But he doesn’t believe in it, not in the traditional sense. I am currently reading Rob’s book “Love Wins,” and in it, he argues against the traditional idea of a place of eternal suffering for everyone who does not believe in Jesus. Although I am in danger of misrepresenting his beliefs before I am completely through with his work, my understanding so far is that Rob believes a God of love would not condemn people to a literal hell of His own making. Instead, Rob seems to view the afterlife as a place where people are able to see their own evils in contrast to God’s mercy and the only real hell is when people refuse to let go of the prejudices, hate, and well… evil… in light of God’s truth and love. Rob is a captivating writer, and for any believer in Jesus, there is food for thought in those pages as he discusses and exposes how Christian’s attitudes come across to others, and as he eloquently describes God’s awesome mercy.
There are problems however with Rob’s conclusions which I believe are wrong. Serious ones. And yet, there are thought-provoking questions which I am glad he brought up. First the problems…
First, Rob tries to skate by the straightforward meaning of the Scripture. The Bible doesn’t teach a symbolic hell, but a literal one. It may sound harsh to us, but what feels right or appropriate to me, does not nullify the Scripture. Jesus spoke about hell in a literal way, and John flat out describes “the second death” in Revelation 20. You have to do impressive acrobatics to get around those. Plus, it’s hard to ignore the obvious when Jesus said this in Matthew chapter ten:
Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell.
The concept of fearing God, or especially fearing destruction of your soul in hell, does not come from a few isolated Scriptures but is found throughout the teachings of Christ, and warnings throughout the Bible.
I don’t have time to go into detail in this post, but in my view, Rob’s explanations of the Scriptures about hell, simply fall short and reach for explanations that are not there. Plus, there’s this:
Here’s a statement posted by Yahoo News yesterday. (Evidently Yahoo is posting comments as articles)
“The adverse reaction to Rob Bell’s hell among some Evangelical leaders is based first on deeply held belief, not economic consequences. But it should really put the fear of God in their accountants.”
Now the world’s idea is that churches control people through the teaching of hell, which as anyone who actually attends church, is a very short-sighted idea of what church, or faith in Christ, is all about. Evangelical churches especially are filled with non-paid volunteers for almost every activity they do, and regardless of their financial situation, would continue to preach the word of God. But the comment does raise a larger point about whether or not a rejection of the traditional view of hell would cause many to fall away?
For many no, but for some, unfortunately yes. As of this writing, churches that teach the Bible in a plain-sense manner are typically growing or stable churches, and the same goes for Christian organizations who likewise practice and teach the straightforward message from the Bible. That message is not only defensible (that should garner me at least one haughty comment), but it still works in the human experience. However, as more churches and/or organizations began to leave the plain-sense meaning of Scripture, would there be a falling away? With those groups I think yes. Contrary to becoming more popular, compromising in order to satisfy the culture will have the opposite effect and make those churches and organizations less relevant. Look, religion for the sake of religion is… well….
Why work so hard to be involved in the work of the Faith, when it doesn’t matter all that much? As Paul said concerning the rejection of the truth of the resurrection:
If the dead are not raised, “Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die.”-I Cor. 15:32
In the same way, I agree with Rob that people need to be saved from wrong thinking, and from their prejudices and hate. I’m all for that. But there is a huge amount of urgency added to the mix when the reality of hell is considered. It makes helping people, and preaching the message of the cross of Christ, worth sacrificing for and dying for. If God is going to fix everyone later, the work I do now is lessened in importance.
There is a reason why the description of Peter when they began to preach the message of Jesus for the first time goes like this: “With many other words he warned them; and he pleaded with them, “Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.” -Acts 2:40.
-And it’s not just because the Romans were coming, the Romans were coming.
Nevertheless, Rob’s book brings up thought-provoking questions about eternal judgment that are important to answer in this day and time. How is a loving God reconciled with one who judges people eternally? Is hell a place of eternal torment for everyone who goes there or do they simply quit existing after awhile? Who exactly goes to hell anyway? What about those raised in other religions? Those questions deserve answers which I hope to address myself in the coming days on this blog. But my point now is that the Christian world should work hard at answering those questions thoroughly.
Too often, we gloss over those things because after all, we’re saved right? If you don’t have to worry about hell, why worry about hell? Yet, today especially, we need to investigate our own beliefs and our teachings on these things because they are a roadblock for others. In this respect, Rob’s book has done the Christian world a service. It would serve us well to answer him, and the questions of others, with thoughtful responses, and not shrill condemnations.
After all, you can be wrong about hell, and still not go there.