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Rob Bell - Love Wins

I picked up my copy of 'Love Wins' after I saw a young friend, Ryan Vermooten, reading it when I visited LA last week. Ryan is extremely contrarian. He has dreadlocks, multiple piercings and both his arms are works of contemporary art - I love looking at his tattoos! But, Ryan is passionate about Christ and the ways of Christ. He is doing his DTS (discipleship training school) with YWAM (Youth With a Mission - an international evangelical mission agency). In fact as I write this he is serving on a mission in Haiti - that's deep, sincere, Christ-like, commitment!

Perhaps, Ryan is the kind of person for whom 'Love Wins' was written? I have encountered many young people who are passionate about Christ and the ways of Christ, yet they are less passionate about the narrow theology and approach of traditional evangelical Christianity (particularly as it is expressed in the Western world).

Please take a few minutes to read Ryan's perspective on 'Love wins' here. It sat next to him as he typed this... It is awesome to see a person who loves Jesus think so deeply and critically about our faith, the contemporary debates within the faith, and about ways in which we cultivate an authentic witness to the person of Christ!

I will start reading the book this weekend and then let you know what I think about it. The review below has been quite helpful in framing my approach to the book.


I had been eager to pick Love Wins up for while. I’ve read both Velvet Elvis and Sex God, and found both simplistic and boring, but I figured a book about an evangelical universalist understanding of hell might be interesting. Once I got past the strange prose, the book was engaging, and I can see why evangelicals are up in arms about this issue.

Love Wins asks a lot of good questions that evangelicals, at least in my experience, are afraid to ask. As someone who has wrestled with the idea of hell, I found myself sympathizing with Rob Bell’s determination to challenge people who might be too complacent about the existence of hell and the eternal damnation of the people around them. Love Wins is very good at talking about the beauty, glory, and mercy of God. God is radiant in this book, and some of the extended meditations on the overwhelming God has for his creation were heartbreaking, in a good way. His view of creation as a place that reveals and displays the glory of God is a powerful corrective of an unfortunate Christian tendency to treat heaven and hell as distant places in the future, and reminds us that what we do in this world important.

Unfortunately, that’s all I really can say that is positive about Love Wins. I think part of that is because I am not the book’s intended audience. Rob Bell is reaching an audience of evangelicals who are disenchanted with a narrow view of a vicious God who condemns people to hell for no good reason, and I commend him for that. However, this book should be the start of discussion, if we have to talk about it at all. Bell messes up basic elements of theology and church history; he treats people like Origen as venerated mainstream church fathers, when the reality is far more complicated; he misquotes Martin Luther; he assumes the worst of opposing views of hell; he calls other views of salvation tribalistic and narrow-minded; he treats demonstrably poetic language as literally as possible when it suits his purposes.

In the end, he reminds me of a less educated version of N.T. Wright, or even of C.S. Lewis. Lewis writes a powerful rebuttal of a narrow view of hell in The Great Divorce, and yet manages to convey that approaching heaven is a terribly painful process, one that will demand the total casting off of everything we held dear. Love winning in The Great Divorce requires losing ourselves utterly, while in Love Wins it just seems to demand infinite amounts of time. While I’m sympathetic to Bell’s worries about hell, I can’t quite say that I’m convinced. I think he tries too hard to make the Gospel palatable, and sin insignificant.

I know that Bell is writing towards a specific audience of evangelicals, particularly the ones who are bitter towards a God they think is cruel. I think a lot of the people who read this book will be pushed towards a deeper understanding of who God is, what Jesus did, and what salvation and sanctification are all about. I know that this book should be taken as an introduction to people who have no idea about the depths of Christianity, and the best case scenario will be that this book will cause people to seek out people like N.T. Wright, and hopefully continue on to reading church fathers like St. Athanasius.

However, I also know that there will be people for whom this book is the last word. Instead of freeing Christians to explore the depth and breath of God’s faithfulness and their faith in full, this book could be the end of the questioning for some. For that reason, I found the book shamefully lacking. Other elements of Christian thought, such as the concept of realized eschatology, which both John Howard Yoder and Stanley Hauerwas write extensively about, would have strengthened Bell’s argument, and would have been far more convincing than platitudes about how a God that damns his creation to hell cannot be loving and glorious. The Eastern Orthodox understanding of theosis and the impassibility of God would have been a welcome addition to a text that is sorely in need of depth.

In the end, I hope that this book allows people to seek out what makes Christianity great. I hope people find Jesus in these pages, but I don’t think I did.

If you've read the book I'd love to hear your thoughts!

Reader Comments (4)

Please find a completely different Understanding of Love via these references.

April 21, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJohn

Why is Rob Bells book‭ ‬‘Love wins‭’‬ so‭ ‬controversial‭?

The obvious answer to this question is that Rob Bell seems to be questioning long held Christian beliefs about the‭ ‬judgment of God and more specifically the concept of Hell.‭ ‬I doubt‭ ‬whether‭ ‬many Christians have‭ ‬easily‭ ‬accepted‭ ‬the idea of the Christian God of love sending people,‭ ‬who might well be redeemable,‭ ‬if not in this life but perhaps in the next life,‭ ‬to a place of eternal suffering.

