Exploring Love Wins 2

Because of the firestorm created, I am beginning these discussions of Rob Bell’s book, Love Wins: A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived, with a prayer. I am asking that you pause quietly and slow down enough to pray this prayer as the way to approach this entire series:

O Lord, you have taught us that without love whatever we do is worth nothing:
Send your Holy Spirit and pour into my heart your greatest gift,
which is love, the true bond of peace and of all virtue,
without which whoever lives is accounted dead before you.
Grant this for the sake of your only Son Jesus Christ,
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God,
now and for ever. Amen.

Hell. That’s the subject of conversation today. And God. Our view of God is implicit and explicit in our view of hell. The question then is what view of God is suggested by your view of hell? And, how does your view of God shape your view of hell? [Forgot: If you like this conversation, please FB share it or Retweet it.... thanks.]

I want us to sit back for a moment to consider the single-most important problem Rob Bell is facing and seeking to resolve in this book. That problem for him is how many in the church, and by and large most in the 19th and 20th Century of American evangelicals, have understood hell and who and how many populate hell. And what that view implies about God. Here are the three big facts, and you correct me if I’m wrong here.

Those who have heard the gospel and who have accepted it will go to heaven.

Those who have heard the gospel and not accepted it will go to hell.

Those who have not heard the gospel will also go to hell.

I am aware that some, I don’t know how many, believe in a fourth line:

Those who have not heard the gospel may be in a special class, and could be judged in a different way — on the basis of the light they have received from natural revelation. [At the end of this post I briefly discuss other options.]

But my experience in the evangelical world, which historically has been more or less exclusivist (salvation only in Christ, but also understood as consciously responding in this life to the preaching of the gospel itself [again see end of this post]), does not lead me to believe that there’s much reason for hope for those who have not heard. And there’s no hope for those who have heard and who have not accepted the gospel. Yes, some are much more optimistic about the fate of those who have never heard the good news about Jesus Christ, but Rob is not responding to the optimistic evangelical.

But this sketch of three or four points isn’t all of Rob Bell’s problem.

If one takes that third fact seriously, and many evangelicals have done just that, it means that most — let’s say the vast majority — of humans will go to hell because most have not heard the gospel at all. And vast numbers who have have not accepted it. Witness contemporary Europe for instance, or much of Russia. Add now to this the millions and millions in the Far East, most of those in African until the missionary movement, those in Muslim countries and millions in South America and other places not mentioned on this good globe of ours… and then add to this those who a thousand years or ago in far off places … you get the picture. The problem that arises from these three (or four) facts is that God created millions and millions of human beings over time and only a select number of them will go to heaven. The problem that arises, therefore, entails what we believe about God.

Of course, there are some theologians and probably loads of Christians who have believed otherwise. But the fact is that if one believes salvation is only in Christ (exclusivism) and and that to be a believer one must consciously believe the gospel, then Rob Bell’s caricatures or exaggerations are not as far fetched as some might be suggesting. And the more one fudges in the direction of inclusivism — that there’s a wideness in God’s mercy, or that there’s a different judgment for those who have not heard (and it’s merciful etc etc), that those who died before they were born, or before the age of accountability, etc — the less one fits the stronger exclusivist category. It’s fair to ask “Why infants who die will be saved but not those who have never heard?” And it’s fair to ask “If infants can be saved, why not others?”

I don’t believe anyone should be after or for Rob Bell’s book until one has grappled with this problem. It won’t do just to poke at Rob’s soteriology, or lack of interest in how the atonement occurs … yes, those issues need examination. But the problem probed in this book, as I see it, and this is dawning on me the more I ponder it and the responses, is this:

I believe most evangelicals Christians, and I won’t speak for Catholics and Orthodox etc, suppress this problem to where it doesn’t really matter. Furthermore, they not only suppress that question but they suppress what it makes them think about God in quiet moments. So, there’s a fifth approach that many take today:

We don’t know what becomes of the millions, perhaps billions, who have never heard the gospel.

But, this appeal to agnosticism is for far too many a cop-out. It is too often born in a conviction that doesn’t have courage. Many of these are true-blue exclusivists but don’t like its implications, so they say “I don’t know” or “That’s in God’s hands.” [On other kinds of agnosticism, see below.] Some use agnosticism as a cloak for a universalism or pluralism they don’t want to admit.

So, I contend we have to get inside this problem and explore it through the problem itself and not explore it simply through our already confident soteriology or doctrine of Scripture. The problem is that no matter how strong your view of Scripture or salvation you have to come to terms with who and how many are in hell or who and how many will be saved. We might not know numbers, but our theology will inform us about the “who” and that will also mean the “how many” is also clarified.

I’ve asked a question like this — how many North Koreans will be in hell? –  a number of times to friends in the last month and I’ve had very few say “All” or “Most” but instead there’s been a nice genteel “I don’t know.” But that “I don’t know” seems to me to fly in the face of the dogmatism against Rob’s much softer — almost all or all or he hopes all — view.

You can’t condemn Rob’s view until you face the problem and tell the world your quantification theory. The more you say “I don’t know” the more Martin Bashir is asking you what he asked Rob Bell.

[Some other options:

1. Double predestination, which is appealed to rarely and even more rarely claimed publicly in this sort of discussion, would say "For those who have not heard the gospel ... if they were elect, they'll be saved. If not they, they'll not be saved."
2. Other terms often used are inclusivism (that God saves through Christ but includes others on the basis of what work, and that inclusion is based on response to truth) and accessibilism (that God somehow reveals his saving truth to all humans who have ever lived, and has done so at least one time in the life of each person, and judges on that basis but salvation is only through Christ). I am ignoring post Vatican II Catholic thinking and Orthodox thinking because it does not appear to me Rob is speaking into those contexts.
3. Religious instrumentalism teaches that God uses other religions to point us toward God and, in some forms, that Christ is present in those other religions though in a lesser way than is present in the Christian faith.
4. It seems to me that many evangelicals, if not most, understand exclusivism through the lens of what Terry Tiessen calls "ecclesiocentrism": salvation is coextensive with the church whose responsibility it is to proclaim the gospel. So, exclusivism here means through Christ but that "Christ" is known only through the gospel, which is made known by the church's witness.
5. There are two other kinds agnosticism: some are optimistic, like John Stott and R. Mouw, and others are pessimistic, like J.I. Packer and D.A Carson. This sketch was helped along by T. Tiessen, Who Can Be Saved?: Reassessing Salvation in Christ and World Religions.]

Exploring Love Wins 1

For other posts, see Tony Jones, Greg Boyd.

Jeff Cook compares Rob Bell with C.S. Lewis.

Early Rob Bell reviews.

Waiting for Rob Bell part one and part two.

About Scot McKnight

Scot McKnight is a recognized authority on the New Testament, early Christianity, and the historical Jesus. McKnight, author of more than fifty books, is the Professor of New Testament at Northern Seminary in Lombard, IL.

  • Cher

    A personal story in a nutshell: A few years ago our son confessed that he had left his Christian faith. Since the age of thirteen, he wrestled with the passages in the Bible and teachings in the church concerning heaven and hell. He said that he finally felt free when he chose to break free from the Christian belief system. “Even if there were absolute proof that only through faith in Jesus we get to heaven, I would not want to be part of this select group and spend eternity in this kind of a heaven.” I so understood what he meant!

  • Jason Lee

    Also, if you define “heard the gospel” as something more holistic and multidimensional than Bill Bright’s “4 Spiritual Laws,” you’re likely to find an even smaller number of persons who have “heard the gospel.”

  • Rick

    “…many evangelicals have done just that, it means that most — let’s say the vast majority — of humans will go to hell because most have not heard the gospel at all.”

    I don’t want to split hairs, but some clarification may be needed about that: Is it because they “have not heard the gospel?”

    As Sam Storms writes, as he comments on Romans 1:

    “They will not be judged for their rejection of Jesus, of whom they have heard nothing. For Rob Bell or anyone else to suggest that we believe people will suffer eternally in hell for not believing in a Jesus of whom they know nothing is a distortion of what we affirm, and worse still is a distortion of what Paul clearly taught. People will be held accountable and judged on the basis of the revelation that God has made of himself to them. And this revelation is unmistakable, unavoidable, and sufficiently pervasive and clear that the failure to respond as well as the turn to idolatry renders them “without excuse.” They will be righteously judged for rejecting the Father, not for rejecting the Son.”

    I realize this raises questions, or may be seen by some as two sides of the same coin, but people are not sent to Hell because they have not heard the gospel.

  • Rick

    Let me just say that I hope my comment in #3 did not come across as cold. I realize the severity of the topic, and hope my comment comes across as loving concern. I just think some clarification needed to be mentioned.

  • http://LostCodex.com DRT

    I think your question is the right one, “what view of God is suggested by your view of hell”, but that one just highlights the problem. Your second question is the one that starts to bring progress, “how does your view of God shape the view of hell”.

    I contend that the human ego is the falling out with god and we have institutionalized it in the evangelical worldview. Somehow I am special and not others. This is a big problem and it sings to every fallen person out there as we believe we are important. This sin is what Jesus came to abolish and instead orient outward to loving god and others rather than self.

    But somehow we even took that message and turned it around into the self fulfilling promise/religion that says only those who know the religion are good in god’s eyes. The ultimate in in group loyalty and superiority. It is the people who feel they are the in group that are in the most trouble!

    My view of god is that he loves everyone equally and is infinitely patient (slow to anger).

  • http://mildenhall.net/ Helen

    Scot, you know more about theology than me, but in my experience Double Predestination has always been expressed as strictly exclusivist, as follows: only the elect are saved and they are all saved by means of the gospel, because God ensures that the gospel reaches all of his elect.

  • Allen

    According to the Anglican/Episcopalian tradition (of which I belong) – Taken from official tecachings.. (http://www.ireland.anglican.org/index.php?do=information&id=12)

    “it is impossible that human beings with their limited understanding and experience could either envisage or communicate an exact or literal account of what happens after death. ” and ..

    “The Anglican Communion, is faithful to the Bible’s reticence on this subject and does not require from its members any belief not clearly taught in the Bible. Many questions are left open and we can exercise our judgement on them. For example, is there progress after death or is the final state of each individual reached at the moment of death? The Bible does not give a definite answer to these questions either way. A complicating factor is the question of time in eternity. We cannot assume that time continues in the same way after death as it does before. The day of judgement is not a date in human reckoning that can be known. Judgement may be going on all the time, as some verses in St John’s Gospel suggest (e.g. “Now is the judgement of this world; now the ruler of this world will be driven out” John 12:31). ”

    Even more on the question of Eternal Life
    “‘And this is eternal life, that they know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom thou hast sent.’ (John 17:3). That is, eternal life is a relationship with the eternal God. According to the Bible, eternal life is a gift of God to us through our faith in Jesus Christ, not a natural endowment. St Paul wrote, ‘this mortal nature must put on immortality’ (1 Cor. 15:53, italics added). Eternal life refers primarily to the quality, rather than the duration, of life. The converse of this state of blessedness is hell, or separation from God. Eternal life can begin on this earth but it does not end with our death. We have been created with a desire for communion with God, and God satisfies this desire by holding us in being, in this life and beyond this life, with a love that is stronger than death.”

    This sounds an awful like what is in “Love Wins”… Although Rob asks the question “Can we continue to make a choice after death?”

    My point is that I agree with Scott’s that all the commotion on this seems to be among “Evangelicals”. This book should not cause a problem within more “catholic” denominations.

    I personally believe in the perfect love of God. Its up to us whether we accept His love or not. We are free to reject it but I believe in rejecting it Hell can start right here and now… I also cannot fathom with my limited mind how his infinite love reaches out to everyone.. But thats not for me to judge…


  • http://browardemergent.blogspot.com/ Steve

    Interesting. I have spent my life in evangelical churches. Now that you lay out the different options, I have to say I’ve heard them all going back decades, but only on a low level. However, I originally discovered the notion that Jesus may have preached the gospel to the lost souls in hell (and therefore could again) only through “reading my Bible.” Yes, Rob Bell is finally bringing this discussion to a head.

  • Jason Lee


    My comment here is not directly related to post’s question, but rather indirectly focused on the possible consequences of our view of God/salvation/hell.

    I’m sorry that your son broke from the embrace of Jesus and the community of Christ’s followers. Of course I don’t know anything about the particulars of your son’s struggles (or your struggles), but I think you bring up an interesting point. I’m coming to the conclusion that it is important to not assume that a doctrinal dilemma is really the main reason people fall away from their faith. I think in most cases people fall away from faith because people’s close relationships have become centered on people who are not devout (or even are actively hostile to committed faith). In other words, people’s secular friends and romantic entanglements draw them away. This is of course assuming that person’s parents/family are devout …if not then the deck is really stacked against faith commitment.

    Another (not unrelated) common reason for falling away from faith is that people have or want to pursue activities that the community of faith sees as destructive or wrong. Non-marital sex is a classic and widespread example. So, after attachments have been formed and acts committed, the doctrine thing becomes an after-the-fact almost respectable reason to stop pursuing a faith one no long is relationally immersed in or finds easy/convenient. This may all happen without the person thinking too deeply about it or necessarily being deceitful.

    None of this may apply to your son (or you), but my experience and reading of studies of this issue lead me to think these patterns (secular attachments & sin) are the broader forces pushing people toward apostasy. To be sure, doctrine matters for some people more than others, but I doubt it’s ever divorced from the above dynamics and most of the time likely trails them.

    Grace to you.

  • Scot McKnight

    Rick, I know where Sam Storms is coming from and I’ve heard that before… besides the issue of whether or not Rob would have heard that, there is the other issue that natural revelation or the light we receive is often said to be sufficient to condemn but not sufficient to save … it is clear to me that Rob is responding to a common form of exclusivism.

    If you look at the last section of this post you will see the ecclesiocentrics who also have a kind of agnosticism, like Packer and Carson, and while they don’t discount the possibility Storms brings up, they also argue that while it may be true the Scriptures do not teach that anyone is saved through such revelation. In other words, they side toward the less than optimistic side.

  • DanS

    Scot writes: “I don’t believe anyone should be after Rob Bell’s book until one has grappled with this problem.”

    I think you are being quite unfair here. Most every book on apologetics I’ve ever read has grappled with the problem of Hell and the unsaved. And they have tried to do it while being fair to what scripture explicitly says vs what it leaves unanswered.

    Just watched Rob Bell on Fox News of all places. When asked if he believes in Hell and the afterlife he again redirected the definition of Hell to the here and now and pretty much dodged the question with some odd understanding of eternity as not having reference to the afterlife.

    The biblical passages that specifically speak of a place of punishment where people are forcibly cast after death seem to be a problem he wants to avoid rather than deal with. None of us like the prospect of anyone in eternal torment. That is not the point. The point is numerous Biblical passages make Hell a reality that those who simply want to follow where the scripture leads cannot simply explain away.

    And Rick in comment 3 has it right. The traditional evangelical view is not that people are judged for not hearing, we are judged for failing to be faithful to what truth we have. It is one thing to hope God’s mercy may extend to some who have a less than perfect understanding of soteriology (all of us), but another to simply fail to honestly deal with passages of scripture that speak fairly forcefully about judgment after we die.

  • http://www.thebrooknetwork.org Mel Lawrenz

    There is no shame in saying “I don’t know.” “Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out!” (Rom. 11:33)

  • http://idcommunity.dk Stephen Sandoval

    Spot on Scot!
    @Rick it sounds like you are taking an excessibilism position expressed in option 2. But then this is not pure exclusive soteriology is it?

