Dying to Live – More Thoughts on Love Wins

It’s Good Friday, an appropriate day to reflect upon Rob Bell’s exploration of the cross found in chapter 5 of Love Wins. Rob writes:

“What happened on the cross is like…
a defendant going free,
a relationship being reconciled,
something lost being redeemed,
a battle being won,
a final sacrifice being offered,
so that no one ever has to offer another one again,
an enemy being loved” (128).

I found this to be one of the strongest chapters in Love Wins.  Rob works hard to articulate a fully orbed understanding of what Jesus’ death on the cross actually accomplished. His sketch of the various New Testament understandings of the cross are varied and rich. In my experience most Christians have an extremely limited understanding of the Cross. Ask someone the question, “what happened at the cross?” and you will most likely receive an answer something like, “Jesus died for my sins” – true, but perhaps not true enough.

Here are the New Testament images of the cross that Rob draws upon in this chapter:

  • sacrifice which comes from the religious sphere
  • reconciliation which is drawn form the relational sphere
  • justification which emanates form the legal sphere
  • redemption which flows from the economic sphere
  • victory which is derived from the military sphere
  • example which is taken from the moral/ethical sphere

Let me note that this is not original material from Rob; he draws this framework from the work of Mark Baker’s, Proclaiming the Scandal of the Cross, a book I would highly recommend.

Here is a quote, question and two concerns that I would love to engage in some dialogue:

Quote: “The point, then, isn’t to narrow it to one particular metaphor, image, explanation, or mechanism. To elevate one over the others, to insist that there’s a correct or right one, is to miss the brilliant, creative work these first Christians were doing when they used these images and metaphors. They were reading their world, looking for ways to communicate this epic event in ways their listeners could grasp.’ (129)

Question: how must space and latitude do we as 21st century followers of Jesus have in exploring fresh expressions, images and metaphors to describe the work of Jesus on the cross? What metaphors from our world have you used to effectively communicate the realities of the cross?


1) While Rob goes to great lengths to describe what happened at the cross, he doesn’t have much to say about why the cross had to happen. Unfortunately, the s-word (sin) is only used once in the entire chapter and that reference is a flippiant one at that.  The cross in my mind doesn’t make much sense unless we understand the depthof human deparvity, alienation and spearation from God that results form our sin.

2) Rob wraps his understanding of the cross (death) and the resurrection (life) into an elemental perspective and view of the universe. While there is something profound about declaring  “very truly I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds” (John 12:24-25) on Earth Day 2011, the life, death and resurrection certainly transcends an elemental understating of the universe that God has created. Consider Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 15:

But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. 21 For since death came through a human being, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a human being. 22 For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive. 23 But in this order: Christ, the firstfruits; then, when he comes, those who belong to him. (1 Corinthians 15:20-23)

Isn’t God doing something new fresh and paradigmatic in the cross and resurrection? In my mind the spiritual implications of the life, death and resurrection infinitely transcend the elemental life-cycle of the seasons of the year or a field of wheat.

In spite of these concerns, on this Good Friday may you take to heart Rob’s words regarding the personal implications of the death and resurrection of Jesus:

“When we say yes to God, when we open ourselves to Jesus’s living, giving act on the cross, we enter into a way of life. he is the source, the strength, the example and assurance that this pattern of death and rebirth is the way into the only kind of life that actually sustains and inspires” (136).

Stay connected…


  1. What do you guys think of this article (I know it’s pretty harsh)

    • I don’t find these types of posts helpful. While he has some points, instead of engaging in real dialogue, the writer makes broad statements, takes quotes out of context and makes prerogative and mean-spirited statements like” “where did he get his theological training?” (Fuller Seminary, a well respected evangelical seminary), and “much as Bell might love to tuck Love Wins right in there between Galatians and Ephesians” (Rob in no way places his writing or any other in the same category of Scripture). This is the kind of Christian behavior that I think makes non-believers not want to have anything to do with people of faith…

  2. Simon Huff says:

    I would agree. I doubt such sardonic criticism makes anyone want to suddenly rush to church, or give them a more favorable opinion of religion- if they had one to begin with.

    However…don’t you think Bell set the stage for any possible dialogue on the issue when he called orthodoxy “toxic and misguided”? I really think most of the harsh criticism Bell has endured is a result of his own harsh criticism of the Church (or what people perceive to be the Church). These comments are made in defense of what appears to be an attack from Bell (I don’t here defend their actions- in fact, I’ll just go ahead and denounce them- for such defense has attached to it a spirit of fear). I think if his book had been more exploratory, more tempered, we might not have seen the reactions we’ve seen (or had the conversations about the book at all).

    While I agree that this type of behavior distances people from religion, hasn’t Bell single-handedly distanced an entire generation from orthodoxy with his words? We can discuss and argue whether we all agree on Bell’s eschatology, but I’m surprised of the lack of discussion concerning Bell’s own divisive and harsh words about orthodoxy. I began reading ‘Velvet Elvis’ this week for comparative purposes, and I’m shocked by the difference in tone. In the introduction, he writes “For many Christians, the current paintings (read: orthodoxy) are enough…there is nothing wrong with it….I thank God for that.” (pg 14). This is a marked contrast for how he deals with his traditional upbringing in Love Wins, for example.

    Are people just so used to the mild-mannered and accepting Bell from previous works that they either overlook or forgive his sharp tongue now?

    • Simon –

      I wish you could see my copy of Love Wins! I have notes on just about every page and quite often I wrote in the margin something like: “why would you say that Rob!” or ” that’s way too flippant a comment when you are talking about something as serious as hell”…

      To be honest, I’m not sure how Rob got some of this stuff through a editor…

  3. I’m really enjoying this dialogue. I’m not saying I agree with everyone on the website post I put on here, jsut wanted to see what people thought.

    • I am glad you are joining in the conversation Sandra.
      I pray you had a great Easter celebration yesterday and that you are experiencing the power of the resurrection in a fresh and profound way today!


  4. Thanks Terry! Same to you! It was great to see my parents.

    He is Risen!

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