Exploring Love Wins 5

I’ve never seen a response to a book, or a person, like the response to Rob Bell’s book. People seem either to hate it or love it. For this reason 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.

Today we will examine what Rob Bell says about hell. Chapter 3 in his book is surely one of the most controversial chapters and that means I will have to sketch what he says before I offer my own critique and raise some questions for conversation. Up to this point Bell’s book has been at best mildly controversial; from this point on his controversial points come to the surface.

What is your view of hell?

Bell makes five points about hell, organized by how the Bible talks about hell. First, the Hebrew scriptures (Old Testament) where we find the term Sheol [pit, underworld, etc]. “The Hebrew commentary on what happens after a person dies isn’t very articulated or defined … a bit vague and ‘underworldly’” (67).

Second, Gehenna. He opts for the flippant hell = garbage dump, yes I believe in hell, I believe my garbage goes somewhere. Gehenna is the “town garbage pile.” [Rob's just wrong here and I'll get to that below. Also, rule #1 about hell: never be flippant.] Tartarus and Hades. Both are Greek words for the underworld, more or less Jewish substitutes for Sheol.

“And that’s it.”

At this point Rob explores “hell” as existential realities in the world today — missing arms and legs, raped, children of those who have committed suicide, cocaine addict, cruelty … all powerful horrible existential realities, none of which having anything to do with any text he’s seen in the Bible or what hell means in the Bible. He concludes that hell is this: “God gives us what we want, and if that’s hell, we can have it” (72). He emphasizes the rhetorical potency of hell language, and he says we need this language to express what happens to those who reject goodness and God’s life and it is good for those who propagate evil.

Third, Luke 16:19-31′s parable of the rich man and the poor beggar. I assume you know the parable. Rich man goes to Hades, the poor man to be with Abraham (=heaven in the traditional sense). Rich man wants mercy, and water to cool his tongue, “for I am in agony in these flames.” Abraham says to him, You had your chance. And, Abraham says: between us there “a great chasm has been fixed, so that those who might want to pass from here to you cannot do so, and one can can cross from there to us.” He begs Abraham to send message to his family. Abraham says they’ve got Moses and the prophets, they can listen to them; and he says even if someone was raised from the dead and spoke to them they would not be convinced. Bell sees the problem in the rich man’s wanting the poor man to remain his servant and get him water. And he says the “great chasm” is “the rich man’s heart… it hasn’t changed … he’s still clinging to the old hierarchy.” The parable is about equality. [More below.]

Bell then says there’s hell now and there’s hell later. We are to take both seriously.

Fourth, other passages in the Bible that don’t mention hell. Some of this language is about the war with Rome in 66-73AD; he’s right. Some of it is. And he says much of the rhetoric about hell is addressed to those who thought they were “in” and he’s right about that. He makes a statement that sounds more potent than it is: “Jesus did not use hell to try and compel ‘heathens’ and ‘pagans’ to believe in God, so they wouldn’t burn when they die” (82). Yes, that’s right, but I can count on less than one hand how many Gentiles Jesus engaged in the pages of the Gospels. And the Gentiles who show up in the Gospels are good examples — like the centurion in Matthew 8 or the Gentiles of John 12. And John sure does in the Book of Revelation, and Paul’s rhetoric works that way in Romans 1.

Fifth, Rob enters in this chp into the judgment leads to restoration theme; consequences are for correction. I haven’t decided how to respond to this part yet and will do so in a later post. This is a major point in his book. In this context he brings up the Greek word kolazo (it should be kolasis since the noun is used in Matthew 25), and Rob says something that must be flagged as unfair. He says kolazo “refers to the pruning and trimming of the branches of a plant so it can flourish” (91), and the noun is combined with aionion (he uses aion) and says this is an “aion of kolazo” or a “period of pruning.” Again, check BDAG [infliction of chastisement, punishment, transcendent retribution, punishment; under kolazo, the verb, penalize, punish ... finishing with "Aristotle's limitation of the term... to disciplinary action ... is not reflected in gener. usage"]. My point: it is simply disingenuous to say without qualification that it means pruning, and it is unfair to readers not to say that most — if not almost all — instances refer to a kind of retributive punishment and chastisement — there is very little emphasis in this word’s usage that suggests punish to improve and much more punish full stop. Here’s the big point: this is about Life and Kolasis/Punishment in The Age to Come. The Age to Come is everlasting.

I have indicated a few problems with Rob Bell’s contentions about hell. I want to draw attention to two notable absences (the first two points below) in this chapter.

The first one is fatal for his argument because he said “And that’s it.” He does not discuss the Lake of Fire, and it appears to me that it cuts across his central arguments. Bell’s book is driven by a New Heavens and New Earth eschatology, and I agree with making sure our view of “heaven” leads to the New Heavens and New Earth. That theology derives from Revelation 20-21. There we find a bottomless pit into which the dragon — the Devil and Satan — is thrown for 1000 years as the saints reign with Christ in what many call the millennium, then Satan is released for a little while to do more deceiving and start a war and then fire comes from heaven and consumes them … and the devil was thrown into the lake of fire and sulfur … with the beast and the false prophet … “and they will be tormented day and night forever and ever” (20:10).  Then the judgment, death and hades are tossed into the lake of fire. And “anyone whose name was not found written in the book of life was thrown into the lake of fire” (20:15; see 21:8 where a list of the sort of people is given). Here we find an endless fire — and the most one can argue here against the traditional view of eternal consciousness is to see it as a fire that extinguishes (annihilation) but there’s no indication of anyone coming back from that lake of fire. Then the New Creation in the The Age to Come. Then the heavenly Jerusalem … beautiful shalom and justice and love and worship of God endlessly, the glorification of the Lamb/Lion Christ.

How important is the Lake of Fire scene in Revelation 20 to our view of hell?

2. Rob rather innovatively makes hell a part of his inaugurated eschatology, which means this: hell begins to do its damage in the now as we turn from God. I find this suggestion attractive but he clearly emphasizes the present-ness of hell and doesn’t do much with the future hell. But I don’t want to press that one now. This present hell-ishness in life now is outside NT language for hell is always future and never present, but it means Rob could have considered Romans 1:18-32 as the way hell begins to do its judging and destructive work in the here and now. In other words, the wrath of God, which is a part of how the Bible describes God as Judge and which is part of the dreadful Day (e.g., Rev 19:15) is already at work in judgment in this world. But this leads to another problem.

What do you think of calling experiences now “hell”?

3. Rob distances God from hell. Hell is the consequences of our injustices and our refusal to walk in the ways of God. That is, hell is what happens to sinners for their sin. But in the Bible hell is what happens as a result of judgment by God. The texts he quotes about hell include such things as “the One who can destroy both body and soul in hell” and they mention being “thrown” into hell (and that evokes the act of God in Rev 20). His view of hell is too human-driven and not connected enough to the judging act of God.

Do you think Love Wins distances God from hell?

4. He misreads the Parable of Luke 16: Yes, this parable is about how the wealthy treat the poor. So the theme of “equality” emerges, but it’s less about equality and much more about how those with money treat those without it. They must use their funds for the good of others. But, this parable is also about the dreadful (the rich man is suffering and wants some water just to touch his tongue because he’s so hot) and irreversible consequences (the great chasm is uncrossable from both sides) for mistreatment of the poor. That “chasm” is not the rich man’s heart. The man’s sin is not that he clings to the old ways but that he didn’t respond when he had the chance — that’s the whole point about his wanting someone to tell his loved ones.

What do you think of his reading of the Parable in Luke 16?

5. Finally, and we’ve perhaps all made this mistake. Gehenna was not a dump outside Jerusalem. No matter how many times people say this — and it has become street truth — there is no evidence that there was a town dump outside Jerusalem in the first century. As Dale Allison puts it, “without ancient support.” That place, the Valley of Hinnom where there was an idolatrous high place called Topheth, was the notorious place of death and idolatry and fire and judgment, but it was not the town dump of Jerusalem. To use Gehenna for Jesus was to use a metaphor for divine judgment and destruction. See the OT uses in Jer 7:31-32; 19:2-9; 32:35; Isa 30:33. It is not only flippant but inaccurate to say Gehenna is the town dump — it is a metaphor for divine judgment.

Exploring Love Wins 1, part 2, part 3, part 4.

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.

  • rjs


    Interesting post. There is no way to read the NT (or the OT) and get away from the judgment of God – and the fact that this has real consequences. No matter how much we wish otherwise.

    But there are still very real problems with the way Hell and the reason for judgment is taught in much of our church. Hell is not the place where everyone goes if they didn’t manage to hear the gospel preached. Hell is a judgment for real actions of individuals, not the default choice for all from the original sin of Adam.

  • http://jesustheradicalpastor.com John W Frye

    Thanks so much for bringing clarity to what many have noticed as murkiness, if not evasion, on Rob’s part in dealing with the crucial biblical texts on hell. The irony is that Rob wants us to take these topics seriously, yet he handles the Scriptures in a naive and cavalier manner. I was struck by your observation that Rob seeks to distance God from (the reality of) hell; something the New Testament does not do.

  • http://www.wanderprone.com nate

    You’ve written with clarity and civility. Thanks.

    The most unloving thing God could do would be to keep hell a secret. But it seems to me that the scriptures make a pretty big deal out of hell…and I find this to be a very loving thing on God’s part. I find lots of parallels in my life as a mission pilot and wrote some thoughts here:


  • Dan Arnold


    If Gehenna was not a garbage dump, do you know where that idea comes from?

  • Scot McKnight

    Dan, good question. From what I’ve seen, and I haven’t finished my digging on this one, it is late Medieval.

  • PSF


    This is a very helpful series – I so appreciate your careful reading and constructive critique. Thanks!

    A question for you: You write the following above: “Then the judgment, death and hades are tossed into the lake of fire. And “anyone whose name was not found written in the book of life was thrown into the lake of fire” (20:15; see 21:8 where a list of the sort of people is given). Here we find an endless fire — and the most one can argue here against the traditional view of eternal consciousness is to see it as a fire that extinguishes (annihilation) but there’s no indication of anyone coming back from that lake of fire.”

    Can we take this passage literally to support eternal conscious torment when it says that “death” will be thrown into the lake of fire? What would it mean for “death” to be tormented consciously forever? Just curious.

    thanks again.

  • http://www.listeningpostministries.com Jim

    Thank you for all of this. I suppose I have repeated the Gehenna myth, oh, about a thousand times. I shall cease and desist thanks to your correction. Truly, thank you for shedding light upon this controversy.

  • Justin B.


    To follow up on Dan Arnold’s question (#4), were there any other known texts around the time of Jesus that used Gehenna in the way that Jesus does? Did any rabbis use it to describe divine punishment?

  • bill

    I am glad Rob Bell jump started this conversation. I have been uncomfortable with “eternal torment” but have felt we should be serious about sin and judgment. Also, thanks for the clearing up of Gehenna. I, too, have repeated the myth. I hope this conversation continues.

  • http://www.novuslumen.net/rob-bells-new-book-love-wins-review-and-response jeremy bouma

    It’s no surprise in the least that Rob seeks to distance God from (the reality of) hell as it’s clear Rob is an existentialist who does not believe the human problem is separation from God because of human rebellion/sin but separation from Life and meaningful existence. So just like sin for Rob isn’t a personal God problem, but an existential one, so too is hell.

    Rob Bell, like Paul Tillich and H. Richard Niebuhr, is an existential ‘theologian’ (though calling him a theologian give him too much credit!). As such I think you don’t go far enough Scot in your corrective language to Bell. Bell isn’t simply missing the mark with definitions or a bad conversation partner. He is completely re-defining the Christian conversation and actually ignoring how Scripture itself defines it.

    As you said, never be flippant about hell, yet he is clearly flippant and dismissive of the reality of negative eternal consequences of real judgment. Furthermore, he is flippant about God Himself as one who would judge people and send them to hell. When asked by a WP reporter “What if you are wrong?” about hell, Bell’s response was that if he is wrong then we have a much bigger problem on our hands than a pastor in Grand Rapids. The problem he would have is then with God himself. He implied if he is wrong then we have a problem with God, that God is bad for judging people as wicked and sending people to hell. He is mocking the God of the Holy Scriptures as much as he is mocking Christians who believe in actual hell. This is arrogance at its core me thinks.

  • http://www.novuslumen.net/rob-bells-new-book-love-wins-review-and-response jeremy bouma

    BTW..WP=Washington Post. Sorry for not being clear!

  • Josh T.

    Wow… the garbage dump thing was a myth? This is the first I’ve heard of that. Even N.T. Wright seems to bring it up a lot when Gehenna is mentioned.

  • Nick S

    Dan, here’s a short (credible) read on the myth of Gehenna:

  • HgsDctr

    Nice post. I think there would be a great deal more evidence for the concept of judgement than the few references to “hell” that Bell addresses. Jesus taught a lot about judgement–it’s a theme of the NT, in a way. Look for example at Matthew 3, in which John the Baptist says “the chaff he will burn up with inextinguishable fire.” I think the Greek (western, gentile) mind likes things to be systematic, so Bell thinks that addressing each instance of possible proper nouns for hell rests his case, but the Jewish mind understands the idea of multiple partial references. When multiple partial references are apprehended like a mosaic you can see a clear picture emerge. When you read the NT, I think you can see the concept of Jesus being the way to salvation from judgement.

  • Rob


    Nice clarification on many points. Certainly eschatology guides the streams of thought and force us along certain lines.
    I am a little disappointed in your rebuke of Rob’s reading of Luke 16. He may have missed certain nuances, but I find your difinitives reduces the depth of the parable.

  • http://seguewm.blogspot.com/ Bill

    Though I agree that, when taken literally, annihilation makes the most sense – the ‘result’ rather than the process being eternal – are you suggesting that a city dump just didn’t exist? Are you really taking the parable of Luke 16 literally? I do agree that Rob is evasive, not giving us scholarly answers to real questions. Yet he raises legitimate questions about the character of God ‘if’ the scriptures are literally read and as verbally inspired. At best they are contradictory. At worse, they present a picture of God that is repulsive to most. The solution, as I’ve mentioned often, is to re-examine our notions of inspiration – as Pete Enns has offered.

  • http://www.EdwardFudge.com Edward William Fudge

    Scot,I appreciate your opening prayer. Someone has said that if we do not weep when speaking of hell, we have no right to talk about it. Most often in the NT, the alternative to eternal life is to die, perish and be destroyed–which I understand to signify total cessation of existence. I agree that we lack clear documentary proof that the Valley of (the sons of) Hinnom was a garbage dump outside first-century Jerusalem, but I suggest that it is an overstatement in the other direction to say that there is “no evidence” that it was. I detail some of that evidence in the forthcoming third edition of The Fire That Consumes due out this June. Neither traditionalism nor conditionalism depends on that detail, however, so nobody needs to get overly excited about it. God bless you,brother.

  • scotmcknight

    PSF, good question. In my One.Life I call this “death after death.” It is an image,of course, and one can say “just an image” or one can think harder and move into what that image is intended to evoke. I would say it means “no more death” for those who in the New Jerusalem.

  • billyv

    Excellent work! My main issue with the book was Rob’s exegetical work not the questions that he asks. You have handled the issues in that chapter very well.

  • Mark B

    Thanks for this series. I’m glad to read someone with standing having the same problems with the exegetical stuff. What Rob did with the Greek words is just not helpful, especially without leaving a footnote for why.

    If nothing else Rob was always fearlessly biblical in the past. This is the first time that I’ve seen his “confessional book” or his theology skew the bible.

  • scotmcknight


    But Rob Bell still has the same problem with God because he’s got a God who made a world in which hell exists — in this life and in the next (those are his concepts too).

  • EricW

    @Justin B. 8.:

    were there any other known texts around the time of Jesus that used Gehenna in the way that Jesus does? Did any rabbis use it to describe divine punishment?

    To quote from Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels, co-edited by Scot McKnight:

    2.2. Gehenna. An even more common name for hell in the Gospels is geenna. It too has roots in the OT, and then is developed in subsequent literature.

    2.2.1. Gehenna in the OT. Behind the word gehenna, as it frequently appears in English translation, stands the Greek geenna, which is a transliteration of the Aramaic gēhinnām. The Aramaic is itself derived from the Hebrew gē hinnōm (Josh 15:8; 18:16) and gē ḇen hinnōm (Josh 15:8; see Jeremias), which refer to a valley located on the south slope of Jerusalem (Josh 15:8; 18:16), literally, the “Valley of (the son of) Hinnom.” It gained its infamous notoriety during the reigns of Ahaz and Manasseh, both of whom burned sacrifices there to Molech, even to the point of sacrificing their own sons in the fire (cf. 2 Chron 28:3; 33:6; 2 Kings 16:3). This elicited prophetic condemnations on the valley, identifying it as the scene of future carnage and desolation resulting from God’s judgment (Jer 7:30–33; 19:1–13; 32:34–35; cf. also Is 31:9; 66:24; 2 Kings 23:10; Lev 18:21).

    2.2.2. Gehenna in Other Jewish Literature. Throughout much of the subsequent Jewish literature, it is evident that geenna came to be equated with the place of God’s final judgment of the wicked. Like sheol, it is located in the depths of the earth (Sib. Or. 4:184–86), and descriptions include “fire,” “darkness” and “gnashing of teeth” (cf. Apoc. Abr. 15:6; Sib. Or. 1:100–103; 2:292–310). There is also the implication that this punishment is an eternal one (Sib. Or. 2:292–310; Josephus Ant. 18.14; J.W. 2.163; 3.374–75).

    In the rabbinic literature, gehenna appears frequently. It is one of the seven things created prior to the creation of the world (b. Pesaḥ. 54a). In at least one place, gehenna is equated with sheol (b. B. Bat. 79a; cf. b. ˓Erub. 19a). Many will be spared from it, including those who fear God (b. Yebam. 102b), those who follow the Torah in obedience and good deeds (b. Šabb. 118a; b. Giṭ. 7a; b. B. Bat. 10a; b. Ḥag. 27a), and those who are especially unfortunate in this life (b. ˓Erub. 41b). Solely a place of retribution, gehenna is reserved for the wicked (b. ˓Erub. 19a; b. Yebam. 63b; b. Ḥag. 15a; cf. also b. B. Bat. 74a; b. Šabb. 104a), including those guilty of a variety of sinful acts: idolatry (b. Ta˓an. 5a), immorality (b. Qidd. 40a; b. Soṭa 4b), arrogance (m. ˒Abot 5:19; b. B. Bat. 78b; b. ˓Abod. Zar. 18b), flattery and foolish speech (b. Soṭa 41b; b. Šabb. 33a), a lack of compassion on the poor (b. Beṣa 32b; see Rich and Poor) and listening too much to women (m. ˒Abot 1:5; b. B. Meṣ. 59a). With its entrance in the Valley of Hinnom (b. Sukk. 32b), it is believed to contain various levels (b. Soṭa 10b). Though generally its fiery torments (b. Šabb. 39a; b. B. Bat. 84a) are believed to be limited in duration (m. ˓Ed. 2:10; b. Šabb. 33b; b. Roš Haš. 16b–17a), the thoroughly wicked do not reascend from it (b. B. Meṣ. 58b; b. Roš Haš. 16b–17a).

  • scotmcknight

    Ed, but all we’ve got is the destruction texts of the OT right? Any archaeological data that suggests a garbage dump there?

  • Brian

    With regard to the Rich Man and Lazarus…Bell is referencing the work of Robert Capon. I think he’s also remembering Lewis in TGD when he wrote that heaven and hell are retroactive, those in both places will say “we’ve always been here.”

    I find the treatment of that parable quite compelling (as I did when I first read it in Capon.) If the parable is picture of what hell is really like, do we believe that there will be communication back and forth between the redeemed and the damned? I think it more likely that Jesus *is* warning about hell now and then (which Bell affirms) Further, I don’t believe Bell (or Capon) is far from Keller here when characterizing the rich man as choosing hell, rather than being sent there.

  • James

    When I read Rob Bell’s book, it did seem like he stretched Luke 16. And if Gehenna is not a garbage dump, then that for me weakens many of Rob Bell’s controversial points. For a second, I was trying to see what it meant if Jesus was just referring to a garbage dump.

    I guess people are just turned off of any notions or perhaps caricatures of wrath, retributive justice, and judgement. For those people, I wonder how we can communicate these hard truths to them, so that they don’t become turned off.

  • http://www.postost.net Andrew Perriman

    Excellent critique, Scot. I’m with you pretty much all the way on this one. I agree that it’s rather beside the point that gehenna was a rubbish dump. The connotations of judgment on Jerusalem from Isaiah are far more important.

  • janingar


    The information about Gehenna NOT being a garbage dump was completely new for me. Do you have any recommended further reading about the subject?

    Thanks for a very helpful article!

  • John W Frye

    Alfred Edersheim, *The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah* who quotes a lot of the early rabbis and Jewish sources, has nothing about Gehenna being “a garbage dump,” but a sort of fiery purgatory/punishment for disobedient Jews. I know there’s some questions re: Edersheim, but take it for what it’s worth.

  • scotmcknight

    Janingar, the citation of the DJG above contains the data. There are some technical things written but that piece collects much of the evidence.