    This all reminds me of a paper i had to write for a Pentecostal professor on Pentecostal pneumatology. He argued for a biblically clear doctrine on the matter and yet readily confessed that as a pastor things were not so systematic and even sometimes contradictory. In other words theology was neat and life wad messy. I argued for my final that if our consistent practice (whether that’s like the agnosticism you spoke of or hope in love like Rob speaks of) does not align with our ideal theology then it really has no use or authority for the church. In fact it can then be a terrifying or confusing master rather than a beautiful servant… Is theology made for God or man and to what end?

    Well keep the posts coming Scot!

  • scotmcknight

    Mel, there are good reasons to take the “agnostic” view but they have to be good reasons and not — as I often hear — a cop-out from confessing some hard beliefs. I could be wrong on this one, Mel, but it seems to me that part of Rob Bell’s audience is those who don’t want to own up to what they are really saying about hell and about God. I read through a number of studies of late, one by Chris Morgan and one by Terry Tiessen, and don’t see “agnosticism” as a consciously worked out theory so much as one way exclusivists don’t admit to themselves what they believe. For instance, Stott is agnostic but very optimistic; Packer and Carson are only partly agnostic because they are (I use this word guardedly) pessimistic.

    Dan, how is that statement “unfair”? I believe it’s the case. One should say what one thinks if one is going to say Rob’s view of how many go to hell is wrong. Yes, I agree, many do say what they think. I’m not sure what apologetics books are saying has anything to do with the current wave of criticism of Bell’s book. I am asking those who speak against his view say what they think.

  • http://www.gettingfree.wordpress.com T

    Mel, I agree, as a general matter. But many will affirm or teach “ecclesiocentrism” as a matter of biblical principle or in theory, but then say “I don’t know” about millions of North Koreans, etc. If one affirms ecclesiocentrist exlusivism, then “I don’t know” isn’t consistent. That’s what Scot means by a cop out. Let the theology (theory) match what we’re willing to say about billions of real people.

  • http://seguewm.blogspot.com/ Bill

    We really can’t address this issue without discussing (1) the nature of inspiration, (2) the concept of free will, and (3) how to identify and interpret a parable such as Luke 16:19-31. Trying to brush away the notion of traditional ‘hell’ by pointing out that it is inconsistent with the love of God as witnessed in Christ or that God’s punishment of folks is over-kill, appeals to common sense but leave us pitting common sense against scripture. The two must walk together. What is needed is a better hermeneutic.

  • scotmcknight

    Bill, brother, you’re jumping the gun on this one. Yes, all the problems and issues are interconnected but first we’ve got to get the “problem” sorted out – the problem Rob Bell is addressing. Do you think the “number in hell” and what that says about God is the problem Rob Bell is addressing?

  • J.L. Schafer

    I wonder about the modern evangelical understanding of Point #2: “Those who have heard the gospel and not accepted it will go to hell.” At what point, exactly, has someone heard the gospel?

    I believe that the gospel cannot fully encapsulated in doctrinal statements, because the gospel is a person: Jesus Christ. There may be quite a few who have “heard the gospel” in the sense of listening a reductionistic presentation and then rejecting it. But have they actually encountered the resurrected, living Christ at work through the Holy Spirit and through his body in the church?

    I love this quote by Lesslie Newbigin:

    “I can never be so confident of the purity and authenticity of my witness that I can know that the person who rejects my witness has rejected Jesus. I am witness to him who is both utterly holy and utterly gracious. His holiness and grace are as far above my comprehension as they are above that of my hearer.”

  • http://www.gettingfree.wordpress.com T


    I don’t think this post is trying to brush away the notion of traditional hell. Rather, I think Scot is asking all of us consider what our theories of hell will mean for the numbers of people in hell, and what that says about God, if anything. Are we really exclusivists, or ecclessiastic exclusivists, or inclusivists, etc.? Do we make exceptions for the very young and/or others? On what basis?

  • http://www.thefaithlog.com Jeff Doles

    I reject the premise that it is somehow illegitimate for one to claim agnosticism, “I don’t know,” or to not be able to “quantify” the saved and the unsaved. Because we don’t understand everything does not mean that we do not understand anything. Because we may not clearly know all the parameters does not mean that we do not know any of them.

    We do not understand all about the nature of God, e.g., in regard to the Trinity. But that does not mean we do not or cannot therefore no anything of it. The doctrine of the Trinity was not meant to fully explain, as some suppose, as if it were possible to fully explain God, but rather to preserve the mystery of God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit from being understood erroneously. The parameters within which the doctrine operates are the parameters of the apostolic tradition.

    As I have said in another thread on this, as a Christian, I am authorized to declare the salvation is found in Lord Jesus the Messiah. All who believe in Him will be saved. I can even say, in OT terms, that whoever calls upon the name of Yahweh will be saved. In terms of quantification, I can say that 100% of those who do so will be saved. The authority of the Word gives me that assurance.

    When I move past the specific assurances and promises the Word gives, then I am moving into areas about which I do not know. I am not against speculating on such things, and even being hopeful about them, but when I move past what the Word says, the less confidence I have. The difference for me is this: Faith is being confident about what God has promised; presumption is being confident about my own speculations. God obligates Himself by His word, but He is not in any way obligated by my speculations.

    So I will gladly offer the assurance that all who believe on Lord Jesus the Messiah will be saved, and I will gladly hope for the salvation of those who have never heard of Jesus. So I would urge everyone to come to faith in Lord Jesus, instead of continuing after Buddha or Muhammad or the gods of Hinduism, etc., because the Scriptures give me assurance about salvation in Jesus.

  • Scot McKnight

    Jeff, I don’t say it is “illegitimate.” I clearly outline a few kinds of agnosticism. I am against using agnosticism as a cop out, and frankly I’m seeing it on both sides today: some use it to cloak universalism or pluralism while others use it to avoid stating the real implications of their exclusivism.

    Rob Bell, so I think, is asking people to own up to what they say they believe.

    BTW, I doubt very much that most careful thinkers on this topic are actually full blown agnostics.
    And I also doubt very much that “I don’t know” was at work in the missionary movements of church history.

  • glenn

    I am suprised I have heard very little about John Wesley or Billy Graham in these conversations. Both affirmed it was possible for those who have not heard the gospel to experience life with God after death. Perhaps if evangelicals knew their own history better, the views of Mr. Bell would not catch so many off guard.

  • http://www.thefaithlog.com Jeff Doles

    No, Scot #21, you didn’t say it was “illegitimate,” but you did call it a cop-out, which has pretty much the same effect. If a person does not know, a person does not know, and I don’t think it is ever wrong to admit that they don’t know but God does. The real implications of not knowing are not knowing. It can be uncomfortable not knowing and we might really wish we did know; or we might be content with not knowing and instead leaving it in the hands of God, who is good and merciful. Either of those is much preferable to treating our speculations, whatever they might be, as knowledge or assurance. It is better to go with what we know from the promise of God, which is really quite wonderful and about which we can have full assurance: Believe on the Lord Jesus the Messiah and you will be saved.

    How much agnosticism was at work in the missionary movements of the Church, I don’t know. I think there was at least a very strong fear that those who died without hearing the gospel and coming to Jesus would not be saved. Whatever speculations they might have had, I think they were probably not willing to gamble the souls of others on them.

  • Robin

    I want to push back a little bit. I don’t think the “number” in hell is really what effects our view of God as Scot has contested, but how we view those who are go there (as implied by our theology).

    Imagine that the allied forces, at the end of world war 2 come upon Auschwitz and witness the unspeakable cruelties of the nazis and the deplorable conditions of the Jewish prisoners. Imagine also that they have an unlimited supply of food and bullets. Would you think the soldiers are any more or less merciful if they decide to feed 100 Jews and let the other 900 starve, or if they decide to feed 900 and let the other 100 starve. It isn’t the “number” that makes the soldiers more or less merciful, we think they should feed them all because they are able, and because the Jews are innocent and have been tortured and “deserve” mercy (food). Likewise, if there were 1000 nazi guards, we wouldn’t think that the allied soldiers were more or less just if they decided to execute 100 and let 900 go, or execute 900 and let 100 go, because we know that all of the soldiers deserved execution for the crimes they committed.

    This is where the real breakdown on our view of God comes. Some people believe that pretty much everyone is a good person and deserves eternal happiness, or at least doesn’t deserve eternal punishment.

    Others believe that all humans are terribly depraved, we sin willfully, that sin is tantamount to treason, and if the sacrifice of Jesus only purchased heaven for 1 soul it would be more grace than human beings deserved.

    I don’t think this hinges on how we view God, but whether we view humans as basically good or basically sinful, and whether we think sin is a high crime against God or something he should sweep under the rug most of the time.

  • Robin

    I really like this paragraph:

    “Faith is being confident about what God has promised; presumption is being confident about my own speculations. God obligates Himself by His word, but He is not in any way obligated by my speculations.”

    If we get to heaven and Rob Bell turned out to be right I will dance an eternal jig that everyone I have loved, but who haven’t loved Jesus in this life, has been shown mercy beyond what I thought was taught in scripture. However, though I would be delighted to discover Bell was right all along, I don’t think that is clear in scripture, and while it is a great thing to hope, it can be a dangerous thing to believe and teach.

  • Jamie

    I find it interesting…and it just dawned on me. If most evangelicals say that only people that have heard the Gospel have a chance at Heaven (which I would say that’s the position of most around me) then wouldn’t most evangelicals be slightly more passionate about missions and preaching that Gospel?

    Because I see a bunch of people that would actually say that it’s true…that there isn’t much of a chance in heaven without someone hearing the Gospel…but those are the same people that don’t feel it’s their responsibility to communicate the Gospel…which leads me to believe they actually don’t believe the statement, or at least not enough for it to make a difference in their lives.

  • Robin

    I heard a Sunday school lesson several years ago by Sam Waldron, he is definitely a old school, calvinistic baptist and is fairly influential in the reformed baptist movement (he has written one of the only modern expositions of the 1689 Baptist (Calvinistic) Confession of Faith).

    For some reason he was on the topic of hell and children, especially newborns. His basic points were that (1) the bible teaches hell is the destination for people who do not repent and believe and (2) we need to trust in the goodness and mercy of God that whatever the conclusion is, God is still good and just.

    I think he wanted to be both faithfully exclusivist and hopeful at the same time. That is where I find myself.

  • http://www.friends4thejourney.com/ josenmiami

    @DRT #5: I totally agree with you. The way current evangelicalism is structured, it is hugely narcisstic, and almost no one can emerge into leadership within it without becoming thoroughly narcissistic. From the in-crowd theology to the stage performance drama it is all about the ego. As you say, the direct opposite of what Jesus intended.

    @Steve #8. If Jesus descended into the grave and preached to the spirits in prison, is that within or outside of time? I wonder if that may have included all those who in the future went into the grave as well as those past? Just a thought.

    @JL Shafer #18:great quote! You are absolutely right. The idea that there is an objective measurable “presentation of the gospel” sounds suspiciously modern and rationalized to me.

  • scotmcknight


    Good points, but let me push back slightly. It is not without import to say that one’s view of how many go to hell says something about God. And I’m not making a case for what to believe here. For many, to say that God sends millions, or billions, to hell forever — and we can say it is their fault and that God doesn’t “send” but that people “choose”(forget the nuances a minute) — is to say something about God, too. In other words, there’s a “theology” at work in what we believe about hell and it has a direct connection to what God is like. It is a fact that some think this shows that God is sovereign, gracious to those whom he is gracious, and to others that God gives us freedom and to others that God is sadistic. I don’t take that last view, but I don’t think it is deniable that a theology is at work in one’s view of hell. Two simple options: for some it proves God is holy and just, eternally so, and for Rob Bell, because he hopes for an empty hell, that God is loving, eternally so. Yes, of course, there’s a spectrum here but my only point is that hell implicates God.

  • Robin


    I think your comment (26) is partially true and partially false. While I agree that more spreading of the gospel is demanded from an exclusivistic theology, the gospel is almost exclusively spread in this age, and in the past several centuries by people who held an exclusivist theology.

    William Carey, George Whitefield, Adoniram Judson, Hudson Taylor, C.T. Studd, John Paton, David Brainerd, Jonathan Edwards, Jim Elliot, Amy Carminchael, Lottie Moon, the moravian brethren, John Knox, John Calvin, Martin Luther, etc. there isn’t a single, famous, missionary since the reformation that I can think of that didn’t hold an exclusivistic theology.

    Likewise, in our time, the biggest senders of missionaries, by far, within evangelicalism are Southern Baptists, but we could also talk about Heartcry, China Inland Mission, etc. Exclusivists support missions a great deal, but I do agree they could, and should, always do more.

  • http://www.friends4thejourney.com/ josenmiami

    @Scot #21, Scot, I think you touched a nerve in your observation about agnosticism. Good discussion! let’s not forget about Wesley’s quadrilateral … in addition to scripture, we also need to engage our reason and experience in the light of the great tradition!

  • Robin


    I know that numbers matter, but I think how we view those “numbers” matter more. Imagine that there is just 1 person there, that hell is empty but for one soul. Would it change most peoples opinion of God whether that person was Hitler or Gandhi? Of course it would, because we (generally) believe that Hitler would deserve it while Gandhi wouldn’t.

    The advantage of large numbers (millions, billions) is that we don’t consider individuals any more, or sin for that matter. We just think, if there are millions or billions there, most of them are probably just normal everyday guys like me…do I deserve hell, and what if God sent someone like me there.

    So yes, I understand that theology of God cannot be divorced from a theology of hell, but I really believe that it is our theology of man that is driving the repulsion to the thought of hell and the disdain for any God that would consign any human (besides Hitler and a few others) to such a place.

  • http://www.friends4thejourney.com/ josenmiami

    Jamie #30 … you seem to be overlooking Ignatius Loyola, the Jesuits and Cathlic Missions … which before the 18th and 19th century by far outweighed Protestant mission work. As someone noted above, there is also John Wesley and Billy Graham who were not necessarily fully “exclusivist”

  • Rodney

    What fascinates me throughout this entire discussion has more to do with our western social convictions that tend to drive certain arguments, e.g., the power of human choice, “winning” defined in democratic terms, and the pursuit of certainty as sacred. What makes us think that our post-mortem state will be more informed, that our power to choose will be more enhanced once we are dead? Why do we want to believe that God “wins” the battle for eternity as if it were an election? And, why are we bothered by uncertainty?

    At the same time, I’m grateful Bell seems to have brought the proverbial skeleton out of our evangelical closet, like Ehrman has done with the production of the Bible (I think most evangelicals would rather ignore the issue as to how we got our Scripture). The difference, of course, is that Ehrman’s work doesn’t seek to build up our faith.

  • RCB

    This discussion makes Bell’s point, I think. Evangelicals have a difficult time thinking outside their hard walls. I liked Bell’s book a lot. It resonated strongly with me. One of the main reasons I left the Evangelical branch of Christianity was none of the atonement metaphors worked for me. [Yes, Scot, I read your book on atonement.] Bell’s discussion/thoughts on atonement make a better, cogent point for me. Most all people who have attended a reasonable seminary know there is NOT a Place called hell. It’s a condition, which is one of the great points Bell makes. I agree with him, we make the hell of our choosing – separated from God’s infinite love.

  • Robin


    Are you sure that the Jesuits weren’t exclusivists. I seem to recall that the whole reason they did stuff like torturing people during the inquisition was to save the people from heresy (and hell).