It was only‭ ‬72‭ ‬years ago that the‭ ‬Second World War was waged against a man who had the intention of creating a‭ ‬super race and destroying or enslaving those that didn‭’‬t either qualify or refused to accept him as‭ ‬their father‭ (‬Fuhrer‭)‬ there‭ ‬would seem to be many similarities‭ ‬between‭ ‬Hitlers‭ ‬death camps and the‭ ‬lake of eternal lake fire except that the death camps were not eternal.

If we are honest we try not to dwell on the‭ ‬judgment of God too much and prefer to preach‭ ‬forgiveness‭ ‬and‭ ‬to‭ ‬live in the light of his love.‭ ‬Rob Bell has demanded through his book‭ ‬‘Love‭ ‬Wins‭’‬ that we look again at what the bible teaches about Hell‭ ‬and God‭’‬s‭ ‬judgment‭ ‬and naturally‭ ‬because‭ ‬we don‭’‬t like the subject very much it becomes controversial.‭ ‬He seems to be asking us to consider another interpretation other than the one that is most commonly taught.

I don‭’‬t see how this makes‭ ‬Rob Bell into‭ ‬a‭ ‬Universalist,‭ ‬which is a very unpopular label in the Evangelical Christian world.‭ ‬A true Universalist believes that‭ ‬whatever religion or philosophy one‭ ‬adheres to will get you to God in other words‭ ‬‘all roads lead to God‭’‬.‭ ‬This is of course‭ ‬unacceptable‭ ‬to Christians who believe that Jesus is the only way to come to know God the father.

In another sense though,‭ ‬the bible does teach that the breath of God‭ (‬Ruagh in Hebrew‭) ‬that abides in every man and animal will return to the Father when the man or animal‭ ‬dies‭ ‬..‭ ‬so whatever road or religion‭ ‬or philosophy‭ ‬you may choose,‭ ‬according to scripture,‭ ‬cannot prevent the‭ ‬returning of something‭ ‬in you‭ ‬( soul or spirit‭ ?‬) to God.‭ ‬There seems to‭ ‬be‭ ‬no escaping one day having to meet with ones‭ ‬maker..‭ ‬there‭’‬s‭ ‬nowhere to run.‭

One‭ ‬could assume that the purpose of the breath of life returning to the father is so that we can be judged as to whether or not we are worthy to live with him eternally however if death nor life can separate us from the love of God perhaps the redeeming work of Christ continues beyond the grave.‭ ‬I personally would very much‭ ‬like to think so but it isn‭’‬t‭ ‬100%‭ ‬clear one way or the‭ ‬other,‭ ‬therefore making it‭ ‬‘open‭’‬ to interpretation‭ (‬open as in permitted‭)‬ There are some‭ ‬valid viewpoints on both sides of this controversy.

I would like to say that I have struggled with this question‭ ‬for the entire‭ ‬36‭ ‬years that have passed since‭ ‬I become a Christian but the truth is I have ignored the question as much as humanly possible‭ ‬feeling,‭ ‬perhaps,‭ ‬that to dwell on it too much would just churn up other‭ ‬tricky‭ ‬questions and become rather depressing.

If Rob Bell isn‭’‬t a Universalist then what is he‭ ? ‬I suspect that he is a brave man who wants to find the truth behind this question and isn‭’‬t afraid to pursue it nor to share his findings so far with others.‭ ‬Why is it so hard for other‭ ‬‘Christian‭ ‬writers,‭ ‬preachers, teachers etc:’ to accept this‭? ‬Why does it provoke them to label this man‭ ‬a‭ ‬heretic‭?

Jealousy maybe a factor behind some of the reactions,‭ ‬one cannot ignore that Rob Bell is a fine communicator,‭ ‬and has‭ ‬an effective ministry and that his books are easy to read and well liked. ‘Oh, why is God blessing this mans ministry more than ours ? ’ .... maybe it’s not God who is blessing him but the Devil at work ? .... whatever .. let’s get him! NB: If that is a factor then beware because Jealousy IS the devil at work !

A more likely reason for the controversy is that many Christians see themselves as defenders of the faith and they are worried that this book will upset the way the church is viewed by the world and CNN news. It’s more likely that the controversy over the book is more damaging to the Churches ‘image’ than what is written in it. More people are going to read ‘Love wins’ because of the controversy than because they are actually interested in the content.

I have to say in closing that I think Rob Bell may be right and that we will, as CS Lewis wrote in The Last Battle, be surprised at who actually gets into heaven. I also believe that our God is a just and merciful God who will move heaven and earth to redeem mankind and we have yet to see how this will pan out.

April 25, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterTony Clay

Hi Tony,

Thanks for your very thoughtful and balanced comment. I tend to agree with much of what you're saying.

I loved 'Love wins' - sure there are bits that I don't agree with, but on the whole the book champions the central aspect of God's divine character - love.

Grace and peace,


April 27, 2011 | Registered CommenterDr Dion Forster

Please see a follow up post with a book review of Francis Chan's book 'Erasing Hell' here.

July 7, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterDion Forster

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