  • janingar


    When I posted the commend the page reloaded and I saw DJGs citation.


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

    This is what I appreciate about this blog. Scot has clearly shown areas of interest, agreement and disagreement and brought clarity in a patient and appropriate way. Further, I don’t know what Bell reads, but I don’t see him receiving much from much of the obviously hostile feedback he’s gotten online, but this post at least has the potential to be heard and even be persuasive. Nice work, Scot.

    Too bad thoughtful responses can’t be as fast-coming as the hotter ones!

  • EricW

    @janingar 27. and 30.:

    Here is the bibliography listing for the “Heaven and Hell” entry in Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels, which was written by J. Lunde:

    Bibliography. W. Boyd, “Gehenna—According to J. Jeremias,” in Studia Biblica 1978: II. Papers on the Gospels, ed. E. Livingstone (Sheffield: JSOT, 1980) 9–12; J. Fitzmyer, Luke the Theologian: Aspects of His Teaching (New York: Paulist, 1989) 203–33; K. Grobel, “… Whose Name Is Neves,” NTS 10 (1963–64) 373–82; R. Harris, “se˒ôl,” TWOT 2.2303–4; R. Hock, “Lazarus and Micyllus: Greco-Roman Backgrounds to Luke 16:19–31,” JBL 106 (1987) 447–63; J. Jeremias, “γέεννα,” TDNT I.657–58; idem, “ᾅ̔δης,” TDNT I.146–49; S. McKnight, “Eternal Consequences or Eternal Consciousness?” in Through No Fault of Their Own?: The Fate of Those Who Have Never Heard, eds. W. V. Crockett and J. G. Sigountos (Grand Rapids: Baker 1991); M. Thompson, “Eternal Life in the Gospel of John,” Ex Auditu 5 (1989) 35–55; H. Traub and G. von Rad, “οὐρανός,” TDNT V.497–543.

  • Tim


    In your estimation, what accounts most for the attention Rob Bell has received? Is it the persuasivenes of his argument (though I personally consider it highly strained), or his role in giving voice to deep-seated conflicts of conscience among Evangelicals with regard to the apparent unfairness and excessiveness of an eternal, tormentous Hell – for the reason that they just personally didn’t find the Jesus story convincing enough to believe?

    I know you don’t like too many questions direct specifically your way on these posts, but I’m hoping you can quickly field this one.

  • http://natewigfield.com Nate


    You make Rob out to be someone who simply hasn’t done his homework. The reality is that much of what Rob says in his chapter on Hell is found almost word for word in N.T. Wright’s Surprised by Hope. In particular, Wright strongly emphasizes that Gehenna ‘was a rubbish heap outside the southwest corner of the old city of Jerusalem’ and ‘as with God’s kingdom, so with its opposite: it is on earth that things matter, not somewhere else (175-76).’ Interestingly, he also politicizes Jesus’ use of Gehenna suggesting the message was that unless the Jewish authorities ‘turned back from their hopeless and rebellious dreams of establishing God’s kingdom in their own terms… Rome would turn Jerusalem into a hideous, stinking extension of its own smoldering rubbish heap (176).’

    I only say this to remind us that Rob is not a sloppy pastor making grand claims about Hell that simply aren’t true. He is relying on pretty darn good scholarship, people who have done their homework (assuming that N.T. Wright has of course). Of course, I am not making the argument that N.T Wright is infallible or our standard for judgment here. But I don’t recall too many people making a big stink about his chapter on Hell in Surprised by Hope.

  • Robin


    I know you were asking Scot, but I think Rob has gotten a lot of attention from the secular world because he is perceived as a rebel against the establishment. They fall in young with young “bad boys” every couple of years who are within the established church but doing or teaching something different. A year ago every night time newscast I turned on had a 20 minute special about some evangelical who happened to emphasize creation care, several years ago I think it was one of the Bak(k)er children who went prodigal, got some tattoos, and came back preaching a more tolerant message. That is what Bell is for the secular world, a preacher at one of the larger churches in the country, who was educated at the breadbasket of evangelicalism, who has tweaked a traditional view of hell.

    He gets lots of pub from the reformed christians because (1) he is perceived as one of the leaders of the emergent movement (2) they have been leery of the emergent movement for years and warning about the slippery slope into liberalism and (2) in the video and chapters he put out it looked like Bell was following MacLaren away from traditional orthodoxy.

  • Robin

    they fall in “love” not young…

  • smcknight


    First, I have not made the town dump a major point; it’s the last thing I mention and I do so by admitting that many say this. The facts are that there is no evidence Gehinnom was a 1st Century rubbish heap, though many have said this. Many today also say it is not.

    Second, I don’t discount the political value of the warnings about hell, but I don’t think Luke 16 can be politicized that easy. I say in my post above that some of this pertains to0 66-73AD. (I can hear Andrew Perriman wanting to jump in.)

    Third, I don’t think my five responses are off-base and some of them are pushing toward greater clarity not simply criticism. Fair enough?

  • http://18thandfairfax.wordpress.com Bo Eberle


    If Rob is making serious exegetical errors here, and though I resist it I’m open the possibility (you and Andrew Perriman and both quite persuasive) it puts you (and me if I come around to your side) of being placed in the precarious position of having to answer some of Rob’s very poignant questions. If we don’t accept Rob’s “answers” to the questions he’s raising, let’s be clear about the consequences. Does retributive justice have the absolute last word rather than mercy or grace? Is justice opposed to grace (Rob says no)? For non-believers only? Does being a “believer” mean you accept the intellectual proposition that Jesus is the son of God? Are we living in a world in which most people who ever lived are wasted? Are we ever obligated to stray from the text itself in the name of morality? Or when we feel that the text is ethically questionable are we bound to trust the Bible as authoritative? If there is no textual evidence that people come back from that lake of fire, I still have to believe there’s hope, which is why, in spite of the exegesis, I want to side with Rob. His news just seems better, and I can’t help being attracted to it. I don’t want to have to be flippant either. I’m torn. Thanks for the series, its causing me to ask myself some serious questions!

  • smcknight


    I don’t know how such folks rise to the top, and it is a combination of elements: charisma (giftedness), communication skills, leadership ability, content, luck, media savvy, and capacity to speak in a language at the right time.

    What baffles us all is the vehemence against him on this issue because there’s not much here that hasn’t been said by others, though his second chance stuff is more than one has heard from those connected to evangelicals. Some of this is Judaism, some of it is Lewis, some of it is NT Wright, but it’s all spun into a new web of connections. But this must be said: it’s not all that new.

    And let’s just admit it: the “right” people got irritated at the “right” time and made this book much, much bigger. I don’t want to delve into this topic because orthodoxy matters too much to me to make it look like only one group among evangelicals cares. I wish more cared.

    And Rob Bell is touching on an issue that is deeply sensitive: evangelicalism is a Christian faith that is “missioned” to evangelize and any talk of universalism cuts into the heart of the evangelical movement. Furthermore, universalism is an issue — and I’ve said this many times here — that is deeply significant among young adults who are much more sensitive to pluralism and globalization etc..

    It’s a perfect storm.

  • http://fumblingtowardseternity.theobloggers.com nick gill

    Except, Scot, that it *isn’t* the last thing you mention. You use it as a teaser in the lede to keep people reading to the end, which gives it more import in your article than you admit in the last comment.

    I agree with your second and third statements in #37 above, but the way you categorically deny Bell’s use of the town dump metaphor, but keep that denial hovering in the back of the reader’s mind until the end of the article, makes it an important part of the argument here.

  • Fr Chris

    Scot, I learned that urban myth about hell from my Bible teacher in undergrad at….NPC:)

  • Robert

    It seems the growing consensus amongst a number of the more scholarly bloggers I follow is that Bell’s text fails not so much in the question it asks but primarily in the exegesis it attempts.

    This has been my problem with his book since I read through it first.

  • Richard


    Pardon me if this sounds insolent but I’m curious how gehenna not being a garbage dump significantly undermines Bell’s point that it referred to an actual place outside of Jerusalem that became metaphoric for God’s judgment (especially temporally as Andrew Perriman and you both affirm). It seems that while it is inaccurate (though popular), it still doesn’t undermine his main point.

    Doesn’t rooting it temporally necessarily push us away from understanding wrath/judgment, etc as something after death? Afterall, Jer 7:31-32; 19:2-9; 32:35; Isa 30:33 are referencing temporal wrath and destruction on Israel (Jeremiah) and Assyria (Isaiah), are they not? Or are you pushing for a double-fulfillment motif here to make Gehenna mean a place of eternal judgment to Jesus and his listeners?

    If we’re to take Gehenna the way it is often taken (actual fire and worms, etc), wouldn’t that line of thinking lead us to take the valley of Meggido the same way and look forward to the actual battle of Armaggedon and the piles of flesh for the birds to feast upon?

    While I wish Bell had engaged with the Lake of Fire in Revelation I imagine he sidesteps that because it’s not an occurrence of Sheol, Hades, Tartarus, or Gehenna. He’s technically correct and possibly sees it as unnecessary to his point here.


  • scotmcknight

    Thanks for your probing of the major issues here.
    First, I’m not persuaded that retributive justice has to be written off the books. Who says retribution is evil? (Not your word.) And how do we determine that restorative justice is necessarily better than retributive justice? If we do this on the basis of the fullness of what the Bible says we can find one answer, but if we do it on the basis of an idea or two and the squash the rest of the evidence then we can find another answer. What motives the second answer?
    Second, take Sodom and Gomorrah. Rob says there’s hope for the place. Well, fine, that city becomes both alive again and then it’s better for them in the judgment than for others — hardly an observation that means salvation. But, what about the individual people who died in that original destruction? Do they come back to life and then get a second chance? How do we find such ideas as demonstrable?
    Third, on the criteria for redemption, which was the subject of another chp in Bell’s book and of another post for us, I would put it this way: there is sufficient biblical evidence for me to think there’s a wideness in God’s mercy. I’m hopeful and I’m optimistic that God’s ways are best and they are good and they are fair. But that hopefulness does not land me with the universalists or with the idea of a second chance. And neither does it minimize my belief that all redemption is in Christ alone. [See C.J.H. Wright, Salvation Belongs to Our God.]
    Fourth, there is a plea for consistency at work in the Protestant tradition especially: we believe both that the Bible is God’s Word, a revelation, and it is the source of our theology. So, if we appeal to it for the new heavens and new earth in Revelation 21, then we are also not to ignore the lake of fire in Revelation 20.
    Fifth, as for you hope: I join you and I have that hope. A friend of mine says “I’m hopeful, but I’m not a universalist.” I believe it is right to hope, but I also believe we are bound and captive to the Word and we are to proclaim the gospel of redemption in Christ alone.

  • scotmcknight

    Richard, it’s not a dump. It’s an image of God’s destructive judgment. But I don’t think I’ve said anywhere that it not being a dump “significantly undermines” his argument. The Lake of Fire, Richard, has nothing to do with Jerusalem in 70AD. It’s after the “millennium.” It’s trans-historical.

  • Allen

    Scot …. You made a good point about Rob avoiding the “lake of fire” part of Revelation… Isnt it true though that there are countless interpretations of Revelation? Its a deeply a symbolic book and has to be read carefully.

    Here is something I have been thinking about lately and the readers here might find it useful.

    Do you believe in a just and good God? If so the what does that mean in the context of Heaven and Hell? Can we do anything but put our human viewpoint onto that? We are not God. We are not the judges. God sees the whole picture…

    I believe God is forgiving.. as seen in Christ. I believe God loves us and reached out to us. I also believe we can reject that love. We can reject it here.. today..now…

    I look to Jesus for who God is ..not what is written in Revelation… What I mean by that is.. Is Revelation another human (John) wish for Justice.. that the “wicked” be punished…?

    Anyway I dont know the answers I am just trying to reconcile a loving God with permanent and eternal torture… It doesnt add up…. Rejecting Gods love and having as CS Lewis put it “The Gates of Hell locked from the inside” seems to make more sense…. If we are threated or blackmailed into loving God then its not true love. The opposite of love is fear. Love me or face eternal torture is not love. Where as.. I love you .. you are forgiven and having the free will to reject that ..is love…

  • Fish

    Like a literal Genesis, a belief in a literal Hell is going to become a litmus test of whether someone is acknowledged as a “real” Christian or not. All we really need is a Ken Hamm for this topic.

    For many people, worshiping a God that burns people alive for eternity for not having the right beliefs is very akin to believing in a 6000-year-old Earth. They are just not going to do it. Their minds cannot be wrapped around it.

  • James

    Could anyone clarify the following from Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels.

    When it says, “Though generally its fiery torments (b. Šabb. 39a; b. B. Bat. 84a) are believed to be limited in duration (m. ˓Ed. 2:10; b. Šabb. 33b; b. Roš Haš. 16b–17a), the thoroughly wicked do not reascend from it (b. B. Meṣ. 58b; b. Roš Haš. 16b–17a).”

    When it says hell as being ‘limited in duration; does this mean the Rabbinic Jews believed in purgatory? Second chance opportunity? OR Torment aspects as being temporarily but one still stays in hell forever?

    Could anyone clarify that ‘limited in duration’ part of hell.

  • scotmcknight

    James, good questions. Some rabbis — and they vary all the time on such questions — saw hell as only for a temporary time and then probably total destruction. But I don’t know that any thought of a second chance. Some rabbis thought it was eternal.

  • Kenton


    Re: But, this parable is also about the dreadful (the rich man is suffering and wants some water just to touch his tongue because he’s so hot) and irreversible consequences.

    If it’s about hell, might it also be about heaven in how we see Abraham respond? As I see it, Abraham is dismissive, bordering on taunting the rich man. So if heaven is a place of eternal joy, maybe we should learn to adopt that type of dismissive attitude to our friends who die without Jesus in their lives today, right? If Abraham wasn’t in mourning when someone got tossed into the eternal furnace, we shouldn’t either. Weeping and tears (comment #17)? Meh, get over it already. If we’re not going to mourn about it in heaven, why mourn about it now?

  • scotmcknight

    I see nothing dismissive in Abraham’s words. He’s got a matter of fact this is the way it is, and true he doesn’t weep. I have no idea how you can see “taunting” in those words of Abraham’s … and don’t forget you’ve got Jesus putting these words into the mouth of Abraham in parabolic form.

  • EricW

    @Fish 47.:

    Does that mean that right beside the Creation Museum and Theme Park there will be a Destruction Museum and Theme Park?

  • Tim

    Thank you Scot & Robin for your detailed answers to my question :)

    On a separate note (addressed to the general thread) if Rob Bell’s solution is wrong with respect to sound Biblical inference (and I would imagine I side with Scot in perceiving this to be the case), what of Bo Erbel’s questions?:

    “If we don’t accept Rob’s “answers” to the questions he’s raising…Does being a “believer” mean you accept the intellectual proposition that Jesus is the son of God?…Are we ever obligated to stray from the text itself in the name of morality? Or when we feel that the text is ethically questionable are we bound to trust the Bible as authoritative?”

    It seems that there are genuine moral concerns that are driving this conversation, and even if Rob Bell’s attempts fail on Biblical grounds, what of the moral questions he’s raised? Does this get swept under the rug by sentiments such as “God’s ways are not our ways”? Or is such questioning of \Biblically-grounded doctrine appropriate when one feels the moral case is sufficiently strong?

  • Kenton

    Fine, I’ll settle for “he doesn’t weep.”

    So why should we?

    Does the fact that the words are in parabolic form mean we can’t draw too much from them? If so, why can we draw so much from the description of hell?

  • http://LostCodex.com DRT

    Thank you Scot, this is so good I feel that I should pay you for it :)

    RE: Importance of LoF – It should have been addressed. Currently I am torn as to how to read Rev, if we eliminate the LoF, ISTM that it undermines hell more than eliminating the New Creation undermines a post-death paradise. Also, the LoF must be interpreted, that is the imagery is not literal.

    RE: Current Experiences Hell – I’m on board with it since my view of evil is a lack of God, but it is only as in a mirror Hell, not true Hell.

    RE: Love Wins Distances God from Hell – well, of course, it is defined by distance from God. …more to your point, yes, it keeps god from getting his hands dirty.

    RE: Luke 16 – I think the imagery is parabolic.

    Overall – I still feel that Rob’s presentation is within the ball park of his intended purpose. One cannot find fault in quoting Surprised by Hope without doing your own research at the pop level Rob is dealing with.

  • http://18thandfairfax.wordpress.com Bo Eberle

    Thanks, Scot. I suppose I’m at a crossroads in my own worldview about how to view scripture. I have an intuition that our own moral judgements should play a significant role in our exegesis and the value we place on scripture. If these personal moral judgements are not central to our interpretations, I think we may be placed in a position (and this is what scares atheists regarding the religious) where if in a possible world the BIble suggested child sacrifice is God’s will, we would accept it despite our intuitions to the contrary. I apologize for the extreme example invoking modal reality, but this is similar to my thoughts about retributive justice (you asked why restorative justice can be said to be better than retributive). Retributive justice goes against every intuition I have of a loving father interacting with his children, and I can’t be passionate about worshiping a God who operates on that level. Parents don’t seem to punish their children primarily because “they deserve it” or were so angry they had to vent their wrath. Parents punish children restoratively. Only because it is necessary to “prune” their character. Loving justice operates on a restorative leve (in hope). Secular justice operates in a retributive level (indifference toward the future of the individual). These kind of quasi-philosophical arguments about morality, love, and justice simply hold more weight for some people (like me) than a careful hermeneutic like Dilthey’s which seeks states “The goal of interpretation is to feel the states of mind of others.” This is why, even in light of your criticisms, I’m sticking with Bell (and not with the Bible?) I trust God, maybe just not the minds of every Biblical author! (of course Rob would be the first to say he’s not infallible either) I’m sure my Biblical studies professors will straighten me out next year ; ) Thanks again!

  • scotmcknight

    Kenton, we need to be careful to draw anything from what is not there and to focus on what is there. What is there is a warning of irreversibility and a powerful implied warning to take care of the poor today.

  • Fish

    EricW@52, perhaps. As we see with the Hell Houses or whatever they are called at Halloween, there is a market for anything illustrating the eternal torture that (other) people are going to suffer.

    You may be on the verge of a huge market opportunity with your thinking. If you need a partner, let me know. While I don’t believe in a literal Hell, I am not adverse to making a profit off of those who do :)

  • Richard


    I understand what you’re saying about it not being a dump and I’m more than willing to accept that. Perhaps I wasn’t clear in what I was asking so I will try again.

    If Gehenna (a real location outside of Jerusalem that was used for idolatry and child sacrifice) is used in discussions of temporal judgment upon Israel and the nations, on what grounds do we expect that Jesus is using it to refer to something after physical death? That is the street preaching going on and it doesn’t seem faithful to the textual evidence we have. What in the text justifies us pushing it that way?

    And if we’re bringing the Lake of Fire into the discussion (which it should be eventually), let’s acknowledge that it is not the hell that most lay people and pastors envision – no one goes there when they die. If anyone goes there, they go there after judgment before the white throne following resurrection.


  • kjmarksjr

    Scot and Tim,

    Obviously the shenanigans all began with the a few tiny words from John Piper’s Twitter feed, but can I propose that perhaps the real conflict is that of the “old guard” vs. the “new evangelicals?”

    (Before going forward, please understand that I mean no disrespect to John Piper and appreciate his work for the kingdom.)

    It seems to me that Bell’s work runs counter to the “solidified” theology of Piper and his following, which is something that Piper has shown an intolerance for in the past. As part of my course work at Biblical Seminary, we had to read “The Future of Justification: A Response to N.T. Wright” by Piper and also “Justification” by N.T. Wright. The vibe that I got continually from Piper’s response to Wright wasn’t that Wright’s exegesis was wrong, but that Piper did not like the deviation from traditional Reformed theology. (Frankly, I think that both Piper and Wright have great points and the the reality of Justification is somewhere between them.) Furthermore, it seemed like Piper was much more aggressive towards Wright than was necessary (and certainly more so than Wright was towards Piper in his response).

    Obviously, Bell’s work runs counter to the espoused theology of Piper, so Piper, IMO, chose this as an opportunity to declare “victory” of established Reformed theology over the pseudo-relativistic, “newfangled” theology. But Piper’s injudicious words about Bell’s book had just the opposite effect driving many more people to read this book than may have read it before.

    In the end, yes, Scot, this was a “Perfect Storm” made all the more perfect by the EXTREME necessity of having this conversation now since so many younger believers are open to pluralism and relativism. May God continue to put in this conversation Biblically-sound, Spirit-centered, Jesus-pursuing people of love and grace to help guide it along properly.

  • EricW

    @Fish 58.:

    You know the feeling of disgust and revulsion one gets if one goes to a buffet restaurant and sees all the seats full of corpulent people and their corpulent kids stuffing themselves with all they can eat? I suspect if one opened a Destruction Museum and Theme Park, one would attract a crowd that’s just as hard to stomach. Grand Guignol to the max.

    I’ll take a pass on your offer. :?

  • http://www.justinpheap.posterous.com Justin

    As per Gehenna/Valley of Hinnom Myth.

