Love Wins: Unless God Decides You’re Evil

Travis Griffith

Travis Griffith discusses the implications of Rob Bell’s new book, Love Wins. Will it define a new Christianity or destroy those who believe him?

To an outsider, the Christian religion can look awfully intimidating.

Between the constant threats of judgment and the, forgive me in advance here, fanciful stories that dot the Christian landscape, it’s really no surprise to hear that modern Christianity is struggling a bit.

Seriously, why would a non-Christian voluntarily join a religion where he or she risks eternal damnation in hell come Judgement Day?  Oh, right. They’d do it for the reward of a blissful eternal life in heaven sitting next to the great Mr. Christ.

Well what if damnation was removed from the equation, along with the requirement to devote life to Jesus? Or even know his name?

Whoa. That’ll get some attention!

And it has, in the form of a new book from megachurch pastor Rob Bell called Love Wins: A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived (HarperOne).

Pastor/author Rob Bell

Followers of the Christian faith have no doubt heard of him. I have to admit the first I heard his name was earlier this week while reading a newspaper article while on an airplane coming home from a particularly sinful weekend in San Diego. The article laid out a couple of Bell’s claims:

  • God gives humans the choice to either live with him or without him.
  • Death doesn’t cut off the ability to repent and there is no infinite torment for things humans did in their finite lifetimes.
  • Jesus makes salvation possible, even for those who have never even heard his name.

There are plenty of folks in the Christian world writing Bell off as a heretic and false teacher of Jesus, which of course they have every right to believe.

From the perspective of those in a situation like mine, though, Bell’s vision is an incredibly refreshing, loving and accepting message that will appeal to legions of lost young people searching for some kind of spirituality.

In the trailer for his book (which you can watch here), Bell discusses a moment when a church-member said “Gandhi is in hell.” That is exactly the kind of close-minded statement  that turns people off to Christianity. Gandhi, the “Great Soul” himself, is as likely to be in hell as Martin Luther King, Jr.

As a believer in God and a fierce proponent of the power of love and acceptance of all humans, I believe Bell’s message could be an interpretation of Christianity the world can embrace in the future: a world where everyone can go to heaven and hell simply doesn’t exist.

What do you think: is Rob Bell about to become irrelevant or will his message resonate with a new generation of Christians?

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Travis Griffith, Relief’s Blog Manager, is a former atheist now exploring what a spiritual life really means. His children’s book, Your Father Forever, was published in 2005 by Illumination Arts Publishing Company, Inc. Travis works from his home in Spokane, WA as a professional writer.

13 Comments / Add your own comment below

  1. There’s actually a long history of Christian Universalism (i.e. the belief that Christianity is the One Truth and that all people, of all religions, will be saved by the Christian God.) One particularly interesting book is Dare We Hope That All Men Be Saved by Hans Urs von Balthasar, which states that we cannot know whether or not anyone will spend eternally in Hell, but that we should follow God’s love and strive to bring all people to Heaven (and never, ever assume that we can know someone is going to Hell).

    I think the problem many Christians have with Bell is not merely the audacity of his claims, but the ways in which he avoids certain streams of Scriptural interpretation. Even C.S. Lewis (who Evangelicals love to quote) expressed the view that everyone might be saved, in the end, because God’s infinite love can overcome man’s finite resistance. (He didn’t say he believed this, but his predecessor George MacDonald believed it wholeheartedly, and Lewis didn’t condemn him for it.) In my experience, Christian Universalists are often the most loving, Christ-hearted people I know.

    But again, the problem is that an absolute Universalism goes against the concept of free will, which many Christians believe. C.S. Lewis once said that, in the end, either we will say to God “Thine will be done,” or God will say to us, sorrowfully, “thy will be done.” The first response is, in essence, Heaven–human beings exulting in God’s mercy and love, and putting aside their selfishness, cruelty and greed. The second choice is Hell–someone who willingly chooses to have his or her own way, even when offered the choice of something better.

    It may seem that no-one would choose Hell, but we do it every day when we gossip about our co-workers, speak cruelly to our spouses, exploit our employees, and generally choose to make ourselves worse people and the world a worse place. Hell represents, for many Christians, God’s willingness to allow us the right to choose our own destinies. Of course, Heaven is greater because it represents God’s willingness to offer forgiveness freely to all who seek it.

  2. I’m still not sure how I feel about this one. What I mean is, I don’t know if Rob Bell will be irrelevant or if his message will spur a movement with the younger generations. I’ve always thought it interesting… as a Greek Orthodox Christian turned Baptist turned Pagan… that without the concept of hell, there would have been no need for a sacrifice… right? That was the point of the christian god sending down his son to make this ultimate sacrifice to save people from hell. I could be wrong :) and I have no problem being so. I just see the whole concept of heaven and hell, jesus and satan, to be the perfect set up to an awesome and scary religion. It’s a powerhouse and I respect it for that purpose. :) But i respect anyone who tries to spread love, and shed that love onto a religion that has been darkened by its predecessors. Kudos to him.

