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At least now we know what Rob Bell thinks about hell.

LOVE WINS. from Rob Bell on Vimeo.

I am eager to read the book, not to pick a fight (though sometimes we need to fight, and this is one of those times), but because a book like this from a prominent pastor like this needs a response, many responses. We should be thankful for the clarity, but saddened by the content.

In the meantime, we must remember why God’s wrath is necessary to make sense of the Bible, the cross, and our growth in godliness.

We need the doctrine of eternal punishment. Time and time again in the New Testament we find that understanding divine justice is essential to our sanctification. Believing in God's judgment actually helps us look more like Jesus. In short, we need the doctrine of the wrath of God.

First, we need God's wrath to keep us honest about evangelism. Paul reasoned with Felix about righteousness, self-control, and the coming judgment (Acts 24:25). We need to do the same. Without the doctrine of hell, we are prone to get involved in all sorts of important God-honoring things, but neglect the one thing that matters for all eternity, urging sinners to be reconciled to God.

Second, we need God's wrath in order to forgive our enemies. The reason we can forgo repaying evil for evil is because we trust the Lord's promise to repay the wicked. Paul's logic is sound. "Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God's wrath, for it is written: 'It is mine to avenge; I will repay,' says the Lord" (Rom. 12:19). The only way to look past our deepest hurts and betrayals is to rest assured that every sin against us has been paid for on the cross and or will be punished in hell. We don't have to seek vigilante justice, because God will be our just judge.

Third, we need God's wrath in order to risk our lives for Jesus' sake. The radical devotion necessary to suffer for the word of God and the testimony of Jesus comes, in part, from the assurance we have that God will vindicate us in the end. That's why the martyrs under the throne cry out "How long, Sovereign Lord, holy and true, until you judge the inhabitants of the earth and avenge our blood?" (Rev. 6:10) They paid the ultimate price for their faith, but their blood stained cries will be answered one day. Their innocence will be established when God finally judges their persecutors.

Fourth, we need God's wrath in order to live holy lives. Paul warns us that God cannot be mocked. We will reap what we sow. We are spurred on to live a life of purity and good deeds by the promised reward for obedience and the promised curse for disobedience. If we live to please the flesh, we will reap destruction from God. But if we live to please the Spirit, we will reap eternal life (Gal. 6:6-7). Sometimes ministers balk at the thought of motivating people with the threat of eternal punishment. But wasn't this Jesus' approach when he said "Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell" (Matt. 10:28)? Sometimes we need to literally scare the hell out of people.

Fifth, we need God's wrath in order to understand what mercy means. Divine mercy without divine wrath is meaningless. Only when we know that we were objects of wrath (Eph. 2:3), stood condemned already (John 3:18), and would have faced hell as God's enemies were it not for undeserved mercy (Rom. 5:10), can we sing from the heart "Amazing grace, how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me!"

Sixth, we need God's wrath in order to grasp how wonderful heaven will be. Jonathan Edwards is famous (or infamous) for his sermon "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God." It's still read in American Literature classes, usually as a caricature of the puritanical spirit of colonial New England. But few people realize that Edwards also preached sermons like "Heaven is a World of Love." Unlike most of us, Edwards saw in vivid colors the terror of hell and the beauty of heaven. We can't get a striking picture of one without the other. That's why the depiction of the heavenly New Jerusalem also contains a warning to the cowardly, unbelieving, vile, immoral, idolaters, and liars whose place is in "the fiery lake of burning sulfur" (Rev. 21:8). It's unlikely we will long for our final salvation if we don't know what we are saved from.

Seventh, we need the wrath of God in order to be motivated to care for our impoverished brothers and sisters. We all know the saying that Christians are so heavenly minded they are of no earthly good. The idea is that if all we think about are heaven and hell we'll ignore ministries of compassion and social justice. But what better impetus for social justice than Jesus' sober warning that if we fail to care for the least of our brothers we will go away to eternal punishment (Matt. 25:31-46)? The wrath of God is a motivator for us to show compassion to others, because without love, John says, we have no eternal life, and if we don't share our material possessions with those in need we have no love (1 John 2:17).