    My understanding is that there was, in fact, a sewer channel that ran underneath nearly every major city at that time. It emptied out into an outlying area – as we would imagine. Garbage, human waste, etc. had to go somewhere – how have we so easily dismissed this as a natural example of “Gehenna”?

    Ray Vanderlaan and others, including personal friends of mine, have well documented photographs of such a channel from Israel and specific cities in the area with these specific sewer/aquaducts, etc.

    Also, Thomas Cahill does mention such architectural features were common in the day. Is it really that big of a stretch to imagine a “city dump” when the cities did NOT have sophisticated sewer systems as we have now?

    At any rate, this is a great conversation! I am more than excited to be challenged, encouraged, and pushed to explore our Scriptures, our faith, and ultimately, to follow hard after and fall madly in love with Yeshua! Thanks again for keeping this stuff before us, Scot and team.

  • Kaleb


    I would agree with much of what you said, and I might be reading into this too much, but are you saying that you find an inaugurated eschatology to be lacking? It seems to me that this gives much more credit to the Biblical narrative, to say what is true of you now will be true of you later. That is we are ‘living into’ the future that will be given to us. Rob pretty much says these exact words and I do not think Rob is doing anything that different as you when you say you remain hopeful for those that die; Rob has just given others the courage to stand up and say we can have hope for wide mercy and even possibly second chances while remaining more than loyal to Jesus, even if it is not in how some theologians view certain texts. And although this future is ‘given’ we also participate in what is going to be ‘given’ by what we choose now; Heaven or Hell. Do you think this true of what you were describing?

    “(the great chasm is uncrossable from both sides)”. If we are going to take this verse literally then how does the rich man even approach Moses to begin with? It does not seem to make sense with the great separation that we are saying exist between Heaven and Hell.

    If we want to be fair then we will have to admit regardless of our views that if we are going to use these parables, and other Scripture, as a basis for what Hell will be like then maybe there is a great chasm, but it is obviously much different than the kind of chasm we are thinking of. To have someone approach another person across it doesn’t make sense. It would seem that they are having a regular conversation; how do we explain this. I do not think it is possible to explain it through eternal seperation, or else they would not be talking in the first place.

  • http://www.lemonadeinternational.org/ Bill C


    Interesting post. Your thoughts definitely inspire readers to research more.

    In your response (#5) to Dan’s question (#4), you’re not sure what Gehenna is because you’re “still digging”. If you’re still digging, how are you able to be so emphatic about it being a metaphor for divine judgement (according to the last sentence in this post)?

    If you don’t have a full grasp of what Jesus is referring to (“From what I’ve seen… it is medieval”), how are you able to make such a definitive statement like, “it *is* a metaphor for divine judgement? It seems to me that the metaphors in Jesus’ parables can’t be nailed down to being so definitively about one thing.

  • Kenton

    OK, so “what’s there” is a channel of communication between heaven and hell. Is that “drawing too much”?

  • http://www.justinpheap.posterous.com Justin

    59, @Richard wrote, “And if we’re bringing the Lake of Fire into the discussion (which it should be eventually), let’s acknowledge that it is not the hell that most lay people and pastors envision – no one goes there when they die. If anyone goes there, they go there after judgment before the white throne following resurrection.”

    Agreed and well said.

  • smcknight


    “Gehenna” functioned like “Jezreel” in Haggai, like Armageddon in Revelation, or like “Antietam” might in our world.

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

    @Kenton (#54) how can we weep for the lost in heaven when every tear will be wiped away? If you’re asking an honest question, it may be worth your time to read Jonathan Edwards’s sermon “The End of the Wicked Contemplated by the Righteous.” He offers no less than five answers to this objection to the doctrine of everlasting punishment. Caveat emptor: if your question is merely rhetorical I would not read Edwards’s sermon! It will surely only be a cause for increased ire for you.

    Scot, thanks for the clarifications on Gehenna. I’m afraid I have to join the chorus of those who have heard this point more times than I can remember (Wright’s use in Surprised by Hope being the most recent and memorable). Many thanks for your careful engagement.

  • smcknight


    OK, now we’re guessing there might have been a dump (sure there must have been). But there is no record — no evidence in ancient sources — that there was a physical dump outside Jerusalem called “Gehenna.”

    Gehenna was a trope for a place where God judged. See my note to Richard at #67.

    Bill C.,

    Still digging on where it arose. There is no ancient Jewish evidence for Gehenna being the name for the city dump.

  • Richard

    Scot, regarding Sodom and Gomorrah and hope for those places in your answer to Bo, I think there’s grounds for Bell’s hope in light of Ezekiel’s comments and the way he compares the restoration of S and G’s fortunes with that of Jerusalem. I think the burden of proof lies with those who would argue they will not be brought back from captivity/restored.

    BW3 made a distinction between restoration of all creation vs. restoration of beings made in the image of God (thereby having free will) to explain why it’s not the residents of S & G that are “restored” but I don’t see that in the text and haven’t heard someone explain why that is the case.

  • Richard

    @ 67 Thanks Scot. If that’s the case, what evidence pushes us to understand this as a hellfire after death rather than connecting it to judgment on Jerusalem in 70 AD? What moves it from cosmic imagery of temporal judgment to timeless judgment?

  • scotmcknight


    Not sure what you mean by “inaugurated” but here’s how I understand it: the kingdom is here but not yet consummated. Yes, I see it and I can see it in hell/wrath, too. We begin to participate the future now.

    The idea of separation means what “great chasm” means in Luke 16.

  • scotmcknight

    Bill C,
    I’ll say this one more (and final) time: I’m digging on when the notion arose. There is no evidence that Gehenna meant garbage dump outside Jerusalem at the time of Jesus. All I’ve seen is that this idea arose in the 12th Century.

  • http://seguewm.blogspot.com/ Bill

    Great discussion, yet without any incontrovertible answers – as always – which brings us back to the many questions raised by Bell. These are the very questions raised by so many folks wrestling with Christianity. Our Jesus seems antithetical to our doctrine. Is the whole of Jesus’ life the criteria we use to evaluate the accuracy of teachings in the Old or New Testament? Shouldn’t the whole of Jesus’ life be even the measure of some things the gospels tell us that Jesus taught? Are we too wedded to the notion of the equivalence of all scripture? Isn’t the Person of Jesus a higher witness that every other word within scripture? I think that is what the questions of Bell ask us to rethink. If Bell is correct, Christianity will – of course – be dramatically changed for the good.

  • Kenton

    Peter (#68)-

    Yeah, it’s purely a rhetorical play: an effort to point out the inconsistency that you can’t love a person who’s suffering torment and not grieve about it. Taking that back to the parable, if Abraham isn’t mourning, he must not have any true love for the rich man.

    Those of us who are challenging the notion of eternal conscious torment don’t give a whole lot of cred to Jonathan Edwards. :)

  • Robin

    Regarding choosing to follow our own moral imperatives regarding hell (or other doctrines) when they conflict with scripture.

    I have no problem if Christians can honestly read and interpret scripture in a manner that is vastly different from my own interpretation. However, if someone can say “based upon my interpretation of the text it looks like Jesus is teaching eternal conscious torment, but that just doesn’t live up to my moralistic ideals so it cannot be correct” then I don’t know what to say. I can’t really say “heretic” can I, but I don’t know how to call someone a brother if they consciously refuse to submit to their best reading of scripture.

    Likewise, if I read “there is neither slave nor free” but instead decide, “you know what, I’m a slaveowner and really don’t think a God who has clearly favored me would want me to treat my slaves like humans, so I’m just going to assume that part is wrong.” Well I would have a hard time calling that man a brother too.

    And let me be clear, in the case of someone rejecting ECT or rejecting the humanity of slaves…I am talking about hypothetical persons who are completely convinced that the bible teaches ECT or humanity of slaves, but explicitly reject that teaching based upon personal moral reasoning. Those people I would have a hard time considering brethren, not people who disagreed with me on those issues because of an interpretation issue.

    I think that is what Bo was getting at.

  • steve jung

    re: death of death

    In ANE death was the god Mot/Moth and sea/chaos was Yam/Yammu, so in Revelation 21 we see the end of Mot and Yam, no more death and the sea was no more. For the ANE audience that was the end of chaos and all things contrary to God’s will. It doesn’t appear to be as much about the end of dying, but the end of Mot.

    Yes, even within a monotheistic context, Death is personified in Jeremiah and Psalms. In the Canaanite mythology, Death creeps in through widows and steals people. Jeremiah comes close to that idea. Exodus, the LORD looks for blood on the doors, not the windows.


  • http://www.DrAndrewJackson.com Andrew Jackson

    Scot, in my view, this is the best review of yours so far. As your review shows, Bell’s bad interpretation is rather shocking. As Bell graduated from Fuller Seminary (my own seminary), I was really disappointed as I feel it will mislead or confuse may young people. Anyway, it seems like you should not only have opened this review with a prayer, but also ended with one.

  • Robin

    In general, even if I find a part of scripture repugnant I am loathe to substitute my own moral reasoning as superior to scripture. I guess I just say, “God is sovereign and the answers will one day be revealed,” but I don’t know what else to do.

    I think it is dangerous to insist that we can do such. In our enlightened world where we think we have reached the apex of civilizational ethics maybe we don’t think it would be to bad to place our temporal philosophical judgements over scripture, but we’re only a decade removed from standing by while Rwandans were massacred, 60 years removed from an entire civilized nation that decided Jews were inferior, etc. There is no reason that we couldn’t slip into such instances again. Unless you are prepared to say that we are indeed at the zenith of ethical judgement and we can condemn not only parts of scripture because of our ethical advanvement, but also all previous cultures and future cultures as well…well if you cannot say that I will take the bible, warts and all, over temporal ethics as my rule of faith.

  • http://fumblingtowardseternity.theobloggers.com nick gill

    Kenton @ #75:
    Unwillingness to give credibility to those whom you oppose is not a sign of spiritual or intellectual maturity. I guarantee you that, while Edward Fudge (commenter above, author of “The Fire That Consumes”) rejects eternal conscious torment, his book is full of grantings of cred to those whose ideas he opposes.

    I assume, then, that your life is full of expressed grieving/mourning, and that that you believe that should be the primary way Christians express themselves? Since so many people are suffering torment, we should stop wasting time scribbling on these blogs and get to the serious business of grieving? Surely that is the logical extension of your idea that since Jesus doesn’t depict a grieving Abraham, the character “must not have any true love for the rich man.”

    Grieving was not the only, or even the primary, way by which Jesus expressed his love.

  • http://seguewm.blogspot.com/ Bill

    It is rather difficult to discuss ‘the end’ scenario without having a certain clarity on ‘the beginning’. Did God create us in his image or are we the end product of billions of years of evolution? How we answer the ‘beginning’ has tremendous impact on how we handle the ‘ending’ – not to mention the process inbetween.

  • Robin


    If you are going to use the entire life of Jesus to judge the validity of the rest of scripture, as well as some of the teachings attributed to Jesus in the new testament, what version of “the whole life of Jesus” will you use as the measuring stick?

    If you are willing to question the remainder of scripture and some of Jesus’ own teachings, then how can you be sure that the parts of Jesus you like and want to use as a measuring device are accurate?

    If you think the bible is so flawed that many sections are invalidated by Jesus’ “whole life” as a criteria, and even the gospels and epistles are so flawed that we can throw out some parables and a few miracles as “inauthentic” because they appear in conflict with the rest of his “whole life” and must therefore be fraudulent…well then why do you have any reason to believe that even though the gospel writers botched it in these areas you are tossing out…they must have gotten it correct about the rest of his “whole life” that I am keeping and using as a criterion.

    It really seems like in this whole exercise all you are really saying is “this is what I like about Jesus, this is what I want him to be like, so I am just going to believe in this Jesus that I like, and throw all the rest away.”

  • Richard

    @ Robin

    Thanks for sharing what you shared in 76 and 78. You and I may disagree on our conclusions regarding the Scriptures on some things but I’m in absolute agreement with you in trying our best to understand how God has spoken in the past and living in submission to that, even when it grates us (esp. love for enemies). I think that’s the sort of camaraderie and mercy I would hope for from folks who are satisfied with the answers offered by the popular view.

    Many of us that are questioning “hell” and ECT are doing so precisely because of our study of Scripture and our desire to be faithful to Christ and it means a lot to hear you acknowledge us as brethren even as we journey on this.

  • rjs

    Bill (#81),

    That is the wrong either/or. It is not either image of God or evolution through billions of years.

    We are created in the image of God. I have certainly made the case that the “how” i.e. how God created us used the process of evolution – but this is not to question or undermine the notion of image of God.

  • Tim

    I wonder how common this sentiment is, as expressed by Robin?

    “…persons who are completely convinced that the bible teaches [x], but explicitly reject that teaching based upon personal moral reasoning. Those people I would have a hard time considering brethren.”

    Is this deemed unacceptable? Even if you still call such persons “brethren,” is it crossing a firm line that is “binding” for Christianity – at least in the sense of being a follower of Christ?

    If subsuming one’s conscience to one’s religious text is required for orthodox expressions of faith, does that then give credence to the “new atheists’” objection that religion has the potential to cause otherwise decent people to do (or at least believe in, or endorse) “evil” things? Isn’t this the same type of thinking responsible for so much unnecessary pain and suffering in the world?

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

    @Kenton (#75), I figured it was rhetorical but for any who might ask the question honestly, I thought it was worth linking to Edwards’s sermon. It’s not for no reason that he’s considered America’s greatest theologian. Don’t discount him too quickly. ;)

    Also who is suggesting that those in the new heaven & new earth will love those who are not? I grant your inconsistency, I just don’t know who’s actually guilty of it.

  • Robin


    I think that is precisely the reason many “popular view” evangelicals are also so leary of Bell and the emergent movement. We know that Lewis and Stott are still faithful to their best reading of scripture, even if we don’t agree with their conclusions.

    We still aren’t sure about the emergent movement, and MacLaren’s apparent rejection of biblical authority with his appeal to a “community library” approach makes us even more suspicious.

    Even on this thread the tone has basically been “but I don’t think God could be like that so I am looking for an out”

    I’ve got no problem with people who read the bible, interpret it, and reject hell. And I think that is why you don’t hear an outcry against Lewis and Stott. I (and most of my conservative brethren) do have a problem with people who say “God couldn’t really be like that, so I am going to reject those parts of scripture and make up my own version.”

    I think people felt like Bell was falling into the latter camp.

  • http://jlundewhitler.wordpress.com Josh Lunde-Whitler

    Scot- Although I’m a fan of the book on the whole, your critiques here are quite good- a helpful corrective, potentially, to the lack of nuance in Love Wins. Bell certainly does not wrestle with all the particular images from a scholarly perspective; he clearly promotes a particular view and doesn’t show his work, even though I agree with many of his conclusions irregardless.

    A note about Gehenna— I think it’s important to note that, whether or not Gehenna was a “trash dump” per se, that there is a point to be made for it being a metaphor for a real place– the “valley of Himmon.” Yes, in much of the Second Temple literature, Gehenna as a place of idol worship became associated with God’s judgment, and one could argue that eternal punishment was implied (in Josephus, for instance), but there is also ancient testimony to Gehenna being a place equated with Sheol (b.Pesah. 54a), and is often seen as a place with a limited duration of punishment (m. ‘Ed. 2:10; b. Sabb. 33b; b. Ros Has. 16b-17a). Jesus, in the end, was making use of a metaphor common in the culture, as well as the theological theme of purity of the people, by talking about Gehenna– because it was OUTSIDE the city of Jerusalem. So in the end, there will be those left outside the city gates, and they will experience God’s judgment (perhaps in the way in which Bell describes– as God’s loving presence!)— and that the primary point is… nothing unclean will enter. (And the judgment process should not be taken lightly.) But it doesn’t necessarily imply eternal judgment, and it doesn’t even necessarily assume an outright “punishment” by God, even though it is often assumed to be so. Just some thoughts.
    (References based on Lunde’s article on Heaven and Hell in the IVP’s Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels, for which of course, you were an editor.)

  • Robin


    If I am an objectivist (devout follower of Ayn Rand) and also claim to be a Christian, but claim that my objectivism has set upgraded my moral reasoning so that even though I can believe in the virgin birth, death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus, and can even believe in lot of other things we associate with Christianity… despite of all of that, my objectivism informs me that the highest goal of life is to please myself, and therefore all of the demands that would interfere with my own happiness…the beatitudes, loving my enemy, praying for those who persecute me, etc., can I use my own moral reasoning, my objectivism, to reject the teachings of Jesus that detract from temporal happiness and still be a Christian?

    What proof do you have that your own moral reasoning is superior to objectivism, or existentialism, or utilitarianism, or the bible itself. I prefer to take hold of scripture and force my beliefs and preferences to bow to its authority.

  • Robin

    I understand that I can inconsistently live out the teachings of Jesus, sometimes choosing my own comfort or failing to love my enemies, but can I consciously say, “I don’t care what scripture says, Jesus wants me to be happy so I reject his teaching about loving enemies”

  • E.G.

    @Fish #47: “All we really need is a Ken Hamm for this topic.

    Well, we are partly there. We already have a Hell-themed amusement park:


    Wrong faith… but it’s a start… :)

  • Charlie O

    Can’t wait for the sequel: “Love Still Wins: But Here’s A Better Researched, Better Exegeted and Far More Jesus/Atonement-Centric Reason Why.”

  • JohnC

    Hi Scot,

    Great questions. I have really appreciated your blog this past month.

    Regarding the rich man and Lazarus:
    I am not so sure I agree with you here:

    “The man’s sin is not that he clings to the old ways but that he didn’t respond when he had the chance — that’s the whole point about his wanting someone to tell his loved ones.”

    I think Keller makes a good point when he shows that largely what the Rich Man is actually saying by wanting to warn his loved ones is that he thinks he personally didn’t receive enough information.

    That’s why his part of the conversation ends with “but if someone goes to them from the dead then…” which is revealing that he didn’t think Moses and the prophets gave him enough info to avoid his fate.

    Also I think it is not completely unreasonable to look at the Rich Man and see the sort of hell Rob talks about. There is obviously a physical element of pain, but also obviously the man is unchanged in his attitude toward himself, toward God, and others.

    He is completely insane, ordering Lazarus around in heaven while he is in Hades.

    There is a mental disintegration, delusion and denial to the point where he still cannot see things as they are, though they are now permanently crystallized in front of him.

    He has no name because his whole identity was his riches. Now he is in hell as that person forever. He has lost his humanity in losing his name, he has now become forever what he so desired to be in this life: A man whose identity was his money.

    Here we see the curtain of that reality pulled back and we see more clearly what he is.

    The fire of hell cannot be simply literal fire. It is hard to picture a place of “Outer Darkness” filled with real fire. I do not fully agree with Bell, especially the second chance concept, but I think his version of the fire of hell is closer to the biblical version than those who claim hell is literal fire.

    Also I think when we see Hell as something like what Rob, and Tim Keller advocate, it produces the correct results. It sends us running to God for grace and change instead of running from God.

    I do recommend hearing from Timothy Keller himself on what he believes about hell:

    His treatment on the subject can be found here in written form:
    And here as a 30 min audio:

    Thanks Scot for blogging about this in such a gracious manner. Is there a book/blog etc somewhere in which you have given a more full account of your own views on hell?

  • Tim

    Robin (88),

    Where did all that come from? Are you trying to pin a world-view on me? Some kind of “objectivist” self-interest/pleasing driven ethos? Not sure where you’re going with that, or why.

    You seem to be setting up this ethos as some kind of “default” alternative to a biblically authoritative worldview – and by placing me outside of the biblically authoritative camp you’re placing me instead inside this contemptous ethos instead. Is this what you are doing? If so, on what basis?

    I’m a little confused here, and not at all confident I’m reading you correctly.

  • http://18thandfairfax.wordpress.com Bo Eberle

    I didn’t know objectivists still existed! I can’t imagine anything more incompatible with Jesus’ message (think Howard Roark’s speech at the end of “The Fountainhead”) but hey, what do I know!

  • Tim

    Robin (88),

    Disregard my last post. I think I see where you’re coming from now. I would say that a “moral sense” is not contigent on a “moral philosophy”, though it could of course be modulated by it. I think, overall, we all share the same core moral sense. Culture and individual perspective modulate how we experience that sense, but there is a core universal commonality there.

    I think the theistic argument is that morality, at least in part, comes from God. That his stamp is on that. And that when this conflicts with an interpretation of what we believe to be revelation, we owe it to God to take that seriously – perhaps even to the point of following our (granted fallible) conscience over and above what we view as revelation (and our interpretation of it).

    After all, Scripture was writtent by fallible people, and it is interpreted by fallible people. There’s not an infallible source of knowledge here as a practical matter. Many people feel that history has demonstrated that between conscience and revelation (even if limited to just the Bible), you tend to go wrong far less often and with far less tragic consequence by following the former when it seems in conflict with the latter.

  • Percival

    Thanks for the excellent and thoughtful post.

    I’m reading Robin’s and Tim’s little back and forth and wondering about similar things but maybe in less black and white terms. Namely, if our theology, which we feel we must hold, is personally distasteful to us, where does that lead us? If our image of God seems less moral than our own moral standards, what needs to change? It is difficult to love and honor a god that down deep you do not love or honor.