  • dopderbeck

    I’m going to break my Lenten fast on blog comments just for a moment here to say, excellent post Scot. I think you are exactly right. In my experience, lots of people who claim agnosticism on this point do so because they can’t emotionally handle what they intellectually believe or think they are supposed to believe. In my experience, this happens more on the restrictist side because the emotional and spiritual weight of really embracing that belief is so awful; but I suspect that some folks who really lean universalist also aren’t prepared to admit that to themselves or others.

    As others have noted, it’s perfectly fair to claim agnosticism within a reasonably worked out theological framework, such as the one from the Anglican tradition in comment 7 (also see the CofE’s extensive report, “The Mystery of Salvation”) or the modern Catholic and Orthodox systems or Newbiggin’s neo-Barthian take on election, etc. But in many cases, it does seem that people default to agnosticism just because they haven’t thought through or don’t want to think through the implications of what they believe or think they are supposed to believe.

  • Semperreformanda

    Robin — Leslie Newbiggin, a missionary to India and one of the most prolific missiologists of our times, was not a restrictivist (nor was he a universalist). Check out his chapter on election in “The Gospel in a Pluralist Society,” one of the most compelling books on missions you’ll ever read.

  • Robin

    I do agree that I, being an exclusivist, am usually a practical agnostic because I just don’t like dealing with the weight of hell. I abhor the thought of it, and cannot bear to think very long about it, but it has never really negatively affected my view of God. It could be because I was an adult convert and knew what I was signing up for, and loved Jesus despite that doctrine.

    The fact that this doctrine repulses me personally, doesn’t change the fact that I still see God as infinitely loving and just.

    Last thought, if the eternal (time) punishment of hordes of sinners makes us recoil in horror and question the nature of God, why doesn’t the infinitely horrible (intensity) punishment of God own perfect, sinless, spotless son, who never deserved any punishment for anything, but bore the full weight of the father’s wrath, similarly make us recoil.

    I ministered to a muslim in college who found to thought of a father pouring out his wrath on his blameless son incomprehensible and refused to the gospel for specifically the reason that doesn’t give most Christians a second thought.

  • Robin

    Sorry for the spelling and grammar errors.

  • http://www.thefaithlog.com Jeff Doles

    One’s view of hell is certainly a matter of theology, one’s understanding of God. Is there any element of theology, anything about God, about which we should be able to say, “I understand completely”? Any area about which we can explain it all out about God? I think not. Anyone who thinks that is what doctrine or theology is about is on a fool’s errand.

    There is very much about God that is a mystery to us. His love, grace and mercy are a mystery. So also His holiness and justice. I don’t mean that we can’t know anything about them, only that we can’t know everything about them. God is infinite; we are not.

    The Bible speaks much about the love of God, but it also speaks much about His holiness and justice, about hell and judgement. Can we explain it all out about how all this comes together in God, or how it all plays out? I expect not. There are a number of things God has given us to know, and apparently a number of things He has not given us to know. Can we live with not knowing exactly how His love and judgment work together? Can we live with the mystery of what He has not given us to know and go with what He has given us to know?

  • http://soapbox.clanotto.com keo

    Yes, I see a connection between how we view hell and how we view God. What is being assumed here, however, is that the traditional view of hell is somehow biblically accurate. This is a huge assumption.

    Which Hebrew word means “hell” in the OT? Sheol? That is NOT the traditional hell, so the OT does not support the traditional hell view.

    Which Greek word means “hell” in the the NT? Gehenna? Hades? Gehenna was an actual place in Israel. One could walk over and see it. It would be like me writing about Manhattan, and years later translators substituted their word “hell” for my word Manhattan as though I was talking about hell and not Manhattan. Hades is also a word with a meaning in Greek — but in Greek mythology. If we assume that their mythology is correct on this point, then Hades is where everyone goes when they die. This is not the traditional view of hell, either. Moreover, is Jesus validating Greek mythology when he says Hades?

    So, it appears to me that neither OT nor NT vocabulary support the traditional view of hell. I was raised believing this view, and do not consider myself a liberal, agnostic, or atheist. I am a Christian, but am having a difficult time continuing with the traditional view of hell anymore. The word is just not there in the Bible!

    Therefore, my view of hell is that is not a doctrine clearly defined in the Bible. Yes, punishment and judgment, but these are not the same thing as hell. God, to me, is then the one who loved the world, sent his son, and will reconcile all things unto himself (Colossians 1:20).

  • http://LostCodex.com DRT

    josenmiami#31 has a great point in this and I think that is part of the point of Rob’s book. Let us engage our reason and experience in this conversation. If all we do is say we believe scripture we are fooling ourselves, and I think that is the point of Scot’s agnosticism comments.

    Some may view my views as universal, but they are not. I like Rob’s quote in his book, hell is full of souls and it is locked from the inside.

  • Richard

    The question then is what view of God is suggested by your view of hell? And, how does your view of God shape your view of hell?

    I think this is an accurate way to frame the discussion Bell is provoking which is very clear in how he chooses to utilize the Prodigal Father from Luke 15 in applying it to an eschatological scenario on the basis that God is unchanging. If that is the Father that Jesus revealed, why would it change after death?

    I would also add a third strand is our notion of “justice.” Bell isn’t forcing a zero-sum decision between justice and love because he is operating from a different definition of justice. It was interesting to me that the parody audio clip, “Justice Wins,” portrayed a sense of justice that required Hitler to be in hell in order for God to be just for the victims of the Holocaust (nevermind that the majority of the victims of the holocaust would be suffering alongside of Hitler according to many restrictivists). Is that God’s justice or western man’s?

  • http://www.friends4thejourney.com/ josenmiami

    keo, you are equating hades or hell with Manhattan? Thats not fair. I think the Bronx would serve your metaphor better. Manhattan has too much culture to be hell.

  • scotmcknight

    Thanks for your comment, but it is ahead of our discussion of hell next week. But I’ll give you a hint of where we are going. As I explain in One.Life “Gehenna” is as surely a burning pit outside Jerusalem as “heaven” is the blue sky (ouranos means sky), but neither Jesus nor his Jewish contemporaries were so flat-footedly literalistic to think “Gehenna” could not also be a metaphorical term for a final destination. And any study of the Jewish apocalypses makes that abundantly clear. The traditional view of hell, I would suggest, is more derived from Revelation 20-21 than just “Gehenna” in Jesus’ teachings. More of this next week.

  • Robin


    Having been raised Catholic, and not having read Bell’s tome, it appears from blogworld exposition that he is getting really close to a belief in Catholic purgatory. Does he deal explicitly with that or intereact with it in any substantial way? If that is too far off topic just tell me and move on.

  • http://LostCodex.com DRT

    Robin#39, “but bore the full weight of the father’s wrath,” Because God did not punish Jesus, we did.

  • http://LostCodex.com DRT

    Jeff#41, says “The Bible speaks much about the love of God, but it also speaks much about His holiness and justice, about hell and judgement.”

    I saw something like this on another site reviewing Rob’s book and was astounded. Does your definition of holiness include punishment, wrath, or anything like that? My doesn’t nor can I believe it can.

  • http://www.kingdomseeking.wordpress.com K. Rex Butts


    I understand the problem your spelling out that seems like the big white elephant in the room…it’s there but nobody wants to acknowledge its presence. My question is how would we even begin to answer the question(s) raised by the problem without our answers simply becoming one opinion over another. The difficulty I see in trying to answer the problem is that we are asking questions which scripture (and certainly the New Testament writings) never seeks to answer which would seem to result in a number of exegetical problems. I suppose that we could seek answers from Christian history but that will only take us so far since for most Evangelicals, scripture is the final word. Thus it seems a bit of a “catch 22″.

    Am I right about this difficulty or am I further complicating an already seemingly complex issue?

    Grace and Peace,

    K. Rex Butts

  • Cathy

    Such an interesting discussion. I’m so glad Rob Bell is bringing all this out! Jesus gave us so much to DO in taking His love to all mankind so people can “experience” Him; that’s our real job. When people experience that Love then they experience the salvation that turns their hearts away from sin…it’s not because they fear hell. I wonder if so much of the present uproar has to do with the idea that modern Christians have a hard time accepting that they don’t really own God, heaven or hell. If faith is based on the fear of eternal punishment in hell…then it is not the faith of Jesus Christ. What comfort do we get in trying to make sure people believe in a God of wrath rather than a God of Love? Jeff #40 reflects much of my sentiment.

  • scotmcknight

    Robin, purgatory for Catholics is for Christians who need to be purged of venial sins. Rob connects purgatory to hell, which is decidedly not (or mostly not) Catholic (for Catholics purgatory is the antechamber to heaven and not at all connected to hell). Furthermore, he pushes the universalism theme in connection to purgatory so he’s got far more going into purgatory than Catholic theology, which again is only for Christians who are certain of hell and how need to be purged of sins. So far as I can see purgatory is not about a second chance, and Rob explores that theme too.

  • http://krusekronicle.com Michael W. Kruse

    #45 Jose

    I second your change of the metaphor to the Bronx. The Bronx is home of the Yankees, a.k.a., “The forces of Darkeness.” ;-)

  • scotmcknight

    K. Rex Butts,
    I agree that there are difficulties with these issues, but the way to deal with them is to get the evidence on the table — say Acts 10:34-35; Rom 2:14-16; Acts 17:24-30; Romans 10:9-10 — and to process theories in light of what the texts say and don’t say, so that we say is within those parameters. There are really solid reasons why the Church has always been exclusivist, for instance, and why it has been more than wary about universalism and second chances, and there are reasons why there have been discussions about those who have not heard, but yet not entirely optimistic either. These issues deserve exploration.

  • http://soapbox.clanotto.com keo

    I’ll look forward to next week then. Staggering to think that the biblical basis of our hell tradition might be interpretation of metaphor and a couple verses of apocalyptic literature!

    Apologies if I offended ;)

  • EricW

    Two big problems for Christianity and interpreting the New Testament, IMO, are the obvious “imminent return of the Lord note” in much of the writings, and the preached salvation/deliverance being from the concurrent soon-coming wrath of God.

    Nearly 2,000 years and counting….

  • Agnostic Atheist

    To Jason Lee (comment #9)

    I’m sure you don’t mean it to be, but your assertion that “most” who leave the Christian faith do so because of either “bad” influences from secular friends and/or a desire to sin more freely is both unsupportable (I would like to see these “studies” you allude to) and insulting to those of us for whom our loss of faith came at the end of a long and difficult struggle.

    Since I stopped identifying myself as a Christain believer, I have had opportunity to get to know many other thoughtful former evangelicals who no longer believe. In every case, including mine, the reasons were as complex and mixed as any human reasons for doing anything, but definitely at the forefront was a long, hard, honest grappling with the issues that faith raised that caused us true cognitive dissonance.

    Your post sadly reminds me of what used to be “common knowledge” among evangelicals about homosexuals: that they all had weak fathers and domineering mothers, and most were molested by men as children. Evangelicals were finally forced by the sheer weight of evidence to drop that nonsense (although I’m sure there are those out there who still hold to it). Would you please not do the same to former believers.

  • http://krusekronicle.com Michael W. Kruse

    As to agnosticism, I think the issue is what causes agnostic conclusions. I suspect no one will end up in hell who did not choose to be there. By one means or another, all will eventually receive an invitation. So the question is not who is God going to exclude. The question is how many will refuse to enter. It is hard for me to fathom why a person would not chose to enter God’s eternal presence yet I’m convinced that some, maybe a great many, will not.

    For me, the X factor is humanity, not God.

  • http://www.thefaithlog.com Jeff Doles

    DRT #49, my point is that it is something of a mystery how it all works together. When I think of God’s holiness, I think of His uniqueness, his set-apart-ness from everything else in the universe. Though there are many communicable attributes that we can participate with God in, He is infinite and we are finite. When I think of the justice of God, it is very like, if not synonymous with, His righteousness ~ or what I call His “rightness.” The judgment of God, to my mind, is God setting things right ~ exalting and restoring everything that comes from Him and casting down everything that does not come from Him, everything that is out of alignment with His holiness and His rightness. Is it wrath? Punishment? That is one way to look at it, from a human point of view. I think of it as God dealing with evil and removing.

    When a surgeon removes a cancer, is that a punishment or wrath? Perhaps in a certain sense, supposing the surgeon became a surgeon because he hates cancer. But what he is doing is to remove the cancer so that the health of the body might be restored. Cutting out the cancer can be a very loving act. Not for the cancer, but for the body. What God has done through the Lord Jesus is to deal with evil so that it may no more be an affliction to that which comes from Him.

  • Ron

    “It seems to me that many evangelicals, if not most, understand exclusivism through the lens of what Terry Tiessen calls “ecclesiocentrism”: salvation is coextensive with the church whose responsibility it is to proclaim the gospel. So, exclusivism here means through Christ but that “Christ” is known only through the gospel, which is made known by the church’s witness.”

    Why are so many troubled by this viewpoint?

    I teach World Religions and in my course of teaching have interviewed religious leaders of all major world religions: all are exclusive (Buddhism – the non-religion religion – isn’t sure).

    I asked a Jewish Rabbi, “Can I be a Christian and a Jew,” he said, “No.”
    I asked an Imam, “Can I be a Christian and a Muslim,” he answered, “No.”
    I asked a Hindu priest, “Can I be a Christian and a Hindu,” he said, “No.”

  • http://www.kingdomseeking.wordpress.com K. Rex Butts

    Scot @#54. Thanks for your reply. I agree…I believe there are good reasons for exclusion but also good reasons for asking questions regarding those who have not heard. The two for an issue that looms large and is not going away. I appreciate those like yourself who are seem willing to deal with the tension between exclusion and the reality of those who have not heard rather than allowing one side to eclipse the other. We need more of that in these sort of discussions, allowing for honest inquiry rather than (what seems to often be the case) using a bully podium to hush the questions.

    Grace and Peace,

    K. Rex Butts

  • Linda

    People do not go to Hell because they have not heard the gospel, they go to Hell because they have sinned against a holy God.

    Now, if they do go to Heaven it is only because God extends grace to them. After all grace is unmerited favor from God. Anybody that goes to Heaven does not actually deserve to be there.

    So what you should be asking is it unfair for God to not give grace to all people? The answer is no because grace is getting what you do not deserve. If God was fair then all people would go to Hell.

  • Ann

    dopderbeck #37, I think you are right on here (although I am sad you broke your fast). There are many in the Evangelical tradition that will argue forcefully that their interpretation of scripture is the only way to interpret scripture and they are so sure of a vast many things. I even hear comments often on blogs that if you don’t have a certain (PSA) view of atonement you can’t be saved. I think Scot is right to say that claiming agnosticism on this issue is a cop-out. And I completely understand why they cop-out. It’s a hard thing to say. Which makes me wonder if the reason Calvinists are looked on so negatively is because they tend to be right out there with their view of salvation and they aren’t afraid to preach it and deal with the implications.
    Scot’s question “what view of God is suggested by your view of hell” also resonates deeply with me. I am reminded of how so much in my life changed when I became a mother 2 years ago. I was completely overwhelmed by the love I felt for my daughter. I couldn’t help but see God in a new light since that experience. I love my daughter so much that nothing that she does will ever take away the love I have for her and I would never give up on her and not seek to bring her back to me if she would ever go astray. And if the love that I know pales in comparison to the love that God has for us, then why would God ever give up on us? I know this is bad theology, but it just doesn’t make sense to me.

  • dopderbeck

    I’m going to break-fast one more time. Scot (#52), I think you’re technically correct about Purgatory, but at the same time you have to recall that Catholic theology after Vatican II and to some extent before has a much more extensive view of who can be a “Christian” and thereby end up in Purgatory than does exclusivist Evangelical theology.

