My Review of Rob Bell’s #LoveWins – What I Liked and What I Wasn’t Crazy About

At this point where does one begin when describing Rob Bell’s new book Love Wins? Much digital ink has been spilled and in my opinion, a lot of it has been worthwhile. Here’s why. First, sincere, God-searching discussion is good. Second, right or wrong, the potential influence of this book serves as both a wake-up call and a reminder to the Boomer Generation. The wake-up call is that countless people (especially those outside our church) are asking these types of questions and these other subjects cannot be ignored, spoken over, or be given shallow answers. The reminder to the Boomer-age evangelical is that the Christian faith is to be shared by each living generation as we remember the words of previous ones and as we pray for future ones. X’ers and Millennials would do well to take note, it will be our turn one day soon too ;)

For those who see these words as exaggerated, consider how social media has shaped this conversation. I have no doubt that this whole scene is drastically different if there were no such things as YouTube, Twitter and Facebook. It’s a changing world and ideas in books in moments like these reveal that. And frankly, Rob Bell is an excellent person to demonstrate this. I only regret that we have not recognized other voices similar to Rob Bell.

Know that I understand the concerns and the ramifications of getting too carried away of what Rob Bell is saying (“What if people completely lose their urgency for the Gospel? We barely have any as it is!” “If people can find Jesus in the afterlife, how do we convince people to follow him in this life?) I’m a conservative, I get this. And while this could be a different post altogether, I think it’s worth saying, that if our hearts are set to pursue the generous truth that Christ offers, consequences and ramifications are secondary, just above trivial. If we want urgency for the Gospel, let us invite people to life in the Kingdom of Jesus now, let us live the Jesus’ heaven on earth here. If you understand what I mean by this, you probably have a good idea of what heaven and earth is really about.

Talking about Love Wins is a bit like ruining a movie. There’s huge rush to answer and judge certain questions, “Is Rob a universalist? No?? Well, he’s still a heretic”, “Does he believe hell is real, here, there, forever, empty, full?” “What? Well, he’s still ambiguous” … So I’m going to do my best not to ruin too much for you because you really should read it for yourself. But he asks great questions, offers excellent insights but my favorite part of the book is that his heart comes through, and I would suggest, interestingly, it comes through stronger than any Nooma video, sermon, or HD production he’s ever given.

Here’s More of what I Liked:
While promoting the book, I liked how Rob went on every talk show and said that God is grieving too over what happened in Japan. In a world of Pat Robertson’s and John Pipers who state that God sends earthquakes and tornadoes when He’s angry, this is a beautiful pastoral moment of evangelism. (Btw, I always wonder what the mindset is when evangelist types say that – Have they not read Genesis 9? Or is God off the hook on the technicality that the entire world wasn’t destroyed? Seriously, many times a very terrible image of God is portrayed to our world).

I loved the questions he asks. Like what does happen to a 15 year old atheist that dies in a car accident? I’m a youth pastor – this question cuts deep. Further, we are overdue for an intelligent discussion on the age of accountability.

I really did like how Rob describes the hell on earth. We as evangelicals need to do a better job at acknowledging those in and going through terribly painful times.

Appreciated how he described that different people have very different understandings of “Jesus”. As much as we evangelicals want to present a “Biblical” version of Jesus, we must acknowledge that for many outside the church, their take on Jesus is extremely different from ours – thus a great part of the reason why they are outside the church.

How he described how different people have had very different salvation encounters with Jesus. He uses the gospel narratives very well here.

The Deconstruction of it all. He does a great job at describing the Hebrew understanding of the afterlife, the idea of “forever”, and of course, heaven and hell.

I loved the honesty and openness of it. He allowed for a lot of mystery and the wondering about God is an amazing experience for any faithful believer.

What I Wasn’t Crazy About
Though I really liked how he used Scriptures and commend him from not shying away from certain passages, he was a bit care-free in throwing them around and I think a proper study of some of his examples may be counter-productive. I am afterall, a conservative evangelical, and I think he could have done better here (which would have made the book longer and less pastoral but this is the trade-off). That said, I will concede that most of them serve his big point in some way.

Wished he would have spent more time talking about the justice and sovereignty of God as those that would champion those attributes from God would be in check or perhaps answered. I know that may have added another chapter to the book but I think it would have been helpful.

The last third of the book. I’ll give it that it was courageous and made for a very interesting read but I feel it came up a bit short for Rob Bell’s standards. It may be similar to an album that after a few listens/reads, I find the brilliance in it but til then, this is my first impression.

His use of Origen and the early church fathers needed more context. I’ll leave it at that except to say critics have implied that he is ignorant of the patristics. Not true if you listen to his sermon podcasts and that’s why I am a bit disappointed here.

I am not sure what he could have changed about the “Does God Get What He Wants?” chapter, He does a great job in presenting his argument, then does an even better job by humbly backing off his argument and stating that it’s a mystery, none of us can actually know the mind of God and so forth. But the problem for me was framing the chapter around that question seemed to undermine his argument and after some thought, perhaps the title of the book as well. In other words, Rob says that freedom must have love, if not, it’s not love. Excellent – I’m there with you. But then God potentially does not get what He really wants. We may hope that His love will eventually melt all hearts and therefore win but I took the title of the chapter to be a rhetorical question and the title, “Love Wins” to be declarative. But I’ll give any non-Calvinist credit for for asking that question though.

Therefore, if I may be so bold, perhaps the book should have focused more on Life than Love. I know it’s not as catchy and it may be splitting hairs but I think the “life” angle works even better (and obviously Jesus’ work is rooted, motivated, fulfilled out of love)

For all the talk on mystery and so on, I was really waiting for him to say more about the work of the Holy Spirit. This is my biggest letdown of the book.

Right now, Kevin DeYoung is working on a book called, “Why Love Doesn’t Always Win – Wrath, Anger, Torment and Reflections from a God-Appointed Warrior Who Hates Sin”

All in all, it’s a really good book and a great conversation starter. I hope it’s lovingly discussed in churches, small groups, living rooms, coffee-shops, pubs, and wherever else open-minded dialogue is welcomed. You can order the book here (only $12 from Amazon).

My next post is on how we using terms like “unbiblical, unorthodox, “Making the gospel palatable”, etc. are not helpful for humble truth/God-searching discussion.


  1. Thanks for the honest review… any idea on when DeYoung’s book is coming out? I need to buy that one!

  2. Actually I do – 4/1/12.

  3. very thoughtful insights Tim
    thanks for reading the book with care and concern
    an open approach to all reading is important with the question being “what can I glean from this reading”

  4. Thanks Dan.

  5. Ha.

  6. Bassim Ibrahim says:

    Tim, after carefully reading your review, I have 1 major question:

    How did you read the book so fast? I mean, didn’t it just come out? It usually takes me at least 2 months to get through a book!

    seriously, I’ve been following this story and I said to myself, I bet you Tim blogged about this and I really want to know what he thinks about it… and you obliged! Thanks man. I found your review very helpful. I obviously haven’t read the book so I’ll refrain from telling you how, like usual, I disagree with you on this very controversial issue :)

  7. Bass, you can finish it in a night – it’s like, double spaced and the way he writes/publishes is not the most efficient use of paper (which kinda bugs me to be honest).

    Brother, what could you possibly have disagreed with in my review? Feel free to call or reply here.

    Hope all else is well.

Speak Your Mind