Hell. It’s one of the most controversial doctrines in all of Christianity right now. Personally, I think it’s great to get these conversations out there. One of the biggest problems in the church today is Biblical illiteracy, and it’s these conversations that often drive people back to the Bible to search for what it actually says on the subject. There are two popular authors at the center of this conversation right now, Rob Bell and Francis Chan. And the cover story of the latest issue of Neue Magazine is an article called Repainting Hell which features a sidebar Q&A from these two men. The full article is definitely worth a read, but I wanted to highlight a few key quotes from both Bell and Chan from that Q&A with each of them.
Rob Bell and Love Wins
It was Bell’s book Love Wins: A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived that really kicked off the conversation. He was blamed for being a Universalist (everyone goes to Heaven) because he asked questions about what we know for certain. Here’s the video trailer for the book that stirred the pot, followed by a handful of quotes that I’ve pulled from the Neue Magazine Q&A with Bell.
- “This book comes out of [my belief] that Jesus came to show us, teach us and invite us into a relationship with a God who is good, and a God who is love.”
- “One of the things I traced is that heaven and hell in the Bible are present realities, they are dimensions of existence, they are choices we can make every day.”
- “The dominant story of the Bible is a God who wants to restore and renew and reconcile and redeem this world, which is our home.”
- “I try to help people [see]: ‘This is what the Bible actually says. Now, you’re free to believe whatever you want, but don’t make the Bible say things it doesn’t say.'”
- “Central to Jesus’ call was confession and repentance and owning up to the ways our hands are not clean in this.”
- “People choose hell now, I assume people, when you die, you can choose hell. So there’s no denial of hell here. There is a very real awareness that this is a clear and present reality that extends into the future.”
Francis Chan and Erasing Hell
Chan has since followed with a book called Erasing Hell: What God said about eternity, and the things we made up. The book is his response to the questions that Bell raised in his mind, and the result of some deep study on what he believes the Bible says about hell. Here’s a video from Chan about the book, and the key quotes that I pulled from his Q&A in Neue Magazine.
- “If [Jesus] was trying to not have us feel any fear, I feel like He didn’t do a very good job at that.”
- “[Hell is] very real. It is a place we need to avoid at all costs.”
- “I was also surprised these passages are written to people who call themselves ‘believers’… It’s a very sobering thought and a very interesting warning.”
- “I’m most concerned about the people who don’t believe, and that they may have more of passive attitude toward it.”
- “If I tell someone there’s a hell and there really isn’t, I’ve ruined their lives. They carry this unnecessary burden for the whole time they’re on Earth.”
- “If I say there is no hell, and there is, then by the time people figure it out, the one’s I’ve convinced… I don’t even want to think of the consequences.”
Study it for yourself. One thing that I take from both of these men is that it’s important to study the Word for ourselves. We should never rely on what one person or popular culture says on the subject. We should only rely on the actual Word of God for answers like this. Where it get’s tricky is that there’s this overwhelming message of Love, but at the same time a realization that some will be punished. We have a difficult time reconciling those ideas, but the Bible does teach both. As far as I’m concerned, like Chan says, I don’t want to pretend that I know more than God… the same one that created me and the whole Universe. I struggle sometimes figuring out how to balance my checkbook. It would be unrealistic for me to think that God should do things according to my limited thinking. What do you believe about hell? And why?
Imo most of the worlds idea of the Christian hell comes more
from medieval poetry than Scripture, which is surprisingly silent on the
details of the destination of those who reject Christ. A few views that I find
to be the most Biblical follow:
“Christ is the judge; and yet, from another point of view,
it is we who pronounce judgment upon ourselves. If anyone is in hell, it is not
because God has imprisoned him there, but because that is where he himself has
chosen to be. The lost in hell are self-condemned, self-enslaved; it has
rightly been said that the doors of hell are locked from the inside. How can a
God of love accept that even a single one of the creatures whom he has made
should remain for ever in hell? There is a mystery here which, from our
standpoint in this present life, we cannot hope to fathom. The best we can do
is to hold in balance two truths, contrasting but not contradictory. First, God
has given free will to man, and so to all eternity it lies in man’s power to
reject God. Secondly, love signifies compassion, involvement, and so, if there
are any who remain eternally in hell, in some sense God is also there with
them. It is written in the Psalms, ‘If I go down to hell, thou art there also’
(139:7); and St. Isaac the Syrian says, ‘It is wrong to imagine that sinners in
hell are cut off from the love of God.’ Divine love is everywhere, and rejects
no one. But we on our side are free to reject divine love; we cannot however,
do so without inflicting pain on ourselves, and the more final our rejection
the more final our suffering” (Kallistos Ware, The Orthodox Way,pp.
