Rob Bell Isn’t Your Biggest Concern

By Brian Jones

With the release this spring of Rob Bell’s new book, Love Wins, we finally have confirmation of what many of us have suspected for years—he’s a flipping genius. Only a brilliant thinker and writer could make heresy sound like refreshing orthodoxy. But this is in fact what he’s done, with flair. Taking something so clear and unambiguous as the reality of Hell after death for nonbelievers and replacing it with false hope, and making even the most grounded among us scratch our heads, is no easy feat. The fact is we shouldn’t be surprised—this has been going on for 2,000 years.

Misguiding Christians

One of the Bible’s most frightening passages is 1 Timothy 4:16: “Watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers.”

The implication of that verse scares me: we can be responsible for other people going to Hell by how we live and by what we teach.

Misguiding Lifestyles

Christians intuitively understand the way we live can turn people away from Christianity—at least most Christians understand this. In fact, at some point you may have turned away from Jesus because of a Christian who was less than committed. The apostle Peter tried to counteract this among first-century believers by advising them to be godly examples: “Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us” (1 Peter 2:12).

Living a godly life among non-Christians is pretty simple to do:

Be kind.

Don’t gossip at work.

Be the kind of neighbor your neighbors would want to have.

Don’t punch old ladies in the face.

Generally, it’s an easy principle to put into practice.

Misguiding Beliefs

What’s not as readily understood or obeyed among Christians is the “what we teach” part. Our words can be responsible for propelling another person headlong toward the gates of Hell. It’s one thing not to share the gospel with someone. That’s an error of omission. It’s quite another to knowingly teach something contrary to Scripture.

Christians can negatively impact what another Christian believes. Specifically, we can influence another Christian to stop believing in Hell and steal from him his passion to reach his friends and family members for Christ. The end result of that action is much worse than directing one non-Christian to Hell. When one Christian influences another to stop believing in Hell, it has ripple effects throughout that person’s life.

If you rob a Christian of his or her passion to evangelize, what you lose is not the singular soul of a non-Christian to Hell, but every single non-Christian that Christian could have reached in his or her lifetime. Instead of becoming a Christian who multiplies his or her life 30, 60, or 100 times, like Jesus talked about in the parable of the sower (Matthew 13:23), this person will become a believer whose influence is metaphorically buried in the ground.

False Teachers

Jesus foresaw this kind of thing happening. He warned his disciples, “Many false prophets will appear and deceive many people” (Matthew 24:11).

Very shortly after his resurrection and the birth of the early church, his words became a reality before the apostles’ eyes. False teachers sprung up everywhere. As the early church evangelized people around the Mediterranean, new converts began to deviate from orthodox Christian teaching.

In fact, the presence of false teachers became so great that Jude, Jesus’ own brother, felt the need to write a letter to all of the known churches at the time:

Dear friends, although I was very eager to write to you about the salvation we share, I felt I had to write and urge you to contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints. For certain men whose condemnation was written about long ago have secretly slipped in among you (Jude 3, 4).

Other apostles and church leaders sent similar warnings to churches they helped oversee:

“There will be false teachers among you. They will secretly introduce destructive heresies” (2 Peter 2:1).

“Do not be carried away by all kinds of strange teachings” (Hebrews 13:9).

“See that what you have heard from the beginning remains in you. If it does, you also will remain in the Son and in the Father” (1 John 2:24).

The apostles described false teachers this way: as cunning, crafty, and deceitful schemers (Ephesians 4:14); as conceited people who understand nothing (1 Timothy 6:3-5); rebellious, mere talkers, and deceivers (Titus 1:10); corrupted, detestable, and disobedient (Titus 1:15, 16); grumblers, faultfinders, and flatterers (Jude 1:16); and as exploiters (2 Peter 2:3) and seducers (2 Peter 2:14).

While those adjectives may seem harsh, they’re accurate and well deserved.

Everyday False Teachers

Here’s the danger: when we read New Testament warnings about false teachers, our minds quickly bring up images of popular pastors and authors—like a Rob Bell—who write books devoid of solid biblical facts. If only false teachers were that easy to recognize.

The reality is the false teachers the apostles confronted had very little in common with our telegenic 21st-century pastors. Instead, the apostles confronted everyday people with regular jobs who were trying to raise families and do their best to make life work. They were normal people who had their own ideas of how Christianity ought to be taught, and freely expressed those ideas over dinner, on the job, or while caring for their children.

The cunning, crafty, and deceitful false teachers the apostles had in mind were 26-year-old moms with two kids, farmers down the road, and the fisherman everyone rubbed shoulders with at the market. Occasionally a popular pastor went off the deep end, but more often it was the everyday soccer mom on the street that everybody knew.

These are the folks we should be concerned about as church leaders, not Rob Bell. Years from now when his new book is being hawked for $1 at discount bookstores, the influence of everyday false teachers in our churches will continue.

The stark reality is you and I can become a false teacher at any time.

Or we can be influenced by one.

That’s why the biblical advice for how to interact with false teachers is as stern as the words used to describe them:

“Command certain men not to teach false doctrines any longer” (1 Timothy 1:3).

“Guard what has been entrusted to your care” (1 Timothy 6:20).

“For the defense of the gospel” (Philippians 1:16).

