Getting Oprah Winfrey to endorse your book may mean a lot of different things. It would no doubt mean that books sales are going up (exponentially). It would also mean your book would be read by many folks that otherwise would not read it.
But, one thing it probably does not mean is that your book is a bold and faithful exposition of evangelical Christian beliefs. On the contrary, Oprah stands as the religious antithesis to biblical Christianity. She is not about Christianity at all, but is about spirituality. She, and millions of Americans, are simply looking for an existential experience with the divine that can bring meaning and purpose to their life.
Thus, I was not surprised when I heard the other day that Oprah endorsed Rob Bell’s book, What We Talk about When We Talk about God. Here are her comments:
Pastor Rob Bell is shaking up the way we think about God and religion. I love his new book, What We Talk About When We Talk About God (HarperOne). When I first started reading it, I was highlighting my favorite passages, but then I realized—what’s the point? I’ve marked every page! It just wowed me. In the book, Bell explains that God is and always has been with us, for us, and ahead of us—and then explores how we can really absorb this knowledge into our everyday lives to become more connected to spirit.
Notice what is missing from Oprah’s account. No discussion of how she read the book and realized she is a sinner in need of grace. No mention of the atonement, the cross, or the issue of salvation. No mention of Scripture as the Word of God that needs to be read and studied. And, most of all, no mention of Jesus.
Jesus is not mentioned as Lord, or Savior, or Redeemer. He is not Son of God, or Son of Man, or the Messiah. He is not the promised seed of Abraham, the son of David, or Immanuel, God with Us. And he is certainly not the one who bore the wrath of God for the sins of the world.
And there is a reason for this absence. It is because all these things are absent in Bell’s book. Now, of course, Bell mentions Jesus. But, not as an atoning sacrifice for the sins of the world. He mentions God, but not as someone who is holy and ready to punish sin.
In my prior review of Bell, I put it like this:
In chapter five, entitled “For,” Bell says that he wants to recover the “fundamental Christian message that God is for us” (128). That is certainly a commendable goal, but Bell once again “detheologizes” what this concept actually means according to Scripture. Entirely missing in this chapter–indeed entirely missing in the whole book–is any meaningful discussion of the cross and atonement. Absent is discussion about our sin, God’s wrath on our sin, and how Christ’s death on the cross paid that penalty. Absent is the clarification that without the cross, God is definitely not for us and that his wrath remains on us. Sure, Bell talks about Jesus and the incarnation. But, the mission of Jesus is reshaped so that its purpose is “giving us a picture of God who is not distant or detached or indifferent to our pain…but instead is present among us in Jesus to teach us and help us and suffer with us” (p. 131).
In the end, my overall concern about this volume is a simple one: it is not Christian. Bell’s makeover of Christianity has changed it into something entirely different. It is not Christianity at all, it is modern liberalism. It is the same liberalism that Machen fought in the 1920’s and the same liberalism prevalent in far too many churches today. It is the liberalism that teaches that God exists and that Jesus is the source of our happiness and our fulfillment, but all of this comes apart from any real mention of sin, judgment, and the cross. It is the liberalism that says we can know nothing for sure, except of course, that those “fundamentalists” are wrong. It is the liberalism that appeals to the Bible from time to time, but then simply ignores large portions of it.
Bell’s book, therefore, is really just spiritualism with a Christian veneer. It’s a book that would fit quite well on Oprah’s list of favorite books. What is Rob Bell talking about when he is talking about God? Not the God of Christianity.
Of course, when I wrote these words many months ago, Bell’s book was not on Oprah’s list of favorites. But, now it is.
No doubt Bell will sell a lot more books with Oprah’s endorsement. Many more people will now have this book in their hands. That would be good news for Christians if it were actually a book about Christianity.
I haven’t read this book by Bell, though I’ve heard him speak. My initial response to Pastor Bell is that he is reacting and providing a counterbalance to another extreme. When your ship is tilting to the starboard, you are forced ( or at least you think you are forced ) to move to the port side. I believe that Pastor Bell is well intentioned. He is certainly no theologian, but he brings a message to a post-Christian world that will never understand theological terms like atonement. Should that be the first discussion between the redeemed and those who aren’t? Perhaps. But to flatly label it as “not Christian” seems a bit judgemental and arrogant. The truth is that there are liberal theologians who do not understand the importance of doctrinal essentials. That is bad, and spiritually dangerous. Even worse, though, is that most of the Evangelical Church has been taken hostage by Fundamentalist theology which makes things fundamental, which simply are not. The creeds of the early church lay out the fundamentals. They aren’t defined by 19th and 20th century theologians who added to those essentials and falsely labeled them as fundamental. I certainly don’t agree with everything that I’ve heard from Pastor Bell, but I have not heard him outright reject any fundamentals.
The church that Jesus confronted, the church and culture of the Pharisees, did not die when the Romans destroyed the temple. That church is still alive and sickeningly well in the American church today. Hold to the fundamentals- absolutely, but we had better stop this wrong headed view that the fundamentalist approach is the only Christian approach. The pharisees, for all of their study of scripture, had no clue about who the Messiah would be- even when He was standing right in front of them. Their hubris and arrogance was their downfall. Now, I don’t agree with all fundamentalist theology or liberal theology. Quite frankly, I think that the Bible is intentionally vague on many topics, so I appreciate hearing a good discussion with people of opposing views. I especially respect when those people put these disagreements into perspective, and say “this is a peripheral issue, and we can be brothers and disagree on this.” We don’t disagree respectfully in this country anymore. I witness to a lot of non-believers. After decades of doing this, I’ve rarely seen them respond to leading with the wrath of God. The scriptures are true that say that it’s God’s kindness that leads us to repentance.
