Love Wins | Notes & Review

Posted on March 20, 2011


[Thanks to Janelle for our “limited edition” copy! You are loved.]

Rob Bell. Love Wins: A Book About Heaven, hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived. HarperOne: 2011. (200 pages)

First, the Press…

Martin Bashir on the Paul Edwards Program afterwards:

The March 12 interview in New York by Lisa Miller: A few recaps and a transcript of the event, plus some commentaries.

The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary “conversation”:


Second, a few key quotes:

I believe the discussion itself is divine. (ix)


This is why Jesus doesn’t tell people how to “go to heaven.” It wasn’t what Jesus came to do. (30)

…God has been looking for partners since the beginning, people who will take seriously their divine responsibility to care for the earth and each other in loving, sustainable ways. (36)

A proper view of heaven leads not to escape from the world, but to full engagement with it, all with the anticipation of a coming day when things are on earth as they currently are in heaven. (46-47)

Heaven, it turns out, is full of the unexpected. (52)

To summarize, then, sometimes when Jesus used the word “heaven,” he was simply referring to God, using the word as a substitute for the name of God. Second, sometimes when Jesus spoke of heaven, he was referring to the future coming together of heaven and earth in what he and his contemporaries called life in the age to come. And then third–and this is where things get really, really interesting–when Jesus talked about heaven, he was talking about our present eternal, intense, real experiences of joy, peace, and love in this life, this side of death and the age to come. (58-59)

Jesus lived and spoke as if the whole world was a thing place for him, with endless dimensions of the divine infinitesimally close, with every moment and every location simply another experience of the divine reality that is all around us, through us, under and above us all the time. (60-61)

There’s heaven now, somewhere else. There’s heaven here, sometime else. (62)


What we find in the scriptures is a more nuanced understanding that sees life and death as two ways of being alive. (66)

Often the people most concerned about others going to hell when they die seem less concerned with the hells on earth right now, while the people most concerned with the hells on earth right now seem the least concerned about hell after death. (78-79)

Jesus did not use hell to try and compel “heathens” and “pagans” to believe in God, so they wouldn’t burn when they die. He talked about hell to very religious people to warn them about the consequences of straying from their God-given calling and identity to show the world God’s love. (82)

“Satan,” according to Paul, is actually used by God for God’s transforming purposes. (89)


Will everybody be saved, or will some perish apart from God forever because of their choices? Those are questions, or more accurately, those are tensions we are free to leave fully intact. We don’t need to resolve them or answer them because we can’t, and so we simply respect them, creating space for the freedom that love requires. (115)

“Do we get what we want?” And the answer to that is a resounding, affirming, sure, and positive yes. Yes, we get what we want. (116)


First, we aren’t surprised when people stumble upon this mystery, whenever and however that happens. (158) Second, none of us have cornered the market on Jesus, and none of us ever will. (159) Third, it is our responsibility to be extremely careful about making negative, decisive, lasting judgments about people’s eternal destinies. (160)


What the gospel does is confront our version of our story with God’s version of our story. (171)

When the gospel is understood primarily in terms of entrance rather than joyous participation, it can actually serve to cut people off from the explosive, liberating experience of the God who is an endless giving circle of joy and creativity. (179)


Love is why I’ve written this book, and love is what I want to leave you with. May you experience this vast, expansive, infinite, indestructible love that has been yours all along. May you discover that this love is as wide as the sky and as small as the cracks in your heart no one else knows about. And may you know, deep in your bones, that love wins. (198)

Third, — VIA —

I consider much of the above to be a kind of polarizing litmus test, not of the author, but of the readers and of the culture. Engagement with the content and hype of this publication has been quite contentious with impassioned blogs, pointed interviews, pejorative labeling, etc., proving not so much who Bell is, but rather who the readers are. Thus, we discover not so much more about Jesus, per se, or about Heaven, or Hell, and definitely nothing more about the “fate of every person who ever lived.” Rather, we are discovering quite a bit about the permanence of ideas in the souls of people. Reformed theologians respond with reformation. Liberal/progressive believers respond with a “generous orthodoxy.” Adherents of other faiths respond from their ideological roots. And those who have questioned the Christian dogmatism that has dominated much of the public discourse…well, they now have quite a few more questions to add to their arsenal.

Anyone interested in the hard work of truth?

Bell, himself, is a polarizing figure. Another way to say this is that Marshall McLuhan was right, except in this case the messenger is the message. If you’re a fan of Bell, you’ll love and appreciate his new work. If you’ve been skeptical of Bell, this only confirms your hesitation and criticism. Love seems to be winning commendation and condemnation, but very few converts. It certainly isn’t making anything any clearer. In the words of Pilate, “What is truth?”

As Bell posits an inquisition of sorts in his opening pages, I have a few questions of my own:

  • Is anyone really interested in what Jesus really said about these topics, or are we only interested in what people say Jesus said?
  • Is it even possible to have absolute certainty around what Jesus said, or are we only relegated to what people are saying Jesus said?
  • How many people who have read Love Wins will now go back and read the Bible, on its own terms, to double-check?
  • If love wins why is love so scarce?

What is perhaps most ironic and sad is that in many ways, love appears lost around Love Wins. Currently, the US & UK launched Tomahawk missiles into Libya. Japan is struggling to restore their nation and save it from a nuclear disaster. Injustice, oppression, poverty, and hatred surround us. And Rob Bell is a “heretic,” and a “universalist,” whose book and life elicits “farewell” from the very community he has served his whole life.

Will anyone of these bloggers and journalists call Bell a “lover?” A lover of God, a lover of people, a lover of Christ’s church, and yes, a lover of truth? A lover of mystery, and a lover of the vast complexity of this world…and that world?

Perhaps this is why it is so difficult for Christians to maintain a reputation of love, light, and truth in the world. 50% of it truly is the responsibility and irresponsibility of the faithful. But the other 50% is the excessive labeling and categorical expectations of humanity (Do you believe in “x?” Just answer the question. Ah, you do? You heretic.) There’s no freedom of love there. Where is the complexity of relationship in that line of inquiry? Where is the dynamism of humanity? Where is the receptivity to paradox and subjectivity? Where is the listening to what Bell actually wrote rather than a scrutinization around what may be implied?

Love may truly end up winning. In some interviews and in many blogs, love doesn’t even have a chance.

Fourth, the Links

Part 1 , Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6, Part 7, Part 8 of this series at Bible and Culture.
Jesus Creed, “Tony Jones and Greg Boyd Respond to Rob Bell
Timothy Dalrymple, “A Framework for Understanding the Rob Bell Controversy
Jeff Cook, “Rob Bell and CS Lewis
Thomas F. Kidd, “For Whom the Bell Tolls: The Audacity of Love Wins
The “Love Wins” book feature at the Patheos’ Book Club
Ben Witherington, “And Now, The Case for Permanent Residence in Hell
Timothy Dalrymple, “What Launched the Bell Battle? – Rob Bell is No C. S. Lewis full-length video interview
Pastor Kevin DeYoung’s review

Posted in: Religion, Reviews