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Category Archives: Misc Entries re: Hell

These are entries that may not fit into any other particular category

Rob Bell & CS Lewis by Jeff Cook

Rob Bell, CS Lewis, and the Real Argument at Hand

After a couple of weeks of dialogue it is clear to me that the primary issue in the debate over Love Wins: A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived is not about what Bell is saying, but how he says it.

I suspect many felt poked in the eye by the way Harper and Rob decided to market Love Wins. I suspect Bell intimidates some because he is part of a culture they do not understand and cannot control (that culture is urban, postmodern, and discovers the truth more naturally through questions, sarcasm, and intuition than through the systematic presentations of the top Christian publishing house).

And let’s not kid ourselves, I suspect the fire behind the debate is often about envy and resentment of a very talented man, about our own inability to get a hearing in the public square, and about the fear that new ways of talking about Jesus might trump what some have preached for decades.

These issues are big, but they are not only about doctrine. The issues at hand are about culture and control, about how the theology of emerging Christians will be defined, and about the continuing fight between postmodern and modern expressions of Christianity. This seems clear to me now, for I would like to defend the following claim:

There’s not one controversial idea in Love Wins that is not clearly voiced as a real possibility by the most popular evangelical writer of the last century, CS Lewis.

Lewis and Bell hint at a number of theological possibilities in their writings that cut against what we might call the majority opinion, including: the possibility that those in hell might journey toward the grace of God after death, the possibility that those who have not heard the name of Jesus might find salvation in and through the image of Christ in their own pagan stories and myths, the possibility that some will eventually receive God’s grace freely after death, the possibility that hell is about bigger things than God’s wrath, the insistence that the metaphors describing what Jesus’ cross accomplishes and how his work is applied to us are culturally subjective, and that some ancient pictures of the atonement may be too confusing to help us right here, right now. All of these lines of thought were in Lewis’s writings before they were in Love Wins.

Let’s look at one example. Though I [Jeff Cook] do not hold the following position (I’m an annihilationist regarding hell), consider how Lewis, like Bell, advances the possibility that those in hell might one day journey toward the grace of God after death. Lewis writes, “I would pay any price to be able to say ‘All will be saved’ but my reason retorts, ‘Without their will, or with it?’” Notice in this and other quotes like it, the salvation of a soul is not dependent on God’s will, but the will of the damned. In the same vein, he wrote, “I believe that if a million chances were likely to do good, they would be given” (The Problem of Pain, 110). This is a confession that God wants to save all and would provide such roads if God thought they’d work.

As such, Lewis’s leaves the gates of heaven wide open through the way he structures reality in The Great Divorce. He frequently insistented that Hell is locked from the inside, and continually insists that hell is self-chosen—all of these point to the possibility that one day some of the damned may choose to be restored, and that God may welcome them like a prodigal son through the saving work of Christ. In fact, both Bell and Lewis argue, “Humanity is already ‘saved’ in principle; we individuals have to appropriate that salvation” (Mere Christianity 156). As such, I see every reason to think that Rob has an identical ontology of hell to CS Lewis, Rob however has more faith in the ability of some to eventually repent, that is the only real difference between them—and it is a belief about people not about God and God’s desires.

So I ask, Is there one idea in Love Wins that is not already grounded in word or metaphor in the writings of evangelicalism’s best-selling author? If not, then certainly Lewis—a far more substantial and influential thinker than Rob to modern American Christianity—has been worthy of our fire for decades now.

But that’s just it. The debate over Love Wins is not actually a fight only about doctrine. It is about angst caused by different cultures and philosophical precommitments. It’s about language and how we articulate what is real. It’s about the acceptance or rejection of postmodern ways of expressing what is most vital to us. It is about two cultures crashing together like a cold and warm front and causing a storm. Sure Rob is throwing theological hand grenades in that trailer and on the back cover, but as he rightly says in the intro to Love Wins, he’s not claiming anything new. We would be wise to pursue the real dialogue—the more important dialogue—at hand in American Christianity. We need to openly converse about postmodernity and modernity, their effect on doctrine, andespecially how Christians who assume very different epistemologies can actuallychampion each other instead of drawing pistols every time they disagree in this new century.

