Chapter two of Love Wins is entitled “Here is the New There” and is about heaven. Bell’s principle concern in the chapter is to correct some popular misconceptions about the point of the Christian life, especially the notion that redemption is all about moving on to the next life, particularly when it is conceived as static, ethereal, and immaterial, as is often the case. Bell rightly notes that, instead, the next world will be active and productive, full of creativity and learning. Moreover, true Christian redemption doesn’t begin after we die but starts here and now, as the chapter’s title asserts. I applaud this message, and it is a corrective that I, too, strive to offer in many contexts where I encounter the misconception of heaven that he describes. I also appreciate many other good points Bell makes in the chapter, such as his observation that the Greek term aion, often translated as “eternal,” actually has multiple meanings, including “of the ages” or a long period of time (a fact that has bearing on some of the key New Testament passages pertaining to hell). I also appreciate his defense of the notion that God judges sin (p. 37) and his insistence that “taking heaven seriously…means talking suffering seriously” (p. 45). These are all significant insights that Bell makes in this chapter. Unfortunately, he also makes many logical mistakes along the way. Here are just a few of them.
1. Straw Man on page 23: The “straw man” fallacy is committed when one critiques a distorted or weak version of a view, thereby creating the illusion that s/he has refuted the actual view. Bell is a chronic offender when it comes to this fallacy, and there are several instances of this in chapter two of Love Wins. Bell opens the chapter by describing a painting of his grandmother’s which pictures an oddly surreal vision of heaven where throngs of people traverse a giant cross suspended above a great chasm, on the other side of which lies “a gleaming, bright city with a wall around it and lots of sunshine” (21). This, of course, is an image of heaven—an especially creepy and kitschy image, that is. Bell notes that “crosses do not hang suspended in the air that you and I call home. Cities do not float” (23). Throughout the chapter Bell uses this image to represent the popular “story” that heaven is essentially happening “somewhere else.” He goes on to make many good points about the importance of living here and now in a way that realizes Christ’s teachings. Amen to that. But why degrade and parody the very biblical teaching that heaven does also transcend this fallen world? In fact, to insinuate that we must take one view or the other (heaven is here and now or heaven is somewhere else) is actually to commit another logic error—the fallacy of false dichotomy. More on that shortly.
2. Appeal to Pity on page 25: The ad misericordium fallacy is committed when a person appeals to a person’s emotions to persuade them of a view. Bell does this at several points in chapter two, such as when he relates some disturbing cases of insensitive responses to people who are grieving over their deceased loved ones, including that of a pastor who tells a woman that she won’t miss her lost loved ones in heaven because “she’ll be having so much fun worshipping God that it won’t matter to her” (25). This, of course, makes us sad for her and naturally invites us to be less sympathetic with the pastor’s view, which is that some people are eternally separated from God.
3. False Dichotomy on page 43 (and pp. 23, 26, and 52): A false dichotomy (or false dilemma, as it is sometimes called) is any presentation of two views as if they were the only two options available on a particular issue (e.g., “Joe must have voted for the Democrat, because I know he wouldn’t vote Republican.”) Repeatedly throughout chapter two, Bell commits this fallacy when he insinuates that we have just two options—the simplistic view of heaven with its “static” rewards, a sort of “Beverly Hills in the sky,” including “Ferraris and literal streets of gold” (p. 43). We have already noted how such descriptions constitute a flagrant “straw man” fallacy, but by suggesting that it’s either this view or the notion that heaven is (primarily? entirely?) here and now, this rules out a possible (and I would say likely) third view that is more nuanced, namely that the Kingdom of Heaven does indeed start here and now but that it culminates in a wondrously transcendent reality that, even if only because the New Earth is so fundamentally changed, really is Somewhere Else.
4. Unjustified Claims on pages 48 and 51: One commits the fallacy of unjustified claim when one makes a significant assertion of fact without providing supporting reasons or evidence. Given that the subject of chapter two is heaven and that Bell spends so much time critiquing (or parodying) what he regards as a problematic view of heaven, it is naturally significant when Bell presents what he regards as the proper view. He declares, “Heaven is both the peace, stillness, serenity, and calm that come from having everything in its right place—that state in which nothing is required, needed, or missing—and the endless joy that comes from participating in the ongoing creation of the world” (p. 48). Now, in fairness to Bell, he does go on to provide some scriptural support for the very last part of this description of heaven, regarding “ongoing creation.” But he gives no justification (scriptural or otherwise) for the rest of his claims in this passage, important as they are (and plausible though they may be). Elsewhere, Bell apparently rejects the notion that “in the blink of an eye” we will become “totally different people.” His reason: “our heart, our character, our desires, our longings—those things take time” (p. 51). Well, yes, that is certainly so in this earthly life. But how does Bell know that instantaneous dramatic change of character is impossible even in the next world? This claim needs support, but he doesn’t provide it. And given what the Apostle Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15 about the dramatic differences between our earthly perishable body and our resurrected spiritual body and that “we will all be changed…in the twinkling of an eye,” I’d say Bell has a lot of supporting to do.