Archives For Hell


How do you talk to someone about Christ?  That is a difficult question to answer because I guess it depends on the situation.  I wish it were easy for me to talk to people about Jesus.  Call it fear of rejection or whatever I get nervous when I talk about Jesus.  That doesn’t mean I don’t love Jesus any less than the next person.  I just get nervous.  Frankly I get nervous because of so many people who have conversations about Jesus in such a untactful way.  Paul told us that our speech should be “seasoned with salt” (Col. 4:6) but it is evident some people season their speech with vinegar or hydrochloric acid.  Let me share a conversation I heard this morning.

A gentleman was talking with a girl and she shared that she was Jewish.  The man responded by saying, “I can’t believe anyone could not believe in Jesus.”  That’s easy for him to say because he’s never believed otherwise.  Then he proceeded to tell her about the eternal damnation for people who do not believe in Jesus.  She responded, “I believe what my mother believes and if she goes to hell then I will to.”  He responded by saying that she is going to have to see Jesus on the judgment day and answer for the things in this life.  She said that she has a right to her belief and he responded, “Have you ever read the Bible?”  His tone was very sarcastic.  The conversation ended and I ached.

Moments before he stepped into the conversation I simply invited her to hear me speak this Sunday evening at our services.  She had shared her beliefs with me but I had not responded to them in negative light as I did not have a relationship with her yet.  No I spend the better part of the morning cleaning up after the mess this person left.  I agreed with some of the things he said it just sounded so harsh.  It sounded like a Jesus I did not believe in.

So how do you have conversations about Christianity in a way that is productive and fruitful instead of judgmental and negative?

Are we required to offer “the plan of salvation” the first time we meet folks?

What should we do?


I just finished Francis Chan’s latest book Erasing Hell and I have to tell you, I could not put it down.  From start to finish this book is one of his most accessible books for me to read and I could see his points connecting and it was a great book.  Chan seeks to discuss what Scripture says about eternity.  The title of the book comes from his inward desire to not want to talk about hell.  I must confess, I have avoided talking about hell in many circumstances because it is just uncomfortable for me.  The idea of people spending time in torment is not an easy subject to discuss.  So often we try to “erase hell” from our vocabulary, sermons, classes and conversations.  Chan seeks to give a thorough treatise of the subject and offer his critique of various opinions (Rob Bell’s Love Wins gets a hefty treatment in chapters 1-3).  His chapters are…

  1. Does everyone go to heaven?
  2. Has hell changed?  Or have we?
  3. What Jesus actually said about hell?
  4. What Jesus’ followers said about hell
  5. What does this have to do with me?
  6. What if God…?
  7. Don’t be overwhelmed
I enjoyed the book but I do not want to spoil it by telling you everything that is in it.  Below are some of my Pro’s and cons of the book.  I recommend this book to everyone.

PROS

  • Easy to read
  • Delves into the Greek substantially but on a simplified manner
  • Addresses most of the major issues
  • Has a high view of inspiration of the Scriptures
  • His sincerity, compassion and humility is obvious in his pleas to the readers.
  • Placed Jesus in his historical setting as a First Century Jew and that shaped Jesus’ view on hell.  Loved that!

CONS

  • Sometimes Chan is too simplistic in that he does not flesh out issues enough.
  • He really did not add much to the debate.  As much as I want to say he did he simply reiterated what many have at least discussed from the evangelical perspective.  He adds his eloquent touch and I agree with a lot of what he says but most of it is not new.  (maybe that is good?)
  • Chan’s view of “submission to God regardless of our questions” seems t0o dismissive to me.  I agree that at the end of the day “God’s ways are not our ways nor his thoughts our thoughts” but does that mean we accept that at face value and not question why things happen?  Chapter 6 basically is a sermon telling the readers that the clay cannot be the potter so we should simply (and fearfully) submit.  I struggled with this one.
Hope you enjoy the book.

***DISCLAIMER:  THIS POST WILL TAKE 15-20 MINUTES TO READ SO TAKE SOME TIME TO DO SO AND I APOLOGIZE FOR THIS IN ADVANCE***

Of all the chapters in Bell’s book the chapter I am discussing today is the most controversial and, from my perspective, Bell’s weakest theologically.  He begins with a story about someone in San Francisco who was standing on the sidewalks shouting, “turn or burn” (a theme he discussed in his nooma video Bullhorn) and he then moves to some difficult questions about the fate of mankind as it related to hell.  He posits the questions in a manner that surely God does not create people only to send them to hell.