“Hell will not be seen as an evil, but as the place where
those who reject Christ are still cared for by Christ –and not simply as Lord
and Judge but as Savior and Healer… we should not forget that God placed upon
Cain a sign for his protection, even though he was condemned to wander in a far
country… God will punish our transgressions, but he will not remove from us his
steadfast love or be false to his faithfulness (Ps 89:31-34)” (“Heaven and Hell”
in Bloesch, Donald, Essentials of Evangelical Theology, Vol. 2, pp.
“All of our sins send us to hell, but only rejection of the
grace of God keeps us in hell… The only sin that is unforgivable is the sin
against the Holy Spirit, rejecting and refusing the offer of divine grace…”
“There are two
kinds of people: those who say to God, “Thy will be done,” and those
to whom God says, “All right, then, have it your way”
“The metaphor that most nearly describes hell is not a
concentration camp presided over by the devil, but a sanitorium for sick souls
who are ministered to by Jesus Christ… His light still shines even in the
darkness of man’s hell… We can rest assured that those in hell are in the hands
of a God who is both righteous and merciful, and we can trust that his mercy as
well as his justice will be manifest among them, though this does not mean
final universal salvation.”
i totally agree that much of our modern understanding hell is a cultural perspective, not a biblical one. in addition to the medieval poetry, we also have an influence in hollywood today that continues to enhance and dramatize those perspectives. this is a nice list of quotes and references regarding the ‘real’ hell.
I believe it’s as real as heaven and I believe I don’t want to be there.
And when I reflect on those two beliefs, I’m overwhelmed with gratitude for Christ’s sacrifice and God’s grace.
yeah… i believe that hell is real too… and don’t want to be there either! and whether it’s real or not, i also find that the idea of it gives me the same feeling of gratitude towards Christ.
thanks for everything sheila!
Thank you for everything, Dan….#fistbump!
To say Hell is not real or doesn’t physically exist is making our horrible sins against a perfect, eternal God nothing. God is love, but that’s only a part of him. He is also holy and just. He must punish the unrighteous or He wouldn’t be a good judge. He would be a corrupt judge if He didn’t eternally punish those who sinned against an eternal God. Try asking a judge in court to let you go if you killed someone. That won’t work. Well, the “little sins” over dozens of years are like killing someone in the eyes of a perfect God. People love to twist Scripture into saying something other than what it says. Jesus is so clear when He describes Hell. He even talks about it being in the center of the earth. That’s not mythology, that comes from Jesus Himself. And last time I checked, volcanoes come from inside the earth and are very much like a lake of fire. I certainly don’t have all the answers, but believe our Lord when He describes Hell as a real place. Don’t be fooled. What “wrath to come” was John the Baptist talking about in the scripture? A little slap on the wrists, NO! Also, there are many people who have died briefly and have come back from the dead. Not imaging what they saw like a dream, but truly living the Hell experience for a brief time. There are doctors and nurses who see people screaming as they take their last breaths. Charles Barkley’s brother died and got the Hell experience, saying it was more real than here on earth. You can read about quite of few encounters with Hell from this book: http://tinyurl.com/44ulhrm
i totally appreciate the passion here about hell being real! and thanks for the book reference… i’m familiar with the book, and am thinking that i should post a review on it here at bibledude.net.
your comments on judgement for our sin makes me think… what do you believe about Christians being judged? this might be a whole separate conversation best suited for another post, but i’m wondering if you have thoughts on that too…
How predictable. God is love, BUT!!! God’s justice was meted out upon Jesus the Messiah. Not just a slap on the wrosts, but evidently some just don’t know how to be grateful and say, “No thanks, I’ll earn it myself.” Love the quotes from Bloesch, an acquaintance from Seminary days and CS Lewis “There are two kinds of people: those who say to God, “Thy will be done,” and those to whom God says, “All right, then, have it your way”
My views on hell have recently changed, or should I say still evolving. I still haven’t come upon a final answer that I’m content with. For nearly 20 years I believed in a literal, burning, eternal torment of hell. A place where all people will go who reject Christ. Now, I’ve moved more towards having no definitive nature of hell. All the Scripture that references the English word we have for hell in the New Testament has nothing to do with the original Greek words: Gehenna or Hades. Instead, these are literal places that make no allusion to an eternal lake of fire and torment in the afterlife. The concept of hell was foreign to 1st century Jews so they had no idea what Jesus was talking about if He was in fact referring to eternal damnation. Arguably, Gehenna was a literal place (Valley of Hinnom) that existed outside of Jerusalem at the time of Jesus. And, Hades is arguably the Greek variation for Sheol which was more or less a holding place for those who die prior to Judgment. On top of this theology, the more I get to know God the more I am compelled to believe that the concept of hell and condemning people to it is contrary to the character and nature of God. This is the same God who loves us so much that He sacrificed His own Son on a cross… just for us.
