Rob Bell and Hell

Yaweh. In Hebrew, "I AM WHAT I AM"

After reading reactions to megachurch pastor Rob Bells’s video trailer promoting his new book Love Wins, I thought he must be renouncing the faith! Bell is pastor of Mars Hill Bible Church in Michigan. Then I looked at the trailer and I couldn’t figure out what was behind the ruckus.

He asks if we might see God as loving, not punitive. He asks us to entertain the thought that there may be other pathways to comprehend God. And he hints that hell might be a state of being.

These thoughts aren’t spelled out in depth, but we’re led to the book where, we must conclude, the issues will be discussed more fully.

This does not strike me as cutting edge theology. In fact, as I see it, it’s the hindquarter of late 19th and early-20th century debates between liberals and fundamentalists. In the 1930s and 40s, Harry Emerson Fosdick was more provocative than Bell is today. Fosdick wrote, “The fact that astronomies change while the stars abide is a true analogy of every realm of human life and thought, religion not least of all. No existent theology can be a final formulation of spiritual truth.” This led him to be called heretic, as Bell today.

This leads me to wonder if this flap is a sign of the maturing of the evangelical movement, of which Bell is a leader. As he and his contemporaries wrestle with the complexities that we all face today, faith must be more adaptable to the challenges life presents us if it is to be relevant.

As with all Christians, they struggle with good and evil, personal faith and social responsibility, piety and justice, divergent theological propositions emerge. Life is complex, sometimes vexing. It confounds simple answers.

Some of us have glimpsed hell. If you’ve had to stand by and watch your child die from a debilitating illness that couldn’t be treated, if you’ve experienced an addiction that continues to ensnare you, if you’ve been to war and are haunted by the inhumanity of the human race, you’ve been to hell already. Hell comes in many forms.

We need a faith relevant to the hellishness of the human condition. We also need an understanding of God that helps us to know that God’s grace is provided to us before we comprehend it; that it precedes us before we even know if we can believe in it and before we have the words to speak of it. God doesn’t command us to accept it, God beckons us to apprehend it. In a still small voice, we hear, “Be still and know that I am God,” and Christians see God incarnate in Jesus.

And that leads to my second hunch. Evangelical Christians like Bell are also coming to terms with life in a multi-faith, interconnected global society.

If we believe this is God’s world and we are the beneficiaries of God’s graciousness, and utterly dependent upon it, then who are we to assert that we can define the great I Am, much less to claim with authority for all time and all people, that we know how God chooses to be revealed? Is God limited to a single expression of revelation? And is this great mystery comprehensible to us anyway?

No, the very thought is humbling. And perhaps that’s where faith takes us today, to a humble place between hubris and muddled, discombobulated belief.

We have scripture, the creeds of the church and centuries of writing to guide us. I’m not suggesting that we turn away from our understanding of Christian faith. In fact, we need to dig deeper, question more. But we must approach our faith and other faiths with humility. As Bernard Schweizer suggests, it’s hard to imagine that Gandhi, the Dali Lama, Aung San Suu Kyi or (I would add)  Muhammad Yunus are destined to roast in hell.

Maybe faithfulness is in that sweet spot where we search for truth, seek the Holy and apprehend through the great cloud of witnesses who have preceded us, that God is indeed still speaking in many languages and voices.

Wesley’s quadrilateral–the use of scripture, reason, tradition and experience to comprehend the life of the spirit–is enormously helpful to me in this search. It provides me with checks and balances that allow me to weigh the spiritual search, religious dogma, history and personal understanding. It’s an inclusive method. It supports humility and leads me to listen to others, and for that still small voice.

And we could do worse than to listen; to “be still and know that I am God.”

(A note: After writing, this seemed incomplete. I realized I had not provided readers with an especially important part of my theological life–the basic grounding that I find most helpful–Wesley’s quadrilateral. I edited the piece by adding the next to last paragraph to provide this background. Changed March 12, 2011, 9:20 a.m.)

37 Responses to “Rob Bell and Hell”

  1. Jim Searls March 11, 2011 at 7:53 am #

    I have long thought that for Christians to assume they had a monopoly on God was very wrong. We have, as you say Larry, not heard the whole story and our sometimes heated debates over doctrine has very likely obscured the real message. I live “just down the road” from Mars Hill and this area is buzzing with with indignation. Surprisingly, I have begun to hear agreement with Bell among my very conservative neighbors.