    There is the concept deep in the Tradition of “baptism by desire,” which enables the strongly inclusivist post-Vaticatan-II soteriology. Thus, for example, a faithful, moral Muslim might end up in Purgatory rather than Hell, even though at death she was extra ecclesium. See Gavin D’Costa’s “Christianity and World Religions” for a thorough discussion of all this.

    In this sense, I think it’s possible to suggest that Bell points toward a notion of Purgatory that could find support in the Tradition. He would need to be more clear, however, that the “place” of purgation is not technically “Hell.” Nevertheless, the “place” of purgation in the Tradition could be a possibility for people who were not visibly “Christian” in this life, i.e. for people who were technically extra ecclesium.

    We should also note here that the Catholic Tradition has a much more extensive ontology of “Heaven” and “Hell” than anything in Evangelical theology. There is an important strand of Catholic theology, for example, in which many people (e.g. unbaptized infants who die in infancy) will be denied the “beautific vision” but nevertheless will experience “ordinary happiness.” This notion of “Limbo” was developed in the middle ages to deal with many of the theodicy problems we are now wrestling with. There also is a strong sense that the punishments of Hell will be graded such that not everyone will simply be burned alive for ever and ever.

    So — while Bell technically is confused by seeing “Hell” as a place of purgation, his inclination that ideas such as Purgatory and Limbo — i.e., a richer ontology of the afterlife — can help with some of the problems raised by Evangelical restrictivism might nevertheless prove very productive.

  • Kenton


    I tip my hat to you. You have been able to make something more fascinating to me than the conversation about Love Wins. Namely, what is it precisely that you consider a lenten fast from blog posting? lol.

  • Andrew

    DTR #49 Really? God didn’t punish Jesus? Isaiah 53 might disagree with you.

    this whole focus on Gods love drives me nuts. God is not first and foremost love. He’s Holy. Everything else He is and does flows from that. Rob starts with Love and as a result, makes man the center of the universe. But we’re not, God is.

    Then we run into a problem:f how can God be love and send someone to hell? God made us, and while non of you probably will agree, he can do whatever pleases Him, including righteously sending anyone of us to hell for sinning. The best thing we can do for this conversation is to realize that God is most concerned about the praise of His Glory, and not making much of us. wake up people.

  • AHH

    Kenton @65:
    So David won’t have to break his fast again:

  • Matt

    Scot – I may be misreading you, but it seems like you’re saying “I don’t know” is not an okay answer and is a copout. Why? I’ve always understood that we should speak where Scripture speaks and be silent where its silent (generally…I know there’s always implied things we say, etc.). Since Scripture doesn’t say anything clear about all those that haven’t heard the Gospel, then why do I have to have a strong opinion. The times that I’ve said “I don’t know” to non-Christian classes of students they have appreciated it and it became a starting point of conversation. When I say “I don’t know” I truly mean that I really don’t know. There’s no hiding what I really think. Just my experience and opinion. Again, I could have misunderstood and want to understand better.

  • Matt

    To add to that last post, I come from a conservative exclusivist background. If I had to answer I would say that God would only hold them accountable for what they knew and it’s very possible people from Korea who don’t hear the Gospel could get in based on God’s grace and mercy. But again, I feel like I’m talking about something I am unsure of.

  • Gloria

    No. 66 (Andrew),
    God is love. And he has made each one of us in his image, which means he thinks a lot of each one of us and loves each of his creations. God is very concerned about each one of his creations.

  • John


    You mentioned double predestination. What about the doctrine of Molinism that William Lane Craig endorses? I’ve tried to wrap my mind around it but from what I can tell molinism is a way of trying to come to grips with the question of salvation and hell.

  • John W Frye

    I’ve noted jabs at making God’s love the controlling attribute (e.g., Rob Bell) and others arguing for God’s holiness being supreme. With belief in the unity of God and that God’s attributes do not create schizophrenia in God, we need to ask how does “hell” equate with God’s justice? If as a finite being I sin 75 years worth of sins (i.e., a finite number) how is God just in *punishing* me eternally? Secondly, if Jesus died for my sins (even if I never believed in him or received him), why does God require a second payment? Mine. Is that not double jeopardy? Jesus paid it all (in my case) and I have to pay it all for eternity. Let’s talk justice, too, and not just love and holiness.

  • http://LostCodex.com DRT

    Scot#52, regarding purgatory for venial sin is a bit of a misrepresentation since mortal sins do not condem one to hell, only unconfessed and unforgiven mortal sin. So in a way, it is quite similar to what Rob is saying.

  • scotmcknight

    I’m not saying that and I’ve not communicated it clearly enough so I will say it again: For some agnosticism is a cop out; I think I said “for far too many”. Others are in the bracketed discussion at the bottom of the post, and those are being agnostic about what the Bible is not clear about. But there are many, many who really are strong exclusivists who may have hope for a few but overall think all the others are going to hell who say “I don’t know.” That’s the agnostic I’m picking on here.

  • Richard

    @ 66 Andrew

    You really want to postulate that God is not love first and foremost?

    If you do, I don’t think your issue is with Bell or DRT at this point, it’s with the Apostle John, he’s the one that first wrote, “God is love.” We know that love is self-sacrificing because of the Incarnation, which is what makes Jesus worthy of glory – his insistence on others rather than his own glory. I would also contend that Jesus’ notion of holiness was not one of destruction and separation but one of life and transformation.

    If there is an apparent dichotomy between “love” and “holiness,” it’s because we misunderstand those because we see through a glass darkly.

  • EricW

    My comment @56. may seem unrelated to the post, but it was made along the lines of raising the question of how much of the hell/salvation message expressed in the NT is dependent on an imminent eschatological framework? I.e., is it possible that just as God has apparently been extremely longsuffering in terms of waiting and waiting and waiting and waiting and is still waiting to wrap things up, much longer than any of the NT authors seem to have expected Him to be or do, could it be that His mercy and love are more encompassing than the picture the NT gives at times of the eternal destruction of those who don’t believe?

  • Robin

    John Frye (72),

    That is why calvinists will contend that you cannot say Jesus died “for every individual”…he died for his elect.

    To put it more succinctly, I think this was Boice’s paraphrase:

    Calvinists believe in limited atonement, explicitly, they believe that the atonement procured by Jesus was limited in scope, it only secured salvation for God’s elect. However, (exclusivistic) arminians also believe in limited atonement, implicitly, they believe that Jesus’ death provided a limited atonement for every individual, but that the atonement was “limited” in its effectiveness. It doesn’t actually forgive all of your sins, bring you into right relationship with God and usher every individual to heaven, it requires that each individual, who already received this “atonement” cooperate in some manner for the atonement to be effectual.

    For this reason calvinists are, generally, very ready to say that universalism is a much more logical position if you believe that Jesus died “for every individual” because they see little reason for Jesus to pay for the sins of someone on the cross, only to see that person, let’s say Hitler (assuming he never repented and believed), also pay for those sins a second time.

  • John W Frye

    Thanks for commenting on atonement justice (77). I am aware of TULIP and the dreaded middle L–limited atonement. Within the TUPLIP system, it all fits symmetrically. But double predestination or God actively choosing some and passively passing over many, leaves us with a God who decrees the eternal conscious torment of billions. And according to comment 66, God finds “pleasure” in the eternal torment of billions of conscious being bearing God’s image because, after all, God is God. Yet, may Calvinists back off the L and say, as Arminians do, that Jesus’ atonement is sufficient for all, but applied only to those who respond. IMO, that implicates God participating in the double jeopardy for one set of sins….Jesus’ death (sufficient to satisfy the wrath of God for ALL) and requiring the eternal punishment of the unhearing-the-gospel sinners and the gospel-hearing, but unrepentant sinners.

  • http://LostCodex.com DRT

    John#66, I think this type of language (holy means something more than divine, good, loving) is part of what gets Christianity into trouble in our most real world. If we walk down the street and tell non-christians that we have a holy god that is worthy of worship and they joined us in that worship, then one day told them that holy meant that he must torture is son and the majority of humanity, that would (and does) lead to a huge credibility issue.

    I think that is one of the problems Rob is dealing with here.

    Holy does not necessitate punishment. You can allege that your sense of justice necessitates it, or that you think that your sense of justice is the same as god’s, but being holy certainly should not mean that.

  • John W Frye

    Comment #78 should read TULIP, not TUPLIP and “conscious beings”.

  • http://brianmaiers,wordpress.com Brian Maiers

    This whole thing is making me think of the issues Douglas Campbell raises in The Deliverance of God. Does anybody who has read that have any ideas about how his critique of “justification theory’ may inform the evangelical questions about heaven and hell?

  • John W Frye

    DRT #79, I did not write comment #66. Did you mean #72?

  • Timothy

    For all those who go to hell, would it not have been better that they were never born?

    Isn’t it a huge risk to ever existence? Isn’t it better to not even take the chance? Isn’t it better to never have a creation at all than to have one person suffer eternal torture?

    I have this “hell experiment” going on in my mind. Let’s take the worst person on the planet, say Osama bin Laden. We capture him. Then we “cook up” a process where we can keep burning him, yet also keep him alive. And there’s a special cable TV channel where everyone can watch. As I understand it, the traditional “hell” would be infinitely worse than this movie playing in my mind. It’s disturbing, to say this least, for my “worst person in the world.” Then, according to the definition of many, there are people I love the most who would be subject to this torture.

    Therefore, I need lots of help to see how this could be “loving, holy, righteous, and just.” Again, wouldn’t it be better to call the entire Creation Project off instead of taking this risk?

  • http://LostCodex.com DRT

    Sorry, it is Andrew#66 (I was re-reading the beginning of John so I had John on the brain)

  • http://www.friends4thejourney.com josenmiami

    Agnostic Atheist #57
    Thanks for your honest comments. I tend to agree with you and I don’t really buy the theory that all people who lose their faith do so because of sin. I help lead a discussion group that includes skeptics and people of several kinds of faith. We have all been enriched by learning to respect one another’s opinions and respecting honest intellectual doubts.

    Dopderdeck and John W. Fry, you guys totally rock!

  • Tom F.

    On the purely emotional level, it is very frustrating to hear exclusivists not own up to what they are saying. I wonder if its a similar feeling when they read people like Bell. (Genuine, non-sarcastic smile, and deep breath.)

    Fairness: its not about fairness. I know you can do the theology so that God’s fairness and justice are not affected. I don’t care. You still end up with a God who saves only a select few. And for some of you, God had the possibility of saving more because of election. For the rest, you have to account for the fact that God neglected a substantial minority of the entire human race with even the possibility of salvation because they will never hear the gospel. I get that all deserve hell. What I want to know is why God is so stingy with grace. Surely Jesus’s death means that God’s justice could be testified to even if all the human race ended up being saved? To put it crudely, surely there is no additional “cost” to making salvation open to more? I understand that there is a human response required, but why cut some off from even the possibility of that chance? Not knowing the answer to this question seriously undercuts any talk about God’s love. And it asks me to call “glorious” a God who knowingly creates people who were, and this is the really important part, ALWAYS simply going to burn forever anyway. You can call this whatever you want, but it seems to empty the words “love” and “glory” from much of any meaning I can think of ascribing to them.

    Prediction: Someone will respond to this by accusing me of complaining about God’s unfairness in sending people to hell. Not trying to be snarky, but just watch for it.

    (Another Deep Breath.)

  • Jon G

    I wonder if people should be considering the idea of Heaven or Hell in terms of access to God, as is displayed in the temple in the OT.

    In other words, perhaps we should think of Heaven as the blessings one partakes in when they are purified enough that they can now enter into community with God…just like the cleansing rituals in Leviticus enabled the people access to God via the High Priest. And because Jesus (God himself) is our High Priest…who was able to make one final and ultimate cosmic purifying sacrifice, now access to the blessed life with God is available to all…we simply have to walk in to the Holy of Holies and partake in that blessed life.

    And the opposite of that, walking away from that life, is Hell.

  • http://www.thefaithlog.com Jeff Doles

    DRT # 79,

    We cannot extract God’s justice (God’s rightness) from God’s holiness any more than we can extract God’s love from God’s holiness. God’s holiness does necessitate justice, setting things right according to the nature of who God is. Setting things right requires correct things that are not right, even eliminating some things that are not right and will not (or will not to be) corrected. Whether that looks like punishment or wrath may be more a function of our own sensibilities.

  • Robin

    John Frye,

    I think that it is important to remember that TULIP is, at best, a sincere attempt to harmonize scripture in a logically consistent manner. I think there is a biblical basis for its teaching, but the only reason there is an “L” in TULIP is that people starting asking “If Jesus has already ‘paid for the sins’ of the entire human race, then why are some people still going to end up in hell?”

    Calvinism has a lgical answer – “he didn’t really pay for the sins of the entire human race”

    Universalism has a logical answer – “you’re right, they won’t”

    And other belief systems, on this point, are murkier or less logical.

    Likewise regarding other dilemmas, calvinism and universalism are less logical, biblically faithful, or both.

  • http://LostCodex.com DRT

    Jeff Doles #88: I will have to get off this line of thought after this, but if you could agree with the following statement then we would be saying the same thing. Statement – God’s justice could simply be seperation from him, until the person chooses to come to him, no more.

  • Adam

    Haven’t made it all the way through the comments but here’s my initial thoughts:

    I would put myself mostly in the agnostic camp, not because I don’t know what God will choose but because I don’t know what other people will choose.

    What if hell, instead of being a place that deals with sinful people, is a place that deals with sin itself. The people then are left to choose, do they want to live out all eternity with Jesus or with their own sin? We are told again and again that following Jesus requires our own death. We have to die to ourselves in order that we may live. I think that is the underlying problem.

    These people who go to hell refuse to trust Jesus (have faith in) and refuse to die to themselves. They fear death and instead reap torment. The people who go to heaven are the ones who recognize their own sin and want to be rid of it and they trust that Jesus will remove it from them through death. (Paul says I do not do what I want and I do what I don’t want)

    This, to me, brings to focus the importance of the Resurrection. I feel like the evangelical world has tried to replace the Resurrection with Hell in importance. And if that’s so, I completely agree with Rob Bell that the teaching of Hell is toxic. To support that, I have had two conversations with people who have confidently proclaimed that Hell is the topic that Jesus talked about most. Where does such a statement come from because it is obviously not true? I think it comes from a belief that Hell is more important than the Resurrection.

  • Taylor G

    When I say I don’t know it’s because I really don’t know on some of this stuff. It’s not because I’m trying to cop-out.

  • http://www.christreformeddc.org Brian Lee

    His biggest failure is to grapple with the cross, and explain how God’s love is on display there.

    See my review at the Daily Caller:


  • Matt

    Scot #74 – Thanks. I should have read the brackets closer at the end. I agree with that point. Interesting post, thank you.

  • http://www.thefaithlog.com Jeff Doles

    DRT # 90,

    Separation from God is what I conceive the torment of hell to be. I don’t take it to be a literal place of fire, but the state of being separated from God. I have blogged elsewhere that I think that the brightness of God’s glory is the “fire” of hell ~ that people who have rejected Him are totally unprepared for the glory of God. God is omnipresent ~ there is no place where He ain’t ~ so the separation from God is being out of alignment with His holiness and therefore unable to experience the glory of God in all His goodness, and it becomes a torment to them.

    I find nothing in Scripture that warrants belief in post-mortem conversion, though, where one suffering that torment after they leave this world can eventually choose to come to God. Nor do I find anything to indicate that the problem is simply a lack of time, as if giving a person more time to repent will eventually do the trick.

