Reviewing Love Wins

April 11th, 2011 / 23 Comments

I have been impressed with the attention Rob Bell’s book, Love Wins, enjoys. Having read the book, I’m now ready to weigh in on its merits.

The marketing of Love Wins has been ingenious. Bell’s short video promo caught the attention of many, including me. After watching the video, I was hooked: I had to read the book!

The video highlights questions we all should be asking. In particular, Bell asks about the nature of the God in whom we believe.

After buying and then reading the book, my overall response is this …

This is a great book!

Setting the Stage

Early on in Love Wins, Bell claims the ideas in the book are not entirely original to him. Others in the Christian tradition have argued similarly. He is right in this – although the majority of people today are unfamiliar with these Christian voices.

Bell’s version of these ideas, however, is enticing. The prose is attention grabbing, accessible, provocative. Love Wins is not a technical academic book, and, overall, that’s one of its strengths.

Heaven

From the start, Bell calls into question popular views of heaven and hell. He joins other Christians who say Jesus was much more concerned with the here and now than the then and there.

I like to put this point in this way: the eternal life Jesus promises is more about a quality of life in the present than a quantity of life forever. But God cares about both now and then.

Bell says the redemption of our lives and all creation requires our participation in God’s action in the world. Those in Jesus’ day expected the world to be restored, renewed, and redeemed. They weren’t thinking much about an afterlife.

“Jesus teaches us to pursue a life of heaven now and also then,” Bell says, “anticipating the day when earth and heaven are one.” He continues, “If you believe that you’re going to leave and evacuate to somewhere else, then why do anything about this world? A proper view of heaven is not to escape from the world, but to full engagement with it, all with the anticipation of a coming day when things are on earth as they currently are in heaven” (46-47).

Hell

To begin his discussion of hell, Bell makes the point many scholars know but most laity do not: the Old Testament says little or nothing about the traditional idea of hell. “The precise details of who goes where, when, how, with what, and for how long,” says Bell, “simply aren’t things that Hebrew writers were terribly concerned with” (67).

In the New Testament, we find only about a dozen instances in which the Greek words have been translated into English as “hell.” One word, gehenna, refers to the city dump burning outside Jerusalem. Jesus’ listeners would have imagined this site, not a fiery pit below them. Another word, hades, is the Greek word for death or the place of the dead. The popular view of hell comes more from writers like Dante than from the Bible.

Bell believes in a particular view of hell, however. Hell emerges from the negative consequences of sin and evil. What Jesus says about hell “describes the very real experiences and consequences of rejecting our God given goodness and humanity,” says Bell (73).

When we choose other than God’s loving best, we experience hell. God allows us to live with the full consequences of our choices, says Bell, confident that the misery we find ourselves in will have a way of getting our attention.

“We needed a loaded, volatile, adequately violent, dramatic, serious word to describe the very real consequences we experience when we reject the good, and true, and beautiful life that God has for us,” Bell says. “And for that, the word ‘hell’ works quite well. Let’s keep it” (93).

The Logic of Freedom and Love

The most interesting chapter of the book comes about halfway. Bell asks in its title, “Does God get what God wants?”

We find numerous passages in the Bible that speak of God wanting all people to find salvation. God’s desires to be united and reconciled with all creation. God works in us to fulfill God’s own good purposes. And God never gives up on us, ever. Does God get the salvation God wants for all?

“God has to respect our freedom to choose to the very end,” Bell argues, “even at the risk of relationship itself. If at any point God overrides, co-ops, or hijacks the human heart, robbing us the freedom to choose, then God has violated the fundamental essence of what love even is” (103-104). Therefore, “love demands freedom. It always has, and it always will. We are free to resist, reject, and rebel against God’s ways for us,” says Bell. “We can have all the hell we want” (113).

I find this logic compelling. In fact, this is precisely the logic I use in my own work, including my book The Nature of Love. I now understand why one reviewer said my book gives a more complete theological rationale for Love Wins.

Like Bell, I believe giving freedom is an aspect of God’s love. If God always gives freedom and never coerces, we have no grounds to affirm a universalism that says God unilaterally saves all.

