The Rob Bell controversy and search for alternatives to Hell
In his new book, Bell is challenging the traditional Christian belief of hell. Does it really exist? And if so, is it eternal or just a temporary place of “cleansing”? I do not think it is possible to overestimate the ramifications of the debate that will follow.
Bell is advancing a new belief, that suggests somehow the judgment mentioned in scripture is not really eternal, and thus all souls will eventually be in Heaven.
I wonder if it may tie in with what’s called “Millennial exclusion”, which I first encountered on a fairly conservative Christian debate forum (which quickly clamped down on it, while more legalistic belief systems that nevertheless maintained some form of eternal judgment, such as Catholicism, Campbellism and sabbatarianism, were allowed to peddle their doctrines longer).
It splits judgment up, basically. The standard view holds that all who are saved participate in the first resurrection and thus enter the Millennium (1000 years), which is a fixed up earth visibly ruled by Christ. All of those left out of this are then resurrected at the end of that period, and then sentenced to the lake of fire (eternal Hell). Millennial Exclusion says that many who miss the first resurrection and Millenium will suffer a kind of Hell during that period, but then still be saved in the second resurrection.
I quickly noted, it was basically a rehash of purgatory.
They did have some impressive scriptural or at least logical evidence (which I’ve forgotten by now), and the idea could easily explain many scriptures we were debating over, which seemed to effectively revoke salvation based on one’s works (which were the main argument of those three legalist groups I mentioned). They’ll simply miss the Millennium because of their works, yet still be saved by grace, in the end. But it still didn’t seem to deal with all of the relevant passages.
All of this was before Bell came up, so I’m not sure whether it’s the same teaching, and have not really read up on Bell much. From what I gather, Bell’s teaching is that some of the punishment passages normally interpreted as Hell were really just the “end-of-age” cleansing, and the souls experiencing that would eventually be freed, to enter life. Not sure whether this is affixed to the two resurrections and the Millennium, or not. Not sure whether annihilation of other souls (not redeemed) was involved too.
Now, here’s the major concern:
If Christians begin to believe that hell is a fictional place, it will lead to a major shift in the interpretation of the gospel. Emergers will intensify their arguments that God is all about love and no judgment. That Jesus came to earth as a good teacher—not a living sacrifice for our sins. That all we have to do is love one another and usher in a world of peace—that once we accomplish that, Jesus returns to rule in a world that we as humans have perfected.
Yes, Jesus really did teach that hell exists. He also clearly stated that no one comes to the father except through HIM. He is the Son of God who paid the price for sins of all of those who believe upon Him. He freed us from the bondage of sin. If people start to believe that hell is a fictitious place, imagine the consequences.
Many will be swayed into rejecting the existence of hell, believing that a loving God could never condemn anyone to eternal damnation.
We must be anchored in God’s truth and be able to refute Bell’s teachings with the Word of God. Imagine the slippery slope that appears when our youth and even youth pastors begin to reject the fact that God is a god who not only loves—but also judges. Doctrine and beliefs become unimportant. We do what we want when we want, because God would never hold us accountable for our actions.
Make no mistake, many will believe what Bell is teaching—and the consequences for the church will be very serious.
Of course, in any case, any threat to the doctrine of eternal unescapable Hell is of course going to be met with the charge that they’re trying to make God/Jesus “all love”, and eliminate His “judgment”, “holiness”, and of course, the motivation for men to repent and be holy, and lead to some “one world religion” (which they believe will then become the very “end-times deception” they are awaiting. It of course, threatens the fear-based power of the institution of the organized Church, whether the large ones, or the small, independent ones).
None of them sees this as compromising “by grace are you saved…not of works” and “true love casts out fear” (which is what this implies keeps people in the right doctrine and morality).
Also, as many of these critics complain, Jesus has already become “a good teacher, not a living sacrifice for sins” in the contemporary Church, even with the doctrine of Hell still officially on the books. And even that doctrine is already slipping, as some (including even leading figures such as Billy Graham) are allowing for those who have never heard to possibly be saved by “grace”. (I guess they’ll say both doctrinal shifts are apart of the same trend).
And many conservatives have just as much aimed through their doctrines and control, to usher in some age of perfection. Many have spoken as if there once was some golden age of righteousness, which the “forces of godlessness” (basically, any other political system or ideology) has ruined. (Even those who still believe things will get worse anyway, and then God will take them out of the worst part, destroy the present kingdoms, and establish His Kingdom Himself).
The route I had since gone was the Fulfilled View, where the condemnation warned about was for the end of the Old Covenant system.
Bell’s position and Millennial Exclusion I see as being like traditional universalism, in, as Fulfilled View writer Tim King put it, that it “extends salvation to all apart from the covenantal framework of biblical eschatology” and thus “the concept of salvation is severed from its Hebraic roots, the victory of God is reinterpreted through the lens of human worth and Christ is removed as the central figure in the victory of God”, and thus “the true story of hope gives way to any number of stories and the foundation for the continued development of human society is compromised”. (“Comprehensive Grace”, Jul 30, 2002).
This is pretty much the same thing the traditional Hell advocates are saying. So we would have to agree on this point.
The traditionalists will still see our view as “all love, no judgment”, and then by extension, “Jesus is just a good teacher and not a living sacrifice”. It appears Jesus’ position as sacrifice seems to depend on most people ending up in Hell, and only the few having that sacrifice efficacious for them, which is what in practice is happening, in their view.
(In the end, it’s like God is most glorified by damning, and then forcing the damned in the fires of Hell to finally bend the knee and profess Him as Lord, rather than saving all by grace, who would in that situation naturally glorify Him).
Of course, this is from the need to have that covering manually applied (whether by free will, or unconditional regeneration leading to repentance), usually assumed to lead to one’s life being cleaned up, and most just aren’t applying it (even though hypothetically, all could).
I could say “if you want judgment so much, then let’s see how you would stand”, but since these people believe “salvation by grace” applies to themselves, it becomes a matter of them figuring all this necessary “judgment” is now for everyone else, as they have already met the “requirements”. (Here’s an article that touches upon this: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/formerlyfundie/michele-bachmann-proof-that-end-times-theology-will-poison-your-worldview
Most Fulfilled View advocates do teach something similar to Bell, but place it in that past judgment (AD70), saying that the people who “perished” suffered for awhile, and then still ended up in Heaven. Or they say the fiery destruction of Jerusalem and end of the “covenant” was the ONLY “[eternal] death”. I’ve never been able to bring myself to take it that far.
But at least, the AD70 view is based on the notion of an OVERLAP of covenants, where an “earnest” of Grace is given, but you still have to apply it by faith and “run the race” by works. This is what’s basically been extended, indefinitely, to the present and beyond by the common view. And it’s the main cause of a lot of this doctrinal deviation and confusion.
But for either Bell, Millennial Exclusionists, Fulfilled view advocates or others to simply reduce eternal punishment to temporal punishment, but still based on works (or lack thereof), still compromises “grace alone”.
Even if the “salvation” promised is from temporal judgment; if it’s “by grace”, then it is no longer by “works”, else, it is “no more grace” (Rom.11:6, 4:4).
Again, the AD70 view, with an “overlap” of covenants for the previous 40 years (the antetypical “Israel in the wilderness” for the Church) is what would explain the confict of grace vs works, and within a covenantal (Biblical) framework, that could better stand the scrutiny of the traditionalists.
[Continued with another quote, in the following article, on “presuppositionalism”.]