  3. “Jesus said to him, ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.’” -John 14:6

  4. Talia,

    Rob Bell isn’t attacking the *concept* of Hell. He’s just saying that in the end, no one will end up there. The idea isn’t that Hell doesn’t exist so much as it is that Jesus’s sacrifice will ultimately allow everyone to go to Heaven.

    Re. the “awesome and scary religion,” well, I think few people here would deny that Christianity has been an excellent tool for many people to do immensely evil things. Personally, I find it immensely comforting that Jesus’s life, the point zero of Christianity, often ran directly counter to the religious institutions of his time–or at least the humans who ran them. So from its very beginning, Christianity has been well aware of the ways in which religious leaders use the power of religion to abuse and oppress the relatively powerless. And from its very beginning, Christianity has announced that God is particularly mindful of the oppressed, not the oppressors–even though the oppressors often act in God’s name.

  5. I myself believe that everyone is going to heaven and have laid out the biblical case for believing so at http://wp.me/PNthc-i6

    As for Rob Bell, I think he will maintain relevance with certain people. However, he is a pastor and his success is measured by how many people come to his church and how many people buy his books – not by whether he boldly proclaims the truth of God.

    One reason that many people cannot reconcile a God of justice with a God of universalism is that their conception of heaven is limited. That is, they can only conceive of a blissful state to which all qualify. Why can they not conceive of heaven as an expansive place allowing a wide variety of outcomes and places for those who land there?

  6. The concept of heaven and hell is so incredibly childish and out of touch with modern times. I’ve long been disenchanted with the claim of punishment by fire in the Christian faith and have found myself backpedaling from my Christian upbringing. The rules, the expectations, of the religion are utterly ridiculous (as are some of those ‘fanciful’ stories the author implies.) I even find myself questioning the ideas of resurrection and virgin birth…
    That all said, I think this new book is what people like me need. I’ll wait until I can read it, but maybe there is hope for Christianity after all…

  7. Christian universalism (and Rob Bell’s form of it) seems to be run amuck with a magisterial use of reason; in other words, he is letting his brain get in the way. Christian Universalists force Scripture, the Creeds, and the regula fidei to conform to a post-modern perspective in which viewpoints being equally valid and admissible. Sadly, this mindset is just not present in Scripture. God asked Jonah to go to Nineveh to correct their errors, not to applaud their zeal for living. Universalism sounds great…but it just does not seem to jive with anything that Christ taught or did.

  8. Talia,

    It is my understanding that Jesus was sent to overcome death. If we are to believe the initial fall of humans in the garden, the mistake made was disobedience which lead to knowledge of something other than an eternal existence with God.

    Hell was a place set aside for Lucifer and the angels who followed him in turning against God.

    Man’s choice doesn’t seem to be heaven or hell, it is an eternal existence with God or without him.

    Of course, I also feel that many religious leaders overlook these facts.

  9. The problem with the idea that “all dogs go to heaven” is that it’s simply unbiblical. Rob claims that when we talk about the afterlife, we are “firmly in the realm of speculation.” No, we aren’t. The Bible is clear about what happens to those who don’t surrender to Christ while here on earth.

    And if it’s “speculation,” then why did he write a book about it? That seems like an awful waste of time.

    Now, I’m not one to look for the devil under every rock or behind every door, but this seems like a tactic the devil would advocate.

    Think about it. Is it easier to get people to believe that God doesn’t exist, or that he does exist and everyone gets to be with him, regardless of your faith. That would be highly palatable, especially coming from a “christian pastor.”

    While this does seeming damaging to the Christian faith, our God is bigger than Rob Bell (thank God!). I do think we, as servants of God, need to tell the truth and defend the gospel.

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  11. Love will indeed win, but this victory will have nothing to do with Rob Bell. For as a species, humanities understanding of Love is as confused and corrupted as our understanding of God. A new ‘Christianity’ certainly needs to be defined. But not another theological counterfeit of revealed truth. For already spreading on the web is a new claim to revealed truth, a moral tenet not of human intellectual origin, offering access by faith, to absolute proof of God, an objective basis for moral principle as Love, and a fully rationally, justifiable belief!

    If confirmed, this will represent a paradigm change in both faith and the moral and intellectual potential of human nature itself; untangling the greatest questions of human existence: consciousness, meaning, suffering, free will and evil. And at the same time addressing the most profound problems of our age.

    The tragedy for humanity will be if religion and theology, skepticism and atheism have all so discredited the very idea of God for us to re-imagine, discover and experience just how great this potential is? More info at http://www.energon.org.uk

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  13. I’d actually say that Love Wins is somewhat of a Rorschach Test: If you can’t stand Bell, or have always questioned what he had to say, you will read the book through that lens and find what you’re looking for. If you’ve been on the fence about him, you’ll still be there. If you’ve read him charitably in the past and found that, even when you disagree, he is still within the stream of orthodox Christianity, you will still find that he’s there. One of his stated purposes in the book is to get folks to study what is actually in Scripture, and to ask the tough questions – and accept fuzzy answers and to be charitable to others who do, as well. For example, here is an examination of what the Scriptures actually say about hell, and it is possible to take them seriously, yet come up with a different answer than eternal, conscious torture.

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