Love Wins: What About Hell?

“There are individual hells,
and communal, society-wide hells,
and Jesus teaches us to take both seriously.
there is hell now,
and there is hell later
and Jesus teaches us to take both seriously.” (Love Wins, 79)

Let me set the record straight – Rob Bell believes in hell. “Do I believe in a literal hell. Of course” (71). Bell believes that hell is real and ought to be taken seriously. And I suspect he takes it more seriously than many of us because Bell believes there is a not only a hell to come but hell in the here and now as well.

In this chapter, Bell points his readers to the hellish history of murder and genocide in Rwanda. I happen to be writing this in light of a horrific story in own region in which a 17 year old male shot an innocent and helpless 16 year old girl and then burned her body in an attempt to cover his tracks. We are all too familiar with this reality – hell is real. We experience it and the tragic truth is we create it.  We need to be praying and living “on earth as it is in heaven” because right now it sure seems more like  “on earth as it is in hell.” Which leads Rob to state: “often the people most concerned about others going to hell when they die seem less concerned with the hells on earth right now, while the people most concerned with the hells on earth right now seem the least concerned about hell after death.” (78-79)

One of the strengths of this chapter is that in it Rob covers the complete Old Testament and New Testament teaching on hell. This is also one of the big downsides as he does so in five brief pages (64-69). While I haven’t yet reviewed all the texts, I have a bit of a concern that Rob has done some broad brush exegesis here 0 not necessarily wrong, but incomplete. That said this is one of my favorite quotes from Love Wins: “Jesus used the word hell with insiders, the religious people to warn them about the trajectory of their lives and to reorient them back to living in God’s world God’s way” (81-83).

Interesting
Jesus talks more about
hell
to the religious
than the non-religious

Here are three things from this chapter that cause me some consternation:

  • Bell explores the Sodom and Gomorrah narrative in Genesis (a city most certainly doomed to hell by many). Rob rightly reminds us that this is not the last reference to this city in the Scriptures. Sodom and Gomorrah appear in Ezekiel 16 (“God will restore the fortune of Sodom and her daughters”) and also in Matthew 10 where Jesus warns the people of Capernaum  that “it will be more bearable for Sodom and Gomorrah on the day of judgment than for you.” Rob than raises the question, “If there’s still hope for Sodom and Gomorrah, what does this say about all of the other Sodom and Gomorrah’s?”(85).
  • Bell has an interesting take on Paul’s words in 1st Timothy regarding Hymenaeus and Alexander being “handed over to Satan to be taught not to blaspheme” (1 Timothy 1:20). Bell’s assumption is that this “handing over of people to Satan” and allowing them to experience the full consequences of their actions will result in their ultimate good as they turn from their hellish ways and return to God. Rob has an optimistic viewpoint of humanity and this framework will come into play later in the book when Rob discusses the possibility of postmortem choices for God.
  • Bell argues that “eternal punishment” should not be viewed from a chronological perspective – as in forever (92).  This is hinge piece for Rob and serves as a foundation for his understanding of what happens after we die – much more to come in future posts on this.

So what are your thoughts on hell – go ahead stir up the pot.

Just in case I haven’t convinced that Rob believes hell is real, let me give him the last word in this post:

“To summarize then, we need a loaded, volatile, adequately violent, dramatic, serious word to describe the very real consequences we experience when we reject the good and true and beautiful life that God has for us. We need a word that refers to the big, wide, terrible evil that comes from the secrets hidden deep within our hearts all the way to the massive, society-wide collapse and chaos that comes when we fail to live in God’s world God’s way. And for that, the word “hell” works quite well. Let’s keep it.” (93)

Stay connected…

Comments

  1. Simon Huff says:

    But, April Fool’s!!!

    Because Bell doesn’t *really* believe in Hell after all. That last quote by Bell is the “ah ha!” moment- it’s clear that he is commandeering a word and giving it a totally new meaning. He basically takes all the “religion” (for lack of a proper term) out of it, and injects it with a definition that any well-meaning humanist could swallow. This definition has nothing to do, really, with the spiritual state of things and everything to do with social justice. I think Bell is really revealing his hand here, showing himself to support a “Christianity & ” worldview that Lewis and many others condemned as blasphemy. In this worldview, Christianity has its wings clipped, is stripped of all the religious baggage, and is then employed as a nice way to bringing about good things in the world. Basically, a means to a greater end. I really hesitate when people invoke Christ’s passage about “on Earth as it is in Heaven.” Because with a simple redirection of the definitions (As Bell has begun here), God can really be taken out of the picture altogether.

    My main question here is….if Hell is just “a reality that we create”, if it’s just a product of our negative actions, isn’t the next logical move to say that Heaven is also a reality that we create, a product of our positive actions?

    Do you see the slippery slope?

    • simon – thanks for weighing in and engaging.

      while this is an isolated quote, i think taken in the larger context of the book, Rob’s description of hell certainly takes into consideration all things spiritual. the very real consequences we experience when we reject the good and true and beautiful life God for us is indeed hell. this begins with the brokenness and sin in my human heart that separates me from God, from others and from God’s creation (and extends out from there). we don’t necessarily create hellish or heavenly realities, but we do experience the realities that God has built into God’s universe.

      do we need to divorce spiritual things from social justice? when a Christ follower, seeking to live on earth as it is in heaven, works, acts, lobbies for social justice, isn’t that a spiritual thing?

