Unless you’ve been living in a very distant land, you are probably already well-acquainted with at least some of the hype surrounding Rob Bell’s most recent book, titled Love Wins: A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived. Because there is so much material already written on this new book – and because the topic of “Hell” is so big – I’m really not even going to deal with the content of the book or the various arguments here. This is probably a good idea, anyway, since I haven’t read the book, and have absolutely no intention of doing so (Truthfully, there are so many better writers who are publishing so many better books that I really can’t even imagine wasting my time on a book like this one. I might would have considered reading it “in an effort to formulate a biblical response”, but – again – many others have done this very well already so that, thankfully, I can make better use of my free time.). What I am seeking to do here, though, is to offer readers links to the best and most informative material that I’ve found online in response to the book.
First, if you want a very thorough and well-written critique from an evangelical perspective, you can hardly do better than Pastor Kevin DeYoung’s thoughtful article, which may be found here – http://thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/kevindeyoung/2011/03/14/rob-bell-love-wins-review/. Another great one, which was actually written using an advance reading copy of the book (before it’s official release), is the one written by the “master blogger for Christians”, Tim Challies. That one can be found here – http://www.challies.com/book-reviews/love-wins-a-review-of-rob-bells-new-book . Louis at Baker Book House offers another critical review of the book from a more traditional Christian perspective, which may be found here – http://bbhchurchconnection.wordpress.com/2011/03/11/love-wins-by-rob-bell-a-review/. Finally, if you’d rather hear ROB explain (or, rather, try to explain) the convictions behind his book, here’s a very telling interview that he did with Martin Bashir – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Vg-qgmJ7nzA.
So, if you’re really in the mood for going through all the fine points of Rob’s book and seeing all of the ways that his thinking on the doctrine of Hell falls short of the biblical teaching on the subject, then please feel free to click on any or all of the above links (I’ve already watched and read these myself, and am satisfied that my own convictions are still in line with the vast majority of Bible teachers, both modern and ancient, as well as with Scripture itself.). The only comments that I want to add here are about this whole process that’s been unfolding before us – the process of Rob’s authoring and releasing this book, of his church members and fans clamoring for copies of the book, and of the onslaught of people – most of whom I whole-heartedly agree with – responding to this controversial book.
In a nutshell, I really don’t think that Rob’s book would normally even deserve any serious attention. Why would I say this? Because he is not a scholar – and really not even what I would call a “thought-provoking” preacher or writer. He’s the “hip” preacher of our day, who – like many other similar preachers – tries to say what he thinks the people would like to hear.
Now, his heart may be in the right place – and he may be “earnestly seeking the Scriptures” for what he believes to be the true, biblical responses to the hard questions of life. But, because Rob spends so much time and energy trying to relate to, understand, and identify with the popular thinking of our day, his search for biblical truth gets severely jaded by his own cultural application of everything that he reads in the Bible. In fact, long before Rob decided to take on the hefty topic of Hell, he had already established himself as an amusing and popular speaker with many confused ideas about biblical doctrine. Spiritually immature laypeople enjoyed listening to his talks and reading his books because they were so creative, but most respectable preachers have never taken him seriously as a proclaimer of biblical truth.
Rob’s teaching style does nothing to help his reputation as a preacher. Rob is very clever and skilled at raising the questions that everybody wants to talk about – but he’s very slow to offer any solid answers, from the Bible or anywhere else. In fact, he’s so fond of this “ask-and-run” approach of teaching that he’s built an entire video series around the method, titled “Nooma”, which is designed for the express purpose of starting conversation in a small group setting. The problem with this approach is that it entrusts the job of finding biblical truth in response to those hard questions (which is really the primary job of a Christian preacher) to whoever happens to be in the room at any given moment. This would be dangerous enough if Rob only did this in his video series, but his books have always taken this same approach, as have many of his sermons. And, as the interview shared above illustrates – or any of the other interviews with Rob that are available for viewing online – Rob works hard to avoid giving straight answers, even when asked simple and direct questions.
I mentioned above that Rob’s writings wouldn’t normally deserve any serious attention. So, why does THIS book deserve it? First, because he chose to write about one of the foundational truths of Christianity – one which has been agreed upon and proclaimed consistently throughout church history.
Second, because he is clearly arguing for an alternative view of this crucial doctrine. Whether or not Rob is truly a “universalist” is still up for debate, but he is clearly attacking the historic, Christian view of the doctrine of Hell, and that’s an extremely dangerous thing to do – particularly when you are teaching your radical ideas to others (In spite of the fact that Bell’s book is different, his claims are not nearly new – they have been disregarded and rejected by church leaders of every generation, along with multitudes of other heresies that did not match up with the plain teaching of Scripture.).
Third, Rob’s book is “worth” talking about simply because so many people are buying it! Does the substance and quality of the book justify its popularity? Of course not, but because so many people who take the name of Christ (and many who don’t) are reading the book and thinking that it represents the best Christian perspective on the subject, it is left for intelligent Christians who know the REAL truth to offer an appropriate response and to re-direct people toward more biblical answers.
So, again, Rob Bell’s new book on Hell is not one that would really even demand a serious reading were it not so popular. However, if you DO choose to read the book, I would encourage you to also read at least one good, book-length response to it (Several are in the works!). The ones that are coming from Mark Galli (chief editor at Christianity Today), Michael Wittmer, or Francis Chan are sure to be worth studying as direct rebuttals of Bell’s book. Some other outstanding books that have already proven their value in the study of this difficult subject include, “Crucial Answers About Hell” by Ajith Fernando, “Hell Under Fire” edited by Christopher Morgan and Robert A. Peterson, “Hell On Trial” by Robert A. Peterson, and “Whatever Happened to Hell?” by John Blanchard, etc. Whether you share all of my convictions on this important subject or not, I do encourage you to read well and read wisely on all matters pertaining to biblical theology. Study to show thyself approved – regardless of what ideas might be popular at the bookstore – and trust the Spirit of God to guide you into proper understanding of that truth as you do so.