In light of the Rob Bell controversy and the various accusations and defenses that are dominating the theological blogosphere of late, there has been a lot of discussion (and accusation) concerning the doctrines of hell and salvation. Some of it has been interesting and a lot of it is mere stirring the pot. Admittedly, I am as guilty of the latter as the next fellow. Making no secret of my dislike of Bell and his postmodern emergent theology, I approach this contentious issue with a considerable bias. Universalism is heresy. That is an orthodox judgment. While dogmatic to state it outright, it remains true that anybody who advocates "Universalism" with regard to all souls ultimately being saved is a heretic. Of course one man's heretic is another's mentor but at least not in orthodox circles. So, how does a liberal, emergent postmodern theologian avoid the label of heresy? He covers it up with an endless array of open ended questions. Worse still, he might attempt to redefine orthodoxy itself. The former method is Rob Bell's tried and true tactic and on all reasonable accounts that is what he has done with his latest book. I had not planned on purchasing Love Wins however a loner copy has been made available to me and at some point I will run through it. For now, I have more serious reading material to digest. The latter strategy is far more dangerous because it is being utilized by some who insist they are themselves orthodox.
Mars Hill church in Grand Rapids, MI (Bell's church) makes the follow statement regarding Bell's position on heaven and hell.
Love Wins recognizes heaven and hell to be realities all around us. We see hell everyday through the atrocities of war, famine, human trafficking, broken relationships, and abuse. We also see heaven all around us through acts of love, kindness, and compassion. There is also the reality of heaven and hell in the future. Our ultimate future hope is a restored creation under Christ where God will dwell with us forever on a restored heaven and earth [Rev 21-22]. There are many who accept the invitation of the life of heaven and many who reject the invitation. Those who reject the invitation experience a purifying "fire" of judgment in hell, yet there is hope. We live in the hope that the redemptive work of Christ is beyond what we can ask or imagine. Love Wins helps us have a biblical imagination that leaves room for the hope of the redemption of all while recognizing humanities free will to continue to reject God.
That perspective might be a lot of things but orthodox is not one of them. Redefining "scriptural" hell as essentially "hell on earth" is how this carnal world defines hell if they venture as much at all. Love, kindness and compassion are certainly the fruit of the spirit of God but Buddhist or Hindu love and compassion, while outwardly appearing so, are not the fruits of the spirit of our LORD. They are "niceties" manifested through the worship of false gods. They are a façade outside of Christ. Strip the façade away and pure unadulterated enmity is exposed. The world hates Christ and those in Him (John 15:18-19). There is nothing good about this world. Instead we are called to separate ourselves from it (2 Co 6:17). Heaven is not the nice folks living next door however charming they might be. Looking at what comes next in the above statement from Mars Hill is the nail in the doorpost. A life of faith in this world matters not, according to Bell. There is always the purifying purgatory in hell for unbelievers giving them a chance to have faith in Christ. Now, this did not come out of scripture for the Bible teaches us that you do not get a shot in the grave (Heb 9:27). The folks at Mars Hill make it plainly clear where such thoughts come from, the imagination. So, where are the liberal and emergents, the postmodern "thinkers" on this matter? There seems to be an embrace of Bell and worse still, a redefining of what orthodoxy entails. Consider the words of the liberal emergent President of Fuller Theological Seminary (Bell's alma mater) in this comment from the Mars Hill website FAQ.
Richard Mouw, president of the world's largest Protestant seminary, Fuller Theological Seminary based in Pasadena, Calif., calls Love Wins "a great book, well within the bounds of orthodox Christianity and passionate about Jesus. The real hellacious fight, says Mouw, a friend of Bell, a Fuller graduate, is between "generous orthodoxy and stingy orthodoxy. There are stingy people who just want to consign many others to hell and only a few to heaven and take delight in the idea. But Rob Bell allows for a lot of mystery in how Jesus reaches people. - Richard Mouw, president of the world's largest Protestant seminary, Fuller Theological Seminary, as quoted in USA TODAY
How does such a man consider Bell's theology as "well within the bounds of orthodox Christianity"? He redefines it of course. If you cast true orthodox theology as a "stingy orthodoxy", it leaves room for the Universalist and heterodox to contrast it with their "generous orthodoxy". Having done that, other Postmoderns can then castigate orthodox Christianity as "fundamentalist", "stingy", "harsh", "unforgiving" etc. Eventually, what is good is called bad and bad becomes good. I call it apostasy, whether it sits at Fuller, Mars Hill or for that matter any church or seminary.