Let me explore this a bit…

Universalism

At the heart of this book’s controversy is the claim that Rob Bell affirms universalism. Although universalism can be defined in many ways, it is typically understood to mean God unilaterally saves all to enjoy eternal bliss in heaven.

Universalism so understood sounds like the conclusion of a game of hide and seek. God says, “Ally-ally in come free!”

Those who reject universalism make several arguments. One of the most common is the Bible speaks against such universalism. A few passages in the Bible use words we translate as “hell.” (As I note above, Bell does a good job noting their scarcity and that they likely do not mean what many Christians have assumed.)

Many more biblical passages, however, speak of the negative consequences sin and disobedience cause. “The wages of sin is death,” to quote the Apostle Paul. Those who reject universalism often interpret these passages as referring to punishment in the afterlife. Bell argues (rightly, in my view), however, that these passages pertain to the suffering that comes in this life. Few if any biblical passages speak of suffering in the afterlife.

God’s Power to Send People to Hell

Oddly enough, many universalists embrace the same view of God’s power those who affirm the doctrines of predestination and unconditional election embrace. Predestinarians typically believe God, in solitary sovereignty, chooses who will go to hell and who will enjoy heaven.

Universalism and predestination take to its logical end the belief that God alone saves. If no one but God initiates and completes our salvation, God alone is the one who determines to save all (universalism) or only some (traditional view of predestination).

Those who believe God alone initiates and completes salvation are likely to quote biblical passages like this: “By grace you are saved, through faith. This is not of yourselves, it is a gift from God. It is not because of your works, so no one can boast.”

Often set aside are numerous biblical passages that suggest we have a role to play in our salvation. For instance, the Apostle Paul says, “work out your own salvation, with fear and trembling. For God is at work in you both to will and to work for God’s good pleasure.”

If God initiates the possibility for salvation, empowers us to choose freely this salvation, but never accomplishes salvation all alone, we have a role to play. If free creatures play a necessary role, we should not affirm universalism or predestination as these have been commonly understood.

To put it another way, I argue that we should not affirm universalism, in the sense that all will go to heaven by divine fiat. Instead, we should affirm that creatures play a role in cooperating with God to establish the kingdom of God in this life and the next.

Does Love Win?

Near the end of his chapter asking whether God gets what God wants, Bell gets to the issue in the book’s title. He correctly notes some Christians have argued hell is not forever. Hell can be temporary. These Christians believe that in the end, love wins.

Not all Christians have believed this, of course. But, says Bell, some “envision God’s love to be bigger, stronger, and more compelling than [all other things] put together” (111).

Bell doesn’t answer the chapter question, “Does God get what God wants?” At least he doesn’t directly. He says the real question is “Do we get what we want?”

“If we want hell, if we want heaven, they are ours,” argues Bell. “That’s how love works. We can’t be forced, manipulated, or coerced. It always leaves room for the other to decide. God says yes, we can have what we want, because love wins” (119).

What Does it Mean to Say Love Wins?

I’m not sure what Bell means when he says love wins.

One interpretation would be that as long as God loves us and we are free to embrace or reject that love, love wins. Love wins because God always loves and offers us freedom. As long as God is love and we exist to respond to God, love wins.

I generally like this view. But it doesn’t tell us whether all creation eventually freely says “yes” to God. It doesn’t tell us whether, to use more traditional language, the Kingdom of God will finally be consummated.

Another interpretation of “love wins” says God’s love eventually persuades all creatures to say “yes.” Love wins not just in that God never stops calling us to love. Love also wins, because God’s love eventually persuades all creation to enjoy God’s invitation to salvation.

I like this second view too. But I think this meaning of “love wins” remains a Christian hope and not a foregone conclusion or certain guarantee. I wholeheartedly affirm this hope. But if creatures are always free to resist God’s love and God never coerces, there’s no certainty that the Kingdom of God will be entirely fulfilled. This idea is unsettling to some Christians, because they want a 100% guarantee. I think Christians should affirm this hope on biblical faith, not as a guaranteed certainty.

The Cross and Resurrection

It’s understandable that Bell would include a chapter in his book on Jesus’ cross and resurrection. But in my opinion, this is not a very strong chapter.

