Hell, continued

The cover article in Time on Rob Bell and Hell stirred up some stuff in the blogosphere. Here’s Matt Yglesias’ response:

But without hell there’s no reason to think of good and bad, right and wrong as a question of getting over some hurdle of minimum standard of conduct.

Kathryn Gin on why hell still matters:

Whether or not we agree with the issues they champion, the majority of Americans who continue to believe in hell can’t simply be dismissed as fanatical relics of a bygone age. Controversies over hell keep recurring because to its believers, hell stands for more than fire, brimstone, and worms that never die. Hell also represents a backstop on the slippery slope to social chaos in a nation founded not on ethnicity or religion, but on the premise of a virtuous citizenry.

Ross Douthat’s “A Case for Hell.”

The doctrine of hell, by contrast, assumes that our choices are real, and, indeed, that we are the choices that we make. The miser can become his greed, the murderer can lose himself inside his violence, and their freedom to turn and be forgiven is inseparable from their freedom not to do so.


More on Rob Bell

Brian McLaren’s Huffington Post essay in defense of Rob Bell and rebutting Al Mohler. In the context of dealing with Mohler’s attacks, McLaren also asks some pointed questions about “the decline of mainline Protestantism.” Perhaps the most salient concerns the conservative argument that mainline Protestants succumbed to secular culture. Here’s his response:

To more and more of us these days, conservative Evangelical/fundamentalist theology looks and sounds more and more like secular conservatism — economic and political — simply dressed up in religious language. If that’s the case, even if Dr. Mohler is right in every detail of his critique, he’d still be wise to apply the flip side of his warning to his own beloved community.

In another blog post, McLaren points out other evangelical voices who support Bell, if even only partially.

Rob Bell himself gives some background on why he wrote the book here.

My friend (and former student!) the Very Rev’d Jake Owensby, Dean of the Cathedral of St. Mark in Baton Rouge, has written a thoughtful series of posts on heaven and hell. You can read it here.


Rob Bell and Universalism

There’s been quite the dust-up among Evangelicals about Rob Bell’s new book, in which, according to HarperOne’s marketing, “With searing insight, Bell puts hell on trial, and his message is decidedly optimistic—eternal life doesn’t start when we die; it starts right now. And ultimately, Love Wins…”

Here’s Christianity Today’s take on the controversy.

Rob Bell, for those who don’t know, is pastor of Mars Hill Church, and has produced a wildly popular video series, entitled NOOMA. The series was used for a time by a group at my former parish. Many of those in attendance found him inspiring. Maggie Dawn judges his genius in his ability to communicate rather than in the depth of his theology.

As Dawn points out, universalism is not particularly rare in the History of Christianity, nor even among evangelicals or conservatives. As examples, she cites no less an orthodox figure than C.S. Lewis. It’s an issue that continues to fascinate people, just as it continues to rouse the ire of many. In part that’s because the notion of a loving God who condemns people to hell for eternity seems an oxymoron and is an issue which for many thinking people lies at the center of their discomfort with Christianity.

It’s a question that often comes up in my random encounters with people. Sometimes it’s couched in terms of whether adherents of other religions can be saved. Sometimes it’s phrased as I did it above, as a problem in the nature of God. In either case, it is almost always asked by someone who is sincerely struggling with the issue and is seeking guidance or clues on how to begin to think about the question in such a way that helps them make sense of their own experience and deepest values, as well as their experience of God.

When I respond to them, I try to honor their experience, values, as well as their understanding of God and try to explore with them the full implications of belief in a loving God, and what might limit that love.