By all means read Ben Witherington’s chapter by chapter review of Rob Bell’s Love Wins here.
Here’s a taste:
The first chapter of this book involves raising a plethora of questions (pp. 1-19). They are perfectly fair questions, but what comes to light in the enumeration of these questions is that in fact Rob Bell is reacting, reacting to a form of the Christian message that he sees as too narrow, cramped, judgmental, and just plain wrong, because it conveys an idea of God, that in his view is incompatible with his reading of what the real character of God is like. What is entirely missing from this chapter is any sort of discussion of sin, sin as the alienating cause of human lostness, sin as the reason why persons are not going to heaven. Let me be clear that I think Rom. 1.18-32 is crucial to this question. Unfortunately Rom. 1 is not dealt with in this first chapter and what texts he does cite he does not treat in any detail. Rather Rob sort of flits from one text to the next like a butterfly hoping to drain the tiny bit of nectar in each flower.
What Romans 1 says plain as day (which comports with what is said later in Rom. 3-5 namely that we have all consciously sinned and can’ t get up by our own efforts), is that people are not condemned to hell or judgment for what they have never heard about God. What Romans 1 says is that the reality of God and God’s power is evident in all of creation, and people are judged for what they do with the light about God that they have indeed received. What Paul says they do is that while they know God exists and is powerful, they refuse to acknowledge God, the most primal sin of all. In other words, most of the questions Rob raises in Chapter One are entirely irrelevant. People do not go to Hell (whether in a handbasket or by some other means of conveyance) due to ignorance of God or of Christ. They simply don’t. Nor do they go to Hell because God already decided they would do so from before the foundations of the universe. Equally untrue, and equally unhelpful in making sense of God and this issue.
The problem which already surfaces in Chapter One is that Rob has blended together in his creative mental cuisinart both some true aspects of the Gospel story and some false caricatures of the Good News, and unfortunately, he is not just rejecting some of the caricatures, he is rejecting some of the true aspects of the story. And this is a problem, all the more so when Rob wants to suggest that a just or righteous or holy or judging God is somehow not good news……