Firstly, I need to say that I like Rob Bell. I cried as I turned the empty pages at the close of ‘Drops Like Stars’. He’s a thinker, a lover of people and a Christian leader of our age. It’s this third Characteristic that has led me to write this short article.
Rob has a problem that I have also grappled with (and who in their right mind wouldn’t?). How can a good God send good people to Hell forever? When we say ‘good people’, we mean people that work an honest living, raise an honest family and really care for the world around them. Rob’s answer is to adjust the nature of God, adjust the true nature of people and to adjust the means through which we must all come to God.
He does it against the backdrop of American Evangelism – which hands out free tickets to Heaven (often to simply avoid Hell) – having a respect for the hereafter but not much for the herenow. He calls it ‘toxic’ and sees it as a deterent to all the love of God is and stands for. And so do I.
The problem is that he has placed all that I believe into the same flippant and cynical basket that contains every single ‘turn or burn’ Christian and every ‘ticketed’ but dysfunctional Christian found in The Bible Belts of America.
That’s not fair, and if I do say so myself – it’s unloving. In the name of love, Rob has concluded that ‘eternal judgement’ mentioned in Matthew 25 cannot mean ‘eternal’, and cannot mean ‘judgement’ as we traditionally see judgement. He has, through inconsistent Bible translation (that even one of his book’s endorsers, Eugene Peterson, never strays into), reworded it to mean a defined period of ‘correction or pruning’ – A kind of Hell one goes to until one realises that they’ve already been forgiven. Through accepting this, they can then enter Heaven. It’s a kind of repentance in Hell.
This is strange. It all comes from what Spurgeon once described as a place where, ‘a pity for the criminal has overcome the horror of the crime’. In reacting to evagHELLists, Rob Bell has taken love beyond the riverbanks of justice and created a tsunami of love – both refreshing and destructive at exactly the same time. He’s narrowed God to a God who is love and not a God who is also a consuming fire. He’s reduced the necessity of faith in Christ to an undefined realisation of Christ.
The biggest danger I can see with Rob’s analysis is that there appears a glamorization of mankind – not the Hitlers and the Gadafis, but the abused, the good, the Ghandis and the grandmas of this world, as well as the innocently ignorant.
My understanding is that the holiness of God makes us all the equivalent of sons of Gaddafi. Only pride, the most evil of sins, would offset this. Rob Bell believes in Jesus’ death and the necessity for it but denies that a loving God would place the wrath of his judicial system of perfect holiness on any person who doesn’t put all of their trust in Jesus. Love doesn’t go there. In fact, he states that God’s love persists past death eventually potentially rescuing all people from Hell.
It’s clear throughout the New Testament that The Bible never hints at salvation beyond the finality of the day of judgement. Instead of provoking an active church that fights inner sins of doubt and procrastination, this ‘new’ theology could have had the opposite effect. In painting many people as not being that bad and in removing the permanence of a Christless eternity, Rob Bell has demoted the absolute need for faith and actually shrivelled the amazing love that satisfied wrath through the cross of Christ.
If you abandon the wrath of God, you lessen both the love of God and the jaw dropping appreciation one gets from being saved from a Christless eternity. In doing this, you weaken The Church of an understanding of love. In doing so, you lessen the urgency of the hour. In the process, love loses rather than really wins.
I feel for Rob Bell. I like him. But a love without non-redemptive punishment is like a love that says to a dictator, ‘I forgive you and I release you from any need to pay for your crimes’. That is a love that holds no love for the dictator’s victims and no love for the country from which the law was cast. Love and justice sleep together. They are never apart. They are always found drinking from eachother’s wells. Justice is a vital part of love, not the underside of love or the opposing force of love.
I know that what Rob shares is not really ‘new’. It’s been a depot for people of reason for centuries. It will, however, be taken by arrogant students and rebellious post modernists as fuel for the fires that warm them. Yet, it will provoke a fresh fire of fervency amongst a generation of people including myself who, after reviving the dramatic truth of God’s Word, will rise up with greater clarity and truth than before. Who wouldn’t in the light of Heaven and Hell?
For a far more comprehensive analysis of Rob Bell’s ‘Love Wins’, please see the website of The Gospel Coalition.
Kevin de Young’s brilliant review from The Gospel Coalition can be found at www.thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/kevindeyoung/2011/03/14/Rob_Bell_Love_Wins_review
In this review, you’ll find a large selection of quotes from ‘Love Wins’ and robust arguments from the truth of God’s Word. All done in a spirit of respect!