Bell on Hell

When Rob Bell speaks you have to listen. He is so compelling, so likeable, so confident. He has a contagious love for Jesus. He uses images, and metaphors, and ideas with incredible dexterity. So when he poetically probes questions about hell, we question too. He rightly wonders about people who feel they must declare proudly and noisily that Gandhi is in hell. He does a great job of deconstructing the hellfire and brimstone people, ones who see God getting glory out of people burning in hell. There are frustratingly many of these, though it’s much less common in the evangelicals associated with Western Seminary or the churches I minister in.

He outlines his view: At the end of the age, God’s love overcomes every objection and everyone comes to know and accept Jesus. This is not the “all roads lead to God” type of universalism, but a Christian universalism with salvation only through the name of Jesus. He cites passages like Philippians 2:10 and Colossians 1:20.

Bell centers on the deep deep love of God. Ironically this is one of his weaker spots. When he insists, “love wins,” he makes God more like the dominating husband demanding his own way than the triune God of the Bible, the God who will let you choose, the one who will let you love someone else. The God of the Bible is something like a jilted husband, grieving for His lost covenant partner. Bell’s God largely does a pass on the anger that love raises up when confronted with persistent sin and evil, the God who is like an outraged father whose daughter has been abused. Forgiveness and reconciliation come only at great expense and are easily derailed through one party’s resistance.

He asks a good question: Does God want all to be saved? My answer is absolutely. The God who seeks Adam and Eve out after their sin seeks everyone. John 3:16, 1 Timothy 2:4, 2 Peter 3:9 are very clear. Then he asks does God get what he wants? My synthesis of the biblical data says He does not. God draws (John 12:32), convicts (John 16:8-11) and leads (Rom. 2:4-11) every human being toward His kindness. Anyone who responds to this drawing will find a God who initiates in grace, eager to reveal Messiah Jesus through various means. Those who like Jesus and want to be like Him and with Him doing the cool things He likes to do will be there and do that forever.

But He also allows the many of the ones He draws to persist in their demand to run their own lives as they see fit — often for very bad reasons — and reject His love. if you don’t like doing the things Jesus does, then you get to live in a place we call hell. Bell correctly says that there are many Middle Ages pictures of hell that are very non-biblical and shreds them. But he also shreds the fact of the self centeredness that makes people reject the self-giving way of Jesus. He shreds the biblical concept of sin, which Luther termed curvatus in se, bent in on self. This means separation from God for all and punishment for evil doers.

I believe there are different levels of hell. Matt. 11:20ff is one place this is clear. So for many, hell is the place of ultimate selfishness after God gives them over (Rom. 1:24ff) to their own desires, an ultimately self-centered place they think they want. But that’s a very alone existence, completely absent of the self-giving love of God. For evildoers, especially those guilty of spiritual evil, that will be a place of terrible punishment. It will be existence – not living – under His curse, in the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. (Mat 25:41)

What really hacks me is that Bell actually changes the very text of Scripture to fit his view (Matt 25:46; details below for those who want specifics). He does it without any justification or even telling us that he’s doing it. And then he accuses people who follow the text of reading foreign concepts into the text. Astounding. Absolutely astounding. And completely unacceptable.

The other big scale issue is that he has virtually no gospel left. As he deconstructs the whacked gospel of the hell fire and brimstone preachers, he makes the Bible seem as if there’s just total confusion and then never says what Jesus’ provision is nor what our response should be. His discussion bypasses the whole issue of sin and stays quite vague about what Jesus accomplished on the Cross. Not good.

Finally he begins his book with Gandhi because most people think him a super good guy and therefore must be headed to heaven. Anyone who says he’s in hell obviously is a bigoted fundamentalist. But Gandhi investigated Jesus and rejected Him, choosing to be a Hindu and worship the Hindu gods. His form of non-violence led to a civil war in which vast numbers were injured and killed. The division and hatred continue to this day. Now contrast Gandhi with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Dr. King investigated Jesus and embraced Him. His revolution was largely blood free and the reconciliation which he initiated, though incomplete, continues to this day.

What should we do with hell? Denying it’s existence is like denying that I have cancer. I appreciate Mark Driscoll’s sermon on Luke 16. I resonate deeply with his tears at the thought of people going to hell and his passion to spread the old old story of Jesus and His love given freely so they can find life. Then it will be true that LOVE WINS.

The best review of Love Wins is by Ben Witherington of Asbury Seminary does a chapter by chapter review. The links are here:

There is a chronology of written and video reviews on Resurgence.com

I particularly like John Mark Reynolds of the Torrey Honors Institute: here: .

