Chapter 8: The End is Here (and some final thoughts)
The last chapter closes the book with a bit of irony. After all the questions he raised. After all the deconstruction that has gone on throughout this book he closes saying that when he prayed a prayer to became a Christian when he was young he could have known more or had better reasons or been more mature. He could tear that apart and invalidate his own experience but he says he won’t “deconstruct” that because although it wasn’t perfect it had validity. God could work through it all to do what God needed to do (p.194),
“Now I am well aware of how shaped I was by my environment, how young and naive I was, and how easy it is to discount emotional religious experiences. With very little effort a person can deconstruct an experience like that by pointing out all of the other things going on in that prayer, like the desire to please one’s parents and the power of religion to shape a child. But however helpful that may be, it can easily miss the one thing that can’t be denied: What happened that night was real. It meant something significant then and it continues to have profound significance for me. That prayer was a defining moment in my life.”
It left me wondering, where has this approach been throughout the whole book? While the teachings on hell in the Bible may not be perfect and one might be able to cleverly think up all sorts of questions and create dozens of false dichotomies of God being either a ruthless abusive father or else a loving cuddly teddy bear God who is all hugs and kisses, the Bible and Jesus and Paul and the church fathers believed hell was real, that God had judgment in store for the wicked. It may not sound pleasant but that is because it isn’t pleasant.
Now, Bell does close the book with a call to urgently accept God’s love for us and to turn and trust Him. I do agree with Bell, love wins. But what exactly that means is what we seem to differ on.
To be fair, and I really have tried to be fair, I do think Bell believes hell is real but he is perfectly willing to be a theological magician, slowly taking perfectly good biblical concepts, waving his magic wand of words over them and seemingly make them disappear. Then a few pages later he comes back and faintly hints that maybe the object is still really there in some obscure way. I don’t think Jesus was that careful with his approach on hell and eternal punishment. I don’t think Jesus danced around about it or had to twist words or talk in riddles about it. He was direct about it because it is real.
What I believe Bell is doing in this book is to try and swing a pendulum. He believes some Christians don’t get it. They say God is love but their actions are hateful. So he wants to swing away from harsh, angry and judgmental Christians who want to stand on the street corner with a bullhorn and tell people they are going to hell. He wants to dismantle the idea that Satan is a little red man in little red tights running around in hell tormenting people. He wants to distance himself from many Christian stereotypes. Also, he wants to point out that God’s love is bigger than we can imagine so…what if? I also would want to distance myself from harsh, angry Christians who scream at people. But in the process of distancing I am not willing to twist and turn through scripture, set up a boat load of false dichotomies and ignore a bunch of perfectly good verses that seem to say the opposite of what I am presenting in order to get the point across. So I think many of us would agree more with Bell’s intention with this book than we might at first think. But many of us would disagree with his methods on how he works through the issues and some of his conclusions as well. At the end of the day I can’t say he is a universalist but I can say he sure doesn’t make it easy to figure that out through this book.
I don’t know if I’m plowing over a sowed field here, but Bell seems to represent a new and popular way of thinking on this subject. In Jesus’ day, the very idea of an afterlife was not a settled topic. There were basically two Judeo/Christian options:
1. there is a heaven and there is a hell
2. there aren’t either
This finally got settled in favor of option 1, and stayed that way for, oh, 1900 years or so. The only controversy seemed to be whose rules you had to follow to be admitted into
For some decades now, we have been allowed a third option in which there is a heaven, but no hell. Some would contend that there’s a heaven for the righteous and wrathful but immediate annihilation for the wicked. Or at least a DNR order on the toes of those who die in their sins. But the thought that we all will eventually be won over and redeemed in this life or the next, honestly cheapens heaven. I mean, if there is a world where people live as they are and are exposed to goodness, and encounter others as they are, exposed to the same goodness, how is that any different from the world right now?
I’m going to have to go with Vincent of Lerins on this one. Antiquity, Universality and Consensus are not on Bell’s side. I like his bias for love and good works. I’m not feeling his ambivalence on the existence of a wrathful end for the wicked.
Either there is a hell, or there is no heaven. Now how’s that for a false dichotomy?
I always love to read your thoughts on these things. Always helpful and insightful. Ambivalence might be the right word. Read the bullet points on my 7th post and how much tension it creates between whether hell is real or not. He kind of says it isn’t really possible for God to do that and then he goes right into love and choice require it to be a possibility. He kind of says it both ways. It is like he wants us to peak in the door of what if there wasn’t but then comes back and says, well there kind of has to be – https://mattdabbs.wordpress.com/2011/04/11/review-of-rob-bells-love-wins-part-7/
Ditto on liking reading your stuff.
What gets me about writing like this is how he marries doctrine with his assumption of God’s character. One minute he talks about how impossible it would be for God’s all-powerful love to be exhausted or defeated, and then admits that the flaming maw is still open for business, for whatever reason.
