Hi, I was wondering how Rob Bell’s view on hell - from what I’ve gathered is the view that ‘hell is on Earth’, and that the Bible doesn’t talk about hell. How does this compare to the orthodox Christian view. Would love some answers or resources. Thank you
@Oats To me, love and justice must go hand in hand - a loving God must also be a just God. There is no mercy without justice - if no punishment is deserved, mercy is a meaningless concept. And if there is no real justice, there is no real goodness. The cross is evidence both of God’s mercy and His justice.
However, I think God’s love and justice can be maintained within a few different views of how God will finally deal with the problem of injustice and sin. For example, once you dive into it you get into questions like: “What did the Church fathers really believe (there is a diversity of views)?”, “What do the words translated ‘hell’ in the Bible really mean (Gehenna, Sheol, Tartarus, Hades) in context?”, “What does ‘eternal punishment’ mean (in Jude 1:7, Sodom and Gomorrah were burned with ‘eternal fire’, but is it still burning today)?” I believe there is more than one valid answer to these questions, though all valid answers must recognize that God is both just and merciful - that sin is real and deserving of judgment and that love does not mean overlooking sin - the cross came at a cost.
The three views of how God handles sin ultimately are:
- Eternal torment - some form of eternal suffering or separation from God
- Conditionalism - those who reject God are judged and then cease to exist
- Universalism - sin is real, but all people will eventually be brought to repentance
Personally, I find Scripture to be very clear on one point - that our choices in this life matter in regard to our eternal state. I do not find strong evidence for universalism, but I believe that conditionalism is a strong possibility.
You may also find these threads helpful Christ grant you wisdom.
Book by Steve Gregg on 3 views of Hell:
This comment is a little long. But I bring up references from Rob Bell’s latest book to show that his opinions are not Christian.
I would not take Rob Bell’s opinions for historic, orthodox, Christian teaching. (I’m referring to his recent book, What is the Bible?, HarperOne, 2017).
Basically, Bell reduces the Scriptures to stories that need interpretation. And he asserts that there is no authoritative interpreter. So, there is no authoritative meaning in Scripture. This undercuts the orthodox teaching of the authority of Scripture. Bell holds to an evolutionary model of the meaning of Scripture.
Bell’s writing is sensational and humanistic, and it presents the Bible as written by real people, in real cultures, who choose to include some material and exclude other material (p. 22).
Bell presents that the stories in the Bible are “going somewhere.” The problem is that his idea of where they are going, is not a progressive revelation from God, but a changing and evolving revelation of individuals, of what they think God is and what God is doing. “When you read the Bible in its context, you learn that it’s a library of radically progressive books, calling humanity forward into a better future.” (p. 114)
Bell is right, that there is a lot of violence that presents in the Old testament. And he is right to emphasize that there are also themes of kindness and freedom and love, in the Old Testament (p. 123).
Bell likes to extract unique meanings out of the biblical text. While these meanings may be tricky and entertaining, they are not consistent with what the Bible says about itself, and they are not the meaning that Jesus presents in his teaching (for example), or the meaning that the Church has gotten from the Bible. An example would be the parable of the Good Samaritan (pp. 142-4). Bell is right (in contrast to most younger generation Christians today) that the “neighbor is not the guy beaten up by the side of the road. But Bell thinks that the point of the parable is that the lawyer can’t speak the word “Samaritan.” This is not Jesus’ point. Jesus is saying that the meaning of neighbor (from the OT) is someone who is living out the righteousness of God. And “love your neighbor” refers to loving all who are living out the righteousness of God (this is more a parable about who is in God’s people, than it is about charity). Bell misses the point.
Bell’s chapter on “So How Did Jesus Read the Bible?” rightly underlines that the Old Testament needs to be applied to daily life. But Bell glorifies our individual interpretation of the Scripture, to apply it to our current life. He is really not accepting Scripture to have a fixed body of meaning, that God inspired the writiers to write.
Bell misses the point of Paul, as he talks about the Jews, and their place in God’s people (p. 256). Bell holds to a universal salvation of the Jews, and misses the meaning that Paul uses in his language of “Israel” (dealing with the spiritual Israel, God’s people, as opposed to all the ethnic Jews). He holds to this universal salvation, ignoring Jesus’ clear teaching that “the many” will be condemned at the final judgment, because they found the broad path that leads to destruction. Bell is individually interpretting a single verse, apart from the rest of the Bible.
“In the Bible, we are not primarily identified as sinners, but as saints.” (p. 260)
This really misses Paul’s point, in Romans 1 about the fall of all mankind. Bell seems to think that all people are “in Christ” (p. 260).
“So the Bible is the word of God? Yes. Lots of things are.” (p. 266) But Bell believes that the Bible is the word of God because individuals have read it, and recognized truths in it. His emphasis is on the individual reading the Bible, giving the Bible authority. Rather than on the Bible being an authoritative revelation from God, regardless of what readers think of it.
Bell has no idea what “God-breathed” means in the Bible (pp. 283-87). “We’re all breathed into.” (p. 284) “If you’re alive, you’re breathing. You’ve also been breathed into by the divine.” (p. 285) Bell confuses our modern concept of “being inspired” with the biblical definition of divine revelation. And he places the individual as the authoritative interpreter of the Bible.
NIV 2 Peter 1:20 Above all, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet’s own interpretation of things. 21 For prophecy never had its origin in the human will, but prophets, though human, spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.
Bell redefines what the Bible describes as divine inspiration, into whatever the individual reader thinks that the text of the Bible means. Bell’s definition is completely contrary to the meaning of the text of the Bible. And Bell redefines the authority of the Bible, into whatever “authority” the individual reader grants to the text of the Bible.
The approach that Bell takes to the Bible, is not Jewish and is not Christian. His approach does not recognize the divine inspiration of the Bible, using the Bible’s definition of divine inspiration. Bell’s approach to the Bible is a good example of purely cultural religion, that is based on relative individual feelings and definitions. It is the type of cultural religion that most atheists could accept. And remain atheists. It does not respect what the original language of the Bible meant, when the writers wrote it. Bell’s approach falls into the category of Bultmann, who read the Bible as merely literature, and removed all references to the divine, making the Bible a nifty cultural piece of literature. Bell replaces the entire text of the Bible with nifty personal “inspired” interpretations of the text. For Bell, the meaning of the Bible is whatever you want it to mean.
This is not even remotely a Christian approach to the Bible.
Excellent responses, thank you for taking the time to respond.