Jeff Cook is a professor of philosophy at the University of Northern Colorado and the author of Seven: the Deadly Sins and the Beatitudes. *

 

 
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Posted by on March 24, 2011 in Misc Entries re: Hell

 

Pastor fired for Views of Hell

Who’s in hell? Pastor’s book sparks eternal debate

AP

In this photo taken March 17, 2011, Rev. Chad Holtz poses for a photo in Durham, N.C.  Holtz was fired from his position as pastor from a church in HeAP – In this photo taken March 17, 2011, Rev. Chad Holtz poses for a photo in Durham, N.C. Holtz was fired …
By TOM BREEN, Associated Press – Thu Mar 24, 6:10 am ET

DURHAM, N.C. – When Chad Holtz lost his old belief in hell, he also lost his job.

The pastor of a rural United Methodist church in North Carolina wrote a note on his Facebook page supporting a new book by Rob Bell, a prominent young evangelical pastor and critic of the traditional view of hell as a place of eternal torment for billions of damned souls.

Two days later, Holtz was told complaints from church members prompted his dismissal from Marrow’s Chapel in Henderson.

“I think justice comes and judgment will happen, but I don’t think that means an eternity of torment,” Holtz said. “But I can understand why people in my church aren’t ready to leave that behind. It’s something I’m still grappling with myself.”

The debate over Bell’s new book “Love Wins” has quickly spread across the evangelical precincts of the Internet, in part because of an eye-catching promotional video posted on YouTube.

Bell, the pastor of the 10,000-member Mars Hill Bible Church in Grand Rapids, Mich., lays out the premise of his book while the video cuts away to an artist’s hand mixing oil paints and pastels and applying them to a blank canvas.

He describes going to a Christian art show where one of the pieces featured a quote by Mohandas Gandhi. Someone attached a note saying: “Reality check: He’s in hell.”

“Gandhi’s in hell? He is? And someone knows this for sure?” Bell asks in the video.

In the book, Bell criticizes the belief that a select number of Christians will spend eternity in the bliss of heaven while everyone else is tormented forever in hell.

“This is misguided and toxic and ultimately subverts the contagious spread of Jesus’ message of love, peace, forgiveness and joy that our world desperately needs to hear,” he writes in the book.

For many traditional Christians, though, Bell’s new book sounds a lot like the old theological position of universalism — a heresy for many churches, teaching that everyone, regardless of religious belief, will ultimately be saved by God. And that, they argue, dangerously misleads people about the reality of the Christian faith.

“I just felt like on every page he’s trying to say ‘It’s OK,'” said Southern Baptist Seminary President Albert Mohler at a forum last week on Bell’s book held at the Louisville institution. “And there’s a sense in which we desperately want to say that. But the question becomes, on what basis can we say that?”

Bell argues that hell has assumed an outsize importance in Christian teaching, considering the word itself only appears in the New Testament about 12 times, by his count.

“For a 1st-century Jewish rabbi, where you go when you die wasn’t the most pressing question,” Bell told The Associated Press. “The question was how can you enter into the shalom and peace of God right now, this day.”

Bell denies he’s a universalist, and his exact beliefs on what happens to people after death are hard to pin down, but he argues that such speculation distracts people from an urgent point. In his telling, hell is something freely chosen that already exists on earth, in everything from war to abusive relationships.

The near-relish with which some Christians stress the torments of hell, Bell argues, keep many believers needlessly afraid of a loving God, and repel potential Christians who might otherwise be curious about the faith’s teachings.

“The heart of the Christian story is that God is love,” he said. “But when you hear the word ‘Christian,’ you don’t necessarily think ‘Oh, sure, those are the people who don’t stop talking about God’s love.’ Some other things would come to mind.”

About the only thing everyone agrees on is that this is not a new debate in Christianity. It stretches to antiquity, when Christianity was a persecuted sect in the Roman Empire, and the third century theologian Origen developed a theory that contemporary critics charged would mean that everyone, even the devil himself, would ultimately be saved. Church leaders eventually condemned ideas they attributed to Origen, but he has had a lasting influence across the Roman Catholic, Orthodox and Protestant traditions.

Those traditions often disagree, even internally, on what awaits souls after death. The Catholic Church, which has a formal process for identifying souls in heaven through canonization, pointedly refrains from saying that anyone is without a doubt in hell. Protestants reject the concept of purgatory, in which sins can be atoned for after death, but disagree on other questions. The lack of consensus is enabled partly by ambiguities in the Bible.

