After reading Rob Bell’s latest book, “Love Wins”…
I remain convinced that God will make heaven as good as it can be… and hell as bad as it needs to be.
We have every reason to trust whatever Jesus said and meant about the real danger of hellish loss in this life, and the judgment that the Father has entrusted to him in the world to come (John 5:22).
I also cannot deny my hope that Rob is right– that the Judge of all the earth has kept to himself a way of exacting full accountability– before showing mercy– by applying the atonement of Christ to everyone who voluntarily goes to their knees in confession that Jesus is Lord. That is my hope, but not my confidence.
The fact is that Rob (as he admits) doesn’t yet know that he is right about the exact nature of hell , or about the choices that all will, or will not have, beyond the grave…just as those who argue that hell is eternal conscious torment also do not yet know that they are right.
The language of the biblical text allows for possible implications, but not necessary ones (not at least when it comes to the exact nature or duration of conscious torment after the final judgment).
Possible implications of what God has revealed are one thing. Necessary implications another.
Over the years, I have seen older pastors who have spent a lifetime leading conservative, Bible believing congregations quietly admit that they were not convinced that hell would be eternal conscious torment– even if final and irreversible. I’ve also seen how harsh the criticism has been when, in my opinion, one of the most honorable of Christian statesmen admitted to the possibility of some kind of merciful annihilation of the lost at some point in eternity future.
I’ve watched the way we have allowed CS Lewis to speculate on his own unconventional vision of the lost (in The Great Divorce)… while continuing to value and enjoy all of the other provocative insights we’ve gained from him.
So I’m left wondering… are we allowing love (and truth) to win now… by using threats of group pressure and blackballing of brothers like Rob, and those who openly or secretly stand with him? Is that really the best way to maintain a strong and healthy orthodoxy?
Since those of us who are sure about what hell is like really are saying more than we know, does it makes sense to make forced affirmation of “eternal conscious torment” a test of fellowship?
I say all of this, while also being reminded that, in light of the immeasurable, eternal love of God, rather than in spite of it… “it is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God”… whether for a moment, for a long period of time, or forever.
Note added 4/16/11 In this post I am not accusing critics of RB of being divisive just because they are challenging him and his book. My concern is how we respond if we believe someone is opposing the truth.
When the Apostle Paul left Timothy in Ephesus to confront false teachers, he told him, and showed us, how that is to be done.
Paul said “The Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful. Opponents must be gently instructed, in the hope that God will grant them repentance, leading to a knowledge of the truth… ” 2Timothy 2:24-25
If, instead, we judge motives and character, rather than speaking the truth in love, we not only put ourselves in God’s place, but also lose a chance show the marks of a servant of God.
PS After reading some of the comments below, I need to add something here. My purpose in writing this blog is not to defend a book. So I’m not going to jump into the argument every time I think something needs to be said. But some things I can’t let go by. Everything in me says that anyone who says that the author is insulting or diminishing the cross of Christ is missing something.
A more compelling argument might be that the author makes too much of the Cross of Christ (which is hard for me even to write).
If you are interested in reading more, I came across a Christianity Today article that I believe provides important context and balance in this issue. You can find a 5 page article at this link:
Make sure you don’t assume first page is whole article.