Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Spiritual Disintegration

I'm not sure if all 5 of you were aware of the controversy surrounding Rob Bell's soon-to-be released book, "Love Wins".

Bell sent out some sample chapters and an intro/video clip for influential folks to drum up interest in the book. Mission accomplished, Mr. Bell.

I've never seen the comment section on a blog pass the "999" mark. But, Justin Taylor's (oft-linked to on this blog) blog about the new book, as of last viewing, had 1,047 comments (the number didn't fit in the little graphic at the bottom of the post).

It seems Mr. Bell is going to take a few more steps away from orthodox Christianity with this one. He seems to be advocating a kind of soft universalism. . . where there is no hell or eternal judgment in the afterlife.

I'm not going to link to Taylor's post, because I don't want to bring anymore attention to a book that I think will be very harmful to many Christians, and non-Christians.

But, this brings up some thorny, tough issues for Christians to talk about. . .and one of the most helpful things I've ever read on hell is this one from Dr. Tim Keller. (sorry. . I know. . alot of Keller lately).

I (we) don't want to be seen as judgment-hounds who get excited about being right on the doctrine of hell. I certainly wish Mr. Bell and others of his ilk were right about this thing. But, I don't think you can get there from the Bible.

If you've struggled with the doctrine of hell, . . or even have struggled with how to put together what it would be like and how to describe it. . . read this piece. May truth come to bear on "Love Wins", and may few be deceived.


Jeff said...

I have been reading a lot on Bell's yet to be released book. It makes me a little sad :-( I've been a Rob Bell fan. I'm trying to withhold judgement until the book comes out. But the preliminary signs aren't encouraging.

BMer posted a good link:


I was surprised to see C.S. Lewis lumped into universalism.

aaron said...


yeah, at some point the endless questioning and "did the bible really say?" got a bit old for me with Rob Bell. He's a smart guy, but I don't like obfuscation and endless questioning.

I don't think CS Lewis is in the same league as Rob Bell. CS Lewis just strikes the note (a little too strongly) that people in Hell chose to be there and got what they wanted. Keller strikes a similar note in the piece I linked to, but puts it in proper balance with the truth of God's judgment.

Bell is talking about "all roads lead to God" essentially. That's a totally different ball game. Lewis might be taking the "teeth" out of Hell a bit by not being more balanced. . .Bell doesn't really have a place for eternal judgment at all, it seems.

BTW, this goes for Bmer's guy too. . . . It's not essential to be "witholding judgment" on Bell at this point. Parts of the book have been read and he put out that video himself. Even if the book is different, enough inflammatory things have been said.

So, it wouldn't help at all if Rob Bell came out in 3 weeks and said "hey guys. . .cool video huh, I was just asking some questions. I agree with the historic, Christian position on judgment". Then, in addition to other things, he would be a dishonest salesman, publicity-hound, etc. . . . How could he be trusted as a pastor if he did that?

We should pray for him and those who follow his writings closely.

Danny said...

I don't have a problem with Lewis' appraisal of hell because it deals more effectively with the modern mind than the "teeth" some might say he's removed. Pitchforks and lakes of fire wouldn't even begin to give most people these days any cause for concern. It's a fairy tale when you use those metaphors.

The Hell of our choosing, however, speaks directly to our culture's greatest idol – individualism.

You might say that one of Satan's great triumphs of modern history is the caricature of hell that has been painted in popular culture. If we try to explain hell with the fire metaphor, people only see a cartoon.

Keller's story about reading Lewis to the man who wasn't startled by the fire metaphor is telling.

aaron said...


Yes, I think Lewis' description of Hell is helpful, especially in an apologetic sense in helping it to be understood by the modern mind.

However, you can't just skip the part about people being sent to hell as well.

The activity of God is what is missed with Lewis. I agree that it's an effective explanatory tool, but, like in the rest of Keller's piece, you have to get to the fact that God is involved beyond "letting" someone go to hell.

The logical conclusion of that philosophy, in isolation, is that someone actually "wouldn't like" heaven, and it follows, would like to be apart of the Lord.

Now, at some level, that's true. But, even in the parable of the rich man and Abraham. . . there's no sense that the guy wanted to be where he was. To be sure, he wasn't delighting in the Lord, or Abraham's presence for that matter. But, it wasn't the kind of thing like "well, I made my choice. . let's have some toast and eggs".

I think Lewis' philosophy, in isolation, could lead some to that sort of philosophy without the ballast of God being the judge and being active.

btw, no one's talking about pitchforks and levels of inferno or anything. . . I agree that's not literal, nor helpful. Like Lewis said, though, the metaphors are less than the literal, . . . not more.

aaron said...

grammer check:

"wouldn't like heaven and would like to be apart FROM the Lord. "

aaron said...


no, I agree. I said in the last comment it's a useful apologetic tool. However when Lewis and/or Bell and/or whomever is writing a Christian book you have to give a more fully-orbed answer than that.

Dr. Keller, in conversation, is right and smart to start with a more understandable explanation. He also, in the rest of his piece, landed the plane a bit more on the complexity of the issue.

That's all I'm saying. I wouldn't want anyone to take Lewis' explanation of hell, in isolation, and stop reading/caring because they think they heard the final word. Lewis did not land the plane on a few other crucial theological issues as well, like justification for instance.

It's a great way to look at the issue of judgment, and probably the best way to speak with skeptics about it. I'm a huge Lewis fan, don't get me wrong. If someone asked me, I'd eventually point them to some other places as they understood more.

aaron said...

for some reason. . Danny's most recent comment isn't showing. . . If it takes much longer, I"ll just re-post it.

aaron said...

Danny's comment:

It seems to me that the "choosing hell" vs. "being sent there" binary represents two sides of the same coin.

Emphasizing election over choice gets into a nuanced theological discussion that I'm not sure is helpful to somebody standing on the precipice.

I agree that the practical conclusion of choosing to reject God's offer of grace is to be subject to the just execution of His wrath in the form of hell.

I agree that every believer needs to come to terms with this eventually.

I disagree that insisting on working out these specific doctrinal details will always be helpful when evangelizing the hardened secular humanist. Having worked with these folks for close to a decade now, I can tell you that it's a non-starter.

Consider this passage from the op-ed Ricky Gervais wrote for the Wall Street Journal a few months ago:

"'Do unto others…' is a good rule of thumb. I live by that. Forgiveness is probably the greatest virtue there is. But that’s exactly what it is - ‐ a virtue. Not just a Christian virtue. No one owns being good. I’m good. I just don’t believe I’ll be rewarded for it in heaven. My reward is here and now. It’s knowing that I try to do the right thing. That I lived a good life. And that’s where spirituality really lost its way. When it became a stick to beat people with. “Do this or you’ll burn in hell.”

You won’t burn in hell. But be nice anyway."

These people are particularly sensitive to invocations of the "stick."

How would you recommend evangelizing someone like Ricky who comes from this perspective?