Evangelical opposition to Bell is exemplified in a succinct tweet from prominent evangelical pastor John Piper: “Farewell, Rob Bell.”

Page Brooks, a professor at the New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, thinks Bell errs in a conception of a loving God that leaves out the divine attributes of justice and holiness.

“It’s love, but it’s a just love,” Brooks said. “God is love, but you have to understand you’re a sinner and the only way to get around that is through Christ’s sacrifice on the cross.”

Making his new belief public is both liberating and a little frightening for Holtz, even though his doubts about traditional doctrines on damnation began long before he heard about Rob Bell’s book.

A married Navy veteran with five children, Holtz spent years trying to reconcile his belief that Jesus Christ’s death on the cross redeemed the entire world with the idea that millions of people — including millions who had never even heard of Jesus — were suffering forever in hell.

“We do these somersaults to justify the monster god we believe in,” he said. “But confronting my own sinfulness, that’s when things started to topple for me. Am I really going to be saved just because I believe something, when all these good people in the world aren’t?”

Gray Southern, United Methodist district superintendent for the part of North Carolina that includes Henderson, declined to discuss Holtz’s departure in detail, but said there was more to it than the online post about Rob Bell’s book.

“That’s between the church and him,” Southern said.

Church members had also been unhappy with Internet posts about subjects like gay marriage and the mix of religion and patriotism, Holtz said, and the hell post was probably the last straw. Holtz and his family plan to move back to Tennessee, where he’ll start a job and maybe plant a church.

“So long as we believe there’s a dividing point in eternity, we’re going to think in terms of us and them,” he said. “But when you believe God has saved everyone, the point is, you’re saved. Live like it.”

 
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Posted by on March 24, 2011 in Misc Entries re: Hell

 

Rob Bell Responds to Universalism accusation

Here is a video from CNN with Rob Bell responding to the claims that he is an evangelical universalist.

http://i.cdn.turner.com/cnn/.element/apps/cvp/3.0/swf/cnn_416x234_embed.swf?context=embed&videoId=living/2011/03/18/belief.heretic.pastor.fires.back.cnn

Here is the interview that is referenced

 
http://cdn.livestream.com/embed/lovewins?layout=4&autoplay=false

Watch live streaming video from lovewins at livestream.com
 

Eugene Peterson on the uproar over Rob Bell’s book.

Eugene Peterson: Would Jesus Condemn Rob Bell?

It was a pleasure to speak with the sagely Eugene Peterson at a consultation on Faith and Technology this past weekend. Peterson is best known for his ordinary-language translation of the Bible, called The Message, which has sold millions of copies, but he is also renowned for his many works on discipleship and spiritual theology.  He is the Professor Emeritus of Spiritual Theology at Regent College.

I spoke with Mr. Peterson about his memoir, The Pastor, and I look forward to publishing those comments.  But I also asked him — for our book feature on Love Wins — about the “Hellgate” controversy.  Peterson wrote a blurb for the back of the book that says, “It isn’t easy to develop a biblical imagination that takes in the comprehensive and eternal work of Christ…Rob Bell goes a long way in helping us acquire just such an imagination — without a trace of the soft sentimentality and without compromising an inch of evangelical conviction.”

What are your thoughts regarding Rob Bell’s book and the controversy it ignited?  What inspired you to endorse the book?

Rob Bell and anyone else who is baptized is my brother or my sister.  We have different ways of looking at things, but we are all a part of the kingdom of God.  And I don’t think that brothers and sisters in the kingdom of God should fight.  I think that’s bad family manners.

I don’t agree with everything Rob Bell says.  But I think they’re worth saying.  I think he puts a voice into the whole evangelical world which, if people will listen to it, will put you on your guard against judging people too quickly, making rapid dogmatic judgments on people.  I don’t like it when people use hell and the wrath of God as weaponry against one another.

I knew that people would jump on me for writing the endorsement.  I wrote the endorsement because I would like people to listen to him.  He may not be right.  But he’s doing something worth doing.  There’s so much polarization in the evangelical church that it’s a true scandal.  We’ve got to learn how to talk to each other and listen to each other in a civil way.

Do evangelicals need to reexamine our doctrines of hell and damnation?

Yes, I guess I do think they ought to reexamine.  They ought to be a good bit more biblical, not taking things out of context.

