As I said, Rob Bell asks some great questions and they are important, life or death questions but his approach to answering some of them is sloppy. I found that disappointing in someone who writes so well. When I say that Rob Bell’s approach is sloppy, here is what I mean: In seminary we were taught that we should always allow the text of scripture to speak for itself. We were taught how to properly interpret scripture, how to translate difficult words and to look at how that writer, or other Biblical writers used those words in similar contexts so that we could correctly discern the intended meaning. Beyond this, we were taught never to proof-text. Proof-texting happens when we decide what the Bible should say and then proceed to dig out Biblical texts that align with, and therefore seem to prove, our initial theories. Rob Bell may not be proof-texting in “Love Wins” but he seems to draw awfully close to that line. Bell begins his book with an entire chapter devoted to describing what he wants to find in the Bible and uses whatever texts that seem to agree with him and either ignoring or skipping over texts that present significant problems. Ben Witherington even finds occasions where Bell has grossly misinterpreted scriptures so that they agree with his arguments where the correct interpretations would stand in opposition to it.
Bell says that heaven and hell are real and that they exist here on earth. It’s a nice sentiment, but that’s not what Jesus said. Jesus said that heaven is in another place. Jesus said that hell is real. Rob Bell says that we can decide, after death, to accept Christ but Jesus says that a great chasm exists between heaven and hell and no one can bridge that gap. Bell thinks that if we can decide to choose Christ after our deaths then sooner or later nearly everyone will come to their senses, follow Jesus and enter into heaven. Jesus says that at the end of the age the weeds will be separated from the wheat and thrown into the fire. Jesus says that the weeds are the followers of the evil one and the wheat are the followers of God. I agree with Bell that some of the things in scripture are troublesome. Like Bell, I wish that billions of unbelievers would not be sentenced to punishment in hell, but I can’t just pretend that scripture doesn’t say what it says. We struggle with the texts of scripture. It isn’t easy and we do no one any favors when we take shortcuts.
If we have a high view of scripture, we believe that it says what it says. If we have this view, then we must define ourselves and our beliefs why what we discern from it. We cannot force what we wish to be true upon scripture.
In summary, “Love Wins” is very well-written and engaging but for all the good ideas and excellent questions contained in it, there is too much theology that is poorly thought out, too much off-target interpretation and too many places where the layman (because it is well written and engaging) is going to have difficulty discerning one from the other. For those reasons, I cannot recommend reading “love Wins” unless you have a copy of a reliable analysis (like Ben Witherington’s) alongside it to help you avoid the pitfalls along the way.