My Review on Rob Bell’s ‘Love Wins’

My Review on Rob Bell’s ‘Love Wins’

Firstly, I need to say that I like Rob Bell. I cried as I turned the empty pages at the close of ‘Drops Like Stars’. He’s a thinker, a lover of people and a Christian leader of our age. It’s this third Characteristic that has led me to write this short article.

Rob has a problem that I have also grappled with (and who in their right mind wouldn’t?). How can a good God send good people to Hell forever? When we say ‘good people’, we mean people that work an honest living, raise an honest family and really care for the world around them. Rob’s answer is to adjust the nature of God, adjust the true nature of people and to adjust the means through which we must all come to God.

He does it against the backdrop of American Evangelism – which hands out free tickets to Heaven (often to simply avoid Hell) – having a respect for the hereafter but not much for the herenow. He calls it ‘toxic’ and sees it as a deterent to all the love of God is and stands for. And so do I.

The problem is that he has placed all that I believe into the same flippant and cynical basket that contains every single ‘turn or burn’ Christian and every ‘ticketed’ but dysfunctional Christian found in The Bible Belts of America.

That’s not fair, and if I do say so myself – it’s unloving. In the name of love, Rob has concluded that ‘eternal judgement’ mentioned in Matthew 25 cannot mean ‘eternal’, and cannot mean ‘judgement’ as we traditionally see judgement. He has, through inconsistent Bible translation (that even one of his book’s endorsers, Eugene Peterson, never strays into), reworded it to mean a defined period of ‘correction or pruning’ – A kind of Hell one goes to until one realises that they’ve already been forgiven. Through accepting this, they can then enter Heaven. It’s a kind of repentance in Hell.

This is strange. It all comes from what Spurgeon once described as a place where, ‘a pity for the criminal has overcome the horror of the crime’. In reacting to evagHELLists, Rob Bell has taken love beyond the riverbanks of justice and created a tsunami of love – both refreshing and destructive at exactly the same time. He’s narrowed God to a God who is love and not a God who is also a consuming fire. He’s reduced the necessity of faith in Christ to an undefined realisation of Christ.

The biggest danger I can see with Rob’s analysis is that there appears a glamorization of mankind – not the Hitlers and the Gadafis, but the abused, the good, the Ghandis and the grandmas of this world, as well as the innocently ignorant.

My understanding is that the holiness of God makes us all the equivalent of sons of Gaddafi. Only pride, the most evil of sins, would offset this. Rob Bell believes in Jesus’ death and the necessity for it but denies that a loving God would place the wrath of his judicial system of perfect holiness on any person who doesn’t put all of their trust in Jesus. Love doesn’t go there. In fact, he states that God’s love persists past death eventually potentially rescuing all people from Hell.

It’s clear throughout the New Testament that The Bible never hints at salvation beyond the finality of the day of judgement. Instead of provoking an active church that fights inner sins of doubt and procrastination, this ‘new’ theology could have had the opposite effect. In painting many people as not being that bad and in removing the permanence of a Christless eternity, Rob Bell has demoted the absolute need for faith and actually shrivelled the amazing love that satisfied wrath through the cross of Christ.

If you abandon the wrath of God, you lessen both the love of God and the jaw dropping appreciation one gets from being saved from a Christless eternity. In doing this, you weaken The Church of an understanding of love. In doing so, you lessen the urgency of the hour. In the process, love loses rather than really wins.

I feel for Rob Bell. I like him. But a love without non-redemptive punishment is like a love that says to a dictator, ‘I forgive you and I release you from any need to pay for your crimes’. That is a love that holds no love for the dictator’s victims and no love for the country from which the law was cast. Love and justice sleep together. They are never apart. They are always found drinking from eachother’s wells. Justice is a vital part of love, not the underside of love or the opposing force of love.

I know that what Rob shares is not really ‘new’. It’s been a depot for people of reason for centuries. It will, however, be taken by arrogant students and rebellious post modernists as fuel for the fires that warm them. Yet, it will provoke a fresh fire of fervency amongst a generation of people including myself who, after reviving the dramatic truth of God’s Word, will rise up with greater clarity and truth than before. Who wouldn’t in the light of Heaven and Hell?

