The boat has been rocking over “Love Wins” for awhile now, and Rob has been both praised for his views and labeled as a heretic. After reading the book, here is my two cents.
For those of you who don’t know, the full title of the book is “Love Wins: A book about heaven, hell, and the fate of every person who ever lived.”
First off, I’m glad Rob is thinking about the issue, because improper thinking on hell and judgment has painted a terrible picture of God. All one needs to do is spend a few minutes in an atheist Twitter column to feel the animosity towards a god who makes a bunch of rules and then relishes in punishing his creatures forever in hell.
On page 9 he says,
“Often time when I meet atheists and we talk about the god they don’t believe in, we quickly discover that I don’t believe in that god either.”
Good point. We have to be very careful to understand exactly what a person means when talking about God and Jesus Christ because there is so much misunderstanding.
Rob also does a great job pointing out the fact that someday the earth will be transformed into exactly what God wants it to be.
“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.” p. 46-47.
This is true. From the book of Revelation, we know that someday this corrupted earth and sky will be replaced with a new one. And then we will live with God in his full glory on the earth forever.
He goes on to recount the various awful things that happen here on earth, of which there are plenty; it is difficult to capture the magnitude of the terrible things humans do to each other.
“To summarize, then, we need a loaded, volatile, adequately violent, dramatic, serious word to describe the very real consequences we experience when we reject the good and true and beautiful life that God has for us…And for that, the word “hell” works quite well.” p. 93
Okay, I’ll grant that the despicable things people do to each other fall into the category of “hellish,” but I’m not ready to leave hell at only that. Is hell limited to the atrocities humans cook up for each other? Rob isn’t clear if he’s willing to leave it at that either, but his lack of further conversation about hell makes me wonder if that’s what he’s doing.
Next up: “Does God get what he wants?” Good question. Rob weaves through Scripture, pointing out the fact that God wants everyone to be saved; he then lands on a letter Martin Luther wrote. In regards to the dead possibly getting a second chance to repent, Luther asks “Who would doubt God’s ability to do that?” p. 106.
True, God is God and can do whatever he wants, but “Does God get what he wants” is not a question Rob wants to answer. The real question for him is, do we get what we want? For that, the answer is an unequivocal ‘yes.’
“If we want isolation, despair, and the right to be our own god, God graciously grants us that option….The more we want nothing to do with all God is, the more distance and space are created. If we want nothing to do with love, we are given a reality free from love.” p. 117
Rob definitely has a more C.S. Lewis’ “The Great Divorce” view of the results of evil, that is, we create our own hell.
He talks about the origins of sacrifices, and the images the Biblical writers used in trying to describe what Christ did for us on the cross.
“They looked at the world around them, identifying examples, pictures, experiences, and metaphors that their listeners and readers would have already been familiar with, and then they essentially said: 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.” p. 129
But then he goes on to say:
“There’s nothing wrong with talking and singing about how the “blood will never lose its power” and “Nothing but the blood will save us.” Those are powerful metaphors. But we don’t live any longer in a culture in which people offer animal sacrifices to the gods.” p. 129
In essence, Jesus’ blood only metaphorically saved us. Hmmm. Really? Wow. That does not sit well with me at all. I understand the importance of interpreting the Bible in the context of the culture and time in which it was written, but I think Rob crossed the line here. God is the one who set up the system of sacrifices, not us. He’s the one who said the life is in the blood, and blood is required to atone for sin. I do not think it wise to write it off as merely “metaphorical.”
The last chapter has some great points about the Good News of God.
“I have sat with many Christian leaders over the years who are burned out, washed up, fried, whose marriages are barely hanging on, whose kids are home while they parents are out at church meetings, who haven’t taken a vacation in forever-all because, like the older brother [in the prodigal son story], they have seen themselves as “slaving all these years.” They believe that they believe the right things and so they’re “saved,” but it hasn’t delivered the full life that it was supposed to, and so they’re bitter. Deep down they believe God has let them down. …and so they quietly suffer, thinking this is the good news.” p. 181
I think this is the most powerful part of the book. It challenges me to probe deeply into what I really think about God and his goodness, and about how I live out my faith. Is my life full or is it dry? Is my life full of peace and joy such that someone else wants the same thing?
I am glad for the points Rob raised; he’s definitely wrestling with the issues. But I left the book disappointed because he left a gaping hole in his conversation. He did not thoroughly address the overwhelming topic of the wrath of God toward the wicked. Wrath criss-crosses through Scripture and is the very basis of judgment and punishment.
This is obviously a deep, deep subject. More than anything, I think “Love Wins” calls us to the need for a better theology of atonement and salvation, a better definition of how sin affects humanity, and a better understanding of God and his holiness.