“Refute those who oppose it” (Titus 1:9).

“Stand firm” (2 Thessalonians 2:15).

“Fight the good fight” (1 Timothy 1:18).

Admittedly, these are hard things to do when the person teaching false doctrine is your grandmother, your friend in accounting, or your small group leader. But this is one of the important but unpleasant duties of every Christian.

Everyone Is Accountable

Outside of Billy Graham, there was probably no more influential 20th-century Christian than Mother Teresa. When asked if people became Christians before they died through her ministry to the poor in Calcutta, she responded,

Oh, I hope I am converting. I don’t mean what you think. . . . If in coming face to face with God we accept him in our lives, then we are converting. We become a better Hindu, a better Muslim, a better Catholic, a better whatever we are, and then by being better we come closer and closer to him. If we accept him fully in our lives, then that is conversion. What approach would I use? For me, naturally, it would be a Catholic one, for you it may be Hindu, for someone else, Buddhist, according to each one’s conscience.1

How do you think the apostle Paul would have responded to Mother Teresa?

I’m convinced he would have rebuked her!

No question about it.

“No way,” some might say. “This is Mother Teresa, a selfless saint who dedicated herself to serve the poor and destitute. I could see Paul going nuts on Rob Bell, but not Mother Teresa!”

I wouldn’t be so sure.

We are talking, after all, about the same Paul who opposed the apostle Peter “to his face” (Galatians 2:11) and rebuked him in front of his entire congregation in Antioch for inaccuracy in his teaching (Galatians 2:14).

Jesus himself clearly taught, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). Did Mother Teresa get a memo from Heaven that Jesus changed his mind?

Paul warned, “If we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let him be eternally condemned! As we have already said, so now I say again: If anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than what you accepted, let him be eternally condemned!” (Galatians 1:8, 9).

That includes seminary professors.

Soccer moms.

Your mechanic.

Your Sunday school teacher.

Your grandmother.

Even me.

And you.

And Rob Bell.

And believe it or not, even Mother Teresa.

________

1Mother Teresa, Daily Readings with Mother Teresa, edited by Teresa de Bertodano (London: HarperCollins, 1994), 74.

Brian Jones is founding pastor of Christ’s Church of the Valley in Royersford, Pennsylvania. He’s the author of Second Guessing God and Getting Rid of the Gorilla: Confessions on the Struggle to Forgive (Standard Publishing). This article is adapted, with permission, from his latest book,Hell Is Real: But I Hate to Admit It, ©2011 Brian Jones, and published by David C. Cook. Find out more about his ministry and writing at BrianJones.com.

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61 Comments

  1. Chad L
    July 21, 2011 at 9:33 am

    Here’s a quote by Jack Cottrell, PhD and head of NT studies at Cincinnati Christian University on annihilationism:

    “I believe this is serious false doctrine, and that the Bible teaches that the suffering of those who are lost will be eternal, though not necessarily in the same degree for all. In this brief note I cannot address all that is involved in this issue, but I will discuss one of the major false premises upon which most annihilationist views are based. This is the assertion that the whole idea of an eternal hell is based on the pagan idea that the human soul is inherently immortal. Once we show from Scripture, they say, that the concept of an immortal (eternally existing and indestructible) soul is false, there is no longer any reason to believe in eternal hell.

    My response to this argument is to grant that the Bible indeed does not teach that the human soul (spirit, inner man) has any kind of inherent immortality, but then to show that there is no necessary connection between the soul’s inherent mortality and the issue of whether hell is temporary or eternal. I.e., the Bible does teach that hell is eternal, but this teaching in no way depends on any inherent immortality of the soul. [The following analysis contains material from my book, The Faith Once for All, 582-583.]

    As I have explained here, a basic assumption of most annihilationists is that the concept of eternal suffering is dependent upon the inherent immortality of the human soul, which (I grant) is a seriously false pagan idea. But how do annihilationists apply this to the question of the eternality of hell? Specifically, they say that the one view necessarily leads to the other by the following reasoning: the belief that the soul by nature cannot not exist (i.e., is inherently immortal) requires that it spend eternity somewhere. Since it would not be appropriate for the wicked to spend eternity in heaven, God is forced to create an eternal abode suitable for them, i.e., hell.

    But, say the annihilationists, the concept of an inherently immortal soul is anti-biblical, being derived from pagan philosophy. Therefore the idea of the eternal suffering of the wicked is false. In fact, they say, if this pagan idea had not been accepted by post-biblical Christian thinkers, the idea of hell as eternal suffering would never have arisen. For example, Boatman refers to “the doctrine of the innate and irrevocable immortality of the human soul, and corollary postulate: the doctrine that the unredeemed shall be endlessly tormented in hell” (101; see 51-52). Clark Pinnock, also an annihilationist, likewise cites the unbiblical Hellenistic belief in the immortality of the soul as “the real basis of the traditional view of the nature of hell” (“The Conditional View,” in Four Views of Hell, ed. W. Crockett, Zondervan 1992, p. 147).

