Even living in Burlington, VT, I cannot escape the great debate in the blogosphere concerning Rob Bell’s new book Love Wins. I’m doing my best to reserve any judgement on the book until I have opportunity to read it, but I have to admit that his promo video…
and his publisher’s synopsis…
Now, in Love Wins: Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived, Bell addresses one of the most controversial issues of faith—the afterlife—arguing that a loving God would never sentence human souls to eternal suffering.
do concern me a little. The big question I’ve been wrestling with since getting these brief previews of the book is why does it bother me so much? Realistically, he’s not addressing new questions that have not been debated in previous generations. He’s not asking questions that I have not struggled with in my own faith journey. I’m not worried about this book shaking the foundations of my faith. So again, why am I bothered?
My initial compulsion is to open fire on Rob Bell because I believe he tends to muddy the theological waters quite a bit rather than bring clarity to controversial issues. Realistically, though, he is answering the questions that both seekers and cynics are asking. I may in the end disagree with his conclusions regarding hell, eternal suffering, and the wrath of God. But the real reason I am bothered, though, is that the questions he’s asking and the conclusions he’s reaching bring to light that I have not addressed these topics sufficiently as either a Jesus-follower or pastor. I recently realized that during the six year period of planting a church and pastoring in NJ, I explicitly taught on these challenging topics in passing only a few times. If anything, in my desire to make the gospel more palatable, I’ve left some pretty big blanks for Rob to fill in. I’m bothered because I realize I’ve often left out a significant part of the beauty of the gospel.
As I’ve been reflecting and wrestling with this issue, I listend to past podcast (dated 1/28/10) from Tim Keller yesterday evening. He closes his sermon on Hell with this statement:
You do not know how much Jesus loves you unless you know how much he suffered. What did he suffer on the cross? I think of David Martyn Lloyd-Jones’ sermon illustration that has helped me for years. He said I should imagine that a friend comes to see me and says, “Hey, I was at your house the other day and a bill came due. You weren’t there, so I paid it.” How should I respond? The answer is I have no idea how to respond until I know how big the bill was. Was it just a postage charge? Twenty cents or so? If so, you would say, “Thank you.”But what if it was ten years of back taxes? What if it was an enormous debt? As Lloyd-Jones says, “Until I know how much he paid, I don’t know whether to shake his hand or fall down on the ground and kiss his feet.” This is why I believe that hell is crucial for knowing the love of God.
If you’d like to read more, Tim Keller has a few articles on hell which I’ve found insightful and challenging: