For many people, last February was the Month of Hell. Not because the month was full of demonic activity, but because popular evangelical preacher Rob Bell released a volatile book titled Love Wins: A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived. The book seemed to advocate a form of universalism, which is the belief that when all is said and done, nobody will end up in hell. Good, bad, selfish, heathen--God's mercy trumps it all.
As expected, Bell's argument provoked an avalanche of controversy. Critiques and reviews popped up in every Christian circle. TIME magazine even devoted a cover story to the issue. All of which meant that hell, excuse the pun, was the hottest theological topic of 2011.
One year later, Bell is back with a follow-up book titled The Love Wins Companion: A Study Guide For Those Who Want to Go Deeper (HarperOne, paperback, 198 pages).
Even though his name appears on the cover, Bell contributes a mere dozen of the 198 pages. Most of the book is old material from other writers--excerpts from past books and reprinted essays. The contributors are admittedly diverse, though most are in line with Bell's thinking: progressive Emergents like Peter Rollins and David Dark, and creative writers like Anne Lamott and Frederick Buechner.
However some will raise eyebrows. The book features an entry from Pope Benedict XVI, which I see as a veiled attempt to say, "See, even the Pope agrees with Rob Bell!" Benedict's essay is excerpted from Spe Salvi, his encyclical on hope, and explores the ineffability of eternal life. The excerpt never touches upon the more controversial elements of Love Wins, namely the topics of hell, salvation, and universalism. Yet I worry that many people will see the Pope's entry and take it as an endorsement of Bell's work.
To its credit, The Love Wins Companion contains some thoughtful study questions at the end of each chapter, which might make it a good book for a small-group study on heaven and hell. If you have already read Love Wins, though, you probably want to pass on this companion.