Monthly Archives: May 2011

Challies: “I am not by nature an organized person”

In his latest post, How I Get Things Done, “iron-man” blogger Tim Challies declares,

I am not by nature an organized person!

Oh my goodness! OK, wait. So Tim Challies is not by nature an organized person, yet manages to be super-productive (at least from my vantage point). So using excellent technology tools must somehow make a person organized and productive, right? But like Tim, duh, I use technology too, ‘nough said. Thanks for sharing!

Actually, I often ask myself, with a mix of envy, admiration and exasperation, just how do folks like Challies get so much done? So I do appreciate the “insider’s” post about the secret technology that helps him with his productivity. But Tim, there’s more to it than that, right? If technology could make everyone as productive as you, well it would be worth buying it… all. But we all know that technology- in and of itself- doesn’t make the lazy guy stop being lazy, or the disorganized, unfocused person suddenly get on target.

So Tim, thanks for sharing the techno info, really, but puh-lease, let me/us know more about being organized from a heart perspective, brother. For I think that’s where the problem lies with most of us.

Have a blessed and productive day, my friend!

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Filed under From Me to You, Humor

Is Hell Reasonable? (Part 2)

In my article titled Lady Gaga, Rob Bell and Hell, I discussed a comment made on a Lady Gaga video that I thought exemplifies a common view these days.  The view says because “God is love”, we ought not to judge one another.  Furthermore, this view believes that a loving God will not judge/punish anyone by sending them to an eternal hell, for this would go against His kindhearted nature.  It is thought that a loving God will accept everyone– He will simply forgive everyone for their sins, whether or not they have believed in and received Jesus Christ as Savior from sin.

Some believe God will save all, no matter what their religion– all religions lead to God.  And if there is a hell, many suppose it is the destiny of the Hitlers, Stalins and Mansons of this world, not their own.  “Surely really bad sinners deserve to go to hell, but I’m not that bad”.   These unscriptural, universalistic, inclusivistic perspectives are not new, but they seem to be on the rise, even being embraced by many who call themselves Christians.  Such views reflect the relativistic spirit of our times.

This is why I have been discussing Rob Bell’s controversial new book, Love Wins– because it also clearly leans in this theological direction and influences Bell’s presentation of hell.  As mentioned in last week’s post, Is Hell Reasonable (Part 1), Bell’s assumptions about the nature of God (and perhaps about the nature of justice) lead to him to particular conclusions about what hell is like.   For Bell, hell is not a place of eternal punishment and separation from God, but rather hell is two things. First, it’s what we suffer in this life when we don’t choose to follow God.  Second, Bell suggests that after death, hell may be a place where people undergo “a period of pruning, or a “time of trimming” or an intense period of correction (Love Wins, p.91)”.  He claims hell can’t possibly be a place of unending punishment, for such a place would not exalt God. Bell writes,

“Restoration brings God glory; eternal torment doesn’t. Reconciliation brings God glory; endless anguish doesn’t. Renewal and return cause God’s greatness to shine through the universe; never-ending punishment doesn’t.

Bell also claims that the view that God will ultimately reconcile all things to Himself, in such a way that even after death people have “endless opportunities in an endless amount of time to say yes to God (p.106)”, has been with the church from the beginning.  He writes,  “At the center of the Christian tradition since the first church have been a number that insist that history is not tragic, hell is not forever, and love, in the end wins and all will be reconciled to God.”

Notice how Bell implies that if people go to hell as a place of eternal punishment and separation from God, God has tragically failed to achieve His purpose. Bell makes this thought even more clear when he asks, “Will all people be saved, or will God not get what God wants? Does this magnificent, marvelous, mighty God fail in the end?”

But Bell comes to this false conclusion based on a faulty premise. God has not failed if/when people go to hell. For Scripture and Jesus Himself make it clear, over and over again, that not all are saved; some indeed do go to hell, and this occurs within the plan of God.

“Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few (Matthew 7:13-14 ESV)”

“for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins (Matthew 26:28 ESV)”

…Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her (Ephesians 5:25 ESV)

“Then he will answer them, saying, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life (Matthew 25:45-46 ESV)”

All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out (John 6:37)”

[18] So then he has mercy on whomever he wills, and he hardens whomever he wills. [19] You will say to me then, “Why does he still find fault? For who can resist his will?” [20] But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, “Why have you made me like this?” [21] Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for dishonorable use? [22] What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, [23] in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory—[24] even us whom he has called, not from the Jews only but also from the Gentiles? (Romans 9:18-24 ESV)

The above is but a small sampling of Bible verses that demonstrate: 1) Jesus did not die indiscriminately for all mankind, but specifically, for His sheep; 2) the destiny of some people is to go away into eternal punishment; and 3) everything unfolds according to God’s plan.

Bell really has no solid biblical ground for asserting that the traditional concept of hell does not glorify God. If Scripture reveals that God created an eternal hell in which evildoers are punished forever, demonstrating His justice, who are we to say such a place cannot exist, or that it would not be loving of God to make such a place, or that it would not glorify Him? It may sound plausible to think God would be most glorified in ultimately converting all His enemies. But Scripture is clear that this is not what happens.  Some are destined for hell, nevertheless God will receive glory from this fact.

Last time, I suggested that the following assertions about hell could be drawn from Bell’s thought in Love Wins:

  1. God’s loving nature precludes Him from condemning people He created to eternal punishment.
  2. The traditional view of hell is unfair and also incorrect in proposing that God punishes people infinitely and eternally for sins committed in a finite lifetime.
  3. The idea that only a few select few will be saved, while everyone else is damned, cannot be acceptable to God, nor should we find it acceptable.
  4. God would not create millions of people knowing in advance they will be damned to hell.
  5. A Christian who believes in traditional propositions about hell is misguided and has a wrong view of God.

I turn now to address these ideas (we will deal with only the first point now, the others in ensuing articles).  As we begin, I must first ask, can unaided human reason or can science give definite answers to such questions?  Reason is at best speculative, and science primarily deals with testable data, not with the unseen world.   What authority then, directs us to correct and truthful answers to these all-important inquiries on the nature of God, heaven, hell?  For the Christian of course, the authority is Scripture, which we take not to be merely the word of men, but the word of God.   Yet even among those who view the Bible as their authority, there is debate and disagreement regarding how to interpret the biblical data on hell.  Of course, the truths the Bible addresses are complex, and understanding the Bible rightly requires careful study.  Nonetheless I propose that

We have a difficult time with certain truths the Bible teaches, not because they are terribly unclear, but because they are only too clear, and we don’t like their implications.

When it comes to the teaching of the Bible and especially of Jesus, regarding hell, our inability to perceive/receive what the Bible is saying probably has more to do with its very unpleasant implications than any lack of intelligibility. But we have no right to pick and choose what we’ll accept or reject from the scriptural testimony.  Let us pray then that God’s Spirit opens our understanding and enables us to allow  Scripture to direct and form our ideas on hell, helping us set aside our natural predispositions.

1. God’s loving nature precludes Him from condemning people He created to eternal punishment.

Does Scripture teach that God has a loving nature?  Yes, it certainly does.  But what is does God’s love like? Does God’s love simply overlook sin? Though indeed God is love (1 John 4:8), God does not deny His holiness and righteousness as He loves people. Charles Swindoll has said: “Our society would have us think that if we truly love people, we’ll accept them regardless of their beliefs. This is called ‘tolerance.’ Yet what kind of love lets someone believe a lie that eventually destroys them? That’s not love; that’s indifference, the opposite of love.”

