I can’t help but compare Love Wins with Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Discipleship since I’m presently reading both. It is quite an interesting comparison. When compared, however, it’s hard to avoid a devastating conclusion. For me, it’s impossible to draw any other conclusion than that what Rob Bell offers in Love Wins is cheap grace.
It’s cheap because it is a gospel without cost. Gospel without Lordship. Gospel without discipleship. It’s justification of sin, but not of sinner. It’s justification that is an abstract consequence of God’s loving character and not a transformative demand. God is love. So God justifies. It’s a gospel that costs us nothing. It’s a gospel without the living incarnate Christ calling his would-be disciple to follow. It is an experience of grace as presupposition and not as a lived, experiential deduction. It’s divine blessing without obedience.
The gospel Bonhoeffer presented could also be titled “Love Wins”, but it is a completely different conception of the victory. God’s love displayed on the cross was central to Bonhoeffer. As he wrote, “Above all grace is costly, because it was costly to God, because it costs God the life of God’s Son—“you were bought with a price”—and because nothing can be cheap to us that was costly to God”. For one thing, like Bell’s, Bonhoeffer’s gospel is a gospel in the present tense. It cannot be criticized for having an “other worldly” interest. Bonhoeffer’s gospel is not primarily the good news about “getting into heaven when you die”; it’s good news because sinners are justified by faith. And that faith produces this-worldly consequences. It’s about a community living a cruciform life for the world. Bonhoeffer’s gospel is one that calls would-be believers to a life of costly obedience. It’s a call to come to the God-Man and submit one’s life without reservation. It’s a gospel that doesn’t seek to justify God to a world; rather it calls humanity into right relationship with its creator.
Much more could have been said than I have about Love Wins in these nine posts. In the book, Rob Bell raises good questions and provides interesting and adventurous readings of biblical texts. He should be commended for offering a fresh take on the old questions about Heaven and Hell and personal salvation. These are topics that have been neglected even avoided in recent decades. In places, Rob’s presentation was helpful in my opinion. But generally I’m dissatisfied and even disturbed with his answers to the questions he raised. And I don’t find his vision of the Christian God and faith as compelling as Bonhoeffer’s unflinching call to discipleship. There’s little in Rob Bell’s understanding of Christian faith that is costly. It’s all good. God says: “we are going to be fine” (172).
What’s more, when it comes to which characterization of the gospel I find most biblically faithful and personally compelling, I choose Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s costly grace over Rob Bell’s cheap grace.