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Contents: "Love Wins" | My Thoughts | Additional Reading
Bell's "Love Wins":
Bell is an author, speaker and former pastor. Bell founded Mars Hill Bible Church in Grandville, Michigan, one of the fastest-growing churches in America.
Bell says in Love Wins,
He doesn't say there is no hell, but Bell believes though that at ANY TIME (including after death) if someone asks God for forgiveness and asks God if they can return to the flock, God will forgive them and welcome them back- think father in the prodigal son.
Bell says, "At the center of the Christian tradition since the first church, have been a number who insist that history is not tragic, hell is not forever, and love, in the end, wins and all will be reconciled to God."
Bell says he is only raising the possibility that theological rigidity - and thus a faith of exclusion - is a dangerous thing. He believes in Jesus' atonement.
Some say that the book was written for neo-fundamentalists, as one evangelical theoogian called them, who are smug in the knowledge that they are among the few who will be saved. Others call Bell's arguments themselves smug and condescending.
Based on the promotional video before the book was published, evangelical pastor, John Piper, tweeted, "Farewell Rob Bell," which many take to be Piper's dismissal of Bell from the evangelical world.
In A fundamentalist's review of rob bell's new book: love wins Benjamin Kerns at AverageYouthMinistry.com says,
"Bell paints the picture of his community being one of love, peace, art, and beauty while contrasting it with the knuckle dragging church folk who think that only they are in the "in group."
Some passages from Bell's book "Love Wins"1 that struck me.
Salvation and Grace vs Works p.5
Preface: A staggering number of people have been taught that a select few Christians will spend forever in a peaceful, joyous place called heaven, while the rest of humanity spends forever in torment and punishment in hell with no chance for anything better. It’s been clearly communicated to many that this belief is a central truth of the Christian faith and to reject it is, in essence, to reject Jesus. This is misguided and toxic and ultimately subverts the contagious spread of Jesus’s message of love, peace, forgiveness, and joy that our world desperately needs to hear.
Chapter 1 - What about the flat tire
Some believe he would have had to say a specific prayer.Christians don’t agree on exactly what this prayer is, but for many the essential idea is that the only way to get into heaven is to pray at some point in your life, asking God to forgive you and telling God that you accept Jesus, you believe Jesus died on the cross to pay the price for your sins, and you want to go to heaven when you die. Some call this “accepting Christ,” others call it the “sinner’s prayer,” and still others call it “getting saved,” being “born again,” or being “converted.” (P. 5)
The flat tire refers to a remote people group who were not reached because a missionary got a flat tire on the way to tell them about Jesus.
"If this understanding of the good news of Jesus prevailed among Christians, the belief that Jesus's message is about how to get somewhere else, you could possibly end up with a world in which millions of people were starving, thirsty, and poor; the earth was being exploited and polluted; disease and despair were everywhere; and Christians weren't known for doing much about it." (p. 7)
This describes many of my conservative Christian friends who are against environmentalists, solutions to climate change (What global warming?) and healthcare for the poor.
Bell goes on, "If it got bad enough, you might even have people rejecting Jesus because of how his followers lived." (p. 7)
That has already happened with my late wife. They will say you have to have a "personal relationship" with God. The problem, however, is that the phrase “personal relationship” is found nowhere in the Bible. (p. 9)
Bell lists different Conditions for Salvation - p. 12
Chapter 2 - Here is the New There
The title refers to, In Jesus’s first-century Jewish world people did not talk about a future life somewhere else, because they anticipated a coming day when the world would be restored, renewed, and redeemed and there would be peace on earth. (P.39)
Bell adds some humor p 24:
It often appears that those who talk the most about going to heaven when you die talk the least about bringing heaven to earth right now, as Jesus taught us to pray: “Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” At the same time, it often appears that those who talk the most about relieving suffering now talk the least about heaven when we die. (p. 45).