“That’s how it is—because that’s what God is like, correct?  God is loving and kind and full of grace and mercy—unless there isn’t confession and repentance and salvation in this lifetime, at which point God punishes forever.  That’s the Christian story right?”[1]

Right away you get a sense of Bell’s methodology in asking the tough question but as my friend noted in a blog post, “the ideas and reasons that he [Rob Bell] expressed during the questions and answers over the book leave me shaking my head as to why he wrote what he did about the subject of hell.”[2]  More on that in bit.

Bell then shows every occurrence of the word “hell” in Scriptures starting with the Old Testament then moving towards the New.[3]  He talked about the Hebrew word sheol (she’ol) as “a dark mysterious, murky place people go when they die.”[4]  Bell gives seven instances where the word sheol is used and then (quickly) gives lessons on the word death and summarizes, “…simply put, the Hebrew commentary on what happens after a person dies isn’t very articulated or defined.  For whatever reasons, the precise details of who goes where, when, how, with what, and for how long simply aren’t things the Hebrew writers were terribly concerned with.”[5]

Bell then moves to the New Testament word for hell, Gehenna (γέεννα).  He gives the typical definition I have heard (and preached) as, “Gehenna, in Jesus’ day, was the city dump.”[6] He briefly discusses the usages of the word in the New Testament and says, “Gehenna, the town garbage pile.  And that’s it.”[7]  Finally, Bell discusses the Greek term Hades (ᾍδης) and essentially says that it is the New Testament form of sheol.

The rest of the chapter Bell does something very interesting in that he seeks to show that while most people think of hell in after-life terms he wants to show that people are living a “hell” right here on earth.  He then talks about the story of the Rich Man and Lazarus (Luke 16) as a story of rich and poor not about heaven and hell.  The rich man is in torment and wants Lazarus to give him water and this is a metaphor for the rich and the poor and the rich not understanding Jesus’ abolition of hierarchical systems. Bell then moves on to talk about the need to abolish peoples “individual hells, communal, society-wise hells” and his now-famous statement, “There is hell now, and there is hell later, and Jesus teaches us to take both seriously.”[8]

He also talks about the concept that there will not be punishment forever (second chance?) as he alludes to Matthew 10:15 and says that since Jesus said it will be more bearable for Sodom and Gomorrah than the religious people then there must still be hope for Sodom and Gomorrah and if there is hope for Sodom and Gomorrah then what does that say for other Sodoms and Gomorrahs?[9]  He closes by discussing the aion of kolazo which was, in Matthew 25, about the period of pruning for the goats but it does not mean, in Matthew 25, eternal punishment.

MY RESPONSE:

As I stated, this was the toughest chapter but my reasons are serious for disagreement on a number of different levels.

1.      First of all, it has been widely attested that there is much uncertainty that Gehenna was the town dump. 

G. R. Beasley-Murray (reknown scholar) in Jesus and the Kingdom of God, said this:Ge-Hinnom (Aramaic Ge-hinnam, hence the Greek Geenna), ‘The Valley of Hinnom,’ lay south of Jerusalem, immediately outside its walls. The notion, still referred to by some commentators, that the city’s rubbish was burned in this valley, has no further basis than a statement by the Jewish scholar Kimchi made about A.D. 1200; it is not attested in any ancient source.”[10]

Let’s say it was, for the sake of argument, the town rubbish, what was Jesus trying to say?  Wasn’t it a metaphor for something greater than the supposed town rubbish?  Furthermore, Bell ignores all the other passages in Scripture that discuss concepts like judgment (2 Cor. 5:10), not inheriting the kingdom (1 Cor. 6:9-10) and even of a conscious eternal fire pointed by John in Revelation 21:8.  Revelation 21:8 indicates an ongoing punishment (“burns” present passive participle….ongoing).  What about all of the verses in Scripture discussing God’s judgment for all wrong-doers?

2.      Bell does make a valid point in that people do suffer tremendously on earth.

This does not mean the church should remove our focus but we should be even more cognizant of righting wrongs and of evoking God’s justice.  That does not mean there is no hell afterwards and that there is no punishment for evildoers.

3.      His summary of sheol, hades, gehenna (tartarus?) all need polishing. 

If he is going to say, “that’s it” he better have some scholarly evidence to back it up other than his simple word.  I understand this makes it more accessible to a broad range of readership but this leaves people (who trust everything everyone says) at a loss for the biblical words.  At least footnote your research and discuss what people say about it.  For example, why is it that Sheol in the Old Testament is a place where both good men (Jacob, Gen. 37:35) and bad men (Korah, Num 16:30) end up?[11]  More needs to be discussed about this and even more about the terms for dead and death in the Old Testament and New Testament.

