"And so we arrive at the last chapter," writes Bell, "The end is here" (193). He continues: "We've explored a fairly vast expanse of topics, from heaven to hell to God, Jesus, joy, violence, and the good news that is better than that, among other things" (193).
Here, at the very end of a book so full of questions, so full of stinging criticism of how most people understand Christianity, we find a chapter that does not fit. Rob Bell offers his story, that is, his testimony. He also shares the Good News of Jesus, but it seems to run counter to many claims he has made or implied. Was this chapter written by one author while the previous chapters were written by another? (This chapter is even assembled into paragraphs more so than any other chapter.)
First, Bell shares the story of the night as a young boy, he knelt beside his bed and said a prayer. "With my parents on either side of me," writes Bell," I invited Jesus into my heart. I told God that I believe that I was a sinner and that Jesus came to save me and I wanted to be a Christian" (193). He knows that something happened in him. He argues that this was real, not something to please his parents or a desire for a religious experience. I applaud the opening of the chapter. It seems honest and real. But I can't help but wonder if this event is not unlike the prayers and events Bell seems critical of in earlier chapters.
I wish Bell would have explained his thoughts of his prayer. Saved? From what or who? Repent? And what does (or did) Bell understand of what it is to be a sinner? What specifically happened in him? And how did this change his life?
Next, Bell writes of Jesus in such a way that one might think of it as a the opening of good ol' fashioned alter call. He writes,
Jesus invites us to trust that the love we fear is too good to be true is actually good enough to be true. It's written in one of John's letters in the scriptures that 'what we will be has not yet been made know.' Jesus invites us to become, to be drawn into his love as it shapes us and forms us and takes over every square inch of our lives. Jesus calls us to repent, to have our minds and hearts transformed so that we see everything differently. It will require a death, a humbling, a leaving behind of the old mind, and at that same time it will require opening up, loosening our hold, and letting go, so that we can receive, expand, find, hear, see, and enjoy" (196).Then comes something that seems so counter to the rest of the book. Through multiple chapters Bell worked to demonstrate that heaven and hell were in the same place, a state of mind, and that people could one day leave the state of hell and enter the state of heaven. Remember his take on the parable of the Prodigal Son? Bell has argued against the idea of and in and out of heaven. Yet, now Bell is saying it is important to trust Jesus, right now. He reminds his readers of the the five foolish wedding attendants who are unprepared. He talks about the guy who buries his treasure instead of doing something with it. He shows that the Bible uses ideas such as "thrown outside into darkness," and the idea that the goats are sent away, to a different place than the sheep (196). Bell also shares the parable of the weeds and wheat that grew along side each other until the harvest and at the harvest, the weeds were "tied up in bundles to be burned" (196-197). Now it seems that there is an in and an out. There is something more significant than enjoying the party or choosing to be miserable. This doesn't sound like the universalism Bell seems to promote. This seems contradictory until one hits the next paragraph.
The reason it is important to accept Jesus invitation now, according to Bell, is that we don't want to miss out on the "rewards and celebrations and opportunities" of now (197). Bell never indicates that there will be a time (even in the afterlife) when it will be too late to accept Jesus, just that we'll miss out longer than we have to. It's strange however, Bell draws a contrast of future time when he looks at God's judgement, but he doesn't want to admit that there is judgement. He doesn't think it's fair of an infinite God to punish a person for eternity for the sins of just a speck of a lifetime (and therefore does not believe that God would do this), but he is concerned that in the scope of infinity, one might miss out on a few days of reward and celebration? If one can accept Jesus at anytime, what's a few days? Bell is trying to say this is urgent, but his idea doesn't seem to match his words.
And then the book ends. That's it. That's what Rob Bell has to say about "heaven, hell, and the fate of every person who ever lived."
The thing that hit me as I read this last chapter is that Rob Bell is a product of everything he seems so critical of. He shares his story in the last chapter. He said a prayer, with specific words. He felt he had to repent. He asked to be saved by Jesus. And he believed that this changed something deep inside him. He has grown up in in the community of believers, of which most of them he does not care for. He says God is love and that is why Jesus came. He says Jesus is longing to redeem all people, even thought he seems to neglect the cross and many aspects of who Jesus is.
Through this last chapter, it is clear the Rob Bell has a passion for others. He is calling them to enjoy the reward and celebration offered through Jesus. But I'm still left wondering if he has completed the objective he claims to have set out with this book. Has he really explained heaven and hell as the Bible does? Has he really addressed the fate of every person who has ever lived? I'm still left unsure. The final chapter did not provide answers to the many, many questions Bell offered in the book. For a conclusion, it didn't seem to conclude anything.
Up next, "Love Wins by Rob Bell (Conclusion)."
* I have no material connection to Rob Bell or his book, Love Wins.