Eighth, we need God's wrath in order to be ready for the Lord's return. We must keep the lamps full, the wicks trimmed, the houses clean, the vineyard tended, the workers busy, and the talents invested lest we find ourselves unprepared for the day of reckoning. Only when we fully believe in the coming wrath of God and tremble at the thought of eternal punishment will we stay awake, keep alert, and be prepared for Jesus to come again and judge the living and the dead.

Excerpted from Why We’re Not Emergent.


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320 thoughts on “To Hell With Hell”

  1. Craig says:

    Dogteeth,

    I find this all baffling, too. Except what is baffling to me is why so many of you who do not believe in Hell have come to this blog and actually hi-jacked the comment threads. Everything you write is “I” motivated. When “I” try to make sense of a Holy God by my experiences or my own human thoughts “I” am bound to make mistakes in my theology. The bible is filled with God’s wrath. Our Sunday evening sermon happened to be on Hebrews 3:7-4:13. It doesn’t speak of hell but it does speak several times of not entering God’s rest. Without God is hell – and I also believe it will be the worst of kinds.

    And Keith, you keep jumping in with a cheer when someone writes something that you “feel” fits your conclusions. If everyone did that we would just have more comments.

  2. Randy Walterman says:

    Regarding point number two – Really? I forgive because God will wreak vengeance on those who offend me. Let me get this straight – I show mercy so God can show anger. Why then I guess I’m more loving than God.

  3. Would someone please tell me what version of the Bible translates Romans 2:4 as “the WRATH of God leads you to repentance” ?

  4. Keith says:

    Craig: It hurts my feelings when you say I hijack comment threads. I thought we were supposed to comment. It hurts when you say EVERYTHING we say is “I” motivated. We care about people who believe in what we sincerely believe is a false pagan doctrine of ETERNAL TORTURE, so we share. It is about loving them and telling people that GOD IS REALLY LOVE. It is not about me (us). I believe in the wrath of GOD. I just don’t believe in eternal TORTURE. I agree that no one will EVER enter God’s rest until they repent. I believe that nothing is impossible with God. And that he is smart enough and powerful enough to humble all of us proud children. He humbled Saul, and Jonah, and Nebuchadnezzar. He can humble us too and cause us to seek Him. I believe in all of the HELLS in the BIBLE, Gehenna, Sheol, Tartarus, Hades, and Tophet. I don’t think they are synonymous. I love you Craig and want to continue talking to you if you want. But if KEVIN does not want me to CHEER or COMMENT any more I will immediately STOP, if he tells me too. It is his blog. LOVE YOU ALL, even the ones that disagree, you help me gain clarity in my GOD GIVEN brain. Bless YA. Keith.

  5. K says:

    I don’t mean to cheer, but I dig where you are coming from, Keith. Good stuff!

  6. Nathan says:

    It’s fitting this article is excerpted from the book “Why we’re not Emergent”.

    Respectfully, that book should have been titled, “Why we’re not Tony Jones and Brian McLaren–by two people who were never told they should be in the first place”.

    I bring this up simply because I fear that until we read the Bell book this will be a big adventure in jumping the gun.

    If you’re right about Bell, then may God have mercy. But if you’re wrong, then I hope you’ll have learned a little circumspection. Either way, your track record shows such a lesson is overdue.

  7. NJ says:

    Stop being deceived; God is not to be ridiculed. A person harvests whatever he plants:

  8. NJ says:

    Well everyone can say what they’d like, but….Stop being deceived; God is not to be ridiculed. A person harvests whatever he plants:

    Rob Bell wil reap what he has sown and he has sown some very bad seeds.