    It is true that the concept of the inherent immortality and hence indestructibility of the soul is an unbiblical, pagan idea. The soul is a created entity and is susceptible to annihilation in the same way as any other created being is. Also, it may be true that some Christian thinkers have tied this false idea of the soul to the idea of hell as eternal conscious suffering. But to conclude from this that the latter idea is therefore false is a non sequitur of the greatest magnitude. The bottom line is this: the doctrine of hell as eternal conscious suffering is in no way dependent on the false notion of an immortal soul. The souls of the wicked, along with their replacement bodies, exist forever because God wills it, period. Disproving the inherent immortality of the soul in no way disproves the eternal conscious suffering of the wicked. The argument is at best irrelevant and at worst misleading.

    What can we, as Christians, do to avoid giving ground to this annihilationist view? We must stop teaching the false concept that somehow the human soul possesses an inherent immortality and therefore must indeed, by its very nature, exist somewhere for eternity. We must stop ascribing divinity to the human soul, which is, like the body, a created entity and just as subject to annihilation as is the body. I.e., the soul has been created ex nihilo and thus is held in existence by God’s will and power, and capable of being annihilated if God had so willed it in the beginning. The fact that the individual soul (spirit) DOES NOT go out of existence is simply because it is God’s creation-purpose that it will consciously exist forever. This is indeed a kind of immortality; but it is acquired by God’s will and gift, and is not inherent.

    In other words, by virtue of creation, human beings are “immortal” only into the future, in that God wills us to exist for eternity future without pause or intermission. Such immortality, though, is an imparted gift and is not inherent. True immortality, by its very nature, cannot be imparted, in the same way that a created being cannot become uncreated or a finite being cannot become infinite. In fact, the body itself is included in this imparted immortality, and will exist into eternity future with an intermission between the death of this present body corrupted by sin and its replacement from the day of resurrection forward into eternity. And in fact, this applies even to the wicked, except their version of the eternally-future body will be unredeemed and unglorified.

    The bottom line is that God alone possesses immortality as part of his very nature (1 Tim. 6:16); thus the only inherently immortal essence is God himself. If part of man’s very nature is inherently immortal–cannot not exist–then part of man’s nature is actually divine, a “little part of God.” This would put human beings on the same metaphysical level as God. This would in essence erase the distinction between God and man, which is one of Satan’s most basic temptations.

    How does this line of thinking apply to the original question of Fudge’s view that hell is the total annihilation of the lost? It grants that Fudge and others are correct up to this point, i.e., that there is no part of human nature that MUST NECESSARILY (by its very nature) continue to exist forever and is not capable of being annihilated. Thus one cannot use the alleged “immortal” nature of the soul as an argument for the eternality of hell. The flaw in the annihilationist argument, though, is thinking that the possibility that the soul CAN be annihilated is some kind of proof or argument that it WILL be annihilated for the wicked.

    Also, focusing the argument on the nature of the soul overlooks the fact that the wicked will also have a resurrected (though not glorified) BODY, to which no one would attribute inherent immortality; and the just punishment for the wicked involves their bodies just as surely as it involves their souls. As far as the nature of hell is concerned, it is just as irrelevant whether the soul is mortal or “immortal” as it is whether the body is mortal or immortal. In neither case does the lack of inherent immortality determine or affect whether hell is eternal or temporary. The latter is simply a matter of God’s will, which we can discern via study of Scripture.”

  2. Chad L
    July 21, 2011 at 9:50 am

    Also, I would point you to Jack Cottrell’s review of the book at:

    http://www.ccuniversity.edu/seminary/academics/faculty-publications/

    In this review he declares that there is “not one single redeeming quality in the book.” I would encourage you to read the review. As you are well informed when it comes to the Scriptures, I think this will be helpful in your analysis.

  3. July 21, 2011 at 10:46 am

    But you seem to be going back and forth with this concept. On one hand you suggest that our entrance into the kingdom of heaven as followers of Christ marks the beginning of eternity, and on the other you suggest it has nothing to do with eternity. Which is it?

    Jesus’ teaching was primarily about the temporal (and dealt quite heavily w/ orthopraxy), with hints of eternity. What happens after death isn’t the focus of the kingdom. Those who live in it, here on earth, need not have concern what happens after death. Those who do not have no such assurance. (NOTE: A lack of assurance is not the same thing as “assured damnation”).

    First, we should note that the Hebrews were wrong about a great many things in their theology.

    Which Jesus and Paul “corrected”, as needed. That they didn’t see fit to correct Hebrew theology on something as important as “everyone in the world who isn’t a Christian is going to suffer eternal conscious torment” is a rather glaring omission that can’t just be swept under the rug with the pious Christian position of “Hebrews were wrong about a great many things in their theology”.

    It just doesn’t wash.

    Second, we have plenty of records of that early church fathers believed in ECT well before the late 300′s.

    And a number of records from other early church fathers who did not believe in ECT, but chose a number of other options. Origen’s view wasn’t declared heretical until the sixth century. In the excavation of Laodicea, I have seen direct evidence that Christians still worshiped side-by-side in synagogue with the Jews, well into the late-third/early-fourth century.

    The Gospel preached by the early church wasn’t “Avoid hell, choose Jesus” (a billboard on the highway about 3 miles from my house, BtW, sponsored by a RM church).

    Regarding the Hasmonean era, the primary question was one of physical resurrection vs. no resurrection of the faithful, and the Hasmoneans (whose political line morphed into the Sadducee party, by the time Jesus came around) were considered “corrupted” by Hellenism by the hasidim. Jesus didn’t side with the Sadducees in *any* of the religious debates of the era.