But the people who are against Rob Bell are not going to reexamine anything.  They have a litmus test for who is a Christian and who is not.  But that’s not what it means to live in community.

Luther said that we should read the entire Bible in terms of what drives toward Christ.  Everything has to be interpreted through Christ.  Well, if you do that, you’re going to end up with this religion of grace and forgiveness.  The only people Jesus threatens are the Pharisees.  But everybody else gets pretty generous treatment.  There’s very little Christ, very little Jesus, in these people who are fighting Rob Bell.

 

How Willingly Do People Go to Hell – By John Piper

How Willingly Do People Go to Hell?

Does Anyone Standing by the Lake of Fire Jump In?

October 28, 2009 | by John Piper |

(originally published here)

// C.S. Lewis is one of the top 5 dead people who have shaped the way I see and respond to the world. But he is not a reliable guide on a number of important theological matters. Hell is one of them. His stress is relentlessly that people are not “sent” to hell but become their own hell. His emphasis is that we should think of “a bad man’s perdition not as a sentence imposed on him but as the mere fact of being what he is.” (For all the relevant quotes, see Martindale and Root, The Quotable Lewis, 288-295.)

This inclines him to say, “All that are in hell choose it.” And this leads some who follow Lewis in this emphasis to say things like, “All God does in the end with people is give them what they most want.”

I come from the words of Jesus to this way of talking and find myself in a different world of discourse and sentiment. I think it is misleading to say that hell is giving people what they most want. I’m not saying you can’t find a meaning for that statement that’s true, perhaps in Romans 1:24-28. I’m saying that it’s not a meaning that most people would give to it in light of what hell really is. I’m saying that the way Lewis deals with hell and the way Jesus deals with it are very different. And we would do well to follow Jesus.

The misery of hell will be so great that no one will want to be there. They will be weeping and gnashing their teeth (Matthew 8:12). Between their sobs, they will not speak the words, “I want this.” They will not be able to say amid the flames of the lake of fire (Revelation 20:14), “I want this.” “The smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever, and they have no rest, day or night” (Revelation 14:11). No one wants this.

When there are only two choices, and you choose against one, it does not mean that you want the other, if you are ignorant of the outcome of both. Unbelieving people know neither God nor hell. This ignorance is not innocent. Apart from regenerating grace, all people “suppress the truth in unrighteousness” (Romans 1:18).

The person who rejects God does not know the real horrors of hell. This may be because he does not believe hell exists, or it may be because he convinces himself that it would be tolerably preferable to heaven.

But whatever he believes or does not believe, when he chooses against God, he is wrong about God and about hell. He is not, at that point, preferring the real hell over the real God. He is blind to both. He does not perceive the true glories of God, and he does not perceive the true horrors of hell.

So when a person chooses against God and, therefore, de facto chooses hell—or when he jokes about preferring hell with his friends over heaven with boring religious people—he does not know what he is doing. What he rejects is not the real heaven (nobody will be boring in heaven), and what he “wants” is not the real hell, but the tolerable hell of his imagination.

When he dies, he will be shocked beyond words. The miseries are so great he would do anything in his power to escape. That it is not in his power to repent does not mean he wants to be there. Esau wept bitterly that he could not repent (Hebrew 12:17). The hell he was entering into he found to be totally miserable, and he wanted out. The meaning of hell is the scream: “I hate this, and I want out.”

What sinners want is not hell but sin. That hell is the inevitable consequence of unforgiven sin does not make the consequence desirable. It is not what people want—certainly not what they “most want.” Wanting sin is no more equal to wanting hell than wanting chocolate is equal to wanting obesity. Or wanting cigarettes is equal to wanting cancer.

Beneath this misleading emphasis on hell being what people “most want” is the notion that God does not “send” people to hell. But this is simply unbiblical. God certainly does send people to hell. He does pass sentence, and he executes it. Indeed, worse than that. God does not just “send,” he “throws.” “If anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown (Greek eblethe) into the lake of fire” (Revelation 20:15; cf. Mark 9:47; Matthew 13:42; 25:30).

The reason the Bible speaks of people being “thrown” into hell is that no one will willingly go there, once they see what it really is. No one standing on the shore of the lake of fire jumps in. They do not choose it, and they will not want it. They have chosen sin. They have wanted sin. They do not want the punishment. When they come to the shore of this fiery lake, they must be thrown in.