    Reasonable responses to a hell of eternal conscious suffering include:
    1) Reject it
    2) Embrace it wholeheartedly
    3) Investigate it until you can come to either 1 or 2

    It does NOT seem to be emotionally sustainable to say – Maybe God will torture people forever and it seems wrong, but I guess we are stuck with it.

  • Sheldon

    You make some very good points Scot. I appreciate your willingness to tackle this book. I must confess that books like Rob’s (and “the Evangelical Universalist” amongst others) have given me hope that I don’t have to believe in a God whose final act of judgement is banishment of sinners to an eternal hell. But perhaps that hope is fleeting. As I read responses from men and women (like yourself) who take the totality of the Bible seriously, I’m struck by how the biblical arguments of the evangelical universalists are not on as sound of footing as they lead their readers to believe. And that is discouraging for me, as I wonder whether I am being led to a choice I do not want to make: to choose between the God of my youth and the growing conviction that I cannot serve a God who would sentence a human to eternal judgement (and possibly torment) for choices made during a finite existence. In any case, I shall continue to contend with this issue. Thanks for adding to the discussion.

  • Tom F.

    So far, the result of Rob’s book seems to be that it asks really good questions, but the exegesis can’t hold it up in some crucial places? Pity, on both counts.

    Rob is asking so many of the questions that quietly burn inside of my heart. Whenever someone reads a section like the prodigal son, and talks about God’s great mercy, there is always that little voice in my head that says, “But what about…”. I think Rob was spot on in saying that our view of Hell determines what we think of God. Reading some of the comments, including Scot’s, it seems that the best we can get at is a hopefulness that is simply grounded in God’s gracious character. I like that in some ways, but sometimes it just doesn’t feel like enough, especially when the outcome is so devastating for huge numbers of people. I don’t know that this is particularly Scot’s or Bell’s or anyone’s fault, since we are all flawed human beings trying to makes sense of such weighty matters. God grant us all peace, myself included.

    I wish Bell had done the exegesis better. I like Bell. I cringe when I read folks that don’t like Bell tear the exegesis from limb to limb. (You trap more flies with honey than vinegar, folks, but that’s a discussion for another time.) I think Bell has a lot of strengths, including ability to communicate, and a sense of wonder at discovering God in the scriptures that is very refreshing. I just hope that Bell digs a little deeper into the scholarship next time. As a forward-thinking evangelical, I appreciate him not being tied down to stale interpretations of the text. Still, as a forward thinking-evangelical, I wish he had spent more time getting at the text (and all of the texts!).


  • Percival

    Tom F. 98
    I feel exactly the same way about this whole thing. thanks for voicing it.

  • Michael

    Scot mentions that “”there’s no indication of anyone coming back from that lake of fire.” To that I say, what about the nations in the book of Revelation?

    In chapter 2 of Revelation, Jesus tells the church in Thyatira that they will rule over the nations if they overcome. He then says (11:2) the nations will trample over the holy city for 42 months. In 11:18 John says the nations raged. Revelation 14:8 states that the nations drink the wine of the passion of her sexual immorality. In 18:3 it states again that ALL the nations were drunk with the wine of the passion of her sexual immorality. 18:23 all the nations were deceived. 19:15 the sword of his mouth strikes down the nations.

    Is Jesus saying that believers will rule over these nations that were drunk with sexual immorality, raged against God and trampled over the holy city? Where will they rule over them?

    John tells us I believe where we rule over them. We rule over them in the holy city. Revelation 22:2 states that the nations are healed by the leaves on the tree of life. In the narrative of Revelation, the only nations that need to be healed are the ones that raged against God and were deceived and were drunk with sexual immorality. Where were these nations in the story of Revelation before the new heavens and earth? They ended up in the lake of fire. Now John sees some of them coming out of the lake of fire for healing.

    Am I way off on this one? Some of you smart ones give me some feedback.

  • http://www.abcwesterville.org Mark Farmer

    “What do you think of Rob’s reading of the Parable in Luke 16?” Luke 16:26 says that none can cross over the chasm in either direction. Yet according to 1 Peter 3:19 and 4:6 (and perhaps Ephesians 4:8-10), Christ himself passed over it in both directions. This seems to imply that Luke 16:26 is no longer relevant to the discussion of whether hell is permanent.

  • Dan

    Thanks for more great commentary. After reading through Rob’s book (note – after) I immediately came here to get your thoughts. Let me also say I greatly respect Rob as a pastor and teacher. I agree with much of what you’ve shared as critique. The thing I’m still thinking through and I guess what I thought was the main point for Rob is that Hell isn’t this place you are sent to and God is there holding a blow torch under your feet. All of the imagery and even the whole Gehenna stuff is Jesus and others trying to explain what this judgment will be “like.” I don’t think that Rob is arguing that Hell won’t be tormenting but that God isn’t the one sitting there tormenting. Perhaps my baptist background in Michigan brings me back to this whole separation thing. Sin and God’s judgment of it results in death. There is a separation. A breaking. It then doesn’t make sense that Hell is place God is. Or that fire is the worst thing that can happen. I’m not sure Adam and Eve were hiding because there were afraid they’d get burned. Is it even a physical existence? Do those in Hell also receive bodies that will never decay so the tormenting and burning and thirsting will go on forever? To me if you are to explain what Hell/God’s Judgment in it’s finality will be like, you get the language of scripture. So I think Rob’s biggest (not only) concern is this picture of Hell (and of course God) being a place God saves us from so He won’t have to be there tormenting us forever. What exactly it will be? Where exactly is will be are perhaps things we can’t fully exegete from scripture because this wasn’t their goal. Am I way off? Thanks for letting me sort through where I’m at right now.

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

    Hi Scott, thanks for your intro to this chapter. It raises some good questions. And please pardon my looong reply, but I am answering from a Reconciliationist’s (Christian Universalist’s) perspective 5 questions instead of 1, and I’d like to address a couple of other points in you post.

    First, concerning Bell’s statements about kolazo, as you noted, the word in Mt. 25:46 is actually kolasis, not kolazo, and though kolazo the verb does speak of pruning a plant so that it can flourish, this does not necessarily mean that kolasis the noun implies punishment with a positive purpose, though some scholars do argue such. My point is simply that it “can” imply such, and does “not” necessarily imply correction without remediation in view. And the English words “chastizement and correction,” both viable translations of kolasis per BDAG, do imply remediation; thus one is dependant upon the context of any given passage to determine which fits best, punishment for vengeance’s sake or for remediation’s sake. I believe that punishment for remediation’s sake best fits both the context of most biblical passages concerning judgment and punishment, not to mention the character of God and His expressed will that all should repent. Even the Mt. 25:46 passage links punishment, kolasis, with that of a shepherd separating the kids (baby goats, eriphos) from the rest of the herd (including sheep and goats, probaton). And shepherds care for the whole flock, even the kids which by nature and immaturity are more obstinant and liable to be so consumed with their own wants and needs that they do not even consider the needs of others or the leading of the shepherd. Kids were valuable members of the shepherd’s flock too. Thus, to me, even within Mt. 25:46 I lean towards understanding kolasis as remedial in nature, not vendictive. And I certainly believe that God loves all humanity as a shepherd loves his flock! And doesn’t Jesus elsewhere equate the Father with the Good Shepherd who is not content until 100% of his flock is safe in his care; 99% is just not acceptable!

    Also in Mt.25:46 note that both zoe/life and kolasis/punishment are described as aionios, having to do with “the Age to Come”, which equates it’s use in the LXX where it is used to translate Olam, which was often used to speak of the Messianic Age to Come, pictorially, that which just out of view, on or over the horizon, and beyond our understanding. The present and future reality of the spiritual realm of God is certainly beyond our understanding, over the horizon! And any punishment or rewards of that realm are much greater/worse than we can understand. And such rewards/punishments are experienced in this life too and not limited to only the future. I do not believe though that aionion is meant to convey “endless” for it is used to describe things that were not or we trust are not “endless” like the fire that destroyed Sodom or Judgment. And whether the Age to Come is “endless” or there are Ages to Come, I do not know, it’s out of site; and just because aionian is primarily used to describe “Life”, does not mean that aionion must mean “endless”.

    Now concerning your questions, 1) How important is the Lake of Fire scene in Revelation 20 to our view of hell? To me it’s not that important because John’s Revelation as a whole is so widely interpreted from radically different viewpoints – Preteristically, Historically, Metaphorically, and Futuristically. Because it is not didactic but pictorial, metaphorical, and so widely interpreted, I’ve tended to shy away from basing theology on Revelation; rather, I look to Revelation to illustrate theology that is based on the more didactic literature of the Bible.

    Even so, though it is so metaphorical, of course I have studied Revelation’s Lake of Fire; and I’ve come to believe that it is metaphorical of the all consuming, purifying, healing, and presence of God. Note that the Lake of Fire is in the presence of the Lamb and the presence of the angles (14:10). What surrounds the throne of God? Angels! Who sits at the right hand of God? Jesus, the Lamb! What does the Lamb picture for us? The Atonement! What do angels speak of to me, to others? The benevolent supernatural provision, protection, and blessing of God! So the lake of fire being surrounded by the Lamb and angels speaks to me of the all-consuming revelation of God’s love for us as revealed in the Atonement and God’s supernatural benevolent intervention in our lives through angels.

    Note that brimstone (theon, divine fire), sulfur, was burnt as incense for both spiritual purification and physical healing; and hot sulfur springs were widely known for the healing properties. Even today many prescription drugs are sulfur-based. Also note that “torment” (basanizo) is related to the process of purification of metals by fire, and the testing and revelation of impurities in precious metals. And in scripture elsewhere, God is refered to as a consuming fire. I’m also reminded of Isaiah’s encouter with the Lord where a coal from the altar was put to his lips to purify him.

    So in short, I’ve come to view Revelation’s Lake of Fire as the all consuming, purifying, healing presence of God that will burn the hell out of you! It’s not a place where people or angels are locked into evil, but delivered from evil. If God wanted to lock us into evil, He only need to allow us to live forever in this present evil age, oppressed from evil within and from without!

    “What do you think of calling experiences now ‘hell’?” I believe that this alligns with Paul’s phrases “this present evil age” (Gal. 1:4) and “the power of darkness” (Col. 1:13). Right NOW, people are separated from God, under the bondage of sin and evil from within and without, tortured souls, demonized, in bondage to fear and death! It is from “this present evil age” (Gal. 1:4) that the Lord delivers us from “the power of darkness” and translates us into “the kingdom of light” (Col. 1:13)! This is the “hell” that Jesus delivers us from, this “present evil age” where people are overwhelmed by and controlled by “the power of darkness”! So Bell is absolutely right in helping people refocus their attention to the reality of this present evil age, the devestation and evil of it! It goes well with the reality of the present kingdom of God, the truth that the kingdom of God is at hand, with reach; and that the kingdom of God is advancing until there is complete victory in Christ and every knee bows in worship and every tongue joyfully proclaims their allegiance to the Son of God! How long shall the kingdom of darkness last? I suppose it will last until every soul is delivered, and every being comes under subjection to Christ!

    “Do you think Love Wins distances God from hell?” I think Bell is helping to call Christians away from a focus on “Someday” to a focus on “Today”! And I believe that “Today” is the primary focus of scripture! Yes, the “hell” we live in now, the “present evil age” is due to the judgment of God against sin, Adam’s and our own! Such is both the judgment of God and the consequences of our injustices and refusal to walk in the ways of God! It’s not either/or, but both/and; and we need to wrestle with both. I see both as part of remediation though. It’s called “Reality Discipline”, allowing someone to reap the full or almost full devestation of one’s wrong doings, with a purpose of correcting their character, delivering them from the deception of evil! Love of parents sometimes motivates them to allow their children to suffer the full penalty of their evil, so as to teach them just how bad evil is. Let us not be fooled, what a man sows so shall he reap. And “Do not despise the chastening of the Lord….” And rather than Bell “distancing God from Hell”, he’s highlighting the present reality that God is with us in the middle of the present reality of hell! In the middle of our sin, God is with us! In the middle of our pain, God is with us! In the middle of our struggles, God is with us! Where can we go from the presence of God! Even in the grave, God is there! Even in the middle of death, and destruction, our God who loves us is there with us! Oh the depths and the riches of His love for us!

    “What do you think of his reading of the Parable in Luke 16?” Note vs. 14-16: “Now the Pharisees, who were lovers of money, also heard all these things, and they derided Him. And He said to them, ‘You are those who justify yourselves before men, but God knows your hearts. For what is highly esteemed among men is an abomination in the sight of God.’”

    The purpose of the parable is to radically challenge the religious Pharisaical false concept that “Riches = righteousness” and “Poverty/Trouble = Unrighteousness”! It is also meant to highlight that God takes everything in consideration in His judgment of us. Though we are poor, plagued by all kinds of physical and social problems, God looks on our heart! And if we are rich, born with a gold spoon in our mouths, we had better be careful to care for the needs of others around us and not be so self-centered. Is the parable meant to teach about a future reality of being cut off from God in hell? I don’t believe so. Is it meant to warn/encourage people of coming judgment and God making everything right? Ye, I believe so! To the rich, it’s a warning. To the poor, it’s a comfort. Frankly, this parable scares the hell out of me!

    Concerning your number 5, Gehenna. Yes, it is a metaphor of the judgment of God, but it is a metaphor of Remedial Judgment. Though Jerusalem was destroyed and many of its inhabitants killed and cast into Gehenna and some, a remnant, were taken away into captivity, the captives were released from bondage many years later and returned to Jersalem to rebuild the city and the temple. The prophets lament the coming judgment, but they also hope in restoration, and the two themes are intertwined.

    Also note that Gehenna was where the Jews sacrificed their sons and daughters to false gods, burning them in fire. And Jeremiah says that such an evil thing God did not command and such would never even enter His heart (Jer. 7:31)! God would never even think of something so evil! And yet, the traditional doctrine of hell has God doing just that, consigning people, His beloved, His children, those created in His image, to unimaginable fiery toruture forever! So the traditional doctrine affirms God doing something that He says He would never even consider! Even I have enough compassion on my dog to not torture him forever, or to even let others torture him – even if he bit me! How much more compassion and grace does God have on us! Should not the character of God be a consideration in our understanding of judgment? I believe so! But that’s not the focus of this thread.

    Well, anyhow Scott, thanks for doing this series. I’ve enjoyed the discussion and reading yours and other’s thoughts.

  • Timothy

    Great review, great conversation, producing in me lots of prayer and study!

    With fear and trembling, I offer a parabolic summary of Rob Bell’s challenge to the “problem of the traditional understanding of hell,” ending with Bellian questions rather than answers :)

    ONCE UPON A TIME there was a daddy who had a little girl. The little girl was bad. The daddy said, “I forgive you, BUT… you have to say ‘sorry’ to me first and accept my forgiveness”. The little girl, for whatever reason, refused.

    After a certain time, the daddy made a furnace in his basement. He tied up his little girl. He strapped her to a turning wheel. And he made it so his little girl would feel the agony of the furnace heat without ever dying.

    Meanwhile, daddy had other children who were doing just fine upstairs. These other siblings knew to “get in line or else.”

    One year later, some neighbors became suspicious. The police received a warrant. The found the little girl in the basement. And the daddy was arrested.

    The next morning, “What headline appeared in the paper? What were people saying on the talk shows? What were they saying about the daddy? What were they saying about the little girl?”

    Rob Bell is disturbed by the parable. He’s trying to offer a better, more hopeful, interpretation of the Bible. Is he wrong for attempting this? Or, is there a better way to interpret than Bell’s that is even more beautiful?

  • Kenton

    Nick & Peter g (#80 & #86)-

    Sorry if I’m stepping on toes. To be honest I really only know Edwards by “Sinners in the hands of an angry God.” (You may commence ridicule.)Perhaps I should give him more cred for his other works, but “America’s most famous sermon” is a caricature of nightmarish proportions.

    As for “who is suggesting that those in the new heaven & new earth will love those who are not?” I don’t know how inclusive you are, but is there a possibility that there will be a loving mother there whose child is absent? Certainly there are loving mothers on this side who grieve heavily for children who have died “lost.” What is the remedy? To stop loving that child? A sense of “get over it already”???

    I’m open to possibilities not yet considered, but to conclude that love sometimes DOES fail is not “good news.”

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

    I appreciate clarifications about the nature of hell. Here are a couple of thoughts that come to mind as we reflect on the topic.

    Scot (and others) has written elsewhere that Jesus and the early church expected his vindication and the final judgment to occur within a generation. Indeed, the destruction of the Temple in 70 CE was Jesus’ vindication but this was not the time of final judgment. It was decoupled from this event, leaving an unanticipated time between the two. This didn’t make Jesus wrong. It simply meant prophecy concerning the ultimate unfolding of such matters is often opaque and incomplete. It is a common characteristic of prophecy.

    I’m fully persuaded by the idea of an eternal punishment for rejecting God. That can’t be dismissed because it offends our sensibilities because of what we think God should be like. Yet we do know God is love and is bending over backward to bring all who will come into the Kingdom. What other unexpected twists to the plot will God unfold that we cannot possibly anticipate, that only in hindsight, well seem clear to what has already been revealed?

    That is what leaves me in somewhat of an agnostic position who and how many when it comes to hell. The threat is real but placing escape from hell as the focal point distorts the message. And even should we get it precisely nailed down what hell might be, do we really know with full certainty how the end unfolds? That is where I’m “living” when it comes to this issue. But what I’m most convinced of is that no one will unjustly end up in hell.

    I find it very hard to nuance the tension I experience and I’m certain that those who don’t share the tension see me as being a weasel in one direction or another.

  • James

    @ Timothy 105, would it be just if the police didn’t put that father in prison? Would it fair for others in society if that father wasn’t sentenced, allowing him to harm others?

    Likewise, I think it is just for God to put Satan into an eternal prison and anyone else who wants to use their freedom to break the shalom for their own selfish gain.

    Cancer must be resected or else it’ll suck the life of all the functional cells of the body and wreck havoc in a body that used to be in good homeostasis and shalom. An extreme example is, can you imagine God allowing into heaven a person being insistent in assaulting others for his/her selfish gratification. His selfish gratification has become his god. Would it be fair for God to allow him/her to harm others in heaven?

  • http://fumblingtowardseternity.theobloggers.com nick gill

    Love doesn’t ever fail, Kenton, but neither does it demand its own way.

  • http://LostCodex.com DRT

    After reading Michael Kruse in 107 is strikes me as quite ironic that many literalists say you have to confess a faith in Jesus to be saved, and that there is a literal ECT for those who don’t, but for many it is exactly the teaching put in Jesus mouth of an ECT that keeps them from confessing him as Lord and Savior.

    There really is something wrong with that.

    And Michael’s appeal to it being opaque at this point is probably necessary but ultimately unconvincing to many, and to me. I look at it this way. A truly good person would be repulsed by this. But a broken person would agree with it. But we would send the good person to hell and the broken person to be with god? I can’t see it.

  • Bob

    You said “To use Gehenna for Jesus was to use a metaphor for divine judgment and destruction”. 

    I agree that Jesus’ use of Gehenna was to talk about judgment and destruction. But within what time frame? Do you mean that Jesus meant his words to be taken as both relevant to the narrative of 70AD and then beyond it?  Did I miss something here? Sure, it’s possible that he saw in the imagery of Gehenna a universal application beyond AD 70, but I don’t see where the texts compel us towards that conclusion. I would argue strongly that the language of destruction, Gehenna, exclusion, etc., in the Gospels refers to the horrifying “judgment” of the Jewish War in AD 66-70. And this narrative framework still takes Jesus’ language of devastation and exclusion very seriously – we cannot simply filter it out in the interests of a theology of grace. But I believe the narrative also in some respect must be allowed to confine it, restrict the scope of application – he is speaking about a particular state of affairs; and maybe we ought to think more carefully about whether and how we extrapolate from this language to a universal doctrine of “hell”.

    Jesus said in Luke 12:4,5, “I tell you, my friends, do not fear those who kill the body, and after that have nothing more that they can do. But I will warn you whom to fear: fear him who, after he has killed, has authority to cast into Gehenna. Yes, I tell you, fear him!” This saying presupposes the threat the disciples would face to their lives when they announced the coming of the reign of God to Israel (eg Matt. 10:27).If they are killed by the Jewish authorities because of their witness, the disciples have nothing more to fear because God will watch over them (12:6) and they will be vindicated. But what they should fear is being caught up in the judgment that is coming on Jerusalem. So there is a death that will result in vindication, and there is a death such as would be suffered by many during the war.

  • http://fumblingtowardseternity.theobloggers.com nick gill

    “A truly good person would be repulsed by this.”

    Sez who? I’d like to see your short list of truly good people who are repulsed by this.

  • Rick

    DRT #110-

    What makes a person “good”?

  • scotmcknight

    Bob, I don’t think I’m convinced on Luke 12:4-5, but are you saying every judgment text in the NT — without exception — is about 70AD, the war with Rome? The chaser is this: Which of the isn’t? (Luke 16 about 70AD? the Book of Revelation written before 70AD? etc.)