God’s love knows the dark reality of sin.  He sees it as the deceptive, destructive, deadly force it really is. His love therefore seeks to eradicate sin from those He loves, as He molds them into the beautiful creatures He intends them to be.  Moreover, He intends to expel all sin from the entire universe.  But how does He accomplish this? First, the Father provided a way by which sinners may escape condemnation for their sins:

There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. [2] For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. [3] For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh (Romans 8:1-3 ESV)

[16] “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. [17] For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. [18] Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God (John 3:16-18 ESV)”

And you were dead in the trespasses and sins [2] in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience—[3] among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. [4] But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, [5] even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—[6] and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, [7] so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus (Ephesians 2:1-7 ESV)

As is clear from these passages, all stand condemned before a holy God because of our sins against Him and against His moral law.  But God did not leave mankind to be condemned, but in love sent His own Son into the world to die for sins.  Those who embrace what Jesus Christ did for them, believing in Him, are not condemned, but those who do not believe remain under condemnation for their sins. This means rather than having their sins atoned for by the “Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world (John 1:29), unbelievers will instead be punished for their sins in hell. So first, God “condemned sin in the flesh” through Jesus Christ, yet all who cling to Him may be rescued from condemnation. Second, sin will be eradicated from the universe as God creates a new world in which sin will have no place and consigns sinners to hell forever.

[5] And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.” [6] And he said to me, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give from the spring of the water of life without payment. [7] The one who conquers will have this heritage, and I will be his God and he will be my son. [8] But as for the cowardly, the faithless, the detestable, as for murderers, the sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars, their portion will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death. “(Revelation 21:5-8 ESV)

And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire (Revelation 20:15 ESV)

We see therefore that it is not a contradiction within our loving God that He judges and punishes sinners in hell.  He created all people and in love offers them eternal life through His Son.  But sinners in their hardness of heart reject the offer and go their own way. God’s great love and mercy motivated Him to send His own Son to pay the eternal penalty due to sins, by His death on the cross.  He took the wrath of God upon Himself.   But His holiness and justice arouse Him to punish those who unwisely and with evil hearts neglect such a great salvation (Heb 2:3).

Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him. John 3:36

In our next post, we continue our response to the above assertions which object to the traditional view of hell.  In subsequent posts I’ll also list some great resources that I have been using for my studies on this topic.

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Filed under Controversy, Hell, Theology

Is Hell Reasonable? (Part 1)

In my previous article, Lady Gaga, Rob Bell and Hell, I spoke of the controversy that has surrounded Rob Bell’s recent book, “Love Wins.”  I completely agree with Denny Burk’s excellent review, when he says,  “Bell likes to make assertions that are cloaked in questions. It is a manipulative tactic that has an air of epistemological humility but which he employs with great skill to make theological arguments.”  Bell’s questions/arguments just so happen to end up proposing a totally new “story” of the Christian faith, one that denies the traditional view of hell as eternal punishment for sins committed in this life, even as he makes a strong case for a universalistic salvation scheme.

Before its release, Justin Taylor had raised the issue that Bell’s promo for Love Wins strongly implied a universalist stance. Many blasted Taylor for his pre-critique. And Bell denied being a universalist.  Yet now that the book is released, Bell’s own words seem to show he advocates a post-mortem universalism. He writes,

Given enough time, everybody will turn to God and find themselves in the joy and peace of God’s presence. The love of God will melt every hard heart, and even the most ‘depraved sinners’ will eventually give up their resistance and turn to God (Love Wins, p.107, bold text mine).

Even after making a bold statement like this that sure sounds like universalism, Bell still says he’s not a universalist, “if by universalist we mean there’s a giant cosmic arm that swoops everybody in at some point whether you want to be there or not.”

In “Love Wins”, Bell explains his position, “Will everyone be saved, or will some perish apart from God forever because of their choices? Those are questions, or more accurately, those are tensions we are free to leave fully intact. We don’t need to resolve them or fully answer them because we can’t, and so we simply respect them, creating space for the freedom that love requires (p. 115).”

