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A few months ago, my mom sent me a Kindle I had purchased online and I got it when my pastor from Canada was here during the early weeks of May. The first two books I downloaded were Moral Revolution: The Naked Truth About Sexual Purity by Kris Vallaton, and Love Wins : A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived by Rob Bell. I don’t feel I’ll write a review about the former, but the current buzz online about the latter will be something I contribute to in this post.
But see, I don’t feel the need to go into a detailed review about all I agreed and disagreed with about the book, but I do recommend you read it. At least familiarize yourself with what Bell is trying to do.
First, I must say that it’s neither as bad as his enemies say it is, nor is it anywhere near as good as his fans insist it is. It’s just…a book. I personally can’t say I was that interested in it for what I was reading it for – to see what all the fuss was about. BUT–I did like the chapter on heaven. I did like what Bell is trying to do–ask some questions. I am just not persuaded he’s answering them very well. As for the formatting and writing style–at first I thought something was wrong with the way my kindle was displaying the text, until I realized it reads just like the way he speaks in his Nooma videos–with incomplete sentences and then breaking off onto the next line often times mid-sentence and mid thought. It was difficult to read sometimes, but that’s not a big concern to me.
I think one thing that Bell, and seemingly, others in the discussion about the topic of hell have forgotten, is that nowhere in Scripture does it actually teach God torments the unbeliever in hell. And also, it’s fundamentally NOT the Gospel to imply God does the torturing, nor that He sends someone to hell FOR not believing him. What’s the real deal? Romans 3:23 and 6:23 for a simple answer is that our sin is what makes us “deserve it”, but God in His mercy satisfied that wrath on the Cross in Christ who took our place. Therefore, to “add to the words of Scripture” [that God actively continuously does something He doesn’t say in Scripture He does or will do], is not just building a straw man argument on the part of people who oppose the idea of hell, but it’s also useless, but I digress.
For example, we tend to look at stories like Sodom and Gomorrah in Genesis 19 and point out how God wiped out a whole region for their wickedness–but has anybody ever pointed out the mercy throughout the whole chapter? It’s something like 9 times that God “looks for a righteous man” and Abraham pleads with him and so on. If anything, I see so much emphasis on His love/grace as I do his wrath–we forget they are intertwined and not an either/or issue but one of both/and.
How Could a Loving God Send Someone To Hell Just For Not Believing in Him?
The problem with that question is that’s premise is flawed from the start. It’s not “how could a loving God punish people eternally in hell for not believing in him”, but “How could a righteous, holy, just, perfect, etc.. God LET a filthy sinner into heaven in his presence at all?”
The answer? Jesus Christ! Praise God that He has not left us without option to get out of this state! Not only does He make the way out should we take it (accept the purchase He made on the cross with his death and his blood spilled), but He comes to live in us and set us free from the sin that separates us from Him in the first place. I don’t get how someone like Bell can stumble on that simple foundation. In fact, I don’t think he does, but it’s his critics and detractors minimizing the FACT he’s asking questions about our PRESENTATION of the Gospel and eternal life, but fundamentally after reading for myself, I don’t think Bell was promoting heresy, at least not knowingly, but just asking good questions, and answering them poorly. My understanding of the Gospel is not that God will send someone to hell as a consequence for not believing Him, as if He’s insecure and annoyed we didn’t appreciate Him. It’s that we’re choosing to remain in the sin that makes it impossible for unrighteousness to enter into His presence, and therefore there’s no other alternative.
I too can’t find Scripture to indicate God actively (present continuous verb) torments for eternity towards the unrepentant. If eternal life is knowing God (John 17:3) then isn’t hell also hell because the unrepentant is cut off from him for eternity? How can God be both AWAY and actively doing something at the same time then in eternity? Doesn’t it seem that it would be one or the other? Just something I personally can’t get my brain around. Since a soul lives forever, then yes, it seems to be annihilation would not be what happens to the soul separated from God.
Hell is horrible and terrifying then! Hence, one more aspect that plays into just WHAT glorious of a grace God lavished on us by providing the way out (IF one chooses to take it). And this is also why our faith should not be kept to ourself but we should be actively concerned out of love not fear and have the judgment seat of Christ always in our focus for why we live and breathe and remember that His wrath is directly related to his mercy. God’s wrath is not rooted in temperamental mood swings that will last for eternity, but fundamentally rooted in his character–which IS love. When you look into Jesus’ Eyes of Fire, either they burn you or they test you and make you purer–the same flame is going to melt the wicked as purifies the righteous.
Our Gospel Presentation DOES Matter
One thing I DO appreciate about Bell’s book is he really has a problem with the judgment happy version of the Gospel some smug Christians present, and THAT’s what I had the impression he was questioning and challenging. I too have a problem with the standing on a street corner condemning everybody to hell and inviting the unsaved into something that comes across like all its followers have been baptized in pickle juice. God is a lot more fun that He’s portrayed, however, I’m not minimizing the very existence of eternal hell. Justice will be served–how can you have justice administered without a JUDGE doing the administering? The Judge is not ruling based upon or as a result of some kind of insecurity of His or frustration [that people didn’t believe in him] like a rock star gets mad that they don’t have their bowl of green M & Ms in their dressing room. THIS is not God portrayed in Scripture. I don’t believe, as Bell teaches in the book, that hell is now already on earth and “what we make it.” I believe it is a real place for eternity.
Ultimately, there’s lots that can be talked about, and I’ve even seen on Amazon an entire book countering everything Rob Bell says in his book! But ultimately, I think most people are freaking out about nothing, and discussion is good, and whether he intended it or not, or just his detractors have caused the uproar, a large segment of the Body of Christ is now thinking about and discussing these things, and I think THAT is a good thing, is it not?
Let’s make sure we use the sure Word of God as our standard to go by, and not just our personal preferences and package the Gospel in a way that’s palatable for the masses.