Home > Books & Reading, Christianity, Emergent Movement, Heaven / Hell > Love Wins Analysis: Chapter 3: Hell (Part II)

Love Wins Analysis: Chapter 3: Hell (Part II)

[This is part V of a multi-part series on Rob Bell’s book, Love Wins. Note: Chapter 3 on Hell has been broken up into two parts due to excessive length. You can find Part I on this chapter here.]


Image from Jesus-is-lord.com

Bell retells the parable of the rich man and Lazarus because it the most vivid description of hell we get from Jesus. Bell points out that the rich man is able to communicate from hell to Abraham in heaven. After ignoring the poor man Lazarus in his earthly life, the rich man in death wants Lazarus to serve him. He tells Abraham that he wants Lazarus to fetch him water then says that he wants Lazarus to warn his family of what’s in store for them in the afterlife. Bell’s perspective of this is insightful:

“The rich man wants Lazarus to serve him.

In their previous life, the rich man saw himself as better than Lazarus, and now, in hell, the rich man still sees himself as above Lazarus. It’s no wonder Abraham says there’s a chasm that can’t be crossed. The chasm is the rich man’s heart! It hasn’t changed, even in death and torment and agony. He’s still clinging to the old hierarchy. He still thinks he’s better.”

Bell expounds on this some more:

“Jesus teaches again and again that the gospel is about a death that leads to life. It’s a pattern, a truth, a reality that comes from losing your life and then finding it. This rich man Jesus tells us about hasn’t yet figured that out. He’s still clinging to his ego, his status, his pride—he’s unable to let go of the world he’s constructed, which puts him on the top and Lazarus on the bottom, the world in which Lazarus is serving him.

He’s dead, but he hasn’t died.

He’s in Hades, but he still hasn’t died the kind of death that actually brings life.

He’s alive in death, but in profound torment, because he’s living with the realities of not properly dying the kind of death that actually leads a person into the only kind of life that’s worth living.”

I don’t disagree with Bell at all. A few pages later, Bell says brilliantly:

“There is hell now,
and there is hell later,
and Jesus teaches us to take both seriously.”

With this statement, Bell does not deny the existence of hell “in this age or the age to come.” However, I do take issue with a few statements prior to this, mainly because they start to muddy the waters, making his belief in hell seem unclear.

When Bell talks about the rich man, he says that the rich man “hasn’t yet figured out… that the gospel is about a death that leads to life.”

Yet is an important word. Its implication is that even though something hasn’t happened, there’s a chance it will. I believe Bell is a man who chooses his words carefully so when he says that the rich man hasn’t yet figured things out, it’s because if he does (in due time), only then he’ll be able to live “the only kind of life that’s worth living.” Bell doesn’t give any indication that the rich man is forever shut out and utterly without hope. In fact, through Bell’s recounting of this parable, the dead rich man has more hope of life than I’ve ever heard before.

From pages 75-79, I infer that Bell thinks people can get a second chance after death if their heart changes. When Bell says that the “chasm… can’t be crossed [because] the chasm is the rich man’s heart,” I get the impression that if the rich man’s heart changes, then the chasm can be crossed.

So far, I’ve concluded that Bell believes hell exists (on earth and in the afterlife) and that people really do go there. It also seems that Bell says people can choose hell because they cling to an “old hierarchy” of belief but if that belief changes, they can move from death unto life even in the afterlife. Statements later on in the chapter give me the impression that Bell believes judgment for hell isn’t final, isn’t forever, and that God is a god of second and third and multiple chances until we get it right.)

“What we see in Jesus’s story about the rich man and Lazarus is an affirmation that there are all kinds of hells, because there are all kinds of ways to resist and reject all that is good and true and beautiful and human now, in this life, and so we can only assume we can do the same in the next.”

Is your head swimming yet? Because mine is.

Bell goes on to reference Ezekiel 16 in showing that Sodom and Gomorrah’s fortunes will eventually be restored and quotes Jesus in Matthew 10 in which he says, “It will be more bearable for Sodom and Gomorrah on the day of judgment than for you.”

Bell overall concludes that if there’s still hope for a place like Sodom and Gomorrah (widely thought of as being condemned forever) that no longer exists, then there’s hope for everyone outside of these towns.

