I had no intention of writing anything on this website about Rob Bell and the Love Wins furore, being that I’ve never read a Rob Bell book, no-one at my church really cares about his stuff, and my young people have never heard of him (Rob Bell? Wasn’t he on X-Factor?). And then some friends of mine were down in London town to hear him speak, and what started out as a come down to the pub with us beforehand became a tag a long and hear him speak and then go to the pub afterwards. So I come into this knowing very little about Rob Bell directly. I’ve seen a Nooma. I’ve read the opening chapter of Velvet Elvis. I’ve seen the promo video for Love Wins and that dayglo one on the resurrection. I’ve not read Loves Wins nor anything else by him. What follows therefore should take that into account.
After two slightly awkward introductions from different people Rob Bell comes out on stage and speaks for about twenty-five minutes telling various stories, mostly stories centred around why he wrote Love Wins. You could listen to him speak for much longer than twenty-five minutes. He doesn’t mention hell –or any of the controversy– in this segment. He does mention that love wins, a lot. This is Bell’s gospel through and through, it’s that in the end love wins. At one point he says that he wrote this book as an elementary teaching on Christianity for those people who had heard of God but wanted answers to all the questions. This is his response to that, it’s his declaration of the good news. At one point he asks a series of questions and gives their response. What is the answer to my hurt? God loves you. What is the answer to my sin? God loves you. What is the answer to my long-suffering? God loves you. It sounds great, but it doesn’t deal with the problem of sin and God’s wrath. It’s a frustrating gospel because it sounds good and so nearly is good, but it seems to exist alongside the cross, as opposed to through it. And it seems to end up glorifying a human understanding of love before it does the living God.
After this talk, there is a Q&A time (and can I say now, I hate unvetted Q&A times), Bell got pushed on what he actually believed on hell. He also got pushed to react to those people who’ve critiqued, or in some cases denounced him. To his credit, he could have easily scored points against his critics and gained a lot of sympathy from the audience, but he never rose to it. At times it felt like he was being baited to slag off the reformed church and he didn’t even slightly. On hell though, if you want spoilers, this is what he seems to state that he believes. When pushed he said something like; do people reject God? Yes. Is there some sort of thing called hell after death for those that do? Yes. Does God stop pursuing people in hell? I don’t know. He pointed to scriptures as to why he might and might not, but he said he did not know and implied that it was a mystery. This is understandable, as Rob Bell’s theology is that love wins, and so for that to work out fully hell must be fully empty in the end. Hell is not only completely unpalatable if the core of your gospel is love wins, but it’s impossible to accept as something that may be unpalatable now, but in the new creation and with the eyes of Christ will show God’s glory and wisdom.
As a conservative reformed evangelical, I was much more impressed with Bell than I thought I’d be. Part of me wanting him to say something terrible so I could damn him, and thanks be to God that he did not let that happen. There was a moment towards the end where I stood on tenterhooks, as a man asked him what should he say to his friends when they present to him a god that seems to pissed-off and angry at him the whole time. I thought, if he doesn’t answer this question by taking him to the cross where Christ died to take away God’s anger then this man has nothing to say. And yet, brilliantly he did, he took him to Christ and even better he took him through Hebrews 12:18-24. His answer made my heart glad, because he answered well (though he did), but because of the goodness of the reality he showed.
And this is perhaps the thing. Rob Bell’s basic gospel is that love wins, and this love seems to exist and move outside of the cross of Christ, but when he came to wrath and sin he had to bring it to the cross, because there is no answer to it other than Christ’s death for us. If only all his theology was as rich and good as this!