Love Wins seems like a particularly appropriate subject for the day after Easter, the day we celebrate the triumph of Jesus Christ (warning: YouTube link).
I finally got around to reading Rob Bell’s Book, Love Wins (if you haven’t heard of the hubbub about this book see this and this and this and this). Bell is the pastor of Mars Hill Bible Church in Grand Rapids, MI and is a significant younger leader in American evangelicalism.
Bell begins with a story of an art show at his church where an artist included a quotation from Ghandi in the piece. Someone pinned to this work a piece of paper that read, “Reality check: He’s in Hell.” The certainty of the statement disturbed Bell, raising profound questions about the nature of God and the role of our beliefs in our relationship with God: is it our profession of belief in Jesus Christ that secures our salvation? This raises for Bell what I like to call “the math question.” Evangelical leaders from John Stott to Billy Graham have puzzled over how many would be saved. The math question arises from two claims: 1) that salvation only belongs to those who explicitly accept Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior; and 2) The God of Christian faith is a generous expensive God and it is inconceivable that only a small minority of human beings throughout history will be saved.
Bell asks the question in a particularly poignant manner:
If there are only a select few who go to heaven, which is more terrifying to fathom: the billions who burn forever or the few who escape this fate? How does a person end up being one of the few?
Being born in the right place, family, or country?
Having a youth pastor who “relates better to the kids”? (p. 3)
Bell’s framing of the issue puts him squarely in that part of evangelicalism that has emphasized “making a decision for Christ.” This is not the dominant expression of evangelicalism in the PC(USA) where a more Calvinistic strain has emphasized conversion, but not so much a time and place decision. So, in one sense reading Love Wins is for Presbyterians, evangelical or not, a window into another part of Christ’s church. And for us, it can be easy to dismiss this preoccupation with whether or not we go to heaven or hell as so twentieth century.
But Bell’s book is a readable and helpful exploration on that character of God and Christian discipleship. Bell is especially helpful at taking words like eternal life, hell, and heaven and reexamining them in biblical context. And any of us in the PC(USA) would be well-served by paying attention to Bell’s serious treatment on heaven, hell, salvation, and the Christian life.
I’ve noted a healthy number of passages as particularly interesting. If you want to work through some of these together, let me know in a comment.
p.s. You have to read a book that has a line such as: “It’s as if Thomas Kinkade and Dante were at a party, and one turned to the other sometime after midnight and uttered that classic line ‘You know, we really show work together sometime . . .’” (p. 22)