The cover story of this week’s Time magazine is about Hell. Specifically, it poses the question of “What if there’s no hell?” It’s all a response to a brewhaha about Rob Bell’s new book, Love Wins. I won’t attempt to review the book or the controversy since others have done that already and have done so far better than I can do here.
Kevin DeYoung has posted an excellent and thorough book review at: http://thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/kevindeyoung/2011/03/14/rob-bell-love-wins-review/ and The Gospel Coalition presented a panel discussion of the topic that can be viewed here: http://thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/tgc/2011/04/14/god-abounding-in-love-punishing-the-guilty/ .
I simply want to state a few reflections I have that are less focused on the content of Rob Bell’s theology and more on his attitude and some other “behind the scenes” considerations, with the hopes that we will consider the implications for us and our walks with the Lord.
- Rob Bell is primarily an evangelist who wants to reach lost people with the gospel. If you know his ministry, you know that’s his heart – and it’s also the reason for his downfall. He has allowed his compassion for people to obscure his study of the scriptures. His zeal for souls has blurred his vision of the text. He’s not the first to fall into this trap. Anyone who spends time with non-believers will be struck by the fact that, at times, some of them are rather nice people. And many of them have been hurt by the church. This combination has caused many to compromise their belief that all people are lost without Christ. Rob Bell just joins a long line of apostates. Jesus warned us of this very possibility many times.
- At the heart of the issue is a profound misunderstanding of what the Bible means by “God is love.” Dr. Carson addressed this in the site referenced above. But it needs to be said that when we so emphasize the love of God that we forget the wrath of God (which, by the way, is an essential expression of God’s love), universalism becomes amazingly seductive. We shouldn’t be surprised by its lure. In fact, the only way to resist it is to expect it – and then respond with the truth of the scriptures.
- “Nothing fails quite like success.” I heard Dallas Willard say that many years ago and I have since seen numerous displays of that truth. It can actually be tragic for someone in Christian ministry to succeed – either with swelling church attendance or soaring book sales. Rob Bell has had both. When publishers find a cash-cow, a writer who makes them a lot of money, it seems that the editing process becomes more streamlined (“Let’s get this book out there as fast as possible”) and less theological (“He’s probably OK theologically – look at how many people are buying his books!”). This is probably unfair to publishers but it does seem that many writers and leaders reach a point of “untouchability” and they cannot be critiqued or corrected. This is tragic and Rob Bell’s success has prevented close friends or editors or elders from saying, “This is heresy. You must not preach it, no matter how much people like it. And you must not write it, no matter how many royalties you’ll collect.” Something about “itching ears” needs to be taken into account. (see 2 Tim. 4:3).
- There is much to learn from history. All of Rob Bell’s arguments have been stated before – more politely and with greater depth. There’s nothing new in Love Wins that wasn’t postulated close to 100 years ago during the so-called “Fundamentalist-Modernist” controversy. If you’re not familiar with that moment in church history, you should acquaint yourself with it. All this current controversy will seem far less novel and far more disturbing.