Michael Kruger says
Thanks, James. I appreciate the comments. However, this is not an issue of “fundamentalism” at all (as a historical movement in the early 20th century), but is an issue of what is the center of Christianity. Historically speaking, Christianity has been very clear on its central message, namely one of Jesus dying in the place of sinners, so that God’s judgment might be satisfied. This is nowhere a part of Bell’s book. It is not about using the term “atonement” (I never faulted him for that), but rather it is about ignoring the concept of atonement.
You say Bell has not rejected any fundamental doctrine. What about the doctrine of hell? That has been a consistent doctrine throughout the history of the church and is outright rejected by Bell. So, my statement about Bell’s views being non-Christian is not “judgmental” or “arrogant” as you claim. I am merely pointing out a historical and theological fact, namely that Bell’s views are not the views of the Bible nor historical Christianity. Pointing out such facts is not judgmental, but, hopefully, a help to those who might be confused about Bell’s book.
James – much of the problem with Rob Bell is that he refuses to clarify his doctrinal positions and where he stands on things. He does so very intentionally, and much like Michael Kruger already has said, Bell denies the existence of Hell. That’s a foundational Christian doctrine, which not only did the Church fathers believe was important, but Jesus did too. Jesus talked about Hell more often that He did about heaven in the Gospels.
I want to see the masses come to the faith too. But they must actually come to the real faith, or we’re just making them comfortable and deluded on their way to hell. That’s what Rob Bell does and Oprah is even worse. That’s not judgmental, it’s simply stating a known fact.
The problem with many modern versions of evangelism is that they focus so much on numbers and pragmatism that they leave out the actual evangelizing. If you look at the clear and consistent message of Jesus and His apostles, you MUST hold that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, fully God and fully man, God in the flesh, eternal with all of God’s attributes, sinless, and that He died for the sins of many – because any and all sin separates us from God and the wages of sin is death. Without this understanding of Jesus Christ, and a persevering faith in Him and Him alone to save us any individual will go to hell for eternity. I’m not willing to tamper with the message to be a part of that. You can’t try to cater the message to the desires of the unregenerate heart. The unregenerate heart is wicked (Jer. 17:9). Jesus didn’t get crucified because everyone thought he was a non-confrontational nice guy. His message offended many, and not just the Pharisees either.
One other side note- the Church didn’t exist until the Day of Pentecost. I get the point that you were trying to make, but you really can’t compare Jews prior to the Resurrection and Ascension to the Church of today – BIG difference…huge. Also, Jesus’ primary rebuke of the Pharisees was that they rejected Him, His miracles, His doctrine (the word of God), blasphemed the Holy Spirit, and put their faith in their own self-righteousness – not in the atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ.
We can split hairs over legalism – but you cannot go to the other end of the spectrum to license and call it justified. We are all called to read God’s word, spread the Gospel, teachers to proclaim the whole counsel of God, and all of us to be obedient to His words in Scripture. That’s not legalism – legalism is making your own laws for others to obey and changing the Gospel. That’s equally as evil as what Rob Bell does – not more or less.
So no offense brother, but Rob Bell is a heretic – much like Brian McLaren, Doug Padgitt and many others in the emergent movement.
Eric Verby says
jerbrwn, your reasoning is flawless and your truth is spoken in a loving and pastoral manner. James, you must really listen to what our brother jerbrwn is saying. It makes the difference between dark and light, life and death. I couldn’t have argued it apologetically any better than he did, or more clearly or succinctly. I can only add my personal experience as one who thought he was seeking the truth but was finding anything but the truth, until the Truth found me in all my naked sinful abandon, grabbed me by the scruff of the neck, and pulled me out of the flames of darkest hell that my intellectual and moral sins were dragging me into. Like a brand from the burning flames I was pulled out and subdued by my conquering King Jesus. Though I still sin mightily every day, and break His holy law in all its places, I know for sure that I am forever secure in his loving, electing arms that will never let me go. James, do you have that certainty in your relationship with Jesus Christ, that he would even walk into the fiery furnace with you to rescue you from the flames of hell? If you don’t yet, cry out for that assurance. Plead for it. Beg for it. Ask, seek and knock for it. Blessings to jerbwrn, James, and everyone else who is reading these comments. God takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked, and the wicked is all of us.
Mike, thanks for your reply. I, too, have struggled with Pastor Bell’s concept from “Love Wins” about hell. Again, I haven’t read his book, but reviews in Christianity Today, and interviews in the internet. I believe in the concept of hell, primarily because Jesus talked about it, or something similar ( though exactly what he was describing can be debated).
You speak of “the doctrine of hell”. Hell was not even mentioned in either The Apostle’s Creed or The Nicene Creed. If they were so essential to the faith, I would think that they would have been mentioned. I wouldn’t consider a person’s view on hell ( especially a particular interpretation of hell ) to be a fundamental requirement for being a Christian, or expressing a Christian view. That Jesus came to provide salvation and deliver us from sin, is fundamental- not hell itself. Still, there is plenty of Church history to demonstrate that it is a widely accepted doctrine, but the “devil’s in the details”. What exactly is hell? Is it eternal physical torture, or eternal destruction? Is there any possibility that Christ’s sacrifice has made hell irrelevant? I believe what scripture tells me. Unfortunately, sometimes it seems to be sending conflicting messages. Does God hate sin? Of course He does. Does He hate it because it harms Him in some way? I don’t think so. I think He hates it because He sees the real- temporal and eternal damage it does to those He loves- both in and outside the Church.
Part of the problem here is that we rarely have open, honesty discussion on questions like this, where there is critical thinking applied. Let me give you an example. When I was first saved, I was all about black and white. If the Bible said it, I believed. Never mind the fact that as a young believer I hadn’t read the entire Bible, or spent much time studying it, or grown to have any wisdom to apply to what I was reading. I had a bumper sticker theology, based on what I heard other believers tell me. I distinctly remember arguing with another brother about what happened to babies who died. I entered the discussion armed with a handful of verses that I could use as ammunition, and proceeded to argue that since salvation was through faith alone, and asking Jesus into your heart, that the only logical conclusion was that children who died went to hell. Now I know that even the most rigid fundamentalist don’t teach that. Why? Because it’s barbaric and unjust. I learned soon after that ( and being kicked out of a Catholic church for lecturing a priest about sending people to hell ) that confrontation is not always the most effective method, that I’m not always right, and there are many theological issues that have more than one legitimate view.