Now some details: According to every English translation of Matthew 25:46 – Jewish , Catholic, mainline, and evangelical – Jesus says that goats go into eternal punishment. Anyone who goes against every single translation has to give really good reason for it. Let’s take a look. In Greek the words are aion
ion kolasis
. No matter what lexicon you select, the only translation is “eternal punishment” or words with the same meaning. But Bell changes the text to aion kolazo. Rather than an adjective modifying a noun, it’s two nouns which really makes no sense. He has to add “of” to make it work. Why does he do that? There are no textual variants, no manuscript evidence, no scholarly questions behind the change; just Bell’s chutzpah that wants to update Jesus. What’s the significance? If you look up the changed words in Bauer, Denker, Arndt & Gingrich, the standard Bible era lexicon, the meaning will still be “eternal punishment.” But if we go to Liddell & Scott, the standard lexicon of classic Greek, the language of philosophers like Plato and Aristotle from some 400 years prior to the biblical era, you can find a rare meaning, “prune.” So Bell constructs the meaning “a period of pruning.” But if the word modifying punishment (or pruning) is for a period of time that ends, then it has to have the same meaning when it modifies life. Does Bell really believe our life with God comes to an end after a while? The big offense here is that he never mentions the fact that he changes the biblical words. And then he accuses people who follow the Jesus’ words of reading categories and concepts into the phrase that aren’t there.

5 thoughts on “Bell on Hell

  1. “He rightly wonders about people who feel they must declare proudly and noisily that Gandhi is in hell. He does a great job of deconstructing the hellfire and brimstone people, ones who see God getting glory out of people burning in hell. There are frustratingly many of these, though it’s much less common in the evangelicals associated with Western Seminary or the churches I minister in.”

    Gary — It appears that Gandhi rejected Christ. All who reject Christ are in hell. They are there for no other reason than because they do not believe. Only the sins of believers were atoned for on the cross. God doesn’t *get* glory … He is all that glory is. And he is all-sufficient in His glory. God will be glorified by people *burning* (your choice of words, not mine) in hell because what He said would happen to those who do not believe did happen. His word is true and so is He — that demonstrates His glory.

    “He asks a good question: Does God want all to be saved? My answer is absolutely. The God who seeks Adam and Eve out after their sin seeks everyone. John 3:16, 1 Timothy 2:4, 2 Peter 3:9 are very clear. Then he asks does God get what he wants? My synthesis of the biblical data says He does not. God draws (John 12:32), convicts (John 16:8-11) and leads (Rom. 2:4-11) every human being toward His kindness. Anyone who responds to this drawing will find a God who initiates in grace, eager to reveal Messiah Jesus through various means. Those who like Jesus and want to be like Him and with Him doing the cool things He likes to do will be there and do that forever.”

    Gary — this part of your post is quite troubling. These passages you mention are quite clear if one is Arminian in their theology. It amazes me that the head of the theology department at an Evangelical seminary doesn’t get the difference between a Reformed view of theology and an Arminian view. Obviously, if Scripture is trying to teach that God “desires” to save everyone, then the good Bible student must ask: Why doesn’t God do what He apparently desires to do in 1 Timothy 2 and elsewhere, namely, save everyone? If He’s the God of Scripture, he certainly must be able to at least do what He wants to do. Clearly, even
    a bad theologian will admit that God does not save everyone. Why then doesn’t He do what Scripture suggests that he wants to do? I
    propose that there are only four possible ways of dealing with this:
    1. He can’t do what he wants to do; or
    2. He won’t do what he wants to do; or
    3. He doesn’t want to do what he wants to do; or
    4. He has no intention of desiring to save every single
    individual when Scripture says He desires to save
    all men because Scripture uses all in many different
    ways, one of which means “some only.” And in this
    passage it seems quite clear that what God desires to
    do, and does do, is to save “all kinds of men.”

    • I will certainly stand by what is in Bible. And I surely know the difference between Reformed and Arminian theologies. Of course these are not the only two possibilities: there many other between and beyond them. So you accusation that I don’t know the difference is a bit strange. So when I look at passages like 1 Tim 2 where it says in so many words that He desires to save all and that all is the same as in verse 1 where it clearly includes unsaved people, I have to conclude by context that in some sense He desires the salvation of all including those who do not get saved. Thus my comments. Your list of possibilities simply does not include all the options since it has only one will involved and no matter how you connect your theological dots, there are other wills involved or Acts 13:46 makes no sense at all. I just can’t go with inserting “all kinds of” when it’s no where in the text or context. Sounds like isogesis to me.

