What the Hell (Part I): An Honest Evaluation of My Beliefs

Rob Bell’s upcoming book Love Wins: A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived hasn’t even released copies for review, yet it’s already causing controversy. Multiple people are stating that Bell is an outright universalist while others are saying, “But you haven’t read the book, so how can you know?” For every criticism against a critic who hasn’t read the book, there’s a supporter of the book who also hasn’t read the book.

To be honest, I dread reading Bell’s book. Not because I’m against reading opposing ideas – I find Nietzsche to be a fun read, even though I disagree with him on almost everything – but because I don’t like Bell’s writing style. To put it frankly, it annoys me. That’s nothing against Bell either, just my own personal preference (I don’t enjoy John Piper’s writing style either, but I agree with him on some things, though not everything).

What strikes me as odd is the absolute reluctance for anyone to tackle the issue of Hell. For the conservatives, to even look at the idea that ultimate reconciliation could be true, or in the very least inclusivism could be true, is anathema. But on the other hand, many emergent and liberal Christians have the same response to the idea that Christ’s sacrifice could be exclusionary to a select group. Both sides present their cases without truly wrestling with any ideas. Conservatives turn off their ears to any alternative viewpoints while liberals/emergents say, “Well, I was raised conservative and believing in Hell, so I know it can’t be true” (apparently that suffices for a good understanding of the opposing side).

What is lost is that no one actually wrestles with the issue. So that is what I am going to attempt to do. I want to deal with this issue head on, looking at Scriptures and traditional Christian teachings to get an idea of Hell. This will require me to look at what Hell is not, why Hell even exists (even if it’s only a metaphor), and if it does exist, who is going and will they stay there?

Currently, I’m somewhere between an exclusivist and an inclusivist. While I currently believe those who deny Christ will spend an eternity in Hell, I also accept that infants or those with no mental capacity to know what sin is will also avoid Hell, which is a stance in inclusivism. But let me say this – while I do believe universalism to be a heresy (as it denies what Christ accomplished), I don’t think ultimate reconciliation is a heresy; I just think it’s faulty. I base that on the knowledge that even some in the early Church taught that ultimately all souls would be reconciled to Christ, but even these writers were not without their detractors.

So rather than write a review for a book I haven’t even read or write off Rob Bell before I’ve taken the time to look at his thoughts, why not explore my own beliefs on the subject first? After I’ve done that, why not look at what Bell says and see if it matches up, and if it does or doesn’t, see if it at least makes sense? If Bell is wrong, then I need to preach the truth about Hell so people will know to avoid it or know that it doesn’t exist. If Bell is right, then I need to preach the truth about Hell so people will know to avoid it or know that it doesn’t exist. As you can see, no matter what, Bell’s conclusions are ultimately irrelevant to my beliefs (or the beliefs of others), and all of those beliefs are ultimately irrelevant to the reality of the situation.

Thus I begin an exploration on Hell. It is not researched (as in, I haven’t read any books on the issue), so I am not approaching this as a teacher, but instead of someone looking at the Scriptures, at what we know of God, and then reasoning from there what the Scriptures are teaching us.