Full disclosure: to date, I have embraced all that I’ve read from Rob Bell. However, I can’t say the same for his controversial new book, Love Wins.
I get why Bell saw the need to write a book like this; there are lots of big questions and scary misconceptions on the topic of hell. I applaud him for taking the risk. But I’m not at all sure he got it right.
This book attempts to present a view of hell that stands in opposition to the thinking of the “turn or burn” crowd, which uses hell to scare people into heaven. But by pushing back against that caricature, Bell has swung too far in the other direction, into what clearly appears to be universalism (the belief that God will eventually save everyone and that there is no eternal hell).
I’ll admit that I love the possibility of this being God’s plan. But I just can’t square it with either the Bible or 2,000 years of God-held Christian tradition. Parables of rich men and beggars, foolish virgins, and sheep and goats all seem to speak of a point of no return, of some kind of eternal hellish reality (along with a few other biblical texts). Surely the church hasn’t been totally wrong on this issue, has it?
There are all kinds of scriptural references that seem to support a more universalistic perspective (“I am making everything new,” Rev, 21:5). And there are just as many verses that seem to support an eternally hot and fiery hell. So what’s a thoughtful Christian to do?
Perhaps the Bible’s ambiguity is meant to point us to a greater truth; that none of us can know or understand the mind of God. Everything about who God is and how he thinks is fraught with mystery. He’s all-powerful and good and yet he allowed evil to infiltrate his good creation. God solved that problem of evil by mysteriously taking on human flesh, and then let himself be inexplicably crucified. God is sovereign even as he has given us free will. God is three even as he is one.
So who are we, on either side of this hell issue, to make a judgment on what God’s take is on such a weighty eternal matter?
I hope Bell’s book stimulates all kinds of healthy dialogue regarding the doctrine of hell. And I pray that, as we engage this complex and mysterious topic, humility wins.