“Failure, we see again and again, isn’t final,
judgment has a point,
and consequences are for correction.”

I don’t know how Bell lines up this thinking with Hebrews 9:27 which says “it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment.” Hence, the book raises a question for me that the author never addresses.

Bell begins to wrap Chapter 3 up by speaking of restoration and quotes how God over and over in the Old Testament, especially among the minor prophets, speaks of the restoration of His people. (Note: there is no wider context given among the 10 verses on restoration that Bell lists.)

Bell ends Chapter 3 with this summed-up definition:

“To summarize, then, we need a loaded, volatile, adequately violent, dramatic, serious word to describe the very real consequences we experience when we reject the good and true and beautiful life that God has for us. We need a word that refers to the big, wide, terrible evil that comes from the secrets hidden deep within our heats all the way to the massive, society-wide collapse and chaos that comes when we fail to live in God’s world God’s way.

And for that,
the word ‘hell’ works quite well.
Let’s keep it.”

Chapter 3 proved to be a rather challenging chapter on a variety of levels. It forced me to read critically and question nearly everything Bell said, especially since many things weren’t referenced. I’ve already challenged some of Bell’s statements in order to, perhaps, paint a fuller view of the issue, but really, I really just touched the tip of the iceberg.

On page 80, Bell uses Jesus’ statement from Matthew 26 in which he says those who “draw the sword will die by the sword” is used to depict Jesus a strictly non-violent, pacifist leader.

“To respond to violence with more violence, according to Jesus, is not the way of God.”

But in Luke 22, Jesus encourages his disciples to sell their cloaks and buy swords. When the disciples said they had two swords, Jesus replied, “It is enough.” (v. 38) If Jesus was extremely non-violent, he would’ve discouraged the disciples from even arming themselves. Even though Jesus worked through non-violent means, it doesn’t mean that his entire philosophy is non-violent. I think Jesus really embodies Ecclesiastes 3, but on this issue, his philosophy was probably more along the lines of verse 8’s “a time for war and a time for peace.” To paint Jesus as a total pacifist would be misleading.

Or perhaps let’s also tackle page 89 in which Bell says:

“‘Satan,’ according to Paul, is actually used by God for God’s transforming purposes. Whoever and whatever he means by that word ‘Satan,’ there is something redemptive and renewing that will occur when Hymenaeus and Alexander are ‘handed over.'”

Whoever and whatever? Of a lot of the things in this book, I have a serious problem with Bell flippantly referring to Satan as “whoever” and “whatever.” And it makes me extremely uncomfortable that a pastor of a Christian church (emergent, it may be) puts Satan’s name in quotes as if he’s not real, doesn’t exist, or is a figure of speech for something humans are not sure about. Having read Brian McLaren’s A New Kind of Christianity, this kind of talk gets dangerously close to how McLaren refers to evil.

Toward the end of the chapter, Bell pulls out the Greek dictionary again to translate words better, and I’m frustrated and annoyed. It’s not just Bell who does this though; many pastors do this. It’s as if they’re saying “the English translations we have aren’t good enough so let me translate this a little bit better for you.” Really, of the 25+ English translations out there, you couldn’t find one suitable to reference so you had to retranslate it for us yourself? Do people who don’t have access to the Greek worse off because they’re reading something that hasn’t been translated to its best extent in the English language? (Oh, this kind of stuff gets my rankles up.)

On the flip side, Bell sometimes says things that challenge my conceptions of how I traditionally view Christian teaching. If I can’t find anything scripturally that contradicts Bell, I pause to consider the truth in what he says. (Mind you, I will not take an opposing view against Bell simply to be belligerent.) I quote pages 82-83 because I think his view his striking:

“Many people in our world have only ever heard hell talked about as the place reserved for those who are ‘out,’ who don’t believe, who haven’t ‘joined the church.’ Christians talking about people who aren’t Christians going to hell when they die because they aren’t . . . Christians. People who don’t believe the right things.

