Monday, March 21, 2011

23 minutes with Rob Bell

Two books have recently become best-sellers in the Christian book trade, both on the subject of Hell. Most people have heard about Hell and have an opinion about it. Upon reading this post, I trust that you will have a good idea of my own view on Hell. but even more you should have an idea of how I think that we should approach the subject.

The first book written was by Bill Weise and it is called "23 Minutes in Hell". It is a disturbing tale in which Mr. Weise tells of experiencing Hell for 23 minutes. He depicts Hell as a real place where people consciously suffer unspeakable horrors. He uses this testimony to get people to think seriously about Hell in the hopes that all will repent and avoid it.

The second book (which I confess I have not read) is by a pastor named Rob Bell. It is called "Love Wins". According to the reviews of this book it is an attempt by the author to bring up some troubling issues about Hell. However, since I have not read the book I will only comment generally on some of these issues.

There are a couple of ways that we can, as Christians, approach the subject of Hell, or any other Bible subject. We can study what the Bible says about it and accept it regardless of whether or not it seems right or good to us.

Or we can hope that the Bible 'really' says what we think is good and just. We may want to believe what the Bible says, but we subject the Bible to our own moral sensibilities. Then we try to make the Bible fit our own idea of what is true. That way we can say that we believe the Bible without actually submitting ourselves to it. We interpret it accordingly.

This inevitably leads to self-deception. We need to renew our minds to what the Word actually says. Some seem to be saying that the fact that God is love means that whatever the Bible says it cannot mean that good people will go to Hell. Richard Mouw, a supporter of Bell's views, says that he knew a nice rabbi who prayed for him everyday. When the rabbi died he hoped that Jesus would accept that rabbi into Heaven. I, too, hope that he made it to Heaven, but it does not seem like the man believes in Jesus as Savior. It seems (only God knows his heart) that he ultimately rejected Jesus. That is worse than any other sin one can commit. That is worse than genocide or torture or anything else a person could do. Why do we Christians take it so lightly?

I read one commentator who said that Ghandi, the peaceful liberator of India, must certainly be in heaven today. Why? Because of his good works? Has this commentator read the epistles of Paul? Good works do not earn us heaven. Only faith in Christ saves us. Ghandi,a Hindu who understood the New Testament quite well, almost certainly never committed himself to Christ.

Now that does not mean that God did not use Ghandi to free India. But it does not make him eligible for Heaven. God also used Cyrus, the Persian king, to free the Jews after the Babylonian Captivity. That would not qualify him for salvation either. God does not save people because they have done good, or even great, things. All our righteousness is as filthy rags.

You might be agreeing with me on these points though you may be thinking, 'yes, but how do we present this to others - should we threaten everyone with fire and brimstone? Should we not make the gospel attractive to others?'.

I think the Bible answer here is very simple: speak the truth in love. We cannot leave out either part. We must always minister in love, but this does not preclude stern warnings about Hell. "On some have compassion ... and others save with fear." (Jude 22) A friend of mine in college was saved while he was in youth group. I asked him what convinced him to give his heart to the Lord. He said that he did not want to go to Hell. Some would say that this is not a good motive. Jude has no problem with it at all.

I actually find that having your sins washed away in the blood of the Lamb and escaping Hell to be a very attractive gospel. It's far better than wishy-washy notions of 'generous' orthodoxy.

Final point: I think that it is counterproductive, and even dangerous, to publicly say that we are not sure that all unbelievers are going to Hell. If we are not sure, then the world will think that they can reject the gospel without consequence because God is "generous". We should not equivocate on major doctrines like Hell and let the world think that God will let them into Heaven because they do not 'deserve' Hell.

1 comment:

  1. Disturbing, as I have so many friends and acquaintances who have no clue. It's pretty silly to believe in heaven and not in hell.