  • Kaleb

    I am wondering why people that are exclusivist are so against the idea of Heaven and Hell being present here and now through the decisions that we make? It seems choosing Heaven here and now is what the Kingdom is all about. I would think that Rob’s teaching on this subject would be encouraged by exclusivist, since we can choose now we will probably encounter both truths in the afterlife.

    Rob has often said that belief is the furniture of our brain. I think that is why people do not like the idea of each action bringing a piece of Heaven on Earth or furthing the cause of Hell on Earth. If we really looked at or faith through the lens of each action it would have to become a very different thing for a lot of people.

    Any thoughts on why this teaching is so strongly resisted?

  • Linda

    I think Rob Bell is putting God on trial, and if you ever read Romans chapter 9, then you know that is something we as creatures should never do.

    I mean maybe we can wonder (privately) why would God set things up a certain way, but to be actively encouraging this questioning in others is not right.

  • Kaleb


    Didn’t Job put God on trial… Don’t the Psalms do much of the same thing? God gave us a mind to use and if sometimes we question things it may be a great act of worship in the eyes of God. I think he knows the heart behind the questions.

  • Robin

    “Any thoughts on why this teaching is so strongly resisted?”


    “Why people that are exclusivist are so against the idea of Heaven and Hell being present here and now through the decisions that we make?”

    This isn’t about exclusivists just loving the doctrine of hell, and that God sends people to hell, and that it is eternal. It isn’t about our preferences at all, it is about what we view as the most biblically faithful exposition of scripture. We could be wrong, but that is, generally, the motivation for people who aren’t fond of Bell’s theology.

    I have said on this comment page that I will dance a jig in heaven if he is right, or if any universalist is right. Throw Hitler and Pol-Pot in heaven too and I will still be ecstatic that no-one is suffering, but it isn’t about what I want heaven to look like. I, and most exclusivists, think the bible teaches one thing and that some people teach something contrary to the bible and that teaching things contrary to the bible can have bad consequences if they do indeed turn out to be wrong.

    You could contend that even if he is wrong, it isn’t a big deal because noone is going to stop evangelizing, or telling people to repent and believe, or that noone will really believe they can put of repentance until after death and keep enjoying their vices in this present life. I think that, based upon my reading of the bible, widespread acceptance of a “second chance after death” theology could have terrible consequences and eternity is at stake, so up to this point, I’m not a fan of it.

  • Linda

    Kaleb, well Job tried to put God on trial, but it ended up God questioning Job, read Job 42, and you will know we are not to put God on trial, but to repent in dust and ashes for even thinking we can.

  • Tom F.

    Linda: you put conceptions of God on trial all the time. You are putting Bell’s conception of God on trial and finding it lacking. Why can’t other people do the same with your conception of God?

    It’s not God we are putting on trial, it’s what others are saying about God that we are putting on trial.

  • http://www.soulation.org Dale Fincher

    Thanks, Scot. I totally agree. This is our very method of ministry at Soulation… we must sit in the question first and the life of the person behind the question.

    I haven’t time to read through all the comments but I wanted to add this:

    One further category to your list are those who have heard the gospel but found it wanting because of the messenger or the messenger’s abusive or unattractive culture (i.e. the implications of the gospel creates ugliness and evil). Bell gives the Altson example, among others, of her father raping her while reciting the Lord’s Prayer. If someone is abused in God’s name, then even hearing the gospel sounds like more manipulation for control. Bell is wrestling for the salvation of these folks too.

    We reach many like this in our ministry… and wrestle to give them a new perspective, even hit the refresh button on everything they’ve ever heard before about Jesus and start over…

  • http://www.gurrydesign.com Peter G.

    Scot, I’m happy to give the world my “quantification theory,” but not without having time to explain my theory of humanity and sin. But they’ll be offended equally regardless of which end I start with (hell or humanity). And so it should be if my theology’s working coherently as it should.

    It seems to me that the ever-fattening elephant in the room in this conversation is not just “What is God like by implication?” but also “What is man like by implication?” I have yet to hear anybody in this conversation deal, even tangentially, with original sin. This is the most distressing part of the whole conversation to me. Frankly, I want someone to start asking Paul’s question: “Why do millions and millions of people die physically every day in the first place?” For me it’s not so much Bell’s soteriology that’s troublesome, it’s his anthropology & hamartiology. The latter two necessarily ground the former and yet nobody’s talking about them. Why?

  • Kaleb

    Questioning and ‘putting on trial’ are two different things. No one is questioning God in the case of Hell- we are questioning the doctrine itself. People are questioning if traditions passed on have been distorted over time; which it is clear they have. I agree with ROb that it is so toxic if the Christian message has turned into who is in Hell and who is not. Scot talks about the influence of Dante and more on our view of Hell. Just because people are questioning your view of Hell does not mean they are questioning God’s goodness. In whatever God chooses to do God will remain good!

  • Jason

    Are we missing the cross? The cross is the lens by which I see the many in hell. Even if only a few were saved through the cross and we perished in hell – isn’t that a beautiful display of God’s mercy? – worthy of limitless praise? Even from hell? (I guess the logical question is do we believe that and then live as if it is true)

    Focusing on HOW MANY is difficult, agreed. Yet focusing on the ONE who made it possible and how he made it possible is even more difficult and more horrific to imagine yet more beautiful than anything I could concieve. Therefore do we not need to take our inability to comprehend the cross and it’s limitless mercy and then apply it to our difficulty over the many in hell?

  • Linda

    Tom F. – if you ever read Romans chapter 9 it deals with these questions that Rob Bell’s raises, and it clearly says God will have mercy on whom He wants to have mercy on, and also says we are not to question our Creator, since we are a mere creature, the clay is not to question the potter.

    I myself have wondered why God would do it that way, but that does not mean we are to actively encourage others to do the same.

  • Kaleb


    I guess the way that you are using Romans 9 we could also say since God can have mercy on who he chooses then we could also say that God may have mercy on many who are not Christians if it please God. That would mean you are questioning God on who he chooses to let into the Kingdom. Maybe God is going to have mercy on those that you think are not ‘in’.

  • EricW

    @Linda 106.:

    I may be wrong, but I think it’s risky to take Romans 9-11 and apply it universally and not primarily to Israel, despite some parts that can be universalized. But it’s been awhile since I’ve tried reading it from that perspective.

  • Linda

    Kaleb, to question Hell is to question God Himself, since Jesus is God in human flesh, and He alone spoke more about Hell than anybody else in the Bible.

    Jesus may have used symbols to describe Hell, but from the symbols He used we know it a real place, a place of judgment, a place of torment, and that it does last forever. Jesus warned about Hell because it is for real.

  • http://LostCodex.com DRT

    Jason#105 said “Even if only a few were saved through the cross and we perished in hell – isn’t that a beautiful display of God’s mercy? – worthy of limitless praise? Even from hell?”

    I think the basic premise here is that that would not be all that great. I guess I am misguided because if all of this is about 5 people making it to being with god, then I don’t think it is worth worship.
    (but it pains me – like fear of god – to actually write that, so that is telling me something too)

  • Linda

    Well Kaleb, just look at Job, Job was not a Jew, but it sure seemed like he is getting into Heaven, that would go the same for Noah too. But that does not mean that Job and Noah never heard the gospel either, I would say that they did have the gospel preached to them, the gospel was preached to mankind since Genesis.

    I believe that all elect people will indeed hear the gospel, and also they must repent and believe before they die, there is no second chance after they die, only judgment.

  • Timothy

    @Brian #93… I read your review. Thanks for the link. Now…

    One line from Rob’s book is haunting me as I follow this conversation… “So there’s no hope then?” Do you remember this line?

    If you’re right about defending the traditional hell, where is the hope?

    I’m imagining people I love who didn’t follow the correct formula. They are on a spit, being roasted over the flames. They are in agony. God’s holiness is being served. I’m in heaven, sobbing in the corner, sick over this. What do you say to me? Get over it? You’ll feel better after a time? Remember, God knows what’s best?

  • Lori Jefffries

    I have a few issues with your discussion – 1)”Many of these are true-blue exclusivists but don’t like its implications, so they say “I don’t know” or “That’s in God’s hands.” [On other kinds of agnosticism, see below.] Some use agnosticism as a cloak for a universalism or pluralism they don’t want to admit.”

    When I say I don’t know or It is in God’s hands means that I have grappled with an issue, sought clarity through scripture and truly can’t find a clear answer. This isn’t a cop out. If we could totally understand/quantify God, then He wouldn’t be God. There is a reason that God didn’t spell out totally ABC what Hell was/looked like. But if you believe that the Bible is the inspired, infallible Word of God, then Christ is the only way to heaven (you know – I am the Way, the Truth, the Life, no one comes to the Father, except by Me., I am pretty sure He meant that). SO, where does that leave the little man in Tibet (what my friends and I have affectionately named those who have never heard the name of Jesus)? I don’t know. If you can say with certainty that you do know, I would like the scripture upon which you base this knowledge. I do know antedoctal evidence where missionaries have reached new people groups and when reached, they said we were just waiting for the name of that which we already know.

    The issue I have with Love Wins (and what my friends and I can’t get past) is that they say that if everyone is not reconciled in the end, then it says or shows the blood of Christ was not enough. I say that to deny the existence of an eternal consequence of not accepting Chrsit is to deny the Justice of God. We have so neutered God. If you read through the WHOLE Bible, God is a God of mercy – yes, but He demands Justice. Even after Christ, He demanded justice – Revelations anyone?????

    My other issue is that if everyone is reconciled in the end, if Love conquers all, then why earth. Why waste our time on earth, which is a poor shadow of heaven, if not to see as many saved as can be saved? If there is no eternal consequences to our choices, then why not bring heaven back NOW and let us get on with eternity? I don’t get it. That would be a cruel God that I would want no part of.

  • Cathy

    I sure am glad that God is ultimately in charge. (Big Sigh) It is no wonder people are abandoning western Christianity. How about we agree that “God Wins”?

  • tim atwater

    The book of Job is instructive in many ways — one is as a counter-argument against all systematic theology and/or all excesses of systematic theology.
    Job’s friends are the best and brightest sytematic theologians.

    Job suffers incarnationally.

    The one (and i think only person) we’re ever shown in hades or hell or gehenna is the rich man in Luke 16. Even one should be enough to make us take that destination possibility intensely seriously.

    God’s instructions to Job (38-42), while corrective, do not seem to rebuke Job for questioning — only for falling into the pattern of his friends now and then and thinking he had it all figured out.

    May Job’s prayers for his friends cover all of us too (in all times and places)who ever do any of that stuff his friends do.

    grace and peace in Christ be with us.

  • Ann

    Why is it that this conversation always has to go negative. Maybe we can all take a deep breath and re-read the beautiful collect that Scot so graciously provided for us at the beginning of his post before we spiral downward.

  • Kaleb

    Linda (109)

    “Kaleb, to question Hell is to question God Himself”.

    The fact that you said this makes me soo thankful that Rob has wrote a book like ‘Love Wins’, which from the sounds of it you haven’t even read? The Good News is better than avoiding Hell and Jesus being a golden ticket. We are invited into a story that begins here and now, not later.

    To question Hell is to question your past teachers who told you what Jesus meant- it does not question God. Jesus talks about Gehenna, which was a litteral place- a giant dump. You infer it means all the things you were taught because of how you were taught. I am sorry to say there a lot of views out there and Jesus is still honored and worshipped by many people who hold nothing close to your view. Lets be clear that our faith is as wide as Jesus is deep and there is room for lots of views without saying they question God. Lets be gracious to those outside the faith in the same way with their questions when this pill is hard to swallow for many.

  • http://www.gurrydesign.com Peter G.

    @Timothy (#112), why do you picture God’s judgment as based on “not following the right formula”? Where does their worship of the creature instead of the Creator (Rom 1:19-23) enter your thinking about this? In other words, what are you asking? Are you asking why God would judge people who exchanged the glory of the immortal God for idols? Or are you asking why God would judge good-natured, innocent people? No one is suggesting the latter. No one. Least of all, the apostle Paul. No one is being advised to get over God’s eternal judgment. Rather I would ask us to consider why this judgment causes us such grief while humanity’s willful rebellion against God apparently does not. Who are we really trying to exonerate in this discussion?

  • Mark Z.

    Lori Jeffries: Why waste our time on earth, which is a poor shadow of heaven, if not to see as many saved as can be saved?

    And there it is: the one-sentence summary of why the usual exclusivist, Four-Spiritual-Laws, “all the non-Romans pages of my Bible are stuck together” evangelical soteriology sucks.

    It tells me that my life is a waste of time and I’d be better off dead. It is objectively pro-suicide.


  • http://LostCodex.com DRT

    One of the things that strikes me as I read many of the responses is how it seems that many people feel that this life and this existance is somehow terrible and horrible and, as one put it, if there is no heaven then we should just die now.

    I know many people who live happy lives. Who are content etc. I am one of them. I try to bring god’s kingdom here even more than I experience it today.

    Yes, there are many who do not experience this good life that I experience, and Jesus teaches us to take care of them so more can experience it, not so more will go to another place after you die.

  • Jason

    I am not sure any of this helps without the cross before us. The question can’t start with how many are in hell once we have glimpsed the sacrifice of the ONE.

    Even if the issue is how far the cross reaches – many or few – I don’t see a difference. The unexpected and overwhelming love of the cross must be the teacher. I must be missing something.

  • Robin

    I disagree DRT. I think I would go full bore epicurean if all this world was just sounds and fury, signifying nothing. If there is no heaven or hell, then we should, in the immortal words of Dave Matthews Band “eat, drink, and be merry for tomorrow we die…tripping billies”

  • http://krusekronicle.com Michael W. Kruse

    #111 Linda

    “I believe that all elect people will indeed hear the gospel, and also they must repent and believe before they die, there is no second chance after they die, only judgment.”

    And I believe that this is adding claims to Scripture that Scripture does not make for itself. What happens after we die is quite opaque in Scripture. Do we somehow come face to face with Christ after we die and all is made clear and choice given? Does Christ enter into hell to preach to those who have died? There could be any number of post-death measures that God takes to bring more into the Kingdom.

    We have been given one gospel to preach: Christ crucified and resurrected. God is silent about how those who have not heard will ultimately be handled and we should not be making conclusions about God’s character through arguments from silence. Scripture does not articulate a “second chance” but it does not preclude it.

  • http://LostCodex.com DRT

    Jason#121, I hear you, and I have heard that my whole life. “The unexpected and overwhelming love of the cross must be the teacher.” But if you knew that you could “save” the entire human race for all times, wouldn’t you do it? Didn’t many do it? Why is that the litmus test?

  • glenn

    Has any one read Charles Stanley’s Eternal Security? Mr. Stanley makes the case that one can be saved and yet excluded from the millenial rule and reign of Christ, cast into outer darkness and experience weeping and gnashing of teeth and at the end of the millenial reign enter the eternal kingdom. Tony Evans, Joseph Dillow and many other evangelicals make this case. It is an evangelical version of purgatory!

  • http://LostCodex.com DRT

    Robin#122, One of the great joys of my life that I have found is that the upside down teachings of Jesus are indeed true. I have found my greatest pleasure and most satisfaction in giving rather than receiving, and in the relationships with others and the world rather than making the world the way I want it.

    Without a heaven or hell I think we should still live the life that Jesus teaches us because he is right, we can experience the Kingdom of God here and now and it is wonderful and beautiful unlike anything else.

