Rob Bell’s Love Wins: A Response
Kevin DeYoung has invested an enormous amount of time to provide the Church with a careful, comprehensive, and compelling review of Rob Bell’s new book, Love Wins. I could not recommend this review more highly. Whether Bell realizes it or not, Kevin is serving as a biblical friend to him. I pray God gives Bell ears to listen.
The Gospel Coalition has produced a PDF version of the review for easier reading, printing, and distributing.
Kevin’s opening paragraph summarizes the book’s thesis and argument:
Love Wins, by megachurch pastor Rob Bell, is, as the subtitle suggests, “a book about heaven, hell, and the fate of every person who ever lived.” Here’s the gist: Hell is what we create for ourselves when we reject God’s love. Hell is both a present reality for those who resist God and a future reality for those who die unready for God’s love. Hell is what we make of heaven when we cannot accept the good news of God’s forgiveness and mercy. But hell is not forever. God will have his way. How can his good purposes fail? Every sinner will turn to God and realize he has already been reconciled to God, in this life or in the next. There will be no eternal conscious torment. God says no to injustice in the age to come, but he does not pour out wrath (we bring the temporary suffering upon ourselves), and he certainly does not punish for eternity. In the end, love wins.
After listing some of the book’s virtues, he summarizes why it is so troubling:
The theology is heterodox. The history is inaccurate. The impact on souls is devastating. And the use of Scripture is indefensible. Worst of all, Love Wins demeans the cross and misrepresents God’s character.
He also explains why this is such a difficult book to review; namely, that one doesn’t know where to begin:
Love Wins is such a departure from historic Christianity, that there’s no easy way to tackle it. You can’t point to two or three main problems or three or four exegetical missteps. This is a markedly different telling of the gospel from start to finish.
He ends up organizing the book’s problems under the following seven headings:
- Not Your Grandmother’s Christianity
- Historical Problems
- Exegetical Problems
- Eschatological Problems
- Christological Problems
- Gospel Problems
- A Different God
Kevin closes with a “Pastoral Postscript,” and it is worth reproducing in full:
The tendency in theological controversy is to boil everything down to a conflict of personalities. This is the way the world understands disagreement. This is how the world sells controversy. It’s always politician versus politician or pastor versus pastor. But sometimes the disagreement is less about the men (or women) involved and more about the truth.
This is one of those instances.
I have not spent hours and hours on this review because I am out to get another pastor. I may be a sinner, but with four young children and a very full church schedule, I have no time for personal vendettas. No, this is not about a single author or a single church. This is about the truth, about how the rightness or wrongness of our theology can do tremendous help or tremendous harm to the people of God.
No doubt, Rob Bell writes as a pastor who wants to care for people struggling with the doctrine of hell. I too write as a pastor. And as a pastor I know that Love Wins means God’s people lose. In the world of Love Wins, my congregation should not sing “In Christ Alone,” because they cannot not believe, “There on the cross where Jesus died, the wrath of God was satisfied.” They would not belt out “Bearing shame and scoffing rude, in my place condemned he stood.” No place for “Stricken, Smitten, and Afflicted” with its confession, “the deepest stroke that pierced him was the stroke that Justice gave.” The jubilation of “No condemnation now I dread; Jesus, and all in him, is mine!” is muted in Love Wins. The bad news of our wrath-deserving wretchedness is so absent that the good news of God’s wrath-bearing Substitute cannot sing in our hearts. When God is shrunk down to fit our cultural constraints, the cross is diminished. And whenever the cross is diminished we pain the hearts of God’s people and rob them of their joy.
Just as damaging is the impact of Love Wins on the nonbeliever or the wayward former churchgoer. Instead of summoning sinners to the cross that they might flee the wrath to come and know the satisfaction of so great a salvation, Love Wins assures people that everyone’s eternity ends up as heaven eventually. The second chances are good not just for this life, but for the next. And what if they aren’t? What if Jesus says on the day of judgment, “Depart from me, I never knew you” (Matt. 7:23)? What if at the end of the age the wicked and unbelieving cry out, “Fall on us and hide us from the face of him who sits on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb” (Rev. 6:16)? What if outside the walls of the New Jerusalem “are the dogs and sorcerers and the sexually immoral and murderers and idolaters, and everyone who loves and practices falsehood” (Rev. 22:15)? What if there really is only one name “under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12)? And what if the wrath of God really remains on those who do not believe in the Son (John 3:36)?
If Love Wins is wrong—if the theology departs from the apostolic good deposit, if the biblical reasoning falls short in a hundred places, if the god of Love Wins and the gospel of Love Wins are profoundly mistaken—if all this is true, then what damage has been done to the souls of men and women?
Bad theology hurts real people. So of all the questions raised in the book, the most important question every reader must answer is this: is it true? Whatever you think of all the personalities involved on whatever side of the debate, that’s the one question that cannot be ignored. Is Love Wins true to the word of God? That’s the issue. Open a Bible, pray to God, listen to the faithful Christians of the past 2000 years, and answer the question for yourself.
Bell addressed an invitation-only meeting at Mars Hill Bible Church on Sunday night and began by saying that he is not a universalist, that he believes in heaven and hell, and that he believes Jesus is the only way to God. Kevin’s review will help you see what he really means in each of these three areas.
I am praying that God uses this review, among others, to strengthen God’s church in sound doctrine and to protect the church from deceptive teaching. May God’s name be glorified.
You can read the review here: