Rob’s book constantly casts doubt on the notion that there is a hell that will be full of people suffering for eternity. Others have cast doubt on that by speaking of anihilationtsm, where people’s suffering is not eternal, but the consequences are. With that view the unsaved pass out of existence at some point in the future. In Love Wins Bell goes further, arguing that there is a second chance after death which he seems to believe all will take. Once again I am sorry but I do not have page numbers for these quotes. If someone can ping me a message if they know them I will add them. This is the one disadvantage of doing a review via reading the book on Kindle.
Bell says “…it is our responsibility to be extremely careful about making negative, decisive, lasting judgments about people’s eternal destinies.” To a certain extent I agree with him when it comes to indviduals. We can never know for sure that a friend or colleague who died did not have some kind of faith in Christ, or perhaps a response to him as they died. Ian McCormack speaks of an encounter with Jesus as he lay apparently unconscious and dying in an ambulance that led to his salvation. We have no way of knowing how common such an experience is.
But equally, in fact perhaps, more so, it is very dangerous and foolish for us to boldy state or even imply that everyone will be OK! A doctor who invented a fake pill and sold it as a cure for death itself would quite rightly be struck off, not get onto the New York Times Best Seller list! Nor for that matter the Time list of the 100 most influential people in the world!
Bell is at his most undermining of a traditional perspective when he says in Love Wins: “Of all the billions of people who have ever lived, will only a select number “make it to a better place” and every single other person suffer in torment and punishment forever? Is this acceptable to God? Has God created millions of people over tens of thousands of years who are going to spend eternity in anguish? Can God do this, or even allow this, and still claim to be a loving God?”
One doesn’t have to be a universalist or deny the existence of hell as Jesus described it to dare to believe that God may well save the majority of mankind. Spurgeon was a fire and brimstone believer, but believed that God would be most glorified by more people being saved than lost. There will be, as Rob Bell does rightly put it, “Surprises” in heaven, but anyone who gets there will get there because of the work of Jesus and because of grace.
The Bible tells us of our sin and predicament and gives us a clear way out. It gives us one clear way we can know we are saved. We cannot sit in judgment on others because we do not know what is in their hearts. Maybe someone you know DOES have faith in God, or maybe they gained faith in God before they died. We must trust the God of the universe to do right in all the “hard cases”
Bible says clearly two things that speak to this: ” there is no other name under heaven by which we must be saved” and “ it is appointed to a man once to die then face judgment” (Hebrews 9:27). There is in my view no hint of post mortum repentance in the Bible.
In Luke 16 Jesus says very clearly that there is a CHASM that no one can cross between heaven and hell.
Jesus also says “And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life” Matthew 25:46. If that is not clear, what words would be? We can argue about what eternal means, but whatever it means it must mean the same thing when it describes the life on offer and the punishment on offer. We do not use different meanings of a word in the same sentence.
THERE IS NO OTHER WAY TO KNOW FOR SURE THAT YOU ARE GOING TO HEAVEN THAN BY ACCEPTING CHRIST HERE AND NOW. Will there be some in heaven that were never part of a church? Yes! Do I believe King David was right that he would see his baby again in paradise? YES! Is it possible that God can save some who have never met a Christian, perhaps by appearing to them in a dream? YES! Does that mean we can relax, NO! Our concern should be to Get this message to everyone! For if we do not the Bible seems to imply in some places their blood will be on our hands. There is mystery. We must trust God. But we cannot console ourselves with some soft liberal notion that God will simply send everyone to heaven. We can and should trust the judge of all the earth to do right.
Jesus does say “I have sheep not of this fold” but they are HIS sheep. I do think we have to be careful about setting boundaries around who is in and who isn’t. Not terribly sure the Bible wants us to be very clear about everybody else’s position. I think it urges us to get very clear about our own position. The only way in is through Christ. Through repentance. Through faith. Through believing that Jesus rose from the dead and declaring him to be lord of the universe and lord of my life. As I have said in my book, the definition of a Christian is someone who believes in the physical resurrection of Jesus and lives in light of that event. Or as Paul put it “if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart God raised him from the dead you WILL be saved” (Romans 10:10)
A COMPELLING LOVE FOR EVERYONE?
Bell: “First, I believe that Jesus’s story is first and foremost about the love of God for every single one of us. It is a stunning, beautiful, expansive love, and it is for everybody, everywhere”
This sounds very optimistic, and lovely but is not real with what the world is like. God does love the world, but the world hated him so much it nailed him to a cross and buried him. We live in a world of violence, hatred and sin. A world that Psalm 2 says is trying to “throw off” what they believe are the chains of God’s rule over them. Do you really believe that everybody will accept the love of God even if they were given an eternity to do so?
Bell says it himself in Love Wins, “A racist would be miserable in the world to come.” He seems to believe that such a person is gradually won over, and presumably such a wining over would even apply to a man like Adolf Hitler.
Its not just racists of course, but hell is the place for those who reject God. But be careful here, it is not just a passive thing that God does in allowing them to reject him, his nature is so holy it cannot tolerate sin, so he actively punishes sin either in us or in Jesus. No sin goes unpunished.
Rob seems to be saying that everyone will eventually be won over by Christ’s love and persistence and will hence repent after death and get to heaven. We know that God pours his kindness out on people “the rain on the just and the unjust” in this life and yet many resist him, why would we think that somehow after death it will be different. Wouldn’t it be more likely that those who hate God in this world will go on hating him in the next?