Have you ever played volleyball?  If you’re like most people, you’ve probably played it at least once in your life.  In the game, you will often have one player position the ball so another player can “spike” or smash it down on the other side of the net to score a point against the other team.  The person positioning the ball is said to be “setting up the spike.”  Their job is strategically important so that the next event, spiking the ball, can take place. 

Chapter 1 of Love Wins, titled “What About The Flat Tire” is the chapter that “sets up the spike,” so to speak, for all that Rob Bell wishes to address in the following chapters.  In the same way that Satan puts a question of doubt into Eve’s mind, setting her up for the spike, Rob Bell fills the chapter with questions that are supposed to have you questioning what you’ve read in the Bible or what you have been taught.  The purpose is to fill your head with doubts.

Doubts about God.
About His love,
His righteousness,
His goodness,
His character.

…questioning your understanding of these very topics. 

To do this, he will take a biblical truth (at least to many of us anyway), present only a portion of the truth, reduce it to its shallowest form (like how your four-year-old child might explain something), and then question how it could be true. 

The chapter is filled with question after question designed to raise doubt after doubt, with the goal of appealing to your emotions, to your sense of what should be right or what should be wrong.  He appeals to your emotions in hopes of gaining access to your mind, so that you will question the goodness and character of God in what you believe.  In other words, a whole chapter of questions to basically quote Satan and say “Did God Actually Say?”  At the end of the chapter, he’ll even insinuate that if you think you have this “salvation thing and Jesus” figured out, you might just be like a demon. 

To thoroughly refute everything Rob Bell says with detailed scripture and explanation would probably take a book the size of the Bible.  In fact, if I wanted to thoroughly refute everything he says with scripture, I would just hand someone a Bible and tell them to read it.  But again, in this critique, I’m going to just quote different things Bell says and look at them in light of a few scriptures conveniently not covered in Love Wins.  As we look at a few of the things Bell says, notice how he insinuates something without actually saying it.  The questions he asks, in the way that he asks them, are almost an answer unto themselves.  But in asking questions the way he does, he endeavors to lead you down a path and put doubts in your mind, without actually having to answer all the questions he raises.  

Let the questions begin.

The chapter starts out by questioning someone’s belief and statement about Ghandi being in Hell.  Here’s the quote:

 Several years ago we had an art show at our church.  I had been giving a series of teachings 
       on peacemaking, and we invited an artist to display their paintings, poems, and sculptures that reflected their                              
       understanding of what it means to be a peacemaker.  One woman included in her work a quote from 
       Mahatma Gandhi, which a number of people found quite compelling.  

       But not everyone.

       Someone attached a piece of paper to it. 
       On the piece of paper was written: “Reality check:  He’s in hell.”


       Gandhi’s in hell?
       He is?
       We have confirmation of this?
       Somebody knows this?
       Without a doubt?
       And that somebody decided to take on the responsibility of letting the rest of the world know?

       Of all the billions of people who have ever lived, will only a select number “make it to a better place” 

       and every single other person suffer in torment and punishment forever?  Is this acceptable to God?  
       Has God created millions of people over tens of thousands of years who are going to spend 
       eternity in anguish?  Can God do this, or even allow this, and still claim to be a loving God? (pages 1, 2)

So begins the planting of seeds of doubt regarding the love of God.  Notice the question is not based on a scripture, or many scriptures.  It’s based solely on what Rob Bell feels to be right.  The obvious answer he’s leading you to is “No, God would never accept this!  God could not be a God of love if so many people are going to spend eternity in hell!”  And why is that the right answer?  Well, because if Rob Bell were God, that is how he would operate.  If that’s how he thinks, then surely God must be the same way.  God’s love is not ultimately defined by what the scriptures teach; love is defined by what makes sense to his emotions.  In fact, if you’ve read the Bible, you are probably thinking of many scriptures that teach that there will indeed be few saved, such as:

