Lots of preaching dates coming up, so I have been thinking a lot about weightier matters of late. One of the current ‘hot topics’ has cropped up in a number of conversations with friends lately.
You can read more of his ‘Time’ article here.
To put it in a very simplified nutshell, Bell, a pastor in the USA, has suggested [in his book ‘Love Wins’] that a God who is Perfect Love would not condemn anyone to the eternal punishment of hell. And all the ‘sound’ pastors are up in arms, saying he is a ‘Universalist’ – that if ‘everybody is going to be saved what is the point of evangelising? and Jesus believed in Hell, so we do too’ and that Bell is a ‘false teacher and a heretic’ [and therefore, presumably, condemned to Hell]
I don’t ‘do’ what you might call ‘heavy theology’. 99% of the time, I stick with the simpler stuff [Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so] I accept that these deeper questions do need to be wrestled with – but I am saddened that the debate has gone into the Public Arena, and the world is looking on and saying “These Christians, how they hate one another!” [The exact opposite of Tertullian writing c.200AD] It all gets in the way of the business of sharing God’s love with those who have yet to know it.
And I suddenly feel very old, and somewhat amused by people who tell me this is an important new discussion. I treasure a love letter, written from my Dad to my Mum, on 17th March 1949, in which he discusses this exact same debate!
He was still finishing his course at theological college [hers was shorter, and she was back in Essex] and he sent her a Bible Commentary for their 1st Wedding Anniversary – this letter went with it, and it is partly full of words of love and partly theological debate!
Dad concludes the ‘Hell’ section with these words
“2 things are certain – [a] God will never refuse a soul who truly repents … [b] God is going to ultimately triumph, and at the name of Jesus every knee shall bow.
These are the answers of faith, based on God’s Word, God’s Nature, and Christ’s Cross – how they can be reconciled with the whole host of teaching about Eternal Punishment, or WHETHER they can, is quite another matter.
I am fast coming to be sure that we must hold BOTH truths – Eternal Punishment AND also God’s Ultimate Triumph. But more of this later, darling – I’d like to know what you said to Mrs Green at Salem!”
I confess that I have not read Rob Bell’s book – but ‘Love Wins’ sounds very like ‘God’s Ultimate Triumph’ to me. As I never found the letter in the book till after Dad’s death, I shall never know how my parents’ discussion ended – I so wish they were around now to talk about it all. I feel so blessed to have had them as my parents.
[The picture shows them as very happy newlyweds]