these are some great questions about the existence of hell… i know that the more i study it to, the more i realize that i’m not sure i’m capable of fully understanding it all. i definitely think that people can reject God, but agree that His nature desires for none to perish… but i don’t think that means that everyone will be saved, because many just aren’t willing to accept it. this even gets further into what i understand ‘blasphemy of the Holy Spirit’ to be all about, but that’s a subject for another post…
thanks greg! i appreciate the perspective and thoughtful questions! this is definitely an interesting discussion, and it looks like you’ve given this some serious thought!
Wow, my comment formatted horribly. Sorry.
I should say that my overall personal view is pretty much in line with the Eastern Orthodox view, with a few qualifications. There is simply too much imagery of seperation, rejection, etc used by Christ for me to fully accept that everyone will be with God, and how you perceive that will be heaven or hell. No doubt there is some truth to that, since the Orthodox have held to that view for 2000 years…but IMO Jesus is a little more black and white than that.
With regard to the idea that Hell was a foreign concept to the 1st century Jews, that is simply not true. While Judaism never really developed a full-blown doctrine of the afterlife, the concepts of separate places for the righteous and the wicked are definitely 100% there.
For a little more food for thought : http://www.time.com/time/world/article/0,8599,1710844,00.html
My view of heaven/Christian afterlife is essentially that expounded on by N.T. Wright in that interview.
LOL… thanks dude! I’ll ‘moderate’ your previous comment, only to take care of the formatting with extra spaces.
thanks for the link to the N.T. Wright interview! i’ll have to check that out!
If I adore You out of fear of Hell, burn me in Hell!
If I adore you out of desire for Paradise,
Lock me out of Paradise.
But if I adore you for Yourself alone,
Do not deny to me Your eternal beauty.
Rabia, Sufi mystic of the 8th century.
So, what has that to do with what the Bible says about hell?
yeah… this one lost me regarding Biblical existence of hell too… it’s an interesting idea about our hearts though…
I carry a torch in one hand
And a bucket of water in the other:
With these things I am going to set fire to Heaven
And put out the flames of Hell
So that voyagers to God can rip the veils
And see the real goal.
Also from Rabia.
From Julian of Norwich:
In God there may be no wrath, as to my sight: for our
good Lord endlessly hath regard to His own worship and to the profit of
all that shall be saved. With might and right He withstandeth the
Reproved, the which of malice and wickedness busy them to contrive and
to do against God’s will. Also I saw our Lord scorn his malice and set
at nought his unmight; and He willeth that we do so. For this sight I
laughed mightily, and that made them to laugh that were about me, and
their laughing was a pleasure to me.
Those interested in the question might also dig a new book released June 1st by Rodopi Press as a response to Bell’s Love Wins. Its by Dr. Thaddeus Williams entitled, Love, Freedom, and Evil: Does Authentic Love Require Free Will? and you can watch the promo video and read endorsements at http://www.lovefreedomandevil.com
I really don’t hear the preaching about hell in churches these
days. I guess it might scare too many people away. Many are led to believe that
since God is love, there must be heaven and hell must be somehow interpreted
Well, I didn’t learn about hell from churches or from
pastors. I was an atheist. Hell actually came to me one night. I wasn’t on
drugs or alcohol. I was a logical person. I believed in science. I learn about
hell existence from the paranormal activities that appeared in my life. I know
that God loves me enough to reveal to me some things most people don’t come to
realize or want to talk about. Demons are real and so I must conclude that hell
must be real according to the Bible. It
is a place called the Outer Darkness, a place separated from God for all
eternity. I have been visited by demons and have been possessed by spirits
twice. My wife who was next to me, felt its presence. She just happened to be
with me at the wrong place and at the wrong time. I invite you to read my blog
Those that do not believe in hell might as well ditch the Bible.
agreed. it seems pretty clear to me that there’s a place of great pain and suffering for those who chose to walk away from God’s Love.