Rob Bell is a popular pastor, speaker and author. His latest book, out in mid-March, is Love Wins: Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived. The publisher’s description strongly implies that Bell denies the traditional Christian doctrine of eternal punishment:
Bell addresses one of the most controversial issues of faith—the afterlife—arguing that a loving God would never sentence human souls to eternal suffering. With searing insight, Bell puts hell on trial, and his message is decidedly optimistic—eternal life doesn’t start when we die; it starts right now. And ultimately, Love Wins.
And in a video publicizing the book, Bell—if words mean anything—rejects the idea that God will punish people forever, or that Jesus rescues us from God’s wrath.
When Justin Taylor and Kevin DeYoung wrote articles responding to this, saying it is very bad news indeed, the Internet blew up. (If you’re going to read one thing on this, DeYoung’s article should be it. Skip mine if necessary.)
A few of my thoughts:
Yawn. I read Velvet Elvis around 2007, about a year after it came out. And if you had asked me, “Does this author believe in hell?” I would have said “I highly doubt it.” This is not surprising if you’re familiar with Bell’s work. If you’re not willing to go to bat for the Trinity or the Virgin Birth, you’ll throw hell under the bus in a second. (I’ll try and find some more metaphors to throw in that last sentence.)
No need to wait. People have complained that we should wait until the book comes out before responding. Nonsense. He’s said things already. The video is him speaking. There’s already plenty to respond to. If his publisher doesn’t understand what the book means, or if he’s saying the opposite thing in the book from what he’s saying in the video, that will be very strange, and we can deal with it when the book comes out.
This isn’t hard. There are plenty of things in the Bible that are important, but aren’t all that clear. Hell is not one of those things. A cursory reading of the four Gospels will tell you Jesus believed in it and thought it would last forever. Revelation makes it even clearer (and for Revelation, that’s really saying something). Hell is horrific, and difficult to get our minds around. The questions it raises are hard. But it’s not hard to see that the Bible teaches it’s real.
Hang it up. If you are a pastor, and you’re not willing to tell people what the Bible says, you should walk away. We don’t get to make up our own God; we have to deal with the one who’s there. We pastors are in the business of telling people what is true. If you don’t have the stones to do that, you should quit. Feeding people cotton candy only makes the job harder for the rest of us.