Other people are afraid to admit they might have been wrong all along.
Sometimes I feel that way, too. Admitting you were wrong forces you to lay down your pride, which hurts. But the truth is, I know I don’t have everything figured out yet. There’s a chance (a good one) that there are things in Scripture I’ve misinterpreted or overlooked.
So I read. I read all kinds of things. Novels. Biographies. Non-fiction works by both people who are Christians and people who aren’t. Sometimes I read with an open mind. Sometimes, I read with reticence. Sometimes I read defensively. But I read, nonetheless.
The Bible says that “the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear” (2 Timothy 4:3). Some people in the Christian community are accusing Rob Bell, through his newest book, Love Wins, of being that kind of teacher. But if I refuse to read it because of what I think it says, am I not guilty of the same kind of single-mindedness?
I would much rather be like the people at the church in Berea, who were “of more noble character than the Thessalonians, for the received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true” (Acts 17:11, emphasis added).
Which brings me to the point of this post. Have you read Love Wins yet? When it was first released, I saw heated discussions all over the internet about heaven and hell, and whether or not Rob Bell was a false prophet. I was intrigued.
I’ve always seen heaven and hell kind of like this – my son, Caleb, is not allowed to be in our laundry room. He knows he is not allowed to be in the laundry room. But he goes into the laundry room almost every day. And every day, I tell him to come back. I get up from my seat, and go to the doorway of our laundry room and reach out my hand. I offer him a way out. Graciously. Without consequence.
Sometimes he takes my offered hand and walks back into the living room with me. Sometimes, he ignores me, so I have to go in after him and give him a spanking. I love it when he obeys. I hate it when he doesn’t. But as much as I hate it, I still have to dole out the consequences for his disobedience. And that’s kind of how I’ve always pictured God with respect to heaven and hell – as a loving and gracious father, steadfast in both his mercy and his righteousness.
But like I already said, I don’t want my preconceived notions about something to get in the way of my believing what is true. If there’s a chance I’ve been wrong about hell all along, I want to know. On the other hand, if what I already believe really is the Truth with a capital T, it can stand up under a little scrutiny.
So I read Rob Bell’s book. I finished it yesterday. His basic premise is that God loves people too much for anyone to end up spending eternity in hell. It isn’t a new argument. He just has a new way of presenting it. I’m anxious to read Francis Chan’s response, Erasing Hell, but before I do, I want to let Bell’s ideas roll around in my head for a few more days so I can think about them, and pray, and search the Scriptures, and form my own opinions.
For example, here’s one thing I’ve been thinking about: as evidence that people will have multiple chances to enter into paradise with God, Bell cites a verse in Revelation about the new Jerusalem (pp. 112-113). Revelation 21:25 says of the city, “on no day will its gates ever be shut….” Bell claims the open gates show that no one can permanently be shut out from God’s kingdom; once they’re ready to accept him, even after death, they can just walk right into heaven through the open gates.
I’ll admit, when I first read this, it made me pause just a little bit and wonder if maybe we are wrong about the whole hell thing. The argument used Scripture. It was compelling. Will people who died without Jesus get another chance?
So I opened up my Bible and looked at the passage. What caught my eye was the section just before John begins to talk about the New Jerusalem. In Revelation 20:15, John says, “If anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.” After that, God makes his dwelling among the people who remain, those whose names have been written in the book of life, and then the city gates are never shut.
So I’m not convinced people are coming and going in the New Jerusalem after all.
The thing that scares me the most about Bell’s ideas is that he’s clearly studied the Bible on a deeper level than I have. When I read the word “hell” in my English Bible, I have no idea what Greek or Hebrew word was translated that way from the original manuscripts. Now I don’t assume that just because Bell is more learned than I am that it means everything he says is right. But some people might assume that, and the way Bell uses Scripture creates a smokescreen of credibility for his opinions, which I’m very concerned will lead many people astray if he’s wrong.
And as I read and study scripture for myslef, I can’t escape the sense that Rob Bell, is in fact, wrong about heaven and hell. But I don’t want you to take my word for it. Let the Bible be your guide. And as for Love Wins, well, you’ll have to read it for yourself.