It is undeniable that the main point Rob Bell hopes to get across in Love Wins: A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived is that ultimately, in the end, no matter what love wins. Look at the final “paragraph”:
May you experience this vast,
expansive, infinite, indestructible love
that has been yours all along.
May you discover that this love is as wide
as the sky and as small as the cracks in
your heart no one else knows about.
And may you know
deep in your bones,
that love wins.
One could get from hearing the hype around the book that Bell is an all out universalist, but the closest he comes to that is this statement:
Whatever objections a person might have to this story, and there are many, one has to admit that it is fitting, proper, and Christian to long for it.
So, he thinks that it is “fitting, proper, and Christian to long for” all people to be saved no matter the specifics of their doctrines and the accidents of their birth? That’s good, but he never fully embraces this view, yet continues to promote the idea that “love wins.”
My sticking point is this: Bell argues that God is a God of love and will continue to pursue everyone, everywhere even after death (purgatory, anyone?), because God’s love is compelling and persuasive and given enough time everyone will ultimately choose God. But don’t miss the penultimate word in the previous sentence: choose. Bell advocates for each person’s role in their own salvation, they have to make the choice.
This is a view held by many Christians around the world, that humans have free will. I find it difficult, though, to reconcile with Bell’s view that “love wins.” If, ultimately, humans have to choose God, then Bell cannot be completely sure that love will, in fact, win.
So, did Bell win or lose?
Without a doubt Bell won. He is a master marketer and has an uncanny ability to get people interested in what he’s writing, filming, etc. Because of this, Bell has also, I suspect, gotten many more people discussing these issues a bit more openly and honestly and that is a good thing.
But Bell also loses. Bell’s “uncanny ability to get people interested” in what he’s saying often takes the form of asking very provocative questions that lead people to believe he is going to respond with a radical answer when in reality he (almost always) responds with mostly orthodox answers. For example, while Bell does question the existence of a literal heaven and a literal hell in Love Wins – ideas that are by no means new within Christianity – Bell leaves the orthodox views of jesus, salvation, resurrection, etc. largely untouched.
My main problem with Bell reminds me of my main problem with C.S. Lewis, someone whose work greatly influenced Bell. Lewis presents his case as if orthodox Christianity is the furthest thing from his mind, but it is clear throughout his writing that he has a very clear and well-defined end in sight: orthodox Christianity. This technique Bell has learned well.
So, should you read Love Wins?
Yes. As I said earlier, the discussion itself is a holy endeavor. We desperately need more people talking about these issues, but not stopping where Bell does. Bell, though he says he doesn’t, has plenty of issues that are still off limits. Our faith, even when we are seeking, questioning, and doubting, will never truly be our own as long as we only ask the questions that are socially acceptable or socially hip.
So, read Bell’s book and the books of others that will serve as conversation starters between you and God and between you and others.