But in reading all of the passages in which Jesus uses the word ‘hell,’ what is so striking is that people believing the right or wrong things isn’t his point. He’s often not talking about ‘beliefs’ as we think of them—he’s talking about anger and lust and indifference. He’s talking about the state of his listeners’ hearts, about how they conduct themselves, how they interact with their neighbors, about the kind of effect they have on the world.

Jesus did not use hell to try and compel ‘heathens’ and ‘pagans’ to believe in God, so they wouldn’t burn when they die. He talked about hell to very religious people to warn them about the consequences of straying from their God-given calling and identity to show the world God’s love.

This is not to say that hell is not a pointed, urgent warning or that it isn’t intimately connected with what we actually do believe, but simply to point out that Jesus talked about hell to the people who considered themselves ‘in,’ warning them that their hard hearts were putting their ‘in-ness’ at risk, reminding them that whatever ‘chosen-ness’ or ‘election’ meant, whatever special standing they believed they had with God was always, only, ever about their being the kind of transformed, generous, loving people through whom God could show the world what God’s love looks like in flesh and blood.”

Overall, Chapter 3 was a challenging read. There was no way to walk away from it without thinking one of three things:

  1. My beliefs and preconceptions on hell have been reinforced as a result of reading this chapter.
  2. My beliefs and preconceptions on hell have changed as a result of reading this chapter. (Even if it’s ever so slightly.)
  3. My beliefs and preconceptions on hell have not changed as a result of reading this chapter but have given me a different perspective that I had never considered before.

I fall into category 3. I certainly don’t agree with Bell on a lot of things, but he makes many good points about not overlooking the hell here and now in favor of the hell later. Christians would do well to heed some of his warnings.

  1. April 5, 2011 at 12:31 PM

    Quite interesting. I don’t know that I’ve ever thought of the “Rich Man and Lazarus” parable that way before, but Bell’s perspective makes a lot of sense. It seems that Bell’s perception of what we label “hell” is rather more like Catholics view purgatory than the typical evangelical views hell. And I’m not certain that’s a bad thing. At any rate, I’m certainly spurred to read and examine this idea a bit more, as it seems to have enough merit to pursue. I’ve got to say, so far, it seems the furor over Bell’s remarks on hell and the afterlife is spurred more by his presentation of a different perspective on what hell may be rather than on him actually denying its existence. I could be wrong, but that’s my take on it so far given what you’ve quoted.

    Now, as an English teacher, I’ve got to defend him going back to the Greek a bit. The thing is that when something is translated from one language to another, there are often several ways that translation can go. And sometimes none of them are quite right. It isn’t that there aren’t English translations that are sufficient for basic understanding, but more that no single English translation can give the best and deepest picture of what the original words were intended to mean. Certainly a teacher or pastor could reference several English translations to offer a good picture, and usually they do this as well. But going back to the original word offers a simpler method of explaining than going through multiple translations to come up with his own definition, etc. And, for better or worse, a lot of people like to know that the pastor teacher to whom they’re listening is familiar with the original, just as I’d want to know my teacher took the time to be familiar with the original Russian when he’s teaching me the textual nuances of Tolstoy. The English translation of it isn’t necessarily inferior at all, but there are some things about the original that it can’t quite capture. It’s the unfortunate nature of translating anything. I get why it would seem that going back to the original means that the translation isn’t good enough, but I think the purpose behind going back to the original isn’t to disparage the good translations at all. It’s more to add to the nuance, to clarify when there are options and differences in what translators choose. But then, I tend to fall into the category of those who do think that something is lost when you have to read a translation. I don’t think we’re spiritually worse off, but I do think there is a level of specificity, of original textual intent that can be lost. Perhaps that makes me a snob of some kind. haha. But that’s what I feel based on how I’ve come to understand translation when it comes to other works. Of course, I also feel that’s an area where the Holy Spirit enables us beyond the mere text. Anyway, that’s my nerdy English teacher take on it. πŸ˜›

    I’m also curious to explore more of what Bell was saying on page 89 regarding Satan. What was the reference he was discussing at that point? I also just suddenly realized that I don’t actually know the origins of the term “Satan” and it’s use. I wonder if that has something to do with the vagueness with which bell approaches it. Hm. *makes notes for further study* hahaha

    • Kassi
      April 18, 2011 at 10:06 PM

      Yes, Bell seems to espouse a kind of purgatory belief, loosely dubbing it “hell.” With the traditional view of hell, there is no hope of redemption. With the traditional view of purgatory, it is seen as sort of a temporary judgment place. Bell aligns with Catholics much more than Protestant evangelicals realize.

