In reading all the reviews about Bell’s Love Wins, one could easily conclude that Bell didn’t say a single good thing and wasn’t right about anything. One could easily conclude that Bell apparently was wrong about everything, except the spelling of his name.
However, Bell was actually correct on quite a few points in his book, points that I thought were fantastic. So I think it’s wrong to simply cast Bell aside and condemn his book, or simply label him a “heretic” and therefore unfit for general consumption. While I do think it’s unwise for those new to Christianity or weak in their faith to read his book, seasoned Christians could read it and still learn from it.
That being said, though there are many things I agree with Bell on, two stick out. His view of Heaven and his view of the cross are two major points that I think are worth addressing and ultimately supporting.
– On Heaven
In writing about Heaven, Bell believes that Heaven isn’t “somewhere else,” but instead ends up here on earth (33). In fact, Bell writes, “It’s here they were talking about, this world, the one we know – but rescued, transformed, and renewed” (p34). He is arguing for the future Heaven, the one that will actually be on this earth. His main contention is that when we think of Heaven we too often think we’re going to that “place in the sky,” but this is simply untrue, or at least partially untrue.
Heaven is a real place, but it ends up being on the earth (42). Essentially what Bell argues is that Heaven will be like life now, only without the problems, the rebellion, and the sin. If we like to work on cars then there’s no reason to assume that won’t be in Heaven. If we like to plow our fields then why not do so without toil?
While I would argue that Bell doesn’t present a nuanced view of what is to come, he is absolutely correct in his description of Heaven. When we think of “going somewhere else,” we forget that Heaven as it is now is a temporary holding cell for souls. Matthew 24:35 shows that Heaven and Earth will eventually pass away, but Revelation 21 shows that this “passing away” is God bringing that ‘somewhere else’ down to earth. The glory of Heaven will meet the corruption of this world, and the corruption will be destroyed. The light of Heaven will eradicate the darkness of our present times. This is the image of Heaven that Bell presents and it’s not only beautiful, but true.
Bell isn’t saying that our souls go to the new earth when we die – he argues that they do in fact go “somewhere else” – but instead that at some point the earth will be remade and our bodies will be resurrected. Oddly enough he doesn’t make this argument in Chapter 2, but he does make it elsewhere (130). The point is, Bell teaches that Heaven and earth will combine and that is real heaven.
– On the Cross
In speaking on the cross and the different theories of atonement, Bell accurately points out that all views are correct (127). Even the idea of Christ’s blood saving us is a correct view, even if modern readers struggle with it. He argues that in a culture that practiced animal sacrifice, the idea of blood saving us was a powerful idea. The only problem is he views these different theories of the atonement as metaphors, but in actuality they are real; we aren’t just like criminals, we are criminals; we aren’t just like lost children, we are lost children. But he at least opens the idea that the different theories of atonement actually work together rather than in contradiction to each other.
He also points out that the Gospel goes well beyond Heaven and Hell, a point that is often missed by Western Christians. He writes:
“A gospel that has as its chief message avoiding hell or not sinning will never be the full story. A gospel that repeatedly, narrowly, affirms and bolsters the ‘in-ness’ of one group at the expense of the ‘out-ness’ of another group will not be true to the story that includes ‘all things and people in heaven and on earth.’” (135)
I couldn’t agree with Bell more; too often we’re focused on who is going to Heaven and who is going to Hell, on what it means to be a Christian or not a Christian, that we forget to live like we’ve been to Heaven already, that we forget to live like Christians. In our hustle and bustle to find out exactly what Hell will be like, we do little to nothing to prevent hell on earth. We tell the African orphan to hold on while we exegete a certain passage to discover if the flames of Hell will be seven feet tall or ten feet tall. We tell widower not to worry because Heaven is just around the corner, completely ignoring his suffering in the present. We forget that the “Good News” extends beyond, “Just wait until you die!”
While Bell is correct in far more than these two points, it is these two points that stood out to me as something that had to be explored in reviewing his book. It’s something that most reviewers who are critical of Bell’s book have ignored; but I think if we are to criticize a book, we must be willing to show where we agree (if a spot exists) so we can find common ground with those who might agree with the book.