This Past Weekend I Preached About Hell
This past weekend at Basileia, I preached a sermon addressing the question, “How Could a Loving God Send People to Hell?” It was a challenging and sobering sermon, and I can honestly say that I’m glad I don’t have to address such emotional and sobering topics every week. You can listen here if you’re interested.
In preparing to address this topic, I thought it might be prudent to reacquaint myself with the controversy surrounding Rob Bell’s book Love Wins. When the book came out about two years ago, I knew I didn’t agree with Rob’s view, but frankly I just didn’t feel like getting overly involved in the controversy. As it was, a few off-handed comments I made on Facebook got me more involved than I meant to be. But I’ve waited to read the actual book until an opportune time presented itself.
So this past week, I quickly “audio-booked” a copy of Love Wins. I followed my reading with a few reviews on the book by people I trust, but then I decided to go ahead an “audio-book” a copy of Francis Chan’s book, Erasing Hell, which is sort of a rebuttal. To call Erasing Hell a rebuttal is a bit of stretch honestly, it does address Bell’s views, and it was written in response to Love Wins, but it basically just takes a fresh look at what the Bible says on the topic of heaven and hell.
I’m Not Sure There’s Much of a Point in Writing a Detailed Review
There’s really no reason for me to get into a detailed review of each book (because there’s a ton of reviews on the interwebs). However, I will say this: I think Rob Bell is a great writer and a compelling communicator, but I also think he’s misrepresenting the Bible on the issue of heaven and hell. Bell can claim that he is technically not a universalist because he still believes in the concept of heaven and hell, but readers should know that he completely redefines the definitions of both. Rob’s somewhat unique ideas have been alluded to in his other books and sermons for quite some time, but he really fleshes them out in Love Wins. Love Wins is an extremely convincing book until you begin to look closely, and then everything falls apart.
When I Was in Junior High, Starter Jackets Were All the Rage.
When I was in Junior High, Starter jackets were all the rage. To be cool, you had to have a Starter jacket. And I really wanted one, but I didn’t have a hundred dollars, and neither did my parents. But my best friend, Chris Medina, had a step dad who was overseas in the military, and he could get Starter jackets for thirty-five dollars. Finally I had my chance! I could afford thirty-five bucks! I chose a Washington Redskins jacket (I still have it to this day) and I couldn’t wait for Chris’ dad to ship it back from overseas. However, when the jacket finally arrived, things just weren’t quite right. It looked like a Starter jacket, and it felt like a Starter jacket, but I noticed the stitching was a little off. Starter’s normal high quality seemed a bit “jankey.” The Starter logo didn’t look right, and the tags on the inside of the coat didn’t seem authentic. I quickly realized that I had a fake. It was a pretty good looking fake, but it was fake. Everything seemed ok, until I looked closely. Rob Bell’s theology in Love Wins looks and sounds great . . . at first. But as you begin to examine it more closely, you begin to realize everything is a little off. The facts don’t add up. It begins to seem “jankey.” It looks good at first, but it’s a fake.
Like a 300 Pound Linebacker
The best way to examine this reality for yourself is to read Bell’s book and then read Chan’s book Erasing Hell back to back. I actually like Chan’s rebuttal of Love Wins more than anyone else’s. He’s extremely gracious and careful and thorough. And he writes in a somewhat similar fashion, for a similar audience, and with a similar sized book. To put it bluntly though, Erasing Hell annihilates the theology in Love Wins, but it does so in a really nice way. It’s like getting tackled by a 300 pound linebacker, and then having that linebacker help you back up off the ground. But honestly, it’s hard to even take Bell seriously after reading Chan. You just realize that Bell did really poor exegesis, really poor historical research, really poor word studies, and a really poor job of exploring the Bible’s overall scope on the topic of heaven and hell. I highly recommend Erasing Hell, and honestly I can’t say enough about how helpful a book it is on this entire topic. Thank you Francis Chan!
I know some of you who may read this blog post will disagree with much of what I’ve just said, and that’s fine. You’re entitled to your own opinion, and I’m entitled to mine. But, I would urge anyone who is wresting with the issue of heaven and hell, or who has read Rob Bell, and read about the controversy surrounding Love Wins, and wonders if Rob Bell is telling them the truth or lying, to please consider reading Erasing Hell. Just give it a shot. And then read the Bible passages that each book mentions for yourself. Read them in context, and ask yourself, “What is the Bible really saying?” And finally, ask God to reveal to you what He has really said on the topic of heaven and hell.
You May Not Like What You Find
If you examine closely and honestly, you may not like what you find. But God continually asks us to trust Him and embrace hard truths throughout the Bible. We have to do this with the topic of judgment and hell too. Honestly, we cannot afford to be wrong on this issue.