Friday, April 15, 2011

My Opinion On The Book: Love Wins (Rob Bell)

Like so many other people, I first heard about this new book through the promo video that swarmed through every corner of the Internet earlier this year.  Needless to say, I was intrigued by the seemingly controversial nature of the “book about heaven, hell and the fate of every person who ever lived.”  People were claiming Rob Bell to be some form of Christian Universalist, and according to Mars Hill church, their lead pastor had (almost overnight) become more popular on Twitter than both Justin Bieber and Lady GaGa.  This book became a best seller even before it was released, so my hubby and I, being somewhat consistent followers of Bell’s works, ordered our copy at Barnes and Noble and finished reading it yesterday.  So there’s the history.  Onto the review.

To someone who reads a lot of books and reads them fairly quickly, I recommend this one to you if for no other reason than to join the discussion and to form your own opinion.  However, if you’re choosy about what you read, my advice: choose something else.  The ideas presented here are interesting and emotionally gripping, but they sadly lack the research, thoughtfulness, and academic responsibility that I feel are an absolute must for a book that wants to perform such an overhaul on orthodox Christian doctrine.  My two most frequent thoughts while reading this book were, “Where did he get that information?” and “Oh, I just wish someone else would have written this book.”

If you have had the pleasure of flipping through Drops Like Stars or watching any number of the Nooma videos, you will know that Rob Bell is a master when it comes to crafting stories, drawing connections, and really just making you feel.  But to me, with a subject as serious as “the fate of every person who ever lived”, you’ve got to have a little less fluff and a little more meat.  This book tends to blaze some new trails when it comes to ideas such as the eternity (or lack thereof) of hell, the concept that heaven and hell are actual places, the people who are “in” and the people who are “out”.  Yet as soon as the bridge starts to get a little rickety and the logic starts to falter, rather than arduously sticking with it and carrying it through for us to prove a point and take a stance, Bell just seems to conveniently change the subject or at some points, end the chapter.

He continuously and dismissively mentions what “the people in those days” or “those hearing the message of Jesus” would think; yet he never provides a footnote, an annotation, or even a hint as to where he got his information.  The closest thing we get is a section in the back called “Further Reading,” which feels more like a friend’s blog and less like a thoroughly compiled bibliography. 

My concerns were heightened when I looked up a few things he did reference only to find that he seemed to be stretching the words to make them fit his claims or leaving out some extremely vital information.  An example of the former was in talking about the Biblical story of the rich man and Lazarus, who both die and the rich man is taken to Hades while Lazarus is taken to “Abraham’s side.”  If you know the story, the rich man asks Lazarus for a drink of water to quench his thirst and sooth his burning mouth.  The answer?  “…between us and you a great chasm has been set in place, so that those who want to go from here to you cannot, nor can anyone cross over from there to us.” {Luke 16:26}  Rob Bell explains that even in hell, the rich man is still asking Lazarus to serve him, meaning he hasn’t truly died to himself yet and admitted humility.  Supposedly then, the chasm that cannot be crossed is only in the rich man’s heart.  Does that seem like a stretch to you, too?  An example of the latter is in explaining that the word used for “eternal” (as in “eternal punishment”) can be taken more as the intensity of the experience and less as the actual amount of time it takes.  From this premise, Bell seems to suggest that maybe hell doesn’t last forever; maybe it’s just so intense for awhile that it feels like forever, but then it’s over.  I like this idea and I want it to be true.  However, what is left out is that the same word used in “eternal punishment” is also used in John 3:16 when referring to those who believe in Jesus and will therefore receive eternal life.  That seems like an important point to mention.  (Both of my examples are from Chapter 3 – “Hell”.  For a review of Love Wins that deals more with the actual content of the book, I recommend reading this one or this one.)

I deeply care about Rob Bell’s ideas, and I believe he longs for truth and God’s Word more than a lot of people are giving him credit for right now.  But I just wish someone would have instilled in him the importance of citing sources, backing up claims, and writing responsibly.  Especially on so crucial a topic.  I would love to believe some of what he’s saying, but it is so hard without the evidence to support it.

Unfortunately, because of this, I ended almost every chapter with a feeling of frustration and a desire for a deeper treatment of the topic at hand.  I, like so many others, have questions about heaven, hell, what the Word of God says about them, what the character of God says about them, and what it all means. 

Of course, I realize many of these questions will remain unanswered, but I sincerely yearn for a book to be written (or a book to be recommended to me if it already has been written) that will deal more reliably and thoroughly with this eternally (pun intended) important and crucial subject.  If you know of one, do tell.  And if you’ve read the book, I’d love to hear your thoughts as well.


  1. Anna,
    Thanks for sharing this review. I too have heard a lot of chatter about this book, but I have not read it yet. I would like to soon. I appreciate you taking the time to share your thoughts, I think that was really helpful. Good review!

  2. Awesome, Anna. Thoughtfully and well written. I'm not a fan of Rob Bell having viewed some of his Nooma videos and finding exactly what you say to be true--he likes to create explanations of scripture that just aren't there when you study the verses. I know he's popular and I'm not doubting his sincerity but find his teachings to be what I call "fluff and stuff" and not terribly accurate. It concerns me to see his materials so popular.
    Aside from all that, your gift at communicating was thrilling to me. You have done well, Anna Joy. God bless you! Gayle Brees

  3. I'm reading a book called "God According to God" which touches on this stuff a little bit, albeit from a Jewish and heavily academic/scientific perspective. It's by a guy named Schroeder or Schroedinger? Give it a look.