Hellacious Discussions

I am coming to the dance late, but it appears the party is not yet over. So late may not be too late.  What party? Well, the  “Hell-acious” party that has been going on in the blogosphere.

Apparently the debate was kicked off by Rob Bell and his new book titled: Love Wins.  Apparently the video promoting the book leans a little too close to affirming Universalism.  Having watched it, I can see why there is some concern.

There is little I will add to this discussion, other than to affirm that the Bible is clear about Hell being an actual place.  Any notions that the reality of Hell somehow diminishes Grace or is a stain on God’s character are just uninformed and/or thoughtless.  More than that, such theories are not rooted in Scripture.  Thus we can assume they originate from the pit of… well, you know…

Some notables responding to Bell were:

John Piper & Josh Harris on Twitter:

Kevin DeYoung

Justin Taylor

Tim Keller also republished a post titled The Importance of Hell

  1. Hell is Important Because Jesus taught on it more than all other Biblical authors put together.
  2. Hell is Important because it shows how infinitely dependent we are on God for everything.
  3. Hell is Important because it unveils the seriousness and danger living life for yourself.
  4. The Doctrine of Hell is Important because it is the only way to know how much Jesus loved us and how much he did for us.

John Armstrong chimed in on the debate, and suggested that some of the responses were just knee jerk reactions.  Armstrong advocates waiting for the book to come out before developing any conclusions about Rob Bell.  Caution and charity is almost always good counsel.

But, while this discussion is still in vogue, I thought I would direct those interested to a few other resources.  In particular 9 Marks Sept-Oct ’10 e-Journal was devoted to it.  Click: Remembering the Awful Reality.   Two articles from that edition I find worth consideration are summarized below:

How Does Hell Glorify God? by James Hamilton.

  • Hell shows that God keeps his word.
  • Hell shows God’s infinite worth.
  • Hell demonstrates God’s power to subdue all who rebel against him.
  • Hell shows how unspeakably merciful God is to those who trust him.
  • Hell upholds the reality of love by visiting justice against those who reject God, who is love.
  • Hell vindicates all who suffered to hear or proclaim the truth of God’s Word.
  • Hell shows the enormity of what Jesus accomplished when he died to save all who would trust him from the what they (we) deserved. If there were no hell, there would be no need for the Cross.

Why is Hell Integral to the Gospel? by Greg Gilbert

  1. Hell shows us how heinous our sin really is.
  2. Hell shows us how unimpeachably just God really is.
  3. Hell shows us how horrific the cross really was, and how great God’s grace really is.
  4. Hell focuses our minds on the task of proclaiming the gospel.

One final word.  This is not a one sided discussion.  Many are picking up where Bell left off – or where they think he left off.  Wherever Bell will come out on this issue, some folks are running with their own half-baked theories… they are running fast like bats out of… well you know.

28 thoughts on “Hellacious Discussions

  1. Dennis,
    Not sure if you know or not, but many who dismissed Bell because of this, his latest book, as a universalist had not even read the book ! Just dismissed him out of hand, even Pipper did.
    I don’t agree with Bell on all he says, by any means, but he does address questions that need to be looked at in honest discussion by the evanglical community. (which he is part of by the way, he has a big voice)
    We should, of all people, be willing and able to have honest discussion with people especially those questions that many are afraid to voice..because well…look at the reaction to Bell when his book has yet to even hit the shelves. Only a few advanced copies went to specific people for review and comment.
    We’ll hear more on the subject….Bell is alot of things but I doubt he’s a “universalist” …Guess we’ll find out though.

  2. Hell is indeed a reality. However, it is on this earth in this life. Its end is death. We should all repent and follow Jesus Christ our Lord so that we experience His eternal life and not the wrath of God.

    Nonetheless, everyone is going to heaven.

    • Mike, What is the reason to repent? I understand that we want things to go better for us, but in the end what of those who do not repent? What of those who will not believe – even live in defiance of Christ?

      It must be pointed out that Repentance & Faith always go together. They are like two opposite sides of the same coin.

      • God will judge everything we think, say, and do. Everything matters!

        Yes, repentance and faith go together. We should live a lifestyle of repentance and faith every day.

  3. I’m curious Mike, how have you come to your view? Everyone is going to Heaven? What do you mean by the Wrath of God?

    • Dennis, I came to this view by reading and studying the Bible, with prayer, over a number of years (while trying to obey it, of course, along the way).

