This book was quite openly condemned by some prominent Christian leaders when the book was first announced back around Spring 2011, mainly mainly accusing Bell of being a universalist and denying the existence of hell.
Lots of leaders formed opinions about the book and thus lots and laypeople took on various opinions as their own without much insight or research. The problem was that these leaders hadn't even READ the book! It wasn't released yet at the time. They decided their opinions based on the blurb and promo video which posed provocative questions about the doctrine of hell.
The book starts up asking lots of questions concerning salvation and how are you “attain” it and the consequences if you don't – while the same time pointing out the flaws in modern theology and general beliefs held by many in the Church today.
He then presents a lot more question to get you thinking and quotes Jesus' words, and a few other scriptures, which leads to more questions. Therein lies the purpose of this book – not for Rob to push you to believe what he does, but to get you to question and really think about the things we say we believe.
Bell then moves on to heaven. Unless you've really studied the Bible on Heaven, this chapter will likely smash a lot of cultural ideas you hold without you really realising it – the same can be said about the the chapter after which deals with hell.
Prepare for an eye-opener, and a lot of "Gospel Truth" that has somehow got lost, changed, misrepresented and mixed up in Medieval tradition and imagery over the last few centuries.
Anyone who is aware of the controversy that was/is surrounding this book and who heard that that Rob Bell "doesn't believe in hell" can rest assured that this isn't the case.
To quote the book, Bell writes:
"There is a hell now, and there is a hell later, and Jesus teaches us to take both seriously." (pg. 79)
It's not only that he believes in hell "later" (i.e. after death), but also that because of our freedom of will in this life we can, and do, create hell on earth through our actions and sins.
Likewise, we can also create heaven on earth in the same way. This is what Jesus referred to when he prayed "Your will be done on earth as in heaven" – bringing the kingdom of God to the here and now.
The book then continues on from what is explained in these chapters to explore the rest of our theology and doctrines on salvation, the cross and the hereafter, often taking our contemporary doctrines (which aren't always as scripturally based as we may think) to their sometimes extreme logical conclusions; which often shows up the absurdities in them that we can overlook.
The book ends by examining the Good News, explaining that "it's better" than we first imagine; that God has done so much more through Jesus on the cross than we can comprehend at times – God's reconciliation is, literally, awesome and that ultimately, one way or another, love wins.
Whatever your thoughts or opinions on Rob Bell, whatever your beliefs about heaven, hell and everything in between, I highly recommend this book. Go in without an agenda – read it with an open mind and a willingness to learn and let the Spirit guide you. You may not come out agreeing with everything written, but if you at least question and think about your views on hell and who goes there and, more importantly, why you think that – then I believe this book has served purpose.
Five stars – Well-written, easy to read and a thought-provoking book that everyone who takes Jesus' Gospel seriously should read at least once, even if they think they'll disagree.
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