  • Rick

    Michael #107-

    Well said.

  • Kenton

    Nick (#109)-


    I fail to see how consigning someone to ECT is NOT demanding its own way, though.

  • Tim

    James (108),

    In response to your question, of course not. Letting those run amok in both society as well as Heaven who are intent on harming others is not a good idea. But look at the daughter-father relationship in Timothy’s post. There are more means for reconciliation to take place. The stipulation that the daughter “has” to realize she was in the wrong to experience forgiveness and at least a path to reconciliation isn’t really true. The daughter can love her father, dearly, even if for whatever reason she doesn’t realize that she was in the wrong, or even if, perhaps due to stubborness, she just won’t budge on the issue. She can still love her father dearly all the same. She certainly by no means could be accused of actively hating her father or intending harm.

    The problem with the “exclusivist” soteriological model in Christianity (and please no one hammer me over semantics here – we all know what is meant by “exclusivist” in the sense it is commonly used) is that without being personally pursuaded of the gospel story as a historical matter of fact, one’s destination is eternal torment (or anihilation if you’re being charitable) in Hell. Now, this isn’t to caricature the exclusivist model as saying that intellectual assent to a (dubious, as it seems to many) historical claim is all that’s required, or even that it’s the central aspect that is required. Heart-felt submission, for instance, is also required and certainly central. But the point is that the intellectual acceptance of an uncertain historical claim is a necessary component to reconcilliation with God, and without that, no matter whatever else happens, and no matter how that person thinks of or feels toward God, they are damned if they don’t change their mind on that historical claim.

    So, returning to the daughter analogy, God would have set up a very stringent criteria that ends up exluding people who truly do love him (whether as a matter of theistic belief or as a matter of loving him through the love they express to others) from a lasting relationship, and instead consigns them to an eternally (or annihilationist) fate of separation form him (that would be unpleasant to say the least no matter if the torment is inflicted as external punishment or experienced intenally as existential angst).

    At the end of the day, a lot of people have a real problem with a means of delivering “salvation” that excludes so many people that, borrowing from the daughter analogy, really do love their father – and don’t know why he just won’t accept them into his loving arms even when they get things so very wrong.

  • CO Fines

    I have commented elsewhere that I can not come up with a better two word summation of the Bible than Love Wins. Nor has anyone else tho I continue all ears. That summation was hard won and I had to go thru many decades of learning and unlearning to get there. Don’t mean to imply that I have arrived since I regard the Way of loving God and neighbor as a lesson plan that never ends.

    It would be unfortunate to dismiss Bell on the basis of unpolished exegesis. Some of his explanations of ancient Jewish belief and practice left me wishing I had a rabbi friend I could go check with. But that’s pretty much irrelevant to what he is saying. He is speaking to an audience that regards a nineteen volume systematic theology as irrelevant in itself. Love wins.

    As numerous people, including Bell himself, have pointed out, he isn’t saying anything new. What’s important is not the book so much as the response to it. Look at this discussion and those preceding. This has every indication of being a watershed event. Might be time for some to toss their graduation caps up in the air and go looking for work.

  • Robert

    You know, I really like Dale Allison’s work, and maybe he’s right about Gehenna not being a trash dump. But I’m not sure it’s fair to call Rob Bell “flippant” for saying this is true. After all, he gets this idea from NT Wright in Surprised by Hope (175-176). Furthermore, even Alan Segal was convinced that it was likely a trash dump at some point, as he notes in his massive study on the afterlife, “Life After Death.”

  • http://fumblingtowardseternity.theobloggers.com nick gill


    That is one of the reasons why I think both ECT and Christian Universalism are unsatisfactory ways of explaining the text.

  • Ryan

    Sherman #104:

    couple questions based on your post:

    1) In Rev. 14, what do you do with v. 11? “forever and ever” and “no rest, day or night”?

    2) If the lake of fire is “God’s healing presence to burn the hell out of you…” then you must believe that the false prophet, the beast, EVEN the devil him/her self :) will ultimately be restored by God? I want to make sure I understand your beliefs.

    If so, I must say that I’ve conversed with a lot of universalists in my day, but none have gone THAT far!

    A question for any others that share my view of hell being a literal place of eternal judgment (a minority on this blog?): I’ve often wondered about Rev. 22:2…who are these nations that the tree of life is providing healing for?

  • James

    @Tim 108, just to clarify, are you saying why doesn’t God just allow all people from various religions into heaven? Why do they have to intellectually assent to Jesus and the gospel surrounding him?

  • Kenton

    Is your third way annihilationism, nick gill?

  • James

    @Tim (117), just to clarify, are you saying why doesn’t God just allow all people from various religions into heaven? Why do they have to intellectually assent to Jesus and the gospel surrounding him?

  • Tim

    James (121),

    I am asking why a soteriological model that sets a criteria of historical judgement that, in effect, limits many who really do have “hearts for God” (as expressed either through theistic belief or through their expressions of love to others) from having a lasting relationship with him, instead being disposed of into the “lake of fire” (whatever that might mean existentially), should be seriously considered as a true reflection of a loving God who sees us as his children – particularly in light of our own experience as parents to children.

    To repeat the last sentiment from my previuous post:

    At the end of the day, a lot of people have a real problem with a means of delivering “salvation” that excludes so many people that, borrowing from the daughter analogy, really do love their father – and don’t know why he just won’t accept them into his loving arms even when they get things so very wrong.

  • Tim

    …sorry, should have been “James (123),”…and “previous” not “previuous” – spell check seems to have stopped working for me :(

  • Richard

    @ 114 Scot

    I can’t speak for him but I don’t catch that Bob is insisting that all of the judgment passages be confined to 70 AD. It sounds more like Andrew Perriman’s line of thinking that the majority are but there are some still on a “distant horizon” even for us.

    However, it does sound like he’s asking what I was asking before… are the Gehenna passages temporally confined to the judgment on Jerusalem? What in the text pushes us to understand it as ECT, or even annihilation? If they’re temporal, would this explain why Gehenna doesn’t occur in the NT after the gospels (except once in James where it’s referring to the tongue being set on fire by the fires of hell)? If this word was common vernacular for universal judgment after death, why doesn’t Paul use it or Peter or John?

  • http://keithbrenton.com/ Keith Brenton

    Though I have expressed my generally confused reaction to “Love Wins” at my blog (and am gratified that there are smarter folks able to sort it out cogently), I’ll have to credit Rob Bell with inspiring questions in my mind that further persuades me toward Edward Fudge’s view of hell as a place where the obstinately evil are destroyed:

    Is it an act of mere justice or personal vengeance to permit the impenitently evil to be destroyed, rather than to suffer from the hellaciousness of their choices in life to go on forever? Is it not also an act of mercy?

    I have other unorthodox propositions, too. That perhaps not all who are lost but haven’t heard truth are also condemned – a word used for those who have heard truth and rejected it. That the righteous may be resurrected, but the unrighteous merely resuscitated to face judgment. That salvation has as much to do with how believers live here and now as hereafter and then.

    Whether my unorthodoxies are also heretical, I will have to leave to God. But I’m finding that they are helping me communicate truth with much less arrogance and greater love towards those who haven’t heard it.

  • http://larryshallenberger.com Larry Shallenberger

    Wow. I’ve repeated the Gehenna myth a few times recently. That’s more than a bit embarrassing.

  • http://seguewm.blogspot.com/ Bill

    Robin (#82) – You raise a valid concern. Yet, as this particular thread reveals, each of us are interpreting scripture – accepting that which makes sense and jettisoning that which does not. Hopefully that is an ongoing process. Why then the incarnation? Was it all about the cross? If so, why not an entrance into this world just before the cross? Was Jesus’ life all about ‘becoming our sin’ or was it also about revealing the nature of the Father? Why would he need to reveal the Father if the OT was already clear? Functionally, we often seem to tenaciously picture Jesus through the lens of established doctrine, rather than – as Bell suggests – to unapologetically rethink biblical doctrine through the eyes of the Person Jesus. Jesus, not scripture, is God – despite the way we are accustomed to viewing scripture.

  • Jinny

    Been studying the book of Job. Present suffering certainly isn’t always about sin, especially considering that Job is blameless, yet suffering greatly.

    Been a while since I’ve visited. Any chance of a glossary/reference for some of these abbreviations? :)

  • James

    @124 Tim, if people have a heart for God, and they had an opportunity to know God in Jesus Christ, why would they not?

    If you had a daughter that was separated from you but she was determined in seeking you, and then you found her, why would she reject you? why would she reject your story and who you are?

    Salvation is also about heart transformation into becoming a person belonging to a community that seeks to treasure God and love others. Jesus is central to that heart transformation into becoming a heavenly citizen. If God is not worshiped, most likely we’ll turn some other thing (money, sex, power, myself) into our god. And I believe if we allow that to manifest to its full extent, I believe idolatry and worshiping a false god will eventually produce fruits that do not contribute to shalom. E.g. the person who continues to worship sex and pleasure as their god will eventually lead to ___. Thus, God can’t allow shalom-breaking into heaven. A small bit of cancer that isn’t resected in the human body can still grow, suck up resources from healthy cells, and eventually consume and kill the whole body.

    So you’re asking, what about those who are seeking God and loving others even though they don’t assent to Jesus? I say if they have an opportunity to see the face of God, then I ask why wouldn’t they. Jesus is knocking and wants to show himself to them. Behold, your Lord, your God.

  • Dan

    James 124
    I don’t think it is that simple only in that many (as Rob points out in his book) have encountered an untrue Jesus. I personally know of a father who sexually abused his daughter. He actually believes he is Jesus. Imagine how the gospel sounds to her or to her siblings. Can they overcome it and see the “true” Jesus? I think they can but to say that anyone seeking God would never turn down Jesus is a fairly simplistic view.

  • Tim

    James (131),

    “Tim, if people have a heart for God, and they had an opportunity to know God in Jesus Christ, why would they not?”

    There are several reasons (not all covered here):

    Reason 1: They don’t consider the historical case categorically more compelling than competing religions – or not compelling at all given its authorship during primitve times rife with miracle stories and superstition.

    Reason 2: They consider the attrocities of the OT as moral disqualifiers (and among the more informed, don’t consider the justifications for these attrocities sufficient – such as Paul Copan’s new book)

    Reason 3: They consider the exclusivist salvation model as a means too arbitrarily narrow to be proferred by a loving God. Particularly if they know people with sincere, genuinely loving hearts who are not Christian.

    Reason 4: The failure of the Kingdom of God to manifest within a generation of Jesus’ crucifixion.

    Reason 5: The permeation of the OT with ANE mythic material, as well as cultural attidues deemed repugnant and apparently endorsed by OT law.

    Reason 6: Internal division within the Church, with differing groups claiming to be led by the Holy Spirit on conflicting claims.

  • http://LostCodex.com DRT

    For those who want to pick on my child-like “good people”, I offer Tim’s quote to replace my phrase:

    Tim said – many who really do have “hearts for God” (as expressed either through theistic belief or through their expressions of love to others)

    nick gill – I think there are quite a few good people posting here today that are repulsed by the ECT view of not aknowledging a particular historic fact, as Tim said.

    Rick and nick gill – I hear you about my attempt to appeal to common sense and your unvoiced assertion that we may not know what is good, well, I am trying to appeal to the image of God that is in each of us to understanding what it may mean to be a good person, and that image is real, though to varying degrees it is broken. My image of god currently tells me that someone punishing people forever for not believing a historical allegation from 2,000 years ago or never being presented with an accurate view of Jesus is decidedly wrong.

  • James

    @Dan 132, that daughter would then as you stated reject a false Jesus.

    If that daughter hears the true story and nature of Yeshua, then I think she would be able to differentiate that false Jesus (her dad) and the true Yeshua. I’m not saying she would right away accept Yeshua, but I think she would be able to differentiate between the two. It’s like if you had a fight with Dan Jones, you wouldn’t judge Dan Smith based on your experiences with Dan Jones.

  • John W Frye

    I talked with a friend recently and he didn’t create a cheeky parable (see comment #105), but told me of walking on thousands of bones of little children (babies) who had been thrown against a large tree until they died. This evil place is in Cambodia as part of “the killing fields.” Most of us commenting here only know evil second hand. (Please, I am not trying to belittle your stories of pain, etc.). The last things we must not take lightly are real human evil and biblical descriptions of punishment for sin.

    Rob Bell presumes to be dealing with documents recording the words of God, and in the case of the Gospels, the words of Jesus. For all the comments here about the fallibility of either the biblical authors or the biblical texts or both, the Church has received, transmitted and revered these writers as God’s agents to write texts that serve as God’s revelation to the world, the whole world. These texts reveal punishment *from God* as a consequence of rebellion *from God.* Yes, we have metaphors and parables, symbols and terms. We have to deal with what is in front of all of us. We don’t have the luxury of erasing what we don’t like to hear. Nobody *likes* the idea of hell (unless they’re mentally skewed).

    Are we free to choose to believe “my morality causes me to reject the repulsive (im)morality of a God Who punishes human beings for sin”? Of course, we are. “Duh, love wins!” Are we free to select a “Great Commandment” Jesus and reject the smelly, wormy, fiery “Gehenna” Jesus? Sure.

    Jews in the 1st century believed in tormenting punishment for sin. Gehenna, whether a place or a metaphor, pointed to that place of tormenting punishment. If Jesus truly rejected that concept because it was not in keeping with his vision, a true vision of God, then we would expect the data to show that Gehenna was never! uttered by him. It was very loaded term theologically and eschatologically. If it was contrary to “truth,” then Jesus was very deficient at telling the truth.

  • albion

    Yet we do know God is love and is bending over backward to bring all who will come into the Kingdom.

    First, this seems to describe a God who is thwarted–he’s doing all in his limited power to bring people into his Kingdom but their power to resist is greater. Second, how do we know that God is bending over backward to bring people into his kingdom? What texts do you have in mind?

  • http://LostCodex.com DRT

    John Frye#136, You appeal to an image Bell discussed in his book too, that we can think of a god who will punish those who do horrible things. But that is not what I, at least, am talking about.

    My objection is the Christian assertion condemning people there for far less vile offense.

  • John W Frye

    DRT (#139),
    You mean along the line of trying to keep the ark from falling off a cart and the fire of God smokes Uzzah? What “vile offense” was that? He was just trying to be helpful.

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

    @Kenton (#106), no ridicule. Most people’s knowledge of Edwards ends with the “Sinners” sermon. That is a shame. He wrote of heaven more than hell and his writing on the beauty of Christ takes up far more space than his writing on the horrors of hell. But note well that the “Sinners” sermon was meant to bring people to repentance. It’s nightmarish language is only horrendous if it is wrong. H. Richard Niebuhr once admitted, “We will concede perhaps that man is as wicked as Edwards said. What we do not know—or do not yet know—is that God is as holy as Edwards knew him to be.” That is telling. And as Carson points out, “So far as graphic pictures go, it is difficult to see how anything that Edwards says is more horrific than [the image in Revelation 14:17-20]” (Gagging of God, 530).

    As for your other remarks, I don’t know what to make of the conclusion that love has failed simply because not everyone’s loved ones get to join them in heaven. In any case, your suggestion that someone in heaven would be unloving if they did not mourn over those in hell is misguided, in my view. It assumes that a person cannot rejoice in retributive justice and still be loving at the same time. Moreover it assumes that those in heaven will maintain a warm affectionate concern for those in hell. I understand the emotional draw of this line of thinking but I also find that it minimizes the weight of the offensiveness of sin. In heaven we will we really still feel affection for those who utterly despise the One we love most, the Lamb slain for us? We we weep for those who spit upon our Savior in their unrepentant rebellion against him? I find this shallow, to be honest. One reason we mourn now is because there is still time for people to repent and so avoid the horrors of hell. And oh that they would! Frankly, if “love” wins, I see little reason for us to mourn now or ever.

    But these are heavy topics and deserve the kind of serious reflection that’s difficult in a format of this kind. At very least, give Edwards a fair hearing on the issue before you write his preaching on hell off as hateful and unloving. If Bell deserves a fair hearing in this debate (and he does), how much more do the great voices of the past deserve a fair hearing?

    Thanks for the discussion.

  • Charlie O

    Scot, (or others) it seems that almost everyone is willing to have an “I hope so” category for those they would like to believe have a chance outside of this life to make a decision for Christ. Otherwise no one should spend time blogging, but be out there evangelizing like mad! The “I hope so” just seems to arise from a, perhaps God-given, sense of fairness. For some it would be those who die unborn or newborn, or those before the age of accountability (however that is defined), or those who never hear the gospel, or perhaps even those who never hear the gospel in a meaningful way such that it connected with their heart. Is there definitive scripture(s) that precludes this hope? Surely not the Lazarus/rich man parable!? AND if there is no scriptural preclusion to this hope, why wouldn’t one at least move toward a “The Great Divorce” perspective? Or is “hope” on a completely different track than this thread?

  • Ryan

    DRT: I would also add, far less vile offense…to whom? At what point can the creation determine the Creator to be immoral? Basically, where do we get off telling God that things He has done, or plans on doing, is NOT good?

  • James

    @ Tim 133, here’ just my top of my head responses to your reasons

    Reason 1: What then are the alternatives? For me, at least in Jesus, we have a God who can empathize with us in our pain, in our suffering, in our doubts. What other religion or god can say that?

    Reason 2: Not sure what Paul Copan wrote and not sure exactly what you’re referring to in the Old Testament, but to me, the nature of God in the Old Testament, I see a God who loves mercy and does justice. If you’re talking about Joshua, I do see violence but not a God who permits rape or anything like that. It could compare perhaps to why the U.S. is allowed to be in Libya? If you’re against that, would it have been ok if a foreign country to have stopped the Rwanda genocide even if it meant through violent means? What about WWII? I also believe that God may have used Israel to stop a greater evil even if it was via war.

    Reason 3: If God were to come in flesh, what would be a more loving way and less narrow way to do so? For me, that the creator would come into His story is pretty loving. Why doesn’t God appear to more people? He is and that’s why Christians are determined to share about Jesus to the ends of the earth.

    Reason 4: Not sure what you mean by that… why does the Kingdom of God or heaven have to manifest within a generation of Jesus’ crucifixion?

    Reason 5: What does ANE stand for? The cool thing about Christianity is that it can permeate into a culture and transform it. So for example, even if we celebrate Christmas on a pagan holiday, I see Christianity is about redeeming things anyway so even if has roots from other cultures. So I see no problem if it looks like Christianity built off some other pagan traditions or stuff.

    Reason 6: If there’s division within the church with leaders claiming to be led by the Holy Spirit, obviously, somewhere someone’s wrong and not being led by the Spirit. That more attests to the fact that humans are more faulty that we realize.

  • Richard

    @ 137 John

    Your line of thinking sounds a lot like the “Justice Wins” parody junk – as if Hitler’s victims are comforted by him suffering in hell since the ECT crowd believes his Jewish victims, gypsies, Catholics, communists, etc will all draw comfort and give glory to God while they suffer alongside Hitler for eternity. Since you brought up the killing fields in Cambodia, what does justice and judgment look like for the 13 and 14 yr old Cambodian children that had never heard of Jesus? Will it console them to know that Pol Pot is suffering alongside of them for eternity? Is that the Gospel for them? Are they the objects of wrath so the rest of us can feel good about being elected?

    Please stop trying to dismiss these questions as some soft, limp-wristed view of God that denies justice and judgment of sin. Most all us are all too comfortable with an eye for an eye and retributive justice and we’re trying to figure out how Christ that teaches “love your enemies and bless those who persecute you” will set things right through a love that conquers and transforms evil, especially the evil within each of our hearts. Afterall, “everyone will be salted with fire.”

    Love wins. The question remains of whether we’re on the side of love or not.

  • Bob

    Thanks for the response! No, I’m not saying every judgment text in the NT — without exception — is about 70AD…the war with Rome, etc. But I propose (and this is certainly not original with me) that when the New Testament looks into the future, it might see three horizons, two of which are already behind us. 
    1.The first horizon is the foreseen war against Rome, the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70 as God’s judgment of Israel. This is basically Jesus’ horizon and is interpreted as the final historical outworking of God’s wrath against a disobedient people. As N.T. Wright says, Jesus is the eschatological prophet to Israel, calling the people to a renewed faithfulness – but also warning them that they are otherwise walking a broad political-religious path that within a generation will lead to the destruction of the nation. (see Mt. 24:2,3 etc). 

    2 The second horizon comes into view as the early church moves beyond the borders of national Israel into the pagan world and finds itself opposed by a vast, powerful and radically violent belief system, at the pinnacle of which sits the divinized Emperor – the king who thinks equality with God a thing to be grasped. (II Thess. 2:3-10). Rome is the “beast” that will be the instrument of judgment against Israel, but God will not allow the empire to have ultimate victory over his people. So Paul, it might be considered, sees in particular a historical triumph of Jesus as Lord over the lordship of Caesar, and the eventual vindication of the saints who suffer at the hands of the blasphemous oppressor. See II Thess.1:5,6.  
    *(See also Gordon Fee’s commentary on Revelation)*. Is the New Testament then primarily preoccupied with these first two horizons, bracketing off from us both historically and narratively much of the message of the New Testament some thought to be in our future? It may at least be worth a conversation.  

