During my high school and early college years, Rob Bell was nothing short of the bomb. People loved how new and refreshing his work felt, especially amongst a bunch of low quality work other Christian groups put out at the time. His NOOMA videos had had phenomenal production quality, and how could you not love his books?
Then 2011 hit, and as a junior in college at a Christian university, I watched Rob Bell go from a hero to a heretic almost over night.
It all started when a trailer dropped for Bell’s upcoming new book, Love Wins, where he casually questions if Gandhi is in hell. Conservative theologians pounced in this immediately claiming that Bell was trying to erase hell. Things didn’t get better when the book finally came out, where Bell’s writings were absolutely torn to shreds by theologians, officially casting the scornful label of “heretic” on him. Whole documentaries and books were created just to spite Bell’s misunderstood theology.
Rob Bell would never again be mentioned by any of my Christian friends.
(By the way, it’s interesting how well my personal experiences marry up to what is shared in the documentary about Rob Bell succinctly called The Heretic. Definitely worth watching.)
That event never sat well with me. Though I genuinely was not a fan of Rob’s work even before the Love Wins incident, a feeling sat in the pit of my stomach that said, “We’re missing something here.” It would take me years to pinpoint what exactly that was.
And it finally hit me.
Imagine a loved one close to you. Could be a spouse, a son or daughter, a mom or dad, a close friend. Anybody. Now, imagine how you would respond if I asked you this question:
“Why don’t you kill that loved one?”
Tell me, what’s the first thing that came into your mind?
It was probably a feeling of disgust. The thought of murdering the person you care about most probably repulses you. You might answer back with another question,
“Why would I ever do such a thing?”
Now, let me tell you how you wouldn’t answer that question:
“Because I don’t want to go to jail.”
It’s probably true, you don’t want to go to jail. And yeah, murdering somebody would probably get you thrown in jail. But it’s a stupid thought, isn’t it? Nobody thinks “I’m not going to murder my spouse / child / parent because I don’t want to go to jail.”
What motivates you about that relationship is your love toward them, not the negative consequences of doing something bad to them.
Can you see how this ties to the concept of hell?
A lot of Christians spend an exorbitant amount of time preaching about the fires of hell. “Repent, ye sinner, or face the wrath of hell!” Clearly, the very notion that somebody like Rob Bell would take away hell was earth shattering enough that they felt it necessary to destroy his reputation.
But why are we concerned about hell, anyway?
And that’s what bugged me about the whole Love Wins incident: these angry people were so motivated away from hell that they didn’t seem to have any inclination of motivation to God.
Because how does a focus on hell build a relationship with the Father?
Imagine if I wanted to share about how much I love my wife with the public. Imagine me shouting, “I’m not going to kill her! Please don’t kill her! I don’t want to go to jail, and neither should you!”
You’d think I’m nuts.
You’d think, “That guy has it totally backwards.”
“If he loved his wife, he’d talk about why he loves her.”
“If he wants me to think she’s great, he’d stop
(Whoops, I meant to say “jail”. *wink*)
So, as we close out this post, ask yourselves these questions:
What do I think about my faith?
How is hell influencing how I talk about my faith to others?
Is my relationship with God so strained that I cannot think about anything else but hell?
Let these questions sink into your brain. Into your soul.
I promise you a transformative experience is sure to follow.