Is Bell being cagey, or just inconsistent? Does love win in the end because God “gets what He wants (p.98)” and given enough time everyone is saved, or does the “freedom that love requires” mean that some will forever deny God?

Denny Burk well sums up Bell’s position,

God either will fail in His purpose to save all or He will not. Bell cannot have it both ways, but he certainly tries. This section of the book will allow Bell to say “I am not a universalist.” Even though his heart is clearly with the universalist position, he gives himself a back door to deny it. This is why Bell’s teaching is so subversive. He presents one of the most compelling cases in favor of universalism that one will ever read in a popular book while denying that he is one himself.

If “love wins” (i.e., everyone will be saved eventually, even after death), how does this impact the traditional doctrine of hell as the eternal punishment of sinners who in this life did not embrace God through the saving message of Jesus Christ? On the subject of hell, Bell is again slippery, for does not deny he believes in a real, literal hell. But Bell’s definition of hell is not the traditional view. For Bell, hell is when “God gives us what we want” (Love Wins, p. 72). He emphasizes the “hells” people experience in this life, as a consequence for resisting and rejecting all that is “good and true and beautiful and human now (p.79).” There is also a hell after death in which Bell assumes people will continue resisting and rejecting God, but it’s clear he thinks there’s still hope for such to be eventually reconciled to God.

Bell, in typical fashion, asks leading questions that imply disagreement with the traditional view of Hell,

Of all the billions of people who have ever lived, will only a select number ‘make it to a better place’ and every single other person will suffer in torment and punishment forever? Is this acceptable to God? Has God created millions of people over tens of thousands of years who are going to spend eternity in anguish? Can God do this, or even allow this, and still claim to be a loving God? Does God punish people for thousands of years with infinite, eternal torment for things they did in their few, finite years of life? This doesn’t just raise disturbing questions about God, it raises questions about the beliefs themselves… What kind of faith is that? Or more importantly: What kind of God is that?” (Love Wins, pp. 2-3).

Denny Burk writes in response,

because Bell has already labeled the traditional doctrine of hell as “misguided” and “toxic” (p. viii), it is not difficult to see that Bell already has an answer in mind to these questions. Indeed, the very way in which they are phrased shows that these questions are leading to a conclusion. Bell suggests that God’s own character would be in question if the traditional doctrine of hell is true. Thus these are assertions and not true queries. These are assertions about the reality of hell and the nature of God.

Bell then, seems to be asserting these ideas bout hell:

  1. God’s loving nature precludes Him from condemning people He created to eternal punishment.
  2. The traditional view of hell is unfair and incorrect in proposing that God punishes people infinitely and eternally for sins committed in a finite lifetime.
  3. The idea that only a few select few will be saved, while everyone else is damned, cannot be acceptable to God, nor should we find it acceptable.
  4. God would not create millions of people knowing in advance that they will end up in hell, or that He will damn them to hell.
  5. A Christian who believes in traditional propositions about hell is misguided and has a wrong view of God.

Though I believe Bell’s take on hell, as well as his universalistic scheme of salvation, are incorrect in their interpretation of the Bible, Bell does raise challenging questions that ought to be answered. The doctrine of hell is truly terrifying, and I think it is quite natural for human beings to recoil in horror from it, especially as we imagine our loved ones (or anyone, for that matter) being sent there. Thinking back to the man in the Lady Gaga video, is the traditional doctrine of hell something so harsh and misguided that it ought not to be included as part of the gospel message? If God is love, does He and can He send people to hell? Assuming one answers these two questions affirmatively, there’s still more tough questions. Why must hell be eternal? Why did God create some human beings that He knew would be in hell?

If we can wrestle with such profound questions and come out on the other side with a surer, biblical grasp of God’s purpose in creating hell, understanding better how hell may bring glory to God, and emerging with greater reverence and love for God, then the current controversy serves a good purpose.

