(I conclude my critique of Bell’s book and also provide further resources)
What Are The Implications of the Doctrine of Hell?
First, what are the implications of Bell’s view?
One issue is a modified view of God as his love has been redefined so that he is no longer holy. The view seems concerned with rescuing the reputation of God, rather than letting God speak for himself. This one attribute of God (love) is overemphasized and becomes an unscriptural sentimentalism where God’s love is a form of indulgence incompatible with his hatred of sin.[i] A second overemphasis is on man’s free will against God’s sovereignty. The biblical vision of God is rejected as too restrictive of human freedom, and the thought that God might send impenitent sinners to eternal punishment is disallowed.
Last, this view seems detrimental to unbelievers and those who may have “back-slid” from the faith. With the “second chance” in mind, my fear is that many will presume that they don’t have to respond to God’s offer of salvation in this life. They may reason that they have another chance in the next lifetime (if they are wrong in this lifetime). This lifetime really becomes immaterial on Bell’s view. I supposed that one could argue that by rejecting God’s goodness in this lifetime, we are remaining in “hell” here and now, so there should be some motivation to follow God. However, as mentioned above, the “hells” we experience now are mostly caused by others, not our own rejection of God. This view also relieves the church of the urgency to share Christ with others – the Great Commission goes by the wayside.
One the other hand, what are the implications for the Christian life if we do take the historic doctrine seriously?
I believe a more accurate view of God’s love and holiness will be seen. God’s holiness demands that we are perfect and since we are not, we are already separated from him. Because of our sin, we are deserving of eternal punishment separated from God. God’s love is such that he created us foreknowing that he would redeem us and send his Son to take our place on the cross to pay the penalty for our sins. God’s holiness and love are on full display on the cross.
God’s sovereignty and human free will are held in tension without overemphasizing one over the other. Part of God’s sovereign will is his knowledge that not all will come into a saving relationship with him (Romans 9:22-24). Our free will is also recognized since true love requires a “truly” free decision to follow God (rather than coercion). John the Baptist stated, “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God’s wrath remains on him” (John 3:36).
Most importantly, resolve on our part to share God’s plan of salvation will be evident. For many in the Church, there has been an underemphasis on the “hard sell” of hell, while overemphasizing the “soft sell” of the personal satisfaction through Jesus Christ. Our desire should be to spread the gospel (good news) that while we are separated from God by our sin and deserving of eternal punishment, God offers a free gift of salvation. Jesus does provide us joy and an abundant life (John 10:10), but that does not necessarily mean a life without suffering.
This paper began in an attempt to properly evaluate Rob Bell’s view of hell in his latest book, Love Wins. Although I resonate with Bell that this doctrine is not appealing, it becomes more difficult to abolish or revise our understanding of it in light of the Scriptures. Bell’s view was shown to be a nuanced form of universalism with serious differences with the traditional historic view of hell which is clearly supported by Scripture. Bell did not provide adequate historical information on the early church’s view of hell nor the doctrinal consensus up until the 20th century. I also provided refutations to three main tenants (as a foundation) to his alternate view, which if shown to be false, collapse his argument onto itself.
After some definitional issues for essential, secondary and tertiary doctrine, Bell’s view was found to differ on core elements of Christian belief, thus qualifying it as “false doctrine.” Judgmentalism was compared with judgment to set a proper tone in interacting with Bell’s views or any other doctrinal issues that are discussed. Last, some implications of both Bell’s view and the historic view of hell were surveyed.
I think it is fitting to end this paper with a proper perspective of hell which accounts for missing elements in Bell’s book – God’s holiness and the seriousness of man’s propensity to sin. D.A. Carson stated the following in an interview with Lee Strobel:
“Hell is not a place where people are consigned because they were pretty good blokes, but they just didn’t believe the right stuff. They’re consigned there, first and foremost, because they defy their maker and want to be at the center of the universe. Hell is not filled with people who have already repented, only God isn’t gentle enough or good enough to let them out. It’s filled with people who, for all eternity, still want to be the center of the universe and who persist in their God-defying rebellion.
What is God to do? If he says it doesn’t matter to him, then God is no longer a God to be admired. He’s either amoral or positively creepy. For him to act in any other way in the face of such blatant defiance would be to reduce God himself.”[ii]
I am thankful for a God who sent his Son to die in my place and pay the penalty for my sins. I am thankful for the Holy Spirit who convicted me of my sin, such that I understood I could not atone for my sin alone, but rather placed my trust in the risen Jesus. I pray that my life will be a testimony to others of the love that God has shown me and I pray for courage and strength to share this Gospel with others who are currently under condemnation and destined for hell. May the doctrine of hell be on my mind daily as a reminder that others need to hear of God’s plan of reconciliation. Amen.
J.I. Packer, delivered a lecture at Cardiff in 1991 entitled Human Destiny available here – http://against-heresies.blogspot.com/2010/11/hell-annihilation-and-human-destiny-j-i.html
Christopher W. Morgan and Robert A. Peterson, ed., Hell Under Fire (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 2004)
Francis Chan and Preston Sprinkle, Erasing Hell: What God Said About Eternity, and the Things We’ve Made Up (Colorado Springs, Colorado: David C Cook, 2011).
Kevin DeYoung, “God is Still Holy and What You Learned in Sunday School is Still True: A Review of Love Wins by Rob Bell” available at www.thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/kevindeyoung
Mark Galli, God Wins: Heaven, Hell and Why the Good News is Better Than Love Wins (Carol Spring, Illinois: Tyndale House Publishers, 2011).
Walter Martin, ed. Hank Hanegraaff, The Kingdom of the Cults (Minneapolis, Minnesota: Bethany House Publishers, 1997).
Harold O.J. Brown, Heresies: Heresy and Orthodoxy in the History of the Church (Peabody, Massachusetts: Hendrickson Publishers, 1988).
Lee Strobel, Case for Faith (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 2000).
Lee Strobel, Case for Christ (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 1998).
[i] R. Albert Mohler Jr., “Modern Theology: The Disappearance of Hell” in Modern Scholarship Reinvents Eternal Punishment: Hell Under Fire, 37-38.
[ii] Lee Strobel, Case for Christ (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 1998), 164-166.