Love Wins Analysis: Chapter 4: Does God Get What God Wants? (Part IV)
[This is part IX of a multi-part series on Rob Bell’s book, Love Wins. Note: Chapter 4 has been broken up into four parts. Chapter 4, part I can be found here, part II can be found here, and part III can be found here.]
Let’s work on closing out Chapter 4 of this book.
“Many people find Jesus compelling, but don’t follow him, because of the parts about ‘hell and torment and all that.’ Somewhere along the way they were taught that the only option when it comes to Christian faith is to clearly declare that a few, committed Christians will ‘go to heaven’ when they die and everyone else will not, the matter is settled at death, and that’s it. One place or the other, no looking back, no chance for a change of heart, make your bed now and lie in it . . . forever.
Not all Christians have believed this, and you don’t have to believe it to be a Christian. The Christian faith is big enough, wide enough, and generous enough to handle that vast a range of perspectives.“
A Twitter friend of mine said this in her Goodreads review of this book:
“Speaking of Jesus, I don’t find many non-Christians that are hung up on the idea of hell. Most I know are hung up on the idea that Jesus is the only way. And that the Bible says seemingly contradictory things and you’d be stupid/silly to believe it. “
Doctrinally, I’d say that’s been my experience too. In general, I’d say non-Christians tend to be averse to Christianity because of the hypocrisy that runs rampant among many of its believers. (Side note: Tim Keller makes a great point in regard to why this behavior occurs among Christians in Chapter 4 of The Reason for God.)
As for the bolded part about not having to believe in eternal punishment/torment/hellfireandbrimstone to be a Christian, I start to get a little twitchy. Because even though the basic rule of being a Christian is being an obedient (“as best as you can”) follower of Jesus, there are all these doctrines and tenets that have kind of been hung around his neck as part of the package and it’s difficult to distinguish whether you can have Jesus without hell.
So can you?
Well, yes. But it’s also kind of like having Jesus without the anger (Matthew 21:12-17) or Jesus without calling out hypocrisy (a plethora of verses). It’s Jesus but not a full representation of him.
When we get right down to it, what is basic for salvation?
- Confessing with the mouth that Jesus is Lord (“with the mouth one confesses and is saved”)
- Believing in the heart that God raised Jesus from the dead, you will be saved. (“with the heart one believes and is justified”)
Nowhere in all of Romans chapter 10 (which is quoted in the steps above) is believing in eternal punishment, torment, hellfireandbrimstone a necessary condition for salvation. Although one might say that it’s implied: What are you being saved from? What do you need salvation for?
Bell goes on to explain that “endless torment and misery with no way out” doesn’t make for a very good story but “everybody enjoying God’s good world together with no disgrace or shame. . . is a better story.” But how are humans to determine how a divine God views the best story? How do finite minds uncover the depth and wisdom of an infinite divine being? Does a good story even matter to God? What’s in keeping with God’s attributes? (There I go being all Socratic just like Bell.)
But let’s get back on track. We’re establishing that Bell proposes (in a very roundabout way) universal reconciliation (no matter how long it takes) is the better story and is consistent throughout the Bible. But then, I encounter this whopper of a doozy:
“Love demands freedom. It always has, and it always will. We are free to resist, reject, and rebel against God’s ways for us. We can have all the hell we want.”
Now, I’m lost. Perhaps Bell is taking about hell right here on earth because in “the age to come,” hell will be outlawed. In eventual universal reconciliation, “all the hell we want” is no longer possible because then one day a person’s will for more hell will be fall under God’s will who will eventually decree “ENOUGH!” and force us to end “the hell we want.” But if “love demands freedom” and “we are free to resist, reject, and rebel against God’s ways for us,” then God will never force us to submit to His will for love, reconciliation, and peace. If that is indeed the case, then Bell is correct. But earlier in the chapter, Bell asserts that God gets what God wants; if so, then it is not possible to have all the hell we want. Bell is a master of contradictions.
“So will those who have said no to God’s love in this life continue to say no in the next? Love demands freedom, and freedom provides that possibility. People take that option now, and we can assume it will be taken in the future.”
Bell flat-out says here that people who want to reject God will always be free to reject God because God is loving enough to give people the freedom to do that. (This is where Reformed individuals butt heads with “free will”-ies or Arminians. [No, not Armenians, I didn’t misspell that.]) I’m not sure how we can assume that the options presented to us now will be present as well in the future and it would have been helpful if Bell had provided scripture passages to support this assertion. He begins the next paragraph with “Second” informing me that he’s moving on to another point.
If Bell sticks with the quote above, God, in the end, still doesn’t get what He wants which is “all people to be saved.”
Even in Love Wins, God still manages to “lose.” Just like He supposedly does with the traditional view of hell. But one thing does “win.” Near the end of the chapter, Bell teases his readers a bit with:
“Will everybody be saved,
or will some perish apart from God forever because of their choices?”
Haha! Bell’s not telling you!
“Those are questions, or more accurately, those are tensions we are free to leave fully intact. We don’t need to resolve them or answer them because we can’t, and so we simply respect them, creating space for the freedom that love requires.”
There are many Christians who are not comfortable with leaving such weighty questions or tensions intact. While a belief in hell isn’t required for salvation (as outlined above), what is the point of salvation otherwise? Why does anyone need Jesus over any other spiritual leader such as Buddha, Muhammad, or Sun Myung Moon?
Perhaps these are questions, er, sorry, tensions that Bell also feels free to leave intact because:
“It always leaves room for the other to decide.
God says yes,
we can have what we want,
because love wins.”
1. Bell doesn’t seem to make the explicit connection that God is love (I Jn. 4:8). One could make the argument that this connection is implicit but it’s never made explicitly with scripture that clearly supports this. Love seems to be merely an extension of who God is rather than the fact that He is the complete embodiment and definition of it.
2. Throughout the last pages of Chapter 4, Jesus’ presence appears to be oddly absent, especially considering how central he is to the Christian faith. There are many mentions to God (perhaps, “the Father; the images invoke Jehovah God of the Old Testament) in a more general sense that could be applicable to anyone who believes in a divine higher power. One could argue that Bell makes a reference to Jesus in Revelation as God (which is entirely acceptable) four pages from the end of the chapter but the actual name of Jesus is used nine pages from the end of the book, which struck me as a bit odd for a pastor discussing a major doctrine in the Christian faith.