Widening the Scope

People come to Jesus in all sorts of ways.

Sometimes people bump into Jesus,
they trip on the mystery,
they stumble past the word,
they drink from the rock,
without knowing what or who it was.
This happened in the Exodus,
and it happens today.
The last thing we should do is discourage or disregard an honest, authentic encounter with the living Christ. He is the rock, and there is water for the thirsty there, wherever there is.

We are not threatened by this,
surprised by this,
or offended by this.

Sometimes people use his name;
other times they don’t.

Some people have so much baggage with regard to the name “Jesus” that when they encounter the mystery present in all of creation — grace, peace, love, acceptance, healing, forgiveness — the last thing they are inclined to name it is “Jesus.”…

What we see Jesus doing again and again — in the midst of constant reminders about the seriousness of following him, living like him, and trusting him — is widening the scope and expanse of his saving work….

Whatever categories have been created, whatever biases are hanging like a mist in the air, whatever labels and assumptions have gone unchecked and untested, he continually defies, destroys, and disregards.

— Rob Bell, Love Wins, p. 158-160

As Wide As the Universe

John remembers Jesus saying, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (chap. 14).

This is as wide and expansive a claim as a person can make.

What he doesn’t say is how, or when, or in what manner the mechanism functions that gets people to God through him. He doesn’t even state that those coming to the Father through him will even know that they are coming exclusively through him. He simply claims that whatever God is doing in the world to know and redeem and love and restore the world is happening through him.

And so the passage is exclusive, deeply so, insisting on Jesus alone as the way to God. But it is an exclusivity on the other side of inclusivity. . . .

This kind insists that Jesus is the way, but holds tightly to the assumption that the all-embracing, saving love of this particular Jesus the Christ will of course include all sorts of unexpected people from across the cultural spectrum.

As soon as the door is opened to Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, and Baptists from Cleveland, many Christians become very uneasy, saying that then Jesus doesn’t matter anymore, the cross is irrelevant, it doesn’t matter what you believe, and so forth.

Not true.
Absolutely, unequivocally, unalterably not true.

What Jesus does is declare that he,
and he alone,
is saving everybody.

And then he leaves the door way, way open. Creating all sorts of possibilities. He is as narrow as himself and as wide as the universe.

— Rob Bell, Love Wins, p. 154-155


Jesus is supracultural.
He is present within all cultures,
and yet outside of all cultures.

He is for all people,
and yet he refuses to be co-opted or owned by any one culture.

That includes any Christian culture. Any denomination. Any church. Any theological system. We can point to him, name him, follow him, discuss him, honor him, and believe in him — but we cannot claim him to be ours any more than he’s anyone else’s.

— Rob Bell, Love Wins, p. 151-152


A gospel that leaves out its cosmic scope will always feel small.

A gospel that has as its chief message avoiding hell or not sinning will never be the full story.

A gospel that repeatedly, narrowly affirms and bolsters the “in-ness” of one group at the expense of the “out-ness” of another group will not be true to the story that includes “all things and people in heaven and on earth.”

— Rob Bell, Love Wins, p. 135

Redemptive Punishment

“Do you mean that God never punishes anyone for what he cannot help?”

“Assuredly. God will punish only for wrong choices we make. And then his punishment will be redemptive, not retributive: to make us capable — more than merely capable; hungry, aching, yearning to be able — to make right choices, so that in the end we make that one supreme right choice our wills were created to make — the joyful giving up of our wills into his!”

“How do you prove that?”

“I will not attempt to prove it. If you are content to think of God as a being of retribution, if it does not trouble you that your God should be so unjust, then it would be fruitless for me to try to prove otherwise to you. We could discuss the question for years and only make enemies of ourselves. As long as you are satisfied with such a god, I will not try to dissuade you. Go on thinking so until at last you are made miserable by it. Then I will pour out my heart to deliver you from the falsehoods taught you by the traditions of the elders.”