Jesus is hanging on the cross between two insurgents when one of them says to him, “Remember me when you come into your kingdom.”
Notice that the man doesn’t ask to go to heaven. He doesn’t ask for his sins to be forgiven. He doesn’t invite Jesus into his heart. He doesn’t announce that he now believes.
He simply asks to be remembered by Jesus in the age to come. He wants to be a part of it. Of course.
Jesus assures him that he’ll be with him in paradise . . . that day. (p. 54)
Sometimes when Jesus used the word “heaven,” he was simply referring to God, using the word as a substitute for the name of God.
Bell starts off saying, "I want to show you every single verse in the Bible in which we find the actual word "hell." (p. 64)
One of them is the Hebrew word "Sheol," a dark, mysterious, murky place people go when they die, as in Psalm 18: "The cords of Sheol entangled me" (NRSV).
Next, then, the New Testament. The actual word "hell" is used roughly twelve times in the New Testament, almost exclusively by Jesus himself. The Greek word that gets translated as "hell" in English is the word "Gehenna." Ge means "valley," and henna means "Hinnom." Gehenna, the Valley of Hinnom, was an actual valley on the south and west side of the city of Jerusalem.
Jesus says in Matthew 5, “Anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell,” and “It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell.” In Matthew 10:28-29 and Luke 12 he says, “Be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell,” and in Matthew 18 and Mark 9 he says, “It is better for you to enter life with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into the fire of hell.” In Matthew 23 he tells very committed religious leaders that they win converts and make them “twice as much a child of hell” as they are, and then he asks them, “How will you escape being condemned to hell?” (p. 68)
The other Greek word is "Hades." Obscure, dark, murky--Hades is essentially the Greek version of the Hebrew word "Sheol." We find the word "Hades" in Revelation 1, 6, and 20 and in Acts 2, which is a quote from Psalm 16. (p. 69)
Jesus uses the word in Matthew 11 and Luke 10: “You will go down to Hades”; in Matthew 16: “The gates of Hades will not overcome it”; and in the parable of the rich man and the beggar Lazarus in Luke 16.
So how should we think, or not think, about hell?
Bell goes on to describe Hell on earth, maiming of children in Rwanda, people who go out of their way to hurt others, Spousal abuse, ... and says,
What we see in Jesus’s story about the rich man and Lazarus is an affirmation that there are all kinds of hells, because there are all kinds of ways to resist and reject all that is good and true and beautiful and human now, in this life, and so we can only assume we can do the same in the next. (p. 79).
So what about the passages in the Bible that don’t specifically mention the word “hell,” but clearly talk about judgment and punishment? (p. 79).
Many people in our world have only ever heard hell talked about as the place reserved for those who are “out,” who don’t believe.
Jesus did not use hell to try and compel “heathens” and “pagans” to believe in God, so they wouldn’t burn when they die. He talked about hell to very religious people to warn them about the consequences of straying from their God-given calling and identity to show the world God’s love. (p. 82).
In Matthew 10, he warns the people living in the village of Capernaum, “It will be more bearable for Sodom and Gomorrah on the day of judgment than for you.” (p. 84).
In Lamentations 3, the poet declares: "People are not cast off by the Lord forever, though he brings grief, he will show compassion, so great is his unfailing love." (p. 85)
In Hosea 14 God says: "I will heal their waywardness and love them freely for my anger has turned away from them."
He goes on to point to the many references to restoration in Zephaniah 2
Bell goes on to reference Paul's comments about turning people over to Satan (1 Timothy). In 1 Corinthians 5:4-5 he tells his friends to hand a certain man “over to Satan for the destruction of the sinful nature so that his spirit may be saved on the day of the Lord” (p. 90).
Of the Matthew 25:31-46 about sheep and goats Bell says,
An aion of kolazo. Depending on how you translate aion and kolazo, then, the phrase can mean “a period of pruning” or “a time of trimming,” or an intense experience of correction.