4.      Bell messes up in the Greek…again. 

He said that the goats, in Matthew 25:46, are sent to an aion of kolazo when the Greek actually says they went to an aiwnion (αἰώνιον) of kolasin (κόλασιν).  Kolasin is the noun form which actually occurs in the verse but kolazo is the verb form which does not occur.[12]  Bauer, Danker, Arndt and Gingrich define kolasis as, “the infliction of suffering or pain in chastisement or (as is the case in Matt. 25:46) transcendent retribution.”[13]  Furthermore, as noted in yesterday’s post, aion is a different word than aiwnion, so it actually does mean forever (unless the scholarship of Bauer, Danker, Arndt and Gingrich is erroneous.)

5.      Whatever you think about the chapter the questions Bell raises have to be answered. 

So who does get in?  If hell is a conscious, eternal suffering then who gets it?  Is it enough to say that all people get in through Jesus (soft universalism) or is there a specific way (i.e. pattern/formula/creed) where people get in to heaven and avoid hell.  All of these are valid questions and it seems we must come down hard on what we believe the Scriptures say about this.

This has been a brief summary of the chapter and probably his worst chapter as he makes broad sweeping assumptions.  He does ask some difficult questions but it still is not our job to speak for those whom God will judge.  Our task is to bring the kingdom of God across the world to right wrongs, disciple people and to pass on the legacy to our children’s children.  I do not want to say that the entire chapter was horrible as Bell does make some valid points about people suffering right here and right now while we sit in air-conditioned rooms, with our thousand dollar computers and a our cool looking shirt and tie.  That does step on some toes a little.  However, the chapter should be revised and polished.[14]


[1] Rob Bell, Love Wins, 64.

[2] Barry Throneberry, “Rob Bell–‘Why Is This Controversial?’–Part 2,” Theology with Throneberry, http://throneberry.wordpress.com/2011/04/27/rob-bell-why-is-this-controversial-part-2/ Accessed May 11, 2011.

[3] One thing that frustrates me about Bell’s writing is that he does not footnote much as to where he gets his material or even scholarly conclusions.  He often starts, “A Rabbi once said…” but does not tell which Rabbi or where he heard the story from.  Another thing that frustrates me is that when he gives a reference of Scripture he will only give the book and the chapter.  Quote the verse man!

[4] Bell, 65.

[5] Ibid., 67.

[6] Ibid., 68.

[7] Ibid., 69.

[8] Ibid., 79.

[9] Ibid., 85.

[10] G. R. Beasley-Murray, Jesus and the Kingdom of God (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1986): 376, note 92.  See http://bbhchurchconnection.wordpress.com/2011/04/06/was-gehenna-a-smoldering-garbage-dump/ for other examples of scholars who dismiss the town rubbish theory.

[11] See R. Laird Harris, “she’ol” in Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament, eds R. Laird Harris, Gleason L. Archer, Jr. and Bruce K. Waltke.  (Chicago: Moody Press, 1980): 2303-04.  The word she’ol actual comes from the root word shā’ah meaning to crash into ruins and to gaze (in the Hithpael).

[12] Kolazo does occur in 2 Peter 2:9 where it is said that the unrighteous will be kept under punishment (kolazo) until the day of judgment.  Interesting parallel.

[13] Walter, Bauer, F.W. Danker, William F. Arndt, and F. Wilbur Gingrich, A Greek- English Lexicon of the New Testament and other Early Christian Literature, 3rd ed, (Chicago: U of Chicago P, 2000): 555.  See 1 John 4:18 for another usaged of kolasis.

[14] For a better review see Scot McKnight’s “Exploring Love wins 5” on his Jesus Creed blog http://www.patheos.com/community/jesuscreed/2011/04/11/exploring-love-wins-5/.


This is a second post exploring chapter one of the book Love Wins by Rob Bell.  The chapter (“What about the flat tire?”) aims to set the tone for the rest of the book and Bell’s is dead-on.  In Bell-like fashion he introduces a series of probing questions asking his readership to think deeper about the issues at hand.  For example, on page 2, he says:

“Of all the billions of people who have ever lived, will only a select number ‘make it to a better place’ and every single other person suffer torment and punishment forever?  Is this acceptable to God?  Has God created millions of people over tens of thousands of years who are going to spend eternity in anguish?”[1]

The point of the rows of questions is to get you to think about the larger questions like: What is heaven?  What is hell?  Who goes to heaven?  Who goes to hell?  Who decides?  Those are the larger questions at hand.  Bell is concerned that some people equate certain rituals and rites as THE process for getting into this place called heaven.[2] So do you say a specific prayer to get there or do you get baptized or does someone get baptized for you when you die which brings another question of where do those people go when they die?  All of these questions Bell introduces yet, and a big yet at that, he offers (at this point) no real answers.  On pages 6-7 I think Bell is on to something when he says that the problem with people who want to be “somewhere else” (escapist view of heaven) when they die is that leaves less concern about what we are doing right here and right now.  For instance, those who believe in leaving the world and going to heaven could care less about creation-care (environmental concerns, reforestation, etc.) because at the end of the day (or time) God is going to destroy this world and take us all up “somewhere else.”