    3.So where are we now if we have moved beyond the first two horizons? Well, of course there is a final judgment; a resurrection of the dead and a final judgment such as we find in Revelation 20:4-6, followed by the final renewal of creation.
    Humanity will ultimately be judged for its wickedness. Concern for justice is a hallmark of the missional church (though I do believe we can confuse the idea of a final judgment with some psychedelic, misplaced, medieval notions of hell). And, on that same horizon, is also where we derive a fundamental hope in the Creator from the vision of a new creation (Rev 21,22) and we allow that hope to shape our life and mission. In fact, it might be said  that the mission of the church in its post-second horizon circumstances, is to embody that hope in life and practice. 

  • James

    @ Tim 133
    Anyway, I also want to just say that this notion of hell and heaven comes out of Christianity, so why would one argue for a heaven for all good people and a non-existent hell if we don’t accept anything else from Christianity, namely Christ.

    I wonder if you know what I mean.

  • Tim

    James (144),

    “Reason 1: What then are the alternatives? For me, at least in Jesus, we have a God who can empathize with us in our pain, in our suffering, in our doubts. What other religion or god can say that?”

    Hinduism and Buddhism to name a couple. Of the two, Buddhism is extremely empathetic, though the empathy is expressed in a very unique way.

    “Reason 2: Not sure what Paul Copan wrote and not sure exactly what you’re referring to in the Old Testament…”

    Bashing babies heads against rocks. Mass slaughter and genocide. Forcing “unbelieving” mothers out of their families during certain periods of “reform.” It’s a long list, but I’ll stop there.

    “Reason 3: If God were to come in flesh, what would be a more loving way and less narrow way to do so?”

    No problem with him coming in the flesh. It’s the salvatory tying of historical acknowledgement of that that’s the problem. A gracious application of the Beatitudes and other exhortations of Jesus’ to love one’s neighbor and care for the downtrodden would have been a less “narrow” way to go – essentially determining one’s “heart” for God based on how they interact among the rest of his children. As I said, a gracious application. And loving. And engaging (as in God is there by your side, helping, encouraging, and pulling you toward him, if you’re willing). Jesus’ blood could still atone for any imprefections. Why could God not work this way? How do you “know” God doesn’t?

    “Reason 4: Not sure what you mean by that… why does the Kingdom of God or heaven have to manifest within a generation of Jesus’ crucifixion?”

    Matthew 24

    “Reason 5: What does ANE stand for?”

    Ancient Near East

    “Reason 6: If there’s division within the church with leaders claiming to be led by the Holy Spirit, obviously, somewhere someone’s wrong and not being led by the Spirit. That more attests to the fact that humans are more faulty that we realize.”

    What it seems like to non-Christians is that they don’t see the efficacy of the Holy Spirit at work in guiding Christians in matters of “truth.” It looks essentially, entirely “human.” So the doctrine that the Holy Spirit guides interpretation and guides the Church is suspect, and by extension the religion that espouses this doctrine is suspect.

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

    @Richard (#145), can God’s love for his enemies take any other form than ultimate redemption of and from evil? Or is the only way God can show true enemy-love is through complete redemption? I ask because when Jesus gives us an illustration of how God loves his enemies, he uses sunshine and rain, not ultimate redemption as you imply (Matt 5:43-48). But perhaps you do not think this rain and sunshine are loving enough? Perhaps God should love his enemies with much more than mere rain and sunshine. If so that would be odd because it would undermine Jesus’ own motivation in the very passage you cite. And so I’m left wondering, Why the difference? What does Jesus know that we don’t? How do rain and sunshine constitute a powerful pattern for us to follow?

    Note that Jesus does not say, “Love your enemies by transforming their wicked hearts as your Father in heaven will transform all his enemies’ wicked hearts,” or something along those lines. He goes with weather. Rain and sunshine. Seems like a pretty weak motivating illustration given your demand that loving enemies means transforming their wicked hearts.

    I think we need to do a better job of defining enemy love within the context of Jesus’ actual commandment instead of importing our own notions of what enemy love should or shouldn’t look like.

  • Tim

    James (147),

    “Anyway, I also want to just say that this notion of hell and heaven comes out of Christianity, so why would one argue for a heaven for all good people and a non-existent hell if we don’t accept anything else from Christianity, namely Christ.

    I wonder if you know what I mean”

    No I don’t James. The notion of Heaven and Hell do not owe unique origins to Christianity. In fact, the ancient Egyptian religion of the cult of Osiris had quite a lot to say concerning Heaven and Hell. “Righteous” people were rewarded with eternal bliss, and “Guilty” people were tormented and then annihilated by the “devourer.” That was almost 2,000 years prior to the time of Jesus and his disciples.

  • Adam

    Another question to add to the pile:

    What do we do with the sins of Christians? Obviously it’s not ok for me to murder someone, yet if all my sins are forgiven and washed away and I no longer have to fear hell, what’s to stop me?

    There’s a part of me that wants to say “If hell is true for the unbelievers and their horrible actions, it is also true for the believers and their horrible actions.”

    I think it is equally abhorrent that unrepentant Christians would get to run around in heaven because they joined the right band-wagon.

  • Dennis J

    as for Scot’s “flippent” comment,
    If ROb Bell is a graduate of Fuller, and a pastor of a very large congregation, then surely he is familiar with more theologians than N.T. Wright. A writer of a book on a given subject should have the integrity to approach all angles. otherwise, it’s just propaganda. this makes Scot’s ‘flippent’ comment on the garbage dump a good point.
    Certainly we should give more attention to Rabbinical writings of the time, then some colloquial explanation on Geyenna.
    a person can make a case for a given stance without blatent ommisions that give cause for unnecessary critisism.

  • Dennis J

    also, Wright’s usage is really of no consequence. nobody is perfect. that’s why we read a variety of authors from a variety of perspectives.

  • James

    @Tim 150,
    What I’m trying to say is, what’s the point of arguing that Christianity should look like this or that if one doesn’t even believe in Christ or the Bible?

    What is the external standard are we evaluating Christianity? Is it our innate feelings of what we feel is moral and good based on our cultural upbringing? Would a person who grew up in the Middle East have those same values?

    Even if notions of heaven and hell existed,I just learned today that Jews also believed in heaven and hell as well and they come from a tradition that’s like 4000+ years old B.C., and they also believed in about a Messiah (just in case if you’re to argue that Jesus was created out of myths during that time).

    Anyway, just to get a good understanding of what you believe in is that you believe in God and a heaven but that you feel there should be multiple roads without having to intellectually assent to Christ and the Bible story? Is that fair to say?

    Anyway, for me I just feel the cross is more inclusive and loving. To know that in Christ, I am accepted and loved by God despite my sin and baggage. To me, the beattitudes is a high standard to live and heaven (don’t think I’d measure up). Without His grace and acceptance, I don’t think I’d even know what love would look like. But as I follow my Lord Jesus, He’s helping me learn just that.

  • James

    @ 151 Adam

    You wrote, “What do we do with the sins of Christians? Obviously it’s not ok for me to murder someone, yet if all my sins are forgiven and washed away and I no longer have to fear hell, what’s to stop me?”

    When a true Christian looks at the cross and see how costly grace was for us, that’s what stops us. Jesus essentially experienced hell on that cross because of our sin. I don’t take sins lightly as a result knowing how much it cost my Savior and King.

    An unrepentant Christian with no signs of struggle or transformation, we would need to really evaluate ourselves whether we truly are believers.

  • Tim

    James (150),

    “What is the external standard are we evaluating Christianity?”

    God’s stamp on our being.

    “Is it our innate feelings of what we feel is moral and good based on our cultural upbringing? Would a person who grew up in the Middle East have those same values?”

    Love is fairly universal. Empathy is universal. Compassion is universal. Caring for one’s child is fairly universal. Would a person who grew up in the Middle East have those same values? Yes. Culture can modulate those values – in terms of how you love, how you empathize, how you expression compassion, and to whom. But these foundational values are there everywhere. That is a standard “external” to any religious text you can use.

    Which is more reliable then? The foundational, core moral sense at the heart of every person, or a specific interpretation of a given relgious text for which a sure case doesn’t seem forthcoming that it came from God? I’d say in many people’s eyes, and in history’s for that matter, the core, universal moral sense wins out. And in this light, in my view, exclusivistic Christian soteriology is found wanting.

  • Tim

    …should be “James (154),”

  • John W Frye

    Richard (#145),
    It appears you read about my friend’s experience in Cambodia, but also it appears that you did not read the rest of my post. Apparently, you in fact do have a limp-wristed view of God if love wins (as you present it). Before we can start making grand eternal claims about heaven and hell and retributive vs. restorative punishment in our world (as Bell does), we have to do the serious of work of what these concepts/terms meant in Jesus’ and the early church’s world. Rob Bell may be a verbal artist, but theological issues dealing with eternal destinies is not a cavalier art project. As to suffering Cambodian children feeling that justice is met with Pol Pot burning in hell alongside them…I don’t know what you’re even talking about. BTW, I am not a Calvinist as your comment seems to imply.

  • http://LostCodex.com DRT

    Ryan#143, I believe that there is such a thing as good vs. evil. I also believe that people who feel that they are doing good, really trying to do good, are doing the exact wrong thing. I believe that god will attribute the things that we do to the good/evil buckets based on the intent in our hearts.

    I do not have any sort of theo degree, but as grad student I did take a philosophy course that made the argument that I would have a “line drawing problem” if I could not determine where to place a line. As an example, they used the idea of abortion, if one was to think that a fertilized egg was OK to abort, but a 40 week gestation infant was not, then you could not rationally make the choice between those two situations because there is no rational basis for drawing the line. I have been haunted about this for 20 years.

    My conclusion has been that there does exist such a thing as judgment, and it is the judgment that people use and it is NOT the rules that people apply, that determines right from wrong, good from bad. People can make the wrong choice for the right reasons and be correct in God’s eyes.

  • Dana Ames

    To Scot’s questions:

    My view of hell is that it is not a “place”. It is the inner pain and response of someone who has not learned to love, to the overwhelming love and Presence of God when Jesus returns to judge. God cannot be the author of evil or death, and is not subject to the necessity of “having to punish”. The only “orthodox” Christian view that does not posit God as such is the Orthodox view. That’s a big reason I went East.

    Lake of Fire = the final destruction of death.

    Calling experiences now “hell”: some may be. I don’t have to judge; I need to offer love and help.

    I don’t know if “Love Wins” distances God from “hell”. I know that there is nowhere we can hide from his presence, not now and not in its future fullness. Ps 139; Rom 8.37-39.

    The parable in Luke 16 isn’t about “heaven and hell”. The intro to it in v 14 sets Jesus up as addressing the Pharisees’ justifying themselves and what was in their hearts as being contrary to what is prized by God. They need to actually live in accordance with “the law and the prophets”, from which the kingdom was announced by John, and which was routinely misused in, for example, cases of divorce, where hardheartedness was evident. Oh, and by the way, you folk who love riches (14a), you also need to live in a manner consistent with “the law and the prophets” and forsake your hardheartedness, or else, when the day of judgment comes, you’ll end up on the opposite side as your dear Moses. Not only that, but the whole of the Jewish nation (five brothers = type of the five sons of Judah) is in grave danger, and they’re not going to listen even to one who ***rises from the dead***. Jesus is saying that he’s the only one who is interpreting “the law and the prophets” correctly and that what is prized by God is that the Pharisees should pay attention to him; he is also prophesying his Resurrection as the touchstone and proof of that interpretation. There are echoes of John 6 and Mark 13.

    In Perriman terms, it’s on horizon 1 as well as horizon 3. In Wrightian terms (and perhaps McKnight’s?) it’s Jesus as Prophet foretelling the destruction of Jerusalem because of Israel forsaking who God called them to be. In Rob Bell terms, it’s forsake your hardheartedness already; it is not what God values.

    *All three* of those “work”. Reading it as strictly about “heaven and hell”? Not so much.


  • James

    @ Tim, I guess we just have different upbringings but I admire your high view of people and I don’t deny them.

    I guess I may just have a more pessimistic view of the world just knowing my past and having seen different parts of the world. I see what worshiping false gods can lead to. Systems that run on greed, countries where basic human rights of millions are denied, sexual exploitation, stories of North Korean Christians who are rolled over by a steam roller for not declaring Kim Jong Il as Lord but that only Christ is. To me, everyone needs a Savior and everyone needs the Lord.

    But yet, I do agree those good things you mentioned are present and things I guess we both can agree that we’d like to see more.

    I think we can just leave it at that? (I think we’re taking up too many posts in here and probably have digressed from what we all want to really talk about which is Rob Bell from Grand Rapids, Michigan).

  • http://dribex.tumblr.com William Varner

    Scot did not quote Allison in full. He wrote about Gehenna as a garbage dump: “it is without ancient support, although it could be correct.”

    Scot does not comment on the fact that the southern gate in Jerusalem was always called “sha’ar ashpot” – the refuse gate.

  • Robert

    DennisJ (#153) -

    Yes, nobody is perfect, and as I said, Allison may in fact be right. I actually tend to think that Wright is wrong on things more than most, so no defense of him here really.

    But I maintain that it *is* of some consequence that someone as highly respected (idolized?) amongst evangelicals like Wright would assert this as true. Furthermore, he’s not the only scholar or theologian to assert this – the Jewish scholar Alan Segal did, as well as the philosopher Dallas Willard. These are not small names in religious academics, and they are not the only ones who have made the point. Rob may certainly be off in his scholarship, but he wasn’t being flippant or writing “propaganda.”

    At a seminary like Fuller where Bell went to school, Wright is a saint. He is the go-to guy for biblical studies amongst moderate & progressive evangelicals (for better or worse). Less scholars overall agree with Wright’s interpretation of Jesus’ eschatology, yet moderate & progressive evangelicals cling to it against the rather compelling evidence to the contrary (here, Allison needs to be consulted). In other words, by your argument, Bell should have been honest and noted not only that some scholars disagree with his interpretation of Gehenna, but also that Jesus is believed by the majority of biblical scholars to be a mistaken apocalyptic prophet.

    Finally, if I were a pastor of a large church, I would not be reading Dale Allison (nor would I have the time to be digging through Rabbinical writings). I personally appreciate Allison’s scholarship, but he doesn’t make the New Testament easy for evangelicals. Along with *many* biblical scholars, he thinks that Jesus was a mistaken apocalyptic prophet, and that hell is basically a classic religious myth that we are free to reinterpret today (yes, even though Jesus did believe in it as a place of destruction and judgment).

  • Tim

    James (161),

    Thank you for your kind sentiments. I want to let you know I appreciate them, and I think it’s a great way to conclude a civil conversation.

  • Timothy Seitz-Brown

    Cambodian killing fields
    Psychopathic murderers
    Obscene wealth juxtaposed alongside deadly poverty
    Babies ripped out before birth
    Sexual violence, rape, incest
    Torture documentaries funding my nightmares
    Meanwhile, I am complicit
    I am involved
    I am trapped
    Even as I attempt to resist my own sins, I am sucked under

    These horizontal sins revealing the vertical sin
    We don’t love God even 1% let alone 100%
    Our neighbors and ourselves suffer the consequences

    We need both cosmic and personal liberation

    Let me be clear: I trust Jesus to do that!
    And I trust that Christ is stronger than my questions, struggles and misunderstandings.
    I throw in my lot with Him.

  • Alan K

    Is it possible that the cross was indeed the final judgment of the world?

  • smcknight

    William, yes he does say “it could be correct” but Dale says there’s no evidence — and I’ve not seen any. Do you have any evidence that Gehenna referrred to a refuse dump?

  • Yvonne

    Firstly, thank you for regarding this whole controversy sanely. I very much appreciate reading your critiques, especially as I am trying to read this book as well before making judgements.

    Secondly, the idea of Lake of Fire = annihilation instead of eternal torment. Is this a new idea as I have never heard it preached before (or even suggested for that matter)? And if not, do you feel there is any scriptural evidence to support this view?

    I’ve always wondered at the idea of a God who, knowing the outcome when he creates people, would create millions of people anyways knowing they were “destined” for eternal torment. Thanks for making a safe place to dialogue!

  • scotmcknight


    I want to examine the evidence for annihilation, but it is not a new view. Some Jews of Jesus’ day had a view like that. It is not common in church history but it is also not rare. The biggest argument is that the Bible’s language of “destruction” and “burning” entail an end — as a general idea. One doesn’t keep destroying something forever since it will eventually be destroyed.

  • John W Frye

    Luke 16:19-31
    1. Is this actually a parable? Jesus does not begin with “Hell is like a rich man who…” He just launches into an event about two lives. I am not saying it is not a parable, but it is not introduced as one. There is another pericope between vs 14 and vss 19ff. Do we know for certain Jesus is addressing only Jews who loved money?

    2. Jesus himself said, “In Hades where he was in torment…agony of fire…this place of torment.” We have to seriously consider these terms used by Jesus IF we believe Luke is remembering them accurately. Do we think Luke is putting words into Jesus’ mouth?

    3. “Good things” and “bad things” done in life have led to one of either of these stations 1) at Abraham’s side where there is comfort or 2)in Hades where there is tormenting fire.

    Believing as I do that Luke did his homework before he wrote Luke-Acts, I tend to believe that Jesus actually said these things. I actually think that Jesus meant them.

    We can harangue each other all day, but we have to take seriously the words of the One we worship as LORD. Don’t we?

  • CO Fines

    As to whether or not Gehenna was the city dump at the time of Jesus, it seems to me neither here nor there as to Bell’s questions. But if not here, where? The idea that a city with a population of, what, a quarter of a million on average including transients and pilgrims could exist without a dump is preposterous. A town of ten thousand needs a dump. Granted that they didn’t have bubble wrap and throwaway toasters, if a quarter million people tossed away a pound of whatever a day, that’s 125 tons. That’s something like three semi trailer loads. Most people poop a pound a day. This smells more like red herring.

  • Scot McKnight

    CO Fines,

    Since you are the last to say this, I’ll answer back: what is a red herring is to think I made much of the lack of evidence for Gehenna = garbage dump. There’s no evidence it was. I said that, and not much more. Gehenna became in the Jewish world a metaphor for the place of divine judgment. But I don’t think this point undoes hardly anything Bell says.

    He wants hell to be a concrete place of destruction in real history, and I’m fine with that. Though we don’t know for sure that the Valley of Hinnom was located where we locate it today, Jesus could be speaking here — in some of his references — of the physical location of where the disobedient will be destroyed by the Romans. I doubt very much a strong case can be made for this, but if one can, I’d grant the point and it wouldn’t do much to what has been pointed out above.

    To me, the absence of any discussion of Rev 20′s Lake of Fire, which surely connotes the final place of destruction of the devil, the beast, the false prophet, those who fought with them against God’s people and the immoral – into a lake of fire that burns forever — that is what I said was “fatal.”

  • Tim


    Would a discussion of Revelation as apocalyptic resistance literature written by a zealous Christian filled more with his own imagination than the prophetic spirit be a viable option to take in a conversation like this? Essentially an argument that Revelation should never have been canonized in the first place? After all, it is human to error, and it was humans who put together the canon. Even the great reformer, Martin Luther, had his doubts on Revelation. Are such doubts completely unfounded in your view?

  • scotmcknight

    Well, unfounded is a bit strong, but the church accepted Revelation as Scripture. Genre has to be filtered in, but those who see Revelation as inspired, canonical, God’s Word, etc., won’t go down that road as far as you might, Tim.

  • http://LostCodex.com DRT

    A general comment here.

    We all talk about god and a LoF and many other, more or less, anthropomorphic images (though that is not the right term). The problem I have with that is that it seems to me that most folk probably acknowledge that those terms are fanciful, right? I mean no one here really believes in those actual images, right?

    So the problem is that I think there are quite a number of SJ folks that not only discuss this in terms of those images, but, push comes to shove, would defend those images as being somewhat real.

    I believe this is a problem because half (or in this audience 70%) of the audience is looking at the images as metaphors, through and through. But some are not.

    In other words, I am concerned that there are people out there who may think something associated with hell may include some sort of flame or such. Or some sort of torment similar to something on earth(but never ending of course).

    Am I just being paranoid here, or is that what is going on?

  • Holly

    Scot -

    A plebian question:

    Are you saying (thru these posts on Bell’s book) that if we are to be faithful to scripture (including history and context and interpretation) there are some very unflattering things that we need to accept about God? Is that the bottom line?

    I am Wesleyan by theology – so “we’ve” already come to conclusions based upon a God who is LOVE at His core. We already tend to view things thru the lens of a merciful God Who loves the whole world. We believe that infants who die will be in Heaven. We believe in a gracious age of accountability, we believe in God’s covering for those who are mentally disabled, and, many of us believe in God’s graciousness toward those who have never heard the Gospel (based upon the concept that He knows the condition of the heart, whether it is inclined toward good or evil. These things aren’t really based upon Scripture so much as consistency within the character of God.) So we’ve already gone a long way to attempt to reconcile the Scriptures with a concept of a good, loving, and just God. There are times when I wonder “who” John Wesley would be and what he would believe if he lived in our era.