Bell rightly shows that Scripture offers different explanations of what the cross means. He rightly says atonement metaphors are more or less appropriate given the context. The resurrection provides the source of hope for overcoming evil. All of this makes sense to me. But I don’t see a strong link between the cross/resurrection and the ideas Bell advocates in previous chapters. I think the case could be made. But Bell doesn’t do so, in my opinion.

Bell wisely addresses Jesus’ well-known words, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father, except through me.” He correctly notes that this verse doesn’t give specifics of how, when, and in what matter people get to God through Jesus. “What Jesus does is declare that he, and he alone, is saving everybody,” says Bell. “And then he leaves the door open, way open. Creating all sorts of possibilities.”

Speaking of Jesus, Bell says “He is as narrow as himself and as wide as the universe. He is as exclusive as himself and as inclusive as containing every single particle of creation” (155). This generally fits my own view on the central importance of Jesus for salvation. 

What Is God Like?

I was initially provoked to read this book upon watching Bell’s video. In it, he wonders about the nature of a God who allegedly sends people to heaven or hell.

In the closing pages of Love Wins, Bell addresses this issue directly: “We have to ask: just what kind of God is behind all of this?” (175) Having undermined the idea that God alone sends people to heaven or hell in the afterlife, his answer makes sense: “God’s very essence is love” (177).  

Returning to themes I like most, Bell says God’s love can “be resisted, and rejected, and denied, and avoided” (177). “God is love, and to refuse this love moves us away from it, in the other direction,” he argues, “and that will, by very definition, be an increasingly unloving, hellish reality” (177).

And then we have what may be the best line in the book:

“We do ourselves great harm when we confuse the very essence of God, which is love, with the very real consequences of rejecting and resisting that love, which creates what we call hell” (177).

I suggest we use this quote to interpret the recent recording — apparently of Bell — in which he denies universalism.

While God never gives up calling us to live lives of love, we can freely respond improperly to God’s loving call. When we do, we reap the natural negative consequences that come from choosing something other than God’s loving best.

Conclusion

Bell’s book leaves some questions unanswered. That’s fine with me. No book can answer all our questions. Even the Bible leaves questions unanswered.

This doesn’t mean that we should refuse to construct the best answer we can to our questions. And I think the Bible can play the central role in our quest for such answers. Part of what it means to love God with our minds is that we search honestly. And God can help us find answers that are more plausible than others.

But in our searching, I agree with what I think is the heart of Bell’s book: we must keep the themes of love central. Love should be at the heart of our answers to the biggest questions of life. Too often, answers to questions about heaven and hell have not followed the logic of love.

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Comments

Bruce Barnard

Thanks Dr. Oord for a balanced, theological view of this controversy…


John VandenOever

I have not read the book, but this review seems to base more upon our emotional, logical way of doing things than on what God’s Word makes plain about Him. God is holy other. In Him is light and no darkness at all. The suggestion here that Bell gives only a nod to the cross, atonement, and the resurrection but doesn’t base all his views upon the cross is telling. If we reject fellowship with God and the only way of restoration with Him (Jesus), there can be no hope of a pass from destruction. God actually puts judgment in the hands of loving, merciful Jesus (John 5:22-29) and Jesus says the DEAD will rise either to LIVE or to be condemned. In God are held the keys to hell (Matthew 10:28) “Be afraid of the One who can kill both soul and body in hell.” Also see John 12:25 – love your life, you lose it. Hate your life in this life, you will keep it for eternal life. Remember, God did not even spare the angels who rebelled (2 Peter 2). This earth will be DESTROYED (2 Peter 3), so we are not working for temporal improvements… the only thing to survive will be souls. I do agree with the idea that eternal life starts now, just as it is clear that we meet deadly consequences here. But we must guard against the error of confusing our emotions and the way we might like things to be with God’s perfect, unchanging plan—Sin brought death to every living thing. The only way to avoid final, eternal destruction is to take Jesus (in this life) before we are consigned to destruction. Remember also how often God gave someone over to their willful sin (see Pharaoh), or how Jesus said things to confuse those who would not believe (Matthew 13).


