Have you heard that Rob Bell is a Universalist now? It’s true. He wrote a new book that says you don’t need to be a Christian to go to heaven. Surely this can’t be so. Christianity’s video-making celebrity gone heretic? He’s too hipster for that to happen!
His most recent work, entitled “Love Wins: A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Has Ever Lived,” has sparked quite a heated debate. Take a gander at a few online commentaries and you can discover the controversy through the words of angry bloggers.
But I wonder, has anyone actually read this book yet? It doesn’t seem like it. After all, only last month we loved his NOOMA videos, now we are ready to denounce him as an apostate and excommunicate him from evangelical culture. And based on what merit?
The reason for this wrangle is that Bell rejects the traditional view of Salvation and Hell. He argues that a loving God would not provide humanity with a deadline for repentance, thus leaving room for repentance after death. Hell exists as a reality we construct when we turn from God’s grace. In the end, we all sit at the banquet in the kingdom of God, because love wins!
Yes, tradition should be taken very seriously, but it should also be examined just as seriously. That the book is heretical is hardly reason to not read it. We cannot forget what we owe to heretics like Copernicus and Martin Luther. But we must do so with great caution. The way Christians approach this book will speak loudly to those who have grown disinterested with Christianity – an evident audience for “Love Wins.”
When we begin to vehemently protest in favor of Hell, we become very much like Westboro Baptist, teaching a message of hatred and damnation instead of love and redemption. Remember that we should at least hope that Bell is correct in this “semi-universalist” evangelicalism, even if we must intellectually disagree. If you feel rage at his bold claims, you may want to check your heart. However, if you digest his message without a bit of reflux, you may want to check your orthodoxy.
I invite young Christians to examine this book before they join the conversation. However, I urge you not to do so with an open mind: You will be convinced. His argument is well articulated and very persuasive. So, instead, I urge you to scrutinize it. Tear it to pieces. And don’t forget to check his references. If it proves to be entirely demonic and heretical, we can have a book burning on the softball field. But you also cannot neglect to acknowledge that truth where you find it. It is then you should use your open-mindedness to assess how it alters your theology.
I want to conclude emphasizing that the slogan “Love Wins,” originally coined by Bell, is no pithy statement for evangelicals to promiscuously attach as a tagline for their argument. Do not let the title’s now-negative connotation corrupt your understanding of the Gospel. There has, in fact, never been a better and more succinct summary of the Gospel than “love wins.”
We as Christians promulgate that the love of Jesus Christ defeats death and liberates us from the clutches of our sin. And so, even if you disagree with Bell, love still wins.