  2. Angela Doolin March 11, 2011 at 8:49 am #

    Thank you for beautifully illustrating a God who continues to reveal Godself to us in diverse ways.

  3. Darin Green March 16, 2011 at 2:52 pm #

    I’m quite at a loss for words. The scriptures as you call them point to only one way to God, through His son Jesus Christ. Christ himself said there only one way to the Father. If all scripture is not accepted then what part are elected for exclusion or inclusion? (NKJV) 2 Timothy 3:16-17 All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, 17 that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work. I know this a “fundamentalist” view but is hard to get around. Lastly, Paul wrote; Galatians 1:10
    For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ.

    • Matt Thompson March 20, 2011 at 2:29 pm #

      I wouldn’t call that fundamentalist Darin, I would call it the truth

      “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” – Jesus
      The Christ said that….and as Christians we(I am fairly certain) are supposed to adhere to His teachings. That is pretty much as plain as it gets.

    • Carmen Lewis March 27, 2011 at 7:17 pm #

      Both Mattthew 7:13-14 and John 10:9 can be presented as clear evidence that the Bible says Jesus is the only way to eternal life and the Father.

      “Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. 14 But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.” Matt. 7:13-14.

      “I am the door: by Me if any man enter in, he shall be saved, and shall go in and out, and find pasture.”

      The Bible is full of other references where Jesus refers to Himself as the only path to salvation, and no other Jesus should be tought or preached then this true Jesus- the one who says in John 14:6

      “I am the Way and the Truth and the Life. No one comes to the Father except through me”.

    • Clayton Childers April 1, 2011 at 7:29 am #

      Darin- Rob Bell’s book God Wins offers an expansive vision of Christ’s redeeming work. Consider Col. 1:19-20 “For in him all the fullness of God wos pleased to dwell, and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, wheather on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross.” This is a very hopeful message – God is at work in Christ throughout all creation bringing all to new life – God is at work – even in Gandhi.

  4. Paul Porter March 16, 2011 at 5:56 pm #

    We, I, always want to be a giver of the benefit of the doubt. But if there is one thing I learned as a UM, it was try to be all things to all people. Those with searching hearts aren’t usually looking for that. As Darin states above, if you’ve be offered Christ and reject him, that’s your decision. I don’t like the discussion about God/Jesus sending anyone to hell. If we are offered and reject, we send ourselves. It is the Christian’s responsibility to offer Christ to the neighborhood and to the world. The only haziness I can find is for those who have never heard the good news. Even liberals still call it that…the good news…not some good news. By the way I’ve met Rob a couple times and worshiped at Mars Hill. He is brilliant but I believe the book, as hard as he’s worked on it, is premature, for him. His interviews regarding it are much clearer than the book. But he still can’t answer some questions regarding it and the main topic.

  5. Ron Matthews March 16, 2011 at 6:50 pm #

    Larry,
    Very well stated. Thank you.
    Ron Matthews

  6. Jim Dorton March 16, 2011 at 7:04 pm #

    It is my belief that the exclusive way to God is through Christ, but it is not me who claimed it. For non-Christians, for those who do not hold the Bible as the word of God, I understand this line of thought. But for believers in Christ, what do you do with His statement; “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father but by me.”?

    And while there are few human tragedies that compare with war, or the loss of a child, while they may be the worse things anyone on earth may deal with, they are not hell for believers, for God is with you through them. There is hope for those involved, if not now, in eternity. Hell is eternal separation from God; all hope is gone.

    AS for Wesley and his quadrilateral, certainly I believe in the proper use of our reason, experience, and tradition, but they must all bow before Scripture. If we’re going to rely on Wesley, please remember it was he who said, “In all cases, the church is to be judged by the Scriptures not the Scriptures by the church.”

  7. Ed Rhodes March 16, 2011 at 8:10 pm #

    How do you deal with the fact that Jesus who happens to be the head of the church and our Savior talked more about hell than heaven. Why? That we would avoid it at all costs. God sends no one to hell. Persons who having heard the Gospel reject salvation send themselves to hell.

