Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Rob Bell and hell

I just watched Rob Bell's Nooma video, "Bullhorn." In the video Rob is speaking out against Christians who stand on the street corner and use a bullhorn to tell people that they need to repent or they are going to burn in hell. Rob seems very concerned because people like this are misrepresenting God. He says Jesus never talked that way and that he would never do that. Rob talks about the centrality of love in Christianity. Loving those who are different than us and who don't believe the same thing as us. He says that when we do so, we are actually loving God. Agreed.

It seems to me that Rob is largely reacting to bad Christianity by presenting a half gospel. He's right about the centrality of love. He's right about the fact that some people on street corners don't seem to be loving. But it seems that Jesus really did believe in hell. I had an openly liberal New Testament professor in seminary. I once asked him if he thought Jesus believed in a literal hell of fire. He said that he thought Jesus did believe in the hell of fire.

Jesus did warn people about hell. In Matthew 5:29-30, he said, "If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away, it is better for you to lose one of your members than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. If your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away, it is better for you to lose one of your members than for your whole body to go into hell." And that's only one place that he talks about it.

I don't think our whole message should be hell-centered, or that we should use the bullhorn in an unloving way. But if hell is real, it seems like its incredibly important that we help people avoid it, in a loving way. I wish that we got to pick the doctrines of the Bible that were the most attractive to us and then those would be the ones that were true for us. Unfortunately, we didn't create the universe, we don't make the rules, and we can't be more loving than Jesus.


Anonymous said...


Someone evidently didn't get that memo to John the Baptist. Are you saying John the Baptist was "unChristian"?

Would John the Baptist be on the street corner with a bullhorn with the message, Repent for the Lord will be gathering the wheat into the barn and the chaff will be burned in the unquenchable fire? I bet he would be.

Any prophet, O.T., N.T., and today would be unpopular. The message would be the same, "Repent for you have forgotten your first love. Repent for you have strayed from sound doctrine. Repent for you have forgotten to tend to the widows and orphans. Repent for you have glorified the doctrines of men rather than of the Lord."

Last time I checked, "The Wages of Sin is Death".

I trust that you preach on sin and the need for repentance.

And at the end of the day, God hates sin, either great or small.

There is still a need for the "hellfire and damnation" preacher as well as those who preach salvation by faith alone prior to preaching the social gospel.

You brother in Christ,
John Flores
Frisco, Texas

"If we deny the doctrine of hell, what do we need to be saved from?"

Matthew 3 (New American Standard Bible)
New American Standard Bible (NASB)
Copyright © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation

Matthew 3
The Preaching of John the Baptist
1Now (A)in those days (B)John the Baptist came, preaching in the (C)wilderness of Judea, saying,
2"(D)Repent, for (E)the kingdom of heaven is at hand."

3For this is the (F)one referred to by Isaiah the prophet when he said,

4Now John himself had (I)a garment of camel's hair and a leather belt around his waist; and his food was (J)locusts and wild honey.

5Then Jerusalem (K)was going out to him, and all Judea and all (L)the district around the Jordan;

6and they were being (M)baptized by him in the Jordan River, as they confessed their sins.

7But when he saw many of the (N)Pharisees and (O)Sadducees coming for baptism, he said to them, "You (P)brood of vipers, who warned you to flee from (Q)the wrath to come?

8"(R)Therefore bear fruit (S)in keeping with repentance;

9and do not suppose that you can say to yourselves, '(T)We have Abraham for our father'; for I say to you that from these stones God is able to raise up children to Abraham.

10"The (U)axe is already laid at the root of the trees; therefore (V)every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.

11"As for me, (W)I baptize you [a]with water for repentance, but He who is coming after me is mightier than I, and I am not fit to remove His sandals; (X)He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.

12"His (Y)winnowing fork is in His hand, and He will thoroughly clear His threshing floor; and He will (Z)gather His wheat into the barn, but He will burn up the (AA)chaff with (AB)unquenchable fire."

Revelation Ch. 2 New American Standard Bible

2'(D)I know your deeds and your toil and perseverance, and that you cannot tolerate evil men, and you (E)put to the test those who call themselves (F)apostles, and they are not, and you found them to be false;

3and you have perseverance and have endured (G)for My name's sake, and have not grown weary.

4'But I have this against you, that you have (H)left your first love.

5'Therefore remember from where you have fallen, and (I)repent and (J)do the deeds you did at first; or else I am coming to you and will remove your (K)lampstand out of its place--unless you repent.