When I witness to people today, I work toward a place where they trust me enough to raise the important issue of sin in their life. I don’t know if Pastor Bell sees his goal as giving theology to the churched or opening a dialogue with people who have rejected the flawed and often false church they see. I don’t agree with him on many issues, but I’d enjoy lovingly speaking with him about his views. There are problems, logically, morally, and doctrinally with the “doctrine of hell” that I won’t go into here. I appreciate that Bell brought up the issue and hope that mature believers will discuss it- and recognize that hell itself, is a peripheral topic, while the issue of sin, judgement, and Christ’s atonement are fundamental.
Wouldn’t judgement & hell go together James ? how could it be deemed peripheral if Jesus & the Apostles taught of its certainty ? 2Peter 2
I respectfully disagree. The Apostle’s Creed does state, “He (Jesus) descended into hell…” That is a reference to the doctrine of hell that is mentioned in the apostles creed and supported by 1 Peter 3:18-20. This doctrine is an integral part of the holistic Gospel of Jesus.
Two good questions and comments. I don’t think I can reply without being long winded. I’m no theologian, but this issue has been something I’ve thought about for decades, and I’ll try to summarize my concerns. First, I think I need to clarify that I do believe in Hell, though I believe the question is one of specifics. Your definition of Hell will change it’s meaning, and honestly, I don’t see enough specifics to justify the images of endless torture that are taught. Anaquaduck, yes, God does judge. He in fact is the only one qualified to judge. In the end, if God decides to do something, than I believe that it is good, whether I understand it or not. At this point, I see through a mirror dimly, and because of that I admit my shortcomings. While scripture is inspired, my interpretation, and yours, is sometimes flawed. Also, inspiration doesn’t mean full revelation. So, I try to look at the whole of scripture, instead a single verse of two, and make sense of apparent inconsistencies. God will judge. He tells us that. Jesus died for the whole world. He tells us that. He says that salvation requires faith, but there are exceptions ( like children who die before they reach an age where they can reason, and other types of faith- think of Abraham ). So, for me, when I put those things together, I evangelize with the view that eternal torture may be a possibility for people that I care about, and I reach out with a sense of urgency. It also means that I admit that I may be entirely misunderstanding this.
There may be other possibilities, which I don’t think we can deny, because scripture doesn’t give us a fully formed theology. Some possibilities ( and I’m not arguing that they are true, just possibilities- the very discussion of which will make some people foam at the mouth ):
– When Jesus spoke of Gehena, Sheol, and Abraham’s bosom, He was speaking to people before the crucifixion and resurrection. Did those events change anything, or were they meaningless? Scripture says that Jesus spoke to the spirits in prison. So is it possible that He could change the fate of those who had died? If he came to set the captive free, wouldn’t that suggest that it was for those who were already imprisoned? Likewise, scripture says that He died, once for all. Does that payment change the equation even for those who don’t know Him? Since I don’t know, I err on the side of attempting to prevent any from hell, but I don’t preach it emphatically either.
– Is it possible that our image of hell as being a place where God tortures the damned for eternity is not merely an overstatement, but also libeling God’s nature? If so, shouldn’t we be sure about how we explain this murky “doctrine”? Is Hell a place of torment or destruction? The two are completely different ideas. The former seems sadistic and the latter not so much. Let me ask you a question? Think about the worst people who has ever existed. Maybe it’s Judas or Hitler, or Manson. Think about that person going into eternity. Think about all the evil they did. The harm they brought to innocent people, the killings, the debauchery, the lies. We can agree that they are worthy of punishment. So, now what would be just? I’m a wicked man and I anger far too easily. I can see taking Hitler and pulling his fingernails out. I can see doing that for a few years. Maybe 5 years. What about a thousand years of that? At what point does an infinite punishment for a finite sin become unjust? At what point does it become sin itself? Now, what if instead of Hitler, it’s just some poor soul who never heard the name of Jesus, or saw His nature modeled to them in a tangible way? Would a thousand years of torture be adequate? Again, if in eternity, God says that it is just, then He can be trusted, but on this side of the curtain with our limited knowledge, I think it’s reasonable to discuss and consider the possibilities. The idea of hell as being a place of eternal torment ( implemented by the hand of God or by the devil ) appears to conflict with the concept of justice.
It also appears to conflict with the nature of God. I simply can’t comprehend why a logical being would, on the one hand, love humanity and individuals so much that He would suffer torture, humiliation, and rejection ( and say of those doing these things “Father, forgive them” ), and then on the other hand perpetuate a system of justice where there is eternal torture- an infinite punishment for a finite sin. The two just seem incompatible.
– God’s judgement was poured out on His son. God’s judgement may be assuaged by Christ’s atonement. The judgement is real. The bearer of that judgement is real. Jesus bears my sins, and I believe He bears the sins of the lost as well ( I don’t believe in the concept of “Limited Atonement”. ) Again, I’m not professing universal salvation ( though I don’t deny it’s possibility ), but I’m sure that we have huge holes in our understanding of God. My cat may think she knows me, but I guarantee you that she doesn’t. I can try to explain myself to her, but she can only comprehend just so much.
– God’s judgement may be eternal destruction. God may simply blink the soul out of existence. This what most atheists think will happen, and after the judgement, it may be a self-fulfilling prophecy for them. This option doesn’t have the problem of justice. God would punish sin, and man’s rejection, and still provide a relatively merciful response. However, I think this still has a problem with what I see in God’s character of long suffering love for His creation. If Jesus would go into Hell after the crucifixion, then isn’t it possible that the Catholic notion of a purgatory may be real?