    This is likely the case for two primary reasons: 1) The heavy persecution and risk of martyrdom the early Christians faced and 2) the focus on the Second Coming of Jesus.

    I do believe that what focus there was in the early church on the afterlife was because of these two factors (though I would note that, as an amillenialist/partial-preterist, I believe much of the eschatology in the NT is focused on the destruction of Jerusalem, not a Left Behind-ish view.)

    But these two reasons actually bolster my position, as the focus on the afterlife was one of emphasizing assurances for the believer in the face of turmoil, not one of converting for the sake of postmortem salvation.

    After all, the persecution of the Jews by the Greeks and Romans was the primary motivation for the religious leaders of the Jews to start trying to answer questions about the afterlife. The hasidim (the only Jewish branch interested in evangelism and conversion of the Gentiles, prior to Jesus) pursued evangelism as a means of tikkun olam, not for the purpose of postmortem salvation. When the converts in Asia Minor heard Paul’s message about Jesus, they accepted it (as well) based on who Jesus was (not because of some additional promises about the afterlife). Were the message about the afterlife so radically different, their conflicts with Paul over Judiazation would not have been the issue that it was (because becoming Jewish was never considered a differentiating factor in the afterlife).

    Furthermore, the NT is absolutely filled with talk of Judgment and being prepared for the coming of Jesus.

    And the focus of bringing up Judgment and the Second Coming is primarily on the religious and their actions, not trying to hurry up and convert Gentiles before they are judged. You’d never know that listening to our pulpits today.

    It is certainly NOT a focus on an INNATE goodness on our part (that verse you quoted goes on to speak of God working IN US).

    The verse I quoted from Paul is nearly identical to multiple contemporary rabbinic sources speaking on Tikkun Olam – the “repair of the world” – and that God saved us for the purpose of Tikkun Olam, not simply to save us when we die. We are God’s workmanship, created to do the good works (mizvot) He prepared for us. This is a very Jewish teaching Paul is expressing, and was not “new” when he taught it. The kingdom exists to act today, not to act as an ark to carry us through until the end.

    This is not a simple matter of how the wicked suffer as you suppose. It is a matter of whether or not faith in Jesus is necessary.

    Uhm. Bullhockey.

    Even UR supporters would disagree with this. IF (and that is a monstrously huge if) you could “change your mind” after death, they say it would only be through choosing Christ, and that that “change” would come through him. While Bell does not support UR, he makes that notion of theirs clear – that no matter who is saved and how they are saved, it is through Christ that they are saved.

    If your argument is against inclusive-exclusivism, your argument is far bigger than Bell, since this has been the stance of the Catholic church for 1500+ years, it has been expressed by Billy Graham (as you noted), Bell and CS Lewis (among many other prominent Christian theologians).

    The implications of this view is that trusting in Jesus is not essential, and perhaps not even necessary.

    If you draw that conclusion, then I pity you, because that has never been suggested.

    This is not a secondary issue.

    So said the RM groups that split over the issue of one-cup vs. multiple communion cups.

    It is not in the basic Gospel proclamation of Paul, nor in the basic Gospel proclaimed by Jesus. The form, function and mophology of the afterlife is such a secondary issue that it’s a shame Bell ever needed to write the book in the first place. Certainly we’ve made it a primary issue – not because to do so is Biblical, but simply because fear sells a whole lot better than sacrifice. And when your livelihood depends on butts-in-seats, if fear is a primary arrow in your quiver, it needs to be of primary importance.

    In reality, though, and in the very words of Jesus and his disciples, what exactly hell is and how to avoid it aren’t the focus of the Gospel. The Gospel is a positive message – the only one of “hope and change” we should accept, not a call to avoid hell and be part of a viral marketing campaign to avoid it.

    Don’t you think it significant that nearly every prominent leader in the RM is standing against this book?

    Not really. I could care less about peer pressure and simple appeals to authority (or majority), as I was taught to reject such logical fallacies early in my Christian education.

    If only folks were so worried about changing the world, as Jesus asked us, rather than crucifying their own for daring to point out that we’ve missed his point. It’s always easier to shoot our own than it is to make a difference.

  4. July 21, 2011 at 1:25 pm

    A little bit more on first century Judaism to put them into perspective:

    1) In the intertestemental period, the Jews living in Palestine overthrew the Ptolemaic Greeks in 164 BC. This group became known as the “Hasmoneans”, and by the time Jesus came into the picture, they had devolved into three groups:

    A) The Essenes, who rejected the Hasmonean political alliances and takeover of the Temple. The Essenes separated themselves from the culture – primarily living in the desert (including Qumran) and, on occasions (religious festivals), a small section of the Upper City in Jerusalem. They believed themselves to be the only pious ones remaining in Judaism and believed in a form of double-predestination, where only they would see the afterlife and all else would perish.

    B) The Sadducees, who supported the Roman political structure, which kept them in charge of the Temple, in political power, and in comparative luxury. Religiously, they were Jews. Culturally, they were Hellenists. They denied any bodily resurrection of the dead, believing only in the Torah (not the Prophets or the Writings), and that only Jews would be with God (in Spirit), with damnation for the rest of humanity.

