After explaining the different views of Hell, it is time to explain my view of Hell. It is important that I do this as I am currently finishing up a review of Rob Bell’s Love Wins, and my view will play a huge role in how I evaluate Bell’s book. I am not afraid to state that my view of Hell is orthodox within the grand scheme of Christian theology, but does go against what is ‘orthodox’ within evangelical Christianity.
On Exclusionism –
After I explored exclusionism I came to the conclusion that I just can’t buy into it. I am not an exclusionist. The reason is that there isn’t a lot of Scripture for it; the Scripture we must use is often read into. For instance, Jesus says in John 14:6 that He is the way, the truth, and the life and that no one comes unto the Father except through Him. We then interpret this to mean, “That means if you don’t know who Jesus is, you’re going to Hell.” But we know that Abraham was considered righteous, but he didn’t know who Jesus was. Abraham, along with other Old Testament saints, would seemingly be a defeater for an exclusionist way of thinking.
Some might argue that God had mercy on Abraham or that Abraham was looking to the Messiah and was saved on that account. But this creates a caveat within exclusivism that actually undermines the entire idea behind exclusivism. After all, it ends up saying that, “In most cases people are saved this way, but in some it might work a different way.” That is the same argument inclusivists make, but the inclusivist simply casts a wider net.
Others might attempt to make a dispensational argument, saying that prior to Christ people were saved by works (or by the Law), but since then Christ alone saves people. But the problem with this idea – and dispensationalist in general – is there’s absolutely no Scriptural support. But to compound the issue, Paul even says in Romans that people were saved by faith prior to Christ and not by the Law. The Law never had salvific powers. The final problem too is it means that people born in countries that had never heard of Yahweh prior to Christ could have gone to Heaven based on moral deeds, but the moment Christ rose from the dead every person in the tribe was destined towards Hell. This is simply an absurd position that doesn’t fit within the narrative of the Gospel or the character of God.
The other problem with exclusivism is what exactly does it mean to ‘accept Christ?’ Must we believe in the Trinity and the Incarnation? If so, then many Christians prior to the 4th century went to Hell, including the Disciples who lacked a nuanced understanding of such mysteries. It also means that Christ was a liar on the cross when He told the thief he would meet Christ in Paradise that day. Simply put, there’s no way to really know what is meant by “saved.”
On Universalism –
No one should make the mistake that just because I deny exclusivism that I somehow embrace universalism. I find universalism to actually be far more incorrect and dangerous than exclusionism. The main reason is that Christ seemed to preach about Hell far more than He preached about Heaven; but if everyone ultimately ends up in Heaven, then why warn us about Hell? It’s not that Christ was trying to scare us into Heaven, but out of love He was pointing out the dire consequences of turning against Him.
Revelation 21:15, though written in a mysterious book and style, still gives the indication that there is a final judgment. Well if people ultimately go to Heaven, then they’re being judged again, meaning the judgment isn’t final. This is significant because in Revelation 20:10 we learn that the Devil and the Beast were thrown into this same fire where they will be tormented “forever and ever.” This would indicate that Hell is eternal.
The inherent flaw within universalism, however, is that it seeks to define God by one attribute; love. The irony is that universalism is oftentimes (though not always) a heresy, not because they deny Hell, but because they define God. I have always said that whenever we say we know the essence of God or that we can define God, we have taken our first step into heresy. Universalism is no different; by defining God by “love” in exclusion to all other attributes, the Universalist taints his view of God. He forgets that God is also just, perfect, Holy, and so on. That means that while He is love and He defines love, He is not defined by love.
The Universalist also forgets that God loves Himself in addition to loving us, but more importantly the Father loves the Son and the Spirit. This would mean that any offense committed against the Spirit (which is the denial of the Spirit) would require the justice of God to remedy the offense; after all, He loves the Spirit. What lover would allow his beloved to be insulted repeatedly?
But even worse is that the Universalist (at least ones who reject any Hell) believes in an unjust God, who ultimately does not love. After all, if a man rapes a woman and is never sorrowful or repentant for what he does, but he gets into Heaven anyway, how can God look at the rapist’s victim and say, “I love you”? How can God look at the victim of genocide after He just embraced the unrepentant soldier who murdered the victim and say, “it’s okay, I’m loving, let’s have cake”?
On my view –
Am what could be called an inclusivist with reservations. Because I deny original guilt (though I do not deny that we have a sin nature, but that nature is external to us and not essential to us, likewise we are not sinners until we commit a sin) I believe that God takes mercy upon those who lack the capacity to seek forgiveness. This would mean someone who if presented the Gospel simply couldn’t understand what the Gospel means. This would include more than infants and children, but also the mentally challenged as well.
