Final Thoughts on Love Wins

I am glad that Rob Bell wrote Love Wins and believe the people of God would be well served if they took the time to critically read, think and dialogue about its content. In our community of faith, twenty of us met together over a five week period to do exactly that. The process strengthened my faith and convictions and my guess is that most of the participants would agree that vigorous conversation about what we believe and the implications that flow from those beliefs is a critical and necessary element for spiritual growth. If you haven’t gathered with others to wrestle with your faith lately, I strongly encourage you to find a few companions and dig in; it will be time well spent.

This post will be my last on Love Wins and I want to share some final thoughts and reflections. Much of what Rob wrote in this book resonates deeply with me; some of it deeply troubles me. With these five concluding thoughts, I will touch on points of agreement and disagreement and invite you to do the same. What can you affirm from Love Wins and how does this inform your faith? Where has Rob missed the mark and strayed from a historic understanding of the Christian faith?

1) Realized Eschatology:  I love Rob’s emphasis on heaven and hell as both future states and current realities. The idea that God is dragging the future into the present is extremely compelling to me. I want to live NOW in a way that is consistent with the way things will be THEN when God’s kingdom comes in its fullness. Rob writes:”Our eschatology shapes our ethics. Eschatology is about last things. Ethics are about how you live. What you believe about the future shapes, informs, and determines how you live now” (46).

Love Wins also reminds me that hell is real and that my self-centered decisions, attitudes, words, actions and behaviors contribute to a creating a hell-like reality here on earth now. “There are individual hells and communal, society-wide hells and Jesus teaches us to take both seriously. There is hell now and hell later, and Jesus teaches us to take both seriously” (79).

How seriously do you take heaven and hell – both here and now and then and there? And how do you live differently because of these realities?

2) Humility: In the preface to Love Wins, Rob states that the story of Jesus has been hijacked by other stories. Some of this has to do with getting our theology right, but much of it has to do with the arrogance of some Christ followers. As we seek to live as light and salt in the world today, all of us would do well to read and reflect upon Rob’s comments on pages 158-160:

  • People come to Jesus in different ways;
  • None of us have cornered the market on Jesus;
  • It is our responsibility to be extremely careful about making negative, decisive, lasting judgements abut people’s eternal destinies.

3) The Centrality of Jesus: I have read and heard people say that Rob believes there are ways to God apart from Jesus. I simply don’t see that in Love Wins. Rob is extremely Christo-centric. He writes:

“John remembers Jesus saying, ‘I am the Way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me’ (John 14:6). This is as wide and expansive claim as a person can make. What he doesn’t say is how, when or in what manner the mechanism functions that gets people to God through him. He doesn’t even state that those coming to the Father through him will even know that they are coming exclusively through him. He simply claims that whatever God is doing in the world to know and redeem and restore the world is happening through him.”(154)

I think Rob is pretty clear about one thing: if anything happens to anyone in this life and the life to come, it happens because of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection.

Now I also strongly disagree with something Rob declares in the above statement. I believe that both Jesus and the other New Testament writers do have much to say about the mechanism of the cross and how people come to the Father through Jesus. Our responsibility is to learn as much as we can about what the New Testament teaches in regard to this and and faithfully, creatively and compellingly share this with others.

4) The Opportunity to Choose: Love Wins is all about choice. God’s love includes the freedom for humans to choice to either respond or reject God’s love. I get that. But one of my biggest points of departure from Rob’s teaching is his conviction that there will be post-mortem opportunities to have our hearts melted by God’s love. He suggest that people will have eternal opportunities to be won over by God’s love.

If, in the afterlife, I discover this to be true, I would greatly rejoice. However in my option, the clear teaching of Scripture is that this one life is all we have to respond to God’s love for us in Jesus Christ. This is not only the clear teaching of Scripture, but also the overwhelming position of the Church for two thousand years of church history. Rob’s position on this is certainly outside mainstream Christian teaching.

5) Love Wins: I believe that God’s love indeed does win. However, my understanding of love’s victory is quite different than found in Love Wins.

Rob sets up, what I believe, to be a false argument when he raises the question: “does God become somebody totally different the moment you die? (174) I would ask, does saying “God is love” force us to negate any of the other attributes of God, for example, God’s holiness, justice or even God’s wrath?

I was greatly privileged to study theology with Stan Grentz during my doctoral studies at Northern Seminary in Chicago. His statement from Theology for the Community of God, brilliantly captures my understanding of the way in which God’s love wins:

“Rather than being incompatible with God’s love, the possibility of hell arises from a rigorous understanding of the nature of the God who is love. God is an eternal lover. In keeping with God’s own nature, he loves his creation eternally, and he desires that humans respond to his love by enjoying unending fellowship with him. We dare not confuse God’s love with sentimentality. As the great lover, God is also the avengeing protector of the love relationship. Consequently, God’s love has a dark side. Those who spurn or seek to destroy the holy relationship God desires to enjoy with creation experience the divine love as protective jealousy or wrath. Because God is eternal, our experience of God’s love – whether as fellowship or wrath – is also eternal. Just as the righteous enjoy unending community with God, so also those who set themelves in oppostion to God’s love expereince his holy love eternally. For them however, this experience is hell.” (Theology for the Community of God, 641-642)

I appreciate the conversations I have had with many of you over the past couple of months around Love Wins. Remember, theology does matter. May you think deeply about the faith and how you express that faith in your everyday, ordinary life and may you always do so in love – because, sisters and brother, in the end, love wins!

Stay connected…

Comments

  1. Sandra Hedin says:

    Terry-

    Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts! I had always thought that “those who set themselves in opposition to Go’d love” DO NOT experience his holy love eternally, but rather eternal separation from God and that is in fact Hell. Can you tell me where Stan Grentz finds that they will experience his holy love eternally and this is hell just for them

    Thanks,
    Sandra

    • Sandra,

      Grenz writes at length about this in his book, Theology for the Community of God. The wrath of God is seen as the other side of God’s love – God’s jealous, protective love for God’s people and the community that God is creating for all eternity. Because God loves His people and this community so deeply and strongly, God will not allow anything to compromise or threaten this. If you reject God’s love, you will experience the other side of God’s love/God’s wrath as eternal separation from God and the community that God has formed…

      T

  2. Michael McGreevy says:

    Hey Terry– what a valuable opportunity it was to be involved in this conversation. I grew in several ways because of the challenging thoughts in the book and the dialogue that happened surrounding it– both in the weekly group and the countless other conversations. Thanks for siezing the opportunity to wrestle with this as a group. I hear Chan has a book on Hell comin out in a few weeks. 🙂

    • Mike, I am so glad you have been a part of the ongoing conversations and look forward to keeping the dialogue going. I did watch Chan’s video on why he is writing the book – not sure how I feel about it. The skeptic in me sees the book publishers trying to cash in on the hell wave right now.

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