These days simply say the words “Rob Bell” where two or three are gathered together and you provoke immediate conversation, if not controversy.
Bell, a popular writer and founding pastor of Mars Hill Bible Church in Grand Rapids, Mich., recently published the overnight bestseller Love Wins: A Book About Heaven, Hell, and The Fate Of Every Person Who Ever Lived. When the publisher (HarperOne) first “leaked” news of Bell’s views on hell the debates began.
Hell, Bell believes, exists within and beyond this world, horribly painful, potentially redemptive; but not eternal. Both now and in “the end” God’s love prevails, as revealed, indeed personified, in Jesus of Nazareth. The God Jesus described and incarnated is ever moving “from judgment to restoration, from punishment to new life.”
Bell explores certain biblical references related to the afterlife in general and hell in particular, giving special attention to the 12 New Testament citations on hell, taken largely from the mouth of Jesus, many related to gehenna, the fiery garbage dump outside Jerusalem.
He concludes that “the word ‘hell’ works quite well” when referring to a rejection of the good life “God has for us” and for the “terrible evil” that creates personal and societal “collapse and chaos.” It just isn’t “forever.”
Whatever one’s response to Bell’s ideas, his book raises many questions that deserve revisiting by Christian, especially Evangelical, communities in 21st century America. Underneath its discussion of hell Bell’s brief book offers insight into one pastor’s assessment, indeed indictment, of the state of Protestant faith in contemporary culture.
Like it or not, Love Wins poses important and implicit questions: