The current controversy over Rob Bells new book Love Wins: A Book about Hell and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived, while unorthodox in its content and conclusions does have an upside. It is focusing attention on a subject that is politically incorrect in our day: That there is an eternal destiny for each of us, that heaven and hell are real and the latter involves eternal punishment and separation from God. And, that there is only one route to a relationship with God and that is through Jesus Christ. Without Christ, people face eternal separation from Him.
My intent here is not to critique Bell’s exegesis or conclusions. Others have already done that for us (just Google Love Wins for many responses). In addition, a simple reading of the Scriptures is enough to conclude that Bell’s circumlocutions around the clear statements of Jesus on the subject don’t stand up to a logical reading of the text to say nothing of orthodox understanding on this subject for two thousand years. Bell is simply restating liberal theology that has been around for a long time.
However, the truth is that many evangelicals are essentially agnostics on the subject of hell because it is politically incorrect, and we cannot imagine that God would actually punish those who chose to reject Him. If we really believed that our friends, family, coworkers and neighbors face eternal punishment without Christ, would we not be far more motivated to share the Good News? To say nothing of living this life without Jesus. Our lack of evangelism concern (in the United States it takes 168 people one year to lead one person to Christ) either indicates we really don’t believe in the reality of hell, that we are uncaring or so distracted by our own comfort and lives that we don't have time to focus on those who don't know Christ. There are exceptions to this, many who I know, but in general, our evangelism efforts and commitment do not match a biblical understanding of what is truly at stake. Nor do the outreach efforts of congregations that are often so focused inside that they have little impact outside their walls.
Incidentally, just about 300 years ago the entire population of our world was only 600 million, twice the current population of the United States today. Our world has swelled to 6.5 billion since 1700 and it is estimated that half the people who have ever lived in human history are walking our planet today. That means that half the potential population of heaven and hell are alive today. What we do about that has eternal consequences.
Working in many parts of the majority world, I see men and women who are absolutely focused on sharing the Good News because they believe the truth of heaven and hell, of a transformed relationship with Jesus or lostness. Many of these have given up income, comfort, and even their lives out of conviction that people need a savior in this life and the next.
Bell says love wins. Certainly that is true for all who turn to a savior in Jesus Christ. What Bell does not want to acknowledge is that truth wins as well. Scripture does not lack clarity on this subject. As Mark Driscoll tweeted today: “Any preacher who does not tell his people the whole truth may be loved by them but does not love them.” Bell has it backwards. Love wins only when truth wins first.
The question for each of us is whether we take seriously the reality of two eternal destinies and whether we will join Jesus in sharing the Good News with the same concern for people that He had. He commissioned us in John 17:18, “As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world,” speaking of us!
Love only wins when we believe the truth of the gospel and it is that truth that motivates us to boldly share the Good News and when people respond - that is when love wins.