Friday, April 1, 2011

Heaven, Hell and a Free Pass for Everyone Who decides Hell Stinks: A Book Review

There was a good deal of controversy surrounding Rob Bell's new book, "Love Wins: Heaven, Hell and the Fate of Everyone that Has Ever Lived."

Many decried Bell as a Universalist, a heretic, and others have found comfort and revelation in his book.

First, two disclaimers. ONE: I like Rob Bell. I like the creativity and the depth with which he often takes his readers and his congregation to examine what it means to follow Jesus. I've read 3 of his 4 other books (Velvet Elvis, Sex God and Jesus Wants to Save Christians) and have found them helpful books.

TWO: Just because I like someone doesn't mean that they can't go to the plate and swing and miss sometimes. (Case in point...the Cleveland Indians!) Rob Bell is one of those voices that sees the signs posted on the Frozen Pond, "Caution: Thin Ice Beyond This Point" and he skates up to and beyond that sign and seems to weave back and forth between orthodoxy and thin ice. This can be a good thing, because it makes us think about what is truly orthodox (literally 'right worship').

Rob's primary point is that the traditional understanding in many Christian spheres that you've got this one life time to figure out where your allegiance lies and if you chose to put it with Jesus, you're in (Heaven). If you chose any other allegiance, you're out (Hell) is far too narrow a view of God, the Bible and Jesus' work on the cross.

Helpful in this discussion is that heaven and hell are not merely future locations then and there...but are also current locations here in now. Hell has a grip on this world. And Heaven is breaking into this world. (This reality keeps us from thinking we are merely saved from hell...but shows us that we are saved FOR Heaven...both then and there and here and now.) Helpful also in this book is Bell's unpacking of the Prodigal Son in Luke 15. He makes a troubling claim or two, but really does some good stuff with as well.

Not helpful in this discussion is that Bell can't believe in a God who would allow hell to be a permanent eternal fixture, where people who made their bed there would exist forever. He mentions that this view has been held by theologians throughout the centuries and is a very orthodox view. This isn't exactly true. If hell is a temporary fixture and Christians really believed this to be orthodoxy, then why the centuries of seeking to 'convert the infidel'? As misguided as their approaches often were, they saw stakes that were far too high to sit back and let them experience a temporary hell so they could opt out of it for Heaven.

All in all, this book is a disappointment. I agree that Love wins...but Bell's view that Love and Hell are incompatible leads to a small view of God that waters down His Justice and His Holiness.

I will not write Bell off as a heretic that no longer has a voice in the Church as has been done by some other leading voices (the reality is that there is both theologian and heretic in all of us), but I won't be joining him on his book tour either.

1 comment:

deacon michael said...

I meant to ask you if you had read this. I haven't read it, but when a "protestant controversy" makes CNN, I had to check it out.

I agree with most of your take. I think it's also important to remember that Hell is a choice. To take that away (even as an option) makes the freedom God has given us false. He gives us real freedom and that includes the freedom to ultimately choose ourselves over him.