Rob Bell in the Hot Seat

March 14, 2011

Today, Rob Bell sat down in front of an audience to discuss his new book, Love Wins. You can watch the interview here.

One thing is clear. Rob is not a universalist. He doesn’t believe that everyone will be in heaven, but he seems to take the view that those excluded will be excluded by their own choice. He also believes that there will be a lot of surprises about who populates heaven. He makes a good point that this was a frequent theme of Christ’s teaching – that the ones we’d expect to be in heaven will be cast out and the ones we’d least expect will be invited in.

If you’re looking for a really concrete systematic explanation of what heaven and hell are and what it takes to get to either place, you’ll be disappointed. I’m not sure Rob even has a clear idea himself. And he has certainly mastered the political art of answering the question he wished he’d been asked, rather than the question that was asked.

But having watched the video, you’ll definitely come away with a better understanding of what he’s hoping to accomplish. If you don’t have an hour and 12 minutes to spare, skip ahead to the last few minutes of the video, starting at 1 hour 04 minutes. Rob is asked why we need to re-examine our understanding of heaven and hell. His answer had him (and, I must confess, me) welling up with tears.

Rob shares the story of a woman from his church who had been in numerous abusive relationships and had struggled with cutting herself. He uses her story to indict the familiar heaven/hell explanation. You know, the one where God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life, but if you were to die today, he would have no choice but to send you into eternal torment. Rob remarks that this notion of a God who can change from infinitely loving to infinitely wrathful in a split second, who can turn on you in a moment, has left many people with  “really, really toxic, dangerous, psychologically-devastating images of God in their head – images of a God who is not good.” The God behind these conceptions “smells” profoundly unsafe, untrustworthy, unloving.

That’s what Rob is driving at. His message is that God is good. At the end of the day, whatever it looks like, God’s love will win. And that is Good News.


  1. I really enjoyed that interview too. I think he was answering the question he wished had been asked because the interviewer was operating from the system of Romans Road style Christianity, and Rob was trying to point out how that is way off point. I think he was trying to say that Jesus wasn’t very interested in the afterlife, just simply life.

  2. Per your suggestion, I watched the video from 1:04 to the end. I agree that understanding the true nature of God is a worthwhile reason for Bell’s raising this subject.

    I actually can affirm Bell’s hope in the strongest possible way. That is, I have written The Biblical Case for Everyone Going to Heaven (http://wp.me/PNthc-i6).

    The term universalism carries a lot of baggage. When people think of that term, they don’t usually think of repentance or of Jesus or of the justice of God – I have I found that all these things are still very important ideas in understanding God.

    Since you are an attorney with an interest in biblical studies, I hope you will apply your critical thinking skills to what I have written. May it mean as much to you as it does to me.

    • Thanks for dropping by Mike. I’ll take a look at what you’ve written over there.

  3. What seems more likely, I wonder? A heaven and hell with mysterious rules for entry, hinted at in a series of books written thousands of years ago but unknown to any living person, or no afterlife?

    What we have actually observed is that when someone is dead, that is the end of life. The rest is all wishful thinking.

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