  • Ann

    Lori #113 I wonder if you see the dualism presented in this comment “if Love conquers all, then why earth. Why waste our time on earth, which is a poor shadow of heaven”. Do you see you are pitting earth against heaven? The physical (bad) against the spiritual (good)? It’s dualism… more specifically gnosticism. Maybe that’s not what you meant, but that’s how it sounds when I read it. I think we can all agree that in Genesis God declares His creation “very good” and in the Incarnation I see God re-affirming His declaration. We were not designed for Heaven, we were designed for earth… that is where God put us from the beginning. In Jesus, we see God bringing about his Kingdom here on earth “as it is in heaven”.
    N.T. Wright wrote a wonderful book about this “Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church”.

  • http://LostCodex.com DRT

    ..adding a bit to my #126.

    In my last church some would always talk about we have hard it is to follow Jesus, and how the other people have all the fun. The secret is that you have to lose yourself to find yourself first, then once you die you are found. It does not need to be a – I need to suffer now to get a reward later.

    I have one friend is on the verge of becoming Buddhist because she can’t stand the thought that the children who never get a chance to live this life will miss out. Therefore reincarnation is a much better view than christianity. Lots of people find peace in this life, even with the death and pain that is also here.

  • Timothy

    @Peter G #118

    Humanity is in rebellion!
    The demonic
    Curved in on ourselves
    Wealthy gluttons while billions starve
    A husband beating his wife
    An adult molesting a child
    Sub prime mortgages wrecking the economy and the poor suffer the most
    The list goes on and on
    So I am on board with the reality of humanity’s rebellion

    We are in bondage, and we need to be liberated! I believe this happens through Christ’s life, death, resurrection and ascension. For me, the judgment and wrath that appear in the Bible are for the purpose of healing, reconciliation and restoration. The God I know in Christ is a Healer.

  • Kenton

    To answer your question, Scot-

    You’re right. We have to grapple with the problem that if 19th/20th century evangelical theology is right, then most everybody in history is going to burn in hell. Period. And it’s a cop out to say it’s “because of their sin.” It’s because they haven’t heard the message of the gospel either at all or in a favorable way. So “Justice God” (Brian McLaren calls him “Theos”) fries them. Period. We can play games with “I don’t know” statements, but either we keep our theology and every North Korean who has lived a life of fear and injustice under Kim Jong Il dies and fries or we change our theology. But not just the nameless North Korean, it’s my Hindu co-workers, my Jewish neighbors, the Muslim boy who plays on my son’s soccer team – they all die and fry.

    When someone I know dies and I express my grief within my church, someone will ask “was he a believer?” And when that question is asked there’s a loud sound of a gas furnace igniting in my head. And in the pregnant pause between the question and the answer there’s a mental picture of Jesus holding someone over the furnace door in his nail pierced hands.(???) Will the answer be “yes” so he won’t be thrown in? Or will the answer be “no” and the eternal screaming commences in my head.

    It doesn’t work. It just. doesn’t. work. (Sorry. Rob Bell punctuation influence.) It’s not “Holy.” It’s not “Love.” It’s evil.

  • Jason Lee

    Hi Agnostic Atheist (#57):

    Yes, there’s high quality mixed-methods (both qualitative and statistical [also longitudinal]) on this issue. I’ll list some of these below. One thing I want to point out is that we’re talking about trends here… what describes processes most of the time. There are often exceptions to these trends but that doesn’t stop them from being generally true.

    I’m sorry you felt there was something disparaging about these findings. To me it makes a lot of sense. The interesting point is that many people think apostasy is all about the doctrine. But faith is much more social and multidimensional than that. Some people may break from faith for intellectual reasons or doubt. Apparently for a majority of people, losing faith is about relationships and activities that draw them away from communities of faith. For many its a combo. Interestingly, some of these same processes work in the other direction for conversion.

    Check out some of the peer-reviewed research literature. The Uecker study is the main one to look at:

    Smith, Christian, and Melinda Lundquist Denton. 2005. Soul Searching: the Religious and Spiritual Lives of American Teenagers. New York: Oxford University Press.

    Smith, Christian, and Patricia Snell. 2009. Souls in transition : the religious and spiritual lives of emerging adults. Oxford ; New York: Oxford University Press.

    Uecker, Jeremy E., Mark D. Regnerus, and Margaret L. Vaaler. 2007. “Losing My Religion: The Social Sources of Religious Decline in Early Adulthood.” Social Forces 85:1667-1692.

  • http://www.gurrydesign.com/ Peter G.

    @Timothy (#129), the God revealed in Christ is a Healer and a Judge, is he not? Granted the heinous nature of sin on the horizontal plane, what place do you give to the vertical plane? Is God *personally* offended by our rebellion? By any of our sin? Or does he just shrug it off when we hate him? David seemed to think God was offended by his sin on a massive scale (Psalm 51:4). All David’s sin in 2 Samuel 11-12 is horizontal yet he tells God he sinned against God and God alone. How does this fit within your doctrine of sin? I’m not seeing any vertical dimension in your examples.

    If all the worst of sin is horizontal, I can see why hell would be a major, major theological problem. But I see plenty of evidence for both vertical and horizontal dimensions to sin in Scripture. And the vertical is always presented as the most serious of our problems, precisely because of who it is that we’ve rebelled against. Hence God is the biggest problem a rebellious sinner has. All my other sins pale in comparison to the infinitely heinous triviality with which I have treated God. He is, finally, my real problem. Thank God he’s also my solution or I would be lost. And so it is with all of us.

  • http://www.loneprairie.net Julie

    Robin and Jeff Doles — I appreciate your thoughts on this.

    Scot #29: I will admit I don’t hope for an empty hell. I can think of a few people I wouldn’t mind being there: Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot…

    We’re pretty good at discussing in terms of what seems abhorrent to us and how it affects our view of God, but do you really feel bad for all the adultery and murder you commit each day when you think lustful and angry thoughts? Hell is abhorrent and almost excessive to our concept of fairness and love, while our thoughts are the equivalent of actually doing the deed in God’s eyes. We have, in an over simplification, a different view of things.

    We don’t understand the weight and hideousness of sin, and that, not our concept of hell and the numbers therein or who ends up there or how they get there, reveals more to us about our theology of God.

    Yeah, I sure hope family members and friends who don’t follow Christ and others who actively mock the belief in him end up in heaven because I don’t want people burning in hell, but because I’m not sure and don’t know and CANNOT KNOW BEYOND DOUBT, and because I see a lot in my Bible that shows God is love but also shows sin and holiness and judgment in a realm of importance I can’t really grasp, I’m not going to put my faith in Rob Bell’s latest sans serif artfully printed book and hope for the best.

    I rely on the grace of God and hope for more people in heaven than hell, but I again don’t think I really understand the amount of grace and love already in play right now (which may or may not involve God at work in people in not easily quantifiable ways in regards to how he is revealing himself to them) and the unbearable disgusting aroma of sin to God.

    Frankly, if I ever got a strong enough whiff that all people will go to heaven and that those who died without following Christ will still get a shot at it — heck. I’d not witness to anyone. Why would I? It’s already covered. Sure, the Bible says to go out and preach the gospel, but if I can establish that God will keep people from hell anyway, including me, why bother?

    Unless he only sends people to hell who have heard and decide specifically to not follow Christ, in which case I’d strongly advocate telling fewer people about Christ so that there would be less of this occurring.

    And so forth.

    Sometimes in the midst of these discussions which I am told define my theology in some way, I wonder if we could ever get around to deciding how dark the glass is that we are looking through that Paul described. If we’re looking for relevant quantifiable theories that cannot be proven, we might as well start with the foundation. I’m putting my vote in for the glass being pretty dark, and it tends to get a lot darker if there are more than two theologians around.

    Love Christ. Keep his commandments. Spread the good news. Let God worry about who gets into heaven and hell and don’t take delight in thinking that you get in while others don’t. I don’t want anyone in hell, yet there it is, in the bible, telling me that some are condemned! It should be enough to know there is a hell, and what a horror that is.

  • http://www.thefaithlog.com Jeff Doles

    “I don’t know” statements are just “playing games”? There is a kind of arrogance in assuming that we MUST know and that not being able to know is illegitimate.

    Whether we all adapt our theology to Bell or McClaren, or stay with more traditional theology ~ it does not change how God actually deals with those who have not heard the gospel.

    God has revealed certain things to us in the Scriptures, and other things He has not revealed to us. God has not revealed that suffering a life of fear and injustice under a brutal dictator qualifies one, in any way, to receive salvation. Living in fear does not save. Living under injustice does not save.

    What God has revealed about salvation is that faith in Him saves. That whoever calls upon the name of Yahweh saves. That whoever believes in Lord Jesus the Messiah saves. This salvation is available to everyone; Jesus the True Light who give light to everyone who comes into the world. But each one is accountable to what he does with that light, and the Biblical witness is that it always boils down to faith.

  • http://LostCodex.com DRT

    Peter G.#132, God is personally offended? David thought that god was offended by his sin on a massive scale by that Psalm?

    51:4 Against you – you above all – I have sinned;
    I have done what is evil in your sight.
    So you are just when you confront me;
    you are right when you condemn me.

    I suppose you can interpret as massive personal offense if that is your frame of mind, but my frame of mind pictures one of my children who did not listen to the wisdom I tried to convey to them as to why they should not do drugs or have sex or drive fast or whatever. And now they have been caught. I would approach them with love, not massive personal offense, and I’m not a god!

    You view places you in the position that you say all your horizontal sins are trivial. Trivial! That tells me that one who thinks the way you are is not going to consider those inconsequential and trivial affairs all that much. Does that cause you to buy from people with slave labor in foreign countries? Does it make you choose to have a war against Muslims? You see, the sins against our fellow man are very important.

    I am reminded of my years of managing people in various companies. We would come out with the various things that you must do to earn each of the various performance review grades. Call the top a 10, the middle a 5 and the bottom a 1. Everyone who gets a 1 would be out there trying to show how they met the qualifications of the 10, but they neglect one thing. To get a 10 you have to do the 1 and the 5 well first.

    So I look at the sin against god as the 10. But before you consider that, you have to look if you are at least treating your fellow man well. Are we looking out for each other. God can read the depths of our hearts. Trying to not sin against him is tough, not sinning against our neighbor should be easy (and we all know who our neighbor’s are, right?).

  • Mark Z.

    Jeff #133: The trouble many of us have with “I don’t know” statements in this case is that they’re part of a theological framework that claims certain knowledge of just about everything else. People who know that God’s justice demands that we all burn in hell and know that Jesus died on the cross to pay that penalty for us and know that we must put our faith in Jesus to be saved and know that we will therefore go to heaven when we die…

    …suddenly don’t know what this implies about, as it turns out, most of the human population in history.

    It rings false. Much like Oliver North’s “I have no recollection of that”, it suggests that perhaps they do know how their theology would answer that question, and just wish they didn’t.

  • http://LostCodex.com DRT

    Julie#133 said “and because I see a lot in my Bible that shows God is love but also shows sin and holiness and judgment in a realm of importance I can’t really grasp”

    Wow, this whole Rob Bell thing has really opened my eyes to this idea that apparently a lot of people have that holiness somehow is closer to judgment than love. That is really blowing my mind.

  • Dana Ames

    To your question, Scot:

    I think the interrelationship of one’s views of God and hell is indeed significant.

    This was one of the things that made me step back from Evangelicalism and call myself “post-evangelical” long before I had any idea of heading East. I wasn’t looking for reasons to leave the church or give up on God or Jesus or depart from “orthodox” doctrine re hell. It’s just that all the “standard” arguments didn’t correlate with the kind of person the Jesus of the Gospels is, in all his complexity, but yet as the exact representation of the Father – and I was tired of doing mental gyrations trying to hold that doctrine and that picture together. True paradox can be held in tension and is still life-giving; what I was struggling with could not. What a cold drink of water in the desert, then, was coming upon D. Willard’s idea that if we have not presented to people a God who is totally lovable, we have missed the mark in a big way. I’m almost weeping as I even think about it.

    Would you please put up (again – sorry) the “big tent Evangelical” definitions – and yours, where they might differ, even slightly – of “saved/salvation” and “Kingdom of God”? I tried to find where you did that for me before and I couldn’t. I will write them down and keep for future reference. Thanks.


  • Timothy

    Horizontal and vertical are dynamically interconnected. The more we love God, the more we are loving others. The less we love God, the less we love others.

    I confess that I cannot see into people’s hearts. However, I can see people’s actions. By our fruits, in how we love others, it is seen whether we love God or not. And, when I look at the cross during this Lenten season, I see God’s heart, God’s love, God’s character.

  • crm

    i totally missed out on a great conversation here!

    to all who said something to this effect, “the Bible speaks clearly of a place called hell,” i ask, “Where is it written?”

    i recently listened to a Mark Driscoll sermon [not sure why i put myself through that hell] on the Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus. he spoke very confidently that this was Jesus’ attempt to give us a clear depiction of heaven and hell. really? that sounds dishonest and irresponsible. is that parable about heaven and hell at all?

    what is Gahenna? what is hades? are they the same as we today describe “hell”? a place where a red dude with horns and a pitchfork sits waiting to torment people for eternity.

    i love the way you formulated this whole post, Scot. what does your view of heaven/hell say about your view of God?!

  • http://LostCodex.com DRT

    My wife says that being a missionary to you all is not a good use of my time and that I should stop trying to evangelize the evangelicals. But I have hope….

  • http://www.twocities.org Dave Moore


    Are you a fan of e.e. cummings?


  • http://Www.tarunstevenson.com Trs

    Thank you Scott for your calm rational voice of reason in what I have believed to be a gross over reaction to Rob Bell and Love Wins.

    It is a brave Christian that ponders the hard to answer questions that make us feel uncomfortable and I am thankful for both you and Rob Bell (et Al) continuing to challenge us to do so…

  • scotmcknight

    Dana, I’m not sure what you are talking about. I’ve had a few posts over the years on big tent evangelicalism but not sure I ever defined it. On the meaning of saved– my book A Community called Atonement or Embracing Grace has that: the work of God to restore cracked Eikons to union with God, self and others through the life, death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus for the good of the world. That what you mean?

  • Dana Ames

    Yes, for “saved”, thanks.

    And not a definition of BTE itself, but a sort of common understanding of “kingdom of God”, which you addressed for me also in a previous comment string, which alas I cannot find despite numerous searches – I know it had the word “society” in it. [Things are not staying in the noggin the way they used to - sigh.]


  • http://www.gurrydesign.com Peter G.

    DRT, don’t give up to soon. We all need to hear the Gospel. So keep evangelizing! ;)

    As for Psalm 51:4, remember this is David’s prayer to God, so your parent-child analogy needs to be reversed if it’s to catch the Biblical dynamic involved. It would be more appropriate to imagine your son, after killed your neighbor and stealing his wife, saying to you: “Dad, against you and you only have I sinned.” Wouldn’t you correct this massive overstatement? Wouldn’t you at least say, “Look, son, you’ve got to go make this right with them before you come talk to me about it! You’ve got your priorities all out of joint here.” Wouldn’t you say something along these lines? But God never says this to David. He never corrects him. And we’re left to wonder why? How can David’s theology be anywhere near appropriate given the gravity of his sin against Uriah, Bathsheba, and the rest?

    You’ve actually answered this question already when you said, “I would approach them [my children] with love, not massive personal offense, and I’m not a god!” That last statement is precisely correct. You are not God. And neither were Uriah or Bathsheba or the others who were egregiously wronged by David’s sin. Isn’t that why David didn’t say “Against Uriah and Uriah only have I sinned”? Because David knew something that many of us have forgotten: God is always the most offended party in every sin. That’s a necessary entailment of God’s very godness. He is by definition more important than Uriah or Bathseba. So that there is finally no sin that is not vertical at its most offensive point. Right?