6'Yet this you do have, that you hate the deeds of the (L)Nicolaitans, which I also hate.

7'(M)He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches (N)To him who overcomes, I will grant to eat of (O)the tree of life which is in the (P)Paradise of God.'

Anonymous said...


Well how about these verses. I'm sure Jesus said these and John the Apostle gives his testimony of what was revealed to him by Jesus.

John Flores
Frisco, Texas

New American Standard Bible (NASB)

Matthew Chapter 5
22"But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother shall be guilty before the court; and whoever says to his brother, 'You good-for-nothing,' shall be guilty before the supreme court; and whoever says, 'You fool,' shall be guilty enough to go into the fiery hell".

Matthew 23:15

15"Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, because you travel around on sea and land to make one proselyte; and when he becomes one, you make him twice as much a son of hell as yourselves

Matthew 23:33

33"You serpents, you brood of vipers, how will you escape the sentence of hell?

Luke 12:4-6

4"I say to you, My friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body and after that have no more that they can do.

5"But I will warn you whom to fear: fear the One who, after He has killed, has authority to cast into hell; yes, I tell you, fear Him!

6"Are not five sparrows sold for two cents? Yet not one of them is forgotten before God.

Revelation 3:5
He who overcomes will thus be clothed in white garments; and I will not erase his name from the book of life, and I will confess his name before My Father and before His angels.

(Jason, I don't want my name erased from the book of life. That sounds like going to hell to me.)

Revelation 20:15
(Testimony ofthe Apostle John)

And if anyone's name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.
(Lake of fire, sounds like hell to me)

Revelation 21:6-8

6Then He said to me, "It is done I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end I will give to the one who thirsts from the spring of the water of life without cost.

7"He who overcomes will inherit these things, and I will be his God and he will be My son.

8"But for the cowardly and unbelieving and abominable and murderers and immoral persons and sorcerers and idolaters and all liars, their part will be in the lake that burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death."

Revelation 22:16-21

16"I, Jesus, have sent My angel to testify to you these things for the churches I am the root and the descendant of David, the bright )morning star."

17The Spirit and the bride say, "Come " And let the one who hears say, "Come " And let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who wishes take the water of life without cost.

18I testify to everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: if anyone adds to them, God will add to him the plagues which are written in this book;

19and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God will take away his part from the tree of life and from the holy city, which are written in this book.
(If you don't have the tree of life, you get the second death, lake of fire).

20He who testifies to these things says, "Yes, I am coming quickly " Amen Come, Lord Jesus.

21The grace of the Lord Jesus be with all. Amen

Anonymous said...

Sometimes to reach those who need to hear, the message must be unpleasent. "You are going to go to hell if you don't change your ways" is a blunt message, and sometimes it is going to come across as unloving. Think of teaching your son not to run in front of a car when his ball goes in the street. If you say "oh, son daddy loves you and please don't run out into the street" you probably won't get as far as if you said "son, I will punish you if run out into the street". Sometimes what comes across seems very unloving, yet is in our best interest. It amazes me as I read and study to see how much christian authors pick and choose what supports the point of view they are selling. There is no subsitute for reading the Word directly and comparing the things we would be taught back to it.

Jason Woolever said...

i would agree.

Michael said...


I don't disagree with anything you've said. The problem I have is in wanting to reach non-believers. Hell is just not a threat to those who don't even believe in Heaven. Jesus was very forthright about sinners being in danger of the judgment, but I think He was speaking primarily to believers who should already know better. And in that, there is a place for the "hellfire & brimstone".

Just thinking out loud (so to speak). When I prepare my sermons, I want to be as positive and as upbeat as I can knowing that no one wants to get spiritually beat up on constantly. I also see much of what I think needs to be addressed in my own life, and that is reflected in my sermons.

It is so hard to give a "it'll be ok" sermon with Jeremiah 23 ringing in my ears, yet we should know that even believers need to know that the Lord does not necessarily hold a spiritual gun to our heads with "or else" theology.

Jason Woolever said...

hey michael,
good point about preaching hell to people to don't believe in heaven.

You also said,
"even believers need to know that the Lord does not necessarily hold a spiritual gun to our heads with "or else" theology."
Didn't Jesus sometimes preach "or else" sermons? It seems to me that he really did. Don't you agree?

Jim said...