  8. larry March 16, 2011 at 9:29 pm #

    maybe just a semantic difference, but many would question whether or not Bell is an “evangelical” as you refer to him multiple times. I suppose definitions of what “evangelical” means could be shifting somewhat, but many self-identified evangelicals are not with Bell on this topic.

  9. jeff March 17, 2011 at 12:06 am #

    thanks, Larry. If hell is literal then I opt for the idea that God doesn’t leave anyone there forever. God loves us too much to do that.

  10. Jeff Brace March 17, 2011 at 12:57 am #

    Alright, I am back to reading “Love Wins” when it hits may mailbox. I was beginning to think I was going to hell for ordering it. Thanks Larry for letting me make up my mind about that.

  11. Joel March 17, 2011 at 7:54 am #

    Interesting that you put “reason” 2nd. Rebekah Miles’ assertion that reason is not an epistemological source but rather a tool to sort out the other three (Scripture, Tradition & Experience) is helpful when actually attempting to employ Wesley’s [Outler's?] “quadrilateral”.

  12. SUE March 17, 2011 at 11:23 am #

    I believe that Christ has purchased my redemption and through him is the way to God. Yet, that people of other faiths are consigned to hell is not an assertion that I’m prepared, that is, qualified, to make. I find relief/release from this theological conundrum in these words from Wesley’s sermon “Living without God”:

    13. Settle it therefore in your hearts, that however you may be changed in many other respects, yet in Christ Jesus, that is, according to the Christian institution, nothing will avail without the whole mind that was in Christ, enabling you to walk as Christ walked. Nothing is more sure than this: “If any man be in Christ,” a true believer in him, “he is a new creature: Old things,” in him, “are passed away; all things are become new.”
    14. From hence we may clearly perceive the wide difference there is between Christianity and morality. Indeed nothing can be more sure than that true Christianity cannot exist without both the inward experience and outward practice of justice, mercy, and truth; and this alone is given in morality. But it is equally certain that all morality, all the justice, mercy, and truth which can possibly exist without Christianity, profiteth nothing at all, is of no value in the sight of God, to those that are under the Christian dispensation. Let it be observed, I purposely add, “to those that are under the Christian dispensation,” because I have no authority from the Word of God “to judge those that are without.” Nor do I conceive that any man living has a right to sentence all the heathen and Mahometan world to damnation. It is far better to leave them to him that made them, and who is “the Father of the spirits of all flesh;” who is the God of the Heathens as well as the Christians, and who hateth nothing that he hath made. But meantime this is nothing to those that name the name of Christ: — all those, being under the law, the Christian law, shall undoubtedly be judged thereby; and, of consequence, unless those be so changed as was the animal above mentioned, unless they have new senses, ideas, passions, tempers, they are no Christians.

  13. Darin Green March 17, 2011 at 11:30 am #

    @Jeff#9: With love and prayer I plead that you search you heart and the Bible for the truth. If all people eventually get to heaven, then Jesus dying on the cross was in vain, and all he taught about he’ll and heaven is a lie. Jesus being God on earth said many will say Lord, Lord when they get to heaven and God banishes then to hell saying ” He never knew them”. Hebrews 6:18 says God cannot lie. If Jesus is God on earth and he said the only way to heaven is through Him, that does not leave any room for any other belief or way. All others are heretical or blasphemous. The road is wide that leads to destruction and narrow is the path that leads to life.

  14. Glenn Hoskins March 17, 2011 at 2:48 pm #

    As a pastor who is preaching on Romans for Lent, I agree with Sue’s response directly from John Wesley and the Apostle Paul who wrote that we cannot be the judge, only God sees the heart. If we judge others of different beliefs and religious practices, and since we are sinners as well, we judge ourselves into condemnation. (Romans 2) Leave it up to God to accuse or excuse people’s lives. As far as hell or heaven, who cares…I preach Christ crucified and risen, and that is enough for me.