    What right have we to lower God to our standards of what should be and what should not be offensive? Or who are we to say to God, “You should not be this offended by us”? When did man become the measuring rod for God?

    These are weighty issues that deserve real, prolonged reflection. They are not small or insignificant. And honestly, it is difficult to give them their due on a blog like this.

    So thanks for your interaction, DRT. I have really appreciated it. May God give us grace to think of him as he deserves.

  • scotmcknight

    The kingdom is a society doing the will of God — on earth.

  • Paul

    Why does everyone seem to think that “the gospel” is some kind of heaven entrance requirement anyway?

  • Tom F.

    Linda #106-I don’t think that you can shut down the entire discussion about this with a single chapter in Romans. How does that chapter related to the entire rest of the Bible? How do you make sense of that chapter in light of all of the other passages related to salvation? Would you disqualify discussion of hell for apologetic purposes? Is it always wrong to question God? Why do some OT folks seem to question God’s judgments and have it go their way? I think fidelity to what the WHOLE of what the Bible says demands that we think carefully about it, and sorry, that means discussing it like we are here.

    Julie #124- Not to minimize the weight of sin, but it simply isn’t pertinent to the discussion. I don’t hear anyone saying that sin doesn’t have to be taken into account. Jesus took care of sin on the cross. The question is why God has arranged for so few to actually receive the benefits of this. Furthermore, you artfully managed to avoid the hardest cases, which do not involve people who actively reject Jesus, but have to do with people who have never heard of him. By not addressing this, you risk making the cop-out that Scot is talking about. I hear you being frustrated with Rob Bell and his “sans serif” book. Fair enough. Just know that you keep on playing the sin card and pleading and pleading that if we just felt guilty enough, we wouldn’t worry about this, you make me very frustrated as well.

    Jeff #134- How do you know that this salvation is available to everyone? Is explicit faith really a possibility for all?

  • http://www.thefaithlog.com Jeff Doles

    Tom F. #149,

    The grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all (Titus 2:12).

  • http://LostCodex.com DRT

    Peter G., I need to noodle your perspective more, thank you too for the interaction.

  • http://www.thefaithlog.com Jeff Doles

    Tom F. #149,

    (My post got loose before I was finished.)

    “The grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all” (Titus 2:12).

    Jesus is “the true Light which gives light to every man coming into the world” (John 1:9).

    “But without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him” (Hebrews 11:6).

    God makes His grace and salvation accessible for all, and without faith it is impossible to please Him. If salvation is possible for all but impossible without faith, then faith must be possible for all. Those who believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently see Him, and they diligently seek Him, I believe will lead them to the place they need to be in their faith, to the faith that is sufficient for their salvation.

  • http://LostCodex.com DRT

    Is there a chance that Dana is referring to the definitions of universalism that Scot posted in, I believe, the first waiting for Rob post?

  • http://www.thefaithlog.com Jeff Doles

    DRT #137,

    I think a lot of people have an inadequate idea about the judgment of God. It is about God setting things rights. Righteousness and justice in the Bible are closely related, if not synonymous. God’s judgment is His justice (His righteousness, His “rightness”) made manifest. Where there is evil, the judgment of God comes to remove it. Where there is injustice in the world, God’s judgment comes to remove it. Where there is sickness, God’s judgment on it brings healing. Where there is poverty, God’s judgment brings His prosperity. The ultimate act of God’s judgment was revealed at the cross, where He destroyed sin, sickness, death, and the devil and all his works. I thank God for His justice ~ it has saved me. It is not at odds with His love; it is a manifestation of His love. If we see God’s love and God’s judgment as being opposed to one another, then we either do not understand God’s love, or God’s judgment or either one..

  • http://www.friends4thejourney.com josenmiami

    wow, do you realize that this thread is 38 pages long with 23,000 words? Thats a small book. I would not have the patience to keep up with this on a daily basis.

  • http://www.loneprairie.net Julie

    DRT #141

    Listen to your wife.

  • http://communityofjesus.wordpress.com/ Ted M. Gossard

    Thanks, Scot for helping us take time to really think through the issues Rob Bell raises, as well as work through what we believe and why.

  • Jeremy

    I think most of us realize that the fate of those who “have never heard the gospel” is something we are all less certain of than say, that Jesus died, was buried, and rose again. I have to ask Scot then how he could say “But, this appeal to agnosticism is for far too many a cop-out.” It seems that agnostic but pessimistic exclusivists are usually the type of people that are questioned as to why they are so certain about so many theological issues. But when they are agnostic on something, they are accused of copping out. Sometimes you just can’t win!

  • RCB

    Now that I’ve finished Bell’s book and had a day to ponder it, I’ll offer this: I like the new [at least for me] framing of Jesus’ message to humanity. It resonates deeply with me. God is love, we can be part of that divine love here, now. We can be the sway of God. Failure to be partake moves us away from God and we find ourselves in state of separation. This way of speaking about Jesus, the call of God, being in harmony with life as it is meant to lived is very attractive [to me]. Being “condemned to hell” for wrong beliefs, or not obeying a law, or lack of faith in The Christ as my Savior” is not an attractive invitation. How we talk about our concepts of who God is, who Jesus is? Isn’t that what Bell is saying?

  • Dana Ames

    no, it was earlier than that- a couple of weeks ago, maybe.

    Thanks Scot. Now, I hope the following is clear. To “get inside” the problem, as you invite us to do, I think we have to deal with what it means to “be saved”, which also means dealing with the question “What is the good news?”. Remember a while ago when you were asking questions about the subject of another book (sorry, can’t remember which) and you were trying to ascertain what peoples’ experiences had been wrt what they were told -as Evangelicals- about “how to be saved”? And the significant majority of people said that what they were taught “in the pew” was basically “turn or burn”? And remember how you kept saying, no, that’s not what’s taught, it’s more nuanced than that? And remember how people kept telling you, “But Scot, that *is* actually what we heard and understood, not only as children but also as adults.” What people heard was hardly anything like your definition, except sometimes the relational aspect vis-a-vis God and others was included. But really, the only message of salvation most of us heard was, “Accept Jesus Christ as your personal Lord and Savior so that you can go to Heaven (a far-off place) after you die, and avoid Hell (also -probably- a far-off place).”

    Both of these questions touch on the Kingdom of God, because that is the subject of the announcement of the good news, according to the Gospels. As an Evangelical, I heard that the KoG was what we got when we “got to Heaven” and/or was “only spiritual” – again, having nothing to do with your definition. A notable exception was John Wimber, who, as someone who believed the Gospels should be the lens through which the rest of the bible was to be interpreted, at least grappled with the concept and incorporated it into his vision for the church. (He didn’t have the formal linguistic and historical training to do much more with it than that, which was perhaps a good thing at the time.)

    The interesting thing to me is, in your comments in the post, you go along talking about “being saved” and “accepting the gospel and going *to* Heaven/Hell” with seemingly no reference to the definitions you just gave me. I see an incongruity there, an incongruity I’m not sure you grasp: it seems you are using the same vocabulary that you say isn’t really involved in the “Evangelical message” of “salvation”. I think this is at least part of the inner problem you want us to address, and is related to eschatology as well. (So the circles of theological ripples widen… )

    I think Rob is addressing the on-the-ground, in-the-pew teaching. I think at least part of the reason you couldn’t, in your part 1, “hear” what he was calling toxic is that maybe you can’t yet see the incongruity. The way Joel in comment 70 explained it was the way I read the quote with which you had difficulty. Now, I could be wrong. At the same time, I’m just putting it on the table that you might have a bit of a “tin ear” to what Rob is hearing from people who tell him their stories, because you couldn’t seem to hear the common thread in the overwhelming majority of the stories people were telling you in that other series about what they were taught was “the Gospel” and what constituted “salvation”.

    That said, I really, really appreciate the tack you are taking. It sounds like the book is, more than anything else, an interaction with a sort of “sociological” circumstance that Rob keeps encountering, and you recognize its importance as the real issue, not simply a matter of bare doctrinal correctness.


  • scotmcknight

    Dana, I agree: the categories being used in the various lines are the categories used by the very common approach to salvation, and it is the categories Rob is using in his book and seeking to deconstruct. And, yes, I would not frame the gospel story this way. The first book you are talking about is McLaren’s — and your summary is a softened version of his Greco-Roman narrative. Rob’s approach is much closer to the ground level of how the average evangelical hears the gospel message.

  • EricW

    Jeff Doles @134 wrote:

    God has not revealed that suffering a life of fear and injustice under a brutal dictator qualifies one, in any way, to receive salvation.

    1 Peter 4:1. :)

  • chris giammona


    There has been a lot of discussion on your post, so I won’t cover ground already discussed. But, I will comment on one point in particular that I did not see mentioned and curious as to your thoughts:

    You stated
    “It’s fair to ask “Why infants who die will be saved but not those who have never heard?” And it’s fair to ask “If infants can be saved, why not others?”

    I don’t believe anyone should be after or for Rob Bell’s book until one has grappled with this problem.”

    I think this may be true of many evangelicals but not those of the reformed tradition. The Westminster Confession is pretty clear:

    “Elect infants, dying in infancy, are regenerated, and saved by Christ, through the Spirit, who works when, and where, and how he pleases; so also are all other elect persons who are incapable of being outwardly called by the ministry of the word.”

    This is a logical conclusion if you start with the premises of total depravity and unconditional election (before the foundation of the world). In the end, it comes down to your view of the Sovereignty of God.


  • JoeyS

    But Chris Giammona, I don’t think the question is directed at the Westminster Confession but at Christians in general. The Westminster Confession’s stance is, decidedly, not found in the Bible – it is an attempt to make sense of an absence of teaching. Reformed folks haven’t grappled with this any more than other evangelicals. Is appealing to the WC just another way of saying, “I don’t know, but here is my idea?”

    the RCC teaches that unbaptized infants are sent to limbo. This is another example of, “I don’t know, but here is my idea.” I’m not saying either of these teachings are wrong but they are not an out for reformed folks. Reformed folks need to actually grapple with what THEY believe not what their doctrinal statement says. Not to mention, these both seem like the “age of accountability” out. But when is that? How is that applied and where is that taught in Scripture?

  • Randall

    There’s nothing wrong with position statements like the Westminster Confession; but, I can’t find anything that reads like that in the Bible. It sounds like, “This causes us trouble too so this is what we concluded to settle the question that scripture doesn’t explain.’ It may be a logical consequent of another belief; but, if a new believer wanted to know where to find that in scripture I think they would be given a four-flush hand.

    It may be true, but the Bible doesn’t seem to simplify things that well.

  • EricW

    @JoeyS 164.:


    On April 22, 2007, the advisory body known as the International Theological Commission released a document, originally commissioned by Pope John Paul II, entitled “The Hope of Salvation for Infants Who Die without Being Baptized.”[23]

    After tracing the history of the various opinions that have been and are held on the eternal fate of unbaptized infants, including that connected with the theory of the Limbo of Infants, and after examining the theological arguments, the document stated its conclusion as follows:

    Our conclusion is that the many factors that we have considered above give serious theological and liturgical grounds for hope that unbaptized infants who die will be saved and enjoy the beatific vision. We emphasize that these are reasons for prayerful hope, rather than grounds for sure knowledge. There is much that simply has not been revealed to us.[24] We live by faith and hope in the God of mercy and love who has been revealed to us in Christ, and the Spirit moves us to pray in constant thankfulness and joy.[25]

    What has been revealed to us is that the ordinary way of salvation is by the sacrament of baptism. None of the above considerations should be taken as qualifying the necessity of baptism or justifying delay in administering the sacrament. Rather, as we want to reaffirm in conclusion, they provide strong grounds for hope that God will save infants when we have not been able to do for them what we would have wished to do, namely, to baptize them into the faith and life of the Church.

    Pope Benedict XVI authorized publication of this document, indicating that it is considered consonant with the Church’s teaching, though it is not an official expression of that teaching.[26] Media reports that by the document “the Pope closed Limbo”[27] are thus without foundation. In fact, the document explicitly states that “the theory of limbo, understood as a state which includes the souls of infants who die subject to original sin and without baptism, and who, therefore, neither merit the beatific vision, nor yet are subjected to any punishment, because they are not guilty of any personal sin. This theory, elaborated by theologians beginning in the Middle Ages, never entered into the dogmatic definitions of the Magisterium, even if that same Magisterium did at times mention the theory in its ordinary teaching up until the Second Vatican Council. It remains therefore a possible theological hypothesis” (second preliminary paragraph); and in paragraph 41 it repeats that the theory of Limbo “remains a possible theological opinion”. The document thus allows the hypothesis of a limbo of infants to be held as one of the existing theories about the fate of children who die without being baptised, a question on which there is “no explicit answer” from Scripture or tradition.[26] These theories are not official teaching of the Catholic Church, but are only opinions that the Church does not condemn, permitting them to be held by its members.

    Some traditionalist Catholics have seen publication of the Commission’s study as a move “to overturn and spread confusion in the most fundamental doctrines of the Faith so as to promote the damnation of souls”.[28]

  • Dana Ames

    Scot,that’s exactly my point. *You* don’t frame the gospel story that way, whether “Greco-Roman” or, more specifically, “hell and who populates it”. Rob (and Brian) have encountered hundreds of people *who have had it framed for them* that way, and who thus have been presented with a picture of God that is not how Willard says we should be doing it.

    Rob is addressing, as a pastor, that very situation that exists for a whole bunch of people.

  • chris giammona

    JoeyS and Randall

    My point was to merely say that not all Christians (to Scot’s assumption) believe that every infant who dies is automatically saved and thus have already grappled and answered for themselves the question that Scot raised.


  • Dana Ames

    … and I also meant to say that you, Scot, fall into using the language of that framework when you are not in a more academic setting, precisely because that language is “the coin of the realm”.


  • Randall

    I understand Chris and took it that way. Still, this confession asserts that some, who for various reasons, can’t respond to the Gospel in faith are ‘elect’ or saved while holding that others aren’t, making something other than a visible cognitive response to the Gospel the difference. If you believe that God loves all people, as I do, then that this would seemingly suggest a very wide embrace of mankind. All christians have a sense that God saves some who haven’t heard or have diminished capacity, the only difference I see is how wide they think that net is.

    I wasn’t disputing your post at all, I merely note that if you beleive God acts in that way and isn’t willing that any should perish as long as He gets the last word then I wonder why you would exclude anyone in God’s embrace. The days I believe God deals with us as your excerpt states, and I have those, I’m a universalist because I believe God is willing that any should perish. Other days I beleive God wants Love to Win, so ….

  • Adam Huschka

    Scot, first thanks for taking the time to spur us on with regard to this “firestorm.” I was so excited when I saw last week that you’re going to lead a discussion on the Text. I found this post to really help me better understand the issue, especially as it pertains to living this out today.

    I’m also stuck on the fact that I’ve not yet engaged the Text on this subject, mostly because I’m so aware that I could easily pull verses to support whatever view I adopt. In short I guess I’m saying that I’m looking forward to your help navigating a subject that I believe you’re right when you say I’ve just copped out on.

  • paul johnston

    Human justice that is loving seeks redress and correction. Human loving that is just cannot turn a blind eye to wrong doing. Confrontation is imperative. If we are uncertain of the divine will it would seem reasonable to apply our best human understandings. This seems to be one of the default suppositions of the different catholic perspectives.

