Lots of Christians are angry at Rob Bell. They feel he is trying to rob them of their cherished beliefs about hell.
Hell, meaning a fire-and-brimstone place of eternal damnation for the billions upon billions who didn't learn about Jesus Christ or who weren't quick enough to profess Him before they died.
Rob Bell's latest book, Love Wins—A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived, published in March, has ignited a firestorm of controversy, revealing deep divides in Christendom. Bell is getting a good portion of passionate praise but seemingly a bigger portion of passionate criticism.
Bell's book is big news. Last week, my dentist asked me, “Have you heard about the new book about hell?” I said yes because I had just read the lead article in Time magazine with the question on the cover, “What if there's no Hell?”
Since my dentist was interested, I proceeded to give him and the dental assistant a 5-minute explanation of what the Bible really teaches about hell.
Who is Rob Bell?
Rob Bell is the popular pastor of 10,000-member Mars Hill Bible Church in Grand Rapids, Michigan. “Strange” religious viewpoints seldom get much attention. So why is Pastor Bell's viewpoint so newsworthy? It is because he is popular, charismatic and influential—considered a rock star among the evangelical Christians.
Now many of those evangelicals feel betrayed by one of their own. Their hero has become a villain.
Many religious leaders—including other big-name pastors—are verbally crucifying Bell, calling him a heretic, a radical and a wolf in sheep's clothing. Some now think Pastor Bell is going to hell.
The controversy is selling books. Love Wins is # 2 on the New York Times bestseller list.
Regarding Bell on hell, the amount of commentary on the Internet is amazing. I listened to several interviews with Bell and read quite a few op-ed pieces. I noticed that many people were analyzing Bell's book without having read it!
I believe in fairness. When I decided to write a commentary, I bought the book and read it. Not surprisingly, it made me realize how much of the news analysis has been distorted.
So what does Rob Bell say in Love Wins?
This commentary is way too short for a book report, but following are a few comments.
The book is a good read—it's interesting and enlightening. Bell wanted to be thought-provoking and he has done that.
It's fascinating that he brings up many biblical scriptures that are seldom mentioned because they contradict the mainstream orthodox evangelical teachings.
He is not nearly as dogmatic as his critics are saying. He largely is asking questions without trying to give all the answers.
He is being accused of being a universalist—an everybody-gets-saved-in-the-end universalist. Bell denies that. He believes it is only through Jesus Christ “by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12 Acts 4:12Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved.
American King James Version×). But he believes that many will have an opportunity for salvation “post-mortem”—after they have died. The God of grace doesn't cease to be gracious the second a person dies.
For example, he brings up Sodom and Gomorrah and points out that Jesus spoke about a positive future for the people of Sodom. Jesus scolded the people of Capernaum for their hard-hearted response to Him and said “it shall be more tolerable for the land of Sodom in the day of judgment than for you” (Matthew 11:24 Matthew 11:24But I say to you, That it shall be more tolerable for the land of Sodom in the day of judgment, than for you.
American King James Version×).
What Bell is emphasizing is that God is way more loving than the image of a wrathful God that sends people to a place of everlasting torment. He truly “desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Timothy 2:4 1 Timothy 2:4Who will have all men to be saved, and to come to the knowledge of the truth.
American King James Version×).
Note: The book disproves non-biblical traditions about heaven as much as those about hell. But many “Christians” are more upset about the thought of non-Christians not going to hell than they are about Christians not going to heaven! That shows how self-righteous and sadistic human nature can be.
Bell addresses the fundamental question: How can one explain that God is both all-loving and all-powerful? If He is all-loving and is trying to save everyone, then He is not all-powerful because He is largely failing in His efforts. If He is all powerful and able to save everyone, then He doesn't love everyone—He is only choosing a relative few.
Rob Bell is on the right track. If we liken God's plan to a jigsaw puzzle, Rob Bell is missing few key pieces that explain just how God is going to save most people in the long run. We understand those missing pieces and explain them in our booklets, Heaven and Hell—What Does the Bible Really Teach? and What is Your Destiny?