Having raised the questions, I’ll tackle them in Part 2.

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Filed under Controversy, Theology

New Day, a song by Alex Jordan

Hey, this is yours truly, singing one of my original songs.  Every day we have is a new day with the Lord; a fresh start with Him, no matter what mistakes we made yesterday.  I hope you enjoy the song.

I will be recording more of my songs and posting them here soon.

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Lady Gaga, Rob Bell and Hell

Isn’t the whole point of religion to teach us morals and to love and care for each other no matter what age, gender, sexual preference, religion or race we are?

The question was one among many comments posted on a recent YouTube video by Lady Gaga. In one segment of the video, titled “Gagavision No.41”, Lady Gaga sits in the back of her limo on the way to give a performance. She sees a Christian street preacher standing outside, protesting her show. He is carrying a large sign that reads, “Trust in Christ or End in Hell”. Rolling down her window, she cheerfully introduces herself, “Hi, I’m Lady Gaga”, to which the man promptly replies, “So?”

The man hands her a “Get Out of Hell Free” card, and says, “It’s gonna happen one day, darling”. She retorts, “Well, they better open up the gate”. In the further brief exchange, the man comes across as condescending and hostile. Gaga tells him that she and her fans believe in God and that she went to Catholic school for 13 years. He replies that growing up in that screwed-up religion is probably the source of her problems. Later in the video, Gaga reflects on her encounter with the man her video identifies as a “fundamentalist preacher”.

“What I’m trying to understand is, there’s 3000 people standing in my line and no one standing in your line. Who’s going to hell?”, Gaga says, laughing. “But I think what’s mostly confusing is why he printed up these things (referring to the man’s “Get Out of Hell Free” cards). If it was so easy to get out of hell, why don’t we just print up a bunch of these guys?” Becoming more serious, Gaga continues, “It just makes me sad that my fans have to see that. But I know that’s just part of what I’m supposed to do.” At that point in the video, words flash on the screen in black, ALL CAP letters against a red backdrop: IF YOU HAVE REVOLUTIONARY POTENTIAL, THAN YOU HAVE A MORAL IMPERATIVE TO MAKE THE WORLD A BETTER PLACE

As I began writing this blog article, Gaga’s video had already garnered more than 420,000 views and 5,000 comments. Since then, the video has racked up 950,000+ views and 7000 comments and counting. From such numbers, it would seem Lady Gaga is accurate in observing that her way of looking at life resonates with a lot of people. On the other hand, the Christian message has never claimed to be a popular one:

Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. [14] For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few (Matthew 7:13-14 ESV)

But I want to respond in this article to the question posed by the person who asked, “Isn’t the whole point of religion to teach us morals and to love and care for each other no matter what age, gender, sexual preference, religion or race we are?” I think the question reflects a quite common conception of what religion is supposed to accomplish. This view sees all religions, including Christianity, as basically a means of inculcating morals and helping people strive to be better, more loving persons. All paths to God are equally valid. This popular view is one held not only by non-religious people, but even by many who identify themselves as Christians. Before I discuss this further, I want to sidetrack for a moment.

In terms of “media time” it is already ages ago, but a firestorm erupted in the Christian blogosphere just 2 months back, when Justin Taylor posted an article titled, Rob Bell: Universalist? that strongly criticized Rob Bell’s theological message. The article focused, not on Bell’s soon to be released book, “Love Wins”, but rather, on the publisher’s description and video promo for the book .

The piece got thousands of views and elicited hundreds of comments (maybe not Gaga’s kind of numbers, but for a reformed blog, it was lots of attention). Many who commented complained that it was quite unfair to criticize Bell’s book and its ideas, since at that point, the book was not yet released. Others brought out the old, tiresome “we should never judge other Christians, it’s not loving” speech. But many recognized that Taylor’s article was on target and helpful in identifying, in advance of its release, the controversial ideas that Bell has been espousing for some time now.

