If your souls were not immortal, and you in danger of losing them, I would not thus speak unto you; but the love of your souls constrains me to speak: methinks this would constrain me to speak unto you forever. -George Whitefield
Just about everybody, Christian or not, is talking about Rob Bell’s book called Love Wins: A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived just published on March 15. I finished reading the book this weekend and plan to do a series on the book, as well as on the subject of heaven and hell as perceived by those within the evangelical community, along with others within Christendom. It is important to note that views, even within the evangelical/Reformed tradition, are not monolithic.
Rob Bell is accused of believing in universalism, which, at it's base, is a belief that everyone who dies will go to heaven. He is also accused of denying the existence of hell. Both views would be considered outside the pale of most evangelical subsets. However, there are some respected theologians, like John Stott, who have some differing ideas which I will discuss.
So what does Rob Bell actually believe? My short take is that Rob Bell is conflicted and is still in the process of developing his thinking. I think he should have waited to publish his book because I believe, in the coming years, he will change some of his views. I will expand on my reasons in coming posts.
Nevertheless, I believe that many people, evangelicals or not, are also conflicted about the issue of eternal punishment and that many Christians secretly wish Bell had kept his mouth shut and not made trouble for the rest of us. Too many people are asking too many Christians too many hard questions. And too many Christians do not know how to answer.
My contention is that the average pew sitter struggles with the concept of eternal punishment. I believe that if one asked a large group of believers who goes to hell and how God punishes people in that venue, one would be surprised at the many, many different answers that would be elicited.
Today, I want to show our readers how confused an informed pundit, Bill O’Reilly, a committed Catholic, is regarding this subject. He decided to discuss, on his show, The O’Reilly Factor, the April 14, 2011, issue of Time Magazine which featured the debate on the existence of hell. The Time article was based on Rob Bell’s book and was entitled “Pastor Rob Bell: What if Hell Doesn't Exist?” Link
Last Monday, he featured a pastor from my hometown of Raleigh, North Carolina, whom I had never heard of. I found the exchange rather amusing as well as most frustrating. Said pastor is a Universalist and believes that everyone goes to heaven. O’Reilly was shocked. He seemed to be very concerned that there would not be eternal punishment for the likes of Adolf Hitler and Osama bin Laden.
Conversely, he stated that he believed that all the Jews, who died in concentration camps in World War 2, were in heaven. He also read a statement from a Catholic theology book which appears to state that there are those who are saved, not by water baptism, but by disposition.
During the segment, I could tell that he was confused about what evangelicals really believe on this subject.
I realized that O’Reilly was unfamiliar with standard evangelical thinking on the subject, which I believe limited his understanding on the controversy surrounding Bell’s book. So, I immediately sent him the following email.
“With all due respect, you missed the ball on this one. Most evangelicals believe that one must accept Jesus to go to heaven. Ask your friend, Franklin Graham. There are some who believe there is an exception for infants and those who have never heard the Gospel. The average evangelical would argue that, in fact, Gandhi will go to hell. It was this premise that Rob Bell was addressing in his book Love Wins. In other words, hell will contain both Hitler and Gandhi according to most conservative evangelicals. Why don't you get some well known folks like Graham and Al Mohler and ask them if Gandhi is in heaven? You may find the answer surprising.”
Please note that I was not saying what I believe. I will get to that later in this series.
However, I was most startled when, on Thursday, O’Reilly had Franklin Graham on his show and discussed this subject with him.
I believe O’Reilly seemed a bit surprised by Graham’s response. And therein lies the issue for me. I also believe that the subject is confusing for many committed Christians, except for a few theologians and pastors who are very sure of exactly what happens.
So, over the next week or so, I will discuss this issue along with some updates of some other stories we have been following.
Lydia's Corner: Judges 2:10-3:31 Luke 22:14-34 Psalm 92:1-93:5 Proverbs 14:1-2