As he makes his case, Bell seems to delight in being obtuse, creating caricatures of opposing views that lack logic and compassion. He paints himself as the victim of the hateful, toxic, venomous denizens of certain corners of the Internet that believe “the highest form of allegiance to their God is to attack, defame, and slander others who don’t articulate matters of faith as they do” (p. 185).

Thus, Rob Bell appoints himself a martyr for his cause, and anyone who disagrees with him is preemptively silenced. It’s a useful technique, that, but hardly a fair one. Meanwhile he acts as if those who hold to the belief that, in Bell’s words, “we get this life and only this life to believe in Jesus,” a view passionately held to by the vast majority of Christians throughout history, are blowing smoke rather than dealing honestly with the Scriptures. He subtly redefines the questions and answers, and in doing so, also shifts the battle lines.

As he moves those lines, he moves closer and closer to outright blasphemy. Turning on 1 Timothy 2 (where Paul states that God desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth) Bell reflects on a traditional (orthodox) view of hell and asks:

How great is God?
Great enough to achieve what God sets out to do,
or kind of great,
medium great,
great most of the time,
but in this,
the fate of billions of people,
not totally great.
sort of great.
a little great.

A God who would allow people to go to hell is not a great God, according to Bell, and the traditional belief that He would is “devastating … psychologically crushing … terrifying and traumatizing and unbearable” (pp. 136-7).

God is at best sort of great, a little great—great for saving some, but evil for allowing others to perish. Dangerous words, those. It is a fearful thing to ascribe evil to God.

So what of the gospel? Where is the gospel and what is the gospel? Ultimately, what Bell offers in this book is a gospel with no purpose. In his understanding of the Bible, people are essentially good, although we certainly do sin, and are completely free to choose or not choose to love God on our own terms. Even then he seems to believe that most people, given enough time and opportunity, will turn to God.

In This Is Love

If Love Wins accurately represents Bell’s views on heaven and hell (at least if our understanding of the book accurately represents his views on heaven and hell), it reveals him as a proponent of a kind of Christian Universalism. He would deny the label as he tends to deny any label. But if it looks like a duck and quacks like a duck, well, you know how it goes.

As soon as the door is opened to Muslims. Hindus, Buddhists, and Baptists from Cleveland, many Christians become very uneasy, saying that then Jesus doesn’t matter anymore, the cross is irrelevant, it doesn’t matter what you believe, and so forth.

Not true.
Absolutely, unequivocally, unalterably not true.

What Jesus does is declare that he,
and he alone,
is saving everybody.

And then he leaves the door way, way open. Creating all sorts of possibilities. He is as narrow as himself and as wide as the universe.

People come to Jesus in all sorts of ways.

Sometimes people use his name;
other times they don’t.

Some people have so much baggage with regard to the name “Jesus” that when they encounter the mystery present in all of creation—grace, peace, love, acceptance, healing, forgiveness—the last thing they are inclined to name it is “Jesus.”