A few weeks ago, Rob Bell’s promotional video for his new book set off a series of responses from evangelicals who were upset about what they perceived to be his universalism. I am disturbed by a lot of the reactions he’s getting, and I’ve been trying to put my finger on why this is striking so many people at the core. Here are my thoughts.

I feel that evangelical culture is driven, in many ways, by a fear of hell–hell being a future state of complete separation from God. Much of our evangelism is centered around hell and trying to keep people from going there. “You have to tell people the bad news before the good news sounds good” is something I heard growing up. Translation, for non-evangelicals: “You have to tell people what their problem is (that they’re sinners and on their way to hell) before the good news, the solution (that Jesus can save them from sin and hell), will sound good to them.”

Sharing the gospel has become synonymous with telling people that without Jesus, they are hell-bound. If we didn’t have a hell to appeal to–if the stakes were not eternal damnation–we wouldn’t know how to talk to people about Jesus. Do we know Jesus as the good news who transcends where we will be after we die? Rob Bell’s alleged universalism strikes not just at the doctrine of hell and who we think will be there. It strikes, for many of us, at the gospel itself. At our fear-driven, hell-focused, afterlife-centered gospel.


Filed under Hell

3 responses to “Hell

  1. Warren

    I need to watch the video. Asher and I had lunch yesterday and he told me about this guy and the reactions that people are having. I find this especially interesting because of my ideas of the afterlife where pretty much everyone gets grace and mercy and finds glory, to some degree (still not sure what my views are exactly). So yeah, again, I have nothing constructive to say, I just felt like running my fingers. I’d be interested to see your opinions on hell though, as you don’t really go into that here.
    Take Care,

  2. Sarah King

    I love this.

    I remember Matt and I having a conversation about Jesus when we were first dating, and I always think about it when stuff like this comes up. He told me that what really drew him to Christianity was not that he finally decided it was absolutely true, or that he was scared to go to hell, but that he fell in love with Jesus. Jesus drew Matt to Himself, and with or without “correct” theology, Matt’s life was changed because he now belonged to Jesus.

  3. Warren, “The Great Divorce” pretty much lays out how I think of hell. If you ever overcome your bias against C.S. Lewis, you should read it and we should talk about it.

    Sarah, I love that.

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