Rob Bell's new book, "Love Wins" is a theological work. IMHO, it's not very well thought out or reasoned, but it is his theological take on God, Heaven and Hell, who gets in and who doesn't.
Rob Bell has lit up the blogosphere and the media with speculation on whether-or-not he's making a case of universalism which basically is the belief that everyone will be saved in the end, and no one goes to hell. Sadly, I must conclude that from my understanding of what Rob Bell is trying to say, he believes in universalism. For him, hell is something of our own making. It's God letting you have what you want. In Bell's theology, if you get it wrong in this life, you get a second chance after you die.
Here's what is missing from Rob Bell's reasoning and exegesis of scripture. At no time does he attempt to deal with God's covenants or election or justice. He also doesn't deal with baptism, which is a spiritual reality of our old man being buried in Christ and raised to newness of life in Him. What about God's calling Abraham to make from him a nation, a people of his own possession. Why would Peter bother to write, "But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light" (1 Peter 2:9)? As Rob Bell sees it, the entire world is a chosen race.
"Love Wins" is built upon the foundation of one verse, 1 Timothy 2:4, "(God) who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth." This is simplistic reasoning wherein the author takes one verse to build his theology--always a bad move and will usually result in erroneous conclusions as it does here because Bell insists that God gets what He wants, therefore all people will be saved.
To be fair, I can't begin to adequately review Rob Bell's book in one posting, and others on the net have done a much more thorough, reasoned, thoughtful response to ":Love Wins." I recommend you read Kevin DeYoung's review (The Gospel Coalition) . Also J.R. Woodward (Dream Awakener).
To be fair, Rob Bell does make a good case for some of the failure of modern evangelicalism where we have sought to get people saved with the Four Spiritual Laws, giving them fire insurance rather than making disciples who do the works of Jesus and follow Him daily. How many have been given a false assurance of salvation from man based on that fact that they prayed a simple prayer or came forward to the altar, when Romans 8:16 says that "The Spirit of God bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God." We don't need to give men assurance of their salvation--that is the work of the Holy Spirit.
Rob Ball asks tough questions concerning the eternal well-being of those who have been put off by a hollow imitation of Christ that is presented in some churches today, and where there is very little if any "good news" from the pulpit. "Love Wins" does ask some difficult questions for which we don't have all the answers. What about grown men who will not darken the door of a church because they were molested by a Catholic priest when they were young altar boys? Mark 9:42 (NLT) 42 “But if you cause one of these little ones who trusts in me to fall into sin, it would be better for you to be thrown into the sea with a large millstone hung around your neck." But the question remains, what about these little ones who have been caused to stumble and fall into sin? What happens to their eternal destiny? No easy answers.
Whereas a Baptist preacher might harp on pet sins of drinking, smoking, homosexuality--for Bell, the big vices are war, rape, greed, injustice, violence, pride, division, exploitation, etc. He also writes that in heaven God will say “no” to oil spills, sexual assault on women, political leaders silencing by oppression, and people being stepped on by greedy institutions and corporations. Obviously, I already know how Bell voted for in the last election and how he will vote in 2012. Don't expect Bell to get behind drilling for oil in Anwar or the Gulf anytime soon. These are the sins that are obvious to everyone in our culture especially those who are political progressives. But what about the evil that dwells in all of our hearts and for which Jesus became our sin-bearer, to cleanse us and make us holy. In the end, Bell seems to have lost sight of God's Love story which is His pursuit from Genesis to Revelation for a people who will be his own possession, who will be set apart and made holy and righteous unto Him.
Rob Bell is a postmodern pastor-teacher and his postmodern theology has its own pitfalls and shortcomings. There's the desire to be on the "cutting edge" throwing off the restraints of all that has come before and rewrite what it means to be a Christian. In many cases, these post-modern believers are doing nothing more than dressing up classical liberalism, and attempting to see how far they can push the envelope of "grace" before it becomes "license." That's why it's important to study the entire Word of God, all of it, and learn how to practical good hermeneutics (rightly diving the Word of God, properly interpreting Scripture). In "Love Wins", Bell practices sloppy, poor hermeneutics and arrives at faulty conclusions.
Love Wins is more about our culture today which is based on inclusion and fairness. Justice and judgment are forbidden or considered "heavy-handed" and unloving. Love Wins is more about moral relativism than about the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Love Wins makes God smaller, rather than greater. He becomes more of a God of our own making, someone who will make the cover of Time Magazine as "God of the Year." He's the God that Muslims, Buddhists, even atheists can love because He is non-judgmental and everyone gets a "pass." He's the God who lets us have it our way, and then still gives us a second chance after we die.
I still believe that Rob Bell is a brother in Christ. I think he is misguided, and is certainly in danger of leading many astray. However, he is probably no more misguided than other pastor-teachers who are on TV & radio everyday, and in some cases espousing a "gospel" message that pales in comparison to the real thing. The only difference is that for this moment in time, Rob Bell has a bigger platform with a far greater influence, especially over young believers (both in age as well as spiritual growth). I will pray for Rob Bell, that the eyes of his spiritual understanding would be opened. I don't believe we need to dismiss him as a heretic, but I certainly would be careful as to who I'd recommend read "Love Wins," and I would not recommend that you visit his church if you're looking for a church home in the Grand Rapids area.
Bad theology can hurt you and lead you astray. Bad theology can even take you to Hell, whether you believe in its existence or not.
If you have read "Love Wins", what do you think? Let me know. Post your comments. Next time, continuing this theme on bad theology, I'll be ranting about the rapture and why it fits our 21st century culture. I grew up at the feet of Hal Lindsey teaching at UCLA on Wednesday nights at a frat house. Hal Lindsey wrote the book, "The Late, Great Planet Earth." There was no one more primed and brainwashed about the rapture than myself. But along the way, my eyes were opened. I had a "Great Awakening". I'll talk about this and give some spiritual insight into this doctrine from Scripture as to who is really going to be "raptured." Stay tuned.