Love Wins: The Review

Let me say at the outset, this book simply does not promote universalism. In Love Wins Rob Bell chooses heaven, God.

Though one might wonder if Rob Bell is universalist, this book does not suggest he is, because THAT is not the point.

The point of this book is to construct a theology of love, or another way to put it, a theology of God. While much of Rob’s teaching comes across as deconstructive — it only is that because he is telling an alternative story. A story of Jesus, that same Jesus, but one where God’s wrath is NOT poured out upon humanity. God is not about wrath toward us, only toward evil and brokenness. We are loved by the sustainer of the cosmos, no matter what.

By no means is this book academic or intended to be. Countless groups are going to critically evaluate the ‘ideas’ they ‘think’ they see in Rob’s message. But let me say this again, the point is NOT about Rob Bell being a universalist — it’s just not the point. The point is that God’s love wins out, no matter what.

The most interesting part of this book for me is Rob’s understanding that heaven and hell begin now, and they continue.

So, if heaven and hell continue, universalism is not the point of this book. This book portrays God’s love as free and freeing.

Love Wins because we are free to choose heaven and hell, for eternity. The questions left open in this book are not the ones the book is intending to answer. I’m sorry, if you don’t get that — then you don’t get the book. That’s just how it is my friends. This book answers YES to you and me, even when we think we’re not worth it. Even when the Calvinists have made us feel like themselves (that is, utterly depraved). God, in Christ, has already rewritten your story and mine, because Love Wins.

All we have to do is live into it!

The choosing never stops — we can choose hell or heaven — forever.

In a series he taught several years ago, Rob suggested that the “flames of heaven are hotter than the flame of hell.” This book, Love Wins, is the culmination of several teachings, teachings in which he also suggested that “grace pays the bill.” So, the fundy’s will cry because they’ve lost a bit of their grasp on the gates of hell, but Love Wins — so they have to let go.

Evangelicalism is moving beyond fundamentalism, in the theological sense, because it is rediscovering Jesus as the evangelion, the good news. And remember, the point, is that the good news is not ‘freedom from God’s wrath.’ He doesn’t intend to pour out wrath on you and me and everybody else. Love destroys evil. Love went to hell and back, that is, Jesus went to hell and back. Back, because love won — resurrection is life, winning.

What I’m left with is this. The good news is for everyone — some want it, some live into it, some aren’t sure — but it will always be available, it doesn’t end…and maybe…just maybe…more and more will enter into the loving goodness of God, here and now and forever.


~ by natedawson on 2011/03/12.

23 Responses to “Love Wins: The Review”

  1. Nate, Thanks for this!

  2. What a refreshing perspective! Thanks for sharing this word so eloquently.

  3. thank you. thank you. and… thank you.

  4. I love this phrase: “God, in Christ, has already rewritten your story and mine.” Yes!

    Thanks Nate, that was helpful, although I am not sure that it makes the question of universalism go away. The question for me would be this: could love have won if some/many/most of those that love wishes to reconcile remain alienated?

  5. Robin,

    The sense I get from the book is that ‘love wins’ because everyone can be saved, but everyone may not choose to be. So, free will is part of the love wins bit too, it seems.

    In addition to heaven and hell beginning here, the book seems to suggest that though one might be in hell (either here or in the age to come) they still have a chance to choose. I want to be careful not to speculate too much beyond what Rob actually says in the book, which as you point out, leaves the question of universalism open.

    I’m quite sure the book is not intended to answer the question of universalsm, though it clearly raises it for theological reflection. But the theological reflection, I think, that Rob wants to evoke is upon the possibility that God’s love actually could win, in the very way you suggest.

  6. thanks. so clear, beautiful and exciting.

  7. Nate, thank you for sharing this. I am even more interested in reading the book now. Also, I can see your writing demonstrate the wisdom of Joseph M. Williams, that Bruce Lee of English. 🙂

  8. Thanks Nate,

    I see that. My ‘worry’ with the view that “love wins” so long as people are givne the freedom to chooce life (whether or not they do) is this:

    on that view, if everone freely and permanently chose to reject salvation then love has triumphed even though not a single person is redeemed.

    I guess that could be seen as a triumph but only in a limp way. I’m angling for a more robust sense of divine triumph.

  9. We no longer need to sacrifice to appease the chaotic god of natural theology, nor need we turn to an empty philosophy for redemption of an emptiness which we sense in the world. It should be no surprise that those who cling to the “old skins” of these two practices fail to see the scope of God’s pulsating love within creation.

