I’m not prepared for this at all, I just felt like saying what I’m about to say is necessary. I’m sure that if you’re a Christian, or even if you’re not, you’ve heard about the recent controversy surrounding Rob Bell’s new book called Love Wins: A Book About Heaven and Hell and Every Person Who Ever Lived. Bell’s recently published volume of words is more declaration of independence than it is book. It is his own announced and widely distributed declaration that he is splitting from traditional Christianity and the beliefs Christians have held for the 1,978 years since Christ’s resurrection. I may take a harsh tone from here on out but in Scripture we are told to deal harshly with people who preach a false gospel and lead people astray. People have been called heretics for less than Bell’s claims in Love Wins.
I want to make it clear that I have not read Love Wins in it’s entirety and I am basing this post off of reviews from authors, teachers, and pastors from both sides and Bell’s publicly accessed material. While I am not qualified scholarly or theologically to make any informed judgements on the book I do feel it is necessary to point out the main arguing points from the book and to let the Christian community know what it’s up against. I will warn you, this post will be LONG! Brevity is not one of my strengths.
First of all, Bell in Love Wins is arguing that God is love. Can anyone refute that? No, because it is in the Bible. Just as is the case with almost every other heresy the church has ever faced, well-meaning people trying to be nice to everyone and not offend anybody over-emphasize one point made in the Bible and subsequently overlook all other related aspects of that one point. Such is the case in Bell’s theological treatise. God most definitely is love as 1 John 4:8 says, “Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love“. You can go to so many places in the Bible to prove God is love and that He loves people, this has never been a disputed fact in Christianity. Some of the most famous verses in the Bible are directly related to love and God’s love (John 3:16, 1 Cor. 13:4, 1 John 4:10, John 15:12, Ephesians 2:4, etc…). In 2 Peter 3:9, Paul tells us that “The Lord is not slow to fulfill His promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance“. This represents God’s heart for humanity as His creation and the love He has for us as Creator. Unfortunately, God cannot love each of us with saving love because if He did bestow upon every single person who ever lived saving love, God would cease to own one of His other attributes, His holiness.
God’s holiness is arguably one of the most important attributes of God that has been revealed to us by Scripture. Without God’s holiness there is no need of a gospel to begin with. If God is not holy and our sin does not offend Him and separate us from Him then we don’t need a savior because there is nothing to be saved from. The reason we are all on the brink of eternal conscious torment in hell is because of God’s holiness. Our sin is an act of treason against the ruler of the universe. God is perfect in every imaginable way and as supreme sovereign over everything, it is not unfitting that He require His creatures to be perfect as He is perfect (1 Peter 1:15). This command is not burdensome to those who are living without as sin nature as our parents Adam and Eve were originally. God was very pleased with his first two humans made in His image and loved them and fellowshipped with them. That all changed when they disobeyed God and sinned. After that the human race fell into sin and the sin nature was passed down through the human DNA. It is literally engrained in our genes to be sinful. The Bible tells us that God hates sin because it is so ugly and offensive to Him. God cannot be around sin because it is a disgusting stench to Him. Sin is the exact opposite of God who is good and righteous in every way. Because God is a holy ruler He does not withstand sin and He deals with it severely. Sin is so egregious before God that He punishes it with separation from Him and wrath. God is compelled by His own character and moral perfection to punish sin which is completely amoral and devoid of any semblance of god-like goodness. Simply put, sin hates God and God hates sin. God is greater than sin so God always gives sin a beat down!
The nature of the punishment of God for sin is eternal just as God is eternal Himself. Sin is so wicked and offensive to God that just one is enough to condemn a man to an eternity of torment in hell. The bottom line is that hell is real and it is full of people! Everyone who has ever lived is a sinner by nature and by choice. The Bible says that there is no one who does good, we have all turned aside of out own choice. We have consciously neglected God with our thoughts, words, deeds, and motives. We sin by commission (doing things we ought not to do) and omission (not doing things God has commanded us and created us to do). There is no one who is righteous before God. Even our best deeds are as filthy rags before a holy God because sin is so pervasive in our lives that everything we do is stained with the crimson dye of sin. This is the Calvinistic doctrine of “total depravity”. Not that everyone is as completely depraved as sinfully possible, but that we are completely unable to produce anything righteous or pleasing to God because sin has complete and undisputed control over our lives. Not everyone is a mass murderer, a rapist, and a Capone-like thug, however, we all exhibit these sins in varying degrees in all of our actions, thoughts, words, and motives.
