I am strongly considering putting a “Christianity 301” podcast into the schedule in the near future. It would be a follow up to the article at the top of the website, http://www.inappropriateconversations.org/christianity-201-time-for-solid-food/.
That article deferred some challenging questions to a 301-level of thinking, no longer being an undergraduate approach. Rob Bell seems like the appropriate Different Drummer for an episode like that.

One of the things slowing me down from just opening my Bible, sitting down, and making the recording is advice I received about Bell’s book Love Wins. Valued Christian contacts, including at least one Different Drummer, have called it a book filled with aberrant views, perhaps heresy. It’s been called out as a book that no Christian should read.

The alleged problem: Bell denies there is such a thing as hell. He certainly challenged traditional mainstream Christian views on heaven and hell. Ironically, though, he does so Biblically.

The actual problem, I suspect: Bell shares the perspective of C.S. Lewis and others on the meaning of Jesus’ words in John 14:6. It’s an obvious conclusion. Most people in the religious right cherish this verse above all others, regardless what they say about John 3:16 or any other passage. In fact, they embrace the phrase “no one comes to the Father but through me” almost to the exclusion of “I am the way, the truth, the life” – meaning, their devotion is really to just the latter half of John 14:6.

Perhaps I’ll dive deeper into ideas I’ve discussed before related to that concept.
For now, though, I’d like to challenge some of the mistaken information I was given about Bell. Does the author have a problem understanding “hell” Biblically? Or have many of his critics missed the mark on reading comprehension?

Page number references will refer to the HarperOne 2011 hardback edition, and I’ll drop chapter titles as well.

Does Bell deny that there is such a thing as hell?
Yes, he denies the images in Dante’s Inferno. So does Jesus, or at least the Lord fails to validate them.
No, Bell does not say there is no such thing as hell, or we don’t need a term or a concept like that.

Chapter 3 (Hell), page 93:

To summarize, then, we need a loaded, volatile, adequately violent, dramatic, serious word to describe the very real consequences we experience when we reject the good and true and beautiful life that God has for us. … And for that, the word “hell” works quite well. Let’s keep it.

Chapter 4 (Does God Get What God Wants?), pages 116-7:

“Do we get what we want?” And the answer to that question is a resounding, affirming, sure, and positive yes. Yes, we get what we want. God is that loving. If we want isolation, despair, and the right to be our own god, God graciously grants us that option. … The more we want nothing to do with all God is, the more distance and space are created. If we want nothing to do with love, we are given a reality free from love.

Chapter 7 (The Good News Is Better Than That), page 182:

What is God like? Many have heard the gospel framed in terms of rescue. God has to punish sinners, because God is holy, but Jesus has paid the price for our sin, and so we can have eternal life. However true or untrue that is technically or theologically, what it can do is subtly teach people that Jesus rescues us from God. Let’s be very clear, then: we do not need to be rescued from God. God is the one who rescues us from death, sin, and destruction. God is the rescuer.

So, where has Bell “gone wrong” from the perspective of some Christians?

  • Has he taught that we don’t need to understand hell? Quite the opposite. He says there is one and describes it in some detail.
  • Has he taught that people won’t end up in hell? Quite the opposite. He just takes it out of a courtroom image and puts the burden of that choice on the person rather than the Lord.
  • Does he challenge the arguably polytheistic notion that Jesus is one god who saves us from the wrath of another god by sneaking past “the Father” by conspiring with the Holy Spirit (who, depending on your level of heresy, may be yet another god)? Yes! He absolutely challenges that heretical construct. Believing theistically that there is only one God forces us to think more deeply than the plot structure of a TV courtroom drama, taking the concept of Trinity more seriously at the same time.

I have no problem with that.
I do have a problem with Christians who refuse to think deeply about heaven, hell, and the fate of every person who ever lived – whether it challenges beliefs handed down from church fathers and Italian poets or not.

Inappropriate Conversations
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