Rob Bell is an electrifying, unconventional pastor whom Time magazine calls “a singular rock star in the church world,” with millions viewing his NOOMA videos.
With searing insight, Bell puts hell on trial with a hopeful message—eternal life doesn’t start when we die; it starts right now. And ultimately, Love Wins.
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About the Author
Hometown:Grand Rapids, Michigan
Date of Birth:August 23, 1970
Place of Birth:Lansing, Michigan
Education:B.S., Wheaton College, 1992; M. Div., Fuller Seminary, 1995
Read an Excerpt
Love WinsA Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived
By Rob Bell
HarperCollinsCopyright © 2011 Rob Bell
All right reserved.
Several years ago we had an art show at our church. I
had been giving a series of teachings on peacemaking,
and we invited artists to display their paintings, poems,
and sculptures that reflected their understanding of what
it means to be a peacemaker. One woman included in her
work a quote from Mahatma Gandhi, which a number of
people found quite compelling.
But not everyone.
Someone attached a piece of paper to it.
On the piece of paper was written: Reality check: Hes in hell.
Gandhis in hell?
We have confirmation of this?
Somebody knows this?
Without a doubt?
And that somebody decided to take on the responsibility
of letting the rest of us know?
Of all the billions of people who have ever lived, will only
a select number make it to a better place and every
single other person suffer in torment and punishment
forever? Is this acceptable to God? Has God created
millions of people over tens of thousands of years who
are going to spend eternity in anguish? Can God do this,
or even allow this, and still claim to be a loving God?
Does God punish people for thousands of years with
infinite, eternal torment for things they did in their few
finite years of life?
This doesnt just raise disturbing questions about God; it
raises questions about the beliefs themselves.
Why not him or her or them?
If there are only a select few who go to heaven, which is
more terrifying to fathom: the billions who burn forever
or the few who escape this fate? How does a person end
up being one of the few?
Being born in the right place, family, or country?
Having a youth pastor who relates better to the kids?
God choosing you instead of others?
What kind of faith is that?
Or, more important:
What kind of God is that?
And whenever people
claim that one group is in, saved,
accepted by God, forgiven, enlightened, redeemedand
everybody else isntwhy is it that those who make this
claim are almost always part of the group thats in?
Have you ever heard people make claims about a select
few being the chosen and then claim that theyre not part
of that group?
Several years ago I heard a woman tell about the funeral
of her daughters friend, a high-school student who was
killed in a car accident. Her daughter was asked by a Christian
if the young man who had died was a Christian.
She said that he told people he was an atheist. This
person then said to her, So theres no hope then.
Is that the Christian message?
Is that what Jesus offers the world?
Is this the sacred calling of Christians
to announce that theres no hope?
The death of this high-school student raises questions
about whats called the age of accountability. Some
Christians believe that up to a certain age children arent
held accountable for what they believe or who they
believe in, so if they die during those years, they go to be
with God. But then when they reach a certain age, they
become accountable for their beliefs, and if they die,
they go to be with God only if they have said or done or
believed the right things. Among those who believe
this, this age of accountability is generally considered to
be sometime around age twelve.
This belief raises a number of issues, one of them being
the risk each new life faces. If every new baby being born
could grow up to not believe the right things and go to
hell forever, then prematurely terminating a childs life
anytime from conception to twelve years of age would
actually be the loving thing to do, guaranteeing that the
child ends up in heaven, and not hell, forever. Why run the risk?
And that risk raises another question about this high-
school students death. What happens when a fifteen-
year-old atheist dies? Was there a three-year window
when he could have made a decision to change his
eternal destiny? Did he miss his chance? What if he had
lived to sixteen and it was in that sixteenth year that
he came to believe what he was supposed to believe?
Was God limited to that three-year window, and if the
message didnt get to the young man in that time, well,
thats just unfortunate?
And what exactly would have had to happen in that
three-year window to change his future?
Would he have had to perform a specific rite or ritual?
Or take a class?
