Rob Bell and Hell in My Life

The controversy of the week in the Christian blogosphere regards Rob Bell and his apparent leap into universalism – (not surprising to me given the Wheaton and Fuller pedigree). I had never heard of Bell until last week, maybe because I don’t much care about celebrity preachers in general. What has been interesting to me is watching the reaction of people that I follow to Bell’s position, from the “left” and “right” theologically. But this post isn’t really about Bell or the reaction to him as much as it is about my own experience with the doctrine (and reality) of hell.

I had a period of apostasy that lasted for about eight years. During the last year of that time I was consistently worried about the possibility of death and an endless eternity in hell. This fear was part of what God used to bring me back to Him. For some folks, the gracious message of love and forgiveness, new life and cleansing, is what draws them back to the faith or to Christ for the first time. For me, the fear of hell was very real and very terrifying. It spurred me on more than the idea that I could be forgiven, which I always took as a given.

Removing the concept of hell from our lexicon is removing an effective means of spurring people to salvation. It is also a gigantic and terrifying lie. If hell is a reality – and if we take the Scripture seriously it most certainly is – then we may be condemning people to that very place if we backhandedly assure them that they need not worry overmuch about the possibility of spending eternity there, because in the end everyone is saved and “love wins.” That is something I would not want to stand before God and explain on the Last Day.

5 thoughts on “Rob Bell and Hell in My Life”

  1. Joel,

    I am not sure that Rob Bell is going into universalism. The book isn’t out yet, but from his pedigree and his classmates, some have guessed that he is advocating inclusivism. This would be in line with C.S. Lewis, what some think is Billy Graham’s position, and what I think I remember Joel Garver told me was Calvin’s position.

  2. Hopefully this sheds some light on Calvin’s position.

    M. In what order will this resurrection take place ?

    S. Those who were formerly dead will recover their bodies,
    the same bodies as before, but endued with a new quality,
    that is, no longer liable to death or corruption. (1 Cor. xv.
    53.) Those who survive God will miraculously raise up by
    a sudden change.

    M. But will this be common to the righteous and the
    wicked ?

    S. There will be one resurrection of all, but the condition
    will be different : some will rise to salvation and blessed¬
    ness, others to death and extreme misery.

    M. Why then is eternal life only here mentioned, and is
    there no mention of hell ?

    S. Because nothing is introduced here that does not tend
    to the consolation of pious minds; accordingly, only the
    rewards are enumerated which the Lord hath prepared for
    his servants, and nothing is added as to the doom of the
    wicked, whom we know to be aliens from the kingdom of

    Catechism of the Church of Geneva
    Selected Works of John Calvin (Vol. 2)

  3. Rick, maybe you’re right, I guess we’ll all know when the book comes out. Nevertheless, the impulse to push the boundaries on this issue is one that I don’t like. As far as Lewis, I think his thinking on hell is one area where he is most suspect. The Great Divorce is a great book, but it would make for terrible theology if taken literally.

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