Saturday, June 11, 2011

T-Ball Wins: A Book Review About Heaven, Hell and the Fate of Every 4-Your Old

Disclaimer: Though I am an English teacher, and used to evaluating books based on their literary qualities, I have never reviewed a book about theology. My hope is that this will become the beginning of a discussion, not the last word about the subject.

Rob Bell, prominent pastor and writer of things that make very traditional church people fairly grumpy, has recently written a book titled Love Wins: A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived. The title itself is pretty darned intriguing, and it has sold well, especially among "living people who want to know their fate" demographic. If you are reading this book to discover whether or not you will become wealthy or famous, don't bother. It explains the fate of everyone in a more vague and general "where you are going to spend eternity" sort of way. Whatever. I read it anyway.

The book has drawn a lot of controversy, which generates publicity and gets you on the Time 100 influential people list. If this is the case, why is everyone say that they're trying to avoid controversy? Did you ever notice that most controversy starts with a person saying, "I'm not trying to stir up controversy . . . ." Huh? Right. The book. Rob Bell writes this book and many Christian people go nuts and call him lots of bad names like universalist. A universalist believes there is more than one way to God, like multiple paths through many faiths. Several of these Christian folk accuse Bell of writing that there is no hell. Then some say he is headed there. In Bell's defense, many of the angry people didn't read the book. I did.

After close inspection, I have come to the conclusion that Love Wins has a lot more questions than answers. Armed with The Bible, logic, experience and fancy Greek words, Bell deconstructs, or takes apart, what Christians believe about Heaven, Hell and who goes where. In very vague, broad strokes he basically says Heaven and Hell are not necessarily separate locations, or even locations at all. Furthermore, Rob Bell is not so much a universalist, but he may be a hardcore t-ball fanatic.

Let me explain. My son starting playing t-ball this week. Here they learn the basics of throwing, catching, hitting and kicking dirt. They practiced these skills at different stations. I don't like to brag, but my son can kick dirt like a pro. Next week they play their first game. Here are the rules: everyone bats every inning, everyone scores, no strikes, no outs, no score. Now this is a great way to build confidence and teach basic skills, but who would pay to see that game? According to Bell, this is the afterlife. He believes Jesus is the one way to God, but there are multiple chances to figure it out. When our human will, in freedom, chooses to love God, there doesn't need to be losers. It's not about Christians versus non-Christians for Bell. He believes God will get want He wants, and in the end Love wins.

I'm not trying to stir up controversy, but I have significant problems with Bell's approach to this topic. He takes away some long held beliefs and leaves us with vague premises. After affirming his belief in the Resurrection of Jesus and citing the Bible exclusive of other religious texts, he makes statements like, "We shape our God, and then our God shapes us." Confused? Me too. Maybe that is the point. Perhaps Bell is preparing us to encounter a God we cannot quantify. He is suggesting a God that is bigger than our rules. 

I recommend this with caution. It gives great insight into our oversimplification of faith, creating healthy debate and re-examination of essential beliefs. On the other hand, his vague, abstract conclusions create problems for the average non-theologian. Though not a user-friendly guide to the afterlife, it does cause us to challenge how we have limited our view of God and, by extension, the view we share with the world.


  1. Hi, if you're interested in my thoughts/review check it out at

    I will attempt to link your review to my post as well!

  2. Thanks T.C. I've added you to my blogroll!

  3. There are a couple of ways to go with this...

    Either Rob is completely right in his very broad sort of way; IR he us completely wrong. I haven't read his book. And honestly won't find or make the time in the near future but I've boiled down the idea if eternal life/heaven/hell into two camps.

    I have heard some who make it a matter of God and his glory... Both sides of it. The warm fuzzy pure love side of God's glory and the horrible wrath if you get in his grill glory.

    In other words if there would only two people on earth God would send Jesus to offer salvation to both but cause one to accept and the other to deny just to show his complete glory.

    Then there is the idea that, like Rob says, God will get what he wants. And then the self-friendly assumption that God wants all to be with him. Whether that is universalism or a more extant type of Sabellianism, I'm not sure.

    What I am sure if is that most Christians rely more on tradition of men than translation of their Bible.

  4. Thanks for the input, I am going to revisit this when I talk about Chan's book, Erasing Hell.