    C) The Herodians, secular Jews that supported the Roman political structure and worked for Rome in some capacity. The Sadducees saw them as a necessary evil – collecting taxes and other functions that might make them unclean (and thus, unfit to worship in the Temple). Possibly one Herodian was a follower of Jesus (Matthew).

    2) The Hasidim (“pious ones) migrated from Babylon and the diaspora to Palestine in the years after the fall of the Seleucid Greeks. They founded the towns in the Galilee region (Nazareth, Magdala, Cana, Capernaum, Bethsiada, Gamla, etc.), and they were intensely religious (to the embarrassment of the Hellenized Hasmoneans – “Can anything good come from Nazareth?” they asked.), and they believed that they had maintained God’s word, in exile, and could now return to Israel to re-establish the Kingdom of God/Heaven. They believed in the physical resurrection and that, after the final judgment, the righteous would go directly to be with God; that the unrighteous masses (primarily Gentiles) would go through a period of punishment (up to a year, with each Sabbath off) and thengo into the presence of God; and that “the wicked” (a very small number, who chose to actively oppose God and persecute His people) would either cease to exist or be punished as God punishes the fallen angels.

    By the time Jesus arrived, the hasidim had divided into two camps:

    A) The Zealots, who opposed Roman rule and believed that they had God’s blessing to overthrow it by force, if necessary. Prior to the arrival of the Romans, they opposed the Hasmoneans for their Hellenistic beliefs and practices. They were known to have assassinated Hasmoneans and later Romans, Sadducees and Herodians. At least two of Jesus’ followers were Zealots, though he condemned the need for violence to bring about the Kingdom of Heaven.

    B) The Pharisee “party”, who opposed Roman rule, but believed that if they continued to follow God and follow His commands, that He would return and bring the world back to rightness. The work that they would do would be part of God’s plan to heal the world (Tikkun Olam), and their desire was to be part of this healing process. Within this movement, they openly criticized their own members for poor orthopraxy, dividing up the “types” of Pharisee into seven, where only one was considered a “good”, God-honoring Pharisee. Jesus alludes to the six “bad” types of Pharisees in his list of woes in Matthew 23 (see here for a decent background on this).

    Of the five Pharisees on the Sanhedrin (the other 65 were Sadducees), we know the names of three – who were either followers of Jesus or sympathetic to his followers: Nicodemus, Joseph of Aramathea, and Gamaliel (Paul’s teacher who shows up in Acts to prevent the execution of Peter and John).

    Jesus’ teaching is recognized as primarily being to the hasidim in the Galilee region, and weighs in on the topics most debated by them, during his day. Most of his disciples came from this religious tradition. (Interestingly, it is also the only branch of Judaism that survived the Roman Empire), with most of its members being diaspora or Jewish converts in the Roman Empire.

    With this in mind (particularly with what we’ve learned since the founding of the modern State of Israel and the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls), it is much easier today to pinpoint what Jesus’ audiences believed – both from the geographic clues given in Scripture (example: in Zealot territory, he tells men he healed *not* to tell people about his miracles, but in Herodian/Greek territory he tells those he healed to witness about it.)

    With this in mind, it is even more astonishing that he said little (if anything at all) to challenge their notion of the afterlife (where only an infinitesimal number of people would be annihilated or eternally tortured) with the “true” message of “most of humanity will be actively tortured forever by God”. Instead, “eternal life” is seen as a reward, and most of the language about the wicked is framed as “death”, “destruction” (or “second death”).

  5. July 21, 2011 at 2:44 pm

    I’m familiar w/ Dr. Cottrell (first- and second-hand), but on this issue I could pretty much care less his opinion (which I read a month ago), since his analysis is so full of straw men that I’d be afraid to light a match within a mile of it, for fear of my own safety.

  6. July 21, 2011 at 3:15 pm

    (The previous comment was directed at his screed against Love Wins).

    I do appreciate some of Dr. Cottrell’s past work in debating/debunking systematic theology (and Calvinism, in particular), but I thoroughly disagree with his analysis of Love Wins, and wonder if he read Bell’s, or this one (I’m guessing the latter).

    I had not seen his essay on annihilationism, but any logic there pretty much escapes me.

    Cottrell: The soul is a created entity and is susceptible to annihilation in the same way as any other created being is.

    Agreed, though I would disagree with the language used here, since “annihilation” in this sense is an active action taken, rather than a natural outcome. The way he’s worded it still suggests that immortality is innate, and that an act of God (annihilation) is required for it to occur. Instead, immortality (eternal life) is an active gift bestowed by God upon a being that is not innately immortal. Big difference.

    Also, it may be true that some Christian thinkers have tied this false idea of the soul to the idea of hell as eternal conscious suffering.But to conclude from this that the latter idea is therefore false is a non sequitur of the greatest magnitude.

    Why? Because he said so? The burden of proving an illogical conclusion lies with the person trying to prove it, not simply to declare it a “non sequitur” and move one. If the soul is not innately immortal, we see nowhere in Scripture where God makes it immortal and then actively tortures it for eternity.

    The bottom line is this: the doctrine of hell as eternal conscious suffering is in no way dependent on the false notion of an immortal soul.