  15. Jason Wellman March 18, 2011 at 10:45 am #

    Larry,

    Although I appreciate your pastoral heart and compassion for humanity, I struggle with your view of grace. You are right to note that we are entirely dependent on God’s grace, yet we must realize that grace is a gift that one must accept. Although Wesley wrote heavily on God’s grace being given universally, I don’t think Wesley would agree that means that God’s grace is universally accepted. Some will choose to accept, while others will not. If we believe that God is a covenantal God, which scripture clearly points out, then there must be a standard to accepting the terms of the covenant. When Jesus established the New Covenant with his death and resurrection, he didn’t give a free pass to the whole world. Rather, he offered the new covenant as a gift in which one must agree to accept. If this were not so, why would the New Testament writers have spent so much time talking about Jesus being the standard for belong to the community of God? If God, out of God’s love, simply adopted the whole world and everyone was brought into God’s community, then there would have been no conversation of conversion, and anyone who practiced their religion faithfully (Jew, Greek, pagan etc) would have not needed to accept God’s grace, because it wouldn’t have mattered.

    Now with that all said, do we know what happens in the last moments of life. No. I believe God is a pursuing God and God seeks to pursue us until the very last possible moment. With that said, God pursues us through the grace given us in Jesus Christ. You are right to note that we are not the judge, but, God judges us with a standard, and that standard is Jesus.

    My thoughts….

  16. Robert Scott March 19, 2011 at 7:12 am #

    Pastor Hoskins wrote:
    “As far as hell or heaven, who cares…I preach Christ crucified and risen, and that is enough for me.”

    1 Timothy 4:2 tells us to ‘reprove, rebuke, and exhort with complete patience and teaching’.

    Paul told the Ephesian elders he did not ‘shrink from declaring to you the whole counsel of God’: Acts 20:27

    The world needs to hear the incredible message of our Savior Christ crucified and his resurrection, no doubt. But why was he crucified? What purpose did it serve? Perhaps I have misunderstood. When you preach Christ crucified and risen, does it automatically include discussion of Heaven and Hell? Unfortunately, you cannot hear my voice; that question is not meant in a spirit of sarcasm, but legitimate interest in your answer.
    Blessings to you all today.

  17. Tony March 19, 2011 at 9:30 pm #

    Larry,

    I will share my comments based on the Word of God.

    John 5:24 “Truly, truly, I say to you, he who hears My word and believes in Him who sent Me has eternal life and does not come into judgment, but has passed out of death into life.”

    Matt 10:28 “Do not fear those who kill the body, but are unable to kill the soul; but rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.

    Mark 9:47 “If your eye causes you to stumble, throw it out; it is better for you to enter the KINGDOM of God with one eye, than, having two eyes, to be cast into hell.”

    Luke 16:19-31 “The Rich Man and Lazarus” – v23 “In Hades, he (rich man) lifted up his eyes, being in TORMENT, and saw Abraham far away and Lazarus in his bosom.” (Jesus was describing a literal hell), the Rich Man died (physical death). WOW! This punches quite a hole in Rob’s theory!!!

    Jesus saved me from my sins. I am going to heaven only because of what Jesus did on the cross for me, nothing of my own doing. Because of His grace and forgiveness He has saved me from HELL and eternal separation from HIM. He does not send anyone to HELL, we send ourselves. In John 11:25-26 Jesus says, “I am the resurrection and the life, whoever believes in me will live even if he dies and everyone who lives and believes in Me will never DIE.”

    For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears; And they shall turn away [their] ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables (2 Tim 4:3-4).

  18. Dan Wilt March 20, 2011 at 12:46 pm #

    Cheers to voices of reason in the midst of the spiritual kerfuffles of today.

    Thanks for this – I stumbled across it and am glad I did. It will inform my own response to those I lead.

  19. David Boyd March 20, 2011 at 9:25 pm #

    One scripture forms my faith- 1 John 4:8. “God is Love”. How can we, humble creations of God, say that God’s love is conditional? How can we say that a parent on earth who watches their child screw up for their whole life and still love them in the end is more loving than our heavenly father? Therefore, why would God condemn someone he loves intimately and passionately to the fiery depths of Hell just because that child of God didn’t return that love. For that matter, if God really is “all-powerful”, then why can’t he defeat Satan and close up Hell forever. I do believe God is all-powerful and all-loving, so I have come to believe that Satan and Hell do not exist. Also, in response to Larry’s statement on imagining Gandhi roasting in Hell,one pastor said something quite profound to me. She said, “With the two thousand years of Christianity we have had on this earth, if God really wanted us to all call him by the same name, it would of happened by now.” To say the only God is our Christian God is selfish. Is a Muslim’s prayer not heard? Do Hindus pray to nothing? If so, why are they just as successful and happy as Christians? Why aren’t Christians the only one with answered prayers? What happened to every single person who died before Christ’s sacrifice on the cross? Are they all burning in Hell? If we are to really be the light in this world, we must stop believing we are superior beings because we believe one way and the rest of the world will burn because don’t.

