Yes, this is another comment on Rob Bell’s newest book Love Wins: A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived. No it won’t be lengthy, no it won’t be bombastic. As Sam and I have read Bell’s book, talked with friends, listened to interviews, and reflected on it I believe I’ve come to a place of peace regarding it all.

Initially this wasn’t the case. Initially I was flummoxed by Bell’s writing, by his questions, by his unwillingness to answer the questions of others. I got frustrated, even angry. I railed against him. I even felt betrayed by him.

As time has passed, as I reflect more and am frustrated less, I think I’ve come to a place of peace regarding it all. Let me explain. First, let me explain what I believe Bell is not trying to do with his book. I don’t believe Bell is trying to fly in the face of 2000+ years of Christian teaching regarding heaven, hell, and the afterlife. I don’t think that was his goal or desire. He may have done that in part – particularly around the topic of Hell – but I don’t believe that was his intention. I don’t believe he set out to cause a ruckus in the Christian world.

But what then was his purpose? I believe Bell set out to challenge contemporary American Christianity, particularly contemporary fundamentalist American Christianity. From my understanding, he desired to challenge the typically negative approach many of us have used in our evangelistic efforts. Traditionally, we’ve approached the topic of evangelism as a necessity to avoid death, punishment, and hell. We’ve argued that you should become a follower of Jesus, otherwise you’ll end up suffering a terrible torment. And I have to agree with Bell that this is a particularly negative way to approach good news. Instead, Bell challenges us to approach the good news of the Gospel in positive way. Rather than saying, “You should become a Christian to avoid hell;” we should say, “You should become a Christian because the Creator of the universe loves you and wants you to experience a free and full life.” Do you see the difference in approach? The former has a negative posture, while the latter has a positive one. And so I believe Bell’s ultimate goal is to challenge our Christian contexts to evangelize with this positive posture, pointing out the goodness and love of God for the lost, broken, and lonely.

Now, with all that said I think Bell could have done a much better job making that argument. I struggle with the lack of clarity in his writing. His stream of thought lacks a certain theological depth and I believe that lack is dangerous. Dangerous not only to the reader as it encourages some doctrinal divisions that can lead to heresy, but also, as is more and more evident, dangerous to Bell himself. He’s been beaten up again and again by countless evangelical leaders. He’s been accused of heresy, of being unorthodox, and misleading. If he had been clearer in his presentation we/he could have avoided this dangerous dance. I understand that his style is provocative and conversational. However, when dealing with such deep theological issues he cannot afford to be flippant or unclear.

In the end, I agree with Bell’s intention. For far too long we’ve approached the good news as a technique to avoid hell. While the true nature of the good news is in fact that it is actually good. The gospel shouldn’t be a way to avoid hell, but rather a way to celebrate, enjoy, and expand God’s love and our experience of a heaven that is both “already” and “not-yet.”

That being said, I cannot stray with Bell and ignore the reality of God’s holiness and the necessity for restitution for our sins. I do believe that God’s holiness is so important that those who do not find their rest in Christ, those who are not covered by his sacrifice, will experience the penalty for being an affront to  the holiness of God. It really is that important, it really is that big of a deal. So I, like Bell, hold out hope that God is a God of surprises, that he does in fact include more people under the sacrifice of Christ than I know. I hope that God does in fact save most if not all of us from an eternal conscious hell.

However, here’s where Bell and I differ: I am called to share the good news as it has been revealed. I cannot teach these hopes of mine. To do so would be irresponsible. To do so would supplant the authority of the scripture. Rather, I can only teach what is found in the Bible. So while I hope for a universal salvation, I can’t get there from scripture.

Alright, so this ended up being a little longer than I thought. Let me know what you think.

Peace,

Nate

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