Rob Bell’s Love Wins: A Book About Heaven, Hell, And The Fate Of Every Person Who Ever Lived has taken the Christian community, if not the general public, by storm. It’s become a bestseller in the process. It’s also become a highly controversial book provoking considerable backlash from opponents and impassioned affirmations from proponents. These reactions have been immediate and continuing. Some reactions have been based on reasoned consideration, some pretty much on emotion, but reaction nonetheless. And controversy sells books.
Commentary based upon in-depth study from people schooled in relevant disciplines usually takes more time to develop. This is one thing that makes Michael E. Wittmer’s Christ Alone interesting. Reports indicate he and his publisher wrote and produced the book, respectively, in less than two months, yet Wittmer, a seminary professor with an earned doctorate in theology, gave Bell’s book and viewpoints the careful, thorough, theologically astute evaluation they deserve.
The core of the controversy generated around Love Wins deals with whether there is indeed a real hell, whether the Scripture teaches people who reject Jesus Christ will one day be eternally punished in hell, and whether a God who loves can allow such a thing to happen, thus perhaps giving people who need it an after-death chance at salvation. In the end, Bell seems to suggest no one can be consigned to hell by a God whose “love wins” over all forces, including an individual’s rejection.
While Bell argues otherwise, rejecting or even re-envisioning the idea of hell, asserting the existence of post-mortem salvation, and claiming everyone, universally, ultimately goes to heaven are ideas on the edge if not out of the mainstream of historic orthodox Christianity. Hence the noisy reactions.
Wittmer approaches the matter with a Christian’s fellowship, avoiding denigrating Bell as a person, and a scholar’s care, evaluating Bell’s theological arguments with Scripture. He does both well.
The crux of Wittmer’s critique is that Bell does the following in his book:
--frequently omits without comment consideration of multiple important passages of Scripture dealing with topics the book addresses, including salvation or the “lake of fire";
--constructs a weak, one dimensional, humanized view of God that does not align with the Sovereign God of the Bible;
--offers hope he cannot substantiate scripturally, or as Wittmer says, “Our hopes are only as strong as the reasons we have for holding them”;
--argues for post-mortem, that is after-death, second chances to accept salvation, yet provides no scriptural justification for this view;
--presents a view of heaven more in common with Purgatory than with Scripture’s description of a New Heaven and a New Earth;
--contends all men and women are saved or at least will be saved, a view called universalism, and does not seem to grasp the depth of human depravity and sin described in the Bible and evident in the world, or recognize that if this view is true, it effectively eliminates a need for redemption and Jesus’ sacrificial death, burial, and resurrection;
--presents hell as not much more than our worst days and worst issues here on earth, a place people may stay for only a time and experience purging, none of which aligns with Scripture’s description of hell as an eternal place of judgment, suffering, and separation from God;
--opens the door to other religious views and interpretations, particularly as apply to salvation, that do not comport with Scripture;
--changes the meaning of the Gospel creating as Wittmer puts it, a “tale of limitless happy endings” wherein “nothing is ever really at stake.” In this approach, Wittmer says the Gospel is “the tepid news that you don’t really need saving, that you’ve never been lost except in your imagination, and that God already accepts you just the way you are.”
Wittmer graciously and effectively demonstrates why Rob Bells’s Love Wins should not be considered an expression of historic orthodox Christianity or of latter day evangelicalism. By so doing Wittmer has done a service to the Christian community, offering theological and philosophical perspective on what Bell shares, thus helping people develop their own understanding of the worthiness of Bell’s writing.
Bell is entitled to his doctrinal views. It is, after all, a free country. But the popularity, good feeling, creative communication, and contemporary nature of his views do not make them correct in terms of what the Bible says.
While Bell’s earlier books were quirky, interesting, and thought-provoking considerations of tradition and culture, Love Wins jettisons what the New Testament books of 1, 2 Timothy and Titus call “sound doctrine.” Bell is no longer tossing aside traditions that may no longer be justifiable. He’s tossing aside biblical teaching he finds uncomfortable or doesn’t believe fits his view of what he wants to be true. Love Wins is therefore not simply controversial but careless and confusing. Consequently, the book should not be trusted as a guide to what the Bible teaches.
© Rex M. Rogers – All Rights Reserved, 2011
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