– Some believe that hell is being eternally separated from God, but of course, if God is omnipresent, then it’s impossible to eternally completely separated from Him. I like Tim Keller’s description of hell as being a place which is locked from the inside, where there is no one who does not choose to be there. He describes how the torment is that a person becomes so identified by their sin and obsessions that they cease to exist apart from those things and become them. When I read about Christ’s description of a “wailing and gnashing of teeth”, I don’t think of physical torture so much as someone consumed by hatred and anger.
My central problem with this claimed doctrine, is that it is not explained well enough to go much beyond speculations. We know that God is Holy and without sin. We know that He will not merely ignore sin. We know that He is just and will respond to sin according to His nature. We know that His love is so great that He took the penalty for our sins. We know that there will be some judgement when we die. We know that some will be cast away from heaven. Even those things, which are clear in scripture, are being interpreted by broken and fallen people, and we honestly get it wrong a lot. Beyond those things, we don’t know specifics so the concept of hell that is so often perpetuated by the Church may be “taking God’s name in vain” by presenting as fact things we aren’t confident of. Because of that, my view is “prepare for the worse but realize that God is full of surprises.”
Dennis, I don’t know if that answers your comment or not. By the way, the phrase about Christ descending into hell wasn’t in the original Apostles Creed ( though it was added only decades later ). My point was that we can disagree on these things and still be followers of Jesus, and there’s nothing in either creed that says that being a believer requires you to affirm your faith in a lake of fire for all non-Christians. If anything, the Apostles Creed requires that we affirm our faith that Jesus went to hell and suffered God’s wrath in our place.
There’s a lot to consider in all of that. Luke 16:26 may be helpful in challenging the idea of purgatory? Whether or not someone is worse than or better than another is beside the point when it comes to the gospel of Grace for the price paid for sin by Christ is enough to cover all.
From what I can tell our souls are eternal, the power of evil will certainly be destroyed along with those who reject the Gospel of Christ. Thankfully God gives us all we need to know for our salvation 2 Tim 3:16 but as Scripture indicates some will only just make it in, in terms of walking in obedience & trust. The Apostle Paul indicated that Christians had been thrown into confusion over various false teachings & teachers but remained confident in the Lord’s saving call of Salvation would be effective to the last.
From memory the creeds were addressing specific issues of the day, placing them above Scripture to decide what was & wasn’t important would not have been the aim of the creed from what I can tell. As you also say…you like to consider Scripture as a whole not just pick a verse or two, this is where doctrine gets it’s opportunity to shine. I still consider what Dr Kruger is pointing out is important regarding hell & the concept of the atonement or lack there of considering Bell’s teaching.
Anaquadcuk, I won’t pretend that most of this is over my head. Before I was a believer, the standard atheist arguments were in my head, and I entered into the Kingdom kicking and screaming. It was the immensity of the universe and the concept of infinity ( the macro ) and the gentle faith of some dear believers ( the micro ) that won me over. But God didn’t ask me to desert my brain or my desire to make sense of the universe when Her redeemed me. He also made my heart more tender, not less, and that only made the issue of hell and how I can integrate it into my faith more important, not less. So, I spend a lot of time thinking about these things, and being frustrated with the apparent shallowness of thinking on issues like this. I love my fundamentalist brethren. To hold fast to the truth is essential, and I can and do join them in that. My question is whether every issue that some consider truth is, in fact, truth. Sometimes, the Church merely accepts something as truth- issues that were never laid out by the Church Fathers as essential, and that belief is passed on from one generation to the next, without proper reflection or challenge. The Bereans were respected precisely because they studied to see whether these things they were told were true. Do we have that same freedom in the Church today? If someone questions an issue that some deem peripheral ( and yes, I still believe that the specifics of hell is a peripheral issue ), can they do so without being labeled a liberal, or worse, a heretic, or non-Christian? If we can’t, then how are we valuing truth, given Jesus Himself is the very embodiment of Truth?
I won’t defend Rob Bell’s view of Hell. I don’t know it well enough to comment on it directly. I commented here because ( and maybe this isn’t an issue on this blog ) it’s rare anymore that there is open discussion of these issues. It’s even rarer that people will say “I don’t have the answer, but I know who does and He will clarify it in His timing.” I believe that you misunderstanding the value and the purpose of those early credal statements. You are correct that they are not scripture, and don’t have the same authority that scripture has. What they do have though is the wisdom of godly men, who were much closer to the times when the scriptures were written, and they read those scriptures ( and by the way, were the ones who decided that what you and I consider are scripture were scripture- if not for them, we would not have the Bible that we use today ). There were many disagreements over varying issues, and those disagreements were harming the Church. These godly men looked at scripture and said “these statements, in this creed, are the essentials which make us Christ followers. We may disagree on other issues, but we hold the line here, and give leeway elsewhere.” You and I read Luke 16:26. We both have the Holy Spirit and the mind of Christ, but also the fleshy sin nature. So, when you read it, you interpret to mean that there is no communication between heaven and the rich man. I read it and interpret as meaning that there is ( generally ) no communication between the living and the dead. Is my interpretation right or yours? God knows, but we don’t. So I look at issues like this and admit that there is much about the eternal that is a mystery to me. Now, Michael can say that the “doctrine of Hell” was made very clear by Jesus, but that doesn’t necessarily make it so. Someone is saved because Christ saved them, not because they believe in a lake of fire. There’s another long discussion on Biblical interpretation that we could have. The fundamentalist view is that all scripture is directly applicable, as if God is speaking directly to me. There’s another view, that also respects that all scripture is inspired by God and profitable, but says that scripture was written to a particular audience and needs to be interpreted in light of who it was written to. But, as I say, that’s another long discussion. While I have issues with the concept of hell, and don’t believe that it is a place of eternal torture, because I find that that conflicts with more scripture and the just nature of God, given that I don’t KNOW ( and neither do you ), I will err on the side of caution. I love God and want to be with for eternity. I love people, and want them to join me there, so I witness as fervently as I can, and pray for God’s mercy, and pray that they are not adversely influenced by judgemental and harsh views, that misrepresent the whole truth of God.