      I lay out the full biblical case for everyone going to heaven at http://wp.me/PNthc-i6

      The wrath of God is everything that goes wrong in the world as a consequence of our sins. Deuteronomy 28, after it briefly lists the blessings of obedience, catalogs the various forms that wrath takes as a result of our disobedience.

  4. David,

    Yep. I am aware that people dismissed Bell without reading the book. That was what John Armstrong was protesting. And while I agree it is usually not wise to react to something you are unfamiliar with, those who responded did not do so without any cause whatsoever. While the book has not yet been released, the reaction is to what Bell said and inplied in the video that he released to promote the book. (Click Bell’s name in the post.) I don’t know what Bell’s actual position will be when it is fully articulated in print, but it is difficult to watch that video without hearing him quite apparently affirming Universalism – or at least the possibility of Heaven without faith in Christ. Again, he does not state this, but it is the logical inferrence of what he does say.

    No doubt Bell has a “big voice” as you say. And without getting into semantics, I think it important to offer one correction… Bell is NOT an Evangelical. Bell is a leader of the Emergent Movement. The Emergent Movement exists in protest of Evangelicalism. This is not to say that there is nothing in Evangelicalism to protest, nor that there is nothing of value from the Emergent & Emerging. But to label Bell Evangelical is like saying John Calvin & John Knox were Roman Catholic.

  5. David,

    I have a hard time believing Bell will be advocating anything but universalism in “Love Wins”


    It is exegetically without founding to assume that punishment in “this life” is what Scripture speaks about in the term geenna (Gehanna) or, hell.

    Gehanna, in scripture, is never ending. It is eternal, and cannot mean that Gehanna is only in this life. In Matthew 18:8-9 Jesus refers to the eternal fire (to pyr to aionion) and then a few verses later to the hell of fire (ten geennan tou pyros).

    It is absolutely clear from Jesus own teachings and the Greek grammar used in preserving said teachings that hell isn’t a temporary condition, but an eternal reality.

    • Alex,

      Gehenna is presented in the NT as the alternative to the kingdom of God. If you insist on postponing it to after this life then you likewise postpone any experience of the kingdom of God or eternal life until after this life. Since Jesus said in John 17:3 that eternal life was knowing God, you are saying no one can know God in this life.

      • It’s not temporary – you are.

        That is, judgment never ends on the earth in this life, but once it has consumed you, your life here is over. That’s when God takes you to heaven.

      • … Where do you see in scripture that those thrown into the eternal fire are removed upon death? That’s nonsensical.

        Also, Jesus says it is better to lose an eye than have your whole body thrown into the lake of fire. If this life was the lake of fire, then why would Jesus be talking in the future tense? This language of Jesus presupposes the resurrection of the dead as it involves both body and soul.

        Again, I would strongly suggest you consider how someone can be thrown into something eternal, yet come out of said eternal place without any scriptural basis for saying they do.

        As for my making a distinction I would merely say that if I had meant Sheol I would have said Sheol. Because I used the term Gehanna, that should show that I don’t confuse the two. Thus, I distinguished by NOT using Sheol.

      • Alex, we obviously disagree about what is scriptural on this subject. If you want to argue with me on my blog, I welcome you there. However, I don’t want to abuse the hospitality of Dennis’ blog by belaboring that disagreement here. Best wishes to you, Mike

      • Mike, Thanks for posting. And thanks for being concerned about abusing the discussion on this blog, though it is not a problem. You are welcome to comment anytime.

        That said, however, it is not just Alex with whom you have a disagreement. It is the whole Church. The Universalism you espouse, however you came to your conclusions, has been rejected and anathamatized since the 6th Century. On this issue the whole Church has consistently agreed – Eastern, Roman Catholic, and Protestant.

      • Dennis, thanks for your comment.

        As for the the church’s historic position on universalism I would not say that rejection of it has been…er, universal. However, your statement is generally true. I would only offer in defense of my position that it is a biblically-based one. All of the other arguments I’ve ever heard for everyone going to heaven either devalued the work of Christ, the justice of God, or the Scriptures. My position exalts all three.

      • Mike, not to belabor the point, but I cannot leave your comment as the final word… especially because it is so wrong on several fronts.

