Two books came in the mail today, two books I’ve been itching to read for quite awhile. I’ve read multiple books and done Bible studies by both of these men. Both authors have inspired me, challenged me, and convicted me. I don’t question the faith of either man, nor do I question their commitments to God and scripture. However, they seemingly both come at at least one issue from opposite sides.
The authors are Rob Bell and Francis Chan. They are both successful pastors and church planters. I would say that they both know way more about the Bible than I do. I would love to have coffee with both of these men and learn from them. What issue between these highly respected Christians is so important they both wrote books about it? The issue is: HELL!!!
OH MY!!!! (By the way, searching Google Images for that was FASCINATING. So many metal bands…..)
Anyway, yes, HELL. Specifically, does Hell exist? Also: why would a loving God willingly send people to Hell? Now here’s what I’ve heard about these two books. I haven’t read either of them yet, but supposedly Bell thinks Hell isn’t really a thing and Chan (along with coauthor Preston Sprinkle) does.
Now the point of this series of entries is not to tell you whether Hell exists or not. I have opinions, but I don’t know the answer to that. I’m not going to pretend that I do once I’ve finished these books either. I’m also not trying to threaten anybody with fire and brimstone. Look, I don’t know if Hell is a thing or not. Respected, knowledgeable Christians often disagree. If there is such a thing, I’m not in any way going to pretend that I know the mind of God on who goes up, and who goes down, so to speak.
But it is an interesting question, and it causes a lot of people no small amount of concern about their own “eternal fate” or the fate of their loved ones. I’ve attended and taught quite a few adult Sunday School classes over the years. I’ve preached a few sermons, and I’ve talked to a lot of people grieving the death of a loved one. More than once I’ve heard people absolutely break down and cry because they think their loved one that just died might be in Hell.
I’ve been somewhat flippant to this point, but this is serious. This question keeps people up at night. This question influences people’s key beliefs and behaviors. As Chan wonders on the back cover of his book “Erasing Hell,” can we really afford to be wrong about this?
A lot of folks think that we cannot, but perhaps a question to go alongside that one is: Is being afraid of Hell really a good reason to call yourself a Christian? I mean, if all you’re getting out of this is your ticket punched for the elevator that goes up when you die, are you really living the kind of life that Jesus desires from his followers?
So I’m going to read both of these books over the course of the next few weeks. I’m going to post some entries about how I see both of their arguments. At the end I have something of a big picture in mind too, because I want to take a look at how two respected, committed Christians can look at the same verses from the same Bible and draw two vastly different conclusions. I think that could be a lesson for all of us, and if time permits, there might be some entries about history and ancient beliefs as well. Now that I have a new laptop that doesn’t give me the blue screen of death (another kind of Hell, actually), I hope to spend some more time on the blog than I have been.
In the end I’ll also see if either of these books changes what I BELIEVE about Hell. Which means it might be helpful if you know I feel about it going in. You might be surprised.
You see, I am not inclined to agree with Rob Bell going into this. Yes, I believe there is a Hell, at least of some fashion. You might be taken aback by this if you’ve read my blog over the years, but yes, I believe that there is a Hell.
Now hold on, don’t unfollow me just yet. I’m NOT saying that I believe per se in what many Christians see as Hell: you know the eternal lake of fire, the guy with the pointy horns, and all of that. I don’t. I largely see that Hell coming from two sources, a literal reading of the book of Revelation and the overactive medieval imagination.
That being said, I do believe that there is some kind of Hell. Jesus talks about an “outer darkness” in Matthew 22:13, or as the Common English Bible puts it, the “farthest darkness.” Also, In the parable of the rich man and Lazarus found in Luke 16, after the rich man dies, he is “tormented in the place of the dead” (Luke 16:23 CEB).
Now, I know that both of these stories are parables. I also know that they are rooted in the physical, historical, and political context of the day. They also draw on certain beliefs Jesus had about the afterlife as a Jew. These and other passages that seem to prop up the existence of Hell must be viewed in that context, as all of the Bible should be. I’ll be looking forward to seeing what Bell and Chan have to say about them.
An interesting side note to the context of these verses is that in both of them Jesus is referring to the religious elite of his society, not the so called sinners.
So yes, I believe in a Hell of some kind. For me the thought of “outer darkness” or “farthest darkness” probably comes closest. I believe that Hell is an eternal separation from God. God gives each of us free will, and we have to choose whether to abide in him or not. He’s not going to force it. If you choose not to be in God, then I don’t necessarily think you’re going to end up in a lake of fire, but you might find yourself somewhere where you are separated from everything God is: Love, joy, peace, security, and provision. You might be able to do anything you want there, but what would be the point if you cannot experience any of those things listed above?
So that’s kind of where I’m at. Will it change? I don’t know. Watch this space for my continued thoughts on this subject and these books in:
“THE GREAT HELL SMACKDOWN OF 2017.”