  • Tim


    Not to belabor the point, but isn’t all approach to knowledge tentative in some sense? Always open to revision as new information comes to light?

    This is one reason the scientific method has proved so useful in illuminating the natural world. Why is a similar approach any less desirable when it comes to matters of religion? There’s no methodological naturalism or any such barrier preventing it.

    It is my understanding that when the Bible was canonized, a historical understanding of the pseudo-prophetic apocalyptic genre wasn’t nearly as thorough as it is now. Or am I wrong on this? My guess would be that the seemingly (true/predictive) prophetic nature of Revelation was the reason for its inclusion into the canon. Would a colorful piece of resistance literature have made it in? Is there good cause to think it might not have? Why is this line of reasoning taboo?

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


    I’ve listened to a few sermons by Rob Bell on Revelation. In fact, during Lent now, he’s preaching through the first few chapters, connecting with the seven churches. Rob’s done his research on Revelation. I think that’s why he dismisses Lake of Fire as another definition for hell. As Rob interprets Revelation, he’s connected it to the many OT themes that seem to be evident: Isaiah 66 for New Heavens and burning, for example. I don’t think it’s poor exegesis that prompted Rob to say “that’s it”, but to reveal his understanding of Revelation’s use of Lake of Fire. But then, I’m not Rob and I can’t speak for him. But that’s how I read it.

    Here’s what I wonder: If death and Hades get thrown in the Lake of Fire, and Hades has been our word for hell, then Lake of Fire is something else other than Hell?

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

    I should have written Isaiah 60-66.

  • Jeremy

    Scot that was a very informative and fair review of Ch 3. It is hard to trust the theology of a man who cannot perform basic exegetical tasks and fails to even deal with the most poignant Biblical material on hell. This is just a reminder to me and everyone else that we have to be so very careful with the Greek text.

  • Joel

    Well, all those comments took a looooong time to get through. There were a few accusations of not taking the Bible seriously by injecting our lesser human values of love and mercy into the “clear” teaching of eternal conscious torment. For me, this is the heart of the book – exegetical issues of the book aside – and the reason it made such a splash.

    We are connected. We are global. When Rachel Held Evans described her shock of the 2005 tsunami and the horror of watching (on CNN?) the execution of a young Afgan woman on trumped up charges, that resonated with me. The tsunami then (and now) felt so utterly random that it shook my belief in a god who would send people to a god designed torture chamber for eternity with the same randomness. That the Holocaust was just the beginning for the victims. And we are to love that god? We are connected to these “hell-bound” people in a way that cannot be abstracted away in a winning argument. If hell is eternal conscious torment, we should all be like Schindler, broken down over a ring, a tie clip – anything that could have been sold just to give one more person a chance. But we don’t live like that. Something doesn’t add up.

    So I appreciate what Bell is trying to do though it may not be a tight argument. He is saying, the god you were told about isn’t like that. The real God demonstrated his love through his son Jesus, and that God doesn’t roll the dice with people’s lives. This God loves you and if hell was getting in the way of accepting that, forget that concept you were taught. Yes, there will be justice. All of creation is groaning waiting for it! Trust that God is good and fair and just – and that is love.

  • CO Fines

    Scott#172~ Sir, I think we are probably more in agreement than not. Whatever the particulars of the concrete reality of the time, we are dealing with a metaphor, one amongst many, including probably the Lake of Fire. I consider the information that the reality of this particular dump is open to question as valuable. My guess would be that Bell would not dispute the possibility, nor would it make any real difference to his questioning, as you have pointed out.

    I don’t see the Lake of Fire as all that relevant to Bell’s particular exploration. It speaks of some sort of finality whereas Bell seems to be more concerned with here and now ongoing choices, and consequences that can manifest on this side as well as the other. I’m surprised that no one has come up with a clever poem, perhaps a limerick, rhyming Bell and Hell. Maybe I just missed it.

  • CO Fines

    #182~ Scot, Scot, one “t”, dang it, I knew that! My bad, sorry.

  • Ryan

    DRT #159 & 175

    I do have a theo. degree but am weak in philosophy, though it is fairly easy to detect the difference between the two during debate. When it comes to good/evil, right/wrong…simply morality, I believe we must submit to the Creator. Our judgments will never do. Interestingly, God has written, to a great extent, the “moral compass” on our hearts…into our conscience. Somehow every civilization has decided that there are certain things you ought not do, certain “rules”, and every person will admit to having broken these rules. I believe this reveals a higher moral authority than ourselves.

    RE: Revelation, Hell, Metaphor, etc from your previous post. I would say that several of us do believe in a literal hell involving some kind of literal suffering that is eternal. I agree with you that Revelation is loaded with metaphor…but I believe that the metaphor describes something real. I do not believe that my view of hell diminishes the love of God. He has made every effort to reconcile our broken relationship…He did this “while we were still sinning”. God has always taken the first step to rescue us from ourselves. It is now our choice to accept Him and His offer, or reject it. I really do not think that I’m somehow off base by believing that our choice to reject God’s offer carries a consequence.

  • Alan K

    Tim #177,
    The line of reasoning is not taboo, but is there a reason why it would be the best line of reasoning? Would the questions correspond to the reality of what the Scriptures are? Does an improved historical understanding of a literary genre mean that Jesus Christ has been more revealed to us than anyone who came before us? Worldviews, cosmologies, hypotheses and explanations come and go like they always have–the very nature of their sort of knowledge is provisional. Is not Jesus Christ the same yesterday, today and forever?

  • scotmcknight

    Tim, thanks.
    Well, the New Heavens and the New Earth are set over against a scene in which the arch enemies of God, including the immoral (from chp 21), are destroyed – or better yet, thrown into the Lake of Fire. Hades, as you know, creates its own ambiguities. Sometimes it’s the same as hell and sometimes something like an intermediate state, a kind of holding station until the final judgment. Some, perhaps many, think hades and hell must be distinguished — and they are at times but not by all authors/speakers, and Rev 20 says that both death and hades are tossed into the lake of fire. Call it hell or whatever, but it is the final place for those who opposed God — I call that hell, final hell, death after death — and it says in Rev 20 that it goes on forever and ever. That’s one tragic scene, and its horrific, but it’s right there in Revelation as the last event before the New Heavens and the New Earth.

  • http://theoprudence.com/ Matt

    I’m way late in commenting here, but I just had a chance to read through the post and glance through the discussion, and wanted to add a couple of things for anyone still following the thread.

    First off, I want to congratulate everyone (that I read, at least) for the civil dialog. Its a credit to Scot and all of the readers that such a robust, respectful discussion can take place from such a variety of perspectives (and levels of education) on this subject.

    I would also preface all of this by making it clear that I’m not capable of reading the NT in Greek, so I have to rely heavily on people like Scot and Wright on subjects like this.

    Now, on to my comments…

    1. Scot – I just don’t read the “And that’s all” remarks as flippant. If I’m looking at the same ones you are (p. 69), I don’t think he’s saying its the town dump “and that’s it.” I think he is listing the references to words that are translated as hell and signaling that he has finished with the list. And he is quite clear that he is only dealing with the “actual word ‘hell’” here. Furthermore…

    2. While I’d like to see the lake of fire dealt with here, too, he isn’t going to ignore it. It is coming (pp. 111-112). Lake of fire. Second death. Everything is there.

    3. Does he distance God from hell? Not when he gets to the lake of fire discussion, for sure: “[John] paints a picture for them of God acting decisively to restrain evil and conquer all who trample the innocent and the good. In the end, wrongs are righted and people are held accountable for the destruction they have caused.” (p. 112).

    4. However, one thing I don’t recall being addressed, is the “resurrection of condemnation” of John 3.

    5. I would personally have liked to see more discussion about the fact that references to ghenna/hades/tartarus is utterly absent from Paul. This has always struck me as odd.

    6. On a similar subject, I’ve often wondered why writers and preachers often conflate Jesus’ hell teachings with Paul’s (and the Fourth Gospel writer’s) discussion of judgment/wrath. Never been sure why those who endorse more traditional views of hell seem so confident those dots can be connected. (e.g. – hell is a form of judgment, but is all eschatological “judgment” in Paul’s mind a part of what Jesus characterized as hell? It seems to me, at least, that this equivocation should not be taken for granted.)

    7. Its always struck me that most approaches to hell don’t seem to line up well with the themes of social justice that dominate Jesus’ teachings on the subject. When I read these parables, it strikes me that Jesus thought of hell as a place “outside” the Kingdom for those who have proven themselves to be unfit citizens by the way they treat the marginalized, abuse their priestly power, etc. Does anyone know of any writers who have worked at the issue from this perspective?

    8. You say no indication that people return from the lake of fire, but hasn’t that been the inference some have drawn from the open gates – which allow “people to come and go.” (p. 115). This seems to be the same view Robin Parry endorses in TEU, and – if I remember right – Wright remarks on it with curiosity in Surprised by Hope – saying that we can’t know exactly what it means, but we should remember God is the God of surprises.

    9. I agree that the “chasm as Lazarus’ heart” approach to Lk 16 is not there. However, I don’t read the discussion of the chasm as a “point” of the parable. I think it is there as a narrative device to show that Lazarus is incapable of helping the rich man, thus resolving what might otherwise appear to be a moral dilemma for Lazarus. He is characterized as a righteous person, and would (presumably) want to do the compassionate, “love your enemies” thing in this situation. The chasm resolves that tension so we can get back to the point of the parable.

    10. I don’t think Jesus really used hell as a way of describing present suffering under injustice, but I think – if you are clear about that point – it is a rhetorically compelling and appropriate way to talk about injustice.

  • Tim

    Alan K,

    Well, Revelation is a little unique. It’s not a written record of the purported life and times of Jesus. It’s also not a product of the Apostles, insofar as we’re aware. The basis for why it should be considered authoritative are unclear. It must have been seen as prophetic among the early church, but a strong case can be made that it really belongs to the genre of pseudo-prophetic, apocalyptic resistance literature. It’s author’s status as God’s prophet was validated by none of his contemporaries. Also, its canonization was hardly uncontested and uncontroversial.

    As far as what would be different? Perhaps this conversation relating to Hell. Scot considered it a major failure of Rob Bell to address Revelation. Here is one avenue to address it.

  • scotmcknight

    Thanks Matt … your comment’s about as long as my post!
    1. The flippant remark is saying he believes in hell because he believes his garbage goes somewhere. That’s flippant.
    2. Discussion on pp. 111-112 … well, sure, but he doesn’t explore it enough. That’s my view. Those who take New Heavens and New Earth seriously, and both Rob and I do, need to take Lake of Fire seriously.
    3. The open gates have nothing to do with Lake of Fire so far as I can tell … they are about a place where all evil has been destroyed and now there’s no need for protection. An image of pure shalom.

    You are right, Matt, in the need to distinguish various authors on final eschatological ideas like hell etc.

  • http://theoprudence.com/ Matt

    @scotmcknight – you posted 186 while I was drafting 187, so I missed this in my comment.

    You’re pulling in an idea that I’ve always wondered about – is there a distinction between second death/lake of fire versus hell? Either way, I think it could be read within the context of the establishment of social justice in God’s new world: the “powers” are thrown in, along with everyone who decided to act in accord with them. They are safely “outside” so God’s reign can be established. I still don’t think you can disconnect social justice lake of fire in the last chps of Rev.

    Maybe they are also “getting their due.” I don’t know. The whole idea of retributive divine justice bothers me deeply. But I can make sense of it if its necessary to establish justice.

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

    Matt, I’ve been reading a bit on justice recently and one point that I hadn’t thought of was that perhaps retributive justice is necessary to have true social justice. If retributive justice is defined as “getting no more and no less than one deserves,” isn’t that a necessary component to any and all forms of social justice?

    I know many have developed a severe distaste for any hints of retributive justice (though I honestly don’t see how you can get away from it in the Biblical witness), but I don’t think it’s as easily discarded as many think. I haven’t found another form of justice (social, restorative, or corrective) that can finally exist without it. Without it the moral fabric of the universe (not to mention the Biblical story line!) starts to unravel pretty quickly. Don’t give up too easily!

    Thanks for the thoughts.

  • Michael

    I agree the gates are about protection. But what about Revelation 22:2? You posted this ” those who fought with them against God’s people and the immoral – into a lake of fire that burns forever “. The nations fought against God’s people and then are coming into the holy city for healing. This seems to be the strongest point in the bible for the idea that God is forever offering his love and salvation.

  • John W Frye

    Since most of the apocalyptic imagery in Apostle John’s Revelation is drawn from the OT, I think we have a metaphor for the “fire that purifies” that is very different from “the lake of fire.” In Isaiah 6, God’s presence unravels Isaiah. He is 100% aware of his sin and the sins of his people. An angel takes a burning coal from the altar and burns Isaiah clean. To mix these metaphors and make the “lake of fire” a purifying rather than tormenting fire is questionable. I am not trying to reach conclusions yet about all of this, but I am concerned that we deal with the language as it was said (written) and heard (read) by the first writers/hearers. If we are so confident that “love wins” why aren’t there any parables from Jesus, that when fully explored (and applied, to use a dangerous term) would overturn the whole Gehenna, rich man and Lazarus scenario and erase confidently any theological concepts of ECT? If ECT is not what the Bible teaches (and I am not arguing for it), why are we even dialoguing about it? Is Jesus just toying with us about horribly eternal things?

  • Kaleb

    Rev 21 1 Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb 2 down the middle of the great street of the city. On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. 3 No longer will there be any curse.

    If like Scot says we need to pull Revelation into the scene then we can not discount texts like this. I wonder why the Nations would still need healing if God’s Kingdom through the New Heavens New Earth has already come as the writer shows. This verse clearly describes God dwelling with God’s people and provision from God for the healing of the Nations. Does this mean some of the choosen will still need healing too? I thought everything would be perfected by the time we were in the New Heavens New Earth so why the healing?

  • Michael


    They need healing because they are the nations that raged against the lamb and found themselves judged and cast into the lake of fire. Evidently, John sees some of those people coming out of the lake of fire.

  • Alastair


    Is it possible that we would have bodies that are sustained by the tree of life? Maybe those bodies would be reliant on the fruit?
    It’s interesting that in genesis that God says that Adam must not be allowed to eat from the tree of life, after having eaten from the tree of knowledge. What if the tree of life is closely tied to living forever? Thoughts?

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

    Ryan @ 121, in regards to your questions concerning my post #104:

    1) Note that the word “torment” is basanismos which means to test by use of a touchstone which was used in the purification process of gold. And concerning εἰς αἰῶνας αἰώνων it literally means “unto ages of ages”. And note that it says that the “smoke of their torment” rises unto the ages of ages; it does not say that they are tormented unto the ages of ages. This part of the pictoral language of the metaphor and not meant to be taken literally. The smoke went up forever, out of site!

    Of course, 20:10 specifically says that the devil, the beast and the false prophet are “tormented” in the lake of fire “unto the ages of ages”; they are tormented (tested as in the purification of gold) forever, as long as we can imagine, out of site. The language is metaphorical and pictorial, and not meant to be taken literally.

    2) Do I believe that even the devil himself is ultimately reconciled to God? Well, yes I believe that all of God’s creation is ultimately reconciled to God. Col. 1:15-20, speaking of Christ, says,
    “He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For by Him all things were created that are in heaven and that are on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers. All things were created through Him and for Him. And He is before all things, and in Him all things consist. And He is the head of the body, the church, who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in all things He may have the preeminence.For it pleased the Father that in Him all the fullness should dwell, and by Him to reconcile all things to Himself, by Him, whether things on earth or things in heaven, having made peace through the blood of His cross.

    I believe that in this passage “all things” means “all things” not “some things”. It’s funny, people appeal for the metaphorical literature of Rev. to be taken literally, but such statements as this non-metaphorical didactic literature are not to be taken literally.

    As I shared in my post, I interpret the metaphorical language of Revelation through the lense of my understanding of the rest of scripture, especially the more didactic and historical literature, instead of interpreting the rest of scripture through the lense of my understanding or misunderstanding of Revelation. In other words, Revelation is the last book I look to in establishing systematic theology because it is so metaphorical and thus so open to widely differing interpretations, from preteristically, historically, metaphorically, or futuristically – or all four simultaneously, like different facets of a diamond. That’s the power and weakness of this type of literature!

    Why cannot the devil be ultimately reconciled to God? God created him and thus I assume that he is ultimately good. To use a children’s verse – “God don’t make no junk!”

    In short, I believe that the kingdom of light ultimately eclipses the kingdom of darkness, that rebellion is ultimately overcome by submission, that hate is overcome by love, that evil is overcome by good, and death is overcome by life! To me, ECT only affirms that evil is really never overcome by good, hate is not overcome by love, and death is not overcome by life; it’s shoved off to the side, but it is never really overcome. In ECT, love does not win, but it fails to reconcile its many, if not most of its beloved; love fails. In ECT, the mercy of God does not endure forever. His wrath is not just a day, it is forever. To me, if ECT were true then it would be clearly and repeatedly stated all over scripture – especially in the Law; but it’s not. Instead, ECT is never even mentioned or named in the OT. And in the NT, neither Hades nor Gehenna are rightly interpreted as Hell. And even the one passage where Tartarus (the hellish realm of Hades) is used, it’s used in relation to sinning angels who are held there until judgment.

    Well, my post is already toooo long. Sorry. So I’ll stop.

  • John W Frye

    Kaleb (#194) and Michael (#195),
    You may be pressing the imagery for a detail it will not offer. The Revelation ends with the beginning, only better. The river, the tree, the removal of the curse all echo Genesis 1-2 “the way it ought to be.” Since Babel the nations have been competitive and warring. The new heavens and the new earth see all that alienation healed. So, the nations in Rev 22 are not purged peoples coming out of the lake of fire into paradise through the gates that are never closed. I’d be nice if we could squeeze that from the imagery, but, alas, it can’t be done.

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

    Adam @ 151, you asked concerning the judgment of Christians.

    If you’ll note, most passages concerning judgment are based on life-style, how one actually lives, not what one professes to believe. And note that these passages are given as warnings “TO” those who consider themselves to be children of God. Good that is done shall be rewarded (even the giving a cold glass of water to a thirsty soul); and the evil practices that one participates in will be punished! People will also be judged on what they’ve been given; and to whom much is given much is expected! And who has been given more than we Christians! We have been given the revelation of the love of God, the grace of God, the forgiveness of God towards us! We have been given the seal of the Holy Spirit, and the revelation of the Atonement of Christ!

    In the parable of the rich man and Lazarus, we are the rich man and we had better live under the reality of the truth concerning the blessings of God in our lives and the responsibility that these blessings carry! The passages of judgment are meant to be a warning to us believers and they should be interpreted and applied that way. They are warning of terrible punishment, though it be remedial, for us all! Jesus, in warning of Gehenna,

    Sadly, the traditional interpretations of these passages is that they are about God judging unbelievers – thus nullifying their power to call us believers to repentance, and nullifying their power to call unbelievers to faith in Christ because they see the hypocricy in the church saying, “We’re ok with God because our faith is in Him regardless of how we live! But you, regardless of how good you are, if you don’t believe and “whatever”, God’s going to burn you in Hell forever!” So the power of these passages on judgment to call people, believer and unbeliever alike, to repentance is nullified by our traditions.

    Jesus, in warning of the terribleness of Gehenna, says that we shall All be salted by Fire! (Mk. 9:49). And in this passage, I believe “All” means “All”! We shall all be tested and purified through suffering in one manner or another – as God sees fit to accomplish His will in all of us!

  • Kaleb

    John W Frye 198,

    I fully agree that the imagery is an obvious reference to Genesis. I am not say I know what the verse is alluding to. I simply said that healing implies there is sickness left to be healed. According to the New Heavens New Earth there should be no sickness left. I think you are attempting to do the same thing that you are warning against by saying the healing is towards the competitive and warring nations. It does not state any such thing in the texts. Healing is healing and it obvious that there are people that still need it in this verse. I think this is the point of Bell’s book that we only look to the verses that strengthen our preexisting notions. I am not sure how healing is a necessity for the Nations if the New Heaven New Earth is fully present.

    Alastair 196,

    I was not talking about the fruit and its sustenance for our resurrected bodies. I was simply saying that there seems to be the necessity for healing in this New Heaven, New Earth Kingdom. That does not fit into a lot of what people think Heaven on Earth will be like; since death and tears will be wiped away. How does healing fit into a place that all the healing should have been taken care of already? Lets not just wipe these verses under the rug; and it is not my goal to stretch it into something it is not, but the verse is there and it does say something.

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

    @Sherman Nobles (#197), if evil is extinguished before it is punished, can you tease out how this can be considered overcoming it? Second, can you explain why you think evil is not overcome by good when the infinitely evil are infinitely consciously tormented? You seem to be addressing a straw man in many of your critiques of ECT. If you want those of us who hold to ECT to recognize its flaws, it will help us greatly if you present our own position accurately and forcefully. To take just one point, I don’t think most proponents of ECT would argue that God still loves those he justly condemns to hell, at least not in any redemptive or reconciling sense. So your critique that love has failed in ECT is only true given an assumption that God should love those he has justly condemned to hell (an assumption ECT does not share with you). Thanks for the engagement.