In the wake of the March 17 release of Love Wins, well-known Reformed writers, Michael Horton and Kevin DeYoung, each wrote thoughtful, detailed critiques. Southern Seminary president Al Mohler posted excellent articles engaging the discussion on Bell, and recorded and posted a panel discussion held at the seminary. Pastor John MacArthur has now written a series of articles strongly critical of Bell and his work, boldly calling out Bell as a false teacher (for these resources and more, see the links below).

But some will ask, why all the hoopla? Is it really that important that Christians focus so much attention on a book one does not agree with theologically?

Well, in a word, YES.

Because Christians have got a revealed message to proclaim, not a story that may be altered to suit one’s own fancies, or re-fashioned to make it a better sell. Yes, the doctrine of hell is a turn-off. No one likes to think mankind is so sinful that all people deserve hell, and that apart from Christ, all of us are by nature “children of wrath” (Ephesians 2:3). Such a thought pricks against human pride– we protest: we’re not that bad!

But the question we ought to be asking, especially if we claim to believe the Bible, and claim that we believe in the Jesus of the Bible, is not, “Why doesn’t God save everybody?, or “How can a loving God send people to hell?” Rather we should ask, is Jesus telling the truth when He states that unless we believe in Him, we already stand condemned and the wrath of God remains on us? Everybody loves John 3:16-17. But what about John 3:18 and John 3:36?

[16] For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. [17] For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. [18] Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God… [36] Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him (John 3:16-18, 36 ESV)

Christians gladly partake of the blessing of receiving Christ as Savior by believing what He says about going to the cross for our sins is true. But then we must also listen to and receive what He says about hell, for He spoke of it often. As John Yenchko has written,

This is the Lord of Lords and the King of Kings, the Prince of Peace, the Lamb of God. The One who held children tenderly in His arms spoke more about hell than anyone else in the Bible; and I, for one, am glad that it was He. If you will not hear Jesus on hell, then don’t pretend to hear Him on anything else. Let’s have integrity, shall we?

Jesus says in the parable of the weeds, Matthew 13, that all who do evil will be thrown into the fiery furnace where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. He quotes the above sentence in Mark 9:48 where He describes hell as “the place where the worm does not die and the fire is not quenched.” He says of those who did not take in a stranger or provide for the needy: “They will go away to eternal punishment” (Matt. 25:46). In the parable of the rich man and Lazarus that Jesus told, the rich man is in hell and looks up to see Abraham far away in heaven, with Lazarus beside him. The rich man cries out, “Father Abraham, have pity on me and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue because I am in agony in this fire” (Luke 16:24). Abraham’s negative reply comes back, Between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, so that those who want to go from here to you cannot, nor can anyone cross over from there to us” (Luke 16:26). So Jesus says in Matthew 10:28, “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell.”

In contrast to the Jesus of Scripture, whose continual theme is telling people to repent of their sins and escape the wrath of God in hell, there is the sentimental conception that Christian love is all about God unconditionally, uncritically loving all people, regardless of their beliefs or behaviors. In this view, true Christ-likeness is to be non-judgmental and “loving” towards all others, no matter what they do. Those who label certain behavior as morally wrong or sinful, have strayed from the original message of unconditional love that Christ meant us to emulate. Thus they become “haters”, “fundamentalists” and “judgmental” people who distort the “loving” message of Christ and give Christianity a bad name.

Now I understand that non-believers might believe this fluff– they usually don’t believe that the Bible is accurate, or they may question how faithfully it represents what Jesus really said. But those who claim to know Christ as revealed in Scripture must see that the same Bible that reveals Jesus as a gentle and meek in some ways, also shows Him issuing the sternest warnings about the hell that awaits those who reject Him. Jesus loved people enough to tell them the truth about hell.

