Ooookkaayy… this should be interesting. So, my philosophy is not to comment on something either glowingly or negatively unless I’ve read or watched it myself, especially if it is of a controversial nature. It seemed like everywhere I turned in Christendom people were discussing this book, or warning others not to discuss the book…so I knew I had to read it and review it. I have to be clear; this is my introduction to Bell. I have no former gripe or praise for him, no angle to work for or against him.
Hopefully, I’m going to do something a little bit different in this review, as other reviews have already rightly attacked the factual flaws in Bell’s work. If you want that style of review, you can get one here: God is Still Holy and What you Learned in Sunday School is Still True: A Review of “Love Wins.” I don’t agree with everything in the review, but it gives a good overview of many of Bell’s problems.
No, I want to approach this a bit differently and talk about implications. First, let me say…I can’t believe this book, Love Wins, was actually published…I mean, I get why. It’s going to make a ton of money, but it’s content is illogical, and its style is unpolished. I’m really struggling with this review because I can’t believe that people would change their view on God, Heaven, or Hell based on this book. The “gotcha” questions Bell proposes in the first bit of the book are easily answered by anyone versed in Apologetics, not just well-versed, just versed. They are “milk” type questions…and are eerily reminiscent of the list of “questions” found on fundamentalist atheist websites.
For example, Bell asks, “What saves someone?” I answer, and the Bible answers; Grace through Faith. Bell asks, “Well, isn’t faith an action, and hence a work.” I answer; No, something can be an action without being a work. The Israelites were not allowed to work on Sabbath, were they allowed to think? Sure. Were they allowed to love? Sure. Where they allowed to trust (that’s faith)? Sure. So, the big answer to all Bell’s rhetorical style questions is; we make it in by grace through faith, and faith is not a work. QED.
So, moving on, what do I mean that I want to approach this review by implications? I mean, what are the implications IF Bell’s thesis is right? The implication of Bell’s thesis is that God is a monster…in fact He’d be the very monster Bell decries. Bell clearly says that love can’t be forced, but the logical implication (reading Bell) is that it can be. In the end, says Bell, everyone will succumb to God’s love and turn to God willingly. That is a logical contradiction. To be free will there must be true choice, but in this case, just by looking at Bell’s title; Love Wins, one can see there isn’t.
“Love wins.” I didn’t know love was in a competition. I didn’t know it was out to beat me. But, I guess I was wrong. Bell feels that God will so smufficate a person with love, they WILL respond and turn to Him either in this life in the next. I resent the implication. I resent his maligning of God’s character and God’s love. God is not a rapist, nor is He a brainwasher. Bell’s thesis is creepy in the extreme. If you want to debate Hell, fine. Annihilation vs. punishment, fine. Universalism, fine. I even love to discuss the possibility CS Lewis raises that Hell is locked on the inside. But by claiming that God “wears you down” over long periods of time til you cave…why would anyone think that is acceptable from a Holy Loving God?
Bell’s implication is that God is neither Holy nor really Loving in any true sense, nor Just; He’s just interested in making sure every human being can be put on some Heavenly tally sheet. Bell’s implication is also that evangelism is pointless, and so is suffering in this life. What I mean by that is that everything winds up the same for everyone given enough time in the life to come. A rapist that rejects love and God in this life gets an infinite series of chances to accept God’s gift of salvation, and in fact, will indeed come to accept it because nothing can stand up to God’s love. We call that brainwashing. A brainwashed individual is not acting under free will. Jesus suffered when He observed that He had tried and tried to get through to the Jewish people, but “they would not.” Why so upset if they were all going to be A-OK through all eternity?
Now, I completely understand someone being frustrated by evangelists trying to scare the crap out of someone to get them to believe in a loving God. Fortunately I wasn’t raised that way. For me, it has ALWAYS been about love and choice; true love and true freedom in choice. I trust God to be just while still believing that Hell is real. If we want to talk about Him giving every human an equal and fair chance at Heaven, I’m there. If you want to point out that God doesn’t send anyone to Hell, that they choose it, I’m there. If you want to point out the Devil is not in charge in Hell, and that it may not be all physical torture and pitchforks, I’m there. But I draw the line at clearly maligning God, Our Father’s, character.
Briefly; other problems. Horrible hermeneutics, flawed logic, sloppy writing, and whoever set up the actual book format…well, they shouldn’t win any prizes. Plus, Bell dances around any reference to eternal contempt for some alongside eternal life for others, and ignores bulk passages that clearly indicate that faith in Christ is required to enter Heaven, that we die and then the judgment happens, etc… Not to mention he tries to describe Heaven, and it’s implications…he should’ve left that to Alcorn’s book “Heaven.”
I love books that make readers consider things from a new angle…this wasn’t one of them. I’ve read another book recently that I guess I should’ve reviewed instead; “If Grace is True: Why God will save every person” by Gulley and Mulholland. I didn’t agree with them either, esp. since they deny Christ’s sacrifice was necessary; however, their book was set up logically enough to review in a succinct way. I feel Bell is theologically and intellectually dishonest, either unconsciously or on purpose. He seems to be the type trying to “out moral” God…it just won’t work, and this isn’t the reference I’d turn to if I were to try.