Let me pause here and say that I believe this is too broad of an assumption on Bell’s part because there are many people I know who believe in creation-care who also believe that God will destroy this earth and start with a new one.  An analogy may help: Why sweep the floor if it is going to get dirty again?  Well, because it makes things better and you treat the floor because it has been entrusted to you.  I believe Bell is making broad assumptions at this point however, he does point to a deep issue that I believe we need to be concerned about: If God will destroy this earth then why should we bother taking care of it?

Bell also introduces the McLaren-like idea that people have been purporting different types of Jesuses all of which must be rejected.[3] I agree with Bell if what he means is that the Jesus that needs to be followed is the Jesus that comes from Scripture which comes from careful exegesis.

In the end, chapter one I thought was helpful in asking questions that perhaps we have ignored or, worse yet, we have assumed we understood.  Bell is right in that our eschatology informs our ecclesiology, christology and our soteriology.

What did I just say?

Bell is right in that what we think about life after death effects how we are the church but also it affects how we believe we get in the church.  Tough chapter…but filled with a bunch of answer-less questions…but a good chapter.


[1] Rob Bell, Love Wins (New York: HaperOne, 2011): 2.

[2] Ibid., 5.

[3] Ibid., 7-9.  See Brian McLaren, Everything Must Change (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2007): 141-47.

 


Perhaps no book has created such a firestorm in evangelical Christianity than the book Love Wins by Rob Bell.  From unabashedly scathing reviews to uneducated praise this book has certainly received plenty of publicity (much to HarperOne’s approval).  I did a Google search with the query “Love Wins reviews” and 2.5 million results came up.  Granted, not every hit is a review of Rob Bell’s book but what that said to me is that the wide-spread attention this book has garnered means there is no need for “another review.”  Yet here I am offering my “two-cents” worth on the book perhaps even risking the same ridicule or uneducated praise that Bell has received.  That’s not the point.  I want to offer my perspective on this book for the readership who may not be privy to it otherwise.  My approach to this review is that I want to take each chapter and discuss it in 500-600 words or so offering my comment and, at times, critique.  I am trying to do this without reading what other people say about the book but instead wrestle with the book’s implications myself.  This will not be the opportunity for people to bash Bell nor mention names of others who have written reviews, conducted interviews or made comments.  My goal here is to, as Bell and every other author wishes, wrestle with the implications of the book with the voices of Scripture and Spirit acting as norm for the discussion.  If you want a more educated/scholarly treatise of the book please visit Scot McKnight’s blog Jesus Creed with his first post, “Exploring Love Wins 1.”

My request for you is that you comment freely but doing so with Scriptures like Colossians 4:6 and Ephesians 4:15 in the back, front and middle of your mind.  I have seen a lot of hateful banter that I am afraid has given Christianity a bad rapport with the unchurched community.  If we continue to bite each other like this what does that say to those on the outside looking in?

Much blood has been spilled in church splits, heresy trials, and raging debates over issues that are, in the end, not that essential.  (Rob Bell, Love Wins, x).


The plane was late leaving Las Vegas so people were overly-tired, easily-agitated but most-of-all ready to go home.  A little boy who was no more than 12-14 months old was playing peek-a-boo with me a couple of airport aisles in front of me.  After a while he was tired of playing and then shortly he started to scream as if all screams on earth suddenly fused into this little boy’s lungs.  It was loud.  I could feel the tension in the mother but mostly I could feel the tension around the room as people looked at this boy with eyes that said, “I hope he is not on our plane!”  Without missing a beat this girl that was beside us (and her family) proceeded to mouth what most everyone  was thinking: “I hope that boy is not on our plane!”  The boy kept screaming and the girl beside me said, “They need to give him some benadryl or something because I can’t handle that on this flight.”  Her brother who was sitting behind me said, “Give him a tranquilizer or something!”

