Bell’s Hell

I suspect that Rob Bell’s new book will prove more subtle than MacArthur’s.

Maybe it doesn’t take much of a prophet to say that.

Here’s what I am betting Rob actually will say, in his book Love Wins.  I take a clue from a book by my former teacher, Lynn Gardner.  In Commending and Defending Christian Faith, he summarizes St. Augustine’s views on the final destiny of each of us:

In the end of time God will give people what they love most–sharing his presence or eternal separation from him.

In this way of thinking, it is possible that “love wins” could mean hell is an option for those who prefer to live without God.

This was also Dante’s view.  In his inscription on the gates of Hell one reads,

Primal love made me.

G. K. Chesterton said hell is a tribute to the dignity of man.  C.S. Lewis summarized this view, saying there are some who say to God, “Thy will be done,” and some to whom God will say, “Thy will be done.”

What these ways of thinking about hell have in common is that they see it not as an arbitrary punishment but as the consequence of God giving humans free choice.  In Dante’s vision of Hell the choice of sin and the punishment of sin are the same thing.

God loves us enough to let us have our choices and to let our choices be meaningful.

I think something like this is what Rob Bell will present as one possible option of what hell could mean.  I think he may well present as another possible option the real possibility that love really will win. God will find a way to reach every human being with his love and bring even the most hardened sinner to repentance, reconciliation, and redemption.

Hell, a place of punishment, could be a means to bring about this change of heart on the place of hardened sinners.  This was hinted at by many of the Eastern fathers.  The Scottish author George MacDonald, who so greatly influenced C.S. Lewis,  said,

God will not conquer evil by crushing it under-foot-any god of man’s idea could do that-but by conquest of heart over heart, of life over life, of life over death, of love over all.

I believe that no hell will be lacking which would help the just mercy of God to redeem his children (more here).

The great biblical commentator William Barclay agreed with his fellow Scotsman.  He cites the  Greek fathers Origen and Gregory of Nyssa, and refers to several passages in the New Testament (more here).

I think Rob will say there are a variety of options for understanding the final outcome that are compatible with the teaching of Scripture and the character of God.  I think he will say none of us can know for certain and humility behooves us.  What we do know is that we can trust God to have a solution that is consistent with his wisdom, power, and love.

I like what Scot McKnight said,

If there is an eternity, and I believe there is, and if there is a judgment, and I believe there is, then let us keep the immensity and gravity of it all in mind and refrain from flippancy, gloating, triumphalism — and let it reduce us to sobriety and humility and prayer (Jesus Creed).

[For a review from someone “who actually read the book,” check out Greg Boyd.]

7 Responses

  1. Do you intend on reading the book?

  2. I think I have to read it now. I don’t think I need to read MacArthur’s book, though.

  3. Ha! I’ll be very interested in hearing what you have to say about it. I think that part of the trouble is:

    1. Rob Bell (like Paul in many cases) strings together very long and complicated thoughts. This isn’t bad, but makes it difficult to quote him and have him make sense.

    2. He is really good about provoking thought and forcing people to investigate for their own, the truth.

    3. Church people don’t like either one or two. We want to know what the answer is, we expect our pastors to tell us the answer, and you must keep it simple.

  4. I think you hit the nail on the head, Cory. But maybe I should refrain from further comment until I have actually read the book.

  5. PS: I don’t know if you’re making an AC/DC joke in your title, but if you are, very funny. If you aren’t, still quite funny…

  6. The expression has been around a long time, but I remembered the song. I wasn’t exactly a follower of AC/DC and wasn’t sure if they were the band.

    But speaking of subtlety, there are not too many people that get it, on any level. Maybe that’s why it’s a good thing I’m reduced to plain language for a while.

  7. An initial thought I had was very much in line with what Gardner says.

    The thought of God using hell to bring people to repentance is also interesting. It seems a danger in teaching that is “Well then what is to restrain people now?” In other words…if people can live however they want only to eventually accept God after having a lot of “fun” – well, that line of thinking doesn’t understand the depths of God’s love I don’t think.

    The thought of God rescuing all those who have gone astray is interesting (even captivating) BUT what does that do with Satan? Is he beyond the scope of God’s saving?

    Uh…I think I’ll stop now.

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