When someone says that no one is in hell who doesn’t want to be there, they give the false impression that hell is within the limits of what humans can tolerate. It inevitably gives the impression that hell is less horrible than Jesus says it is.

We should ask: How did Jesus expect his audience to think and feel about the way he spoke of hell? The words he chose were not chosen to soften the horror by being accommodating to cultural sensibilities. He spoke of a “fiery furnace” (Matthew 13:42), and “weeping and gnashing teeth” (Luke 13:28), and “outer darkness” (Matthew 25:30), and “their worm [that] does not die” (Mark 9:48), and “eternal punishment” (Matthew 25:46), and “unquenchable fire” (Mark 9:43), and being “cut in pieces” (Matthew 24:51).

These words are chosen to portray hell as an eternal, conscious experience that no one would or could ever “want” if they knew what they were choosing. Therefore, if someone is going to emphasize that people freely “choose” hell, or that no one is there who doesn’t “want” to be there, surely he should make every effort to clarify that, when they get there, they will not want this.

Surely the pattern of Jesus—who used blazing words to blast the hell-bent blindness out of everyone—should be followed. Surely, we will grope for words that show no one, no one, no one will want to be in hell when they experience what it really is. Surely everyone who desires to save people from hell will not mainly stress that it is “wantable” or “chooseable,” but that it is horrible beyond description—weeping, gnashing teeth, darkness, worm-eaten, fiery, furnace-like, dismembering, eternal, punishment, “an abhorrence to all flesh” (Isaiah 66:24).

I thank God, as a hell-deserving sinner, for Jesus Christ my Savior, who became a curse for me and suffered hellish pain that he might deliver me from the wrath to come. While there is time, he will do that for anyone who turns from sin and treasures him and his work above all.

Trembling before such realities, and trusting Jesus,

Pastor John

 

Quote from Carol Zaleski

“Abolish hell, and see how salvation dims down. Strike the “Inferno” from the Divine Comedy, and see how a bland- ness overtakes even “Purgatory” and “Paradise,” turning the cosmic drama of sin and salvation into a spiritualist soap opera of inevitable progress. Abolish hell, and a host of smaller obsessions will fill the gap. For our fears we will always have with us, whether of hell or of comparative trifles. Keep hell in view, and the trifles will fade as the promise of salvation burns bright.”

— Carol Zaleski,  Smith College  : from WHat to Say About Hell – Christian Century June 2008

 

Scott McKnight’s Post Re: Rob Bell’s video/Book

The following is copied from Scott McKnights Blog.  It is a two part (so far) response to some of the current uproar

Waiting for Rob Bell – Part one

Whether evangelicalism was paying attention or not, it is now. Universalism, or at least the prospect of it, is the single most significant issue running through the undercurrent of evangelicalism today. This all became clear Saturday when some decided to accuse Rob Bell of universalism on the basis of excerpts of his (not yet released) book Love Wins: A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived and on the basis of a video and the book’s description at HarperOne. So, while this new story is about Rob, I want to contend it is even more about the significance of universalism.

My own estimation is that somewhere near 75% of my students, many if not most of them nurtured in the church, are more or less (soft) universalists. They believe in Jesus and see themselves as Christians but don’t find significant problems in God saving Muslims and Buddhists or anyone else on the basis of how God makes such decisions. The Baylor Study of Religion, if my memory is correct, asked a question or two that reveals that an increasing number of American evangelical Christians think the majority of humans will be saved. That’s the issue and Rob Bell had the moxie to write a book about it. He’s rattled cages with his promo video and he will undoubtedly stir the waters in the book.

Many in the evangelical church have happily lived as if universalism is not an issue for good ol’ evangelicals. Those of us with our ears to the ground know better, and that is why I addressed this issue in a chapter in my book One.Life: Jesus Calls, We Follow. I called that chapter Eternity.Life. I begin by saying I believe in hell, but I want to believe in hell the way Jesus does. And I believe in heaven, but I want to believe in heaven as Jesus does. What Jesus believed about heaven and hell diverges at times from what many Christians think about heaven and hell.

As I wrote that chp and as I listen to this new round of volleys, some of them embarrassing and some of them so over the top and so many of them without having read one word of the book, I keep thinking we need once again to define some terms so I want to sketch a set of simple options. (Then I’ll say a few things about Rob Bell. By the way, we won’t know which of these categories fits Rob until we can read his whole book.)