  2. Gerry,

    A fair and excellent review of Love Wins. It is deeply disturbing to see Bell engage in scripture tampering (!) and I’m glad you pointed that out.
    Ravi Zacharias said it best I believe once when he was discussing the reality of hell: he said something to the effect of God saying “You want to live without me and shake your fist at me? After all that I have done for you, very well then, I second your motion…”… God grants those who thrive on anger, violence and other ills those very things. That is what they want, that is what they receive.

    Bell seems to imply that people who reject God on earth will be open to repenting after death. But this is very unlikely, given the hardness of heart of many. I think of someone like Bertrand Russell, who not only shook his fist at God and popularized this rebellion. Odds are he still has no desire to be in the presence of those who love God and in God’s presence.

    Further, a place of separation between such and between those who love God and neighbor is a logical necessity, if we believe that love is one of God’s energies. Why would He subject His children to the anger, hate, violence of the children of the evil one? By necessity, He would have to separate the two.

  3. @really?

    1) “Evolution is a fact of existence.” – Prove it! Show the evidence!

    2) “mark driscoll is a misogynistic imbicile” – How does name calling prove anything? Based upon the fact that you insulted someone else, without providing proper grounds for doing so, you have discredited your own words. Why would anyone take you seriously?

    3) “there is zero evidence for the concept of ‘original sin.’” – Evidence exists. Firstly, the Bible is evidence. Secondly, sin exists in the world today. Lastly, there are some in the world who know God and some who don’t. This proves that whatever damage original sin has caused, it is now being corrected.

    4) “hell does not exist in the old testament” – In the NIV translation of the Bible, the word “hell” is not even found in the Old Testament. However, this doesn’t mean that the concept of Hell is not found. Rather, Daniel 12:2 NIV states, “Multitudes who sleep in the dust of the earth will awake: some to everlasting life, others to shame and everlasting contempt.” Despite this, it is also important to understand that the concept of Hell was fully developed and given to us by Christ Himself. Which is significant, because Jesus is God. He spoke of this to warn people of the impending doom. Does that not make sense? A God who loves us would warn us of the direction we are heading? God doesn’t want any human to go to hell (which is evidenced by the fact that Christ made it clear Hell was created for the devil and his angels in Matthew 25:41). However, the choice is ours.

    5) Confusion exists between final judgment and death. In the King James, the word “Hell” was used for both. However, in modern translations like the NIV and NASB, the translators made it more evident which was which.

    6) “snap out of it” – How do you know that Gerry (and I) needs to snap out of it. Both of us have life stories where God Himself showed us the truth. We once were deluded by man made ideologies–much like the one you quoted. Now, we know God in truth. Just because you don’t know Him doesn’t mean that we don’t.

    If you truly wanted to know God, you could find Him as He is not far from anyone of us. Within each of us is a deep need for Him that no one can remove. We try to cover it up with philosophies, pleasures, excuses, and much more. However, at the end of the day, we are always left with questions like “why do I exist?”, “what’s the point all this?”, “why can’t I be happy?”, “why do things have to be this way?”, “is this truly it?”, “am I alone in the universe?”, and much more.

    I suspect, however, that you do not want to know God. And based upon the article provided, I also suspect that you have made it your mission to stop others from knowing Him as well. However, for as many people who have railed against Christ, He persists because He lives. We love Him, we worship Him, and we follow Him because He is true. We know Him and know His voice. I pray that you might know Him too for there is nothing greater in all existence than to know Him who made us and loves us.

  4. Ignoring the fact that this essay was written in comic sans and should rightly be discarded, I think you need to know a few things:

    1) evolution is a fact of existence. there is more evidence that you evolved from an ape than the fact that an apple will drop from your hand if you let go of it.

    2) mark driscoll is a misogynistic imbicile who doesn’t understand that he shares a common ancestor with a gorilla even though he quite certainly has a mirror (for manscaping and checking out the fit of his MMA costume)

    3) there is zero evidence for the concept of “original sin.” at what point in the last 200,000 years of human history did god inject it into our species?

    4) hell does not exist in the old testament. look up any place it says hell and read the hebrew translation. sheol = grave/pit where everyone goes when they die.

    5) you should take the hell test: http://tentmaker.org/articles/hell_test.html

    6) you should read this article and snap out of it: http://kim-harris.com/2011/06/15/christianity-believe-it-or-else/

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.