The cover of the April 25, 2011, issue of Time magazine proclaimed “What if There’s no HELL?” The five-page feature story gave an overview of Rob Bell’s new book, “Love Wins: A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived.” It describes Bell as an Evangelical Christian and pastor of the 7,000-member Mars Hill Bible Church in Michigan.
The book promotes a possibility that since Jesus Christ died for the sins of the world, then the entire world could have a place in heaven. Note the vague words: “possibility” and “could;” also included are the nebulous phrases: “seems to suggest,” “could mean,” “one might expect.”
And people are jumping on the bandwagon. After all, this is not our parents’ stodgy Christianity. Our generation is proud to think for themselves and way too smart to fall for the literal hell of the Bible.
Bell says, “When we get to what happens when we die, we don’t have any video footage, so let’s at least be honest that we are speculating, because we are.” He suggests we don’t need to make the choice to believe or not believe, because these are questions we can’t answer or resolve; we simply need to create “space for the freedom that love requires.”
He may be speculating, but the Bible is very clear. Psalm 9:17 says, “The wicked shall be turned into hell …;” Second Peter 2:4, “… God did not spare the angels who sinned, but cast them down to hell …;” and Revelation 20:15, “… anyone not found written in the Book of Life was cast into the lake of fire.”
There’s a preponderance of references to the lake of fire, the bottomless pit, Gehenna, Hades, Sheol, torments, … hell — none of which are mere speculations. Second Peter 1:20-21 says, ” … no prophecy of the scripture is of any private interpretation, for prophecy never came by the will of man, but holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit.”
A growing number of churches are promoting this “God loves everyone, so how could He condemn anyone to hell for eternity” platform. They support a system of good works, inclusion, tolerance, and love, to the exclusion of faith alone in Jesus Christ. What’s missing here? Personal responsibility. God is fair. He gives each of us the opportunity to choose for Him, or not. He’s not going to force anyone to spend eternity with Him if they can’t stand to spend time with Him now.
God is the creator and sustainer of the universe. It’s blasphemy to suggest He doesn’t have a contingency plan for everyone who wants to know Him. So when Bell casts doubts with questions such as, “What about babies? What if the missionary got a flat tire?” my question is, “What about all the people being led off course by his counterfeit doctrine?”
Some believers have renounced their Christianity and jumped into the “free thinking” mindset of atheism and humanism and are leading others astray. Don’t they realize Christianity is a lifelong relationship that nothing and no one (not even they themselves) can sever? In John 10:28 Jesus says, “no one shall snatch them out of my hand.”
Romans 8:35, 38-39 tells us they have nothing to lose — “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Yet in their arrogant ignorance they’re putting the souls of loved ones at risk for eternity.
These wise-in-their-own-eyes types will one day be face-to-face with Jesus, whether they believe it or not. Will their first words to Him be, “Well, rats, I don’t wanna be here!”? Will they do the dance of joy as they observe friends and family members who’ve embraced their false doctrine “cast into outer darkness where there’s weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Matthew 8:12)?
Bell also says, “I have long wondered if there is a massive shift coming in what it means to be a Christian.” What it means to be a Christian is the same as it’s always been, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved (Acts 16:31). But now standing up for Jesus — the way, the TRUTH, and the life — is guaranteed to elicit comments like this one from a social networking site: “Stop using Jesus as an excuse for being narrow minded and bigoted.”
Craig L. Parshall addresses such comments in the July/August 2011 issue of Israel My Glory where he writes, “We must not first see who agrees with us before we decide what the truth is.” The TRUTH is Jesus Christ. All Scripture is His Word, not just the letters in red.
The closing sentence of the Time article states, “Rob Bell has much to say, and many are listening.” The Bible has much more to say, and many would do well to listen to it.
Brenda J. Norris is assistant Sunday school leader and choir director at the West Lubec Methodist Church. She may be reached via firstname.lastname@example.org. Voices is a weekly commentary by Maine people who explore issues affecting spirituality and religious life.