Brint Montgomery

Tom:

0. Although there are so many good things in Bell’s book, I couldn’t begin to list them, there is issue wherein both he and you agree, but which I think you’re both in error. Let me review where this agreement twixt you and him lies, and then make a case for why you (and Bell) should change your minds:

1.  Here’s the relevant quote from your review, which showcases the worrisome position at hand:

“God has to respect our freedom to choose to the very end,” Bell argues, “even at the risk of relationship itself. If at any point God overrides, co-ops, or hijacks the human heart, robbing us the freedom to choose, then God has violated the fundamental essence of what love even is” (103-104). Therefore, “love demands freedom. It always has, and it always will. We are free to resist, reject, and rebel against God’s ways for us,” says Bell. “We can have all the hell we want” (113). I [Oord] find this logic compelling. In fact, this is precisely the logic I use in my own work, including my book The Nature of Love.

I think the key premise (KP) where he and you make your mistake is this one:

KP = If at any point God overrides, co-ops, or hijacks the human heart, robbing us the freedom to choose, then God has violated the fundamental essence of what love even is.

2.  Sentences of the type KP are called “conditionals.”  To show that a conditional is incorrect, one must show how the first part can be true while the second part is false. 

2.1 Take this conditional, for example:  “If an Okie is a preacher, then s/he drives a Mercedes.”  Part one is “An Okie is a preacher”  And part two is “S/he drives a Mercedes.”  Now then—can I find an Okie who’s a preacher, and who DOESN’T drive a Mercedes?  Yes, I can. I are one.  So’s all the preachers I know around here; why, even the D.S. just drives a Buick!  Thus, this particular conditional about Okies, preachers, and Mercedes can’t be correct, since the first part could be true while the second part’s false.

2.2.  So now, could KP be shown incorrect just like the above Okie example?  Yes, yes it can.  Part one is, “God overrides […] us the freedom to chose.”  And part two is “God has violated the fundamental essence of what love even is.”  Now then, can I find a case where God overrides freedom, but where God HASN’T violated the fundamental essence of what love even is?”  Yes, I can.  Here’s how:

3.  Right now I’m about to grab one of two Reese’s Peanut Cutter cups from the orange package in front of me.  I could use my left hand, or my right.  Happily, God is subtle and knows that even a falling sparrow can greatly affect future states of affairs.  Stipulate outright that God co-ops, or hijacks my human heart, robbing me the freedom to eat a Reese with my left hand (forcing, thus, my right hand to do it).  Furthermore, God did so with the foresight to greatly subvert, or even outright eliminate, the high-probability risk of a busload of kids plowing into my car five days hence, killing us all.  In this case God has NOT “violated the fundamental essence of what love even is.”  Not for me—I’m glad God did it!  Not for the kids, or their parents, or their friends—they’re glad God did it!  God’s overriding my left-handed will shows he loves me, them, and all related parties.  God’s motive is loving; God’s outcome is good.  Indeed, all parties praise him for making this tiny, imperceptible over-ride on just one sub-component of my will. 

4.  In conclusion, then, KP is incorrect (first part can be true, while second part false.)  That’s why you and Bell are in error about God when you claim, “If at any point God overrides, co-ops, or hijacks the human heart, robbing us the freedom to choose, then God has violated the fundamental essence of what love even is.”  Indeed, you should ask God daily to override those little, throw-away sub-actions that you could care less about.  Yes, I want to eat that Reese cup, oh Lord; hijack not that choice.  Yet, whether by my left hand or right—not my will, but Thine alone.

Brint Montgomery
Philosophy
SNU


Bill Carroll

Thanks for your review. I have always enjoyed Rob Bells unique take on scripture. Sadly, I can’t remember a book that was so harshly reviewed before it was even released. I wonder what the stream of Christians who apposed this book where afraid of? Love winning? (Okay, I know it is universalism) I found the book thoughtful, hopeful, inspiring and without all the answers. He rips open some traditional views that leave me with the desire to learn more. Bell’s ability to pull back the restraints that tradition and church history have put around God is scary fun. God’s love for me wins, that’s good news. Also, the people who ran his marketing campaign are geniuses. Christian controversy sells.


Ron Hunter Jr

Tom, thanks for your views. I need to read the book. Haven’t agreed much with Bell. I wonder how he treats all the “judgment” passages of scripture, as you say cant cover everything.

I was going to comment to Brint, but I think I’ll just eat a Reese left-handed.


Wm. Andrew Schwartz

Brint, I agree with your critique in so far that it seems possible for God to override human freedom in the interest of love. In fact, one might wish to argue that overriding freedom can be more loving. For example, is it more loving to override freedom (e.g. physically pull someone out of the street) in order to prevent them from being hit by a bus; or is it more loving, for the sake of freedom, to stand by as someone gets squashed? It seems more loving in such cases to override freedom. As you state “God’s motive is loving; God’s outcome is good.”

Such examples (like the example you give regarding the Reese’s), seem unique in scope – they are limited to human action and God’s love. Perhaps, what Bell is referring to is not the general freedom to choose, but the specific freedom to choose or reject God. In this sense, it is not God’s love that is being violated when God overrides human freedom, but our ability to love – which seems to require freedom.


Paul DeBaufer

Very good, Tom. I haven’t read the book, I have it as an audio book, but those don’t work so well with me. I do want to read it.

I am glad you reviewed it as I wondered where it stood in light of Essential Kenosis. I am happy to hear that it seems to fit well.

Thank you.


Bob Hunter

Brint,

In thinking about this, and your example, I would almost want to make the distinction between the human heart and human actions.  Perhaps God does override certain human actions for purposes that are beyond our ability to discern; ones where certain benevolent outcomes are desired.  Okay, I’ll give you that much, perhaps so.  But to say that God co-opts the human heart and overrides it in any significant way would be a pretty big leap it would seem. I’m left with no other choice but to follow your example out to its logical end.  If I am wrong in doing so, please correct me. At the end of your example, you almost unmake your point when you suggest we should willingly allow God to hijack our sub-actions.  I agree with the sentiment and pray it would be so in my life.  But doesn’t that imply an exercise of freedom on our part? So I’m a bit confused… 

In any event, I’m thinking of the heart as a composite of mind, will and emotions and I do not see where God, even though He has the where-with-all and ability, would hijack the heart in any significant way.  But I hold out the possibility that God may override certain human actions, even if we are unaware of it.

Any further explanation would be appreciated.


Jeremy Hugus

@ Brint ‘n’ Bob:

I admittedly agree with Bell and Oord that creaturely freedom is a necessary preconditon to love.  This seems true insofar as most claim love as requiring some type of response.  Some have talked of prevenient grace as responsive and response-abling.  If, then, this is a crucial element of the God-us love dynamic, to coerce is to preclude the response and, necessarily, the enabling of response as well.  To say that God perhaps “override[s] certain human actions for purpose that are beyond our ability” etc. is problematic for several reasons. First, if this happens, we are not entirely free (obviously) and are subject to the whims of God without the guarantee of making our own meaningful response.  And, secondly, if this falls within the realm of divinely loving action, it is unclear why this coercion would not become the norm for most all our interactions with God.  For example, what higher purpose could God possibly have than that all come to be transformed and have reconciled relationship with God’s self?  If this is in fact the “highest purpose,” then surely God would at least perpetually override certain human actions to ensure as much.  In this case, the “highest purpose” would be met; all would be in right relationship with God. But I think none of us would call this—God overriding our actions or decisions to coerce a relationship with God—loving action.  If this fails to constitute “loving coercion,” I don’t know what else is left to fit the bill.

As for, the KP being incorrect, #3 appears to be a classic example of question begging.  Here it you seem to assume (or actually stipulate to) the very point you’re trying to prove through argument.  However, #3 does not shown through any sort of argument that God actually can or has ever forced left-handed candy eating, let alone that in so doing thereby caused the wheels on the bus to stop going ‘round and ‘round all through the town.  To say God caused or coerced you to eat w/ the left hand and directly or indirectly coerced a bus to stop is an assumption we must prove independently.  We cannot simply assume or stipulate to that which we are trying to prove in order to show a logical disconnect in Bell’s proferred syllogism. That which you assume in #3 must be argued for and proven independently. We need examples to show that God actually did coerce the left hand to do the right hands’ bidding.  Where we are unable to show or otherwise justify by argument that God does override creaturely freedom (I have yet to see such a thing), we cannot claim the syllogism fails.


