The burning brush for the pile this time comes from Rob Bell’s new book, Love Wins: A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived, published by Harper Collins. Even though this book won’t be published until March 29, Bell’s projected treatment of the topic of Hell has been like gasoline added to… well… Hell. According to people who have not yet read the book, Rob Bell is hell-bent on abolishing Hell. The Christian Twitter world is ablaze! The labels are flying in the blogosphere: “He’s a universalist!” “This man is a wolf!” Just read some of the comments on Justin Taylor's article about Bell's new book. Many of the comments have been hot-headed. Some people are frantically praying down brimstone on Bell's head as if they were the prophets of Baal.
Surely there is a Hell… because I can see its evidence in the vehemence of thousands of Christian responses across the internet. What an embarrassing debacle. It’s as if we’re trying to prove to the world that God is not a God of love. Hatred and condemnation seem more fitting. The song isn’t ringing true: “They will know we are Christians by our love…” What a great witness we are.
Are we willing to toss vengeance at someone for questioning a contemporary theology of Hell? Is it really worth such anger, hate and sin? Oh wait, yes it is worth that. That’s what Hell is made of. That's the value of Hell.
If I were not a Christian and became privy to this intra-religious feud, I imagine I might react in one of three ways:
- I might continue to hope that there is a Heaven, not Hell, for me. But I might want to search this out from some others who don't act like Hell is the more likely fate. I think I would choose the way of hope if given the chance.
- I might still want there to be a Hell for people like Hitler. In fact, there had better be a Hell for hellions like that. And maybe for judgmental people too. Oh wait, would that thought make me judgmental? Only fair, I suppose. I'll see lots of you there then as you rant at me.
- I might think at moments like this that Christians would rather pray for Hell on earth (or at least on others on the earth) more than Heaven.
Am I saying that Rob Bell’s purported denial of condemnation in Hell (if that’s truly what he communicates in his unpublished book) is not important? No. I believe that the topic of eternal existence in Heaven and Hell is extremely vital to every human being. But for the sake of this specific post I'm not concerned primariy with the validity or invalidity of his ideas. I am merely stating that we, if we are truly Christians, at the very least, need to show love to one another.
For those who have attempted to enter into this dialogue with civility and respect, I am thankful to you. Normally I don't enter into the fray of charred flesh… but too many of my friends and students have approached me today asking for input. You probably understand my hesitation to post any thoughts at all— partly out of concern that some hell-bent Christians might call down fire upon me.
Of course, should some people try to ignite me, then I'll just become even more convinced then I already am that there is a Hell.
But… here's the difference. And maybe you'll think this is water on the altar… While I believe Hell is real, and while I believe Jesus believes Hell is real, I don’t think we are supposed to put our faith in Hell. My trust doesn't rest in Hell. Praise God. My faith lives in Jesus Christ. Therefore, I will try with all my heart, soul and strength to love the Lord. And I will try, then, to love my neighbor. Even if that neighbor is someone as ironically hellish as some would claim Rob Bell to be… or more fittingly, perhaps, even if that neighbor is as hellish as I am. Love wins? In our actions as followers of Jesus Christ, at least, I hope so!
If interested, here are a few other links, on this particular subject:
- The Washington Post
- Rob Bell