Love Wins?

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Full disclosure: to date, I have embraced all that I’ve read from Rob Bell. However, I can’t say the same for his controversial new book, Love Wins.

I get why Bell saw the need to write a book like this; there are lots of big questions and scary misconceptions on the topic of hell. I applaud him for taking the risk. But I’m not at all sure he got it right.

This book attempts to present a view of hell that stands in opposition to the thinking of the “turn or burn” crowd, which uses hell to scare people into heaven. But by pushing back against that caricature, Bell has swung too far in the other direction, into what clearly appears to be universalism (the belief that God will eventually save everyone and that there is no eternal hell).

I’ll admit that I love the possibility of this being God’s plan. But I just can’t square it with either the Bible or 2,000 years of God-held Christian tradition. Parables of rich men and beggars, foolish virgins, and sheep and goats all seem to speak of a point of no return, of some kind of eternal hellish reality (along with a few other biblical texts). Surely the church hasn’t been totally wrong on this issue, has it?

There are all kinds of scriptural references that seem to support a more universalistic perspective (“I am making everything new,” Rev, 21:5). And there are just as many verses that seem to support an eternally hot and fiery hell. So what’s a thoughtful Christian to do?

Perhaps the Bible’s ambiguity is meant to point us to a greater truth; that none of us can know or understand the mind of God. Everything about who God is and how he thinks is fraught with mystery. He’s all-powerful and good and yet he allowed evil to infiltrate his good creation. God solved that problem of evil by mysteriously taking on human flesh, and then let himself be inexplicably crucified. God is sovereign even as he has given us free will. God is three even as he is one. 

So who are we, on either side of this hell issue, to make a judgment on what God’s take is on such a weighty eternal matter? 

I hope Bell’s book stimulates all kinds of healthy dialogue regarding the doctrine of hell. And I pray that, as we engage this complex and mysterious topic, humility wins.

About the Author

John Van Sloten is a Calgary-based CRC pastor, teacher and writer. His latest book is Every Job a Parable; What Walmart Greeters, Nurses and Astronauts tell us about God  (Navpress USA, Hodder & Stoughton UK).

See comments (13)

Comments

Rev John Van Sloten said,

"So who are we, on either side of this hell issue, to make a judgement on what God's take is on such a weighty eternal matter." John also suggests that the Bible is ambiguous and God is mysterious on such matters.

It does matter where you stand on the hell issue, because it will determine whether a person will repent, and turn to the living God through faith for salvation. The Bible is clear, the verdict is in, God has already declared the death sentence against all sin. If there is no consequence for sin, then there is no need for a Savior, and our message as a church is in vain.

I loved the book for its expansive, beautiful and fresh vision of God's love. I was particularly taken by the question, " Does God get what he wants?" The answer, Of course he does, and so do we. That seems like wonderfully good news.

Some additional thoughts that might be helpful.
http://www.netbloghost.com/mouw/

truthmatters wrote:
"It does matter where you stand on the hell issue, because it will determine whether a person will repent, and turn to the living God through faith for salvation. The Bible is clear, the verdict is in, God has already declared the death sentence against all sin. If there is no consequence for sin, then there is no need for a Savior, and our message as a church is in vain."

Is hell the motivation for a person to repent? One could find plenty of evidence (biblical and other) that suggest otherwise.

Also, if Jesus died to pay for the sins of the world - why is anyone still punished? Does it actually matter if one chooses to accept it?

If I had a 25 years left on a 30 year house mortgage, and someone chose to 'pay the debt' for me - it would be paid for, whether I knew about it or not, whether I 'accepted it' or not. The reality is the reality. If it's been taken care of, it's been taken care of. Now I supposed I could ignore that new reality and still try to make payments, but probably the authorities in charge (the bank) would say, "You don't have to - it's taken care of." You don't throw someone into debtor's prison when a debt has been taken care of, just because "they didn't know about it" or deliberately "chose to ignore it" or even "believed otherwise". If the punishment (or payment) has been handed out, there's no need to keep handing it out.

Here's hoping God will do the same, regardless of whether someone is aware of the work on the cross or not.

As wondering said, "if Jesus died to pay the sins of the world-why is anyone still punished? Does it actually matter if one chooses to accept it?"

The Bible tells us that salvation is a free gift upon repentance and faith in Jesus alone. To only look at God's love apart from his justice is like looking at only one side of a coin. If a Muslim can cut off a persons head, or a person like Hitler can kill six million Jews, or the Long Island serial killer rape and get away with murder, where is the love? If we are allowed to break God's Law, The 10 Commandments, by lying, stealing, and looking with lust, where is God's justice? Jesus warned his listeners of hell more than anyone else in Scripture.

The Bible tells us that we need to be rescued from God, because He is holy, righteous, pure, and just. He is wrath filled, against all forms of evil. He must punish sin. Jesus Christ is the only one who took the penalty for our sins. If you will not accept it, but instead rely on your own goodness, or some other form of religion, and bypass the cross, then you are still remain under the wrath of God.

The Bible is not ambiguous on the subject of hell. Shallow review. Shallow theology.

I have to agree with Pete De Ritter. Astonishingly shallow review, which it's hard not to assume comes from shallow theology. Has this pastor read the Bible lately, or studied the Heidelberg Catechism? Nothing personal, I don't know the man; but this is the best the CRC can do with a book which (and an author who) is leading thousands of people astray? Come on!

