Friday, June 03, 2011

Clearing The Controversial Air: What Bell Actually Says

I hate coming late to a party. Usually, the best food is eaten, the best conversation has happened, the best music played. If I am too late, it's usually not too late for the stupid drunk to be stupid, or the mean drunk to pick a fight, which is always a treat. All the same, despite all the buzz, only now are Lisa and I getting around to reading Rob Bell's Love Wins. Before the book was even released there was quite a bit of talk about it, if only because (a) in an internet age, it's really hard to keep a secret; and (b) what Bell says is far too important to leave until a publisher puts it out there.

First of all, I find it more than little funny that people have said that Bell claims there is no "hell". As I said to my wife last night, after I had read about half way through the first chapter, he doesn't seem all the fussed about heaven, either! In fact, what Bell says is clear enough that most educated folk should understand what he is doing. Rather than get bogged down in "Do you still beat your wife?" kinds of discussions - which, really, is what the kinds of attacks Bell has received, at least from some quarters, amount to - it might be nice to read his words.

Ahem. From pages 70-71:
I remember arriving in Kigali, Rwanda, in December 2002 and driving from the airport to our hotel. Soon after leaving the airport I saw a kid, probably ten or eleven, with a missing hand standing by the side of the road. Then I saw another kid, just down the street, missing a leg. Then another in a wheelchair. Hands, arms, legs - I must have seen fifty or more teenagers with missing limbs in just those first several miles. My guide explained that during the genocide one of the ways to most degrade and humiliate your enemy was to remove an arm or a leg of his young child with a machete, so that years later he would have to live with the reminder of what you did to him.

Do I believe in a literal hell?
Of course.
Those aren't metaphorical missing arms and legs.
Are we clear? He says, right here, emphatically, that he believes in hell.

What he doesn't believe in, for reasons he is at pains to make clear, is Dante's Inferno, or the Classic Comics version in, say, a Jack Chick tract. He is at pains to make clear that the Biblical witness is clear, at the very least, on this - there is no "Satan", as Bell says, wearing red tights and listening to Pink Floyd albums in reverse. Denying radical evil, though, or even the hell in which far too many human beings find themselves, would be an outrage not only against God, but the suffering these human beings are experiencing. Whatever else Rob Bell says, it is quite clear that Rob Bell believes in hell, because he's been there. He's seen it. We all have.

So, when Jennifer Riley, writing in The Christian Post, says the following:
Although Bell contends that God’s love wins in the end, he has remained vague and elusive about his position on whether hell exists despite being questioned about this many times during interviews.
she may or may not be correct about being asked this question. Yet vague and equivocal Bell most certainly is not. From Christian Today comes an excerpt from an interview Bell did with The Washington Post's Sally Quinn.
In a videotaped interview with Sally Quinn of The Washington Post, which was posted online this week, Bell responded to a question posed through Twitter and asked by Quinn: 'If there is no hell, then why did Jesus die for our sins?'

“I believe in hell now, I believe in hell when you die,” stated Bell, pastor of Mars Hill Bible Church in Grand Rapids, Michigan.
I am assuming that Ms. Quinn asking a question and Rev. Bell answering it are what most people consider "interviews". I also assume that when Bell says, "I believe in hell now, I believe in hell when you die," that's not code for, "Actually, I'm lying to you, because I really don't believe these things."

Let me be up front. I'm barely half way through this relatively thin, breezy book. I have no idea what I think of what Bell has said so far, other than it isn't sending off alarm bells. So, I reserve ay judgments for that eventuality. Right now, I just want to be clear that all those folks out there screaming, "Rob Bell says there's no hell!" are wrong. That isn't my opinion. That's just a fact, straight from the horse's mouth.

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