      Since you’re an English teacher, I’ll let you win. . . this round. πŸ˜‰

    • Kassi
      April 18, 2011 at 10:27 PM

      I’ve retyped pages 88-89 for your convenience and tried to capture the context as best I can. πŸ™‚

      Failure, we see again and again, isn’t final,
      judgment has a point,
      and consequences are for correction.

      With this in mind, several bizarre passages later in the New Testament begin to make more sense. In Paul’s first letter to Timothy he mentions Hymenaeus and Alexander, who he has “handed over to Satan to be taught not to blaspheme.” (Something in me wants to read that in a Darth Vader voice.)

      Now I realize that the moment he mentions Satan, things can get really confusing. But beyond the questions—

      “Handed over to Satan?”
      Paul has handed people over to Satan?
      Do you do that?
      Can you do that?
      How do you do that?
      Is there paperwork involved?

      What is clear is that Paul has great confidence that this handing over will be for good, as inconceivable as that appears at first. His confidence is that these two will be taught something. They will learn. They will grow. They will become better.

      “Satan,” according to Paul, is actually used by God for God’s transforming purposes. Whoever and whatever he means by that word “Satan,” there is something redemptive and renewing that will occur when Hymenaeus and Alexander are “handed over.”

      And this is not an isolated incident of Paul’s confidence that the most severe judgment falls squarely within the redemptive purposes of God in the world. Paul gives a similar instruction in his first letter to the Corinthians, telling his friends to hand a certain man “over to Satan for the destruction of the sinful nature so that his spirit may be saved on the day of the Lord” (chap. 5).

  2. Paul
    April 5, 2011 at 12:55 PM

    I am really enjoying your in-depth analysis! Your mockery of Bell’s writing style got more than a few chuckles out of me πŸ˜‰

    I felt like the Rich man/Lazarus story about being served was a bit of a stretch. I think you are right on target by picking out the word “yet”.

    I am on my second run-through of the audio-book and will be keeping tabs on your posts πŸ˜€

    • Kassi
      April 18, 2011 at 10:03 PM

      Thanks! πŸ™‚

  3. April 5, 2011 at 1:36 PM

    Which Afterlife?

    In his new book “Love Wins” Rob Bell seems to say that loving and compassionate people, regardless of their faith, will not be condemned to eternal hell just because they do not accept Jesus Christ as their Savior.

    Concepts of an afterlife vary between religions and among divisions of each faith. Here are three quotes from “the greatest achievement in life,” my ebook on comparative mysticism:

    (46) Few people have been so good that they have earned eternal paradise; fewer want to go to a place where they must receive punishments for their sins. Those who do believe in resurrection of their body hope that it will be not be in its final form. Few people really want to continue to be born again and live more human lives; fewer want to be reborn in a non-human form. If you are not quite certain you want to seek divine union, consider the alternatives.

    (59) Mysticism is the great quest for the ultimate ground of existence, the absolute nature of being itself. True mystics transcend apparent manifestations of the theatrical production called β€œthis life.” Theirs is not simply a search for meaning, but discovery of what is, i.e. the Real underlying the seeming realities. Their objective is not heaven, gardens, paradise, or other celestial places. It is not being where the divine lives, but to be what the divine essence is here and now.

    (80) [referring to many non-mystics] Depending on their religious convictions, or personal beliefs, they may be born again to seek elusive perfection, go to a purgatory to work out their sins or, perhaps, pass on into oblivion. Lives are different; why not afterlives? Beliefs might become true.

    Rob Bell asks us to reexamine the Christian Gospel. People of all faiths should look beyond the letter of their sacred scriptures to their spiritual message. As one of my mentors wrote “In God we all meet.”

  4. Rammstein45
    May 6, 2014 at 10:50 AM

    Remember! God loves you so much that he created hell just in case you don’t love him back! Psychopath much?

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