    Because the sky is blue? Because water is wet? Because I said so?

    The souls of the wicked, along with their replacement bodies, exist forever because God wills it, period.

    Chapter and verse, please.

    The flaw in the annihilationist argument, though, is thinking that the possibility that the soul CAN be annihilated is some kind of proof or argument that it WILL be annihilated for the wicked.

    An example of how Cottrell has grasped a straw man in this argument, as well. Even though he says that his assumption we are not inherently immortal, he contradicts this assumption by making its cessation of existence on positive (rather than natural) action on the part of God.

    His entire argument is incoherent and assumes a lot about the annihilationist position that is simply a straw man characterization (or made up, ex nihilo by Cottrell).

    Like I’ve said all along, though, trying to argue for certainty in ANY view of hell completely misses the point – and is quite dangerous when we then base our Gospel on the certainty of that vision of the afterlife. It seems to me that such a Gospel is far more “dangerous” and “heretical” than any Christian who believes UR might, even with a very low probability, be a possibility.

    And it’s pretty evident that the church has completely missed the point, when it becomes necessary to publish six-plus books, twitter, blog and preach dozens of sermons, caterwauling that the “gospel” is in danger because a preacher at a church in Grand Rapids wrote a book that he doesn’t believe in the certainty of eternal conscious torment of 99% of humanity, or that this view of hell should be the selling point of the true Gospel.

  7. July 21, 2011 at 11:42 pm

    “Jesus’ teaching was primarily about the temporal (and dealt quite heavily w/ orthopraxy), with hints of eternity.”

    Yes. And the focus on orthopraxy was based on eschatological implications. Bell makes it sound like eschatology has little to no bearing on the focus of the kingdom of heaven. Simply wrong. There are records of many early Christians (under Tragan, Diocletian and others) who were eager to step forward to become martyrs in order to obtain “a better resurrection.” No, you do not have to choose between a social Gospel or mere fire insurance. I have been trying to communicate all along that both weave together in the NT…but to no avail.

    “And a number of records from other early church fathers who did not believe in ECT, but chose a number of other options. Origen’s view wasn’t declared heretical until the sixth century.”

    Yes, but it was renounced in about a thousand different ways by nearly every major church writer and theologian. Nestorianism was not denounced until the 5th century…so does that mean the church accepted that Jesus was not fully human for 400 years? No. We cant just pull out dates and use them as validation that a late decision on the matter means it was tolerated or accepted prior to that date. There is more history behind it than that.

    “Jesus didn’t side with the Sadducees in *any* of the religious debates of the era.”

    Again, an argument from silence. The idea that Jesus did not preserve for us an entire Epistle entitled “ECT, a refutation of commonly held views by the Pharisees” does not mean that he was in complete agreement with every concept they had on the matter. I don’t how how many sources I have to quote before you will concede there was no “solitary” view on the subject. Early in the conversation you were adamant that there was no such concept as ECT in Hebrew thought, period. It seems you keep backpedaling and then claiming you were right all along.

    What we DO see Jesus saying is, ” they will go away to eternal punishment.” Who are “they?” The most horrible villians ever according to the Pharisee concept of ECT, right. Um no. Those who failed to invite in the stranger or visit those in prison. Not the Antiochus IV’s of the world, but merely the selfish and unmerciful. I’d say this doesnt quit fit with the perspective you are putting forth, and I would prefer to take Jesus’ word for it than assume he fit neatly into some particluar group on an issue that had about as many different ideas as there were teachers on the subject. I think you are allowing your love for Hebrew history to overshadow the plain teachings of the NT and the early Church.

    “And the focus of bringing up Judgment and the Second Coming is primarily on the religious and their actions, not trying to hurry up and convert Gentiles before they are judged.”

    Uh, what?

    remember that at that time you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world. (eph 2:12) (the “uncircumcised” in context)

    17 So I tell you this, and insist on it in the Lord, that you must no longer live as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their thinking. 18 They are darkened in their understanding and separated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them due to the hardening of their hearts. Eph 4:17-18

    Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of such things God’s wrath comes on those who are disobedient. 7 Therefore do not be partners with them. 8 For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light. Eph 5:6–8. (context speaking of conduct of Gentiles)

    16 I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile. Ro 1:16. (doesnt make a lot of sense if Paul is not trying to hurry up and convert Gentiles)

    To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law. 22 To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some. 1 Co 9:21–22.

    So from Jerusalem all the way around to Illyricum, I have fully proclaimed the gospel of Christ. 20 It has always been my ambition to preach the gospel where Christ was not known, so that I would not be building on someone else’s foundation. Ro 15:19–20.

    1 Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior. 22 But now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation… Col 1:21–22.

    I could list…easily 50 more passages of like tone. Really quite a shocking perspective you have there.

    “If you draw that conclusion, then I pity you, because that has never been suggested.”

    We are talking about the Rob Bell book right? Wow, this is really taking a negative turn….I was a judge with a plank in my eye and now I am to be pitied. All because I believe that faith in Christ is necessary and that universalism and post-mortem repentance undermine orthodox soteriology? Really?

    “The Gospel is a positive message – the only one of “hope and change” we should accept, not a call to avoid hell and be part of a viral marketing campaign to avoid it.”