In the book of Exodus we are given a description of God’s judgement & redemption. God via Moses continues in a long suffering way to challenge Pharaoh as he prepares the Israelites to leave Egypt. Later in the desert God challenges those He delivered from slavery due to their lack of faith & obedience. As the Scriptures say…”God is a consuming fire” Heb 12:29.
From what I can tell & Scripture would back me up on this, there is no room for appealing to your logic when it contradicts Scripture or the unknown factor or what God “might” do when He has made it plain time & time again. Vengeance belongs to God & he has plans to repay as the church calls people to repentance & faith in Christ as Jesus himself did. He expects us to bear fruit in this regard…remember the fig tree & the letters in Revelation.
As we look to God’s word the Bible certain things are made plain wether two people see differently or not. You seem to be placing God in a realm of unknowns, trusting in that & your own logic rather than the Scriptures which is the Word of God. It so hard to know where you are coming from, you give no Scripture while your ideas about the Bible or God swirl around…I would take Dr Kruger’s advice & consider his points. As a teacher he has pointed out the differences well, also Scripture is clear that a person should be rebuked if they are doing wrong in the hope that they turn from their foolishness or falseness. Titus 1 & 2. One of the many benefits of warnings lest we become like Pharaoh who brought terrible suffering upon himself & his subjects.
To be certain there are false teachers is something, but in the end nothing if you can’t discern which ones are false & which ones are not. As you struggle to come to terms with that & God’s word I pray that you will find a church that is faithful to the gospel of truth as God chooses to work with jars of clay reaching out to a fallen world that is without excuse. Rom 1.
If it is your view that liberalism is being faithful to the teachings & commands of Christ & you see your loved “fundamentalist brethren” in error then bring the word of truth to the foreground where it may be considered. I certainly don’t see Dr Kruger using twisted arguments & words chosen without care & insight.
James – enjoying the discussion so far – for the Apostle’s Creed please see Dennis’ comment. However:
You said – “What exactly is hell? Is it eternal physical torture, or eternal destruction? Is there any possibility that Christ’s sacrifice has made hell irrelevant?”
Hell is eternal conscious torment. Scripture is exceptionally clear on this. Even the verses that the annihilationists use defeat their own argument. I think you agree with me here, so I’m not wanting to stir up an argument that doesn’t exist on that point.
However, Hell is completely relevant for all who are not saved and all who know and love any people who aren’t saved. The Bible clearly defines salvation as requiring that the Holy Spirit has regenerated the heart of the individual, and that they respond with faith placed exclusively in Jesus Christ, His divinity, His Lordship, and His atoning death on the cross – and absolutely nothing else.
People may not understand the terms – and that’s fine – however, the concepts are Gospel 101 so to speak and the Bible clearly lays them out as being the requisite of being one of God’s children – the only people who will be saved from eternal conscious torment in Hell.
You said – “I believe what scripture tells me. Unfortunately, sometimes it seems to be sending conflicting messages.”
I will respond to this, only because I believe you to be genuine. However, Scripture never contradicts itself. There are difficult passages for sure, and complimentary passages that one must understand in the full context of the word of God to know. However, I’m curious what you have read that you think contradicts, and what it has to bear on this dicussion? Please elaborate if you will.
You said – “Does God hate sin? Of course He does. Does He hate it because it harms Him in some way? I don’t think so.” – We confuse physical/spiritual harm with emotional harm sometimes. God has emotions and He can be grieved, even though He can never be manipulated or harmed in any other way. God hates disobedience and any thinking or actions that do not glorify or honor Him and do not put Him at the center of our world view.
This is His right as our Creator, Savior, and our Father. We sometimes as humans forget that God isn’t like us, and deserves far more honor, respect and devotion than any of us really give Him.
You have also said – “Part of the problem here is that we rarely have open, honesty discussion on questions like this, where there is critical thinking applied. Let me give you an example. When I was first saved, I was all about black and white. If the Bible said it, I believed. Never mind the fact that as a young believer I hadn’t read the entire Bible, or spent much time studying it, or grown to have any wisdom to apply to what I was reading. I had a bumper sticker theology, based on what I heard other believers tell me. I distinctly remember arguing with another brother about what happened to babies who died. I entered the discussion armed with a handful of verses that I could use as ammunition, and proceeded to argue that since salvation was through faith alone, and asking Jesus into your heart, that the only logical conclusion was that children who died went to hell. Now I know that even the most rigid fundamentalist don’t teach that. Why? Because it’s barbaric and unjust. I learned soon after that ( and being kicked out of a Catholic church for lecturing a priest about sending people to hell ) that confrontation is not always the most effective method, that I’m not always right, and there are many theological issues that have more than one legitimate view.”
James my brother – I don’t want to throw the baby out with the bathwater here (pardon the expression). You are right that your initial stance was mistaken, but could not be more wrong about why. God is just – not because He does things that are just – He is just because He is God. And whatever He says is just or decides is just and good – is just and good solely because He is God and we cannot ever judge Him, His motives, His ways or His thoughts. Nothing God says or does is barbaric and we cannot use this type of thought process or words when discussing Him.
If God wanted to send babies to Hell (which He does not) then He would be just in sending them there, just as He is with adults who are unsaved because of the Fall of Man. If you think God owes any of us anything, or that God is required to do anything other than act out of His will and His nature – unfortunately you’re mistaken. He’s God and that’s it. WE as humans don’t have to understand it, justify it, or even like it. He says it – that’s it. And that’s the mature and spiritual way to look at these questions my friend.
