The following is part of a series on Hell, partially as a response to the Love Wins controversy. To catch up, go here.
Hell is a hot topic these days. Some say “hell yes.” Others passionately cry “hell no.” While some are tempted to ask “who the hell cares?”
Over the past year we learned that the Evangelical church cares, a lot. Interesting, for a time, hell was perceived as a low area of interest in both popular and academic Christian realms. Prior to its release date, Love Wins: A Book about Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person who Ever Lived started a firestorm of controversy. Here’s how it happened.
HarperOne released a book trailer patterned after, the author, Rob Bell’s famous Nooma video series. With artistic cinematography and carefully crafted prose, this video set the Web ablaze as reformed conservative Evangelicals were up in arms about this heretical book that hadn’t been released yet. In this short video clip, Rob Bell says the following:
Gandhi’s in hell? He is? And someone knows this, for sure…. What is God like? Because millions and millions of people were taught that the primary message—the center of the Gospel of Jesus—is that God is going to send you to hell, unless you believe in Jesus. And so, what gets, subtlety, sort of caught and taught is that Jesus rescues you from God. But what kind of God is that; that we would need to be rescued from this God? How could that God ever be good; how could that God ever be trusted? And how could that ever be good news.
Eventually this video probably would have gone viral, but one of its most vocal opponents helped assure its viewership. In fact, most would venture to say that those opposed to the book’s assumed message helped it climb near the top seller lists at Amazon.com!
The explosion of controversy started with a blog post by Justin Taylor, known for being part of what many call the “young, restless, and reformed” movement. Without having read the book, he wrote a blog titled Rob Bell: Universalist?, which caused quite a bit of back and forth. This statement encapsulates why people were either fired-up with either zeal or frustration:
I’m glad that Rob Bell has the integrity to be lay his cards on the table about universalism. It seems that this is not just optimism about the fate of those who haven’t heard the Good News, but (as it seems from below) full-blown hell-is-empty-everyone-gets-saved universalism.
He concluded his post (as it was originally written prior to feeling pressure to change it) with attributing the following passage of Scripture to Rob Bell:
And no wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. So it is no surprise if his servants, also, disguise themselves as servants of righteousness. Their end will correspond to their deeds (2 Corinthians 11.14-15, ESV).
The correlating of Rob Bell, whose influence on many young progressive evangelicals cannot be understated, with a servant of Satan frustrated many of us.
On the same day, I wrote a response to Taylor on my blog that got quite a bit of circulation. I must admit that I could have crafted some of my sentences with a bit more care. I also realize that I was assuming a bit about a book that I had also not yet read. I think there are parts that I would write differently today. Nevertheless, my rebuttal attempted to show that there are several evangelical options for understanding the finality of those who die without a relationship with Jesus. By that evening, John Piper Tweeted this infamous message: “Farewell Rob Bell.”
For a few years prior to this, I had been wrestling with the traditional perspective of hell. Through influences such as – Brian McLaren’s The Last Word and the Word After That, Greg Boyd’s sermons and writings, and N.T. Wright’s comments in a couple of his books – I knew that the tradition was wrong. So when the Love Wins controversy began, I had little problem exploring other biblical options for understanding hell as an evangelical.
Enter Sharon Baker. For the past two years I’ve had a book on my self that needed to be read. Razing Hell: Rethinking Everything You’ve Been Taught about God’s Wrath and Judgment clarified some important issues that have been on my mind for the past several months.
A Late Response to Love Wins?
I realize that I’m late… really late. The whole controversy came and went. People either like, love, or hate Love Wins. And many of my long time blog readers have patiently waited for my response. The “tardiness” comes as the result of a reflective journey. I know that this is a fairly important issue (hell), so I didn’t want to contribute to the conversation until I had a chance to articulate myself clearly. I also felt the need to clarify and refine my own ideas on this issue. It has been a process…
In several posts to follow, I plan to articulate my view of hell by first, summarizing Sharon Baker’s book. Second, by interacting with another interpretively lens (Stanley Grenz). Third, by bringing it all together into my own cohesive approach to “hell.” Along the way, I will interact with Rob Bell’s book as I see fit.
Here’s a question to get things started: Do you believe that there is room in evangelicalism for diversity when it comes to understanding hell? If so, what are the limits? If not, why not? (Please be respectful… I will delete comments if I need to).
. Alister E. McGrath, Christian Theology: An Introduction, 3rd ed. (Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishers, 2001), 569.
 I wrote a follow-up post that attempted to fill in the gaps that needed to be addressed: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/thepangeablog/2011/03/02/rob-bell-controversy-your-questions-my-answers/