        Your position does devalue the work of Christ because Universalism sees no value of Faith in what Christ has done on our behalf as a means of appropriating the benefits. In your view, Christ’s death is meritorious for all. Those who deny and/or reject Christ receive the same beneift as those who love him because they see how he has loved us. This devalues the work of Christ because, as Philippians 2 tells us, it is because of his atoning death He is exalted above every other name. Those who reject his death – and therefore his resurrection – do not exalt Jesus, they belittle his work. Further. your view is contrary to the distinction between people that Jesus himself makes in John 17.9. And your position does nothing to satisfactorily explain what Jesus says in Mathew 7.21-23. In fact, I would suggest that those who are intrigued by your teaching should familiarize themselves with Jesus’ warning in Matthew 7.15.

        Second, you belittle the Justice of God because in your view in the end it’s all the same… Delight in God or not; Honor God or not; etc.

        Finally, as far as the churches historic position, ABSOLUTELY the Church has rejected universalism since the 6th Century. I cannot allow your comment to mislead people into thinking there have been exceptions. Certainly there have been Universalists in every age, but the Church has labeled their view heresey, and usually considered those holding this erroneous position to be heretics. These may be harsh words, but this is the historical FACT, not merely my position.

        Again, Thanks for posting. Feel free to comment any time. While what you espouse is not historic Christianity, you do conduct yoursel in these discussions with thoughtfulness and respect for others. I welcome such folks to contribute.

      • Dennis, thanks for engagement on the topic.

        So as not to belabor our argument further I won’t respond to the specific points you have made. I will only say that I agree with you that we see these issues differently.

    • Hey Alex, we’ll see what Bell has say in his book then we’ll know one way or the other. Can’t understand how anyone could get by John 14:6 though.

      • You don’t have to get by John 14:6. Jesus IS the way. It’s just that He’s the way for everyone. “If we are faithless, He remains faithful.”

  6. Mike,

    I also did read your chapter on hell and found it interesting that you simply mentioned that the fire was eternal. If Jesus refers to people being thrown into said fire, and it is eternal, where in the world do you come away with that seeing a temporary punishment only in this life?

    • Alex,

      Glad you read the chapter but hope you didn’t skip over the chapters on Sheol (Hades) that preceded it. Many people confuse hell with Sheol (Hades), and I wouldn’t want you to do that, too.

      • I don’t confuse the two, I very clearly differentiated between them in the language of my reply.

        Again, you skipped my question?

    • Alex, I don’t see you making any reference to Sheol (Hades) in your reply, much less a distinction between it and Gehenna.

  7. Thanks Dennis now that is funny ! LoL….Calvin and Knox being Catholic.

    I agree. I would note however Bell doesn’t count himself in the emergent movement…Doesn’t count himself or identify himself with any group really. Pretty much a loner from what I read and heard from him. But I guess if were to lump him in a group it may be the emergents….

    • David, I don;t know what Bell considers himself but he is clearly part of the Emergents… And the fact that he sees himself as Independent – having accountability to no one – only makes him dangerous and unrooted.

      There is value in theological reflection, which may occasionally push the boundaries of common practices, and sometimes perhaps even settled doctrine, but to have no orientation, no connection to those who have gone before, is not only foolish, it is arrogant.

  8. By the way…good post on a current issue that affects many. It will be really interesting to see this develop as people read Bells Book. Understand it will come out later this month.

    In reading a review the other day it said Bell is not a “univerlist” but that it “could” be interpreated to mean so. Whatever that means…

    All this hype should equate to a bunch of sales and could be a strategy in getting the book out. Maybe I might be a bit sinical but who knows

    • David, I share your cynicism. I am sure that the result will be a bunch of books being sold. I suspect that was the point of the “publicity” video – which is pregnant with implications but barren of answers.

      As far as what it means that Bell does not consider himself a Universalist but that his position could be described as such means he is typcially post-modern… his life and positions don’t match. Bell has interesting insights but apparently no core, no center. Typical of Emergents…

      • Got to agree with you on that Dennis. One of the strong points of belonging to denominations is the accountability and “home” they provide.

        Even non-denominational Bible churches do have some connection with each other. At least some do.

        In any case I’ll read his book just because I’m intrested in what he has to say about the issues involved. I’m sure it will be a bit different.

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