2011 hot topic: hell

Hell didn’t win, but it had a “good year”, according to Barbara Bradley Hagerty on NPR’s All Things Considered.

Hell started the year with a big Hollywood movie (The Rite), continued with a major doomsday prediction from Harold Camping that made major news, and continued with evangelical Rob Bell’s book “Love Wins”, along with the many reactions.

It was Bell’s book that was most interesting for me.

Bell — whose hip, riveting preaching style drew thousands to his Mars Hill Church in Michigan and brought him worldwide fame — wrote a book that takes aim at a fundamental evangelical belief: hell. He says he began thinking about hell when his church put on an art show about peacemaking, and one of the pieces featured Mahatma Gandhi.

“And somebody had attached to the piece with Gandhi this handwritten note that said, Reality check, he’s in hell. And it was, like, really? That’s the gospel of Jesus? That’s the Good News?”

Bell did not argue that hell does not exist. He said people can choose to be in hell by definitively rejecting God’s grace. But he says God is tireless in trying to win every person over. And eventually, love wins.

The book produced a great deal of reaction by other prominent evangelicals, some of it rather nasty. Countering books came out criticizing Bell, warning that hell is where all non-believers will be sent, and suggesting that Bell was endangering the faithful with his vision.

For his part, Bell says the Bible can be read many ways, and evangelicals shouldn’t be so certain about their theology of hell. He adds that this “turn or burn” mantra distorts Christianity and drives people away from the faith.

I finally picked up the book for myself, and I can honestly say that I think it may be the most important book of the year. Bell’s viewpoints are not revolutionary, nor are they particularly new. However, the intended audience, “evangelical Christians” and “questioning seekers”, have for far too long been told that there is only one right understanding for deep theological questions concerning life and Christianity. Bell’s honest wrestling with both a loving God and a faithful Jesus has produced an authentic book that continues to open hearts.

In the end, this is definitely not good news for hell…

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