Chapter 8 Synopsis
He ends the book with this quote: “May you experience this vast, expansive, infinite, indestructible love that has been yours all along. May you discover that this love is as wide as the sky and as small as the cracks in your heart no one else knows about. And may you know, deep in your bones, that love wins.”
After reading this book I find that the critiques of Rob Bell are unfounded.
He does not deny the existence of hell or heaven. He does not deny that both can be eternal. His thought it deeply rooted in Christian orthodoxy thought. He confesses the belief that Jesus is the only way. He does not say all roads lead to heaven. He does not say all people end up there eventually.
Here’s what I think. People want to make God out to be about “in” and “out,” when Jesus is about “near” and “far.” “The kingdom of God has come near,” or “you are not far from the kingdom,” this is how Jesus like to talk about it. The in and out folks will never like Rob Bell. Bell, following after Jesus, stresses the great continuity between this life and whatever comes after. Eternal life starts now; this is the witness of the scriptures. Hebrew thought in Jesus’s day really considered death to be another way of being alive. We know there is hell in part because we see people choose hell all the time right here in this life. All of us know people who are “hell-bent,” on hurting themselves and others. We know that there is a heaven, in part, because Jesus proclaimed that heaven was now breaking into the present through his life, teaching, death, and resurrection.
In Bell’s book, the necessity for hell comes from really two places. First, and foremost it comes from the scriptures. Jesus talks about it more than anyone else in the New Testament. It is part of the story of God. Second, and contingently upon the first, it comes from the freedom of the person. We can choose to reject God’s love. Those who do can become totally focused on evil. The people of God have always cried out for justice – all you have to do is read a few psalms to know that. And they have always trusted that there will be a day when God will save us from evil. But if God is going to decisively remove evil, what will God do with those whose life has become consumed by evil? Bell’s take is that God will not override the human will – because true love requires freedom. Thus for those who wish to continue to choose evil, God allows them to do this. He will not allow the innocent to suffer at those who are “hell-bent” on evil for eternity. So there will be a time when God says “enough” to evil. And those who wish to pursue it will have to continue to do so apart from the rest.
The critique of Bell comes because of what he says next. He says he believes that even in the case of those who reject God – God will never stop asking them to turn. God will never stop beckoning them to stop the direction they’ve taken. God does not torment, or punish people – we do that to ourselves, all the while Jesus broken-heartedly continues to invite them to turn. Bell seems to think that this will never stop.
To those who are critics of Rob Bell, I think it needs to be said that it’s totally fine to have different opinions about these things. Doctrine is supposed to be like grammar – it needs to be flexible – more like a conversation than a rigid system. Doctrine is not the point. The right telling/living of the story is the point. The problem comes when people want to call people heretics when they have differing doctrine. The problem comes when people tweet “Farewell Rob Bell” because they are do positive they are right and everyone else is wrong. The arrogance of this position mystifies me. I simply don’t get it.
Rob Bell rightly notes that much of the conflict over hell stems from differing views of God. I acknowledge that I think folks like John Piper have a distorted view of God. But I do not call them heretics; I do not count them out. I do not accuse them of teaching false doctrine. That is an incredibly supercilious. I would call it sinful, because it harms the body of Christ. I also acknowledge that it is possible I also have a distorted view of God – maybe we all inevitably do. But we must always live in fidelity toward one another and the body of Christ. The only horrible thing we can do is break communion, call each other ‘heretics’ and ‘teachers of false doctrine.’
This is a great book, you should all read it. There’s no heretical teaching, no false doctrine here. He’s not espousing universalism – just complete confidence in the God who is love. I think in particular that this book can be powerful for those who have been the victims of evil in their lives. It will help them understand how the momentum of a soul can turn so far away from God that it becomes pure evil. It is also a good way to understand the variety of pictures the scripture gives us on the subject of heaven and hell.