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Contents: "Love Wins" | My Thoughts | Additional Reading

Bell's "Love Wins":
Rob Bell's 2011 book, Love Wins: A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived evoked quite a buzz in the Christian community. It made the cover of the April, 25th issue of Time with the article "Pastor Rob Bell: What if Hell Doesn't Exist?". Bell is the founder of the 7,000 member Mars Hill Bible Church located in Grandville, Michigan.
His NOOMA DVD series is a best seller.

Bell is an author, speaker and former pastor. Bell founded Mars Hill Bible Church in Grandville, Michigan, one of the fastest-growing churches in America.
He is writer and narrator of a series of spiritual short films called NOOMA, popular in conservative and liberal Churches.
In 2011 Time Magazine named him one of the 100 Most Influential People in the World.

Bell says in Love Wins,
"First, I believe that Jesus’ story is first and foremost about the love of God for every single one of us. It is a stunning, beautiful, expansive love, and it is for everybody, everywhere. A staggering number of people have been taught that a select few Christians will spend forever in a peaceful, joyous place called heaven, while the rest of humanity spend forever in torment and punishment in hell."

He doesn't say there is no hell, but Bell believes though that at ANY TIME (including after death) if someone asks God for forgiveness and asks God if they can return to the flock, God will forgive them and welcome them back- think father in the prodigal son.

Bell says, "At the center of the Christian tradition since the first church, have been a number who insist that history is not tragic, hell is not forever, and love, in the end, wins and all will be reconciled to God."

Bell says he is only raising the possibility that theological rigidity - and thus a faith of exclusion - is a dangerous thing. He believes in Jesus' atonement.

Some say that the book was written for neo-fundamentalists, as one evangelical theoogian called them, who are smug in the knowledge that they are among the few who will be saved. Others call Bell's arguments themselves smug and condescending.

Based on the promotional video before the book was published, evangelical pastor, John Piper, tweeted, "Farewell Rob Bell," which many take to be Piper's dismissal of Bell from the evangelical world.

In A fundamentalist's review of rob bell's new book: love wins Benjamin Kerns at AverageYouthMinistry.com says, "Bell paints the picture of his community being one of love, peace, art, and beauty while contrasting it with the knuckle dragging church folk who think that only they are in the "in group."
Bell has been accused of being a "universalist" (everyone will eventually be saved), but nowhere in the book does Bell affirm universalism.

Some passages from Bell's book "Love Wins"1 that struck me.

Salvation and Grace vs Works p.5
Is salvation the primary message and is praying to accept Jesus the way to salvation. Are works not important? Bell says,
"Some Christians believe and often repeat that all that matters is whether or not a person is going to heaven. Is that the message? Is that what life is about? Going somewhere else?"

Preface: A staggering number of people have been taught that a select few Christians will spend forever in a peaceful, joyous place called heaven, while the rest of humanity spends forever in torment and punishment in hell with no chance for anything better. It’s been clearly communicated to many that this belief is a central truth of the Christian faith and to reject it is, in essence, to reject Jesus. This is misguided and toxic and ultimately subverts the contagious spread of Jesus’s message of love, peace, forgiveness, and joy that our world desperately needs to hear.

Chapter 1 - What about the flat tire

Some believe he would have had to say a specific prayer.Christians don’t agree on exactly what this prayer is, but for many the essential idea is that the only way to get into heaven is to pray at some point in your life, asking God to forgive you and telling God that you accept Jesus, you believe Jesus died on the cross to pay the price for your sins, and you want to go to heaven when you die. Some call this “accepting Christ,” others call it the “sinner’s prayer,” and still others call it “getting saved,” being “born again,” or being “converted.” (P. 5)

The flat tire refers to a remote people group who were not reached because a missionary got a flat tire on the way to tell them about Jesus.

"If this understanding of the good news of Jesus prevailed among Christians, the belief that Jesus's message is about how to get somewhere else, you could possibly end up with a world in which millions of people were starving, thirsty, and poor; the earth was being exploited and polluted; disease and despair were everywhere; and Christians weren't known for doing much about it." (p. 7)

This describes many of my conservative Christian friends who are against environmentalists, solutions to climate change (What global warming?) and healthcare for the poor.

Bell goes on, "If it got bad enough, you might even have people rejecting Jesus because of how his followers lived." (p. 7)

That has already happened with my late wife. They will say you have to have a "personal relationship" with God. The problem, however, is that the phrase “personal relationship” is found nowhere in the Bible. (p. 9)

Bell lists different Conditions for Salvation - p. 12

Then asks "Which is it?"