      • Simon Huff says:

        Certainly not. Christianity should swallow social justice whole. The output of our faith is to do the Lord’s will, and this includes “looking after orphans and widows” as James instructs us- protecting the innocent and helpless, which is at the heart of social justice. The problem, as Lewis outlines it, is when Christianity is embraced merely for the carnal good it can bring about, as a means to the end of social justice. It’s a matter of priority as I see it. There are plenty of non-Christians who embrace the ethic of the faith without acknowledging the spiritual claims therein. I’m just afraid we’re now doing this from the inside out, slowly but surely.

        But I guess now we’re really getting to the heart of the question, which is, what does it truly mean to be a Christian? Is social justice enough? Is defending the poor, looking after widows and orphans, the aggregate of the faith? These are the issues that Bell focuses on in his book when he talks about Hell- “the wars, the abuses that have Nature groaning in death” as derek webb sings. It’s strange that he never seems to ground the dilemma (at least from what I took from Love WIns) in the notion that there is an evil outside of us, an evil greater than that which humanity has created. This is the central tenant of the faith to my mind. The fact that we can’t save ourselves. We can never really DO good (which makes me think of another webb song “thankful”). But the whole social justice movement in the faith seems to think we can. Their motto should be “Only by the grace of God” though it seems to be “Yes we can!” I think the movement is losing sight of its helplessness; and as a consequence, it’s blurring the divide between the Christian and the humanist.

        I absolutely agree with you on the consequential perspective of our sin- which is that it separates us, in that moment, from God, and that to be a part from God is, by definition, to be in Hell. But isn’t Christianity more than just a simple cause-and-effect morality? Isn’t there more to the game than just karma?

        But look at me, asking a million hypothetical questions.
        I’m afraid I’m turning into Bell himself.

        I’ve been discussing things here that aren’t necessarily in Love WIns, but this is what seems to come out of that perspective, to my mind. I’m sure you’re sick of my long ranting posts by now, so I appreciate you humoring me, Terry 🙂

        • SImon, I only wish we could have some of this conversation face to face – I miss you. And thank you for pushing this. This Tuesday evening I am beginning a three week conversation with a group of people from our community around the book and your thoughts, questions, and perspective will impact how I lead that group. So thank you!

          • Simon Huff says:

            Yeah, I’d love to be there for the conversation. I know Tracy was considering driving out for them, so maybe she can be my ‘eyes and ears’ if she goes.
            And though I’ll miss the talks, I’m actually going to be in PIttsburgh next weekend conducting some research, and I’m planning on visiting CCCSH on Sunday. So I may see you soon after all.

          • It will be great to see you Simon!

  2. Rob Bell has been leaning toward a form of Christian Universalism for years: http://tiny.cc/xrfxn

    For many who hold CU there is a hell but it’s a kind of Purgatory where they dream one day it’ll be emptied.

    • Thanks for stopping by Ken and weighing in. I know you have thought deeply about this. The way you describe the CU position on hell as purgatory is certainly a “hopeful” or “wishful” position – it just doesn’t have Scriptural backing as far as I can see. I do think God’s love wins in the end in a way that is far different that Rob’s take. More to come on that…

  3. It seems you are going chapter by chapter. Cool. So am I at my site. I won’t say everything I said there, here, but I suppose my general feelings are that the assertations made by Bell don’t really serve a point for me. but maybe I’m missing it. For me, you can not call misery and cruelty, hell. That is not what the Bible calls. Hell is spoken of a place and it seems to be assigned a specific purpose. To say we have “hells” on earth is to be colloquial at best… certainly not theological. That is, saying “Man, it was Hell today at work” because it was miserable or uncomfortable works for the american slang culture. I realize that Bell is saying something more deep than that, but not by much. Immorality and cruelty is sin.

    Aside from that, there are just too many twists of the scripture to make a solid point. Bell finds a base, makes an assumption, then builds three or four more assumptions from that base assumption to come up with an absolute. As I said in my own blog, I am still trying to figure what point he was making by telling us Hell translates as Gehanna which was a literal place.

    For a searching mind as Bell’s, this chapter was a disappointment. Not so much in what he said, but in how he chose to present it. It was rather flimsy.

    • Antwuan – thanks for stopping by and weighing in.

      I think Gehenna as a reference point is important because in Jesus’ day Gehenna was a vivid example of, well, “hell on earth.” It was a place that had been consecrated to the god Molech, human sacrifices were conducted there and there is some evidence that unwanted children were abandoned there and thrown into the fires. In other words it was way more than misery and being uncomfortable, it was immorality, cruelty, sin at its worst. It was something that Jesus’ followers wanted to avoid at all costs.

  4. Hey Terry, I appreciate your exploration of the book.

    Rob Bell is going to be here in Nashville tomorrow. What question would you ask him?

    • Rob – excellent question!

      Rob puts a great deal of stock in human freedom. I think I would ask why he holds such an optimistic viewpoint of humanity. He states that Jesus’ teaching is centered on our hearts being transformed in the here and now so that we can actually handle heaven. He also speaks of heaven holding the potential to be a starting over place and an opportunity to learn to be human all over again (50). If people regularly chose hell on earth here and now, what changes postmortem? If people reject the opportunity to start over and have their hearts transformed now, why would they then?

      What question did you ask him?

      Stay connected…

      Terry

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