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Tuesday, 26 June 2012

Love Loses - Bell's Hell

God's Love includes Justice
In our attempts to express the outstanding love of Jesus for a lost world, we have no liberty to define divine love. We must at all times line up our definition with Scripture.

In recent years people like Rob Bell, in what is doubtless a genuine attempt to express the love of God, have erased hell. This of course on the surface looks like a loving thing to do. After all hell is the most frightening doctrine of Scripture. And eternal judgement upon unrepentant sinners is what the theologians have called God's "Strange Work", for God, we read, is not only loving, he is love. Deep in the seat of His Divine Being, God is love. Hell seems on the surface, in strange contradiction to his love..... 

...but God, according to the Scriptures is also holy and just. Indeed, he is of purer eyes even to behold iniquity. These characteristics of God influence his love.

The classical way of understanding these twin characteristics of God is to see in the atonement God's wonderful way of satisfying both his love and his justice: God in his amazing love, sent His Son to bear the punishment (demanded by the holy justice of God) which should come to us. The Father freely gave us his Son and His Son suffered at the cross, out of love for us.

If we trust in Christ, then there is no condemnation for us, no hell, no eternal damnation. But if do not believe in Christ we stand condemned already and if we face God on the last day without Christ, then we will have to bear the absolutely-fair punishment for our wrongdoing ourselves in hell.

All this is classical orthodox Christianity.

Soft-age "Love"
But now in a soft age that finds the cross offensive, let alone hell (indeed it finds any difficult doctrine unpalatable), preachers are arising to tickle the ears of weak-livered westerners. Let's erase hell and have a God who is all love and no justice. Rob Bell is leading the charge on this one. All Jesus' talk about hell-fire is metaphorical, he argues. Jesus is not talking about a hell-after-we-die, he is talking about a hell-before-we-die. (This by the way is the natural outcome of liberal theology's other U-turn: any talk of heaven is not heaven-after-we-die, but heaven-before-we-die).

Here is Bell:

“Some agony needs agonising language
Some destruction does make you think of fire
Some betrayal actually feels like you’ve been burned
Some injustices do cause things to heat up” (page 74)

The Most Unloving thing we can do with Hell
If Bell had read the words of Jesus carefully he would see, that though we do make a mess of life without God and can end up in a "living hell" Jesus isn't talking about hell in this world. For example, in the Parable of the Net (Matthew 13), Jesus specifically says:

        “This is how it will be at the end of the age. 
          The angels will come and separate the wicked from the righteous 
          and throw them into the fiery furnace, 
          where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”

Jesus goes out of his way to say that the hell he is talking about is at the end of the age, not in this age. His teaching stands, and so does the orthodox understanding of it.

It turns out that Bell's Hell, rather than being loving is the Most Unloving Thing You Can Teach. Suppose a blind man is aimlessly and unwittingly walking to the edge of a 1km cliff, the most loving thing you can do is to warn him. The most unloving thing is to say nothing and let him fall to his destruction.

Jesus' teaching on hell is his loving warning to a world heading for eternal damnation without him. 

And so it turns out that a human-wisdom attempt to be loving, turns out to be the cruelest act imaginable. 

Where does Bell get his hell from?
Long story - find it on another of my blogs, below. It is yet another example of the ways Scripture is distorted when we come to it shaped by our present comfortable standpoint, our secular culture and a wrong use of reason, rather than humbly accepting the words of Jesus, even if they are unpopular to the modern ear. Of course it is not only Jesus who talks about hell, so does his apostle Paul, who writes about those who walk out on God like this:

        "They will be punished with everlasting destruction 
          and shut out from the presence of the Lord....” (2 Thessalonians 1:9)

If we follow Bell, Love does not win, Love loses, because without a warning about hell, millions tragically may wander unwarned into the lake of fire.
A review of Bell's Book: Love Wins - a Review of Bell's Book

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