Book Review for Love Wins

Posted: 24/03/2011 in book review, Greg Boyd, hell, Rob Bell
Tags: , , , ,

My initial plan with this review was to write first about all the nasty things that have been said about Rob Bell and his book Love Wins: A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived. However, I think that writing an actual review of this book might be a bit more urgent at this point. I will still be writing a blog about the common criticisms of Rob Bell (some of which are good, and many of which are bad), but that will probably have to wait until the weekend. For now, I’ll say that I don’t believe that a belief in eternal torment in hell is an essential for the Christian faith, and I sometimes get a little frustrated with those who do.

Now to the review. Rob Bell is an incredibly lucid and talented writer. Many people accuse Rob Bell of “confusion” and insist that people need “clarity” instead of the emergent theology or such. Honestly though, if you read the book, you will probably find it pretty clear.

Maybe “confusion” is thoughtful questions to assumed doctrines. If that be the case, than I think a little bit of confusion is needed. In fact, Rob Bell’s questions were my favorite part of the book. The first part of his questions could be summed up in the phrase “Hell: isn’t it a little bit weird?” Secondly, he believes that there might not be a clear way to tell whether or not someone is “in” or “out” when it comes to heaven/hell. To support this claim, Rob Bell cites several Bible passages -about a dozen- that show that there is a great deal of ambiguity on this subject.

This is something that many Christians know already -espeically those who are emergent. The fact that evangelicalism wants this to be clear and exclusive might be part of the reason why evangelicalism can be culturally clueless. If you think that you and your exclusive club are the only one’s who get in, than those are the only people you deeply associate with. If those are the only people you associate with, than you have a self-perpetuating social-proof of what makes someone “in.” It becomes harder to understand those who are “out.” It is a sub-culture that things it is relevant to the main culture, when it is in fact semi-autistic.

There is another charge that was tossed against Rob Bell. Rob Bell does “hermenutical gymnastics” to make his points. For sake of example, you can probably examine Rob Bell’s assertion regarding the word “hell” in the Gospels. It comes from the word Gehenna when spoken by Jesus. This is really important point since many assert that Jesus spoke of eternal torment and hellfire, since he did -in fact- mention “hell.” However, Rob Bell says that when Jesus was saying gehennahe was referencing Jerusalem’s disgusting, burning, city dump. Here’s why:

    • The etymology of word Gehenna
  • Relevant historical facts about Jersusalem in Jesus’ time
  • The usage of the word Gehenna in Jesus’ time.

How is that “hermenutical gymnastics”? Isn’t that what you are supposed to do when you exegete a Bible passage?

I obviously haven’t read every last internet critique of Love Wins, but I have not found anyone who actually addresses Rob Bell’s point here: When Jesus says “hell,” he is not referring to the nine layers of Dante’s inferno. He is referring to garbage dump outside Jerusalem. This only one example of Rob Bell’s exegesis, and cannot address all of them for you here.

Now many have criticized Rob Bell for not dealing with certain issues. It is true that Rob Bell did not address any of the predictable objections to his view. Yet, sometimes these critics demand to much. For instance, why did not Rob Bell discuss the two wills of God or limited atonement? I would venture to guess it is because Rob Bell is not a Calvinist (which should be obvious!) and is not writing to Calvinists. Why didn’t Rob Bell expand on a particular issue, like penal substitution? I suppose because he is writing a popular book -which introduces and surveys a topic- rather than a article for an academic journal -which is very specific and narrow.

Despite all that, I still feel that the major weakness of Rob Bell’s book was that he never answered any particular objections. Doing such, in my opinion, is one of the most important things you can do when you drop a bomb like this. Greg Boyd’s God of the Possible was equally if not more controversial. In that book, Boyd devoted an entire chapter to answering objections in fair, direct, and polite manner. A simple addendum to Love Wins would have been equally desirable. It would have been nice if Rob Bell offered an alternative to penal substitution in this book too.

Ultimately though, I feel that all reviews of the book will fall short. Much of the internet does not deal with the substance of the Love Wins, but instead cry “liberal” or other anathemas. Like the Harry Potter series, many evangelicals have decided that it is wrong already and have not bothered to give it read.

The next blogs will mention a few of those other anathemas. Until then, thank you for reading, commenting, and reposting.

  1. Nomad, BSN says:

    >You may have just convinced me to buy or borrow a book my good sir.

  2. >I'll check this out sometime, definitely. I was wondering more about what the book actually said, because there's a lot of ways to believe that everyone will be in Heaven someday. Does he believe in the existence of Hell at all? What role does Christ play in his soteriology?

  3. Jin-roh says:

    >@Nomad, hey what do I post all the links for?@Stu, he does believe that Christ plays a role. He wasn't to specific on his atonement theory, though he did cite the verse "I am drawing all men to myself" which could be "all people" or "all kinds of people"

  4. >This is the first review that has made me want to read the book. I don't think he's gone mad by any means, but I didn't want to read something that was purely Universalist propaganda like everything else I've read makes it out to be. I do believe in Heaven and Hell, but not in the sense of clouds and mansions or burning lakes of fire and pitchforks. I think in Heaven we are with Him, surrounded and engulfed in Him and all His goodness, and Hell is a place where you cannot feel Him. At all. Away from all His goodness. Don't ask me what that actually LOOKS like, as I don't have a clue, that's just the only way I can describe it. Thanks for the review. I will also check out that book by Hans Urs von Balthasar.

  5. Alf says:

    >A great book arguing in favour of universalism is "The Evangelical Universalist" by Gregory MacDonald.The question of penal substitution is thoroughly examined by a collection of essays in the book "Stricken by God?" edited by Brad Jersak.

  6. konerush says:

    >Thanks for your share! very impressive!cialis

  7. Ben Seare says:

    >I agree with the semi-autistic outlook and the idea of making a rigid decision in order to deny any Pastor Bell and Harry Potter (Good versus evil storyline for children – shock horror!). I hope the great Truth is not overrun with narrow-mindedness and knee-jerk reactionaries.Great blog, by the way.

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