I read an interesting article in TIME Magazine (online) today entitled “Is Hell Dead?” It’s ostensibly about a book written by author Rob Bell, who is also the pastor of Mars Hill Bible Church in Michigan. His book, “Love Wins: A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived,” posits that evangelical Christianity is too theologically rigid, and we really don’t know what happens after death.
“Bell insists that he is only raising the possibility that theological rigidity—and thus a faith of exclusion—is a dangerous thing.” In essence, Christianity ought to be much more universal in its acceptance of people. “’When we get to what happens when we die, we don’t have any video footage,’ says Bell. ‘So let’s be honest that we are speculating, because we are.’”
There’s a slightly comical section of the article that seems to compare Christianity to other religions of the world (currently, and in history) in order to make the point that Christianity is different from all the other religions in this regard, and therefore is wrong:
“It is also true that the Christian tradition since the first church has insisted that history is tragic for those who do not believe in Jesus; that hell is, for them, forever; and that love, in the end, will envelop those who profess Jesus as Lord, and they — and they alone — will be reconciled to God…
“Still, the dominant view of the righteous in heaven and the damned in hell owes more to the artistic legacy of the West, from Michelangelo to Dante to Blake, than it does to history or to unambiguous biblical teaching. Neither pagan nor Jewish tradition offered a truly equivalent vision of a place of eternal torment; the Greek and Roman underworlds tended to be morally neutral, as did much of the Hebraic tradition concerning Sheol, the realm of the dead.”
Criticism of Bell from the Christian community has been harsh—“Farewell Rob Bell,” tweeted John Piper; Al Mohler said the book was “theologically disastrous,” and says, “We have read this book before. Not the exact words, and never so artfully presented, but the same book, the same argument, the same attempt to rescue Christianity from the Bible.”
Here’s my bottom line: views of Christianity that leave out hell, condemnation, and eternal punishment must commit exegetical gymnastics in order to arrive at those conclusions: selective interpretation, explaining away clear passages about hell and condemnation, and broad interpretation of passages that talk about God’s redemption and reconciliation. Bell’s book seems to affirm God’s love, but extricate God from his justice and holiness.
What are your thoughts on Universalism? Should Christians de-emphasize teaching on hell?
“Rob Bell: Universalist?” by Justin Taylor @ The Gospel Coalition
“Two Thoughts on the Rob Bell Brouhaha” by Kevin DeYoung @ The Gospel Coalition
“Rob Bell Outs Himself” by Denny Burk
“God Is Still Holy And What You Learned in Sunday School Is Still True” by Kevin DeYoung
“Book Review: Love Wins by Rob Bell” by Aaron Armstrong