  9. Keith says:

    A person can’t just stop being deceived. If you are decieved. It means you actually sincerely believe something because all the facts presented to you make you believe what you believe. Deception only goes away when the truth is proven. God has the power to un-deceive anyone HE wants. If your wife is cheating on you and you think she is totally faithful, you are decieved. If some one shows you pictures of her having sex with another person then you are no longer deceived. But you can’t JUST decide to NOT be decieved. LOVE, KEITH

  10. slimbear sam says:

    your take on romans 12:19 is not good. i kindly doubt that paul intended you to not get even because, in the end, God is going to get even for you – this would allow you to forgo learning to love your enemies. it’s more likely paul intended that God’s wrath would look different than ours. there are a number of issues here: 1. how do we know what a person deserves? 2. how do we know they actually intended to harm us? 3. how do we know that jesus’ offering doesn’t cover their sin (like it covers ours)? 4. when, if ever, does justice equal restoration?
    the issue here in romans 12:19 is that God sees and knows and deals with things in ways beyond our reach. it’s not our department, it’s his. there’s something disturbing about inwardly protecting and nurturing glee for someone’s pending doom.

  11. Jess says:

    Funny – I can substitute each of your references to God’s ‘wrath’ with God’s love, and make each of those statements wholeheartedly. I’m not sure when it got so hard for so many of my Christian sisters and brothers to love that they had to be motivated by fear. I’d look for another church.

  12. Ed says:

    Why we are not emergent.

  13. Derek says:

    Kevin, you said, “I am eager to read the book, not to pick a fight (though sometimes we need to fight, and this is one of those times), but because a book like this from a prominent pastor like this needs a response, many responses. We should be thankful for the clarity, but saddened by the content.”

    I gotta ask. Saddened by the content? How can you be saddened by the content when, by your first sentence, you admit you haven’t even read the book?

    I’m about halfway through it and, yes, Rob challenges reformed evangelical theology. He has to. It’s not accurate, and (by definition), it’s not ORTHODOX. What he writes, as always, comes from a knowledge of the interpretation of the Greek (and Hebrew for the OT) by the people who were there at the time when Jesus said what He said.

    The world sees modern Christianity as being closed-minded and self-centered because we ARE. We have created God in OUR image. We hate homosexuals, so He must. We hate abortion, so He must.

    God is not vengeful. Jesus says that He is the perfect Father and that, even one of us men (fallen or redeemed) would give our own children good gifts (not a stone when he asks for bread), so God is infinitely more loving than that.

    Buy the book. Read the book. And let God speak to you through it. The Holy Spirit cannot work through closed hearts and minds. Be pliable.

    Grace.
    Derek

  14. Tamara Smith says:

    Derek said, “… We hate abortion, so He must.

    Huh?

    Do you really question that God hates the taking of an unborn child’s life?

    Get you head out of all the psycho-babble B.S. and back into God’s word.

    Tamara

  15. Derek says:

    Tamara, how would you treat a friend of yours who told you she had an abortion? Be honest with yourself, first.

  16. Tamara Smith says:

    With compassion, as Jesus would and does. We are called to love unconditionally, regardless of the sin.

    That does not mean condoning the sin of abortion under any circumstances, or casting doubt upon God’s inerrant word about this subject, especially to those weaker in their faith than you.

    You cannot speak to or make judgements in this area as you’ve NEVER had an abortion, and I’d bet you’ve never ministered to a woman who has… if so, you’d exercise a little more caution with your words.

  17. Ken says:

    Just curious … where is this “necessary wrath” in Jesus’ parable of the “Prodigal Son”? I thought that God’s wrath (love-based) is targeted at that which is harmful to His kids … that is the “root of sin”. Was not the cross actually the cure in that it removed both shame and religious pride from being barriers to our relationship with Him? If people need to be scared into Heaven .. then most people with a brain is going to wonder if they will ever be “loved” by God … so they have to work at it. Maybe that is the point .. religion tends to not want us to understand we “are loved” .. because that would make their (religionist’s) job of reminding us of our short-comings not necessary. Call it job security I guess :) or actually :(

