Rob Bell, founding Pastor of the Mars Hill Church in Michigan with 10,000 congregants, has been stirring up much controversy in the evangelical community with his new book “Love Wins”. He is essentially saying that if God is love, why would He send people to eternal damnation in hell and suffering for eternity? He believes that God would never sentence humans to this everlasting torment.
Bell’s Version of Hell
Bell is putting hell itself on trial. If Bell believes that hell is empty and that God’s love is always successful then the message of the gospel is compromised. He is not saying that everyone will be saved but they cease to exist if they are not saved. That is to say that they don’t go to hell, they just go away. Bell is teaching that hell is empty (how does he know this?) and that God’s love wins even with a rejection of Jesus Christ. Is this what makes Bell’s teaching a false gospel and one that the apostle Paul warned about (II Cor. 11:14-15)? He believes that the love of God, while not excluding the cross, does exclude a coming judgment as found throughout the Bible, as taught by Jesus Christ, and culminating in Revelation chapter 20. Even heaven is described as something that begins here on earth and is in the present and that hell is a present time thing and not an eternal or future destiny.
According to Bell and excerpts from his book, death does not prevent those who are not saved from repenting and Jesus allows for salvation for those who have never even heard about him.  And any church that does not follow this thinking he judges as “misguided and toxic”. Indeed, for Bell hell is not eternal and love wins. You see now where the title of his book comes from. This gives us the idea that sin is no big deal to God nor is it an offense to Him, yet this makes you wonder why Christ had to go to the cross for such suffering and agony. Why pay for our sins if it’s no big deal to God and love wins? This contradicts just how serious God takes sin. The cross and Christ’s terrible punishment whereby God places His wrath on Him seems to make it unnecessary.
Is Hell Eternal?
Bell believes that the church today is teaching a misguided view on hell and calls this teaching toxic. The problem with the evangelical church view on hell is for him that it is real, it is eternal, and it is in the future. I am not attacking Bell but I am contending over his own version of the gospel. What he says is not eternal, Jesus says is everlasting. In Matthew 18:8-9 Jesus says, “If your hand or your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life maimed or crippled than to have two hands or two feet and be thrown into eternal fire. And if your eye causes you to stumble, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into the fire of hell.” The word for hell in these verses is Gehenna, an English word that is translated from the Greek “Valley of Hinnom”. It was a garbage dump just south of the walls of Jerusalem where trash, dead criminal’s bodies, dead animals, and refuse were thrown and burned. Since it was always being added to, it burned day and night.
Gehenna or the Valley of Hinnom
Gehenna is the word that Rob Bell uses to excuse the belief that the unrepentant would not be in an eternal place of torment and fire but that they would cease to exist. However the Old Testament Jewish Talmud uses the word Hinnom (the Greek translated from the English Gehenna) as a place of eternal torment and this is just the way that Jesus referred to it in Matthew 18:8-9 and several other places. He did not refer to it as a present state but one that is destined for future unrepentant sinners. Jesus referred to Gehenna 11 times and it was not a temporary place or a present place but a future one and spoken of as a fire that was “unquenchable” (Mark 9:43).
Hades Different Form Gehenna
Hades is the place of the dead. That is, a place for those awaiting judgment (Rev. 20). Eventually, even Hades (death) itself will be thrown into the lake of fire (Gehenna) so these two are not the same thing and this explains why Jesus used Hades in a different way than Gehenna.. Either way it is used, they both refer to a place of eternal judgment. The rich man in the story of the rich man and Lazarus shows that Hades is not a ceasing to exist of an unrepentant sinner. If the rich man continues to exist in Hades (death) and it is a fiery torment, then Bell is wrong on both accounts. Hell is a future judgment after death, it is about a permanent state of suffering, and the unrepentant do not cease to exist after their death but they are destined to remain there forever.