    If you claim the right beliefs but are not being transformed, what does that say about your belief? And if you don’t believe love wins, how can you be transformed?

  10. I would be interested to see how this ‘theology of love’ hermeneutice is applied to the Old Testament. How do you deal with judgement passages in the prophets, Isaiah 53, and if we are able to choose heaven or hell for ourselves, what does that do to God’s sovereignty and glory?

  11. What about the following passages in scripture?

    Jeremiah 17:9
    Romans 8:1-11
    Ephesians 2:1-3
    Ephesians 4:17-19
    1 John 1:8-10

  12. Well written Nate! Your thoughts are helpful; be encouraged to get them out to the masses. How about submitting this to the G.R. Press for this week’s Saturday religion section? Seriously.

  13. Thanks for the review, Nate. And I found Bell’s interview tonight – which you tipped me off to – very helpful. Here are a few of my reflections from a Brethren perspective (I already sent these to you but others might find them interesting). Oh, I also throw in something from Greg Jones which really resonates w/ Bell…

    An old Brethren take on Love winning – Restorative Theology

    • Jason, I commented on the MLive review. Here it is — As an Anglo-Catholic with evangelical roots, I have nothing to argue about. Academically, I did not intend to critically evaluate this book. Nor am I convinced that such a book is meant to be critically evaluated. My primary aim was to pass along the spirit of the book, that is it. I am convinced that is exactly what I did.

      The reviews that others have linked to in their comments maintain a distinctly and narrowly understood form of Christian orthodoxy. That’s fine, I do not. I am convinced their is room for all sorts of variation within the Christian tradition. Some may call this an overly generous orthodoxy, though I am much more interested in the philosophical theology of John Milbank, Graham Ward and Catherine Pickstock, know as Radical Orthodoxy. Personally, I embrace the first three ecumenical creeds as foundational to my thinking, though even they can be interpreted. I did not intend to offend Calvinists and Fundamentalist, so I do apologize if it sounded like ‘name calling.’

      Finally, on interpretation and hermeneutics. I do not think biblical exegesis is at the heart of this controversy. The issue is how one approaches Scripture, theologically. Scripture informs our theology, yes, but we never read Scripture neutrally or objectively. Christians always read their beliefs back into Scripture. The New Testament writers insist that Scripture (The Hebrew Bible) is to be interpreted Christologically. If we could only acknowledge that, first, then we could disagree on other matters much more respectfully.

      So, if we are willing (Number 1) to be shaped by the message of Jesus via the Bible, (Number 2) willing to acknowledge that our own assumptions shape the ways we read Scripture, and (Number 3) embody with action God’s love for the world, Christians could learn to worship their God without the fragmentation. I realize that is a very catholic thing to say.

      Christians have always struggled with how to interpret Scripture. One biblical scholar I know suggests, “The contexts in which Christians struggle to live Scripture are always changing. Hence, faithful interpretation in one context may not suffice in a different context.” He goes on to say that “Scripture itself invites and sustains a chorus of interpretive voices.” Hopefully, we can continue commenting more fruitfully, but maybe this is the nature of online comments.

  14. I’ve been reading asinine reviews all day, but I think this is faithful to what he’s saying. As an Anglican who has never read Bell, I feel funny spending my day defending his book on Facebook, but I honestly feel like people have been dealing dishonestly with what he says.

    I summarized the book here in five short points:

    I’d love to see if you would agree with my summary.

  15. […] “Love Wins: the Review” by Nate Dawson […]

  16. Restorative Theology

  17. Hey Nate, Care to share your comments with a wider audience? Email me if so.

  18. Thanks for the review:) Just finished the book myself and I have similar thoughts. Frankly, I was encouraged by it. I especially enjoyed his reflections on the Prodigal Son.

  19. @Robin: The problem with “the universalism question” is that it is a red herring–what Nate pretty much said at the beginning. Instead of sincere conversation about theology, it is actually an axe attempting to cleave Bell in two. It is like “Obama’s a socialist” isn’t actually intended to have a fair conversation about his social policy, but to deride him in front of like-minded people. The criticisms are only meant to criticize. So if it doesn’t deal with universalism, that is also intentional, otherwise he might have called it Love Wins: an argument in favor of universalism. BTW, I’m not intending to be snarky.

    What is surprising is that there is such a strong internet presence of haters looking to do this.

    Personally, I am just starting chapter 3 on evil, and I love it.

  20. Nate, this is beautiful. I’ll never forget the conversations that we shared in Montana a few years ago, and the hope that sustains us.

    Jerry DePoy Jr. [Lead Pastor, Exodus Church]

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