Or be baptized?
Or join a church?
Or have something happen somewhere in his heart?
Some believe he would have had to say a specific prayer.
Christians dont agree on exactly what this prayer is, but
for many the essential idea is that the only way to get
into heaven is to pray at some point in your life, asking
God to forgive you and telling God that you accept
Jesus, you believe Jesus died on the cross to pay the
price for your sins, and you want to go to heaven when
you die. Some call this accepting Christ, others call
it the sinners prayer, and still others call it getting
saved, being born again, or being converted.
That, of course, raises more questions. What about
people who have said some form of the prayer at some
point in their life, but it means nothing to them today?
What about those who said it in a highly emotionally
charged environment like a youth camp or church service
because it was the thing to do, but were unaware of
the significance of what they were doing? What about
people who have never said the prayer and dont claim to be Christians,
but live a more Christ like life than some Christians?
This raises even more disconcerting questions about
what the message even is. Some Christians believe and
often repeat that all that matters is whether or not a
person is going to heaven. Is that the message? Is that
what life is about? Going somewhere else? If thats the
gospel, the good newsif what Jesus does is get people
somewhere elsethen the central message of the Christian
faith has very little to do with this life other than
getting you what you need for the next one. Which of
course raises the question: Is that the best God can do?
Which leads to a far more disturbing question. So is it
true that the kind of person you are doesnt ultimately
matter, as long as youve said or prayed or believed
the right things? If you truly believed that, and you
were surrounded by Christians who believed that, then
you wouldnt have much motivation to do anything
about the present suffering of the world, because you
would believe you were going to leave someday and go
somewhere else to be with Jesus. If this understanding
of the good news of Jesus prevailed among Christians,
the belief that Jesus message is about how to get
somewhere else, you could possibly end up with a world
in which millions of people were starving, thirsty, and
poor; the earth was being exploited and polluted; disease
and despair were everywhere; and Christians werent
known for doing much about it. If it got bad enough, you
might even have people rejecting Jesus because of how
his followers lived.
That would be tragic.
One way to respond to these questions is with the clear,
helpful answer: all that matters is how you respond to
Jesus. And that answer totally resonates with me; it is
about how you respond to Jesus. But it raises another
important question: Which Jesus?
Renee Altson begins her book Stumbling Toward Faith
with these words:
I grew up in an abusive household. Much of my abuse was
spiritualand when I say spiritual, I dont mean new age,
esoteric, random mumblings from half-Wicca, hippie
parents. . . . I mean that my father raped me while reciting
the Lords Prayer. I mean that my father molested me while
singing Christian hymns.
When one woman in our church invited her friend to
come to one of our services, he asked her if it was a Christian
church. She said yes, it was. He then told her about Christians
in his village in Eastern Europe who rounded up the Muslims in town and herded them into
a building, where they opened fire on them with their
machine guns and killed them all. He explained to her
that he was a Muslim and had no interest in going to her
Or think about the many who know about Christians
only from what theyve seen on television and so assume
that Jesus is anti-science, antigay, standing out on the
sidewalk with his bullhorn, telling people that theyre going to burn forever?
Do you know any individuals who grew up in a Christian
church and then walked away when they got older?
Often pastors and parents and brothers and sisters
are concerned about them and their spiritualityand
often they should be. But sometimes those individuals
rejection of church and the Christian faith they were
presented with as the only possible interpretation of what
it means to follow Jesus may in fact be a sign of spiritual
health. They may be resisting behaviors, interpretations,
and attitudes that should be rejected. Perhaps they
simply came to a point where they refused to accept the
very sorts of things that Jesus would refuse to accept.
Some Jesuses should be rejected.
Often times when I meet atheists and we talk about the
god they dont believe in, we quickly discover that I dont
believe in that god either.
So when we hear that a certain person has rejected
Christ, we should first ask, Which Christ?