       And someone said to him, “Lord, will those who are saved be few?” And he said to them, “Strive to enter 

       through the narrow door. For many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able.  When once the master 
       of the house has risen and shut the door, and you begin to stand outside and to knock at the door, saying, 
       ‘Lord, open to us,’ then he will answer you, ‘I do not know where you come from.’  Then you will begin to say, 
       ‘We ate and drank in your presence, and you taught in our streets.’  But he will say, ‘I tell you, I do not know 
       where you come from. Depart from me, all you workers of evil!’  In that place there will be weeping and 
       gnashing of teeth, when you see Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God 
       but you yourselves cast out.”  (Luke 13:23-28)


       “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of                 

       myFather who is in heaven.  On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in 
       your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’  And then will I 
       declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’”  (Mat. 7:21-23)

You might also be thinking of passages that teach who will and who won’t be in God’s kingdom and who will suffer and be damned; such as:

       He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned.  (Mark 16:16)

       For Moses truly said unto the fathers, A prophet shall the Lord your God raise up unto you of your brethren,

       like unto me; him shall ye hear in all things whatsoever he shall say unto you.  And it shall come to pass, 
       that every soul, which will not hear that prophet, shall be destroyed from among the people.  (Acts 3:22-23)

       And to you who are troubled rest with us, when the Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven with his 

       mighty angels,  In flaming fire taking vengeance on them that know not God, and that obey not the gospel 
       of our Lord Jesus Christ:  Who shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord,
       and from the glory of his power;  When he shall come to be glorified in his saints, and to be admired in all 
       them that believe (because our testimony among you was believed) in that day.  (2 Th. 1:7-10)

Just a few verses out of many.

So we have Jesus saying many will not enter God’s kingdom.
Those who believe not will be damned.
Those who don’t listen to what Jesus says will be destroyed.
Jesus will take vengeance on those that don’t know God or obey the gospel. 
And there will be people who call Jesus “Lord” that He doesn’t know.

Like pastors, and book writers, and false teachers, and those who lead little children of God astray (1 John 2:12).    

But if you’ve read the book, you might be saying, “Well, he does answer some of the questions later.”  He does attempt to do so with select passages, while he disregards the multitude of passages that refute what he’s saying; and then he tries to give new meanings to the words and concepts that the Bible never gives.  But we’ll get to that later.  Because again, chapter one is not about looking to the scriptures.  It’s about asking questions and causing you to question what you’ve been taught or what you’ve read in the Bible about God’s goodness and character. 

Rob Bell then says:

       Does God punish people for thousands of years with infinite, eternal torment for things they did in their few, 

       finite years of life? (page 2)

Surely that can’t be true?  How could God do such a thing?  Of course that doesn’t make sense to anyone unless they read the scriptures.  We might as well ask, how could God bring a curse – including sickness, and disease, and death – on all humanity just because two people ate a piece of fruit?  How unfair, how mean!  (Picture a five year old throwing a tantrum.)  That’s what it amounts to.  Not because the question is wrong, but because Rob Bell will later try to answer these questions without looking at God’s full character.  Love will be the only character trait God has, and it will be defined by what Bell believes is right, just like a child does.  It’s all about them and what they think is right.  But these questions, and more importantly the answers to these questions, make sense only when one understands the fallen nature of man and the character of God – His full character. 

Rob Bell goes on to say:

       If there are only a few who go to heaven……..
       What kind of God is that? (page 3)

It’s the God of the Bible.  The one Rob Bell hates.

Can you hear the voice of Satan behind the questions?                                                                                           “Has God really said?”

Bell continues:

       Several years ago I heard a woman tell about the funeral of her daughter’s friend, a high-school student 

       who was killed in a car accident.  Her daughter was asked by a Christian if the young man who had died 
       was a Christian.  She said that he told people that he was an atheist.  This person then said to her, “So 
       there’s no hope then.”

       No hope?
       Is that the Christian message?
       “No hope?”
       Is that what Jesus offers the world?
       Is that the sacred calling of Christians – to announce that there’s no hope?  (pages 3, 4)

Actually it reminds me of something Jesus said. 

There were some present at that very time who told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices.  And he answered them, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way?  No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.  Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them: do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem?  No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.”  

(Luke 13:1-5)

Come on, Jesus!  What type of love is that?
Is that the sacred calling of Christians, to announce that some people will perish, similar to how others had just perished?
And this from its founder?
How is that love?
How is that grace?
How can God have His Son say such a thing and still be good?

You know, Bell’s analogies and questions would make sense, if it wasn’t for all those pesky things Jesus said – all those Bible verses that get in the way.  But, we continue on…

Bell says:

       If what Jesus does is get people somewhere else – then the central message of the Christian faith has very 

       little to do with this life other than getting you what you need for the next one.  Which of course raises the 
       question: is that the best God can do? (page 6)

Again, an extreme example of what people believe the Bible teaches followed by a question to tear it down.  Do you see the pattern?  Would any serious follower of Jesus, who has read the Bible, say that you’re to get saved and then sit around and wait for the next life?  Of course not.  But Bell isn’t interested in that.  He’s interested in making extreme cases, tearing them down, and in doing so have you question God, and then present the wonderful answers that he has come up with.  But he is also belittling something here, because a lot of what Christ and the gospel does is prepare you for the next life as well.

Bell continues:

       Which leads to a far more disturbing question.  So is it true that the kind of person you are doesn’t ultimately 

       matter, as long as you’ve said or prayed or believed the right things? (page 6)

While there might be some who think that, the vast majority of believers I know, who read the scriptures, do not believe that.  However, the first part of that statement is true for what Rob Bell believes.  Again, he questions, “So is it true that the kind of person you are doesn’t ultimately matter?”  The answer to that question, for what Rob Bell believes, is, “NO!  In the grand scheme of things, it doesn’t matter.  If you don’t let the love of God change your heart in this life, He’ll do it in the next.”

Bell continues:

       If this understanding of the good news of Jesus prevailed among Christians, the belief that Jesus’s message 

       is about how to get somewhere else, you could possibly end up with a world in which millions of people 
       were starving, thirsty, and poor, the earth was being exploited and polluted: disease and despair were 
       everywhere: and Christians weren’t known for doing much about it.  If it got bad enough, you might even 
       have people rejecting Jesus because of how His followers lived. (page 6, 7)

Actually, the condition of the world is attributed to unconverted man, the curse, the devil, and demonic spirits.  Jesus never attributed the terrible condition of His day to the lack of His disciples’ practicing social justice.  Can you hear Jesus, “Peter, why didn’t you dig those people a Jesus Well so they could have water?”  “Andrew, where’s your Green Earth Day ribbon, and why aren’t you using recycle bins?”  “Matthew, I showed you how to feed a lot of people with a couple fish; why are there people still hungry?”  “Thomas, you know how some of the small countries owe a lot of debt to Rome.  How about you go get Rome to forgive their debt.”  “If you don’t do these things, people might not want to follow me.”

Apparently, the book of Acts is filled with faith-filled followers of Jesus, who forgot to start non-profit organizations to address the things Rob Bell feels that a Christian should be doing.  What happened in Acts?

The results were tragic.

Thousands of people were saved and had their sins forgiven.
People met daily for prayer and voluntarily and gladly shared their goods with each other.
People were healed and set free from demons.
Churches were planted all over the world.

Oh, wait.  That’s a good thing….what Jesus wanted.  Interesting.

But, let’s continue with Rob Bell putting God and His followers on trial.

Bell says:

       One way to respond to these questions is with the clear, helpful answer: all that matters is how you respond 

       to Jesus.  And that answer totally resonates with me, it is about how you respond to Jesus.  But it raises 
       another important question: Which Jesus? (page 7)

Here Rob Bell contradicts himself.  Because according to what he will be espousing later in the book, it doesn’t matter how you respond to Jesus, at least not in this life anyway.  Bell then goes on to give uncommon examples of the types of Jesus that people get presented with, as if it was the norm.  Again, he wants to put doubts in your mind that the Jesus you believe in, who punishes people for their sin, might be in the same category as those he just listed. 

Sowing doubt.
Like the devil.

Bell continues:

       Often times when I meet an atheist and we talk about the god they don’t believe in, we quickly discover that 

       I don’t believe in that god either. (page 9)

Most atheists that I’ve met do not want to believe in a Jesus who said:

       “He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned.”  (Mar 16:16)

They do not want to believe in a God who will judge them for their sins and ultimately for their unbelief in Jesus and the gospel message.  To which, Bell would also agree.  Bell would have Jesus say:

       “He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved: but he that believeth not shall eventually be saved because 

       the fire of God’s love will have its way in their heart and God will get what He wants.”  (2 Opinions 16:16)

It’s hard to know when to stop.  Chapter one goes on and on continuing to bring questions about how one is saved by bringing up different accounts in the scripture.   The goal is to cloud your mind and make you think there are so many ways that God can save someone, how could I possibly know what the right one is?  Maybe all kinds of people are saved and I’m just too stuck in what I believe to see it.  Maybe the Muslims are saved because they do some of the same things I see believers do in the Bible.  Maybe they know Jesus and don’t know it.  The questions try to reduce the subject to its most basic understanding without taking into account the great portions of scripture that bring and connect all these questions together.  So, without looking at the greater portions of scripture, Bell will lead you to his own conclusions, which clearly contradict the scriptures.  As you will see later, he will use scripture but will also attempt to impose new meaning to support his theory. 

The crown jewel of chapter one is how Rob Bell ends it.  In typical Bell fashion, he says and implies something without flatly out saying, “This is what I’m saying.”

(Remind you of the ways of anyone else mentioned in the Bible?  “Now the serpent was more crafty than any other beast of the field that the LORD God had made.” Gen. 3:1)

Rob Bell implies that if you think you’ve got this Jesus guy and salvation figured out, then you might just be like the demons, because they knew who He was and what He was doing.

Bell says:

       What we see in these passages and many others is that almost everybody, at least at first, has a difficult time 

       grasping just who Jesus is.

       Except for one particular group.

       In Luke 4 a man possessed by an “evil spirit” yells at Jesus, “I know who you are – the Holy One of God.”

       And in Matthew 8, when Jesus arrives on the shore in the region of Gardarenes, the demon-possessed men 

       shout at him, “What do you want with us, Son of God?”

       And in Mark 1, Jesus wouldn’t let demons speak.
       “because they knew who he was.”

       In the stories about Jesus a lot of people, including his own family, are uncertain about exactly who Jesus is 

       and what he’s up to – except demons, who know exactly who he is and what he’s doing.

       As James wrote:  “You believe that there is one God.  Good!  Even the demons believe that – and shudder” 

       (chap. 2)

       And then in Luke 7, a woman who has lived a “sinful life” crashes a dinner Jesus is at and pours perfume on his

       feet after wetting his feet with her tears and drying them with her hair.  Jesus then tells her that her “sins have 
       been forgiven.”

       So demons believe,
       and washing Jesus’s feet with your tears gets your sins forgiven?  (page 18)

Can you see it?  Can you see the doubt and confusion and questioning that he is trying to put in your mind?  So demons knew what Jesus was doing, like many believers today, but the lady who washed Jesus’s feet with her tears had her sins forgiven.  Maybe you, in your narrow-mindedness are really just like the demons because you think you know what Jesus wants and what He is doing. 

Bell will continue to insinuate things in his book, without actually saying that is what he is saying. 

I wonder if Rob Bell knows who Jesus is and what He’s up to?
From reading his book, he seems to think he does.
Does that then put him into a certain category?

And there is a brief look at chapter one.  It’s hard not to go through every single thing he says.  The clear goal of the chapter is to plant doubts in your mind about the love and character of God.  Bell doesn’t do so by his deep look at scripture but does so by asking questions that appeal to your emotions in order to trouble your mind.  He’s trying to appeal to what men think is right and wrong.  Humanism at its core.  He then tries to look at all the different ways that people are saved, without tying together what is common in all of their accounts. Nor does he look past the cross at the commission given to the disciples, or to the book of Acts to see how they understood and put into practice Jesus’s commands. 

But that’s his goal.
A goal of saying “Has God really said?”
A goal of leading you down a road.
A road that leads to a lie.
A lie that says “Surely you will not die.”

The spike has been set, on to chapter two…..  Click here to go to chapter 2