via email. Thank you!
My pleasure! It took a lot to write it, but I felt I had to.
How sad. My heart goes out to Bell. He is decieved and doesn’t understand that Jesus is a bridegroom King AND Judge. He loves but he does judge in righteousness. I just pray that his message will not be planted in the hearts of men who are affiliated with Bell, and I pray the Truth will abound in his heart once again!
I love his Nooma videos, but now I almost want to go back and watch them again to see if I catch anything odd. I started to notice something in the Christian community a few years ago when people were starting to refer to themselves as Followers Of Christ rather than Christians. There is even a series of videos on YouTube.com on this subject that are very belittling.
I actually like the term “follower of Christ.” But I get what your saying.
I don’t think you’ll pick anything up on the Nooma’s. He’s pretty smart about keeping the safe. This book is where he really ‘came out.’
[…] Love Wins, Christianity Loses, and God Lies – A Review of Rob Bell’s Book […]
Wowser! I won’t be reading that book! I never cease to be surprised at pastors leading sheep away from the Lord they are serving. Breaks my heart.
Don’t they read what is going to happen to those who add or subtract from the Bible?
Well I guess they think we’re interpreting that wrong.
[…] Link: Love Wins,… […]
My thoughts exactly. Bell offers a form of secular humanist Pelagian universalism. Call it what you want, but don’t call it biblical.
The Bible reveals that God is love, but Rob Bell seems to be making love into his god.
Thanks for the thoughts, Ron.
Wow Jason, I haven’t read his book but I certainly will now. I believe he has it right. That is the belief system from “Sermon on the Mount” (Emmet Fox) which I think is the best book ever written to explain life.
Hope you come around sometime but there are many paths to God.
Thanks for stopping by!