Many would respond to the question, Which Jesus?
by saying that we have to trust that God will bring those
who authentically represent the real Jesus into peoples
lives to show them the transforming truths of Jesus
life and message. A passage from Romans 10 is often
quoted to explain this trust: How can they hear without
someone preaching to them? And I wholeheartedly
agree, but that raises another question. If our salvation,
our future, our destiny is dependent on others bringing
the message to us, teaching us, showing uswhat
happens if they dont do their part?
What if the missionary gets a flat tire?
This raises another, far more disturbing question:
Is your future in someone elses hands?
Which raises another question:
Is someone elses eternity resting in your hands?
So is it not only that a person has to respond, pray,
accept, believe, trust, confess, and dobut also that
someone else has to act, teach, travel, organize, fund-
raise, and build so that the person can know what to
respond, pray, accept, believe, trust, confess, and do?
At this point some would step in and remind us in
the midst of all of these questions that its not that
complicated, and we have to remember that God has lots
of ways of communicating apart from people speaking
to each other face-to-face; the real issue, the one that
cant be avoided, is whether a person has a personal
relationship with God through Jesus. However that
happens, whoever told whomever, however it was done,
thats the bottom line: a personal relationship. If you
dont have that, you will die apart from God and spend
eternity in torment in hell.
The problem, however, is that the phrase personal
relationship is found nowhere in the Bible.
Nowhere in the Hebrew Scriptures, nowhere in the New
Testament. Jesus never used the phrase. Paul didnt use
it. Nor did John, Peter, James, or the woman who wrote
the Letter to the Hebrews.
So if thats it,
if thats the point of it all,
if thats the ticket,
the one unavoidable reality,
the heart of the Christian faith,
why is it that no one used the phrase until the last
hundred years or so?
And that question raises another question. If the
message of Jesus is that God is offering the free gift of
eternal life through hima gift we cannot earn by our
own efforts, works, or good deedsand all we have to do
is accept and confess and believe, arent those verbs?
And arent verbs actions?
Accepting, confessing, believingthose are things we do.
Does that mean, then, that going to heaven is dependent
on something I do?
How is any of that grace?
How is that a gift?
How is that good news?
Isnt that what Christians
have always claimed set their
religion apartthat it wasnt, in the end, a religion at
allthat you dont have to do anything, because God has
already done it through Jesus?
At this point another voice enters the discussionthe
reasoned, wise voice of the one who reminds us that it is,
after all, a story.
Just read the story, because a good story has a powerful
way of rescuing us from abstract theological discussions
that can tie us up in knots for years.
In Luke 7 we read a story about a Roman centurion who
sends a message to Jesus, telling him that all he has to
do is say the word and the centurions sick servant will be
healed. Jesus is amazed at the mans confidence in him,
and, turning to the crowd following him, he says, I tell
you, I have not found such great faith even in Israel.
Then in Luke 18, Jesus tells a story about two people
who go to the temple to pray. The one prays about how glad
he is to not be a sinner like other people, while the other
stands at a distance and says, God, have mercy on me, a sinner.
And then in Luke 23, the man hanging on the cross next
to Jesus says to him, Remember me when you come
into your kingdom, and Jesus assures him that theyll be
together in paradise.
Excerpted from Love Wins by Rob Bell Copyright © 2011 by Rob Bell. Excerpted by permission of HarperCollins. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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What People are Saying About This
“In Love Wins, Rob Bell tackles the old heaven-and-hell question and offers a courageous alternative answer. Thousands of readers will find freedom and hope and a new way of understanding the biblical story - from beginning to end.”
“It isn’t easy to develop a biblical imagination that takes in the comprehensive and eternal work of Christ . . . Rob Bell goes a long way in helping us acquire just such an imaginationwithout a trace of soft sentimentality and without compromising an inch of evangelical conviction.”
“A bold, prophetic and poetic masterpiece. I don’t know any writer who expresses the inexpressible love of God as powerfully and as beautifully as Rob Bell! No one who seriously engages this book will put it down unchanged. A ‘must read’ book!”