Why is it that when it comes to the subject of Hell, some people seem to either bring it up too much, while others want to suppress the truth of the matter?
A lotta hype about Hell in Christian circles lately, much of it is because speaker/author/pastor Rob Bell seems to be coming out with some pretty radical conclusions about Hell. This New York Times article provides just a glimpse at the controversy.
I’ve been watching some people throw some pretty big rocks at each other over this one. So I’m going to try to speak candidly, but without criticism. Seriously… I’m going to try!
And rather than just sharing my take on this, I emailed a couple friends and asked for their two cents because I really respect their opinions. So I’m going to chime in with my two cents, but I’m also going to share what Dan Kimball and David R. Smith shared with me. Then I’m going link some resources for your reference.
My two cents: We need more compassion, and a theology that is unchanged by emotions.
Rob has always had a heart for the lost– a very admirable and Christ-like quality. If you’ve ever met someone with a heart for the lost, you might also notice, they grow very frustrated with people who are abrasive to the lost. It comes with the package. Rob reveals this frustration (not a bad thing at all, in my opinion) in his new video about his upcoming book Love Wins, telling the story of an incident at an art show at his church. One of the pieces at this show had a Gandhi quote and someone felt the need to post a note to that quote, writing, “Reality check. He’s in Hell.”
It’s really sad when God’s people forget about love.
Yesterday I was interacting with a few people on our Facebook page about this whole controversy. I commented to someone. People with good theology need to remember that even “good theology” is still just a clanging cymbal without love (I Corinthians 13).
So I praise Bell’s compassion for sinners. That being said, I hope that Rob also doesn’t put on emotionally-distorted reading glasses when reading the truth of God’s Word. As believers, we need to cling to the truth. We need…
A THEOLOGY UNCHANGED BY EMOTIONS
Let me start by going on the record. I wish I could go soft on Hell. The concept of eternal separation from God is an uncomfortable reality. I wish I could believe it wasn’t true. I really do.
But truth wins.
In Rob’s video he says the following:
“Will only a few select people make it to heaven? And will billions and billions of people burn forever in Hell?”
He goes on to say,
“Millions and millions of people were taught that the primary message, the center of the Gospel of Jesus is that God is going to send you to Hell unless you believe in Jesus. And so what gets subtly sort of caught and taught is that Jesus rescues you from God. But what kind of God is that that we would need to be rescued from this God. How could that God be good. How can that God be trusted. And how can that ever be good news. This is why lots of people want nothing to do with the Christian faith. They see it as a endless list of absurdities and inconsistencies.”
He concludes his thoughts with a nice pitch for his new book.
“The good news is actually better than that, better than we could ever imagine. The good news is that love wins.”
We don’t know exactly how this is going to play out in his book, Love Wins, because it isn’t released yet. (Mental Note: This is a pretty dang good way to sell books. Raise a controversy that requires even your critics to have to buy your book just to try to prove you wrong.) That’s why I’m not going to go on the record and criticize his theology, because I haven’t read his book yet. But in his sermons and videos, I have to say, Rob is definitely treading on some dangerous ground here. His video alone seems to convey that mere “belief in Jesus” isn’t good news. After all, this is an uncomfortable fact to unbelievers.
Hmmmm. It seems to me that after Jesus laid out the “uncomfortable” truth to the crowds in John 6, a bunch of people didn’t want anything to do with him then either.
I’m not going to say anymore yet… because who knows where his book is going.
My friend, author/speaker, Dan Kimball, can’t comment on the book either, because he hasn’t read it. But Dan has wrestled with the topic of hell and other difficult subjects and says this: (giving me permission to share with you all)
I would love to be a Jesus-died-for-all-universalist. I would love to be an annihilist. I would love to be pro-gay theologically. But from the immense amount of reading, studying the Scriptures, praying, and reading different viewpoints. From looking at church history from the beginning and various beliefs and the culture they developed in…..and looking at contemporary doctrinal beliefs and their history…and personally having talked to scholars over the years that I respect about these very issues like NT Wright, Scot McKnight, Roger Olson, John Walton and the late Stan Grenz…… I find I personally cannot believe those things, although my emotions surely would like to. And it fits so well in culture today. It would be easier being in ministry in our culture today, holding those views for sure. But I cannot compromise what I am convicted that the Scriptures do teach about these things. But how we then teach about them, speak about them etc. is of great, great importance. I think many (especially younger people who don’t have a breadth of knowing church history and patterns of the past) are turned away from these doctrines often not even by the doctrine itself as much as how Christian leaders have taught about them and their attitudes towards others who believe differently.
David R. Smith chimed in as well.
It’s hard to know where Rob Bell will go with this. The videos certainly hint toward a universalist belief, and if they don’t go there, then the publicity certainly was misleading, which says something in itself.
If Rob Bell’s “new treatise” on hell claims a universalist mindset, then it is not new at all. In fact, it’s an issue that thousands of biblical scholars have wrestled with over hundreds of years. Universalists aim to make Christianity more appealing and/or convenient (whether they admit that or not). But if one were to strip the Bible of hell, he actually makes the Christian message far less appealing. That might sound strange, but consider these ramifications if there is no hell.
God is a liar. Jesus talked about hell far too often for it to not exist. It was in His warnings, amongst His parables, and even a part of His Revelation. There was no doubt in His mind that hell existed; He created it! So to concede hell is to concede a truth-telling God. Thus, I won’t concede either one.
God is a sissy. Everyone who’s ever experienced life on Earth has seen injustice, oppression, evil, sin, and wickedness. In many places around the globe, these dark forces run rampant and unchecked. But God, the ultimate Judge, has decided there will be justice and recompense for those who have suffered at the hands of unrepentant sinners. If God will not judge nations and individuals (as the Bible says He will), He’s nothing more than a cosmic wimp who needs to apologize to 6 million Jews murdered in the Holocaust, and millions more killed in tyrannies around the world. Again, this is a concession that is too expensive to make.
Ultimately, the reality of hell ties into God’s nature. Rob Bells sees this truth, too, and if his book goes soft on hell (we’ll see soon), then he just misinterprets its impact on God’s character. Regardless of what Bell says, I will continue to believe in a God who tells the truth and will one day judge perfectly and righteously.
I promised you some resources about Hell. Here’re two:
1. Dan Kimball, not only a friend, but a man who’s faith and knowledge of scripture I really respect, wrote an amazing article in Outreach Magazine last year, Teaching the Truth About Hell. This is a great resource to refer to.