Zack Church

Brint,

As others have commented on the struggle of your 3rd postulate to hold water, I will carry forward the syllogism proffered by Bell and Oord. Were their key premise false, I would have to ask the question then of “Why exile?” We are shown in Jeremiah a God who is pained by the apostasy and synchretization of the people, and who desolates the people as the last means of redeeming them. If in fact God’s “hijacking of the human heart” would not violate the very essence of what love is, why was the desolation necessary? To carry the claim you make through to the end renders covenant unneccessary, covenant faithfulness (or steadfast love) unneeded, and paints the exile as retributive instead or restorative.


Jeremy Hugus

@ Wm. Andrew S.

The issue of coercing or controlling as a preferred expression of love has long perplexed me, thanks for addressing this.  It seems clear that to snatch the child from harm’s way is the most loving option. By analogy, then, we could argue that the same ought to be true for God.  My thinking may be wrong on this point, but it is obvious to me that there are countless times where bad event “X” happens, and God fails to compel or coerce the “better” outcome.  This, of course, is at the heart of the theodicy issue. In some sense, then, I work backwards. I see evil things happening.  I see the “girl getting hit by the bus” over and over again, whether in tsunamis, holocausts, molestations, or unjust power structures. God has not coerced different, more-loving outcomes.  I affirm God as love and so am left to conclude that it must be most loving NOT to coerce in order to stop these evils. And, yet, I still insist that if God can, God must snatch the child to maintain God’s loving nature.  I am then left to conclude that it must be the case that God cannot coerce to stop X. Apparently, something in the love nature precludes God from coercing (otherwise God would) to stop genuine evil. The parent CAN snatch the child and, so, should. God cannot. This is not to say that God is weak but simply that God, as is the case with anyone, cannot act in ways contrary to God’s own nature.  For example, I cannot bark and pant as a dog; I haveth not the dog nature. God cannot hate persons, but we do not despair that our unable-to-hate-persons-God is somehow diminutive in terms of power. It is more loving to coerce in some situtions only where coercion is an option.  Where the love nature, of necessity, precludes coercion, well…it is not even an option then.

You later say, “In this sense, it is not God’s love that is being violated when God overrides human freedom, but our ability to love – which seems to require freedom.”

I think this is right but only half right.  Insofar as love is responsive AND response-abling, it seems either element of love is violated where God coerces. If God coerces and our ability to love (responsive) is violated, then necessarily so is the response-enabling action of God.  In other words, God cannot violate our free ability to love without simultaneously violating God’s love nature.


John VandenOever

Here’s a great response to the book from Dr. Michael Youssef:

http://ltwleadstory.com/2011/03/love-has-already-won/

“What kind of justice says, “It does not matter what you do, what sins you commit and whether or not you reject God’s gracious offer of salvation here and now; everyone will get off scot free”? The fact is that love already won when God so loved that He gave so that whosoever believes (in this life) will be saved. This is a clear indication that His love, not Rob Bell’s perception of it, has already won the day.”


Ben Duarte

Universalism?
The Evangelical Dictionary of Theology defines Universalism as “that doctrine which asserts that all men will eventually be reconciled to God” (pg. 1232). However, the question is: Does the bible teach this? At this juncture we must ask probing questions and examine what the bible says on this matter. The questions that I would like to ask are as follows:
Did Jesus teach that hell existed? Has anyone ever been there?
“And in hell, he lifted up his eyes, being in torments, and seeing Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom” (Luke 16:23 KJV). Jesus speaks of someone experiencing hell (existentially). This is a reality for him……………as the gentleman in hell says himself at verse (28) “………for I have 5 brethren; that he may testify unto them, lest they also come into this place of torment”, it seems then, that he is there and describes where he is and what he is feeling.
“And fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul: but rather fear him which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell” (Matthew 10:28 KJV).
Is hell eternal?
“And the devil that had deceived them was cast into the lake of fire and brimstone, where the beast and the false prophet are, and shall be tormented day and night forever and ever” (Rev. 20:10 KJV)
“And whosoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire” (Rev. 20:15 KJV).
Will anyone spend eternity in hell?
Then shall he answer them, saying Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye did not to one of the least of these, ye did not to me. And these shall go into everlasting punishment: but the righteous into eternal life” (Matthew 25:45-46 KJV).

