This is my third and final (planned) post reflecting on Rob Bell's Love Wins. Follow these links to find earlier posts for what I like and what I don't (and more of what I don't). As Bell pointed out in the now infamous promo video for the book, what you believe about heaven and hell is important because it is related to what you think about God. And that is my interest in this post: what understanding of God emerges in Love Wins? Theologians use the term "theology proper" to refer to the specific branch of theology that relates to the doctrine of God. So that's what I want to consider, some aspects of the theology proper of Love Wins.
As an avenue into this discussion, I want to take a look at something Bell says in chapter 7. He raises the fact that the gospel has often been cast in terms of a rescue. God is holy. Therefore, God must condemn sinners. But Jesus takes our place so that we can have eternal life. Bell is concerned that this telling of the story subtly suggests that Jesus rescues us from God, which is a problem for him. He says, "Let's be very clear, then: we do not need to be rescued from God. God is the one who rescues us from death, sin, and destruction. God is the rescuer" (182). Two observations are worth making in response to Bell's argument as it relates to the doctrine of God.
First, Bell rightly points out that God rescues us from death, sin, and destruction. What he fails to recall is that death is the consequence of sin because God has determined that it should be. God is the one who stipulated to Adam, "If you eat, you will die." And when Adam ate, God implemented the curse of which the man had been warned. Death is God's judgment against sin, and it is the judgment from which we need to be rescued. Therefore, in needing to be rescued from death, we need to be rescued from the penalty of God's curse against sin. We need to be rescued from God.
Second, Bell's concern that we not suggest that Jesus rescues us from God is insufficiently trinitarian. It is most certainly true that Jesus rescues us from God. But we must also remember that we are trinitarians; Jesus is fully divine. So, Jesus' rescuing of us from God is really God rescuing us from God. In Christ, God rescues us from himself by taking God's wrath onto God's self for our sake. It is not as if God is sending Jesus as some detached and unlucky fellow who somehow got conscripted into this rescue plan and ended up with the short end of the stick. So, inasmuch as God was in Christ reconciling us to himself, God rescues us from God. And that is love that wins. Bell has yet to grasp the trinitarian nature of the God's work of salvation.
Further, if God has indeed appointed Christ as judge of all people (Acts 10:42), and if it is the case, as Jesus says, that he determines who enters eternal life and who is condemned, then we need to take on board that Jesus actually rescues us from Jesus. Indeed, scripture even speaks of "the wrath of the Lamb" (Rev 6:16) indicating that there is no reason to think that God's wrath against sin is not also Jesus' wrath against sin. Father and Son do, after all, share the same divine essence. This, then, is the result of a robust trinitarian theology: Jesus saves us from Jesus' wrath. In light of these considerations, I can only conclude that Love Wins is deficient in that it fails to take on board the soteriological implications of a deeply trinitarian understanding of God.
At the end of the day, it appears Bell's authority for developing his own theology proper is not scripture but his own personal creativity, which is too bad in that it misrepresents scripture and is highly misleading. My only conclusion can be that Bell's theology proper simply isn't.
Thoughts on Love Wins - Part 1
Thoughts on Love Wins - Part 2