The Primary Point
Should Be The Focus
Net-wise Love Wins has received an unusually large amount of attention and much of it completely negative. The popular sentiment is, there is nothing redeeming about Rob Bell or his book: he is wrong, everything he says is wrong and the book is dangerous, in a word “blasphemous.” Even people who take an objective approach find more wrong with Love Wins than right.
The responses are variations of…
Interesting, entertaining, thought provoking, easy to read, nothing new but wrong here, here and here.
It is rare to find anyone who agrees with Rob completely and those that do are a bit shallow. The agreement is expressed mostly on an emotional level. “I like Rob so he must be right.”
But! Does that mean the book offers nothing of value? Must we throw the whole thing out without deliberate consideration?
I hate to join the throng and I mean nothing condescending by this but there are a few points in the book that either aren’t clear or lack substantial proof. However, these issues don’t detract from the main point. They are secondary and shouldn’t be reasons to reject the whole.
For example, Rob’s discussion on the meaning of “aion” and “hell” throws a wrench into conventional teaching. He suggested that “aion” means only a period of time – beginning and ending – when applied to “hell” and therefore doesn’t mean “forever.” But…
Was Rob talking about hell the place, or hell the sentence?
To be honest, after a couple of readings and several scans I’m not sure. But…
If deliverance from hell is possible after death then maybe we should view it like the penal system. When prisoners are released, the prison isn’t demolished. It remains.
If salvation is possible after death then hell the prison will last a lot longer than a person’s time there. And since “aion” can refer to only a period of time then maybe there is an application.
That is really what I understood Rob to mean but whatever the case, many people took offense at these ideas and rambled on about them. All the noise surrounding this and other questions drowned out Rob’s most important point:
Death is not final and, therefore, post-death salvation is possible.
Rob may not be right about all the secondary issues but the primary question, which is foundational to every other idea in the book, remains and in chapter 1 Rob offered many thought provoking arguments to take it seriously.
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Other issues questioned are:
- Limited transformation at death
- Historical reference
- And people from non-Christian religions going to heaven.
None of these ideas, however, prove or disprove Rob’s main point.
Rob veered a long way from the mainstream on these issues, yes, but even if you take them out of the discussion you’re still left with the premise. To be fair, Rob was plowing neglected theological ground and covering a very large territory – charted but mostly ignored – in a short space.
And the implication is: If we accept the premise – death isn’t final – then many conventional ideas about life after death need to be revisited. Actually “developed” is a better word. Since most consider death final, what happens after death is considered a non-issue. Discussing it is grounds for dismissal and Rob’s experience is proof of that. It is the rare individual who has the courage to confront the theological status quo.
If there is anything to what Rob says then questions like, “How would a post-death salvation work?” and “Who in this life – regardless the religion they follow – will have a post-death chance at heaven” and “what exactly happens when these people die” need consideration and there are more:
- Will those who never heard the Gospel, read the Bible, knew any Christians or attended a church in this life have the chance to get saved immediately in the next?
- Will the unsaved, who die a few seconds after reaching the age of accountability, be condemned for all eternity or will they have the option to get saved?
- Will children, who die at birth or before accountability, be saved automatically or will they make a choice after death?
- Will those who belligerently ignore Christ in this life suffer a period of judgment following death before they can get saved and, if so, what determines how long the judgment lasts? Will the sentence be determined by the nature of their sins or will a repentant attitude be mitigating?
- Will those who are sensitive to social and ecological issues, who make personal sacrifices for the sake of family and friends and who are generally forgiving be more likely to embrace Christ after death or will their pride stand in the way?
- Will those who live in non-Christian communities and, therefore, not exposed to the Gospel be allowed the opportunity to “believe” following death? If so, would their option to get saved be determined by how they responded to the truth they did have?
As you can see, once we settle the first question – is salvation possible after death – there is still a lot of thinking to do but we can’t go there without settling the first question first.
Are there reasons to believe people can be saved after death? If so, then we have to rethink commonly held ideas about post death transformations, growth, faith, conversions, punishments and so on.
Imagine! A whole series of discussions on issues about which people have had questions for ages. Rob offered one set of answers to several of the questions, which may not be correct, but debating them doesn’t deny the primary question:
Is there a post-death salvation?
And, by the way, Rob might not be as wrong on the secondary issues as everyone assumes, particularly if it is determined that salvation is possible after death and the time frame for condemnation isn’t fixed.
Don’t be dismissive. Engage the issues. THINK!AboutIt
Check out what Rob Bell believes here.
See a review of Love Wins, chapter 1, here.
See a discussion on the “Age of Accountability” here.
The Love Wins Companion offers valuable information for anyone wanting to explore further: insights and commentary by qualified individuals, in-depth exploration of significant Bible passages, detailed chapter summaries of Love Wins with questions and guides for discussion, historical evidence demonstrating the breadth and diversity of Christian ideas about heaven and hell and more.
In The Reason For God Timothy Keller confronts head on the questions that skeptics are asking, yet without a confrontational style. It is sensible, rational and engaging. A must read for every thinking person, Christian or not. His approach to hard questions about God not only provides answers it encourages us to develop analytical thinking skills. Also available is a DVD with discussion guide for small group interaction.