All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well -Lady Julian of Norwich
So I have to confess, I am more than slightly glad that I didn’t jump on the Love Wins review bandwagon a few months ago. It seemed to be an unhappy trail; filled with vulturous remarks, people who hadn’t read the book, and people who didn’t have the slightest idea what they were talking about. Don’t get me wrong, Bell’s video (if you haven’t seen it, you can watch it here) was slightly provocative, to say the least. He seemed to question everything that Evangelical Christians have held dear about hell, and managed to do it with brilliant passive-agressivism. The neo-reformists ripped it apart, probably before they even got halfway through the video, simply because Bell is the darling of the emergent church movement. I have to say though, something in me was inspired by it. I remember watching the video at least a few times after hearing about it, and pre ordering the book on my kindle so that I could read it right away. I read it, liked it (for the most part), and then read it again. This isn’t a review, but I have to say… Bell uses some pretty bad exegesis in some sections of the book (if you are staying with the more traditional methods and understandings), but he also has some brilliant thoughts, metaphors, and an uncanny knack for trying to get at the heart of the Christian faith. Honestly, I was mostly reminded of C.S. Lewis’ The Great Divorce as I read… which is a book enjoyed by Christians from all walks of life.
Now I have some questions.
What does the reaction from the Evangelical community show the world about how we treat fellow brothers and sisters in Christ? That we hate heresy? That we have it all figured out? That we hate people who might hold to views we deem heretical because we have it all figured out? How do we respond when people point out that many of the reformers were deemed heretical at one point or another?
See, I’m sick of the heresy game. Try as we may, the bible isn’t black and white on as many things as we would like it to be. We proof text, counter proof text, and exhort others not to rely on man’s logic; all of these things are really just euphemisms for telling one another, “I’ve got the bible figured out, and you don’t.” There does seem to be a theme in the New Testament that supports a hell existing… but that hell can be populated very differently depending on what section of the bible you quote. If we hold that idea in mind and pair it with the idea that we worship a God who is committed to justice, love, and the restoration of all things, I think that we can at least come to the conclusion that nothing will be done that isn’t right and true. This doesn’t quite have the same solidity as just regulating swaths of people to eternal torment, though it does seem to be a bit more humble and acknowledging of the the mystery of God’s characteristics. Hell, at least in the sense that evangelicals advertise it, seems to create a bit of cognitive dissonance with the character of God…which makes me think that we need to be a bit more nuanced and careful when we speak about it.
One more question. Why hell? Other things that are considered by many to be biblical (Social justice for widows and orphans, Works as a requirement and sign for faith, Love for Neighbors, Peace with Neighbors) are routinely challenged in word and deed by evangelicals, yet I see no pushback against those ideas. It is funny to me that sacred cows that pertain to the future seem to take priority over the hurts and injustices of the here-and-now (This is a big topic that is covered in Bell’s book). Are we so sadistic and cruel that we actually want there to be a place where people are eternally tormented? Is that what we want to be known for as Christians? Are we so sadistic and cruel that we want there to be a place where people are eternally tormented and we will want such a thing while doing nothing about the hells that exist right now on earth?
I grew up for 18 years wanting such a place.
Knowing exactly who was going to that place.
Knowing that I certainly wasn’t going to that place.
Standing by, doing nothing about the hells that existed all around me.
My pride had built a hell and placed all those who weren’t like me in it.
I choose to nuance my views on hell as Jesus nuanced his.
I choose to be black and white on justice, as this is in the character of God.
I choose to believe that all shall be well, whatever that means; God will decide.
Grace and peace, friends.
(For more information on hell, you may want to read the bible. I’m also told that Francis Chan wrote a decent book on hell as well. You can find it here. Love wins is an excellent book, read it with an open heart and discerning mind. If you are interested in the idea of Universalism (the idea that everyone will be reconciled with God), I would check out MacDonald’s The Evangelical Universalist. If you would like information on Annihilationism (the idea that God will destroy and not torment those in hell), I hear that The Fire that Consumes makes some good arguments. N.T. Wright also writes a pretty good book about the last things to come in his book, Surprised By Hope. Of course, every Christian should read the beloved classics of Lewis, Mere Christianity and The Great Divorce. To those that think that I have gone off the deep end (aka became a universalist), I would say that I don’t put a label on my beliefs… I believe what Jesus taught, and that’s more complicated than it first looks. Love wins my friends… let us not forget that God is love.)