Now – you should believe everything written in the Bible period – but that’s another discussion.
and you’re right that not every opinion of every Christian should be blanketly trusted – including mine or any other on this forum. However, we have Scripture on our side and we read out of the text. Most people read their presuppositions and preferences upon the text and then determine what they want to believe. That’s a dangerous proposition.
When it comes to theology there is only one legitimate view – the Bible. However, I do understand that the vague passages (there aren’t as many as most think) can be discussed and debated with fruitful outcomes. However, the Gospel message, Hell, the deity of Christ, etc. are not issues that have more than one legitimate view. Just because a person cannot defend against a particular attack immediately, does not make the Biblical view not legitimate or the illegitimate view now legitimate. It just means that the believer has more to learn about God’s word.
to address the issue about babies – while many try – you really cannot argue that since salvation was through faith alone, and asking Jesus into your heart, that the only logical conclusion was that children who died went to hell. That view forgets that God must first regenerate the heart in order for a person to respond in faith – and once He has done so their nature can only respond by faith. It’s called compatabilism, but it’s drawn out of Scripture from very early on in the OT all the way through the NT.
Also – we have the account of King David’s son whom God took to be with Him, after David sinned with Bathsheba.
The traditional fundamental position is that if a baby dies – then they were elect. Some would attempt to argue that if they were elect then God would allow them to live long enough to profess faith. That’s a flawed logical fallacy. You could just as easily say that since someone is condemned God would allow them to live long enough to deny Him, reject Him outright and volitionally sin.
Every time you see condemnation in the Bible – you see a list of volitional sins committed as well. Obviously that would be missing in the case of an infant.
This particular discussion could go on and on – but the point is you were eventually right – but your reasoning given in your statement is mistaken my brother.
When we witness to people – we don’t need them to specifically confess any sins to us. However, they must repent before God in their heart. And they must understand that their sins have caused them to be condemned and that Christ’s atonement is the only way to heaven.
You can work towards that conclusion in little jumps my brother. however, that person is absolutely not saved until they have repented of their sin to God and trusted in Christ and His atoning death. i don’t know how Scripture could be any more clear about that. I hope we are in agreement on this issue and I just misinterpreted a couple of things you said.
Finally James – you said “One There are problems, logically, morally, and doctrinally with the “doctrine of hell” that I won’t go into here.”
God is and always will be beyond the judgment of any human being, and all human beings collectively. He is good, right and just. God created goodness, righteousness and justice. It is whatever He says it is whether humans want to accept it or not.
God’s not on trial – ever!
We are, and our motives, and our morals, and our flawed logic, and the flawed doctrine of many. There are no doctrinal, logical or moral problems with the Biblical doctrine of Hell. There are only problems with all of the places man tries to go in order to avoid it – instead of accepting it, repenting, serving the King and proclaiming the Gospel.
The wide & narrow gates of Matt 7:13-14 are taught for a very good reason. In terms of popularity many take the wide option. Matt 7 continues to give reason for added concern in making decisions regarding God, holiness & redemption. Satan is into spirituality also & comes as an angel of light, not counter balance but deception. 2 Cor 11:14
All this dickering on the details of hell or atonement make me tired. No way a loving God would send majority of old to hell if they did not know to say or believe some magic words! Look at Oprah’s life compared to yours and see who may be closer to the truth. God has truly blessed her and her endeavors to follow what she feels is his guidance in her efforts to help others. Historical, verifiable Jesus just lived a life of love and inclusion of all kinds of sinners, never making them first repeat some phrase or belief. Just go live your life, sharing the love of God because you are forgiven, period. Tis was before the “atonement”! I don’t need anyone or any religion’s stamp of approval on my relationship with God, even though I attend a Christian church every week!
Michael Kruger says
Thanks, Karen. It is clear you do not believe in the doctrine of hell. You are free to believe what you want. But, Jesus, and the Bible, were very, very clear about the reality of hell. Not believing it does not make it go away. So, in essence, you are saying, “Jesus is wrong and the the biblical authors were wrong, but I (and Oprah) know best.” So, let me ask you, why do you think you know more about eternal issues like heaven and hell than Jesus did?
Jesus had many conversations & teaching sessions, some going all day & into the night, this too made Him very tired. Teaching on faith, sin, repentance, wealth, heaven & hell among other topics. Judging from Matt 28:16-20 these were important. Recognising that Jesus had/has the words of eternal life & eternal blessings from God makes me look at life & people differently now. Many people do good things but that wont get someone closer to God. Jesus is the only way. By repenting of my sin & rebellion & accepting the free gift of grace I can enter in to the Kingdom of God, otherwise I remain an enemy of God whether I am a generous person or not, whether I go to church or not.
Firstly I’d like to say that this little discussion is a credit to everyone. It’s been robust, mature, and gracious – something of a rarity on the internet. Hopefully I won’t spoil it.
Let me start by saying to ignore Hell is like ignoring the Americas. Both are real but (for me as a UK citizen), much of these 2 continents are a mystery. What matters to me is that they are there. My holiday to Florida otherwise would have been rather wet if it wasn’t there. Living in Scotland I don’t need to know of Dakota or Monument Valley for example but my knowledge or lack of doesn’t affect the existence of either or what happens there, etc.
However, I’ll stop my analogy there. If Jesus died to save us and there is no Hell, then what did he save us from? Sin is the answer but without Hell or saving is rather moot. Either we go to Heaven (perhaps as a Universalist would say) or we are destroyed ( as God cannot tolerate sin) surely in this scenario?
However, sin without Hell doesn’t make sense in the orthodox paradigm. Sin requires death, punishment, or rescuing from. Jesus does the latter for us through His atoning death. Hell however, is for those who reject Christ and snub God. Hell therefore is eternal death and separation from God. The evil in Hell is from the absence of God and good, not from a God inflicted plague of woe and ill. Jesus spoke of Hell being outside the city wall where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth. Hell is outside of Heaven land away from its protection and that of the King.