  18. Andy W. says:

    I grew up in the Evangelical church. Went to a a top College in the Christian Collision. Majored in Biblical & Theological Studies/Youth ministry. Took a number of classes at a prominent seminary. I used to think this way to some degree (although not to this extreme) and the general picture of God presented by DeYoung is one I’m familiar with. I must say that I now soundly reject the false image of God presented here. There are many historically orthodox alternatives to this view that do not make God, at best, morally ambiguous, and at worst a monster. I do not deny the idea of God’s wrath, just the way DeYoung and Calvinists define this. For those so inclined, here is an interesting article form the Eastern Orthodox perspective on this very topic. I’m not EO, but I can appreciate what’s being said here and the historical perspective that has been around a lot longer then Calvinism. http://www.orthodoxpress.org/parish/river_of_fire.htm

  19. Eric says:

    Wow…

    I once had a pastor tell me that Jesus talked about hell a lot more than He did heaven. So, me being the rebel that I am, I didn’t take his word for it and sought it out for myself. Now it’s been a few years, but I think the words that come out of Jesus mouth that have been interpreted as Hell were present like 11 times. But he mentions the kingdom of God or the kingdom of heaven somewhere in the range of 260 times. What’s the point??

    God wants us to come to Him not out of fear, but simply because He invites us to. The view of God and evangelism is portraying God as an abusive father who comes home and finds the house a mess and starts beating the kids. My earthly father was much like that, but my heavenly Father is nothing like that.

    I will err on the side of love every time, and if there is an eternal punishment for proclaiming what Jesus made clear as the Logos of God: God is love, then I guess I will suffer.

  20. stan says:

    It was a long time ago when I began to question the existence of a God such as that perpetuated by the faiths of Abraham – Judaism, Christianity and Islam. I don’t want to sound flip, as I don’t mean to be, but I never bought into the concept that we are in God’s image and that there is some heavenly father with a long white beard stationed somewhere above. I never felt comfortable with the lure of eternal bliss if I acted in certain ways, and at the same time threatened with the prospect of eternal punishment if not. I haven’t felt the need of that hanging over my head to act with a sense of respect for others, with dignity, ethically and honestly. I never thought that He is listening to and answering every prayer. Or that He acts in mysterious ways. Or that He would create a natural disaster, or that He chooses or favors one nation, people or person over another. In my thinking, this limits and confines one’s thinking and causes a separation and barrier of living things. When it comes to the universe, in my thinking, it never plays favorites.

    Sorry, I’m not sure about heaven, but hell, hell no.

  21. Dan M says:

    Do you believe that God’s love is going to fail for anyone or His mercy going to stop.
    Dan

  22. res says:

    Might I refer Mr. DeYoung, Taylor, Piper, Driscoll, and all others out on the Rob Bell witch hunt to again hear Dan Merchant’s 2008 film “Lord Save Us From Our Followers”… This film documentary seems all the more sublime in the current conversations I’m hearing all about my ears, by text, on web boards and web blogs, Christian magazines, panel discussions, etc & etc.

    My question is, “How did Merchant know this stuff? Was he just a very good listener to the noise around him like many relevant philosopher’s, psychologists, sociologists, theologians, and preachers in their day and era?”

    I’ll give the link below in a Christianity Today Review from 2008 b/c it has too many good quotes in it to leave it here. I trust Mr. DeYoung re-reads this article and sends it to all his like-minded friends.

    http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/movies/interviews/2008/danmerchant.html

    For me, it might be too simple to say it, but I’m thinking that Rob Bell saw this flick along with other discussions, did his own “Man on the Street” interviews over the past decade and came up with similar conclusions to Merchant’s. Thank you Rob Bell for the courage to speak to us about God’s Love. He may make for a terrible theologian but he’s spot on as a preacher and a follower of Jesus. This man is our brother and we should apologize to him for our words and pray forgiveness to God for the logs in our own eyes.

    – res, March 28, 2011

  23. James says:

    I see a faulty view of anthropology and God’s sovereignty in many of these discussions. The presumption is that God has no right to destroy people who reject him, as if they deserve better somehow. Read Rpmans 3:1ff and see if anyone deserves anything but judgement. What right does the creature have to tell the Creator how he should judge? We cannot exalt human ‘rights’ over God’s divine prerogative.
    If God did not judge all evil, he could not be called ‘love’

  24. Rebecca says:

    You said “I am eager to read the book, not to pick a fight (though sometimes we need to fight, and this is one of those times), but because a book like this from a prominent pastor like this needs a response, many responses. We should be thankful for the clarity, but saddened by the content.”

    I agree with Derek…why don’t you read the book first, then you can review it and respond to the book…right now you are responding to the out cry of the book which by most people has not even been read yet.

    So many of you are so ready to judge. Take a step back…look at yourself, why are you so ready to throw the first stone???

    If you have read the book and you are bothered by it or offended by what is written in the book, put it down, you never have to read it again. It is a book people…he is expressing himself, writing his thoughts, his opinion. You do not have to like it. You do not have to read it, but if you are going to go around publicly denouncing the book, do yourself a favor and read the book first.

    I am so sick of close minded individuals that jump on the band wagon and bash people just because I guess it is cool to bash that person this week. Wake up, as my mother always used to say “if your friends jump off a bridge and you going to jump of a bridge too?” Please people, we are not lemmings…open your eyes and your minds…think for yourself!!!!!!!!!!!

  25. Rebecca says:

    I forgot to ask…Kevin did you ever read the book? Just wondered if you found you had something to back up your allegations or if you we going to just continue to follow all the the other people who chose to make assumptions.

    Also just wanted to let you know…Your attitude depresses me. It is supposed to be about GODS love. Love does Win…whether you agree with his book or not.

    Your judgement only gives good Christians a bad name. I know, I used to be on the outside looking in. People like you were the reason I stayed on the outside for so long!

  26. Tim says:

    Is a lifelong Arminian allowed to comment on a Reformed blog? Hope so. I have read Rob’s book twice and disagreed with it more with each reading. He leads the reader down a lot of rabbit trails and dead ends, but never really answers his big questions. He tiptoes around the edges of universalism, but then claims that he is not a universalist. The entire concept of God, being a loving God, naturally giving people a second chance after death or another way into the Kingdom other than through the name of Jesus is contrary to Scripture, regardless of which side of the theological line you fall. Further, Rob’s interpretation of the Greek is, at best, faulty, and his zeroing in on one part of Scripture while totally ignoring the total scope of Scripture is indefensible. I have heard Rob speak on occasion, have enjoyed and used his Nooma videos and love him as a brother, but have to soundly agree to disagree with him on his theories in Love Wins.

  27. suzanne dubinin says:

    Fundementalists all believe in the same human-like god. Your god and the god of Islam have the same human need for vengence. Good luck with him. He might just turn on you in the end.

  28. James says:

    Vengeance is not a ‘human need’. It is a requirement if God is to remain true to himself as just, fair, loving towards his creation, and opposed to all evil.

  29. jeff bethke says:

    Hey you should check out this video, its a remake of Bell’s original video that caused all the stir. its called “Jesus Wins” and how all attributes of God win at the cross. its a remake of the original too so it looks similar. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pDLCN8GwBHE

  30. Tony Clay says:

    What saddens me the most about this discussion is the labelling of Rob Bell as a universalist .. firstly it’s not an acurate label for the beliefs that he has stated and secondly why do we have to label him anything other than Pastor Rob Bell a brother in Christ. The Christian church has had a long history of disagreements regarding what scripture actually says and has still managed to produce people that have carried the torch of faith through out the centuries up until the present day. I value his contribution to the question of hell (does it or doesn’t it exist) because right or wrong …. he has at least brought it out in to the arena. It is hard for many to actually want to believe in a God that destroys those that reject him with out a fight …a fight that may or at least ought to carry on into the afterlife.As Neither death nor life can separate us from the love of God. I think also there is a fair bit of jealousy from other writers and preachers regarding the success of Rob Bell ministry and his videos,books etc … and they are loving the chance to slap an unpopular label on him …

  31. I don’t criticize Rob Bell for being a universalist – I criticize him for not being one. Everyone is going to heaven through the work of Jesus Christ. There is no other way to heaven but through Him; however, He paid a ransom for all…and all will get there.

