Rob Bell doesn’t believe in hell – or, so it seems. In a video promoting his upcoming book, the so-called “rock star” pastor challenges the idea that “only a few select people make it to heaven.” He suggest the idea that God is going to “send you to hell unless you believe in Jesus” implies that Jesus rescues people – from God! “What kind of God is that,” Bell muses, “that we would need to be rescued from this God? How could that God ever be good? . . . The good news,” he asserts, “is actually better than we could ever imagine. The good news is that love wins.”
I honestly have no idea what Bell means by “love wins.” His book by that title actually doesn’t release until the end of March. Still, many now are speculating Bell is a universalist or outright heretic. Others are rallying to Bell’s defense, accusing his critics of jumping to conclusions. Personally, I’m withholding labels until I read the book. Still, I find Bell’s video deeply troubling.
Bell – already a best-selling author – pastors a church of 10-thousand and podcasts to another 50-thousand. So, his influence, especially among so-called millenials, could hardly be overstated. This group of 20- and 30-somethings already suffers from what seems to be a terminal case of theological confusion. North Park University Professor Scot McKnight estimates on his popular blog, Jesus Creed, that an estimated 75-percent of his students believe everyone goes to heaven. So, Bell introducing this false dichotomy concerning God and hell seems unhelpful at best – and devastating at worst.
You see, essentially what Bell suggests is that either God is good and hell doesn’t exist – or, hell exists, and God cannot possibly be good. However, Scripture clearly states that God is good and hell exists. God is not just love. The living creatures who surround God’s throne do not cry, “Love, love, love is the Lord God Almighty.” They cry, “Holy, holy, holy . . .” God’s holiness is every bit as integral to his nature as His love.
This being the case, sin is not merely making mistakes or poor choices. As theologian R.C. Sproul states, “Sin is cosmic treason.” It’s an act of rebellion that reveals our inherent hostility toward a holy and sovereign God. It’s a crime that must be punished for justice to be served. You see, God doesn’t owe any of us salvation. All of us deserve hell.
I agree with Bell that in the end love wins, but not because hell doesn’t exist. Love wins because Jesus took the punishment for our sin and offers pardon to those willing to receive it. I hope that’s where Bell eventually lands. Honestly, from what I’ve read, I kind of doubt he will. But, this controversy hopefully will spur Christian leaders to address heaven and hell and nature of God. Quite frankly, the eternities of a generation of young adults hangs in the balance. And, despite their views, heaven and hell do exist – and the sooner they discover it, the better.