March 15, 2011 -- Rob Bell's new book, "Love Wins: Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived," delivers an optimistic message about the afterlife, challenging the Christian notion of hell.
Bell, the founding pastor at Mars Hill Bible Church, a megachurch located in Grand Rapids, Mich., Bell, appears poised to unleash a firestorm of controversy among evangelical Christians, who say the notion of a literal Hell is well-defined in the Bible.
Read an excerpt from "Love Wins" below, then check out some other books in the "GMA" library
Millions of Us
First, I believe that Jesus's story is first and foremost about the love of God for every single one of us. It is a stunning, beautiful, expansive love, and it is for everybody, everywhere.
That's the story. "For God so loved the world . . ." That's why Jesus came. That's his message. That's where the life is found.
There are a growing number of us who have become acutely aware that Jesus's story has been hijacked by a number of other stories, stories Jesus isn't interested in telling, because they have nothing to do with what he came to do. The plot has been lost, and it's time to reclaim it.
I've written this book for all those, everywhere, who have heard some version of the Jesus story that caused their pulse rate to rise, their stomach to churn, and their heart to utter those resolute words, "I would never be a part of that."
You are not alone. There are millions of us.
This love compels us to question some of the dominant stories that are being told as the Jesus story. A staggering number of people have been taught that a select few Christians will spend forever in a peaceful, joyous place called heaven, while the rest of humanity spends forever in torment and punishment in hell with no chance for anything better. It's been clearly communicated to many that this belief is a central truth of the Christian faith and to reject it is, in essence, to reject Jesus. This is misguided and toxic and ultimately subverts the contagious spread of Jesus's message of love, peace, forgiveness, and joy that our world desperately needs to hear.
And so this book.
Second, I've written this book because the kind of faith Jesus invites us into doesn't skirt the big questions about topics like God and Jesus and salvation and judgment and heaven and hell, but takes us deep into the heart of them.
Many have these questions. Christians, people who aren't Christians, people who were Christians, but can't do it anymore because of questions about these very topics, people who think Christians are delusional and profoundly misguided, pastors, leaders, preachers— these questions are everywhere.
Some communities don't permit open, honest inquiry about the things that matter most. Lots of people have voiced a concern, expressed a doubt, or raised a question, only to be told by their family, church, friends, or tribe: "We don't discuss those things here."
I believe the discussion itself is divine. Abraham does his best to bargain with God, most of the book of Job consists of arguments by Job and his friends about the deepest questions of human suffering, God is practically on trial in the poems of Lamentations, and Jesus responds to almost every question he's asked with . . . a question.
"What do you think? How do you read it?" he asks, again and again and again.
The ancient sages said the words of the sacred text were black letters on a white page—there's all that white space, waiting to be filled with our responses and discussions and debates and opinions and longings and desires and wisdom and insights. We read the words, and then enter into the discussion that has been going on for thousands of years across cultures and continents.
My hope is that this frees you. There is no question that Jesus cannot handle, no discussion too volatile, no issue too dangerous. At the same time, some issues aren't as big as people have made them. Much blood has been spilled in church splits, heresy trials, and raging debates over issues that are, in the end, not that essential. Sometimes what we are witnessing is simply a massive exercise in missing the point. Jesus frees us to call things what they are.
And then, last of all, please understand that nothing in this book hasn't been taught, suggested, or celebrated by many before me. I haven't come up with a radical new teaching that's any kind of departure from what's been said an untold number of times. That's the beauty of the historic, orthodox Christian faith. It's a deep, wide, diverse stream that's been flowing for thousands of years, carrying a staggering variety of voices, perspectives, and experiences.
If this book, then, does nothing more than introduce you to the ancient, ongoing discussion surrounding the resurrected Jesus in all its vibrant, diverse, messy, multivoiced complexity—well, I'd be thrilled.