Heaven, Hell and Bell

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.

0 thoughts on “Heaven, Hell and Bell

  1. I have been intrigued by the debate, but recently watched this video from Ps. David Platt on the need to battle not only theoretical universalism, but also “functional universalism,” where orthodox Christians live as though everyone was going to heaven in the end. The message is very powerful and apt. Here’s the link to the video:

  2. Tyson, thank you for the link. I agree that we should live what we believe, and that means giving more priority to evangelism. But this guy is guilty of a serious logical fallacy in suggesting that the only alternative to universalism is his assertion that anyone who is not identifiably an evangelical Christian, i.e. 99.5% of all Indians including most of the 2.3% who call themselves Christians, are going to an eternal hell. It is not a matter of all being saved or all being lost. I don’t want to suggest where the lines might be drawn, for those who have responded the best they can to the limited revelation which has been given to them. Only God knows that. But I think this guy will be surprised at some of the people he meets when he gets to God’s kingdom.

  3. Hi Peter,

    I agree with you. Platt comes from a traditional Southern Baptist background, I believe. What I liked about his video was the focus on belief and action going together. He pointed out the hypocrisy (or, cognitive dissonance) of many traditionalists.

    Regarding my own beliefs on the matter: I am hopeful that whoever calls on the name of the Lord will be saved. Since we can safely assume that none of the Patriarchs, David, or other Old Testament saints knew the Messaiah would be named Yeshua (although that would have been a good guess), and that Paul knew that when he wrote “all who call on the name of the Lord will be saved,” then we can logically conclude that those who are saved include those who don’t know Jesus by name, but still call on Him to save them from their sin without knowing all the doctrinal details of Christianity. However, that’s my hopeful hypothesis that I think is allowable by Scripture. I do believe many people (including nominal Christians) will end up in eternal torment as the result of their rejection of God’s grace to them.

    Some verses that I’m pondering currently regarding salvation for those who do not know Jesus in traditional Christian terms: Romans 2:13-16, Acts 17:26-31, and Romans 10:11-15

    God bless you.

  4. Thank you, Tyson. My position is similar to yours. I didn’t mean to suggest that all nominal Christians would be saved, just that salvation is not restricted to those who sign up to evangelical doctrinal statements.

  5. Pingback: Evangelical Alliance responds to Rob Bell

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