Universalism and Reason
When we examine relevant verses from scripture it appears that universalism is shattered. If one human soul goes to hell forever, then universalism collapses. Whether, we are committed to a Calvinistic, Armenian, Lutheran, Wesleyan, Roman Catholic or Eastern Orthodox Soteriology is irrelevant. The fact remains that the bible teaches that human souls have been in hell and that they will remain there. Can we accept scripture at face and simple value? The great Wesleyan theologian Thomas C. Oden once said “Point me out a better way that I have yet known. Show me it is so by plain proof of scripture” (Doctrinal Standards in the Wesleyan Tradition pg. 92). These simple and plain verses speak of such a place called hell, in which human souls will enter, and remain. Even if we project verses that appear to support universalism, this would only prove anti-Calvinistic presupposition at best. Even if we have proven that human will has the ability to choose God, this only proves that some will choose hell. Eternal hell for the unbelieving soul sustains.
Universalism and Love
In his book, “The Nature of Love: A Theology,” Dr. Thomas J. Oord concludes that the ideas 1) a human can continually choose hell after death and 2) God is loving are compatible ideas. He states that “Essential Kenosis theology affirms the basic biblical view that our actions have consequences. On the one hand, our proper responses to God mean that we can be a blessing (1st Peter 3:9). Proper responses promote over all well-being. On the other hand, the wages of our sin is death (Romans 6:23)…………..We should affirm the experience of hell as a possibility both in this life and the afterlife. Even the free creatures can freely choose to respond inappropriately to the God who calls them to live an abundant life. Even then creatures can also choose hell.” (pg. 155-156). It appears that Dr. Oord teaches that hell is a place for those who do not respond in love to God’s call for success in this life and the next, and that hell may be a place for those who reject loving God. This may be a strong and unique case for Wesleyan perspectives in soteriology, however, its even a stronger case against the idea that God’s love and universalism are incompatible.


Todd Holden

I have thoroughly enjoyed Rob’s book. What I have grave concerns about however are the “Christians” beating Rob up with their words and outright calling him a heretic. Even John MacArthur has gotten into the act assuring us that Rob is not a Christian at all.

I wonder what this says about God’s church? Hey come one come all and be a part of a community that will love you and pound the tar out of you if we don’t like what you say. That is not much of an invitation.

I have to agree that “Love Wins”, yes indeed, love wins! Jesus told us that His church is to love each other and that that is the way people will know that we are the Church, that we are His.

A big thanks to Tom for always keeping love in front of our face as the Church.


Vaughn Baker

Universalism, like predestination, is essentially deterministic in nature.  Grace must be construed as coercive and not as persuasive if universally experienced salvation is to take place.  Augustine was right in saying of God: “He who made us without ourselves will not save us without ourselves.”


Jeremy Hugus

This is a good point, Vaughn. It does seem on some level that if love will ultimately “win everyone over,” that love is somehow a coercive foregone conclusion.  If, alternatively, we simply say that the possibility exists, this would still leave room for our free response. In other words, it could be the case that love will reconcile everyone, but that is, as yet, an unsettled possibility not a necessary future reality.

In other news, I wonder: is there ever a point in the continuum of human “existence” that God could ever cease to love us, or, more specifically, could ever override creaturely freedom? If in fact God’s nature or very essence is love, then God’s love must persist indefinitely.  And, if the guarantee of creaturely freedom is an intrinsic part of God’s love nature, and if we continue to “exist” after death, then it seems as though God would cease to BE love at whatever point, even after death, we are no longer free to be reconciled to God.  In the traditional view hell, there is a point at which we cease to be genuinely free to choose relationship with God, and this seriously undermines claims that God IS love.