Chapter 2 - Here is the New There

The title refers to, In Jesus’s first-century Jewish world people did not talk about a future life somewhere else, because they anticipated a coming day when the world would be restored, renewed, and redeemed and there would be peace on earth. (P.39)

Bell adds some humor p 24:
"Think of the cultural images that are associated with heaven: harps and clouds and streets of gold, everybody dressed in white robes. (Does anybody look good in a white robe? Can you play sports in a white robe? How could it be heaven without sports?"
Will there be dogs there?
[See more on dogs at my Soul in Animals page.]

It often appears that those who talk the most about going to heaven when you die talk the least about bringing heaven to earth right now, as Jesus taught us to pray: “Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” At the same time, it often appears that those who talk the most about relieving suffering now talk the least about heaven when we die. (p. 45).

Jesus is hanging on the cross between two insurgents when one of them says to him, “Remember me when you come into your kingdom.”

Notice that the man doesn’t ask to go to heaven. He doesn’t ask for his sins to be forgiven. He doesn’t invite Jesus into his heart. He doesn’t announce that he now believes.

He simply asks to be remembered by Jesus in the age to come. He wants to be a part of it. Of course.

Jesus assures him that he’ll be with him in paradise . . . that day. (p. 54)

Sometimes when Jesus used the word “heaven,” he was simply referring to God, using the word as a substitute for the name of God.
Second, sometimes when Jesus spoke of heaven, he was referring to the future coming together of heaven and earth in what he and his contemporaries called life in the age to come.
And then third—and this is where things get really, really interesting—when Jesus talked about heaven, he was talking about our present eternal, intense, real experiences of joy, peace, and love in this life, this side of death and the age to come. Heaven for Jesus wasn’t just “someday”; it was a present reality. (pp. 58-59).

Bell starts off saying, "I want to show you every single verse in the Bible in which we find the actual word "hell." (p. 64)
First, the Hebrew scriptures. There isn't an exact word or concept in the Hebrew scriptures for hell other than a few words that refer to death and the grave."

One of them is the Hebrew word "Sheol," a dark, mysterious, murky place people go when they die, as in Psalm 18: "The cords of Sheol entangled me" (NRSV).

Next, then, the New Testament. The actual word "hell" is used roughly twelve times in the New Testament, almost exclusively by Jesus himself. The Greek word that gets translated as "hell" in English is the word "Gehenna." Ge means "valley," and henna means "Hinnom." Gehenna, the Valley of Hinnom, was an actual valley on the south and west side of the city of Jerusalem.
People tossed their garbage and waste into this valley. There was a fire there, burning constantly to consume the trash. " (p. 67)

Jesus says in Matthew 5, “Anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell,” and “It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell.” In Matthew 10:28-29 and Luke 12 he says, “Be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell,” and in Matthew 18 and Mark 9 he says, “It is better for you to enter life with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into the fire of hell.” In Matthew 23 he tells very committed religious leaders that they win converts and make them “twice as much a child of hell” as they are, and then he asks them, “How will you escape being condemned to hell?” (p. 68)

The other Greek word is "Hades." Obscure, dark, murky--Hades is essentially the Greek version of the Hebrew word "Sheol." We find the word "Hades" in Revelation 1, 6, and 20 and in Acts 2, which is a quote from Psalm 16. (p. 69)

Jesus uses the word in Matthew 11 and Luke 10: “You will go down to Hades”; in Matthew 16: “The gates of Hades will not overcome it”; and in the parable of the rich man and the beggar Lazarus in Luke 16.

So how should we think, or not think, about hell?

Bell goes on to describe Hell on earth, maiming of children in Rwanda, people who go out of their way to hurt others, Spousal abuse, ... and says,
"God gives us what we want, and if that’s hell, we can have it. We have that kind of freedom, that kind of choice. We are that free."
So when people say they don’t believe in hell and they don’t like the word “sin,” my first response is to ask, “Have you sat and talked with a family who just found out their child has been molested? Repeatedly? Over a number of years? By a relative?” (p. 72)

What we see in Jesus’s story about the rich man and Lazarus is an affirmation that there are all kinds of hells, because there are all kinds of ways to resist and reject all that is good and true and beautiful and human now, in this life, and so we can only assume we can do the same in the next. (p. 79).

So what about the passages in the Bible that don’t specifically mention the word “hell,” but clearly talk about judgment and punishment? (p. 79).

Many people in our world have only ever heard hell talked about as the place reserved for those who are “out,” who don’t believe.
But in reading all of the passages in which Jesus uses the word “hell,” what is so striking is that people believing the right or wrong things isn’t his point. He’s often not talking about “beliefs” as we think of them—he’s talking about anger and lust and indifference. (p. 82).

Jesus did not use hell to try and compel “heathens” and “pagans” to believe in God, so they wouldn’t burn when they die. He talked about hell to very religious people to warn them about the consequences of straying from their God-given calling and identity to show the world God’s love. (p. 82).

In Matthew 10, he warns the people living in the village of Capernaum, “It will be more bearable for Sodom and Gomorrah on the day of judgment than for you.” (p. 84).

In Lamentations 3, the poet declares: "People are not cast off by the Lord forever, though he brings grief, he will show compassion, so great is his unfailing love." (p. 85)

In Hosea 14 God says: "I will heal their waywardness and love them freely for my anger has turned away from them."

He goes on to point to the many references to restoration in Zephaniah 2

Bell goes on to reference Paul's comments about turning people over to Satan (1 Timothy). In 1 Corinthians 5:4-5 he tells his friends to hand a certain man “over to Satan for the destruction of the sinful nature so that his spirit may be saved on the day of the Lord” (p. 90).

Of the Matthew 25:31-46 about sheep and goats Bell says,
The goats are sent, in the Greek language, to an aion of kolazo. Aion, we know, has several meanings. One is “age” or “period of time”; another refers to intensity of experience. The word kolazo is a term from horticulture. It refers to the pruning and trimming of the branches of a plant so it can flourish.

An aion of kolazo. Depending on how you translate aion and kolazo, then, the phrase can mean “a period of pruning” or “a time of trimming,” or an intense experience of correction.

In a good number of English translations of the Bible, the phrase “aion of kolazo” gets translated as “eternal punishment,” which many read to mean “punishment forever,” as in never going to end.
But “forever” is not really a category the biblical writers used. (p.91)

The closest the Hebrew writers come to a word for “forever” is the word olam. Olam can be translated as “to the vanishing point,” “in the far distance,” “a long time,” “long lasting,” or “that which is at or beyond the horizon.” When olam refers to God, as in Psalm 90 (“from everlasting to everlasting you are God”), it’s much closer to the word “forever” as we think of it, time without beginning or end. But then in the other passages, when it’s not describing God, it has very different meanings, as when Jonah prays to God, who let him go down into the belly of a fish “forever” (olam) and then, three days later, brought him out of the belly of the fish. (p. 92).

To summarize, then, we need a loaded, volatile, adequately violent, dramatic, serious word to describe the very real consequences we experience when we reject the good and true and beautiful life that God has for us. We need a word that refers to the big, wide, terrible evil that comes from the secrets hidden deep within our hearts all the way to the massive, society-wide collapse and chaos that comes when we fail to live in God’s world God’s way.

And for that,
the word “hell” works quite well.
Let’s keep it.

1. Bell, Rob (2011). Love Wins: A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived. Harper Collins, Inc.. Kindle Edition.
My Thoughts
  One one of my main questions of Christianity is why would good people who were agnostics or of a different religion (Mohandas Gandhi is the frequent example) or people who never had a chance to hear about Christ (30-40% of the world's population at the beginning of the 21st century), be subjected to hell.
On a personal note, my late wife who at various times claimed to be an atheist, an agnostic or just opposed the the hypocrisy of organized Churches, had stronger morals and ethics than most of my Christian friends. Why would a just God not save her?
We met with several conservative christians friends, after she was diagnosed with terminal cancer. And although they believed you were going to hell if you were not born again, they did not offer her or me any help in her salvation, but I didn't ask for it.

I've told some of my born again Christian friends that I'd rather be in hell with my wife and people like her than in heaven with many of my "Born Again" friends.

In my opinion it takes fear of punishment to get some people to do what is right.
In Lawrence Kohlberg's work on moral development or conscience, he defines 6 stages of development of morals, ranging from fear of punishment to a personal commitment to universal moral principles.
The first stage is common in young children, but some adults never get past this stage.

In "Kohlberg's Stages Of Moral Development: Implications For Theology", Jackson Snyder observes:
"A great many of the problems within the church may be explained by these differences in stage thinking. Stage 4 people are anxious that the rules be kept, while Stage 6 persons who want to discuss general principles, are called "liberal." Stage 6 persons may become very bored with legalistic sermons aimed at Stage 4, or with Stage 2 -the fiery hell and damnation threats, while Stage 4 members feel threatened by questions which seem to undermine the authority of God and His Law or His church."

The Golden Rule "Do to others what you would have them do to you. " [Matt. 7:12]
and [John 15:12] "My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you."
only motivates people at higher stages of moral development, fear of hell is needed for many of the others.

It reminds me of my 30+ year career in the Bell Telephone System, the original culture was to spend up front time hiring the best people and you would not get fired unless you did something morally or ethically bad. You might not get a raise or promotion, but it was hard to get fired.
When the telephone industry got competitive in the mid 80's and they brought in executives from the outside. They instituted policies to routinely fire 3-5% of the staff to motivate the rest and increase productivity.

Maybe God wasn't completely clear with the Bible authors about his intentions for hell. At least he wasn't threatening another flood.