  20. Stephen Overall March 21, 2011 at 9:14 am #

    Larry;
    Thanks for your thoughtful review and comments. I realize that there are many things about our Church that keeps me inspired to seek and discern the will of God for my life. One of these is our Church’s Openness to receive and care-fully appreciate all of God’s children, not just those that happen to agree with my personal views, of course inspired by Scripture, even if not perfectly understood.

    Serving as a Healthcare Chaplain and CPE Supervisory for more than forty years has taught me much about the marvelous gift God has given all of us, being birthed in God’s image and seeing all others as my spiritual Sisters and Brothers causes me to ponder metaphorically at least if sometimes each of us is not both Cain and Able at the same time the ways we treat one another.

    I see the potential for life and death in me and all people all the time, God set before us both choices and implores us to ‘choose life’, but the decison is still in our freewill hands.

    The divisions that separate us as humnans have and will obvioulsy keep us from ever fully expressing God’s Love as we have been guided by Gospel of Matthew Chapter 25.

    I appreciate that such dialogue can occur between conservative and liberal Christians. As my Dad used to say to us kids as we grew in our faith, “Don’t ever forget, when it comes to faith and real knowledge of the Will of God, we are all ‘blind beggers’ in search of food. Never think you are so smart to ever ultimately come to the full of knowledge of One so Grand and beyond all knowing. Take each step in faith and trust that God did not make even one mistake in creation.

    I am so thankful that the United Methodist Church has as it’s motto, “open doors, open hearts and open minds”. I pray I will always be able to help it live up to such a goal.

    Jesus asks each of us, ‘who is my neighbor?’ So far, I have found a neighbor in everyone I have been willing to open my door, my mind and my heart to. May God’s Grace empower me always to see God’s face in each one I meet.

    In His Service.
    Steve Overall

  21. Sean March 22, 2011 at 1:36 pm #

    I cannot help but notice that many who espouse divine inclusivness have come to the conclusion that Christians who reject their doctinre believe themselves superior to non-Christians, and therefore in some way more worthy of salvation. I assure you, my friends, nothing could be further than the truth. Christians are–or should be–deeply aware of their own flaws, the embedded original sin and indeed the mistakes made on a daily basis which render us, on our own, entirely unworthy of our Lord’s mercy. And yet the wonder of it is that “While yet we were sinners” the Lord loved us, and even gave His only Son for us as the once and final sacrifice. This is the truth as revealed in Scripture. The idea that there is any other way to God than through Christ is entirely foreign to the Word. As to the argument than an all-powerful God is not limited to a single form of expression, what of it? Is not God also free in His wisdom and power to choose a single means of salvation if He so desires? And indeed, that is what the Word offers us–the ultimate salvation of Christ and Him crucified. But the only choice we are given is: accept the gift of Christ, or reject Him…and so consign ourselves to eternal separation from all that is good and holy.

  22. Doug March 22, 2011 at 3:10 pm #

    I hear several voices in these comments that stick to literal translation of Scripture, and there is where the sides part ways. Put John in context – the last of the Gospels written, a totally different approach/agenda by the author than the synoptics – and he is the one that gives us the “the light, the truth the way…”. Had that been something that Jesus actually saw as so important – why is it not included by the earlier authors? Could it be it is just John’s interpretation of the message he recieved. Being realistic, if the scholars are right and the book was not written until AD90 or so, the author could neve have heard Jesus utter those words directly. For me, I am more likely to believe that sayings attributed to Jesus which appear in book after book (those about loving and accepting others, about bringing the Kingdom to earth) are more likely things he actually said.
    Turning to Jesus being the only way. To assume that God did not speak to anyone else in any other part of this very large world, is a very limiting view of God. Why would one argue that God did not have the ability to be providing the same message about bringing the Kingdom to earth, about treating each other with love and compassion, to all corners of the world. Wherever this message appears, it will be filtered by the local context, the historical characters available for a people’s use and understanding. Thus the way the message gets passed down may well look very different – to Muslims and Hindus and many more cultures. Look at the message such people carry in their hearts, is it not much the same that Jesus taught in the tiny portion of the world where he lived. Love and Compassion, Justice and Peace.
    My God is one that reached out to humankind wherever it existed, bringing the message of love and support for each other in community. Jesus called for us to do good for others, not to collect riches for ourselves – yet,is that not the very thing we try to do if we claim that all others will go to hell – collect the treasures of God for ourselves while here on earth? I am certain that wherever heaven may be, Ghandi and many others from many cultures have finally come together in a world of peace and justice for all. There may be Hell bound folks in each of those cultures, whatever Hell may be – but there are also heaven bound souls in each as well.

    • Jason March 23, 2011 at 7:20 am #

      Doug,

      If we take your line of reasoning about literalism compared to the author’s interpretation of events, then we could assume that everything the Biblical authors wrote is interpretation. Really it could lend itself to fabrication. The resurrection, fabrication. The miracles of Jesus, fabrication. Pentecost, fabrication. What then do we as Christians have other than a Bible full of fabrications and stories?

      I think you are right to point the difference is the synoptics, compared to John, but I in no way conclude that it means that John was simply adding his two cents to the story. If that was the case then nothing could be trusted. Yes, the passages of love, the Kingdom etc are great passages and they challenge my faith everyday, but to throw out the difficult passages simply because we might think that they were added later, to me is a disservice to Biblical exegesis. Faith should be challenging, not comfortable.

      My thoughts alone.

    • Gary March 23, 2011 at 10:19 am #

      Jesus being the only way of salvation is not something that is unique to John. We see this truth expressed from Genesis through Revelation.

      Other religions are not just offering different paths to God but different gods. If you examine each religion’s view on means of salvation, afterlife and God you will find that they are not only very different but that they contradict the beliefs of Christianity. Rules of logic do not allow two contradictory views to both be true. So either Christianity is true and the other religions are false or everyone is wrong. The idea that all religions are true is not a logical option.

      • Doug March 23, 2011 at 5:51 pm #

        Gary –

        I hear what you say, but if you follow that line of reasoning, you are suggesting either – a) there are other gods that spoke to those other cultures and therefore YAWEH is not the only God; or the one God just could not be bothered to speak to the majority of the world thousands of years (remembering just how small the community of Israel was in the scope of the whole world). I can not wrap my mind around either of those as a reality.

        • Gary March 25, 2011 at 3:05 pm #

          The idea that God would gradually reveal His plan of salvation through His chosen people, Israel, is not my idea it is His. This is the theme of much of the Old Testament. That said I also have also had a hard time accepting this truth because it doesn’t line up with the way that I want God to be. Yet I have been trying to accept the fact that He is God and His ways are high above mine. If He chose to use Israel alone for His revelation, that is His prerogative. He made us and He has the right to do with us as he chooses. Who am I as the creation to question the wisdom of my creator? I just have to trust that He knows what He is doing and seek to know Him as He is rather than trying to make Him into whom I want Him to be.

          • Doug March 26, 2011 at 12:19 pm #

            But that is just it – the folks that wrote the bible claim WE ARE THE ONLY ONES – the ones God chose to use (and I would not stick to calling God “He” either – another very limiting human attempt to create an image of something much larger than we can comprehend). But the scriptural references for other cultures/religions have that same bias assuming they are the correct and only approach – the one God chose. My point is that – yes I am a Christian – that is my history, my traditions, but I completely understand that cultures that did not come into contact with Christianity until the 20th century also had their connection to the divine for millennia prior to that. What has allowed Christianity to spread its influence are a number of factors that are in reality very anti-Christian – War, Political control, The inquisition, forced conversions of aboriginal people – all things that Jesus would have fought against I suspect. I can agree with John when Jesus said this is the way, follow me – but what he was asking us to follow was a way of living that was based on compassion, love of neighbor and enemy, accepting all and inviting even the lowest to our table. The way I read it, Jesus was all about worshiping and giving glory to God, not to himself. That is not me trying to make Jesus something I want him to be, that is looking at what he actually talked about. So… any culture or religion where those same things are taught – compassion, love, support of those in need – would be following the way that Jesus taught – and that is where I started this from – Keep in Mind Ghandi’s famous statement about Jesus – who he found a wonderful person, teacher, etc. Ghandi found the Sermon on the Mount to be a wonderful example of how to live one’s life, and even compared it to some of his scriptural tradition – which called for the very same things. He was just sad that so many “Christians” did not seem to live their life by the actual teachings of Jesus. Thus I would not be surprised at all to find “heaven” whatever it may be, full of “non-christians” who lived more christ-like lives than many that claim to praise Jesus.

  23. Karen March 23, 2011 at 10:06 am #

    I agree, we dont have to wait to experience hell….it is all around us. I see it in the faces of the at risk kids I minister to. These kids who live in survival mode from day to day….no dad around, little money and some times not much hope. The God I and my team introduce them to is a God of unconditional love and care. A God that will never leave them and only sees the good in them. Do you think they need to hear about hell? I don’t!

  24. Gary March 28, 2011 at 1:42 pm #

    Doug,
    You are right in saying that there are many non-Christians that live a lifestyle closer to what Jesus taught than many Christians do. You are also right in pointing out that there are many aspects of other religions that are in agreement with Christian teachings. But these truths do not prove that those religions are true in every aspect of their teachings. How do you deal with the areas that teach things that are exactly the opposite of what Jesus taught? For example Jesus taught in a personal God but Buddhism teaches in an impersonal force. Islam teaches that you are saved by your good works but Jesus taught that you are saved by grace. Hinduism teaches reincarnation, Christianity says in Hebrews 9:27 ” …People are destined to die once, and after that to face judgment…” I would say sarcastically that all religions are basically the same except when it comes to their views about God, salvation and the afterlife.

    Another thing to consider is that Jesus ministry on earth was two fold. He came to show us how to live in a way that is pleasing to God and to show us the way to be saved. The second purpose was his primary one. In Luke 10:10 Jesus said that he had come to seek and save the lost. His main purpose wasn’t just to show us how to live a better life in the 80 or so years that we have on earth but to show us how to have a relationship with God for eternity.

    God has been implementing His plan to restore the relationship between God and man, that was broken by sin, ever since the Garden of Eden. Since the punishment for sin was death (see Genesis 2:17 and Romans 6:23) someone had to pay that penalty in order for God’s justice to be satisfied. Christ came to pay that penalty. John 1:29 “The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!”

    All of the other religions try to form a relationship with God through righteous living (good works). But God looks at our righteous acts as “filthy rags” (Isaiah 64:6). Unless we put on Christ’s righteousness by receiving him as our savoir we will stand before God at Judgment Day in filthy rags. Other religions claim to provide a way to God but Christianity provides a savoir. The truth is that there is nothing we can do to earn our way to God so we don’t need a way we need a savoir. And this is not just my opinion this is what God’s Word says from cover to cover. If you disagree please provide Biblical support for your view.

    • David Boyd March 29, 2011 at 5:34 pm #

      Up front, I disagree with you,, and I am a Christian. That being said, I see religion as a man-made construct to help us move closer to God. Whether you need a Savior to help you live better, or if you need to be forced to good works through the Qur’an, or prefer to see physical life after death instead of spiritual life as in Hinduism, it is up to you. I am happy with every religion, because I believe they all move us closer to the same God. By now, you must be thinking, “This man calls himself a Christian? Ha! Let’s see how he supports that with the Bible!” I can’t tell you any Biblical support because I do not believe in the authority of Scriptures. Man wrote the Bible, man decided 2000 years ago what is canon and what is not, and man translated it. The Bible did not float down from the skies. C.S. Lewis’ The Chronicles of Narnia was also written by man. The Chronicles of Narnia even describe a savior, an evil force, and a view of paradise, but we both don’t use it as scripture. So, to say that the Bible is the Truth and must be used to support beliefs is asking a lot of folks when you can’t even prove that the Bible is the Truth.

