You have to hand it to Michigan Pastor Rob Bell. Not only did he put hell on map of the evangelical landscape and on the lips of almost every evangelical; he ultimately managed to get hell on the cover of Time magazine just in time for Easter. For Bell, what began as a creative art exhibit that encouraged artistic expressions of peace in a broken world has led to the supposed downfall of a bedrock belief of Christianity. You can almost feel the glee flowing through Jon Meacham’s keyboard as he writes:
“Bell’s book sheds light not only on enduring questions of theology and fate but also on a shift within American Christianity. More indie rock than Rock of Ages with its video and comfort with irony (Bell sometimes seems an odd combination of Billy Graham and Conan O’Brian), his style of doctrine and worship is clearly playing a larger role in religious life, and the ferocity of the reaction suggests that he is a force to be reckoned with.”
Meacham’s article chronicles Rob Bell’s attempt to put the doctrine of hell on trial in his book, Love Wins. The book flowed out of a comment left next to a quote from Mohandas Gandhi that was part of the afore mentioned art exhibit. The note said: “Reality check: He’s in hell.” The idea that Gandhi could be in hell sent Bell into a reflective, relativistic theological tailspin. He began asking questions like, “Somebody knows this without a doubt?”, and “Somebody decided to take on the responsibility of letting the rest of us know?” These questions didn’t lead to a concrete answer mind you for there is no such thing in the Emergent church world of Rob Bell. Evangelicals who have immersed themselves in the emergent world of post-postmodern theology long ago jettisoned biblical answers to tough questions in favor of an endless conversation. It’s kind of like driving down a road that has no destination or listening to a symphony of unresolved chords. Since there is no there at the end of post and post-postmodern theology the journey becomes the ultimate goal with reaching a destination considered to be the new heresy.
The plain truth of the matter is the Bible is God’s revelation so that we can know who God is (within the limits of our finite minds of course) and what He expects of us. When Luke wrote his magnificent two-volume work (Luke/Acts) for Theophilus he described his writing as “an orderly account, most excellent Theophilus, that you may know the certainty of those things in which you were instructed” (Luke 1:3-4, NKJV, emphasis mine). The Apostle John wrote, “I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life” (I John 5:13). And Jesus rebuking the Sadducees as they tried to trap Him said, “You are in error because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God” (Matthew 22:29). Clearly in just these few examples we should be able to see that there are many things Jesus said we could know for sure about God. One of those things is the surety of hell.
Consider just a few of the many passages where Jesus speaks of the surety of hell. At the end of the parable of the king who arranged a marriage for his son Jesus say, “Then the king said to his servants, ‘Bind him hand and foot , take him away, and cast him into out darkness; there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Matt. 22:13). Jesus was more direct when instructing His disciples in Matthew 10. In verse 28 Jesus told them, “And no not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. But rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.” In another passage from Matthew’s gospel Jesus, speaking of those who ultimately demonstrated their rejection of Him by their lack of compassion, said, “Depart from Me you cursed, into the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels…”(25:41).
But perhaps the most compelling passage on hell can be found in Luke’s Gospel in chapter 16. It is there Jesus tells the story of Lazarus and the rich man. The rich man mistreats Lazarus in life and in death the rich man is punished while Lazarus is comforted. Verse 23-24 speaks of the rich man, “And being in torments in Hades, he lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom. Then he cried and said, Father Abraham, have mercy on me and send Lazarus that he may dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue for I am tormented in this flame.” Call me a fundamentalist but that sounds like hell to me.
In the Time article, Rob Bell is quoted as saying, “I have long wondered if there is a massive shift coming in what it means to be a Christian. Something new is in the air.” I would say to Rob Bell that his questioning of sound Christian doctrine that is based on the veracity of God’s Word is not a new scent in the air but is rather the same stench of universalism and warmed over liberal theology that has assailed the nostrils of Christians since the beginning of the Church. It has taken many forms and operated under many names deceiving many. But the remedy in the 21st century is the same remedy Paul gave Timothy in the first century. “Evil men and impostors will grow worse and worse, deceiving and being deceived. But you must continue in the things which you have learned and been assured of knowing from whom you have learned them and that from childhood you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith which is in Jesus Christ” (2 Tim. 3:13-14).