  • Buck Eschaton

    Hell is not a metaphor for divine judgment. Hell is a literal place. I agree that Gehenna does not refer to a garbage dump. Gehenna is the place where we commit human sacrifice. All roads of sin lead to Gehenna, the place we kill and murder our children and any other people that we our able to offer up to keep our idolatries going.
    Rene Girard has long held that all sin leads to human sacrifice and the scapegoat. This “new” info re Gehenna not being a burning garbage dump strengthens what he has to say.
    So when we are warned about Gehenna,we are being warned that we are on the road to commit human sacrifice.
    Thus the saying holds literal truth, “War is Hell.”

  • Tim Hallman


    Isaiah 66:22-24 mentions new heavens first then fiery punishment. It does not convey sense of conscious torment. It’s consuming fire for dead bodies. Revelation 20:14-15 & 21:8 don’t presume conscious torment, especially in light of the OT imagery it draws from. Thus lake of fire is not the same as the traditional sense of Sheol, hades, he’ll ideas. Just thinking out loud.

  • Tim Hallman


    Another thought: Jeremiah 19:2, 6 call Valley of Hinnom the Valley of Slaaughter. This comes across as future judgment, not description of the afterlife such as sheol. When Jesus uses Gehenna, wouldn’t it seem he is referencing Jeremiah instead of introducing a new concept of the afterlife?

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

    PeterG @ 201, I appreciate your questions and will gladly review why I do not believe in ECT, Hell.

    I don’t understand your first question though. I do not believe or have stated that “evil is extinguished before it is punished.” Rather, I believe that evil is punished with a goal and result of positive correction, remedial punishment.

    Second, I do not believe that anything or anyone who God created is “infinitely evil” as you say and thus deserving of being “infinitely consciously tormented”. If God created us/it, then we/it are good. Having created everything, God looked at all of his creation and said “It is good.”

    To present a full blown case against ECT, well, this is likely more than is called for on this thread; and though I would like to take over the thread and push it my direction, I’ll resist that desire out of respect for Scott and others on this thread. If you’d like to contact me personally, you can at sherman.nobles@gmail.com. Unless maybe Scott would like to indicate that he’d like to discuss this further.

    In short (just points, no listing of scriptures or long exegetical arguments), I do not believe in ECT because:
    1. In Gen. the punishment of sin warned of is “death”, not ECT. In fact, the reason that God did not allow man to eat of the tree of life was so that he would not live forever in his fallen state of separation from him. ECT affirms that people live forever in their fallen state. I see the expulsion from the Garden and the tree of Life as being an act of mercy, so that they/we would not live forever in our fallen state.
    2. Something so horrendous as the concept of Hell, if it was a real threat, then I believe such would be explicitly and repeatedly named and stated in scripture; but it’s not. In fact, neither Sheol, Hades, or Gehenna specifically implies ECT. Sheol and Hades simply mean grave or realm of the dead. And Gehenna refers metaphorically to the judgment of God, by referencing the actual judgment of God against Israel and particularly against Jerusalem.
    3. Many scriptures that warn of judgment, imo link such with images of purification and remediation, and even pastoral love and care.
    4. Some scriptures seem to indicate that repentance and reconciliation happen in the after-life.
    5. And of course, the early creeds do not affirm ECT as a necessary part of the Christian Faith.

    Concerning my assumption that God loves everyone and everything, I believe that love is an essential aspect of God’s revealed nature, just as much as is his omniscience, holiness, and righteousness. “God is love.” And I believe that humans, all humans, are especially loved by God because we are created in the image of God (a familial idiom indicating we are children of God by creation).

    Well, in short, I believe all of the following statements (which at “face value” do have scriptural support):
    1. God is Sovereign
    2. God loves all humanity.
    3. God saves all humanity.
    4. God judges and punishes evil.
    And I can believe all 4 because in my study of what scripture says concerning Hell, I’ve come to believe that God’s judgment and punishment of evil flows from His love and righteousness and is thus both just and remedial with an attained goal of reconciliation.

    In regards to the salvation of humanity, Augustinian Calvinism affirms 1 and 4, but denies 2 and 3 because they believe God’s punishment of evil to be solely retributive, affirming ECT. Arminianism affirms 2 and 4, but denies 1 and 3 because of their belief in the certainty of damnation for some/most of humanity. And both Augustinian Calvinism and Arminianism LIMIT the Atonement. Augustinian Calvinism limits the Atonement in Scope (Jesus did not die for all of humanity, much less to reconcile all of creation). And Arminianism limit the Atonement in Power (Jesus’ sacrifice does not ultimately affect one’s salvation; man’s choice does.) I do not limit the Atonement in either Scope or Power, but believe that it ultimately fully affects the salvation of all humanity, all whom Jesus died for. The revelation of the Atonement is what affected my salvation. Jesus said, “And if I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw (drag like a fisherman pulling in a net) all to Myself!”

    Frankly, it was my study of what scripture actually says (or doesn’t say) concerning “Hell” that freed me to accept in faith the many passages that at “face value” and even “contextual (literary and authorial) value” seem to affirm the salvation of all humanity, yes, even all creation!

  • Peter

    Scott et al.,

    I am in the midst of reading Bell’s book, a piece that I consider to be a primer for the questions it raises. It is clearly not an in-depth treatment of anything. To a friend I wrote that the layout of it makes it appear to be the print version of a very long Power Point presentation: talking points, as it were.

    Having said this, I believe the questions it raises are important.

    Still, from the start I regard this book as a highly abridged version of a book on the same subject written a number of years ago, but no doubt passed beneath the radar screens of most evangelical readers. This is the book, “Dare We Hope – That All Men Be Saved?” by the Jesuit theologian Hans Urs von Balthasar. Von Balthasar does not conclude that there is not a hell; indeed, he takes a different tact altogether. In brief, he asks the question, if there are grounds to hope that all will be saved (and Scripture provides such grounds), then must we? Additionally, if we then must hope in this direction, how ought this hope effect how we live our lives, how do our lives reflect the life of our Lord and the promises set forth in the gospel generally? A subsequent part of his study hinges on which ethic, one of judgement or one of eternal hope, more accurately is reflected in the life of Jesus himself? Of course, von Balthasar’s examination of this is much more in depth. Here is the Amazon link to this book: http://www.amazon.com/Dare-Hope-Saved-Short-Discourse/dp/0898702070

  • steve jung

    @Tim 178
    Hades is not just another name for Hell. In its Greco-Roman context Hades is the god of the underworld and the underworld itself. Death and Hades are thrown into the lake of fire. See my comment in #77 about the idea of Death and Sea as personifications/dieties in context.

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

    Was Gehenna a trash dump during the time of Christ. I don’t know for sure, but believe it likely was. It fits well the concept of having a continuous fire and a place where the “worms die not” as in maggots. Trash dumps have a continuous fire because of the decaying material and maggots are worms that do not die, they actually transform into flies. And as someone pointed out earlier, Jerusalem surely had a trash dump and what better place to put the trash dump than the valley of Hinnom which already had such an terrible reputation as a place of judgment and waste! Either way though, referencing God’s judgment of Israel or as a trash dump, Gehenna was a place of death and decay, shame and reproach. And if one considers the possibility that the Romans might have cast the bodies of Rebels there to decay without a proper burial, the ultimate shame to the deceased, their family, and the whole nation, this adds a whole new dimension to the metaphor.

    For me, it was the Pharisees’ use of Gehenna as a metaphor for punishment in the afterlife that actually freed me to accept in faith the passages of scripture that seem to affirm Universal Reconciliation. The Pharisees as recorded in the Mishnah and Talumds apparently believed that Gehenna was a place of remedial punishment for most people. Shammai argued that almost everyone went through the fires of Gehenna as a means of purification before rising to Ga Eden, Paradise, Abraham’s bosom. And to me Jesus seems to affirm this concept of Gehenna in Mark 9:49 after warning of the terribleness of the judgment of Gehenna, He says that “we shall all be salted by fire.”

    As to what the Pharisees believed happened to the most notorious of sinners, they argued over whether or not a notorious sinner was annihilated after 12 months of fire, or continued to suffer there indefinitely long, as long as God saw fit to punish them. Jesus seems to affirm that the worst possible punishment that God would even consider would be annihilation when He says that we should not fear man who can only kill the body; and instead we should fear Him who can “destroy” both the body and soul in Gehenna! Though note that this does not actually affirm anyone will necessarily be destroyed, but that God could do this if He so chose to do it. The passage was meant to point us to the foolishness of fearing man by highlighting the awesome fearful power of God.

  • Buck Eschaton

    Gil Bailie has a good discussion of scandal,Gehenna and cutting off of body parts.


  • Randall

    Sherman, I appreciate your post #204, it reflects my thinking and perspective on the overall testimony of scripture. I don’t know if I could persuade others of what I see scripture teaching, I am in general agreement with most of what you said and I was preaching a sermon on a Sunday night when I ‘got it’, I changed the sermon in midstream because I got my mind changed in midsentence.

    I agree that everyone of the following appears to me to be taught in scripture and that few want to affirm all of them because they don’t ‘seem’ to be reconcilable.

    1. God is Sovereign
    2. God loves all humanity.
    3. God saves all humanity.
    4. God judges and punishes evil.

    I can’t understand how all the above are true; but, I have gotten to the place over 4 years where I trust that they are.

    Anyway, I wanted to say thanks for putting it out there.

  • Acronymically Challenged

    Can someone please tell me what chp stands for?

  • JoeyS

    If anybody is interested in Bell’s sources you might check out Abraham Joshua Heschel’s “The Prophets Volume 2″ chapter “The Meaning and Mystery of Wrath.” Picked it up today and Bell seems to rely heavily on Heschel’s reading of the Old Testament prophets.

    How, for instance, does one handle the plethora of texts that say God’s anger will not last forever, but that His love will?

  • Dana Ames

    Joey, as a short aside, I haven’t read all of Heschel’s “Prophets” and haven’t really picked it up for a while, but I have read his “God In Search of Man”. I fully expect to meet H. on the other side of the curtain.


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

    @Sherman (#204), thanks for the careful response. I’ve got some other questions, but I’ll email so we don’t take over Scot’s thread.

    But for those who are following the thread thus far, would you mind answering if you think that evil is extinguished before it is remedially punished? It seems to me that remedial punishment is a form of extinguishing evil, is that fair?

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

    Randall @208, you’re welcome and thanks for the encouraging comments. Several years ago I was a telephone “prayer counselor” at a ministry. A grumpy man called up and he was say GD this and GD that. I didn’t know what to say at first and then the spirit of prophecy took ahold of me. I forcefully interupted him saying, “Sir. Sir! Sir!!” He quieted and said, “What?!” To which I responded, “Sir, God is NOT in the Damning Buisness! He’s in the Saving Buisness! And He’ll save your soul Today, IF you Repent!” Well, he hung up; but the encounter highlighted for me that God truly is not in the damning buisness; He’s in the saving buisness. And over the years I’ve come to increasingly believe that scripture is primarily about the here and now, bringing heaven to the hell of earth, good overcomeing evil, love overcoming hate. And we are encouraged to be like God who loves even his enemies! And I’ve come to believe that these “enemies” are enemies in their own minds, fighting against God in one way or another, though in God’s mind they/we are His beloved! He repents from doing harm to people, like any loving father does not want to punish his children but realizes he must for their good.

    “Our Father” to me speaks of God being the Father of all of humanity, especially we who believe. Saying the Lord’s prayer from that perspective really changes one’s feeling towards others. Since I’ve come to believe in UR, I’m much more active in reaching out and helping people, especially the disinfranchised. The Lord has repeatedly dealt with me about the poor being my brother, the drug addict being my brother, the prostitute being my sister. And so now I do what I can to meet their needs and encourage them to be reconciled to OUR Father. Whether they believe in Our Father or not, I do and He believes in and loves us! So I have become much more socially aware and socially active because of this belief. I’ve also come to have a much greater faith in the power of the Gospel, the power of love, and the power of faith. I’ve also become freer in sharing the Gospel, because what I’ve got to share is truly Good News. It has revitalized my devotional life of prayer, fasting, and worship. My focus has changed from being/worrying about me and others getting into heaven, and instead seeking God’s kingdom to come on earth as it is in heaven. So much of what Bell says about social awareness resonates with me.

  • Richard

    @ 211

    “chp” = chapter

    Hope that helps.

  • John W Frye

    Kaleb (#200),
    I appreciate your kind response. The term *therapeian* in Revelation carries with it “the service of one to another.” If that definition is given, we see the nations now giving service to the Lord. The tree is not healing some disease (though the term could mean that), but are now united as one in service another–the Lord. I don’t think it is necessary to see “healing of some sickness” as the definition (viz a viz the English translations). I could be wrong.

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

    PeterG @214, yes, I see remedial punishment as a means of “extinguishing evil” as you say. Remedial punishment is punishment that is meant to bring a positive change in the character of the one being punished. With my children I call this Reality Discipline; they learn that evil has negative, even negative lasting consequences. As their father, I’d gladly forgo this means of correction, but some lessons are only learned the hard way! Thankfully, God in His righteousness and mercy does not doel out more than either His grace can carry us through our than is necessary to accomplish His will in and through our lives, I believe. And this being the pattern I follow for discipline of my children, do my boys fear judgment and punishment? You bet they do! Frankly, it scares the hell out of them! The language of punishment is always severe and often communicated in overstatement, hyperbole, meant to instill fear of negative reprocussions for evil – even though the actual punishment of evil is often lessened by the grace, mercy, and love of the father. This, I believe, is the language and purpose of God’s punishment of humanity, we, the apple of His eye, the sheep of His pasture, the prodigal or hypocritical sons, etc.

  • Dana Ames

    I would add that I think although “remedial punishment” is experienced as a kind of pain, there is simultaneously another kind of pain that recognizes the love that is involved, especially as one realizes how generous that love is to me, the unworthy one. This experience and realization sparks love in return, and effects repentance.

    This is the best I can do at finding the words to describe this at the moment. Hope the meaning comes through.


  • Richard

    Interesting blog post here comparing Bell’s passages on judgment and hell with Tim Keller’s writing regarding the same in The Reason for God: http://billwalker.wordpress.com/2011/03/15/is-this-really-about-theology-the-test-case-of-rob-bell-and-tim-keller/

    To sum if you don’t wish to read, he lays quotes from Bell and Keller side-by-side and demonstrates how similar the thinking is (a la CS Lewis), including the interpretation of Luke 16 and the experience of hell now. In the comments he also links to a post by Piper disagreeing with Keller over his understanding of Hell.

    As an aside, I also came across a sermon from Martin Luther regarding the Lazarus passage in Luke 16. Apparently he understood it be a parable bearing on the relationship between rich and poor in this life and had this to say about its significance for describing eternal judgment:

    “Therefore we conclude that the bosom of Abraham signifies nothing else than the Word of God,…. the hell here mentioned cannot be the true hell that will begin on the day of judgment. For the corpse of the rich man is without doubt not in hell, but buried in the earth; it must however be a place where the soul can be and has no peace, and it cannot be corporal. Therefore it seems to me, this hell is the conscience, which is without faith and without the Word of God, in which the soul is buried and held until the day of judgment, when they are cast down body and soul into the true and real hell.” (http://www.orlutheran.com/html/mlselk16.html)

  • Josh Fairweather

    Nietzsche (the great hater of Christianity) despised what he believed were the cowardly and debasing values of a culture still too much under the sway of Christian faith: love, sympathy, pity, equality, peace, justice, etc. He also rejected the idea of reconciliation without violence and suffering, without destruction and death. Until I read these posts, I didn’t know what a great plagiarizer of the Bible he was.

  • http://fciy.org Ric Bell

    Your statement: “To use Gehenna for Jesus was to use a metaphor for divine judgment and destruction” along with your supporting OT references clearly lay the proper foundation for understanding Jesus’ infamous “warnings of hell”;however, Christian doctrine does not follow the unfolding revelation of Yahweh’s FAITHFULNESS to RESTORE those so judged and “cast into Gehenna” (VALLEY OF Hinnom)as revealed in Jeremiah 31:40 and Ezekiel 37!

    Holy Hell?!!! Yes, Jeremiah 31:40 (VALLEY OF dead bodies)clearly reveal the true intent of Yahweh’s heart to RESTORE after judgment – a recurring theme throughout the OT.

    Resurrection from Hell? Indeed, Ezekiel 37 (VALLEY FULL OF dry bones)testifies to Yahweh’s FAITHFULNESS to unfaithful Israel to chronicle a UNIVERSAL TRUTH applicable to the rest of Mankind. Ancient-Israel was clearly not exempt from judgment, but was judged along with the surrounding nations (Amos chapter 1), AND ancient-Israel was not the only nation RESTORED from exile; yet, “Zionist-type” doctrine perverts the CHARACTER of Yahweh as rendering the most extreme DOUBLE-standard – restoration to the “chosen” and eternal torment for the “non-chosen”! How so?

    In proper context, Jesus’ “warning of gehenna” were directed to the very “chosen” (including His disciples) recalling their memory to their ancient past as He prophesied the coming judgments of 70AD. Just as Yahweh used King Nebuchadnezzar as His instrument of judgment in the destruction of the 1st temple, He used the Roman Empire as His instrument of judgment in 70AD.

    Faithful Creator Is Yahweh – Maker of ALL Is He!

  • http://fciy.org Ric Bell

    cont –

    The PURPOSE for the judgments of “hell” (gehenna):

    (Eze 37:23 NASB)
    “They will no longer defile themselves with their idols…, and will cleanse them. And they will be My people, and I will be their God.

    Again, the history of ancient-Israel was chronicled in the Hebrew Scriptures to provide testimony of Yahweh’s FAITHFULNESS to them despite their unfaithfulness to the only Existing & Living God to convey a UNIVERSAL TRUTH applicable to the rest of Mankind!

    As for the “Lake of Fire” – well, it is so rich in Scriptural metaphors that it would take volumes to adequately discuss. I will only state that the same imagery “believers” use as beneficial to them is the same imagery that should be applied to the “Lake of Fire”.

    Why is it that Christian doctrine teaches that “water & fire” symbolize “repentance & sanctification” in the life of a “believer”; yet, ascribe PAGAN MYTHOLOGIES to the Lake of Fire?

    (Jer 23:29 NASB)
    “Is not My word like fire?” declares the LORD…

    (Isa 30:33 NASB)
    …The breath of the LORD, like a torrent of brimstone, sets it afire.

    There you have it: “Fire & Brimstone” signifies the Word of Yahweh that will SANCTIFY those cast into the “Lake of Fire” that burns with fire & brimstone!

    (Rev 14:10 NASB)
    …will be tormented with fire and brimstone…

    Yes indeed, “tormented with the Word of Yahweh”, but what does “torment” really mean? “Touch stone”, perhaps? …the process by which precious metal is TESTED for PURITY?

    (Mal 3:2 NASB)
    “But who can endure the day of His coming? And who can stand when He appears? For He is like a refiner’s fire and like fullers’ soap.

    (Mal 3:3 NASB)
    “He will sit as a smelter and purifier of silver, and He will purify the sons of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, so that they may present to the LORD offerings in righteousness.

    Faithful Creator Is Yahweh – Maker of ALL Is He!

    (1Co 6:11 NASB)
    Such were some of you; but you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God.

    How will Yahweh ACCOMPLISH such a great salvation as to bring ALL the work of His hands to COMPLETION? Well, Love does indeed WIN!

  • http://fciy.org Ric Bell

    Luke 16: the parable of the rich man & Lazarus:

    Summary of the Symbols

    1. The Lazarus of the parable was Eleazar, Abraham’s steward (Genesis 15:2).
    2. He was a Gentile “of Damascus” (“a proselyte of the gate”) who “ate the crumbs.”
    3. He was disinherited (to become a beggar) but he remained faithful to Abraham and God.
    4. When this earthly life was over, he received Abraham’s inheritance after all (he was in Abraham’s bosom) — in “everlasting habitations.”
    5. The Rich Man of the Parable was Judah. This son of Jacob had five literal brothers as did the Rich Man.
    6. He was also a literal son of Abraham, while Eleazar (Lazarus) was not!
    7. The Rich Man (Judah) also had the kingship (purple) and the priesthood (linen).
    8. Yet Judah (representing God on this earth) was not the true steward of the Abrahamic blessings.
    9. Though he and his literal brothers had been graced with the “oracles of God” (the Old Testament) they would not respond to the One resurrected from the dead (Christ).
    10. The “great gulf” was the Jordan rift valley the dividing line between Gentile lands and the Holyland of promise (Abraham’s inheritance). Crossing the Jordan was a typical figure recognized by the Jews as a symbol of salvation.

    Once these factors are recognized, all the points in the parable (with its context) fit perfectly to give us some simple but profound teachings of Christ. It shows that the physical promises of God (though excellent) are very inferior to the spiritual redemption that anyone (Jew or Gentile) can have in Christ.

    Excerpt from: