Part 1: Truth loses when 'Love Wins'
By Robin Schumacher
Unless Rob Bell is a great actor (and I don't think he is), he genuinely cares about people and – like many in the others in the Emergent Church crowd – passionately desires that Christians live authentic lives in the world around them. Unless I'm off the mark (and I don't think I am), Bell genuinely wants people to follow Christ and live the abundant life Jesus promises in John 10:10.
In case you don't know who Rob Bell is, he's the pastor of Mars Hill church in Grand Rapids, Michigan and is associated with what is sometimes called the Emergent Church movement. And in case you've not seen all the firestorm that's recently developed around Bell's new book, Love Wins, you need to only Google "Rob Bell Love Wins" and you'll immediately be presented with videos of his recent interviews with ABC, MSNBC, and many other media outlets. You'll also find the very first link points to his promotional video that caused Justin Taylor of the Gospel Coalition to first speculate that Bell is a Universalist.
You'll also likely find the recent Time Magazine cover story sparked by Bell's new book entitled "What if there's No Hell?" The massive debate that has raged since the release of Love Wins no doubt also contributed to Time naming Bell as one of its 100 most influential people for 2011.
I downloaded and read the 198 page Kindle edition of Love Wins in less than two days; it's a very easy read. Bell is a very talented writer and good storyteller. Further, he makes a lot of outstanding points in the book. In particular, I found the next to the last chapter – "The Good News is Better Than That" – which has as its theme the Luke 15 parable of the Prodigal Son, quite interesting (Bell leans a bit on Tim Keller's Prodigal God work). I can completely understand why many are embracing the book and, as one person who objected to one of my earlier critiques of the work said, say it is a "much more hope-filled way to present the gospel".
Again, I don't doubt Bell's intentions for a second, nor do I have reservations about his concern for people. What I do respectfully take exception to is his theology, specifically in Love Wins, where the doctrine of eternal punishment is concerned.
Last weekend, I decided to develop a short mini-series to teach at my church that covered Bell's teachings in Love Wins and look hard at how it stacks up biblically to the orthodox teaching on the eternal punishment of those who reject Christ in this life. The first presentation is below and covers Bell's book in general, the history behind the teaching of Universalism, how Bell and other Universalists view Hell, and ends with a discussion on what Bell claims in his interviews vs. what his book says.
Bell has explicitly stated in interviews that he is not a Universalist and believes in Hell. However, one must define terms with Bell. Does he believe in Hell as it's portrayed in Scripture? In my presentations I argue, no, he does not. In the same way many cults and sects will tell you they believe in Jesus, but that Jesus is a very different one that is found in the Bible, the same thing applies with Bell's belief in Hell.
Beating a familiar theme found in other Emerging Church books and teachings, Bell also is quick to say he can't say with any certainty what the next life holds:
"Will everybody be saved, or will some perish apart from God forever because of their choices? Those are questions, or more accurately, those are tensions we are free to leave fully intact. We don't need to resolve them or answer them because we can't, and so we simply respect them, creating space for the freedom that love requires."(pg. 115)But, in my opinion, Love Wins does indeed commit to a position on the subject, and as this three part series on the book shows, it doesn't match up with what the Old and New Testaments explicitly teach.
The first presentation is below for you to walk through. I certainly welcome your comments and questions.
Rob Bell and "Love Wins," The Series
Part 1: Truth loses when 'Love Wins'
Part 2: What really happens after death?
Part 3: Universalism and the truth about hell
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