I finally got my hands on a copy of Rob Bell’s Love Wins. Needless to say, it was awesome. I read it last weekend and loved it. Many conservative evangelicals criticized it pre-release. They continued to harp on it following its debut. Some deemed Bell a heretic in nasty words and damning sermons. Of course, the book claims nearly nothing of what the critics say it does. My summary: Bell states everything we all think, but most are too afraid to say. What do I mean by this? I will show you.
Basically, back in the Protestant Reformation, two fellows by the names of Martin Luther
and John Calvin dug up the writings of the biggest of the big names in Christian theology, particularly St. Augustine Bishop of Hippo and St. Thomas Aquinas. In very reduced terms, Luther and Calvin gleaned from those two theologians and the Bible that G-d loves all people. Simple enough. Much of Christian theology revolves around that simple fact. The great theologians added a caveat to this simple truth: if you do not know and acknowledge G-d’s love, G-d is mightily angry at you, angry enough to send you to a realm of eternal torturing.
I think I need to repeat that in very clear, logical terms:
a) G-d loves you.
you do not know G-d loves you
you do not acknowledge that G-d loves you (e.g. through faith in Jesus)
c) G-d will punish you by sending you to Hell where you will be tortured (i.e. water-boarded, beaten, put on the rack, burned, etc.) for eternity.
Essentially, for some reason, this G-d of love needs you to suffer infinitely for not loving back. Let me say this bluntly: the argument I just stated is absolutely, completely stupid, insane, sadistic, and entirely untrue. It represents the biggest reason for why people leave the church. Many studies report that people leave the church due to Christian hypocrisy. I doubt people leave churches over others and their inconsistencies more often than leaving due to a hypocritical G-d. That actually makes sense.
So what does Rob Bell argue in Love Wins? He affirms the first point from above. G-d loves everyone. He continues on to the next point which is that G-d will do anything, for an eternity, to prove to all humanity this love. Bell proceeds to nuance his thought by adding what he believes love is, or rather, what love is not. Love is not coercion. Hence, love cannot force anybody to do anything. Rather, G-d grants humans the choice: heaven or hell, and this choice stands for all eternity. G-d dares not seal our fate in hell without the option otherwise. To damn us eternally to hell would not be very loving. Letting us choose hell is. Nonetheless, G-d still loves us. No matter what.
Bell goes on to note, quite astutely, that we really know nothing about heaven and hell. We have never been there! Rightly, he asserts we need not focus our whole lives on figuring out what heaven will be like or what hell will be like. We, instead, should spend our time focusing on what Jesus focused on: all the people around him. Bell encourages us to live and not sit around waiting to die.
Let me tease out the implications of such a belief. Naturally, if G-d loves you and it means believing and acknowledging G-d’s love to prevent eternal damnation, then the threat of condemnation hangs over the heads of the people filling the pews. In order to appear certain of G-d’s love, they continue to attend church. Sunday attendance maintains the facade of belief, and therefore deters hellfire and damnation. If G-d loves you whether you believe it or not, why go to church? Suddenly, new reasons for Sunday mornings must be thought up. No one goes out of fear. They simply go by choice. With the psychological terror of being damned gone, many popular preachers fear losing their grip on those who fill the aisles on Sundays. Thus, they continue preaching a senseless, crazy, hypocritical, hateful, and sadistic “good news”.
In short, Bell argues against the belief that G-d’s love is contingent upon our belief in that love. He does not argue for universalism. He does not argue against the Bible. And he does everything the other super popular megachurch pastors do, except better. He trusts G-d will move, and he does not rely on the threat of eternal damnation to do so. He made up nothing new. People in the Christian faith have been saying this for a long, long time.
G-d loves you. Now live like that is true and not like you are afraid it might not be.