C.S. Lewis' book "The Great Divorce", and allegorical fable, where people take a bus ride thru heaven and hell after they die, deals with this issue, although Lewis said he was not promoting "universalism" (Universal Salvatiion).
The blog TheArmoury points to the following similarities between Lewis' and Bell's books:

  1. The potential of purgatorial restoration of those in "Hell," postmortem.
  2. The exaltation of human free-will above God's will.
  3. Frequent vagaries about the future of all the lost.

Other Bible Passages, from Judgement, Salvation and Eternal Life which I wrote in 2004:

  • Acts 24:15 - "I have the same hope in God as these men, that there will be a resurrection of both the righteous and the wicked. "
  • Acts 16:20-31 - "Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved--you and your household."
  • 1 Corinthians 15:29 - Now if there is no resurrection, what will those do who are baptized for the dead? If the dead are not raised at all, why are people baptized for them?
  • [Matthew 7:22-27] - Many will say to me on that day, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?' Then I will tell them plainly, 'I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!' The Wise and Foolish Builders "Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash."

    My point with this scripture passage is that some of my conservative Christian friends may be surprised where they end up.

Additional Reading
Jim Buccini forwarded an couple of articles on the subject:

One recommended review, by J. Wischkaemper [referred to as JW here.] at Amazon says,
"Love Wins can be read as a repainting of Barth for the masses."
He summarizes Barth's Doctrine of Election as follows, "In choosing (electing) Jesus Christ, God has, in a sense chosen who He will be - and importantly he has chosen that he will be for humanity, rather than against it. Christ is predestined for God's "no" in his death on the cross, but also predestined for God's "yes" in the event of the resurrection. ... In the resurrection, God says "yes", exalting Jesus, and in some sense all humanity also joins with that. As a result, Barth has commonly been criticized as promoting a sort of "soft" universalism.

JW also talks about NT Wright, who is on Bell's reading list.
He says, "Bell, like Wright and Barth, is questioning beliefs which have marked the social boundaries of Christian communities for hundreds of years." See Reviews

1. "The Importance of Hell", by Tim Keller, pastor of the Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York, says, "The doctrine of hell is important because it is the only way to know how much Jesus loved us and how much he did for us."

2. "The Problem with Christus Victor.", in ChristianityToday, by Mark Galli, a senior managing editor there.
In it he says, "Universalism is not the only topic in Rob Bell's Love Wins that deserves comment, though given the buzz, you'd think that's all he discusses. Among other things, the book also attacks "toxic" forms of substitutionary atonement, and advocates the use of a plurality of atonement theories."
Substitutionary atonement is the concept that Christ died to atone for our sins.
Christus Victor is the idea that "Christ in his death and resurrection overcame over the hostile powers that hold humanity in subjection, those powers variously understood as the devil, sin, the law, and death. "
Galli says,
"It seems that Christus Victor highlights our state as victims. Substitutionary atonement focuses on our guilt."
... "I'm simply suggesting that Christus Victor may not be a theory that Protestants, and evangelicals in particular, should tie their wagons to."

You can come up with passages to prove contrary arguments. For example,
"Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it." [Matthew 7:13,14]
So we can ask the same question Bell does, "Which is it?"


  • Election Theory - God predestines some for salvation. Calvin. God chooses of his own free will some (the Elect) who he will save.
  • Justification Theory = To declare or pronounce one to be righteous or holy before God." (Strong's Concordance)
    The Scriptural Definition Of Justification @ Test All Things
  • Christian eschatology - Study of the end of things. Death, an intermediate state, Heaven, Hell, the return of Jesus.

Love Wins: A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived, by Rob Bell, 2011
Bell puts the following on his further reading list:

On Jesus in every square inch of creation, see Robert Farrar Capon's The Mystery of Christ

On hell, see C. S. Lewis's The Great Divorce

On the cross, see Mark Baker's Proclaiming the Scandal of the Cross

On the two sons in the story Jesus tells, see Timothy Keller's The Prodigal God

On growth and change and all that, see Richard Rohr's The Naked Now and Everything Belongs

On who and what God is, see Huston Smith's The Soul of Christianity

On resurrection and new creation, see N. T. Wright's book Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church

Tim Kellers comments (small iPhone Video)
Judgement, Salvation and Eternal Life which I wrote in 2004.
The Evangelical Universalist a blog by Gregory MacDonald's about his 2006 book by the same name.
Rob Bell, Love Wins, and the Well-Propagated Legacy of George MacDonald at TheArmoury.blogspot.com
Salvation, judgment, and hell in the New Testament by Ben Irwin supports him.
Love Wins? The Irony of the Rob Bell Universalism Controversy | Two Handed Warriors
A fundamentalist's review of rob bell's new book: love wins by Benjamin Kerns is critical.
Rob Bell makes Time magazine list of world's 100 most influential people | MLive.com
Francis Chan's new book responds to Rob Bell's Love Wins, tops NYTimes bestseller


Last updated 22 May 2011