So many have been decieved into believeing Bells message that we are to love without an agenda like he says Jesus did. However we are to love WITH an agenda of seeking and saving the lost (Luke 19) liek Jesus really did. I am glad to see there is at least one pastor alive today who has the ability to view bullhorn guy and not totally buy into it.

Now of course we dont just yell fire and brimstone, but knowing the terror of the Lord we do pursuade men. Even with the obvious flaws, it is unfortunate that the guy in the video is far more biblically sound then the producer.

I am an open air preacher and tell people they are sinners who will face the judgement of a holy God. I do this to show people why they need to be saved, what they need to be saved from and then I reveal the one and only way to be saved through the AWESOME love of Jesus Christ on the cross.

I think the fact that Bell had to show such an exagerated, geeky, hateful preacher speaks volumes to the fact there is no biblical backing to his position and so he created this false supposition.

Thanks again for the post.

Telling someone who thinks they're a great person that they need to be saved without showing them that they are sinners who deserve hell is like a doctor telling someone with a life threatening illness to take some heavy duty medicine WITHOUT telling them that they have the illness. It makes no sense, why take it, I'm a pretty healthy person.

Peace in Christ - Jim

Anonymous said...

wow. i just can't see how the guy in the video is more biblically sound than the producer. if we look at the basics of Jesus' message it was 'love God. love others. nothing more. nothing less.' It doesn't say-- follow these rules-- because we really do truly show we love God by loving others. If we look at where the anger of Jesus was really shown, it was the religious people, the pastors and teachers and ministers of His day. No, Jesus went and ate and drank with the sinners, prostitutes, tax collectors (all considered unclean by Jewish law) and yet, we don't see Jesus condemning these people to Hell. No, He shared His story with these people, and through revealed truth, not some scare tactic, did He come into a relationship with them. The point is, it is NOT about converts, it is about people learning to communicate, love and understand a God that loves them so deeply and yearns for them so much, that He gave up His son, perfection, for them. We may scare people into 'converting' but are we 'discipling' them or even loving them in this process. Just something to think about.



allison j. sebastian said...

jesus is a dynamic person. he knew peoples hearts, so he knew the correct time to tell them about the dangers of hell. all of jesus' stories made people think, so i don't think any of them were "feel good" in nature.

as we do not know the exact state of the hearts of the people around us, it is very important for us to love them, not judge them. though it is also important to speak if we feel that they need to be warned of the dangerous repercussions that their actions may bring them. it is a delicate balance to speak truth to someone and to not come across as judging them. but i believe that if you really do love them, then it is possible.

Anonymous said...

i disagree jason. in order to understand rob bell's point, you have to do more reading about his view on heaven and hell. anything short of that is bound to lead to confusion over bell's views, which is what i see here. many of the people who commented are judging bell based on the simple blurb that you wrote without taking the time to understand him.

any new testament reading clearly shows that love indeed is the main message of jesus, not one of hatred, self-righteousness, or judgement.

Anonymous said...

The gospel of Matthew, does speak of hell, but it does not speak of it as a fire headed by the devil of the underground. Ask yourself what hell is? Its a kingdom of not of god? That I think we all agree on. For me, losing a loved one is worse than braking a leg. That may be an easy one for anyone. The leg is a physical pain, the loved one is a mental and spiritual journey. I think that if there was a hierarchy of importance it would be physical, mental, and spiritual being the most important since its our connection with God. So Jesus does believe in Hell, gouge out your eye , so the rest of your body does not follow suit in Hell. Hell is a kingdom away from God, thats a spirit away from god. My Hell is not full of physical pain like an underground fire, people battle cancer or burns from fires; they are not in hell, they still have God and their spirits are in his hands.

- a member of Mars

Anonymous said...

So are you "hellers" okay with Anne Frank burning forever?

Jason Woolever said...

For the record... As a policy I don't carry on blogging conversations with "anonymous" commenters. If you want to converse as people with names and faces, sounds good. otherwise... sorry

Anonymous said...

I just want to answer to the first comment (John Flores).

Well, it says "The wages of sin are death" not "HELL".

I don't know wether "HELL" is a physical place or a just separation from God. The only thing I know is that Anything but God, through Christ and the Holy Spirit is Hell..

And that is what God wants to save us from.Separation from Him. So we can have a personal relationship with our Heavenly Father.

Eternity away from God is the meaning of HELL to me.

May God bless you.

Josias Ayoroa