    I’ll just refer you back to my previous answer about the Gospel as merely “fire insurance” than restating that whole speel.

    “Not really. I could care less about peer pressure and simple appeals to authority (or majority), as I was taught to reject such logical fallacies early in my Christian education.”

    Wow. So its not concerning to you at all. I am not suggesting we simply follow the crowd here, but when I am standing in opposition to the bulk of all the most respected, godly and wise leaders in the RM, my first reaction is to assume that I am mistaken….but thats just me. Certainly my thoughts will not bear much weight in your mind if all the other voices carry no weight in your mind.

    Anyway, it seems this has turned into a revolving door where the same ideas are being rehashed in more harsh fashion as time goes on. I am simply going to bow out at this time. Be blessed.

  8. Andy R
    July 22, 2011 at 2:43 pm

    Chris,

    Where did you get this quote from Billy Graham? I would like to verify the accuracy of your quote….

    Also for anyone else, ‘How can something burn forever?’ Even our sun is believed to run out of fuel… I believe Hell is real, and it is uncomfortable…And Jesus is the only way to not pay a visit. I feel confident to say that unrepentant sinners will not be burning for eternity, 1) God does not wish that on any of them. 2) Their physical bodies will burn up,.. and/or they will not be given another physical body like the redeemed, at the rapture!

    If fire is not symbolic, then they will be cast into hell…and burn up…what is left , of all these lost sinners…is as Lewis has said will fit into the point of a needle. hell is a very small place, because there is simply not much there….certainly nothing good. And all matter, and creation is created by God and is good, so there would be none of that there. I would guess only a bunch of miserable memories of ‘hell on earth’.

    I have not read Bell’s book, and I have enjoyed the various reviews I have read. I don’t feel like I need to read it, and don’t plan on it. Some friends of mine have told me that some beliefs that I have considered are mentioned in the book, so I can see where he gets some of them from…I have come to consider many possibilities, because some of our orthodox beliefs, just don’t completely Jive with the God I have come to know.

    However, it slices up in the end: Jesus accomplished on the cross what would be needed to save people from ‘Every tribe, and every nation’ Rev. 5:9

  9. July 22, 2011 at 4:35 pm

    Andy,

    Graham has made this statement in several venues. The clip I saw was from a discussion on Catholicism, where Graham stated he agreed with the part of their catechism that deals with postmortem salvation of those not reached by the Gospel (Vatican II Catechism 839-845).

    For Billy Graham, the earliest reference I can find is “I Can’t Play God Anymore” interview with James M. Beam, McCall’s Magazine, (January 1978), pp. 154-158. Here is a video from YouTube where Billy Graham makes a similar statement to Robert Schuller.

    Chad,

    Again, an argument from silence. The idea that Jesus did not preserve for us an entire Epistle entitled “ECT, a refutation of commonly held views by the Pharisees” does not mean that he was in complete agreement with every concept they had on the matter.

    No, but my point stands that the stream of thought Jesus came from, and the belief of Jesus’ primary audience stands in stark contrast to the Hellenistic vision (ECT) many Christians have come to accept as inviolable fact (despite its tissue-thin support in Scripture).

    The problem lies in the fact that a church doctrine was developed hundreds of years after Christ’s death that bore absolutely no resemblance to something his original audience would have believed – AND – that had his original audience been wrong about the fact, Jesus’ silence on correcting that view would have to be seriously considered malpractice (which I cannot believe). So, while it may be an argument from silence, it acts the same as Sherlock Holmes’ “dog that didn’t bark” in that it still provides the circumstantial evidence to prove the lie of ECT as his certain belief.

    Early in the conversation you were adamant that there was no such concept as ECT in Hebrew thought, period.

    If we stick to the Hebrew stream of thought that Jesus came from (the hasidim) – which happens to be the only one I consider, since the Sadducees theology was vastly different from Jesus and never supported by him – then we have a singular source (from Shammai) which leaves the question about the eternal fate of the most wicked (and the Nephilim) in question.

    To claim this “sliver” as justification for ECT being commonly acceptable to the religious Jewish communities Jesus taught in would be like claiming that Christianity considers the views of the Jehovah’s Witnesses as mainstream. It doesn’t wash. ECT, as taught in the modern church, is fully and thoroughly a Greek invention not found directly in Scripture.

    I could list…easily 50 more passages of like tone. Really quite a shocking perspective you have there.

    And I would probably quote the same passages and just as many other to prove my point, as well.

    and now I am to be pitied. All because I believe that faith in Christ is necessary and that universalism and post-mortem repentance undermine orthodox soteriology? Really?

    No – you’re to be pitied because you so uncharitably create strawman characterizations of someone else’s view and then go into hysterics over your mischaracterization. Bell doesn’t talk about universalism anywhere in LW. He does refer to a belief some Christians have (which I disagree with, and which he points out flaws in, as well), which is referred to as Universal Reconciliation (UR). UR is not Universalism (pluralism) and does not deny Christian soteriology, because it insists that, if anyone is saved postmortem, it is through Jesus Christ and his grace that they are saved. The issues with UR are whether or not one may change his/her mind after death and whether or not salvation is a simple transactional model.

    Is UR dangerous if people believe they don’t need to change now, because they can always change after death? Certainly.

