I know this review is a bit late to the party, but since this book has attracted so much attention even outside of Christian circles, I thought I’d write my thoughts on it.
I’ll get it out of the way right now instead of beating around the bush and say that I loved this book. It’s a rare quality when someone can teach about Hell and cause you to love God even more than you already did.
Let me also make two upfront statements regarding this book:
1) I do not 100% fully agree with every single detail that Rob Bell writes in this book.
2) Nowhere in this book does Rob Bell state or imply that ALL people who ever lived will “go to Heaven” and that nobody will “go to Hell”. I fear that anyone who is saying these things in criticism of the book simply has not read it, or has badly, badly misunderstood (perhaps willfully) his entire point.
I don’t say those things out of a need to “defend” or “justify” the fact that I loved this book. I say them because I’m afraid that a lot of people—Christians—immediately shut their ears and stop listening to what you have to say when you say you like Rob Bell, and I really want you to give him a fair shake. Don’t you hate it when someone hears that you are a Christian and immediately makes all kinds of assumptions about you? That sword cuts both ways.
You don’t have to agree with Rob Bell. You are totally free to think he is 100% wrong. Just don’t condemn him as a heretic for discussing the issue. Remember the Pharisees!
One of the things I love most about the book is that he has taken concepts that I have struggled to explain to others many times, and sheds light on them in such a simple way. Reading this book was one of those rare times when I kept saying to myself “This is exactly what I’ve believed and apprehended all along, yet I could never quite find the right words.” C.S. Lewis is one of the only other writers who has ever done that for me—take immensely complex subjects and transform them into ideas so easily understood that you marvel at how you never thought of that before.
Not that Bell provides tidy, bow-tied answers to the questions of Heaven and Hell, and “the fate of every person who ever lived.” In fact, in many ways he raises even more questions. More on that later.
The sad fact is that a staggering number of people who follow Jesus and claim to love the Bible have their theology all messed up when it comes to the afterlife. I really don’t have an idea where it all comes from, but for some reason most everyone’s idea is that Heaven and Hell are spiritual places that our souls go to after death and and that this is how you will spend all eternity.
Did you know that’s not what the Bible teaches?
What we think of as “Heaven” today is only a temporary place, and there is even some biblical evidence that everyone including Jesus-followers will not even be conscious as a spirit until Jesus comes back. I don’t particularly lean that way myself, but there are verses to support that idea.
Let me be clear on what I do know. You are not going to spend all of eternity as a soul with no body.
The Bible is crystal-clear on this fact. The redeemed universe is going to be a PHYSICAL universe. Just like the one we now live in, but more. Better. The way it was intended to be. This isn’t even a “hidden teaching” of the Bible. It’s plain as day. Do you really think God made this universe—which he called good— just to vaporize it once it’s used up?
Where is there any place anywhere in the Bible in which God operates like that?
No, God has never been a God who gives up on what He created just because it becomes used and abused. Including you.
Ever since the very beginning, God has taken dirty rags and made them white as snow. He has taken leaky pens and written majestic poetry. He has taken broken instruments and played glorious music.
God is the master weaver, able to take the black threads of life’s tapestry and weave them into a beautiful, redeemed whole. He takes lives of destruction and turns them into vessels of love.
Our God is not a “throwaway” God.
Truth poorly defended loses not its truthfulness;
Falsehood aptly defended loses not it’s falsity.