HELL, and the FUTURE of
EVERY PERSON WHO EVER LIVED
Geoffrey W. Sutton
I have observed that a lot of the adult children of parents in my age group have left conservative churches or left the Christian faith altogether. Some tell me their children identify as spiritual. I get that. My wife and I left conservative churches years ago. Rob Bell is in touch with the bright young people of the 21st century. I understand that conservatives will not agree with his message. And scholars will find his writings too simplistic. Nevertheless, I think Bell is meeting a spiritual need. Following is my summary of his book, Love Wins (Bell, 2011).
Following is a quote from Bell's promotion:
A staggering number of people have been taught that a select few Christians will spend forever in a peaceful, joyous place called heaven, while the rest of humanity spend forever in torment and punishment in hell with no chance for anything better. It’s been clearly communicated to many that this belief is a central truth of the Christian faith and to reject it is, in essence, to reject Jesus. This is misguided and toxic and ultimately subverts the contagious spread of Jesus’s message of love, peace, forgiveness, and joy that our world desperately needs to hear.
Bell’s message of love and hope challenges fundamentalist perspectives on heaven, hell, and related matters. He does not offer a theological treatise nor does he consider the basis for the traditional doctrines common in Western Christian traditions. He presents his points in eloquent prose with potent metaphors, which would surely resonate with many who have found the eternal flames of hell and threats of punishment and wrath difficult to reconcile with the gospel messages of God’s love and offers of forgiveness and reconciliation.
Love Wins became an instant bestseller. Not surprisingly, a casual web-search turns up much opposition often aimed at correcting Bell’s reduction of brimstone and hellfire. Evangelicals challenge his universalist-sounding theology yet Bell denies being a universalist. Since publication, he has provided study materials and more information, which can be viewed on his website, www.robbell.com.
In the preface, Bell expresses an interest in recapturing the Jesus story as being about love instead of the threat of so many spend an eternity in torment. He also wishes to free people to discuss their questions about God, Jesus, salvation, heaven, hell, and other concerns or doubts they may have. Given the bestseller status, the public outcry of some, and books reaffirming traditional teachings, Bell touched a North American nerve.
I write about the Psychology of Religion. I think Love Wins is the sort of book teachers and Bible Study groups ought to read and discuss--especially with groups that include young adults. As a psychologist, I think it might be helpful for clients who fear God and worry about their spiritual wellbeing.
Bell's writings have already had an impact. He has been recognized as a Christian leader in America. Many have purchased the book. Hundreds of consumers have offered their views on book seller’s web pages. The content is not worthy of a careful analysis normally accorded a theological work or a scholarly article about the integration of Christianity and psychology.
Bell, R. (2011). Love wins: A book about heaven, hell, and the fate of every person who ever lived. New York: HarperCollins.