As part of the preparation for my face to face debate with Rob Bell, I created an extensive set of notes to make sure I was clear what I wanted to say. I originally felt that I wanted to at least delay commenting on this issue, but I have now decided that this is a sufficiently important controversy, with sufficient interest from others, and so much at stake, that I should convert that set of notes into a fairly substantial series of posts. This won’t take the form of a review as such, although it is definitely a response to the book, and theological reflection.
To start out with, I should stress that there is no doubt this is a book Rob has written out of deep conviction, shaped by his own experiences and that he has always aimed to communicate well with those who feel damaged by Christian expressions and are in danger of rejecting the church altogether.
At the beginning of the debate, I stated something that I would like to repeat here: I am sorry that some have been quite hurtful and hateful towards Rob, (especially some bloggers who some call the pyjama hadin!) I have no intention to be hateful to anyone but every Christian has to “contend for the faith once for all delivered to us” (Jude 1:2).
It is not enough for Rob to claim that other Christians have slandered him. I hope that through listening to the debate you will be able to hear clearly what it is he is trying to say. There is a tendency for many in the camp I call “neo-liberals” to say “you just don’t understand me” but the job of a communicator is to communicate! When discussing some of the key themes of Rob’s book in interviews he seems to be reluctant to come out and state exactly what he believes. In fact I felt that debating Rob Bell was a lot like debating Jello. But the very act of questioning in a mocking manner makes it very clear that on many issues he does not hold to the more traditional view. There is no doubt now in my mind that he is clearly rejecting perspectives many evangelicals hold dear.
But we must remember that everything we know about hell comes from the mouth of Jesus himself. Jesus doesn’t play games. Therefore this is error. The problem with error, is that this becomes deception and it leads people astray.
In Rob’s book he says ““No one can resist God’s pursuit forever because God’s love will eventually melt even the hardest hearts” (page 108)” This sounds very much like he believes that because “love wins” everyone will be saved. But when he says love wins he means TOLERANCE wins and God will tolerate anything at the end of the day
My concern is that Rob and others do not agree with a simple interpretation of what Jesus told us about the most fearsome risk we all face. This is the risk of an eternity without God in hell.
If someone announced that they had found the cure for death, we wouldn’t tolerate them, and hopefully they wouldn’t become a millionaire overnight by hitting the bestseller list. They’d be put in prison for fraud. There is a fearsome responsibility of saying (or even just implying) to the world that there is no hell, or at least not in the sense of eternal conscious punishment for those who reject Christ in this life. What if there is a hell after all?
Rob is saying “peace peace” when there is no peace! He is like a snake oil salesman getting rich from telling people what they want to hear, but that is placing their souls in jeopardy. What is to stop someone reading Rob’s book and saying “great then in that case I will commit as much sin as possible in this life and then repent in the next?” People already say sometimes that they will delay repentance to their death bed (which is a dangerous idea as not everyone has a death bed as such). What a tragedy if someone relies on a post-mortum opportunity to turn to Jesus millions of people have understood the Bible never offers.