I respect and like Rob Bell, and believe he has a good ministry to many. I frankly have not kept up on reading him, nor do I always necessarily track with him. He is a Christian leader who is in what many would still term the “emergent” category who seems willing to ask questions within a commitment to the orthodox Christian faith. So we have him doing that. And then we have the folks along side John Piper who dislike some of what he has said to the point of either dismissing him as a heretic, or on the verge of heresy.
Rob’s upcoming book, Love Wins: A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived is about salvation in terms of who is saved in the end. Rob seems to want to suggest that love wins to the point of seeing many more people saved than what most of us have imagined, maybe even stirring the waters a bit toward the hope that all might be saved in the end. And yet from what can be told from all we know at this point, it looks like Rob is coming down with a view something like the hell people choose God will let them have.
I have to admit I’m tired of what I gather to be a lack of historical perspective which I pick up among Bell’s opponents. And I’m not sure what to make of it. Are they so steeped in their Reformation thinking that they can’t get perspective from anything broader than that? I am thankful to be part of a denomination that is committed to scripture, the orthodox Christian faith, a Reformation understanding of that within the evangelical tradition, and not only allows, but I think encourages free thinking within that commitment.
I would hope in the end that all are saved. Of course we know that is through Jesus and somewhere along the line means a changed heart expressed in repentance and faith. I have to hold to what scripture teaches, so I certainly hold to hell, though not with the idea of everlasting torment, but along the lines of suffering, then final destruction which is eternal in consequence, in which the person no longer exists (John R.W. Stott). Or if they do, they do so as those whose humanity has been degraded to the point that they are no longer recognizable as human beings (my understanding of what N.T. Wright may mean).
I prefer to simply try to be faithful to what scripture says and let the chips fall where they may as we do that. While also wanting to remain open to the Spirit so that the love of God permeates all we do. We read not that God so hated sin in his holiness that he sent his only Son–though in a sense that is true. But it doesn’t strike the right note evidently because it says that God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish, but have eternal life (John 3:16).
Yes, we have different traditions within the faith of Christianity. We are different while having what is eternal in common through Jesus. I tire of those who want to underscore and make much of the differences, rather than make much of what we have in common. And I tire of those who are quick to label another with heresy, or as being on the verge of it. Those who practice such separation, I separate from as well. I really could get some vital good from their work, after all they are in the family of God through Jesus. But I just can’t stomach what they say, because it is in the context of everything else they’ve said which I find not only abhorrent, but questionable at best, or in error.
As for Rob Bell, I hope he stays the same. He is imperfect, but greatly blessed in gifts and a servant of Jesus. I hope and pray that he remains true to the faith, which to this point he has. And that he continues to ask and think through hard questions in helping others grapple with following Jesus together in a world that is not in tune with the song of God’s grace and love in Jesus.
For more details, here is a helpful post from J.R. Woodward.