Would you say that this was a PR scheme to sell a book, or did he have something constructive in mind by taking us on this trip? (again, feel free to pick a third option if my dichotomy is insufficient)
PARDON THE CAPS…PLEASE
GOD CREATED KNOWING FULL WELL WHAT COULD HAPPEN.
THIS IS HIS MESS AND AND HE KNOWS IT.(CHOSE US [BELIEVERS] IN CHRIST BEFORE THE FOUNDATION OF THE WORLD)
IF HE IS ALL GOOD AND ALL ACCOUNTABLE AND ALL RIGHTEOUS IN HIS ACTIONS,JUDGEMENTS
AND BEING THE CREATOR OF EXISTENCE.
IF HE DIDN’T WANT FREE WILL, HE WOULD WIPE OUT EXISTENCE.
GOD: BECAUSE OF FREE WILL HAS SOMETHING TO PROVE TO US.
ABOUT FREE WILL.
THAT HE IS THE “DEFINITION” OF GOOD, LOVE, KINDNESS, PATIENCE,
HUMILITY, AND UNCOMPROMISING IN EVERY WAY.
HE SAID DON’T DO IT OR YOU DIE…SPIRITUALLY AND AS A CONSEQUENCE PHYSICALLY.
WHY BECAUSE THE CREATED TOOK ADVANTAGE OF GOD’S WONDERFUL INTRINSIC NATURE (CHARACTERISTICS) AND WANTED POWER AND CONTROL.
AND ONE “SATAN” SAID GO AHEAD EAT IT .
DO YOU REALLY THINK THE FALLEN ONES ARE NOT GOING TO PAY THE PRICE FOR THEIR REBELLION TO THE MOST WONDERFUL FORGIVING BEING IN EXISTENCE .
THEY WERE IN THE VERY PRESENCE OF THE CREATOR.
NOW THEN IF GOD IS NO RESPECTER OF A MANS PERSON AND SENT HIS SON TO HADES, WHICH IS PREPARED FOR GUESS WHO…
SO,JUST TO SHOW HE IS ALSO BY DEFINITION FAIR IN FIXING THIS GOOD CREATION (THAT WAS BROKEN BY UNFAITHFULNESS) BY NULLIFYING A LAW OF SIN AND DEATH.THROUGH FAITHFULNESS
TO BRING BACK LIFE AND HIS GOOD THROUGH DOING IT IN A GOOD WAY. BY THEMSELVES (THE TRINITY) EXPERIENCING WHAT WE ARE, “LOST AND DEAD”.
AND OH THE PAIN IN THE GARDEN MAKES ME WANT TO CRY.
I WONDER WHAT IT MUST HAVE BEEN LIKE FOR THEM TO LIVE OUTSIDE OF TIME AND BE SEPARATED.ETERNAL IN THEIR ONENESS,AND DID WHAT?MADE TO BE SIN, THEY RESCUED ALL THAT IS THE GOOD OF CREATION. THEY ARE FAITHFUL AND RESPONSIBLE TO THEIR CHOICE TO CREATE WHAT THEY KNEW COULD BE IF,AND I SAY IF THEY COULD PERSEVERE.
THEY ARE THAT THEY ARE….AND ALWAYS WILL BE EXCEPT FOR THE OFFENSE OF THE TREE .
TO SHOW JUST HOW EVERYTHING GOOD THEY ARE.
WHAT EVER ANY ONE OR ANY THING GETS FROM THEM WILL NOT EVEN EQUATE TO JUST DESERTS.
ONE THING I AM SURE OF IT WILL BE FAIR, AND IT IS SO SIMPLE TO BE IN RELATIONSHIP WITH THEM.
BLESSINGS RICH CONSTANT
I did finish reading the book but I stopped interacting with it because I felt that I would just be repeating myself in many ways, both in the ways I agree with Bell and in the ways I disagree with him. Any ways, thanks for your reviews. I agree with much of what you say.
Grace and Peace,
Bell is a pastor. His job–one of his jobs–is to transmit the truth of God’s word to his congregation and to whoever else wishes to learn from him. I think it is a misuse of his position to speculate and throw out unanswered questions or to otherwise set up potential confusion in the minds of people who look to him as a man of God.
It’s one thing for educated Christians to discuss the merits and demerits of hs book, but what will non-Christians do with it? They will most likely derive from it what they want, which is likely going to be that the Bible doesn’t really teach that there is a hell or that there is one and only one way into heaven. That’s my fear.
As a pastor I’d like to suggest another title to Mr. Bell’s book, sales win, truth fails. Next to money, Jesus mentions hell the most often as any other topic in the Bible. It may be (I pray I a wrong) that he is more interested in a following and selling books. Either way, I suggest that he goes by Gal. 1:10 which is a serious warning to pastors and lay members alike: “Am I now trying to win the approval of human beings, or of God? Or am I trying to please people? If I were still trying to please people, I would not be a servant of Christ.”
Now that Bin Laden is dead, it makes an interesting opportunity to revisit the idea of Hell, doesn’t it?
I second what Jack Wellman said!