    For us then, we pray for all. Any intention of ours that is not wholly “inclusivist” limits the scope and potential of God’s grace, of God’s mercy. Any action of ours that is indifferent to sin offends the scope and potentials of God’s justice.

    Live sinlessly. Pray for all. Turn and yearn.

  • JoeyS

    @Eric W, thanks for posting that. Interesting to say the least!

  • Kaleb


    Can you help me out with your views of how Jesus addresses ‘Hell’ or Gehenna in the gospels? It seemed to be a very Earthly place that was a reality for every person to have experience with it as a dump, and I believe his hearers new exactly what he meant. Do you think it is right or fair for Christians to carry that metaphor onto life in the age to come? If it is fair why doesn’t the Old Testament seem to have any worked out writings on some of the issues we are addressing? It does not make any sense does it for a Jew to use Hades or tartarus references-which Jesus used neither I am aware of. Thanks for your help in wrestling through this touchy subject with grace.

  • http://www.alastairblake.com Alastair

    I have spent some time looking at the different views on hell, and I guess I am just sharing that I find it very frustrating. because the implications are HUGE. does anyone have a resource in mind that they found very helpful? I sympathize with Adam on #171. It seems you can rally support for any take. Its just so … discouraging. Has anyone read Tim Keller’s article on the importance of hell? here is a link if your interested. http://www.redeemer.com/news_and_events/articles/the_importance_of_hell.html

  • EricW

    @Alastair 175.:

    I’ve mentioned this book here before on JC, but check out:

    The Formation of Hell: Death and Retribution in the Ancient and Early Christian Worlds, by Alan E. Bernstein:


    It’s required reading for getting a larger picture of the history and context of the Biblical teaching on hell.

  • James

    I believe salvation is only found in Christ. If I were to make a stand on what happens to those who have not heard but can be accountable for their choices, I believe Jesus may somehow have revealed Himself to them and if they reject him then, then they go to hell.

    For instance, I hear stories from Asia that Jesus appears to people in their dreams. With regards to North Korea specifically, there’s actually a underground church in North Korea, or so I heard. This may be due to the supernatural revelation of Jesus to these people, but also because when the gospel reached Korea, it was in PyongYang where the first revival happened. So, there will still be remnants of Christians living in North Korea still but the church will be underground.

    I think if God put billions of people into hell, then my view of God is still that God’s ways are higher and His ways are just and loving. We can ask the same question to suffering in this world as how Rob Bell defines hell, so the question is, there are millions suffering in hell in the here and now, why would a loving God allow that?

  • http://theologica.ning.com/profile/ShermanNobles Sherman Nobles

    In my studies of the three following three premises I’ve found the least (if any) support for the 3rd.
    1. God is Sovereign.
    2. God loves all humanity.
    3. God ultimately condemns most/some/any of humanity to endless torture.

    Frankly, not one word in scripture is accurately translated as “Hell” (ECT). Sheol and Hades simply mean grave or realm of the dead. Everyone dies, everyone goes to Sheol/Hades. Gehenna means trash dump where there was a continuous fire and no shortage of maggots. To be cast into Gehenna, left unburied, eaten by animals, burnt with the refuse was the ultimate shame to a person in Jewish culture where God commanded them to even bury their enemies. Was Gehenna metaphorically used to warn of punishment in the afterlife? By the Phariseees, yes, I believe; but there is no explicit teaching on this in scripture; rather such is read into the text.

    The one word, Tartarus (the Hellish realm of Hades in Greek Mythology), is only used once in scripture in 2 Peter, and it does not say that humans are there.

    Anyhow, the short of it is that the more I studied what scripture actually says concerning the punishment of sin, the less I saw any evidence that actually supports the concept of ECT, and the more evidence I saw in support of judgment and punishment being remedial, for our good, and not based on our beliefs but based on how we lived in the light/darkness we were given. This then freed me to accept in faith the many passages that affirm the ultimate Victory of Christ and Universal Reconciliation!

    And you know, if Hell was true, it seems like such would be warned of clearly, specifically, and repeatedly throughout scripture, especially in the OT Law, but it’s not! It would seem that something so foundational to how we view God and one another as ECT, it would be well established by scripture and not something one must read into the text.

    But tradition is like the hard ground in the parable of the sower. Ground that is hardened by the constant tread of feet is often harder than concrete. Shoot, grass will grow in the cracks of concrete sooner than it will in the hardened path between my front door and the back yard. Tradition nullifies the word of God. And we all have traditions, paradigms, interpretations of scripture, values, etc., that have been hammered into us by our parents, our culture, and our churches.

  • http://LostCodex.com DRT

    Sherman # 178, I understand what you are saying, and still wonder if there is a paradigm shift here that is not apparent because of our greek dualism. Someone who knows much more about first century thought may inform me.

    The ANE folks may have thought that something like resurrection only really happens if there is a way for your body to be relatively intact. Jesus bones were not broken. Dead Jewish people bones were gathered and stored. Isn’t it the common thought of the day that a physical resurrection requires the reassembles physicality of the existing person?

    And then, Gehenna, to me, would be a place where the body is destroyed in such a way as to become unresurrectable, if I will. Right?

  • http://LostCodex.com DRT

    …and I don’t know if it is coincidence, but a quick view of the NT use of Gehenna seems to have a lot to do with being dismembered.

    * Matt.5:22 whoever calls someone “you fool” will be liable to Gehenna.
    * Matt.5:29 better to lose one of your members than that your whole body go into Gehenna.
    * Matt.5:30 better to lose one of your members than that your whole body go into Gehenna.
    * Matt.10:28 rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in Gehenna.
    * Matt.18:9 better to enter life with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into Gehenna.
    * Matt.23:15 Pharisees make a convert twice as much a child of Gehenna as themselves.
    * Matt.23:33 to Pharisees: you brood of vipers, how are you to escape being sentenced to Gehenna?
    * Mark 9:43 better to enter life with one hand than with two hands to go to Gehenna.
    * Mark 9:45 better to enter life lame than with two feet to be thrown into Gehenna.
    * Mark 9:47 better to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into Gehenna
    * Luke 12:5 Fear him who, after he has killed, has authority to cast into Gehenna
    * James 3:6 the tongue is set on fire by Gehenna.

  • Adam


    How do you reconcile Gehenna and an unresurrectable body with eternal torment? Or do you?

    Maybe a different way to ask the question: can humans exist after judgement and God has rejected them?

  • Kaleb

    It is really interesting reading comment 180 in light of the actual word used, Gehenna, instead of the Hell which carries all sorts of preconceived ideas. I wonder when we will start translating Bibles with Gehenna instead of Hell? It seems like it would be much more accurate and challenging for many current views.

  • crm

    Dave #142,
    can’t say I’m familiar with e.e. cummings! why do you ask?

  • http://timmhallman.blogspot.com Tim Hallman

    184 comments later, I finally have the time to say: thanks for the post and the questions you are asking Scot. You are right about this:
    “I believe most evangelicals Christians…suppress this problem to where it doesn’t really matter. Furthermore, they not only suppress that question but they suppress what it makes them think about God in quiet moments. So, there’s a fifth approach that many take today: We don’t know what becomes of the millions, perhaps billions, who have never heard the gospel.”

    This affects our motivation for local and global missions, for witnessing, for loving our neighbor.

  • Tom F.

    Jeff #149: While I appreciate the spirit of what you are trying to do with these passages, I think you are taking the “all” a bit to literally here. That is, I think a hard-core exclusivist could object to this exegesis on the grounds that there are similar verses that use “all” in this way that seem to imply the actual salvation of “all” rather than simply the appearance of Jesus to all. Plus, many translations will translate these passages very differently, indicating disagreement about what the “all” in the Greek really refers to. But I’m not totally opposed to what you are trying to do with these verses.

    On a more logical level, even granting your premise, how do you deal with the fact that people in cultures where there is an established church are probably 10,000 times more likely to respond to this “appearance” in faith than in other cultures where the church is not present? It seems that this only moves the question one step back, in that the question now becomes why God placed some in cultures where they would be so ridiculously unlikely to come to faith, even granting them the possibility. Why would God want to make faith so unlikely for those within some cultures, when part of God’s plan is for “every tribe, tongue, people, and nation” to be a part of the kingdom come?

    I do appreciate that you seem to have wrestled with this somewhat, and tried to come to some consistency. Peace to you.

  • http://theologica.ning.com/profile/ShermanNobles Sherman Nobles

    DRT @ 179,

    I don’t know that most or any Jews in the first century assumed that “resurrection requires the reassembles physicality of the existing person.” Could be, but I haven’t read that anywhere.

    Rather, I believe the concept of being left unburied in Gehenna, the trash dump, to be eaten by maggots and animals and consumed by fire with other “trash”, was especially repulsive and thought of as shameful.

    I “assume” that the Jews who believed in life after death, ressurection, assumed that such was accomplished by God who created us and not dependant upon the preservation of the corpse. In fact, they believed that one way or another the body returned to dust from whence it came. Thus they did not embalm the body as the Egyptians did, but left it to decay naturally and return to dust. Even today, if memory serves me correctly, Jews tend to not embalm the dead.

  • Josh Mueller

    I believe that the simple children’s song “Jesus loves me” captures the essence of “heaven” / “being saved” etc. in knowing what is already true, and accordingly also the flipside of a life that becomes increasingly darker and more “hellish” as one runs away from that love, consciously or unconsciously.

    John’s statement “God is love” encapsulates the eternal nature of God’s unchanging disposition towards all His creation and accordingly it becomes the foundation of the assurance of our belonging and true identity, apart from any works we have done. The cross doesn’t “create” the reality of grace and forgiveness, it simply reveals it in such a depth that it becomes undeniable, and also satisfies humanity’s demand for a perfect sacrifice, not God’s.

    The problem of hell is basically the same as the problem of theodicy: we rub against the fact that God allows so much suffering resulting from His choice to let us explore the consequences of our own choices. Ultimately this “wrath” of God doesn’t contradict His love but is a necessary part of it. It becomes alife lesson, designed to spur us on to return to our true home. I believe that even the suffering in a post mortem hell has that same purpose and that Geg Boyd is right in his interpretation of “eternal” as “undefinite ending” rather than “unending”.

  • http://rebeccaluellamiller.wordpress.com Rebecca LuElla Miller

    An interesting discussion — wish I’d found it sooner.

    I have to agree with Peter #103 (and I think someone else brought it up earlier, but I can’t find it), that the real issue is what our view of hell says about our view of Man more than it does about God.

    Of course some claim the traditional view of hell is really only an interpretation, and that a fairly recent one. Lots to debate on that one statement, but God said before sin entered the world that disobedience would bring death.

    That was one man’s sin that affected billions and billions of other humans. Sound familiar?

    One other point. John 3:18 seems to clarify who is saved:
    “He who believes in Him is not judged; he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.”

    If we couple that with what Jesus says “he who receives Me receives Him who sent Me” (John 13:20b) — and the teaching in Romans 1 that says natural revelation leaves men without excuse for they knew God but did not honor Him as God, then we see that those same people would have rejected Jesus (the way to God) already since they have refused to know God.

    All that to say, people don’t need to hear Jesus’s name to reject Him.

    On the opposite side of things, why would we believe that God, the Great Shepherd, who tracks down the one lost lamb, would leave one single person who honored Him as God without a way to Him? And yes, that Way is still Jesus.

    Is it so hard to believe that God has rescued those who want to come to Him, that He has drawn them to Himself, that He has made Himself known to them … and that billions and billions want nothing to do with Him?

    Rob Bell, in his promotional video, referenced Gandhi as an example of the horrors of the traditional view of hell. But did not Gandhi have knowledge of Jesus and His claims that He alone shows us the Father? Yet apparently Gandhi rejected those claims. If that was true, would he not be saying, I don’t want to honor God as God?

    One last point. How do Rob Bell’s views square with Paul’s statement to the Thessalonian Christians that they don’t have to grieve their dead “as do the rest who have no hope” (I Thess. 4:13b)? Paul says they should be comforted by his instruction about the dead in Christ, again (as Jesus did time and again — tares and wheat, goats and sheep, righteous servant and unrighteous, wise virgins and foolish, etc.) shows a divide between those in Christ and those not in Christ.

    OK, that was supposed to be my last point but I’m responding to 187 comments, after all. LOL

    Much has been made about the use of the word “hell” in Scripture, but little has been said about Jesus, who was testifying from a position of omniscience, repeatedly describing someone being thrown into outer darkness or a place where there would be weeping and gnashing of teeth or a furnace of fire or a place of unquenchable fire. Clearly He was describing a place of punishment, even linking it in Matt. 25:41 to the place of punishment “prepared for the devil and his angels.”

    Anyway, thanks for this interesting discussion, Scot.

  • http://toequipthesaint.com Christian

    I have to agree with Helen (comment #6). Double Predestination does not mean that if they’re elect then they go to heaven, regardless of hearing the gospel. Double predestination is the other side of the coin, with God’s electing choice (predestination) on the other side.

  • bh


    I sort of fall into the fourth line listed above and I tent to be inclusive in my views. I believe it is only through Jesus Christ explicitly that man has access to the Father but I’m wondering if it is possible that God may appropriate the Gospel to people on their death bed, or in some state between life and death. I’m grappling with the issue of those who have never heard and as a pastor I want to offer people ideas and options to consider that are grounded in the text, tradition and orthodox. I like the C.S. Lewis take found in the Great Divorce (realizing it’s just a fictional story). It gives options without eliminating the existence of a real eternal hell.

  • Greg

    I’m coming late to the party but this topic has been bothering me lately.

    It seems to me we need to start at the beginiing. Is the Bible the Word of God. If not, then none of this matters. If so, then what does it say is the Gospel. Not what do we want it to say.

    Does it say that babies go to heaven or mention an age of accountability?

    Or does it teach that we are all sinners, born with a sin nature, seperated from God because of that sin? Does it say that the punishment of sin is death?

    For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

    How does it say we are reconcilled to God? Can we be? If we can be reconcilled, then how? I think the Bible speaks clearly on this.

    “And there is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men by which we must be saved.”

    Just because we may want for it to include many others does not make it so.

    Romans 9:10 Not only that, but Rebekah’s children were conceived at the same time by our father Isaac. 11 Yet, before the twins were born or had done anything good or bad—in order that God’s purpose in election might stand: 12 not by works but by him who calls—she was told, “The older will serve the younger.”[d] 13 Just as it is written: “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.”[e]

    14 What then shall we say? Is God unjust? Not at all! 15 For he says to Moses,

    “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy,
    and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.”[f]

    16 It does not, therefore, depend on human desire or effort, but on God’s mercy. 17 For Scripture says to Pharaoh: “I raised you up for this very purpose, that I might display my power in you and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.”[g] 18 Therefore God has mercy on whom he wants to have mercy, and he hardens whom he wants to harden.

    19 One of you will say to me: “Then why does God still blame us? For who is able to resist his will?” 20 But who are you, a human being, to talk back to God? “Shall what is formed say to the one who formed it, ‘Why did you make me like this?’”[h] 21 Does not the potter have the right to make out of the same lump of clay some pottery for special purposes and some for common use?

    22 What if God, although choosing to show his wrath and make his power known, bore with great patience the objects of his wrath—prepared for destruction? 23 What if he did this to make the riches of his glory known to the objects of his mercy, whom he prepared in advance for glory— 24 even us, whom he also called, not only from the Jews but also from the Gentiles?

    Either we believe the Bible to be the word of God or we do not. If we do not, that is another convesation all together.

  • Garrett

    Can someone tell me a little bit more about point 5 on agnosticism? Or should I just check Thiessen’s book?