Which of the following views do you think are “unorthodox”?

Universalism is the general belief that all will be saved, regardless of religious beliefs. The Muslim and the Christian are on the same basic path – and for universalists all will be saved.

Universalism needs to be distinguished from pluralism though as I have sketched “universalism” above there is precious little difference. Pluralism focuses on the legitimacy of each religion and belief system and that each of them prepares a person for final existence with God. For pluralists, there’s no unique saving place for Jesus Christ.

Christian universalism is a bit different: Christian universalism denies pluralism and balder forms of universalism by contending that all can or will be saved, but only through the saving work of Jesus Christ. While many who advocate this fail to recognize that those in other religions simply don’t believe such a thing, and in fact may say they don’t want to be saved through Christ, the Christian universalist confidently trots out the idea that whether they know it or not, God saves through Jesus Christ. But the big point here is that all can and will be saved through Christ.

Evangelical universalism is newer on the block and argues that God saves exclusively through Christ and that those who deny Christ, or who have not heard of Christ, or who have rejected God’s natural revelation to them, will be judged and will experience hell. In other words, these folks believe in hell – though they believe “less” (or as they might say “more”) than the traditionalist. But they believe hell is not eternal but instead temporary and once one has experienced judgment for one’s sins one will have, by the grace of God and through the merits of Christ, the opportunity to respond to the gospel – and this news is so good and God’s offer so gracious that eventually hell will be emptied and all will find redemption in Christ to enjoy God’s salvation forever.

There is yet another version: annihilationism or conditional immortality. This view is traditional in its appeal to evangelism and to the gospel of salvation through Christ alone – it is an exclusive claim – and that those who don’t respond to the gospel will be judged and will experience hell, but that eventually their punishment will run out and they will be utterly destroyed and annihilated and cease from existence. Here one has both a traditional view of hell and, at the same time, some kind of correlation between temporary sins – say 75 years of utter rejection of all things pertaining to what they know of God and Christ – and the experience of justice. When that justice runs its course that person will be utterly extinguished. Instead of an eternal consciousness of separation from God, these folks believe only in an eternal consequences.

Then there’s the traditional view: those who reject Christ, and some believe God’s mercy will be wide enough to include those who have never heard of Christ but have responded to the light they have comprehended (inclusivism) – and there’s latitude here for variations of several sorts, will be judged on the basis of that light. For traditionalists and some inclusivists their number is few so that billions who have not responded to Christ will suffer eternal and conscious separation from God. Some inclusivists would contend that many, if not most, humans will be finally saved.

The pressing issue today is both to comprehend the absolute seriousness of the Christian claim, to realize that the ground has shifted in that many who are associated with evangelicalism simply don’t believe the traditional view and have embraced some kind of universalism, and we need also to understand the options so we can all, one more time, go back to the Bible, to our church traditions, and study all over again –  as if for the first time – what to believe.

Now a word or two about Rob Bell. I don’t know what Rob thinks and I won’t know until I read his book. Too much of what I’m reading on the internet is speculation.

I’m grateful to God that Rob Bell is opening this after-life door and, from what I’m hearing, he’s only looking inside the door to see the prospects of universalism, asking you and me to realize both that we have some thoroughly unbiblical ideas and that we need to rethink this stuff all over again. I don’t expect Rob Bell to say one thing new, though I expect him to say what he says well enough to grab our attention.

Friends, this is an old discussion, and there are some great studies out there. Rob Bell is almost certainly not adding something new, but he’s pushing the door open and saying, “Folks, this vast and massive room of universalism and what’s awaiting us when we die are things we must take much more seriously. The next generation of Christians are pressing upon this door and we better stop and listen and think it through one more time.”

My contention is this: the approach to this generation is not to denounce their questions, which often enough are rooted in a heightened sensitivity to divine justice and compassion, but to probe their questions from the inside and to probe thoughtful and biblically-responsible resolutions. We need to show that their questions about justice and God’s gracious love are not bad questions but good questions that deserve to be explored.

I’ve not read the book, and I don’t trust blurbs or excerpts. Nor do I trust my own judgment of watching a provocative promo video and think I know where he’s going. Nor do I trust those who say they have read the book or parts of the book.

But I’ll tell you this:  Rob Bell is asking my students’ questions on that promo video and then, as you watch the video, he walks away. Rob and his people are artists, and you can read that walking away any way you want – but I’ll wait until I read that book for myself. I hope you do too.

