LOVE WINS: A Call to Participate in the Kingdom of Heaven
By Joan Kangas
The book "Love Wins" is, in my view, intentionally controversial, but I think a very interesting read and even IMPORTANT read for opening the conversation about what it means to be Christian. Rob Bell purposely confronts many different denomination's teachings on Heaven and Hell and most importantly, asks the reader to pry into their own understanding of these concepts. For example, this book flies in the face of any church or individual with a calvinistic viewpoint. And yes, it does leave the door open to Universalist belief that all can make it to heaven; with a sticking point that if they do so it is through Jesus Christ- not any random god. This book is a must read though, because it draws the reader away from living with an eschatological purpose only, and draws them to embrace living into the Kingdom of God in the here and now, which I believe is Rob Bell's purpose in writing this book.
Throughout "Love Wins", by discussing contemporary beliefs on heaven and hell, Rob Bell challenges us towards a more compassionate and responsible way of living out our faith, one that is an active seeking of God's will and duty today for ourselves with the concern of the welfare of others before us, as opposed to a individual path or "personal -as in solo" relationship with God.
In his discussion on Heaven, Bell shifts our focus from a distant future to a current reality. My favorite example of this is when he describes the rich man who asks Jesus what he must do to receive eternal life. Jesus invites him to give up all his possessions; an immediate way of living into "heaven." He shows that throughout Jesus' teachings, rather than focus on heaven as a separate place we go when we die, it is a reality we begin to live into now. When we look at heaven in this way, it shifts our thinking to become concerned with the sufferings all around us today, rather than simply doing what is right for ourselves, assured that we will receive a personal reward.
In his discussion of Hell, Bell pulls our focus away from a God bent on inflicting punishment and towards our acceptance of living into God's will. Hell being the fruit of the rejection of God. He also introduces the idea of a purification process that may even be painful that enables us to fully live-in to God's will. Finally he suggests that it may be possible to accept God after death, or even after an initial rejection. This is how he opens the door to that universalist idea that everyone may be saved. However, unlike an universalist, he states the very real possibility of a never ending rejection of God and therefore, Hell. He does not specify which of these beliefs a christian must believe and seems to be ambiguous in his own beliefs on that point. The real value in this section is that it shifts our viewpoint of others as people who are or are not definitely going to hell/in hell and draws us once again to a compassionate involvement with the spiritual welfare of others. It refuses to allow us to disregard the sinner/rejected. His book lifts the veil on the view that our spiritual wellness is in a vacuum, unaffected and unconcerned with those around us, and exposes it as fraud.
After talking specifically about Heaven and Hell, Bell strives to show the reality that Jesus desires salvation for everybody. As he puts it Jesus inclusively saves all, exclusively through Himself. This means that no matter what religion (if any) a person belongs to, Jesus died for their sins, and rose so that they may have salvation. The inclusivity is important because it reinforces the call for us to reach and be involved with all people, not simply those who belong to our denomination. It also forces us to recognize the dignity of all people since we must recognize that all people were created for salvation. The exclusivity is important because it recognizes Jesus Christ as our true Savior and demands that we follow Him and cling to Him as our path to salvation-meaning that we will not abandon him for other gods (or our own pleasure) simply because we believe that regardless of what we do we will be saved. Also it still reaffirms the need to spread the Gospel to those who may know Jesus, though not by name.
Finally Rob Bell uses the story of the prodigal son as a lens to show how our understanding of heaven and hell can blur our vision of what God has for us. God welcomes both the prodigal son, and the faithful son to celebrate with Him. Who will accept the invitation?
I think this book is a must read in today's culture and environment of hurt that sees many people leaving the faith, and opens up the conversation to why they are leaving. It addresses the pain that can be caused when the church's focus is on the end, rather than the means. As well as offering an in depth guide to examining our own beliefs and how they affect others, as well as understanding the viewpoints of others and how to start a conversation with them. I highly suggest that everyone read this book from this standpoint, rather than black and white explanations of what heaven and hell will be like. I'll leave you with two of my favorite quotes from the book:
"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."
"Whatever you've been told about the end- the end of your life, the end of time, the end of the world- Jesus passionately urges us to live like the end is here, now, today."