    Is ECT dangerous if people believe they can wait and make a decision at the last minute and be saved? Just a certainly.

    In both cases, it is the fault of the human heart (wanting to hold off as long as possible) and of holding a view of the afterlife as a certainty.

    Bell is correct, in some regards, that those who hold UR as a possibility may use that as a “better story” in living out life as Jesus intended – both in personal holiness and in fulfilling their role in Tikkun Olam. The same cannot be said of one holding ECT as certain fact, because the punishment is so severe that fear must be the primary motivator and any minor benefits of Tikkun Olam must necessarily be considered window dressing.

    Wow. So its not concerning to you at all. I am not suggesting we simply follow the crowd here, but when I am standing in opposition to the bulk of all the most respected, godly and wise leaders in the RM, my first reaction is to assume that I am mistaken….but thats just me.

    I’ve got a number of friends in ministry in the RM (and outside the RM) who would (and do) disagree with these nebulous “godly and wise leaders” on this, and other, issues. I’ve also witnessed, first hand, how some of the specific “godly and wise leaders” you refer to have butchered individuals in the movement (including the late Rich Mullins, a friend of mine), “godly and wise leaders” whose allegiances are more to modern tradition than to the source and background of that tradition (Jesus and the early church).

    So, when I was younger, I might have had the first reaction to assume that I was mistaken. Now, though, I find myself in full agreement with a friend of mine (who studied under Cottrell at CCU), who recently made the comment “It seems like too many (RM) church leaders are fighting boogeymen from the wars of a hundred years ago (“liberalism”), failing to see that today’s war is one against tribalism.” And all of the cry and hue I’m hearing about Love Wins is far, far, far more about preservation of tribalism than it is about contending for the faith.

    In this matter, it seems to me that the best response that could be expected from the RM church would be similar to the philosophy Andy Stanley talked about a couple of weeks ago, or that Gamaliel (Paul’s teacher) espoused in Acts 5:

    “When they heard this, they were furious and wanted to put them to death. But a Pharisee named Gamaliel, a teacher of the law, who was honored by all the people, stood up in the Sanhedrin and ordered that the men be put outside for a little while. Then he addressed the Sanhedrin: “Men of Israel, consider carefully what you intend to do to these men. Some time ago Theudas appeared, claiming to be somebody, and about four hundred men rallied to him. He was killed, all his followers were dispersed, and it all came to nothing. After him, Judas the Galilean appeared in the days of the census and led a band of people in revolt. He too was killed, and all his followers were scattered. Therefore, in the present case I advise you: Leave these men alone! Let them go! For if their purpose or activity is of human origin, it will fail. But if it is from God, you will not be able to stop these men; you will only find yourselves fighting against God.” “

    The wars fought 100 years ago over liberalism in the church did a lot of damage – across Christianity and within the RM – to little avail for those involved in them. Even so, the mainline churches that embraced liberalism are dying and, for some, the errors are being corrected in time.

    The wars fought in the past decade over “Purpose Driven” and megachurches have done lots and lots of damage, and a number of the concerns have been (and are still being) revealed and addressed – in spite of, not because of the wasted internecine battles fought over them.

    Do we really have such little faith in God and the Holy Spirit to make corrections where it is needed – if it is needed?

    It certainly seems so.

  10. Zach M
    August 3, 2011 at 11:31 pm

    Chris L,

    I appreciate your comments and explanations on this book. I have spent the last week reading over your commentary. Rob Bell’s book touches on issues I have been mulling over for the past 10 years. It is very encouraging to hear so many of my own thoughts validated in his book.

    Do you write elsewhere on the internet? If so, I would be interested to follow. I would also be interested to know who you consider thought leaders in the “church” (ecumenical church / church at large) that also articulate Bell’s position.

    Any suggestions or comments would very much be appreciated.

  11. August 8, 2011 at 9:58 pm

    Zach,

    I manage a group blog (with multiple Restoration Movement pastors, along with writers from a number of other Christian denominations) at http://prophets-priests-poets.info/ and I have a personal blog at http://www.fishingtheabyss.com/ . I’ve not written much this summer (I just recently switched jobs – same place, different position – plus I’ve got four kids, ages 12-22 all over the place this summer).

    If you’re looking for other thought leaders in the church at large who tend to approach Scripture first from its original context and the early church (rather than through a lens of systematic theology or via presupposition of many post-Biblical traditions, like eternal conscious torment), you might look toward N.T. Wright (esp. his book “Surprised by Hope”) and Andrew Perriman (his blog is http://www.postost.net/, and he has a recent article on “Hell, the unbiblical doctrine” which examined ECT vs. annihilation). If you are looking for more on the first century Jewish culture and contextual study of Jesus’ ministry from the Hebrew culture he lived in, I would suggest the writers from the Jerusalem School of Synoptic Research, particularly Brad Young, along with Marvin Wilson.

    What you will find, when you go back to what Jesus taught and what the common beliefs were of his audience, the afterlife was not something to dwell on, “eternal life” a reward and Eternal Conscious Torment an outgrowth of Hellenistic Tartaurism. The gospel has absolutely nothing to do with any particular belief in the manifestation of hell, and trying to nail it down as such and be dogmatic about it is anti-Christian, at best, because it thoroughly misses the point.

    Shalom

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