So that’s the bad news. God is holy and people are sinful. God hates sin so He punishes those who practice it.
In all that it seems like I have completely forgotten about the love of God. Many people say that doesn’t sound like a loving God at all and that a god like that quite simply cannot exist because it sounds so unpleasant. But the good news is that Christianity and God is not based on what we think or feel! And the even better good news is that God IS love! You know how it goes, “For God so loved the world that he gave His only begotten Son that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life“. The less quoted and oft forgotten next verse is even sweeter! “For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through Him. Whoever believes in Him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.” The whole point of the Old Testament is to show us our need for a savior. This savior is Jesus Christ! Jesus is the Son of God who shares all the same attributes of God because He is God. Jesus is God made man who shares our flesh and lives the perfect life pleasing to God and obedient in every way that we were meant to live. Jesus lived the life we couldn’t and died the death we should have died. Jesus died in our place on the cross and when He died God treated Him as if He was the sinner instead of us in order that the wrath being stored up for me and you could be exhausted upon Jesus leaving none for us. Second Corinthians 5:21 says, “For our sake [God] made Him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God”. Jesus became our sin on the cross and bore the full penalty of it from His Father and because of this great act of love we inherit Jesus’ righteousness that He earned during His life! We are viewed as completely righteous before God, our crimson stain of sin is washed away and we wear robes of purest white! There is no wrath for us to fear because Jesus’ immortal soul endured the eternal wrath of God on the cross. Not even a drop of wrath is left for those who trust in this great exchange!
That is the good news, the best news! God is love so He gave us His own Son as our savior. We are forgiven and are counted as righteous before God because of Jesus’ death and resurrection. As John Piper said, “It’s all about the superiority of the work of Christ for those who are in Him over against what happened to all who are in Adam”.
By over-emphasizing the love of God as the all-triumphant force of God and minimizing, and almost negating God’s holiness, Bell has completely undermined the importance and glory of the gospel of Jesus Christ to which the church has held precious for two millennia. As I touched on early, if God is not holy and not angry at creation for its sin, there is no need for a savior we are all lovey-dovey with God right now. But that is not the case. That’s why the gospel is such good news because our sin problem is the major defect of the human race and God has given us a solution!
Because of the gospel we now have access to God where we were previously cut off. Through faith in the life, death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus we receive the forgiveness of sins and the promise of eternal life in heaven with God. In Love Wins Bell suggests that how we respond to the gospel in our lives is not important because God’s love will eventually win over our hearts. This is incredibly discouraging because if Bell is correct that means that the most wicked of people will eventually come to faith in Jesus and will be with God in heaven. Yes, according to Bell’s theory Adolf Hitler will be won by God’s love and be in heaven, Saddam Hussein will be in heaven, Joseph Stalin will be in heaven, the Roman emperor Nero will be in heaven, every Frederic Nietzsche will be in heaven, Immanuel Kant will be in heaven, Osama bin Laden will be in heaven, every mass murderer and rapist will be in heaven, every godless person who ever lived will eventually join those who lived holy, faith-filled lives and strived, suffered, and toiled for the faith of Jesus. This seems a terrible injustice on God’s part. Bell claims that the injustice lies in the sending of people to hell. Traditional Christianity claims that the injustice would be in sending faithless people to heaven where those who were martyred for their faith will abide forever. People deserve hell. Period. People don’t deserve heaven. That’s why it’s called grace. Grace is the most important word in the whole Bible because it is the world that sums up God’s disposition towards us if we put our faith and trust in Jesus.
An inadequate understanding of grace is the source of heresies like Bell’s. Grace is unmerited favor shown to us by God. Nobody deserves to go to heaven, while everyone who has ever lived deserves to go to hell.
To conclude this lengthy exposition, Love Wins is a serious threat to biblical Christianity and the Christian community must be educated to the threat it poses and what is at stake. What we are fighting for is the maintaining of the true gospel because the gospel is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes. We contend for the truth because we represent the one true living God and we desire the world to rightly understand His nature and character so that He receives that maximum amount of glory and that more people come to faith in Jesus to receive salvation and forgiveness of their sins. That’s all I’ll say because my fingers hurt now! If you want to read Love Wins for yourself I would recommend it just for the purpose of being able to defend your own faith. Grace and peace.