      • Gary April 4, 2011 at 9:51 am #

        David,

        You can not prove that the Bible is true using the scientific method but you can examine the evidence like you would in a court of law. When this is done the Bible stands out among all the religious books of the world as the one most likely to be true. I would suggest that you read Josh McDowell’s book “Evidence that Demands a Verdict” if you are interested in knowing more about the reliability of the Bible. Josh McDowell began this book as an atheist intent on disproving the Bible but finished it as a Bible believing Christian. When he examined the evidence in detail (this book is 750+ pages) he couldn’t help but conclude that the Bible is a book that was inspired by God and protected by Him so that we could have a source for truth today. I have a lot of respect for Josh McDowell because, rather than rely on his own opinion, he spent a great deal of time and effort searching for the truth. In my search for truth I examined all of the major world religions in an effort to determine which ones, if any, might be true. What I found is that when you look at the foundations of religions other than Christianity you find that they crumble. If the foundation of a religion is not true then anything built on top of it can not be true. This is not the forum to go into details but I suggest that you look into this for yourself. After my 3 year examination of the major religions I concluded that Christianity was the religion that was most likely to be true. But I still had a shadow of doubt in my mind so I prayed to God and asked Him to reveal to me in miraculous ways whether or not Christianity was true. After that heartfelt prayer God began to show me, not only that Christianity was true but also that the Bible was His Word. He did this by speaking to me through scripture and circumstances. For example my wife and I had been having problems getting my son to study. One morning right before school he said that he “forgot” to study for a test he had that day. My frustration peaked and I grabbed him by both shoulders and shook him and yelled, “You have to get good grades! Don’t you understand?” When I let go of him he began to cry. I left the room in anger. I went upstairs to brush my teeth and I glanced at the scripture calendar that was sitting on the dresser in the bathroom. It said, “A fool gives full vent to his anger, but a wise man keeps himself under control. Proverbs 29:11” Immediately I realized that God had just spoken to me. God was telling me to stop acting like a fool. I went back downstairs and apologized to my son. This is just one example of dozens of similar events that have happened to me and have confirmed, in miraculous ways, that the God of the Bible is the one true God.

        One additional thought that I would ask you to consider. If God has not provided humanity with any reliable source for truth then what is to prevent every individual from making God into who they want Him to be? In the Bible they call this practice idolatry and God hates it.

  25. Moray McGuffie April 30, 2011 at 5:17 pm #

    Hi,

    I don’t have a deep theological answer to this. Only to say that Rob Bell, I am certain is sincere in what he says. It is possible though to be sincerely wrong.

    I believe that in an aim to reach people, some indiviuals have started to water down the Gospel so that it becomes more acceptable and paletable. If we carry on like this we will have a wishy washy easy believism type of message. Many will go through the wide gate that leads to destruction. We must be careful that by changing the gospel message so that it is pleasant to the ears, that we don’t send people through the wrong gate.

    I am sure that if some of the great preachers who are no longer with us would to use an phrase “Turn over in their graves” knowing some of the stuff that is being preached these days.

  26. Jim Hill March 25, 2013 at 11:13 am #

    Be careful about putting Rob Bell in the same camp as the evangelical movement in which I belong. Evangelical leaders you will notice have soundly distanced themselves from Mr. Bell as a result of his standing against a literal interpretation of Hell. Mr. Bell is more closely identified with the Emerging Church movement, not evangelicalism.

    This is from someone that has a profound respect for John Wesley.

Trackbacks/Pingbacks:

  1. | Faith, Media & Culture - December 31, 2011

    [...] 1.  Rob Bell and Hell. What’s all the fuss about?  Yes, Rob Bell asked us to consider that there might be other pathways to comprehend God and that hell might be a state of being.  But many of us have secretly asked the same questions and have endured our own personal hells.  Theologians have been arguing these questions since the late 19th century, making Rob Bell just one more brave soul willing to ask questions.  Since the publishing of his book, Rob Bell has left the famous Mars Hill Church he founded to pursue other interests, one of which is a television drama.  Seems Bell never scored high grades in seminary preaching classes because he was always pursuing new ways of presenting ideas. [...]

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