— From The Landlady’s Master, by George MacDonald

A Better Story

Many people find Jesus compelling, but don’t follow him, because of the parts about “hell and torment and all that.” Somewhere along the way they were taught that the only option when it comes to Christian faith is to clearly declare that a few, committed Christians will “go to heaven” when they die and everyone else will not, the matter is settled at death, and that’s it. One place or the other, no looking back, no chance for a change of heart, make your bed now and lie in it . . . forever.

Not all Christians have believed this, and you don’t have to believe it to be a Christian. The Christian faith is big enough, wide enough, and generous enough to handle that vast a range of perspectives.

Second, it’s important that we be honest about the fact that some stories are better than others. Telling a story in which billions of people spend forever somewhere in the universe trapped in a black hole of endless torment and misery with no way out isn’t a very good story. Telling a story about a God who inflicts unrelenting punishment on people because they didn’t do or say or believe the correct things in a brief window of time called life isn’t a very good story.

In contrast, everybody enjoying God’s good world together with no disgrace or shame, justice being served, and all the wrongs being made right is a better story. It is bigger, more loving, more expansive, more extraordinary, beautiful, and inspiring than any other story about the ultimate course history takes.

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.

— Rob Bell, Love Wins, p. 110-111

Going Through Hell for Healing

We have a term for this process. When people pursue a destructive course of action and they can’t be convinced to change course, we say they’re “hell-bent” on it. Fixed, obsessed, unshakable in their pursuit, unwavering in their commitment to a destructive direction. The stunning twist in all of this is that when God lets the Israelites go the way they’re insisting on heading and when Paul “turns people over,” it’s all for good. The point of this turning loose, this letting go, this punishment, is to allow them to live with the full consequences of their choices, confident that the misery they find themselves in will have a way of getting their attention.

As God says time and time again in the Prophets, “I’ve tried everything else, and they won’t listen.” The result, Paul is convinced, is that wrongdoers will become right doers.

— Rob Bell, Love Wins, p. 90-91

The Terrible Thing

“But you must allow that God hates and punishes sin — and that is a terrible thing.”

“It would be ten times more terrible if he did not hate and punish it. Do you think Jesus came to deliver us from the punishment of our sins? He should not have moved a step for that. The terrible thing is to be sinful, and all punishment is to help deliver us from it, nor will it cease until we have given up being sinful. God will have us good; and Jesus works out the will of his Father.”

I myself do not believe that mere punishment exists anywhere in the economy of the highest. I think mere punishment is a human idea, not a divine one. But the consuming fire is more terrible to the evildoer than any idea of punishment invented by the most riotous of human imaginations. Punishment it is, though not mere punishment, which is a thing not of creation but of destruction: it is a power of God and for his creature. As love is God’s being and a creative energy in one, so the pains of God are to the recreating of the things his love has made, and sin has unmade.

— George MacDonald, Knowing the Heart of God, p. 148

The Jesus Story

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 of 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.

— Rob Bell, Love Wins, p. viii

Believing in God – Or Not

“Do you think it very bad of a man not to believe in God?”

“That depends on the sort of God he imagines that he either does or does not believe in. Most people have totally wrong conceptions of God. A thousand times would I rather see a man not believe in God at all than believe in an evil god that could cause suffering and misery as if he were a devil. But if a man had the same notion of God that I have — a God who is even now doing his best to take all men and women and beasts out of the misery in which they find themselves — and did not at least desire that there might be such a God, then I confess I would have difficulty in understanding how he could be good. When one looks at the gods that have been offered through the years who are not worth believing in, it might be an act of virtue not to believe in them.”…

“I believe that, no matter how uninteresting he may say the question of a God is to him, the God of patience is taking care of him, and the time must come when something will make him want to know whether there be a God and whether he can get near to him. I should say, ‘He is in God’s school; don’t be troubled about him, as if God might overlook and forget him. He will see to all that concerns him. He has made him, and he loves him, and he is doing and will do his very best for him.”

— George MacDonald, Knowing the Heart of God, p. 23-24