Curt Gandy

Part of the excellence of the gospel lies in its simplicity. We spend so much time producing books, tapes, lectures, and vast volumes of commentary on issues that God has said would be plain to even the most simple among us, that sometimes it seems we are talking about the god of our wishful thinking rather than the God found in the pages of scripture. 
  Apart from that, even a cursory word search of the bible will show that God’s concept of Love is never divorced from His sense of Justice.  Truly, at the cross God displayed his Love for mankind while also fullfilling His requirement for Justice. Man’s duty is to receive or reject this gift, a choice that determines his ultimate destiny.  The scriptures in many places use the analogy of the harvest and the threshing field to describe what God is doing in this process. While the farmer may want all of his crop to be useful and marketable, unfortunately some parts of the field are fit only for the trash heap.  Luckily, in this instance, the grain has the opportunity to decide which type of crop it will be. Nevertheless, the field itself is not the focus of the Lord’s attention…indeed, it will be burned up with the chaff to be used again at a later date.  A new crop, perhaps? Well…that statement alone should be good enough for a few more volumes of commentary.


Jonathan Privett

I read Dr. Youssef’s review of the book. I was impressed with his disgust for universalism and any book/author that heads that way merits his disapproval.  However it was hardly ‘great’.

I had Christianity Today articles in my inbox long before I could even read the book. Is it just me or is another Calvinist redefining sovereignty in terms of love to escape a problematic theology that wrestles with death for innocents or others who have not responded fully to the Gospel of Jesus? It seems in reading this review I find comfort in prevenient grace (that God is never without a witness in either nature or revelation) and find this much more tenable than leaning towards universalism.

I have often preached and believe God sends no one to hell.  I don’t think that’s universalism. And yet, it seems marginalizing the Scriptures by reducing those NT texts that refer to hell/suffering/gehenna to some kind of this worldly angst.

In light of Easter, I wonder ultimately why Christ died. Yes, love wins. That’s been true before the title. But now I must win the book to see what version of ‘love’ we are talking about.  I will not resort to what many seem to do: react to concepts without a close reading of the context.  Scripture would be better served if many simply read the Bible and let it speak (sorry if that sounds preachy). I may even talk to people I disagree with instead of reading what Internet blogs say about them (love you Tom!)

In fact, maybe Love could Win if we could actually treat each other like heaven when we disagree about hell. Time magazine seemed to make a big deal about evangelicals getting mad at enough evangelical (must have been a slow news week). 

They are actually paying attention only because someone in the body of Christ is mad at someone who is in the body of Christ (I hope that does not sound like universalism in speaking of Rob Bell so positively but if it does offend, may the love of God be with you).

And I’m off to Amazon to buy the book…..


ats

God is love.  God is also just, etc.  A thorough discussion must include all attributes.  Kudos to Bell for going outside the box and spurring people to think.  Shame on mainstream Christianity for crucifying him.  The pharisees did not let love win—let’s not do the same.


Jason Hess

Great review. Thanks for sharing the link with me on my blog.


Greg Crofford

Tom –

I appreciate your review, as well as the probing logical and philosophical discussion that it generated.

You know that I’m a Clark Pinnock fan, and last night, I re-read his essay in Four Views on Hell (Zondervan, 1992). While I’ve come to no final conclusions, a modified version of his “conditional view” (annihilationaism) does appeal to me. As you said, Rob Bell’s book does not answer everyone question, but it seems to me that at least some mention of this position would have strengthened his book, even if he doesn’t adopt it in the end. Greg Boyd (as you likely know), his friend and one who wrote a blurb on the jacket of Love Wins, has espoused Pinnock’s view.

Question: Does the conditional view presented by Pinnock (and shared by John Stott) pass the “love test”?


DinkyDauBilly

Nicely swot, doc. I’ve been beaten up pretty good for falling into the snares of false Christendom as laid by Rob Bell … said beating being done by those who freely confess to not having read his book(s).

BTW … you recently played a peripheral role in an examination of modern application of scripture:

http://lajuntablog.blogspot.com/2011/03/alien-involvement-in-livestock.html

Sorry. It was just after one of those ‘beatings’ and I was on a bit of a tear, as we heathens are often wont to do …

Love your stuff.


Bruce

Look at Rob Bell now.  2014.


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