Hell hath no fury?
I'd already read about this controversy in Christianity Today some mornings ago but found too little there to report and the issue itself too big to research, given my lack of time these days, so I let the moment pass and forgot about the issue until I came across a humorous piece by Alex Beam for the Boston Globe demurely titled "A heck of a theological debate" (March 18, 2011) but reprinted in the International Herald Tribune under the less abashed title, "The knell doesn't summon thee to hell" (March 25, 2011).
Wait a minute, you say? Who's Rob Bell? Beam us up to Mars Hill, Alex:
The big noise on the God front this week comes from Rob Bell, the evangelical Christian pastor of the 10,000-member Mars Hill Bible megachurch in Grandville, Mich. Bell, who is nothing if not social-media-savvy, is pushing a new book, and pushing it hard. His co-pastors informed congregants a few days ago that Bell was out-trending Lady Gaga and Justin Bieber on Twitter, whatever that means, and that his book is outselling Pope Benedict's book, "Jesus of Nazareth," on Amazon.com.But what's the book? Love Wins. It has a modest subtitle: A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived. The sort of thesis topic your English professor warned you against. Too broad, you'll recall. All over the place. Not focused. Some evangelicals also dislike it. The book, anyway. 'Tis heretical:
One big heresy that Bell has been blasting on YouTube and elsewhere is that non-Christians may not be condemned to burn in hell. "[Mahatma] Gandhi is in hell?" Bell asks. "He is? And someone knows this for sure? Will only a few religious people make it to heaven?" Ix-nay, quoth Bell, who must have the inside scoop on this. He is after all, the author of "Sex God," another book with enviable sales figures.You can see Pastor Bell broaching this devilishly tricky topic here on YouTube, or you can find the same video on his website. No, not on Sex God. On Love Wins. Stay focused. But you're wondering why I called Alex Beam's report humorous. Because he writes:
For obvious reasons, I take a personal interest in news of the underworld. I will be packing my flame-retardant pajamas for my final journey, and I am counting on a long stay, surrounded by lifelong friends and many, many fascinating writers and journalists. To say nothing of all those Wall Street types and corporate lawyers, with their clever one-liners and acerbic sense of humor. What was Mark Twain's famous line? Heaven for the climate, hell for the company.Beam, however, also takes a more serious interest in this realm where angels fear to tread and contacts Harvard Divinity School to speak to a professor there and get the lowdown about the bottomless pit:
But what about Bell's so-called universalist heresy, which would allow for all manner of the unwashed getting into heaven? "The Bible is very diverse in its voice on this question," says Matthew Boulton, an associate professor at the Harvard Divinity School. "If God is not going to save everyone, that gives you some sort of hell. But some theologians are expressing the hope that hell may be empty."Empty? But some entity should be there, else what the hell's hell for? Is it merely some furious infernal furnace furnished for firing up to heat the universe? I wonder if Boulton -- or better, Bell -- has anything to say about that. Beam, by the way, doesn't mention whether or not Professor Boulton cited the specific diverse universalist and non-universalist verses on hell.
But here's what I have to say about hell, and the place ain't empty of reprobates, so be forewarned: hell's language is not for the faint of heart.