For a far more comprehensive analysis of Rob Bell’s ‘Love Wins’, please see the website of The Gospel Coalition.

Kevin de Young’s brilliant review from The Gospel Coalition can be found at

In this review, you’ll find a large selection of quotes from ‘Love Wins’ and robust arguments from the truth of God’s Word. All done in a spirit of respect!

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  1. (I know that what Rob shares is not really ‘new’. It’s been a depot for people of reason for centuries. It will, however, be taken by arrogant students and rebellious post modernists as fuel for the fires that warm them. Yet, it will provoke a fresh fire of fervency amongst a generation of people including myself who, after reviving the dramatic truth of God’s Word, will rise up with greater clarity and truth than before.)

    This is so well stated! Arrogance and rebellion is the creed of the “emerging church” and true followers of Christ are those who respect and submit to TRUTH not some hipness of opinion.

  2. Yes this alert will be used by God to bring a fresh passion for the lost as we recognise the danger of trying to make the gospel more tolerable and therefore less complete.
    Didn’t Ghandi say if he ever met a true Christian he would crawl half way around the world on broken glass to become one?

  3. dave,
    that’s great. Its so good to hav an older christian bringing the truth of the word. I kno Rob bell is a big influencer of younger ppl. Our generation doesnt hav a solid understanding of the truth of the gospel, cos no 1 ever mentions it anymore, except in church. Most ppl reading rob bell would take him at his word, whatever he says, just because we dont know any better. Thanks for standing in the gap, and being kind and respectful about it.
    We’re always longing for the truth. Bring it!

  4. Just a disclaimer- I do not hold to all of the teaching of Kevin de Young and the Gospel Coilition. In the case of ‘Love Wins’, their article is brilliantly written.

  5. Bravo Mr Gilpin!
    An accurate, passionate and love-filled response! Clear, concise and stirring. A great example of a response to the changing ‘winds of doctrine’ – even when it’s old doctrine that’s been recycled.
    It’s sometimes difficult to make a judgement on a book without bringing judgement on the author, but you nailed it

  6. Dave, what happened to the virtue of Christian humility? You should not wish to be saved to relish the eternal damnation of the so-called ‘innocently ignorant’. Without good people doing good works this world would not be worth living in. And, to try and mock the works of Ghandhi in helping to save the Indian people from colonial oppression and lifting many from abject poverty is abhorrent.

  7. So the kind of Hell one goes to until one realises that they’ve already been forgiven…is a purgatory?
    And through accepting this, we can then enter Heaven…a kind of repentance in Hell….
    which does away with Jesus’ telling of the rich man in Hades and Lazarus resting in paradise.
    Surely Rob isn’t saying the Lord wasn’t ‘quite right’ about that?

  8. Slam dunk…. Rob treats Lazarus and Rich Man as a parable of attitudes and internal results, not of a story of a final resting place….. Thanx for your comments!

  9. Hi Dave,

    I really admire how you’ve taken time to read ‘Love Wins’ and haven’t made a snap judgement. Your analysis is amazing and I think think you nailed it in quoting Spurgeon ‘a pity for the criminal has overcome the horror of the crime’.
    I agree that this is going to strengthen the Church of God as convictions are questioned and reviewed. I;m a real fan Dave.

  10. Dave you are way more funny than me, you actually bothered to read Bell, his first book should have told you not to bother with the rest!

  11. Great article. This is *the* example of how Christians should disagree with each other. You haven’t slipped into questioning Rob Bell’s salvation, you haven’t called him names, AND you took the time to read and think about what he wrote.

    We really need this kind of attitude in the church: it’s honest, caring and about the truth, and it immediately takes emotional over-reactions out of the debate. And to people outside of the church looking in, it shows that Christians aren’t all unthinking fundamentalists. Thank you, on behalf of thinking Christians 😀

  12. Dave Im tired of all this “Leader Within” stuff, I see that a guy called wilson is doing a new series on the “Leader Without” Im going to follow that, it could be something you rip off though as you have done with him before

  13. Thanks for your review Dave. ‘Love Wins’ is obviously an important book for today’s Church and it is great that you are embracing the conversation and encouraging people to arrive at a place of biblical truth. Well done!!

