I just read the book. Literally, just finished. I'm not sure I should be writing about it now, I'm still processing it. I did want to say a few things while it is still fresh. First, I owe Rob Bell and my friend Lindsay an apology. When I first heard of the book and what it was about I dismissed it. I didn't go all John Piper and suggest that he had somehow died or become a servant of Satan, or whatever other nonsense was involved. I was less than graceful in the way I talked about it. I assumed I knew what it would say and judged Mr. Bell and his book before I ever read it. I'm sorry about that. I owe Lindsay an apology because she likes and respects Rob Bell (as do I, more now) and I acted like she should know better. Turns out she does know better, at least better than me.
I wasn't entirely wrong about what the book says. Bell says he isn't a universalist, but then says everyone goes to heaven. He is not a universalist in terms of how. He seems to be a universalist in terms of who. As in Jesus is the only way to heaven but eventually everyone finds him. He also says that heaven and hell both exist here, simultaneously, and we can choose witch party we attend. He reasons that at some point everyone, this side of death or the next, gets tired of partying in Hell and decides to knock knock knock on Heaven's door. I don't disagree that there is a lot of heaven and a lot of hell here and I don't disagree that most of that is a result of the decisions we make. There is some grey area here for me in that he describes rape as being hell, but he doesn't explain how the rapist chooses hell for himself and his victim. What about her choices? Some people don't choose anything, some people get hell here because of the decisions others make. The book doesn't try to explain this or tell us what to do with it.
As I said above, Bell suggest that even after death we continue to have infinite opportunities to choose Jesus. To submit to God's rule and live within His guidelines. In Bell's view hell is like being sent to your room until you are sorry and agree to do what Daddy says. The fire of hell exist to refine not so much to punish. What I don't understand, and what Bell does an inadequate job of explaining is how that works. Does God decide when you are really sorry and just bring you out of Hell? Do you have to somehow get a meeting with him to explain how sorry you are? Does he, like I do with my daughter all to often, let you out before you learn your lesson just 'cause you're so cute he can't wait another second to cuddle you? The process just isn't explained and that makes it difficult for me.
The book is compelling because I hope its true. Love is powerful and grace is big. Love has conquered death and the grave. The cross is sufficient and Jesus' sacrifice perfect. Jesus came so that, through him, the world might be save - all of it. Might? Does God not know? The Bible says it is God's will that none should perish. Does he not get his way? Is his will not perfect and unstoppable? Just after Jesus says he came so the world might be saved he says those who don't believe in him are condemned already. Condemned to what and for how long? Verse 36 of John 3 says, "whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him." I have a headache. I'm going to have to wrestle with this some more.
However, I'm not going to spend a lot of time on it. No matter where I end up landing on this thing I think one thing is clear. We have a job to do now. When we focus too much on the next life we start to ignore this one. We trivialize or dismiss the pain of others as temporary. Viewing our faith as a ticket out of hell does the world a disservice. We are called to live and love here - now. No matter how it ends or who is there, we have a responsibility to advance God's kingdom and message here in any way we can. Heaven is having a little party and we need to make sure as many people as possible have the opportunity to experience it.