Book review: Love Wins

by Rob Bell


This is Bell’s controversial masterpiece about “heaven, hell, and the fate of every person who ever lived.” Love, says this internationally influential pastor, wins in the end … and nobody has to go to hell. 

God wants all people to be saved. Will God get what He wants?

Of Bell’s works, I’ve read only this and Velvet Elvis, though I have three more in my review stack. I’ll be spreading them out over the next few months. I confess that too much Bell, with his colloquial rah-rah style, might push me off the deep end, but in Love Wins, the message overcomes the style and earns five stars. I also feel the book is very well organized, leading inexorably to a logical conclusion.

That said, this book does not probe any deep theological arguments. It’s far too short for that. It’s a common-sense approach to a troubling question: Can God be both loving and vengeful?

Actually, Bell’s book is chock full of questions! It makes you think about your perception of Jesus, of God, and of His eternal plan. Bell says, “Often times when I meet atheists and we talk about the god they don’t believe in, we quickly discover that I don’t believe in that god either.” When we hear that a certain person has rejected Christ, we should probably first ask, “Which Christ?” The antiscience, antigay one standing out on the sidewalk with his bullhorn, telling people that they’re going to burn forever? Or the one who invites everyone to share in his heaven?

Which invites another question. Which heaven? The one far away, a dream of eternal bliss, or the one Jesus constantly spoke of, here, now, on this earth? Bell’s “heaven” is very “earthy,” rightly recognizing that Jesus spoke not of a place but of an age … an age where God dwells with his people, on this earth. Bell is not denying an afterlife, he simply is putting the focus where Jesus did: the now. 

But what about hell? Well, there’s plenty of hell on earth now, too. Surprisingly, not everyone prefers heaven. Love wins, and we get whatever we want. But over and over and over, God speaks of restoration … helping those who have slipped into hell back on their feet and back into heaven.

That’s God’s agenda. So here we are at a final question: Does this magnificent, mighty, marvelous God fail in the end?

Matthew 10:28, Fear Not Those Who Kill the Body

Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell.

What do you think about this verse? Kill the soul?? Most people are taught in church that the soul is eternal, and even ungodly men live forever … albeit in hell instead of heaven.

Actually, controversy raged in the early church about the unsaved. Are they tortured forever in the fire (Jude) or merely killed by it? (2 Peter, which appears to be a rewrite and update of Jude). Paul taught that the godly would live forever while the ungodly die; the end. “The wages of sin is death.” This would be known centuries later as the “annihilation theory.”

Revelation appears to agree with Matthew that the fires of “hell” are temporary. (Don’t get me started on the differences between Sheol, the Hebrew dwelling place of the dead, and Hades, the Greek place of punishment for naughty fellas, and how the two merged into the Christian concept of hell.) The beast, the false prophet, and the dragon all appear to be tortured eternally in Revelation, but not any of the rest of humanity. (this is the position I argue for in my book, Revelation: The Way it Happened.)

What do you think?