Interestingly, Rob Bell’s book seems to paint a similar picture of God’s love as the view described above. Bell downplays the traditional understanding that God is angry towards sin and that the sinfulness of mankind is our biggest problem. Now Rob Bell has a huge, young evangelical audience, and is recognized as a gifted communicator, even by those who don’t agree with his theology. This is why many well-known reformed teachers have worked overtime to present strong rebuttals to his teaching. They see the spiritual peril in the ideas Bell is spreading, the deadly consequences for those who might be swayed to adopt his views.

Bell’s new work pointedly questions the traditional understanding of hell, and attempts to clarify what he thinks is the true nature of the gospel message. He argues that the primary message of Christianity, the prime characteristic of God Himself, is “God is love”. “Love Wins” says Bell, because in the end God wants everyone saved, and He is powerful enough to get what He wants. In Bell’s view, hell is not a literal place where unbelieving rebels will be eternally and justly punished by God. Instead those who reject God and don’t live in relationship to Him are already experiencing their “hell” in this life. If there is a hell in the next life, Bell surmises that it will not be eternal, because those who don’t accept and profess Christ consciously while on earth will no doubt get a second chance. Hell thus becomes a kind of purgatory.

Bell writes, [There will be] “endless opportunities in an endless amount of time for people to say yes to God. At the heart of this perspective is the belief that, given enough time, everybody will turn to God and find themselves in the joy and peace of God’s presence. The love of God will melt every hard heart, and even the most ‘depraved sinners’ will eventually give up their resistance and turn to God.”

Now what should be said in response to this? Is Bell’s version of the Christian story superior because it will appeal to and be embraced by those who’ve really wanted to be Christians, but just didn’t like all the stuff about hell and sin? Yes, Bell’s version of Christianity probably will be received happily by those who have a difficult time accepting the more traditional view. The problem, is what Bell gives them as a substitute is a lie and a mirage. Hell is real and literal. We don’t have the luxury of “endless opportunities in an endless amount of time” to either accept or reject Christ. There is no biblical warrant to believe that those who do not consciously choose Christ in this life will get another chance to do so in the afterlife. In my next article, I will examine in greater detail the biblical evidence for hell and what happens after we die.

It’s ironic, but sometimes we can get a true message even from a not-so-good messenger. The street preacher who spoke so condescendingly to Lady Gaga was not an accurate reflection of our Lord’s compassion towards lost sinners. Yet his “Trust in Christ or End in Hell” message is much more accurate than a message that teaches that God doesn’t punish evildoers in an eternal hell for their sins committed in this life, of which the greatest is to reject Christ.

From the beginning, there have always been competing versions of Christianity. Thus it remains always our responsibility as believers to “contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints (Jude 1:3).” False gospels and false Christs don’t save. The world has its many gospels, but Christianity has but one faith and one message to give: Jesus Christ shed His blood to save sinners.

More Resources

Bell’s Hell: A Review by Michael Horton

Bell’s Hell: A Review by Michael Horton- PDF version

God Is Still Holy and What You Learned in Sunday School Is Still True: A Review of “Love Wins”

God Is Still Holy and What You Learned in Sunday School Is Still True: A Review of “Love Wins- PDF version)

We Have Seen All This Before: Rob Bell and the (Re)Emergence of Liberal Theology

Panel Discussion — Rob Bell and “Love Wins”

“A Massive Shift Coming in What it Means to Be a Christian?” — TIME Magazine Considers Rob Bell

MSNBC: Martin Bashir’s Interview with Rob Bell

Call it a Comeback: Evangelicals, Liberals, and the Problem of Hell

Love Never Wins When Truth Loses

The Blood-Drained Gospel of Rob Bell

Pastor Rob Bell: What if Hell Doesn’t Exist? (TIME cover article April 14 issue)

Articles by John MacArthur:

Bell’s Inferno

Rob Bell’s Unbelief in His own Words

Rob Bell: a Brother to Embrace, or a Wolf to Avoid?

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Filed under Controversy, Hell, Theology