They were serious…

I thought: “How selfish could these people be?  I guess they were perfect children growing up and never cried, complained or bothered anyone’s ‘peaceful’ flight.”  I got up and walked away because I was so agitated.  Reflecting upon this I thought how selfish we all are.  In our parenting we think we are the best parents in the world and nobody is better than us and when anyone offers us advice we dismiss it because..again…we know it all.  How selfish!  We help programs in church that only affect us and we do that because we see no redemptive value in helping someone if we are not getting anything out of it.  How selfish!  We like certain bible class teachers, certain preachers who make us feel good, we like certain songs, certain people who pray, certain Scriptures (conveniently avoiding certain ones as well) all because these things are about us.  How selfish!  We think as if God wrote Scripture to give us a self-help book to give us a verse-of-the-day to make us feel better about the day (you won’t see 2 Cor. 5:10 as a verse of the day) as if God wrote the Scriptures to make us feel better.  How selfish!  We don’t like certain ministers because they “clash” with our personalities and we start dissension behind his back so we can eventually find a minister that “fits our personality.”  How selfish!  We get upset when that “minister” says something about our personal spirituality that we disagree with and so we ignore him because, “He doesn’t know what he is talking about!”  How selfish!  We go on vacation after vacation complaining how the drive was so long, the food was ok, the room was less-than-par and the kids ruined our peaceful leisure not really cognizant of the fact that in many of the world’s countries people live on less than $2 a day (“But we give money to missions for people overseas so we are ok”).  How selfish!

Another selfish aspect of our lives is the sad reality that most of us walk our spiritual lives as if we are righteous because of us alone.  Listen to Moses when he encouraged the Israelites to remember everything they received had nothing to do with them.

“Take care lest you forget the LORD your God by not keeping his commandments and his rules and his statutes, which I command you today, lest, when you have eaten and are full and have built good houses and live in them, and when your herds and flocks multiply and your silver and gold is multiplied and all that you have is multiplied, then your heart be lifted up, and you forget the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery, who led you through the great and terrifying wilderness, with its fiery serpents and scorpions and thirsty ground where there was no water, who brought you water out of the flinty rock, who fed you in the wilderness with manna that your fathers did not know, that he might humble you and test you, to do you good in the end. Beware lest you say in your heart, ‘My power and the might of my hand have gotten me this wealth.’ You shall remember the LORD your God, for it is he who gives you power to get wealth, that he may confirm his covenant that he swore to your fathers, as it is this day. And if you forget the LORD your God and go after other gods and serve them and worship them, I solemnly warn you today that you shall surely perish. Like the nations that the LORD makes to perish before you, so shall you perish, because you would not obey the voice of the LORD your God” (Deut. 8:11-20).

And as if they did not get the picture Moses says in the next chapter…

“Do not say in your heart, after the LORD your God has thrust them out before you, ‘It is because of my righteousness that the LORD has brought me in to possess this land,’ whereas it is because of the wickedness of these nations that the LORD is driving them out before you. Not because of your righteousness or the uprightness of your heart are you going in to possess their land, but because of the wickedness of these nations the LORD your God is driving them out from before you, and that he may confirm the word that the LORD swore to your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob” (Deut. 9:4-5).

I have been thinking about this a lot lately and my heart has been heavy about this so I just want to say it:  The person that will send you to hell is YOU.  You read this right.  YOU!  I could have been nice and said that the person that will keep you from going to heaven is you but the reality is that the person who will send you to hell is you. That is not popular for me to say this and I realize that some of the things I mention are some of the things I have struggled with but I know that selfishness is the pre-flight manual for the trip to hell.  Don’t like what I am saying?  I don’t either but it’s the truth…no…it’s the GOSPEL!  If we are to imitate Christ (see 1 Cor. 11:1) then our act of obedience is to make the selfless act of following God and taking up our cross (a symbol of shame).  If God calls us to suffer…it is the gospel. If God calls us to a church with only 60 people…it is the gospel.  If God calls us to serve in a capacity we despise…it is the gospel.  I am tired of the church, its leaders (myself included) and its adherents opting for a more selfish gospel when the words of Christ and his followers were radical, selfless and life-changing principles with one goal in mind: “Thy kingdom come…thy will be done!”  IT’S NOT MY KINGDOM COME AND MY WILL BE DONE IT IS THY KINGDOM COME THY WILL BE DONE.  ALWAYS!!!

So…

Quit being selfish and think of other people (Phil. 2:1-4).  Be gracious to God for everything He has given you (Rom. 8:32).  Confess those things you need to confess (1 John 1:5-9).  Resist the urge to fight discipline (Heb. 12:7-11).  Realize that your, my and our entire existence is to praise God.