Waiting for Rob Bell Part 2

I stood in horror watching the blogosphere light up last week, but my horror was not simply over the accusations made against an author whose book was not even yet available nor just over those who were denouncing Rob Bell for what they were absolutely certain was universalism. No the horror was that there was a volley of posts put up about hell. It looked like a tug of war between Love Wins! and Wrath Wins! Is this what we need? the way to proceed? the way to find resolution?

My horror, then, was three-fold: first, the image of God that is depicted when hell becomes the final, or emphatic, word and, second, the absence of any context for how to talk about judgment in the Bible and, third, the kinds of emotion expressed: we saw too much gloating and pride and triumphalism on both sides. I felt like those who watched the sinking of the Titanic and who didn’t cringe at the thought of thousands sinking into the Atlantic to a suffocating death. They were instead singing and dancing to a jig that they were right or had been predicting the sinking all along.

If there is an eternity, and I believe there is, and if there is a judgment, and I believe there is, then let us keep the immensity and gravity of it all in mind and refrain from flippancy, gloating, triumphalism — and let it reduce us to sobriety and humility and prayer. When Abraham faced the prospects of the destruction of Sodom in Genesis 18, he didn’t gloat that he was on the safe side but supplicated YHWH for mercy for those who weren’t. We need more Abrahams.

I have myself weighed in on this Eternity.Life debate in my book One.Life: Jesus Calls, We Follow, so I don’t want to weigh in again or repeat what I have already said. Instead, I want to set this discussion into a slightly different context: the image of God that jumps from the pages of the Bible in passages that might be called final triumphant grace. I will put it this way: there are passages that sound univeralistic, that sound like somehow God will reconcile all things in the End, and that if we don’t occasionally sound universalistic we are not being as biblical as God — and as Jesus and Paul. Yes, these passages are not the only ones to consider, but — let this be said — neither are they cushioned or cautioned or cornered off by Jesus and Paul so they don’t give the wrong impression. What the Bible is talking about here is that God’s grace will win. God will make all things right. I’m not a universalist but I want this language to be the way I talk about these topics.  So, here goes:

I begin with Jesus, whose parable of the Prodigal Son should make us stop in our tracks, from Luke 15:28-32:

28 “The older brother became angry and refused to go in. So his father went out and pleaded with him. 29 But he answered his father, ‘Look! All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. 30 But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!’31 “‘My son,’ the father said, ‘you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. 32 But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’”

And now to Paul, beginning with 1 Corinthians 15:20-28:

20 But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. 21 For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. 22 For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive. 23 But each in turn: Christ, the firstfruits; then, when he comes, those who belong to him. 24 Then the end will come, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father after he has destroyed all dominion, authority and power. 25 For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. 26 The last enemy to be destroyed is death. 27 For he “has put everything under his feet.” Now when it says that “everything” has been put under him, it is clear that this does not include God himself, who put everything under Christ. 28 When he has done this, then the Son himself will be made subject to him who put everything under him, so that God may be all in all.

And especially Colossians 1:15-20:

15 The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. 16 For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. 17 He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18 And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. 19 For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, 20 and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.

And this line from James:

Mercy triumphs over judgment (2:13).

And, once again, I don’t consider these to be the only passages that have to be considered. But let this grand and glorious vision of hope and triumphant grace and putting things to rights be in our minds and on our lips and in our emotions whenever … whenever … whenever we talk about final matters.

To talk about wrath apart from this depiction of the grace-consuming God is to put forward a view of God that is not only unbiblical but potentially monstrous. And, to put forward a view of God that is absent of final judgment, yes of wrath, yes of eternal judgment, is to offer a caricature of the Bible’s God.

No one should begin to talk about hell without spending fifteen minutes in pausing prayer to consider the horror of it all.

I find some people can get intoxicated on wrath and it can lead them in a triumphalist dance of anger. And I find some who get intoxicated with a flabby sense of grace. Isn’t it better to get lost in the dance of God’s good and triumphant grace and of making things right? If we are to be intoxicated, let it be from imbibing the hope and grace of God’s love which will both win and be right in the End.

Remember the supplications of Abraham. Every.Time.

Scott McKnight

 
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Posted by on March 15, 2011 in Misc Entries re: Hell