Edward M. Yang says
Thank you for this article Michael. As a Pastor, Rob will be judged by God for those he led astray. His watered down and heretical version of the Gospel will certainly lead many away from the one true God, and that is the saddest part.
Edward, without trying to be confrontational, it’s comments like this that I find troubling. Will Rob Bell be judged? Yes, in the same fashion that you and I will be judged. Do you not believe that Jesus’ death covers His sins and yours, or was it not sufficient? Assuming that he is sinning in expressing his view, which differs from yours, is he doing it knowingly? Do you have sin in your life? Even a smidgen? He may be wrong in his view, but I don’t believe that he is intentionally doing evil. I believe that, at worst, he’s allowing his compassion to over ride his true compass. Is that a worse sin than casting judgement on a brother?
Michael Kruger says
James, with all due respect, you need to spend some time reading the passages in the General Epistles about false teachers. For instance, the apostle Peter, in the letter of 2 Peter, is dealing with false teachers who are denying the reality of God’s judgment. And Peter speaks about them in language that is even more stringent and more harsh than that used by Edward in his comments. To deny the reality of Hell indeed does make one a false teacher. And such false teachers are leading people astray. It is not our job as Christian leaders to worry about whether any false teacher is doing it intentionally or knowingly. It is our job to expose false teachers and to prevent them from doing further harm.
Moreover, your comments make a number of misleading statements. (1)You tell Edward that Bell’s view merely “differs with yours.” No, that not the case. It differs with the Bible itself, and for that matter the entire history of Christianity. (2) you bring up the question of whether Edwards himself sins. That is utterly irrelevant to the discussion at hand; just because we all sin does not mean we cannot point out error when we see it. (3) You mention that Bell’s view is an instance of “compassion.” But his view is not more compassionate, but is less. To tell people that hell is not real, when it is real, is not compassionate, but deceptive, and will lead people to their own destruction.
Michael, I can agree with you that I need to spend more time in the epistles, as well as the entirety of the Word. There are false teachers. Of that, I am certain. Personally, I see more false teaching on the conservative side these days, than on the liberal side. Perhaps, I should drop out of this discussion until I’ve read Bell’s book “Love Wins”. As I said at the start, I’ve only read reviews of it and heard him speak about it, so I don’t know the specifics, so it’s hard to respond to some of your claims above. I do know that the fundamentalist side of the church seems very quick to point out errors in others, and throw out phrases like “heretic”. When I look at the universal church, I know which groups appear to be most like the pharisees, and it’s not people like Bell, but I’m no more their judge than I am Bell’s judge. What hell is, at this moment, and in the future, is not something clearly explained in scripture, so good Christians can and should debate it, without using phrases like heretic.
As to the notion that Bell, or anyone promoting a different view on hell, is leading people astray, I can only say that I will genuinely surprised if when I enter God’s presence to not learn that 90% of what we thought and taught about God, with our little insect brains, was off the mark, at least a little. It’s probable that even the best preachers and teachers today are communicating interpretations of scripture that are flawed. The false teachers of the Epistles were teaching things like gnosticism and worse. They were teaching that Jesus didn’t actually come in the flesh, so I don’t think that you can compare what Bell is saying to that. I believe in hell, but still believe that, by itself, it is a peripheral issue. People are not converted by the notion of hell. They are converted because of transformed lives, the grace of God, and the kindness of believers. Unfortunately, these days, those qualities are in short abundance and so are genuine conversions. I understand that I won’t convince you of any of this, and that my views are different from yours. We read the same Bible and have the same Spirit. As long as we both believe and teach that Jesus is the risen Son of God, whose death is the only payment for man’s sin, then we should consider one another brothers. You have certainly been respectful to me, and I appreciate that, but I also see Bell as my brother, and I don’t believe that he has been treated respectfully. Feel free to tell your readers why you believe that Bell has missed the mark on this issue, and make your argument. Explain why you believe that it is important. When you stray into making statements questioning his salvation or his validity as a believer, than I believe that you are in error. As a young believer, I went to a Catholic church service, with a young lady who had prayed to receive Christ with me the day prior. The priest was celebrating the Virgin Mary, and teaching some things, that I believe are much more non-Christian than anything that I’ve heard Bell say. After the service, I told him that he would be held accountable for all the souls he led astray. Technically, I may have been right, but my approach was entirely wrong. When I confronted him in that way, he kicked me out, which closed the door to speaking with him kindly on the issue, put pressure on the young convert who was there with her parents, and my zeal probably did more to harm her faith than to help. If you genuinely believe that Bell is wrong, I would guess that he is reachable in some way. Begin a dialog with him. I’ve heard him speak with people who have much more conservative views than he does, and he was very open. God is just and will do what is right, just, moral, and gracious, when it comes to people’s eternal destiny. I personally doubt, based on the overwhelming nature of what is presented in scripture, that hell is a place where people are either eternally tortured or tormented. To me, the phrases about destruction make more sense, and speak to no longer existing. That is a very different view of hell. But, it’s up to Him and not me and not you.
I guess by your words you do not feel that Christ’s ministry, teachings and the word of God overall have been sufficient.
No offense – but Christ gave us enough to understand what we need to know. Everything else will be revealed to us.
The Church fathers were unanimous in all of the core and essential tenets of the faith. The apostles were as well. There has been healthy debate on things such as eating meat – but you cannot and should not even compare the two.
The essentials of what one must believe and hold to for life have been clear ever since the ministry of Jesus Christ and then subsequently the apostles and Church fathers. Rob Bell is a heretic – and as such we should reject his words and stop looking to try and find ways to accommodate his message or attempt to twist things until we think we agree.
False teachers and unbelievers go to hell James. The Biblical position (I don’t care if you call it conservative or anything else) is the absolute only position to have if you want to walk with Jesus Christ in heaven for eternity and avoid eternal conscious torment in hell. I really can’t be more frank.