  14. God is no interested in our personal opinions:”For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine,but according to their own desires,because they have itching ears they will heap up for themselves teachers,& will turn their ears away from the truth & be turned aside to fables”2 Timothy 4:3-4.Rob Bell has just scratched your ears all the way to the bank.There are 66 books in the Bible,read them,there is not one scripture in the Holy Bible that refers to the wisdom of the world,to confirm Godly advice,to the contrary there are many warnings to Gods people to meditate on his word only Joshua 1:8.If you have heard the word of God,then you will be judged on how you respond to the gospel message,if you haven’t heard then God,let God be God,he is the final judge in all things.

  15. Robert…. Because translation is important, you can’t purely examine English words and get the precise angles of truth of each word that form the complete body of truth. Meditation leads to revelation, but we need to discern the truth by accurate bible study. This is where I believe Rob falls down. But your attitude doesn’t sound that good either.

  16. Dear Dave
    A lot of listeners to Premier Radio, where you have a spot on Saturdays, are new believers, who don’t know their Bibles that well — yet. Others don’t have access to a church because they are disabled and so on. Are you going to speak up about this? Or will you play safe and stick to Christianity Lite?

    Almost every 20 mins Premier is playing an ad for the Rob Bell book. My young son thought it sounded good, so I had to explain the problems with the ideas being expressed in the commercial. He was confused: why would Premier Christian Radio publicise things that were not true? I told him my chocolate muffin story.

    But some of the people who are exposed to his ideas don’t have a Mama or a mentor to explain things to them. Where will they end up?

  17. Thanks for the review Dave and the heads up!

    2 Corinthians 10:5
    ‘We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ,’

    Can be hard to do when it comes at a cost to ourselves. Thanks for doing it.
    Volleyball going well thanks, also engaged now…so all go!

  18. Thrilled to find your website, Dave, and was very hopeful – but disappointed with your analysis of “Love wins”. I’ve listened to Rob Bell’s messages on-line from Mars Hill Bible Church consistently for more than three years now. This is the best way to gauge the balance of his teaching. I can’t summarize it here, but it’s sad that the overall effect of your comments is to dismiss Rob’s overall approach to the Gospel, a debate which is desperately needed in a time when the western church – overall – is sliding into decline and irrelevance. (Of course that doesn’t matter if “God is in control”.)

    In your article you seem to make “justice” equivalent to “punishment”. Not good. Jesus’ coming to earth itself was God’s judgement that things were not well here on planet earth. And why do you agree with Spurgeon on people being spiritual criminals when Jesus said he came to set CAPTIVES free?

  19. Thanks for this Dave. I have recently had conversations with Christian people who regard some bible truths as “out dated theology” and even the bible as a historical reference guide in some parts!

    I was invited to hear Rob Bell speak on his recent UK tour but declined as I didn’t feel comfortable. Someone has also offered to lend me the book. I am not a young Christian so I know I could be objective but I am tired of Christian compromise! The turn or burn approach rarely works but neither does woolly apathy.
    Still to read it or not? Hmmmm…. Just read Nevertheless by John Kirkby – now that’s the God I know!

  20. Thanks for your review, nice to see no dirt being thrown for a change, well done lol!

    Heard you a TNR also on this, just wondered where your thought of ‘pride, the most evil of sins’ has come from, as obviously that was one of your main thrusts about Gandhi… was a bit confused by him, along with liveaid folk etc being ‘guilty of the biggest sin’ so to speak (by doing good but not recognizing God in it, just where do you find this scale of sin?)

    Also was a bit gutted to find a lack of ‘truth by accurate bible study’ in the session you gave and in this review, (understand it wasn’t a teaching session, so that maybe why) but I think if you accuse someone else of it, its worth showing your not following in the same tracks- sharing verses without reference to their context or original language, which I dont really think Bell does at all. Just makes your argument seem ill equipped, even if its not!

    Also just with your comment;
    ‘But a love without non-redemptive punishment is like a love that says to a dictator, ‘I forgive you and I release you from any need to pay for your crimes’.
    Is that not what Jesus has said to you and me?

    Any enlightenment you can shed would be awesome, Thanks again and all the best with the Summit!!

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