Jesus’ Version of Hell
Jesus talked more about hell than anything in the New Testament next to treasures/money and fear or worry. So since He put so much weight on the subject, it must be real and it must be extremely important. Jesus gave us what hell will be like after death in the story of Lazarus and the rich man in Luke 16:19-31:
19 “There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and lived in luxury every day. 20 At his gate was laid a beggar named Lazarus, covered with sores 21 and longing to eat what fell from the rich man’s table. Even the dogs came and licked his sores. 22 “The time came when the beggar died and the angels carried him to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried. 23 In Hades [hell], where he was in torment [suffering], he looked up and saw Abraham far away, with Lazarus by his side. 24 So he called to him, ‘Father Abraham, have pity on me and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, because I am in agony in this fire.’ 25 “But Abraham replied, ‘Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, while Lazarus received bad things, but now he is comforted here and you are in agony. 26 And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been set in place, so that those who want to go from here to you cannot, nor can anyone cross over from there to us.’ 27 “He answered, ‘Then I beg you, father, send Lazarus to my family, 28 for I have five brothers. Let him warn them, so that they will not also come to this place of torment.’ 29 “Abraham replied, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them listen to them.’ 30 “‘No, father Abraham,’ he said, ‘but if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent.’
31 “He said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.’”
Clearly the place where the rich man was could not be a place he could return from or learn from and had any hope of escaping. The rich man could not bridge the great chasm between his place of torment and paradise where Abraham was (v 26). The rich man was plainly in torment and the fire was unquenchable (v 23, 24).
Bell’s Hell vs. Jesus’ Hell
Bell also tries to relegate the word “hell” as if it is inconsequential and associate it with the old English word that was also used for a place to keep potatoes in the ground. But listen to the context of how Jesus used the word hell. He was most certainly not talking about a place to store potatoes!
In Mathew 23:33 Jesus says, “Snakes! Sons of vipers! How will you escape the judgment of hell? There is judgment and no once can escape.
Matthew 25:29-30 Jesus says, “For whoever has will be given more, and they will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them. And throw that worthless servant outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”
Matt 25:41 Jesus says, ““Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.” This is not a place for potatoes to be stored.
Matt 25:46 Jesus says, “Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.” There is no talk here about ceasing to exist.
Mark 9:43-48 Jesus says, “If your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life maimed than with two hands to go into hell, where the fire never goes out. And if your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life crippled than to have two feet and be thrown into hell. And if your eye causes you to stumble, pluck it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into hell where “‘the worms that eat them do not die, and the fire is not quenched.”
Luke 12:5 Jesus says, “But I will show you whom you should fear: Fear him who, after your body has been killed, has authority to throw you into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him.”
Matt 10:28 Jesus says, “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.”
In Matthew 13:41-43 Jesus says about Himself: “The Son of Man will send out his angels, and they will weed out of his kingdom everything that causes sin and all who do evil. They will throw them into the blazing furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Whoever has ears, let them hear.”
Jesus says in Matthew 13:49-50, “This is how it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come and separate the wicked from the righteous and throw them into the blazing furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”
Who to Believe?
I pray for Rob Bell. I am not condemning him but as I said before, contending with his teachings. I pray God leads him to the truth…and only God can…we humans can not. There is a good interview with MSNBC’s Martin Bashir with Rob Bell that confronts him directly with his beliefs about hell. Martin Bashir is a Christian and asked Bell some great questions about Bell’s belief in the afterlife, judgment, Jesus Christ, and hell.
Jesus spoke very often about the judgment of hell and it being a real, literal place. I believe the Word of God above any human opinion or philosophy on earth. Please understand that I am not saying Bell is lying or intentionally misleading people but when given a choice over what to believe, I choose to believe God over man and I believe in the Bible over my own opinion. Romans 3:4 says…”Let God be true, and every man a liar. As it is written: ‘So that you may be proved right when you speak and prevail when you judge.’”
Other Articles You Might Want To Read:
1. The Blaze, LLC. “You’re Amending the Gospel’: MSNBC Host Grills Pastor About Hell Theory” by Jonathan M. Seidi. http://www.theblaze.com/stories/msnbc-hammers-pastor-over-heaven-and-hell-claims/ (accessed May 12th, 2011) The interview of Martin Bashir on MSNBC while interviewing Rob Bell about his new controversial book “Love Wins” was on Bell’s trip to New York to promote his book.
2. USA. Your Life, Mind, and Soul. “Love Wins’: Pastor’s Book Kindles Firestorm Over Hell” by Cathy Lynn Grossman. http://www.usatoday.com/yourlife/mind-soul/spirituality/2011-03-14-hell14_ST_N.htm (accessed May 12th, 2011).
3. You Tube. “MSNBC Host Makes Rob Bell Squirm: “You’re Amending The Gospel So That It’s Palatable!” interview by Martin Bashir. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Vg-qgmJ7nzA (accessed May 12th, 2011).
4. The Holy Bible- New International Version (NIV)