Rob Bell: No Hell for Bell
By Kevin Probst
The evangelical movement in America erupted in controversy recently in reaction to Rob Bell’s new book; Love Wins: A Book About Heaven, Hell and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived. Bell is being both defended and demonized by passionate evangelicals. The conversation has reached volcanic proportions which could benefit Bell greatly in the sale of his book.
Rob Bell was born in 1970. His father was a federal judge appointed by Ronald Reagan to the federal judiciary. Bell grew up in a traditional Christian home. He attended Wheaton College and later achieved a Master of Divinity Degree from Fuller Theological Seminary.
Bell and his wife, Kristen, moved from California to Michigan and started a church in Grandville. Ironically, he named the church ‘Mars Hill Church’ after the place in the New Testament where Paul declared “I even found an altar with this inscription: TO AN UNKNOWN GOD.” (Acts 17:23) Mars Hill runs nearly 10,000 people on any given Sunday.
The theological beliefs on the Mars Hill website are written in narrative form. They affirm a belief in the inspiration of God’s Word and the sacrifice of Christ. The emphasis is on relationship. There is no mention of ‘hell’ and it appears they promote strongly the idea that the primary reason for the sacrifice of Christ is to restore relationship both to him and among ourselves. There is also no mention of ‘sin’. The narrative does indicate that the children of Israel disobeyed God and neglected the poor and ‘mistreated the foreigner”.
The controversy regarding Bell’s latest book involves his leanings toward universalism. If your ultimate goal is to appeal to the masses, especially youth, then universalism is the way to go. I’ve discovered in my teaching of apologetics and in my conversations with college-aged youth that well over 50% of them have no problem with accepting the idea that Jesus saves not only Christians but also Muslims, Buddhists, etc. They are either unaware of or they easily slough off the verse found in John 14:6 “Jesus said unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man comes to the Father, but by me”
The Universalist believes that all men will be saved in the end. But Jesus taught us to “Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.” (Matthew 7:13-14) Many Christians today are pondering the absence of hell in Rob Bell’s theology. The natural conclusion is that Bell is a Universalist. If God eventually saves all men there is no need for a hell. They believe if there is a hell, then it is temporary. Those in hell experience judgment for their sins but finally God’s love wins. Hell is emptied as each and every suffering soul responds to the grace of God. This teaching clearly contradicts the teaching of Christ. “These will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.” (Matt. 25:46)
Not only is Bell’s belief in hell questioned, his belief in the unique saving power of Christ is questioned. Pluralism is the belief that there is legitimacy in all religions and belief systems. Every major religion prepares a person for an eternal existence with God. Rob Bell stated, "I affirm the truth anywhere in any religious system, in any worldview. If it's true, it belongs to God." I too believe that all truth belongs to God. But, I believe in a hell and hell is full of God’s truth but hell is a curse, not a blessing. Though there may be some truth in every religious system it doesn’t mean that system is of God. Indeed, many religions that oppose Christianity were specifically designed to draw people away from Christ, not to him. It seems Rob Bell is promoting universalism and pluralism.
Truth is not something we can just pick and choose. The post-modernists would like to decide for themselves just what is and is not truth. The belief in hell is particularly despised in today’s culture. The argument goes something like this: God is so good he couldn’t possibly send any one to an eternal torment.
Theodicy is the defense of the divine attributes, especially the goodness and holiness of God in view of the evil that exists in the world. A multitude of modern ‘theologians’ have run to the defense of God. They believe God’s reputation has been sullied by theologians who, down through the centuries have attributed the existence of hell to him. I’m reminded of a statement Sarah Palin made recently, “I need NOW’s defense like a fish needs a bicycle.” Our omniscient, all-wise, all-knowing God is in no need of being defended by the puny minds of men.
It is incomprehensible that men who would bring mega-destruction over the last few decades, men who would allow multimillions of babies to be aborted, men who would delve into a lifestyle of immorality and unbelief think it their duty to demand that God answer for the existence of hell and redefine himself to suit their whims.
This failure to recognize hell is non-sensible. If there is light there must be darkness. If there is good there must be evil. If happiness exists then sadness must also exist. Is light not defined by darkness and good by evil and happiness by sadness. If you ask the typical fellow today if there is a heaven he will say ‘yes’. But if you ask if there is a hell he will say ‘no’. If there is a heaven must there also not be a hell? Is one not defined by the existence of the other?
The removal of hell from our theology will changed who God is. There must be equilibrium in our understanding of God. When we choose only to see the love of God we tend to diminish the justice of God. The existence of hell clarifies the love of God. God sent his only begotten Son to deliver us from such a place. If hell doesn’t exist then what has Christ saved us from? I’m not sure if those in heaven can peer into hell but if they can, would they not be even more convinced of the love of God?
Kevin Probst - Is a teacher of Apologetics and History at Calvary Christian School and Associate Pastor of Crosspointe Nazarene Church church in Columbus, Georgia.