In a good number of English translations of the Bible, the phrase “aion of kolazo” gets
translated as “eternal punishment,” which many read to mean “punishment forever,” as in never going to end.
The closest the Hebrew writers come to a word for “forever” is the word olam. Olam can be translated as “to the vanishing point,” “in the far distance,” “a long time,” “long lasting,” or “that which is at or beyond the horizon.” When olam refers to God, as in Psalm 90 (“from everlasting to everlasting you are God”), it’s much closer to the word “forever” as we think of it, time without beginning or end. But then in the other passages, when it’s not describing God, it has very different meanings, as when Jonah prays to God, who let him go down into the belly of a fish “forever” (olam) and then, three days later, brought him out of the belly of the fish. (p. 92).
To summarize, then, we need a loaded, volatile, adequately violent, dramatic, serious word to describe the very real consequences we experience when we reject the good and true and beautiful life that God has for us. We need a word that refers to the big, wide, terrible evil that comes from the secrets hidden deep within our hearts all the way to the massive, society-wide collapse and chaos that comes when we fail to live in God’s world God’s way.
And for that,
1. Bell, Rob (2011). Love Wins: A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived. Harper Collins, Inc.. Kindle Edition.
One one of my main questions of Christianity is why would good people who were agnostics or of a different religion (Mohandas Gandhi is the frequent example) or people who never had a chance to hear about Christ (30-40% of the world's population at the beginning of the 21st century), be subjected to hell.
On a personal note, my late wife who at various times claimed to be an atheist, an agnostic or just opposed the the hypocrisy of organized Churches, had stronger morals and ethics than most of my Christian friends. Why would a just God not save her?
We met with several conservative christians friends, after she was diagnosed with terminal cancer. And although they believed you were going to hell if you were not born again, they did not offer her or me any help in her salvation, but I didn't ask for it.
I've told some of my born again Christian friends that I'd rather be in hell with my wife and people like her than in heaven with many of my "Born Again" friends.
In my opinion it takes fear of punishment to get some people to do what is right.
In "Kohlberg's Stages Of Moral Development: Implications For Theology", Jackson Snyder observes:
The Golden Rule "Do to others what you would have them do to you. " [Matt. 7:12]
It reminds me of my 30+ year career in the Bell Telephone System, the original culture was to spend up front time hiring the best people and you would not get fired unless you did something morally or ethically bad. You might not get a raise or promotion, but it was hard to get fired.
Maybe God wasn't completely clear with the Bible authors about his intentions for hell. At least he wasn't threatening another flood.
C.S. Lewis' book "The Great Divorce", and allegorical fable, where people take a bus ride thru heaven and hell after they die, deals with this issue, although Lewis said he was not promoting "universalism" (Universal Salvatiion).
Other Bible Passages, from Judgement, Salvation and Eternal Life which I wrote in 2004:
One recommended review, by J. Wischkaemper [referred to as JW here.] at Amazon says,
JW also talks about NT Wright, who is on Bell's reading list.
1. "The Importance of Hell", by Tim Keller, pastor of the Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York, says, "The doctrine of hell is important because it is the only way to know how much Jesus loved us and how much he did for us."
2. "The Problem with Christus Victor.", in ChristianityToday, by Mark Galli, a senior managing editor there.
You can come up with passages to prove contrary arguments. For example,
"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]
So we can ask the same question Bell does, "Which is it?"
On Jesus in every square inch of creation, see Robert Farrar Capon's The Mystery of Christ
On hell, see C. S. Lewis's The Great Divorce
On the cross, see Mark Baker's Proclaiming the Scandal of the Cross
On the two sons in the story Jesus tells, see Timothy Keller's The Prodigal God
On growth and change and all that, see Richard Rohr's The Naked Now and Everything Belongs
On who and what God is, see Huston Smith's The Soul of Christianity
On resurrection and new creation, see N. T. Wright's book Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church