Over the last few months the blogosphere has been aflame with discussion of hell, sparked by Rob Bell’s book Love Wins: At the Heart of Life’s Big Questions. Indeed many bloggers cast Bell himself into the flames, even before they had read the book.
I haven’t read the book. I probably won’t. So I will refrain from any detailed comment on it. All I will say is that, as far as I can tell, Bell mainly asks questions, and those who condemn him do so on the basis of how they assume Bell would answer his own questions. That is not a Christian approach. Indeed to condemn anyone, with the kind of language I have seen in some places, is not a Christian approach.
At some point I would like to outline here my own position on heaven and hell. For now I will simply say that I have a lot of sympathy with N.T. Wright’s position, as I outlined it in an old post Heaven is not our home …
I am writing now mainly to draw my readers’ attention to Suzanne’s long series Blogging heaven and hell (2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7 – maybe more to come). Suzanne asked me to join the debate, but my thoughts have been elsewhere. She has many sensible things to say, as well as many useful links.
I don’t agree with Suzanne’s tentative universalist position. But I strongly agree with her that it is wrong to use threats of hell as a way to impose one’s will on others, in the church or in the home.
I would also be very cautious about using threats of hell-fire in evangelism. I’m not saying there is never a place for telling unbelievers that they will go to some kind of hell if they do not repent. But it is not a generally effective strategy today, at least in the western world – and it is not a general feature of the early Christian sermons in the book of Acts, so no one can claim that it is a biblically required part of a gospel presentation. Indeed, as I read somewhere recently, while Jesus spoke a lot about hell he did so mostly not to ordinary “sinners”, but to Pharisees and the like who claimed to be right with God but opposed Jesus’ message. So perhaps if we do preach about hell, it ought to be mainly within the professing church, to those who claim to be going to heaven but are not producing the fruit of good Christian lives.