The Purpose of Life
The Purpose of Life Website Ministry
by Gerry Watts
As someone who believes in, and teaches, Universal Reconciliation, I
was extremely interested when I heard about Rob Bell's new book
entitled Love Wins, published in 2011. I have to admit that I didn't
know much about Rob Bell, and I still don't really, but I came to
realise that he was a very influential pastor from the USA. He is the
founding pastor of Mars Hill Bible Church in Grand Rapids, Michigan,
USA, and he's written quite a few bestselling books.
Love Wins has caused quite a stir in the Christian Church as it tackles
the subject of Hell and the final Judgment in the age to come, forcing
Christians to reassess the traditional, medieval view of Eternal
Torment. What Bell is presenting in his book is not new, but it is
certainly very timely. I for one welcome such a book as this and I
firmly believe that it is God's answer to numerous prayers of his
people who have begun to see the bigger picture of God's plan for his
For me, the main thrust of the book has to do with challenging Christians to expand their thinking about
the future of the earth and humanity's destiny on it, showing that the more traditional 'heaven and hell'
paradigm is not a satisfactory understanding of the biblical texts. The emphasis is placed on God's love
and mercy, rather than on his wrath and vengeance - without ruling out the fact (and this is vitally
important) that there will be a process of judgment involved alongside salvation from death in the age
I've recently finished reading Love Wins, after my wife bought it for me for Christmas knowing I was
greatly interested in it. Overall, I totally agree with what Bell has to say. It is written in an easy to read
style, which was quite refreshing for me as the vast majority of books that I read are very scholarly
and theological, focusing on in-depth study with lots of footnotes (which I do love by the way!). The
book's style is different (for me anyhow), with often very short sentences, probably written for the
'fast-food' generation, nevertheless, all the essential biblical texts and details are not overlooked by
Bell. There are also companion books available for further in-depth study (see link below).
I was greatly pleased to see that he highlights the more accurate rendering of the Greek words aion
and aionian, which are usually translated as eternal and everlasting, showing that their meaning is
related more to indefinite, yet specific, periods of time (see Chapter 3: Hell). He also talks about the
true meaning of the 'hell' words, which should be more accurately translated as either Gehenna, Hades
and Tartarus (depending on the text in question). He also shows that the phrase 'eternal punishment' of
Matthew 25:46 (Gk. aion of kolazo) 'can mean "a period of pruning" or an intense experience of
correction' (p. 91).
Bell also considers the more accurate view of the New Creation, where the focus is very much on a new
restored earth, with heaven coming to earth at the Appearing of Jesus Christ. This view of bodily
resurrection, new creation and a restored earth is the view taught by renowned New Testament scholar
N. T. (Tom) Wright (in fact, Bell lists Wright's book Surprised by Hope in his Further Reading). Now
this kind of teaching really excites me, because I firmly believe that this is an accurate understanding of
the truth of Scripture, and this is something that I've been discovering and teaching for many years
In my view, the main position that Bell is presenting here is that of Universal Reconciliation, though he
doesn't come right out and say it, as such. In fact, he appears to distance himself from the general
view of Universalism, and to some extent, I don't blame him. The term Universalism carries a lot of
baggage with it, some of which is unbiblical, and I myself don't really like being tagged with this term. I
prefer Universal Reconciliation or Restoration, which is certainly more biblical.
I think that some of the most important things that he has to say are included in the central chapter of
the book, Chapter 4: Does God Get What God Wants? A major point that really stands out for me is the
In the third century the church fathers Clement of Alexandria and Origen affirmed
God's reconciliation with all people. In the fourth century, Gregory of Nyssa and
Eusebius believed this as well. In their day, Jerome claimed that "most people,"
Basil said the "mass of men," and Augustine acknowledged that "very many"
believed in the ultimate reconciliation of all people to God...
...To be clear, again, an untold number of serious disciples of Jesus across
hundreds of years have assumed, affirmed, and trusted that no one can resist
God's pursuit forever, because God's love will eventually melt even the hardest of
hearts... (pp. 107-108)
This historical fact needs to become more widely known, and it is a huge admission of truth for an
'evangelical' Christian. Bell then makes another hugely important statement that every Christian should
seriously listen to.
Whatever objections a person might have to this story, and there are many, one
has to admit that it is fitting, proper, and Christian to long for it. We can be
honest about the warped nature of the human heart, the freedom that love
requires, and the destructive choices people make, and still envision God's love to
be bigger, stronger, and more compelling than all of that put together. To shun,
censor, or ostracize someone for holding this belief is to fail to extend
grace to each other in a discussion that has had plenty of room for varied
perspectives for hundreds of years now. (p. 111 emphasis mine)
I absolutely agree with all the above. A big 'Amen' to that! In my own experience, I have been 'shunned'
by many Christians for holding and teaching this belief, even though most of them wouldn't even
examine the facts of the matter. It amazes me that the doctrines of Eternal Torment in a traditional
Hell, and Eternal Annihilation, are accepted by most Christians as legitimate viewpoints that can be
openly discussed and debated, whereas belief in a wider hope & Universal Reconciliation (or Universalism
as it is commonly called) are treated as heretical, and not even worthy enough to be discussed by
mainstream Christianity. It is true that the great theologian Origen was eventually condemned by a
Church Council in the 6th century AD, but his belief in the restoration of all things was actually
condemned by the Emperor Justinian, and not by Christian theologians. Anyhow, this whole shameful
episode in church history had more to do with personal jealousy towards Origen than an honest
accounting of the scriptural truth.
For further details, see A Short History of Universal Reconciliation by Dr. Stephen E. Jones.
The only disagreement I have with Bell is his focus on the 'free will' of individuals, rather than on God's
sovereignty, which occurs towards the end of chapter 4 (p. 117). Well, actually, on the face of it, it's
not that I disagree with what he is saying concerning the consequences of human choices, but I still
think that there is another level of truth here that in some respects is more important - that of focusing
on the absolute sovereignty of God's will and intention, which ultimately trumps the human will. It is only
by the grace of God that anyone can come to him by faith and be transformed by his Spirit. The issue is
that of understanding two levels of truth, one being absolute (God's will), and the other being relative
(human will). They both operate on differing levels, but ultimately it is God who is operating all things in
accordance with the counsel of his will (cf. Ephesians 1:11). For further study of these things, see
Almighty God versus Almighty Self
Copyright © Gerry Watts May 2012
All in all, I would recommend this book, particularly for those who are just beginning to question the
Eternal Torment doctrine. Below is an interview with Rob Bell about his book Love Wins, which was
originally broadcast on Revelation TV quite recently. In essence, I agree with where he's coming from in
this interview - it's all about experiencing and sharing the love of God as revealed in, and through,
Jesus, his Son, and learning to live by the Spirit.