I hope I’m coming across strong enough, because I’m concerned for you and those you speak with.
God will do exactly what He has promised in His word – because He cannot lie.
He will pour out His wrath on all unbelievers, false teachers, false prophets – i.e., the wicked. There are so many verses that expressly state the finality of them is eternal torment (not annihilation) – it is SO CLEAR Biblically, that once you read the passages carefully you cannot really come up with any other view. I’ve listened to those guys before and the annihilationists are in error. James you would do well to ignore that view, seriously.
And He will also save all who have put a persevering faith in Jesus Christ in the manner prescribed Biblically.
Steven, I would tend to agree with your description of Hell, in that I can’t see that God could be the instrument of torment. The Jonathan Edwards description of sinners being in the hands of an angry God may have been effective in scaring people into repentance, but it makes no logical sense to me. As I have said, I believe in the concept of hell, and, ironically, many of the non-believers I converse with also believe in hell ( what surprises me is the inconsistency in their thinking- criticizing Christianity for the concept of hell, but then actually wishing some that they hate to go there- hopefully no believer would ever wish hell on anyone ). I don’t personally think that anyone will be in hell, without choosing to be there. While I have no proof of it, I suspect that God has a plan for those who have never heard His name ( as Karen shares her concern above ). When it says that Jesus “led the captives” I tend to agree that this refers to Jesus providing a way of escape for those who were there before He was incarnate. Knowing this, I wouldn’t be surprised that He has a plan for others who never had the opportunity to hear of Him, but whose hearts He knows. Again, just speculation, apart from my confidence that God is just, and I simply can’t see any congruency between His nature and sending someone to hell, who never had an opportunity to hear about Him. I’ve had two concerns on this topic: first that we honestly recognize that this issue is something we can debate respectfully and still love one another if we disagree, and secondly, to point out that God is full of surprises and we are incapable of putting Him in a box. Whatever He decides will be just- but given His tendency towards miraculous and unexpected mercy, I wouldn’t be surprised if we’ve misunderstood some of this. God bless.
Michael, I love this blog! Found out about you after picking up Canon Revisited over at aomin.org. Keep speaking the truth my friend, you are making an impact for the Kingdom.
Eric Verby says
I know I deserve eternal Hell. I have deified myself and made myself to be God too many times in my 44 years. I have gorged myself on all the world has to offer and all of God’s good gifts without giving enough credit to the Giver of All Good Things. If it were not for the fact that Christ snatched me up by the scruff of my neck in April of 1991 when I was into the New Age, eastern mysticism, sexual immorality, and self-worship, and dragged me kicking and screaming into the Kingdom of God, I still would be puffing myself up as a demigod today, maybe as some tenured professor somewhere with a Ph.D in philosophy or religion. I even tried to kill myself once, and nearly succeeded–they say I had no pulse when the paramedics found me. That alone would be enough to sentence me to an eternity in Hell–trying to play God by taking my own life. Finite sinners sin against an infinitely glorious, beautiful, perfect and Holy God. Therefore their finite sins are worthy of infinite punishment. It is a true wonder that any of us are saved at all. Fortunately, God is a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and rich in Love (Psalm 103). He is Love Himself. He is also pure Light–in Him there is no darkness at all. When we sin against God in any way, we sin against perfect Love and perfect Light. But the good news is that love does win, not in the way Rob Bell thinks, but in the lives of those who have been redeemed by the electing love of God the Father, purchased by His Son, applied to by the Holy Spirit. Love wins, at least for some, and it wins to the uttermost. It did, and does, and will for me. I hope that it will for Rob Bell and James and anyone out there who is living in darkness and unwilling to turn to the Cross and the LIght, the Way, the Truth, and the Life!
Folks – While God is a logical God – His thoughts are above our thoughts and His ways are above our ways.
We should be more concerned about being Biblically correct than logically correct if we are not 100% sure that our Biblical position is fully logical – until we learn that it is in fact logical.
Also – more importantly – God is not judged. He’s not on trial. God’s justice is His justice – and nothing we can say will make God immoral.
He is moral and just and good – because He is God and He defines and sovereignly dictates what is moral and just and good.
I wish I could say that in a less confrontational tone, but folks – our opinions of God are irrelevant other than just MORE fuel on the fire for any who are in condemnation and do not put their saving faith in the Jesus Christ of Holy Scripture.
I pray that any who haven’t done so that read this repent and put their faith in Jesus Christ as the only salvation from an eternity in hell for their sins and willful unbelief.
First, allow me to apologize for being a late comer to this discussion. Second, my gosh some of you folks are long winded. I also believe in a literal, physical, and painful place called Hell. I believe God has provided one and only one way to escape God’s judgment, the atoning sacrifice made by his son Yeshua bin Yoseph el Judah (his Jewish name).
Allow me now to offer a different, but I believe biblical, view point or direction. I have read all your comments and I have seen no mention of the essence of God. I mean by that, where does the idea of God’s love and judgment come from. Let me propose a radical idea, “We do not serve a loving God, but rather we serve a holy God that loves us.” Today many people have attempted to elevate God’s attribute of love to such a point that it is being used to determine everything God is and what he does. This is just simply wrong. No where in the Bible does God or his Son declare God is love. In fact, the comment is only made in one chapter in the entire Bible and that is 1 John 4. Yet, no less than thirteen times in the Bible God states, “Be holy for I am holy.”
God is a holy God. God is not holy because he loves us, rather God loves us because he is holy. The very source of God’s love is not love itself but comes from God’s holiness. Love is actually the summation of grace and mercy. As James MacDonald points out, both these originate in God’s holiness.
God’s holiness demands he punish sin not because he is some legalistic deity but rather because his absolute sinless perfection would allow nothing less. Hell can be nothing less than eternal because the sins of the loss are eternally etched into Heaven’s record preventing them from ever escaping their just and terrible punishment.