As astute pastors and biblical scholars have noted about Love Wins, this is no more -- or less - than early 20th century theological Modernism dressed up in flashy, feel-good 21st century clothing. And Modernism in any guise is not the Gospel; it doesn't preach the God of Scriptures -- not by a long shot. (I know whereof I speak, first hand. Having been a church organist in four mainline congregations that advocate such a "Gospel," I can tell you how bankrupting and spiritually barren it is; and how, ultimately, it empties churches.

The main problem re: Rob Bell is that he apparently doesn't want God to BE the kind of God that God presents himself to be in the Old and New Testaments. And I, at least, am really tired of modern people trying to remake God in their own image because they can't "deal with" God as he reveals himself. Incidentally, the Judgment SHOULD scare people, and rightly does, and always has! (I just read the autobiographical story of the brother of famous atheist Christopher Hitchens who was converted after he began contemplating the Last Judgment while viewing some classic art depicting that scene. It scared the hell out of him; quite literally.) "It's a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God," says Hebrews 10:31. And if we're not willing to tell people that, apart from Christ, they face a horrific future then we're not preaching the whole Gospel (or the Gospel at all), and Christ certainly did not need to be forsaken by God and die for any of us.

The best and most insightful review of the book I've seen is by Kevin De Jong, pastor of University Reformed Church (RCA) in Lansing, MI. I recommend it to anybody who is anamoured of Bell's book and anybody who asks or wants to know "What's the problem?" De Jong also wrote a subsequent piece about why the the Heidelberg Catechism and Rob Bell's Love Wins cannot both be true. They're on his blog: http://thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/kevindeyoung/2011/03/14/rob-bell-lov... and
http://thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/kevindeyoung/?s=Love+Wins

Dear fellow comment posters:

If you want a dissertation on Rob Bell's book, look up Kevin DeYoung's. But don't expect Rev Van Sloten's article to go into that much detail, and for goodness sake, don't accuse him of "shallow theology" just because his review isn't a dissertation. I think he said plenty. Bell went a little too far, but at the same time, let's try and be humble in how we handle our critiques.

I think that is fair and balanced.

The last thing we need to do is step into the land of "shallow orthopraxy" in terms of how we treat people we disagree with on non essential issues like a book review.

Rev. Joshua Lickter
RCA Pastor/ Church Planter
Incarnation
Auburn, CA

Mr. Lickter, respectfully, you appear to be missing the point.
I wasn't expecting a dissertation, and I doubt that Pete De Ritter was either. What I -- and every one else here, and in the church as a whole -- do have a right to expect in a review by a CRC pastor on a CRC website of a book that is troublingly unbiblical and that has great potential to lead people away from the Gospel -- with tragic results -- is a careful, thoughtful, biblical probing of that book and why it can't and shouldn't be relied upon to engage us in biblical truth.

Care, thought and a deeply biblical understanding are always in order, especially when evaluating a book that criticizes the historic Christian church for a gross misinterpretation of God and the Christian message, and then purports to tell us how we ought to interpret things. And you say Bell "went a little too far." I find that mindboggling.

A review of the book, regardless of length, should contain insightful comment which helps readers biblically understand Bell's approach, and why that approach will wreak havoc in the church (and probably outside of it too). I'm not talking about clinging to some dead orthodoxy. I'm talking about the living God and his Gospel as opposed to a false God and false gospel.

So are reviews of Love Wins "non-essential"? Consider: Rob Bell draws a picture of God in his book and it is a picture that defies and twists God's own picture of himself in Scripture. Knowing who God is is essential to the Gospel. THAT is hardly non-essential.

This article is so wishy washie it makes us feel very sick inside..How did the Banner allow this kind of article be published? Why would anyone want to be part of a church that has no substance? What do you believe? I cant even express how sad this is..
what a missed opportunity..

I appreciate the approach you took in your review. It is very easy to get angry at Rob Bell's controversial ideas. And it is nice to hear a Reformed perspective that is thoughtful and aware. I think the reason he writes is to create this dialogue you mentioned. However, I often feel that he lets what he wants Christianity to look like get in the way of the theological basis it was built on. I hope that his questions create a search for truth. Unfortunately the tension in this debate will not be answered while we have an earthly pulse.

Jeff Tuininga

Rev. Van Sloten's article begins with "Full disclosure: to date, I have embraced all that I’ve read from Rob Bell."
Wow! This begs the question, how much have you read?
Not surprisingly, Rob Bell doesn't believe much of the Bible to be literal truth but subject to our interpretation. He denies hell and affirms universalism, but when asked he will claim he doesn't say either.
Ravi Zacharius when speaking about Rob Bell & Brian McLaren said, "Non critical people listening to this stuff absorb it." And when commenting on their books he says, "Every chapter dies the death of a thousand qualifications." "What does he actually believe in? One thing Monday, another Tuesday. He is always postulating doctrine while being anti-doctrinizing."
When we have questions, why are we so prone to seek answers from people who have even more questions and are more confused than we are? There are some very gifted people who affirm the Bible as truth who can help us in our walk, ie. RC Sproul, Ravi Zacharius, Albert Mohler, John MacArthur.
Pastor John also asks "So who are we, on either side of this hell issue, to make a judgment on what God’s take is on such a weighty eternal matter? Well Pastor, because He has told us what His "take" is. The Bible is after all His Word.

"So who are we ... to make a judgment on what God’s take is on such a weighty eternal matter?" is the most dangerous statement I have ever heard in the modern christian church.

To suggest that we use the "ambiguity" of the bible as an excuse to avoid God's command to decide whether a message is right and of God or wrong and of the devil after prayerful, group study and debate, based on this very scripture, is ridiculous.

No one should pray that "humility wins": God's truth wins. Pray instead that we can prayerfully, with humility and love, discern God's truth and warn against false teaching.

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