    Therefore, the question is not whether or not we will go to heaven, but whether we will go there in honor or shame. Let us cleanse our hearts and hands and live in righteousness for His sake. Just because everyone is going to heaven does not mean our sins have no negative consequences. On the contrary, the consequences are great. Remember: nothing is hidden from the eyes of Him with whom we have to do.

  32. Tommy Denney says:

    The bottom line is whether you believe the Bible to be true, God means what He says, Jesus is Savior and Lord, and there will be a judgement and a separation of sheep and goats. If you do not believe in these things then you will not believe in a literal hell. If you do not believe Jesus died for our sins then you will not believe in a literal hell. If you do not believe God is a holy and just Creator then you will not believe in a literal hell. If you do not accept repsonsibility for your personal sins and believe you need a personal savior to wash your sins away, then you will not believe in a literal hell. Jesus dieing on the cross was to save us from an eternal hell. Everything else breaks down if you don’t accept the cross!

  33. Keith says:

    The bottom line: I believe all scripture is inspired by God and is useful. Yashua is the Lamb of God the Savior of the world. He came to seek and save the lost. He came to be a ransom for all. He came to take away the sins of the world. He draws all men to Himself. He wants all saved. All will be made alive in Christ. There will be a judgment and a separation of sheep and goats. I believe in a literal Gehenna, a literal Hades, a literal Tartarus, a figurative Lake of Fire that has a literal interpretation. Jesus died for our sins (the sins of the world). I believe God is HOLY and JUST. Mercy triumphs over judgment. He is the creator. I accept responsibility for my personal sins and believe I NEED a personal savior to wash my sins away; everybody does. I need GOD to cause me to follow HIM. No one seeks GOD on their own. God is no respecter of persons. Yeshua died on the STAUROS (crucified) to save all mankind from sin. Empty way of life handed down by our forefathers, wrath and judgment. All people will be salted with fire. Some will be saved as through fire. Our God is a consuming fire and disciplines those He loves. God is Love. His judgments are meant to teach righteousness. His wrath is done in love, His hate is even done in love. All creation will be reconciled to God. All things will be made new. All of HIS works shall praise HIM. Every tongue will PRAISE HIM. I am a universalist. Jesus is my LORD and my GOD. I accept the cross (Stauros in Greek). Yeshus (Jesus) is RISEN. JESUS is LORD. I still believe hell is remedial and temporary. LOVE, KEITH.

  34. Craig (2) says:

    The title of the book, pretty much sums it up, “Love Wins.”

  35. Keith says:

    Sincerely, wrath wins too. God uses His wrath as a tool to direct people. Because no one seeks God on their own and yet God rewards people who diligently seek Him. He causes people to seek Him. God is love and WRATH does win. If the wrath is not motivated by love then what is it for? LOVE, KEITH.

  36. Keith says:

    BTW I copyrighted the name “WRATH WINS” (C) 2011 before I posted that last comment. Just kidding. :)

  37. Derek says:

    I think you’re obsessed with Bell in a very unhealthy way. Find help. Please.

    Or better yet, find the time to invite him to meet with you over lunch. Michigan isn’t that big.

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Kevin DeYoung


Kevin DeYoung is the senior pastor at Christ Covenant Church in Matthews, North Carolina. He is chairman of the board of The Gospel Coalition, assistant professor of systematic theology at Reformed Theological Seminary (Charlotte), and a PhD candidate at the University of Leicester. Kevin and his wife, Trisha, have seven children. You can follow him on Twitter.

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