Tuesday, September 20, 2011

REVIEW: Love Wins, pt 2

Part One
Part Two
Part Three

Whatever you’ve heard about Love Wins, whether positive or negative, Rob’s main thesis in the book is simply this: that God’s love is far bigger and more powerful than any human being can conceive of. Infinitely bigger. Eternally more powerful.

I think that’s something we can all get behind. Right?

Rob urges followers of Jesus to practice opening their minds a bit, and to be okay with asking questions. To imagine that perhaps God’s plan for humanity’s ultimate destiny is more complex and bigger than the binary saved-or-condemned-forever belief that is pounded into us. He asks the question, “if God’s love is the most powerful thing in the universe, and He wants all people to be saved and reunited with Him, does He fail in the end? Does God get what God wants or not?”

He doesn’t come out and answer the question directly, but it seems clear his belief is that eventually all people will be won over by the love of God. He posits the notion that perhaps Heaven has an eternal open-door policy and that you will be welcome to enter it if you desire to be a citizen of the kingdom.

Even if you’ve died and “gone to hell”.

To many that idea will sound simply ridiculous, even heretical. Indeed, that is exactly the word that some have used in describing this book. After all, I can hear many of you thinking right now, “But how can we even be discussing this? ‘It is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment,’ ‘Sirs, what must I do to be saved? Believe in the Lord Jesus and you will be saved,’ and ‘Anyone whose name was not found written in the book of life was thrown into the lake of fire,’ and many others! Scripture is quite clear on this!”

This is the peril of using solitary verses, without taking the full context of Scripture into account, to base a theology on. Using this same logic it is absolutely equally acceptable to say, “But Scripture is quite clear on this—salvation is through works alone! ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father…for I was hungry and you fed me, thirsty and you gave me something to drink, naked and you clothed me. And depart from me, you who are cursed…I was hungry and you fed me nothing, thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, naked and you did not clothe me,' ‘Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress.’ And that “book of life” verse from Revelation? Read just a couple lines before that—apparently you get your name in it by your good deeds: ‘Another book was opened, which is the book of life: and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works. And death and hell delivered up the dead which were in them: and they were judged every man according to their works.’”

Hmm, you see the dilemma? Perhaps God’s ways aren’t quite as easily grasped as we tend to think. Perhaps the Bible isn’t a textbook of facts to extract one by one. All I’m asking is that you keep your mind open to how the Lord works. Very likely it’s completely different from anything we can imagine. Rob Bell may be completely wrong on this, and you may be completely right. That’s fine. Just don’t become crusted over with an inflexible view of doctrine that has been debated among Bible-believing, Jesus-following Christians for centuries. Remember the Pharisees, how they were unwilling to change their mind of what God truly was like.

The wind blows wherever it pleases.” Jn 3:8

That is an image of freshness and ever-changing-ness, not static stagnation and rigidity.


Objection: But that’s not fair!

Of course it’s not fair. God has never been fair. The whole Christian faith is built on the premise that God doesn’t treat us how we fairly deserve.

Jesus takes great pains to spell this out for us. He tells the story of a Prodigal Son, but throws in a brother character—the Good Son—who sulks because the Father treats the runaway with just as much love as him. He tells the story of workmen who get paid the same wage regardless of how long they actually worked in the field that day. He promises a dying criminal who only has moments to live that they will see each other in Paradise. And he refers to Jonah, the reluctant prophet, who was actually furious at God for saving the depraved people of Nineveh.

So you’re right. It’s not fair. Nothing about God’s ways are fair. So what if it’s “unfair” that a murderer’s deathbed repentance wins him the same salvation you who’ve followed Him all your life have? If that’s your attitude, then I fear you have missed the entire point of Jesus altogether. Shouldn’t you instead be glad that one more person has chosen the light? Isn’t it good news, glorious news, when one more lost child finds their way home?


Objection: What's the point of following Jesus now if you can get into heaven after you die?

As before, I believe this question misses the point entirely. Jesus never was in the business of handing out passes to heaven. Salvation, properly understood, is about this life now and the life to come...which will also be here on Earth. I'm not sure exactly where this idea sprung from, but most people today seem to think that Heaven and Hell are spiritual places that our souls go to and occupy for eternity.

This is not what the Bible teaches.

Heaven will be right here. In this universe. As a physical reality. The Bible speaks of God redeeming this earth, and this cosmos. If our souls are conscious after our death, it is only temporary until He fulfills His plan for history, at which point we will be returned to physical bodies. Fundamentally different than what we can conceive of now, but physical all the same. The body that Jesus had after His resurrection gives us glimpses, hints. After all, he is called the "Second Adam" and the first of the new kind of humanity.

And “salvation” is quite often referred to in the Bible as a process, not a one-time event. Not a black & white, binary either/or system. Consider the 12 disciples. They weren’t “believers” in Jesus until after he rose from the dead, and they spent 3 years living with him! Even Paul himself states cryptically,
continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose.” (Phil 2:12-13).
If there’s one thing I’d want you to retain after reading these posts, it’s this: Remember the Pharisees. As a follower of Jesus, there are only a small handful of things that you must believe at all costs, and as strange as it may seem, a correct belief about every detail of heaven and hell isn’t one of them.

Don’t become so rigid in your thinking, so sure of your knowledge that you close down your mind and stop probing the mystery of God’s love. That’s what the Pharisees did. They weren’t evil people. In fact, they were far more devoted to following God than you or me. But they exchanged the glory of God for their traditions and their doctrines—which they got directly from the Bible. They backed up their false righteousness from Scripture.

Remember the Pharisees.

Truth poorly defended loses not its truthfulness;
likewise Falsehood aptly defended loses not it's falsity.


  1. Thanks for taking the time and effort to post and share! Very good points and I appreciate your insights. I agree -- it's so darn easy for us to think our thinking today is 100% correct and another way is wrong. I think his book did a great job of exploring ideas and getting us to think. In his book I would have liked to see alittle more back up reference and answers, but I also get that unlike a lot of authors, he wants us to come to conclusions not spoon fed. One thing I walked away with was the idea God is so much bigger than the box I put him in.....

  2. Re: "Read just a couple lines before that—apparently you get your name in it by your good deeds: ‘Another book was opened, which is the book of life: and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works. And death and hell delivered up the dead which were in them: and they were judged every man according to their works.’”

    I may be wrong, but i'm pretty sure that the dead folks mentioned in this verse were those who rejected Christ. Christians are saved by grace and though our properly motivated good works apparently do garner us some reward in heaven, they don't earn us a ticket on the salvation bus or get our names written in His book of Life. Jesus did that on the cross.

    Respectfully, paul

  3. Hi paul, thanks for your comment. The complete text of that passage is as follows (from the TNIV):

    11 Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it. The earth and the heavens fled from his presence, and there was no place for them. 12 And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Another book was opened, which is the book of life. The dead were judged according to what they had done as recorded in the books. 13 The sea gave up the dead that were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead that were in them, and everyone was judged according to what they had done. 14 Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. The lake of fire is the second death. 15 All whose names were not found written in the book of life were thrown into the lake of fire.

    Perhaps a word study would be in order here to see if the original Greek has a different connotation or meaning, but it seems to me that this passage is clearly referring to all people. John says "the dead," not "the unbelieving dead"; he says "the dead great and small", which seems to me to mean everybody; and then he caps it by saying "everyone was judged according to what they had done".

    In any case, I believe this amplifies my point that salvation is a much, much fuller concept than simply a "bus ticket to heaven".

    And yes, I wholeheartedly concur that Jesus did everything we need on the cross. Believe in that and it'll all take care of itself. =)