Dealing with this issue first, we see that David believed his son would greet him again in Heaven (2 Samuel 12:15-23). Likewise, even Jesus said that we must become like little children in order to inherit the Kingdom of God (Matthew 18:3). But if little children do not inherit the Kingdom of God, then why must we become like them? It would seem that Christ is speaking in contradiction if He says we must become like little children if even little children do not inherit the Kingdom of God. Even if He means to be simple or humble, they would fail as an analogy; if they’re Hell-bound, why become like them? Why not pick a group of people who are Heaven-bound?
It would seem then that while little children and the mentally disabled do sin, God takes mercy upon them and extends to them His grace for the fact that they are unable to choose. Some might argue, “Then why not make everyone mentally disabled,” but such an argument is idiotic upon first glance; it is better to have that choice and to grow in Christ than to be disabled and wait for eternity. It also assumes that salvation is merely an issue of Heaven and Hell (something I’ll get to).
So moving beyond this, what about those who have never heard the Gospel? The answer to this is one that befuddles seminary professors and angers seminary students; I don’t know. Scripture is not clear one way or the other. My interpretation of Scripture is that some who have not heard will be saved (not all will; not hearing doesn’t qualify one for salvation) based on faith that they know there is a God and seek to serve Him (though imperfectly), but this is sadly just my interpretation.
Some try to argue that because the ancestors of these lost tribes turned away, the subsequent generations must suffer as well. While it’s true that they suffer the consequences of these previous generations by losing out on a culture full of people with the Holy Spirit, it can’t be true that they are made guilty for the actions of their forefathers. The Bible expressly condemns this idea.
But in the end, there’s no way to know. What we do know is that it is better to bring the Gospel to these places because even if some are saved, how many more will be saved once we show them the Gospel? Likewise, why not introduce the curious to the God they’ve longed after? It’s not for us to know the fate of those who have never heard because we are not God.
Finally, I would contend that those who have heard the Gospel and refuse to submit to Christ have given up the hope of Heaven. The Bible is absolutely clear on this issue; when we refuse to submit to Christ, we then choose to submit to the ways of Hell. Our pride is what condemns us and God ultimately rejects us because we have rejected Him. The sad reality is that all of time is coming to a close at some point, a point where there will be a final judgment where God does reject us. But he’s not rejecting us while we sit and beg for His forgiveness – but rather He’s rejecting us while we’re in the process of cursing Him and rejecting Him. So while we may not know the fate of those who have never heard, what matters for us is those who have heard and rejected the Gospel.
On salvation –
Everything I’ve said hinges on what it means to be saved. But I would argue that while we have an idea of what it means to be saved, no one really knows. For instance, is salvation relational or propositional? Are there certain things we must do or believe or does salvation just happen to us? Must we believe that Jesus is God incarnate in order to be saved, or do we come to that conclusion because we’ve been saved by a relationship with Christ? Answer: I don’t know.
I really do think that it’s a “both/and” situation and that ultimately salvation is subjective to each person. For some people, the relationship comes first and is followed by beliefs and propositions. For others, they spend time studying the beliefs and propositions and slowly believe them, which then slowly draws those people into a relationship. For some people, the knowledge of Christ is deep; for others, it’s not. Thus, while there are parameters to salvation (one must have a relationship with the one true living Christ, one must submit to Him and to no other), there seems to be quite a bit of subjectivity within those parameters.
This would mean that salvation is ultimately a mystery. Before anyone says that I’m simply saying my ignorance is being covered up by mystery, I would contend that I’m justified in my claim of mystery. Salvation is purely done on the whim of God and not on anything we do. Because God is incomprehensible, sometimes He acts in ways that are above our ways (Isaiah 55:8). This would mean that salvation, an act of God that comes from the nature of God, would qualify as a mystery. It’s something we can know in a vague fashion, but cannot be comprehended. So while I can sit here and offer a rational defense for the Trinity, but another man can’t even spell Trinity, we are both saved so long as we have submitted to Christ.
But here’s where the mystery comes in play – some people may not believe in the Trinity and be saved, while others are not saved for denying the Trinity. What I mean is some people may not have never heard of the Trinity and therefore can still be saved. But those who have, yet deny it, we must question if they have a relationship with Christ. After all, if they have a relationship with Him then such things of revelation should be revealed. But it also could be that they’re simply in a period of denial and will abandon their sickness of heresy. Again, salvation is a mystery so we can’t say that they aren’t saved, we can merely treat them as they aren’t (which means we love them and serve them, but do not allow them to take leadership within the church).
My belief is that Hell does exist (though the “fire” is referring to the pain and anger people will feel in the presence of God), is eternal, and rejecting Christ (that is, not submitting to Him) will put us in Hell. Beyond that, I’m not qualified to say anything. I’m not God.