a book review for Love Wins the controversial new book by Rob Bell

2.0 out of 5 stars a mixed bag: the good, great, bad, and ugly, March 20, 2011
This review is from: Love Wins: A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived (Hardcover)

First of all I want to say that I have greatly admired the preaching and books that Rob Bell has put out before “Love Wins”. I will continue to recommend “Velvet Elvis” and “Sex God”. He is a brilliant communicator of God’s Word. I listen to his podcasts more than any other preacher.

The Good
I applaud Rob for taking a risk and writing about this extremely important, touchy, weighty, and often not talked about topic. It is a topic upon which Evangelicals are underdeveloped in their thinking. In writing about this topic publicly Rob gives us permission to talk more freely with each other about it.
The more thinking and study of this topic the more we will be careful in our sometimes overly simplistic views or verbal slams against others.

Bell writes, “I’ve written this book because the kind of faith Jesus invites us into doesn’t skirt the big questions.” Amen. Completely agree.

The Great
The book is favulous, compelling writing. Bell paints pictures, turns a phrase (“It’s as if we’re currently trying to play the piano with oven mitts”), illustrates, and illuminates the biblical text in a way few others can.

He clearly sets the gospel in its cosmic framework, not just its human salvation framework. Jesus came not only to save sinners, but to redeem the world–every atom. He articulates a gospel that transforms trees as well as people. This is a good thing and should stretch Evangelicals to understand what Colossians is getting at when it says, “This is the gospel that you heard and that has been proclaimed to every creature under heaven” (Colossians 1.23). “A gospel that leaves out its cosmic scope will always feel small.” (p. 135) Agreed.

The Bad
“At the center of the Christian tradition since the first church have been a number who insist that history is not tragic, hell is not forever, and love, in the end, wins and all will be reconciled to God.” (p. 109) Well, if universalism has been at the “center” of Christianity since the very “first church” I guess it’s strange that there’s such controversy around this book! Come on Robby, this isn’t intellectually honest writing. The whole reason this book is swirling in controversy is because universalism has not been at the center, it has not been a belief from the beginning, and the first Christians did not think hell was temporary. It’s one thing to present different views and theologies, it is another to do so with revisionist history.

The Ugly
In Matthew 25, Jesus the judge separates the sheep from the goats and sends the goats to “eternal punishment”. Only, this doesn’t fit with Bell’s theology so he simply translates the phrase differently. He says “eternal punishment” should be translated as “a period of pruning” or a “time of trimming”!

“The goats are sent, in the Greek language, to an aion of kolazo. Aion, we know, has several meanings. One is “age” or “period of time”; another refers to “intensity of experience”. An aion of kolazo. Depending on how you translate aion and kolazo, then, the phrase can mean “a period of pruning” or “a time of trimming”, or an intense experience of correction. In a good number of English translations of the Bible, the phrase “aion of kolazo” gets translated as “eternal punishment,” which many read to mean “punishment forever,” as in never going to end. But “forever” is not really a category the biblical writers used.” (p. 91-92)

First of all, he doesn’t even quote the Greek text correctly! He says the phrase is “Aion of kolazo”. That’s not how the Greek text reads! It reads, “Eis kolasin aionion.” The Greek word “aionion” is a different word than “aion”! This is so misleading! It’s inexcusable! It is intellectually dishonest, and I can barely believe that he wrote so erroneously. It’s as if he wished so hard that there is no reference to eternal punishment in the Bible that he found a way for it to go away.

The actual word used in Matt 25.41, 46 is “aionion”. Now, it is true that the root word of “aionion” is “aion”. But, they are two separate words, with two different meanings. For Bell to go on and on about “aion” meaning “age” and not “eternity” is completely irrelevant since he is talking about the wrong word!

“In a good number of English translations of the Bible, the phrase gets translated as ‘eternal punishment'”. Understatement of the aion! NIV, NRSV, NASB, KJV, New Living Translation. How about Eugene Peterson’s “The Message” since Peterson endorsed Bell’s book? The Message reads “eternal doom”. Bell is off his theological and exegetical rocker when trying to get this verse not to mean what it actually means: “eternal punishment”.

But imagine for a moment that he’s right. Let’s imagine that this verse isn’t about eternal punishment, but just an “age” of time. So, theoretically, after an “age” or two of time, the goats will be set free. However, the sheep are sent to “eternal life” in the same verse. It is the same word used for the sheep as it is for the goats: “aionion”. If Bell is right then “eternal life” is temporary. It’s the same word used in John 3.16 “everlasting life”. So whosoever believes in Him should not perish but have temporary life? I don’t think so.

Rob Bell is not a biblical scholar or a theologian. He has no credentials to write his own translation of the Bible. I pray that there is not a Rob Bell Study Bible complete with a “fresh” translation of the scriptures coming our way in the near future.

If Bell is interested in more than provoking reaction and really wants credible re-evaluation of the issue of hell, it would be helpful if he would either publicly debate other public figures, or co-write a book of “various views” on hell that includes other, more qualified, theologians and biblical scholars to help us all get a better handle on the topic.

I am also surprised that he keeps saying that he is not a universalist when that is what this book is about. “Love Wins” is a declaration that God’s love will reconcile all hearts eventually, and all will be saved (maybe not right away but given enough time). If you go to the mars hill website they defend that Bell is not a universalist as well, but under their “download a resources list” they list “The Inescapable Love of God” as a good resource to help the reader understand “Love Wins” better. But the book “The Inescapable Love of God” is a book arguing for universalism. So, which is it? Is Bell a universalist or not? He clearly is, but both Bell and the FAQ on the church’s website say he isn’t. It’s a strange mixed message.


3 thoughts on “a book review for Love Wins the controversial new book by Rob Bell

  1. John 14:6
    Also, people think Jesus is all about love, which He is, and that He would never allow anyone to go to Hell. People need to understand He is also a just God. He will judge sin, which sends people to Hell, not Him.
    Good write up…

  2. This is more of a coming out book for Rob Bell, it seems. The magnificence of his previous books, particularily Velvet Elvis, is he wrote out of his personal experience. You read into his yearning, transporting you to that heart issues material. This book, although intriguing, is mostly from the head and not the heart. It is theology instead of theocracy.

  3. I love this book, because it’s caused me to really think through something I’ve never even questioned. I loved this review when I saw it on Amazon as well, because it really helped me focus in on the aion/aionion issue.

    Have you read this? http://www.preteristarchive.com/Books/1875_hanson-aionios.html

    It might be a good rebuttal to the amazon review, if you’re in the mood.

    I’m on the fence, but I’m excited about the discussion, no matter which side I end up choosing.

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