I finished reading Love Wins. Maybe I am more of an apostate than I thought I was, but I did not see anything Rob said that denied the orthodox views of the afterlife. What I did read was an earnest attempt by a very hip pastor to explain how something like hell and judgment can exist with a loving God.
Rob writes terrible prose. I am going to be honest. He does not write the style of prose we are used to reading and that makes him somewhat inaccessible to people who expect a pastor to write in the accepted manner. Because of his style, Rob opens himself up to a lot of misinterpretation. In fact, my assessment might itself be a misinterpretation – who knows?
At the core of Rob’s thesis, which he does not really get to until the last couple of chapters. Really, he has two primary ideas to convey.
Point 1 – It is not about creed or prayer
Rob is at great pains to explain that salvation is not about assenting to a creed or saying the right prayer. There is no magic trick to getting into heaven. In fact, getting into heaven is not the reason we should be coming to God in the first place.
The big controversy that surrounded this book comes down to Rob saying that you don’t have to believe in one person’s version of believing in Jesus. In other words, he’s saying that Jesus is bigger than our creeds and ideas. He is both narrow and universal. We can follow him without even knowing his name (and if you have a problem with that, you should consider the Old Testament since he isn’t named there once.)
Point 2 – Hell Is Our Own Sin
People essentially create their own hell by refusing to allow God to retell our story. What Rob calls ‘retell our story’ is equivalent to what most evangelicals would say as ‘accepting Jesus’.
We come to God with our version of our story. God has the true version. We have to trust God that his version of our story is the right one. When we don’t trust him, we are left in the hell of our false story. We can be in the midst of God’s glory and be in hell because we do not trust God.
What about this idea doesn’t jive with orthodox faith? If you believe in a literal hell, then people go there because of their sin. God saves us by telling us the story of redemption and meaning through Jesus. If we refuse that story, we choose to remain in our sin. While we would say that story is directly revealed in the Scriptures, even the apostle Paul believed that it existed in creation and was accessible to all men. (Romans 1)
Rob makes it plain. God is still righteous and loving. Those who do not trust him still go to hell. How Rob defines hell is a little different than how most evangelicals define it but it certainly is not a new idea. It is an idea that has existed throughout Christianity’s storied and varied history.
And if someone accepts the story God is telling but does not know all the names of the characters, are they not good enough? If Mother Theresa was a little confused about the role of her works but still accepted the story God was telling her, then does she go to hell for not conforming to the evangelical doctrinal statement?
If you ask me, all the controversy revolves around fear and misunderstanding. Rob approaches a difficult question or set of difficult questions with a style all his own. It is not my own way of telling it, but I did not see anything that made him an apostate. A bit theologically loopy? Yeah, I could say that. But I can’t find it in me to reject him because he tells the same story of redemption in postmodern language.