While many Doane and Hainer residents were cranking up their air conditioning units to prepare for the summer, Rob Bell was putting out the fires of hell with his New York Times bestseller “Love Wins.” The book quickly became a hot topic among religious bloggers and Sunday school leaders, spurring pop-Christian writer Francis Chan, known for “Crazy Love” and “Forgotten God,” to write a book in response to Bell’s decision to do away with the traditional view of hell. He made no attempt to take the heat off his qualms with Bell’s theology, which is clear from his title, “Erasing hell: What God said about eternity, and the things we’ve made up.”
However, Chan’s rebuttal did not gain as much attention as did “Love Wins.” While still very important, Chan’s book provided the predictably orthodox response to Bell: Hell is real. As much as we may not like that fact, it’s what God says in Scripture. And we cannot sacrifice our integrity to our feelings.
Even with the understanding that there’s nothing boring or tedious about sound theology, “because the Bible says so” does not always save the day. Thereis simply more to it than that, and Chan neglected to take seriously Bell’s claims. Though Chan’s argument itself is not compelling, his contribution to the discussion forces evangelicals to consider three great questions.
First, do we live like we believe in hell? If so, then our evangelism should carry with it a sense of urgency. I believe that we should live like we believe in hell, not in a way that is morbid and scary, but in a way that shows the necessity of walking in that “most excellent way.” And yet, here at a Christian University, where the campus grounds are saturated with grow groups, prayer vigils and worship services, it can become dishearteningly easy to find ourselves as consumers of the Gospel, rather than producers.
Secondly, how does the way we interpret Scripture influence what we believe? Chan markets “Erasing hell” as “A book about what God says”. Claiming you know what God says is not only presumptuous, but it ends the conversation. If you believe you are privileged to understand God’s chosen interpretation of any part of Scripture, you really have no reason to listen to other people’s syntheses. Regardless, Chan and Bell could certainly enter into a grudge match over how to interpret Scripture and how, if at all, to apply it to our contemporary culture.
Finally, this discussion should call evangelicals to examine their methods and purposes of evangelism. Is the purpose of evangelism to save people from hell or to show them a better way of life? Sometimes it seems like the good news we preach is that being a Christian is, at least, not as bad as going to hell.
If we know the truth, then the truth should set us free, and such freedom should be visible in our lifestyles. What we do, how we live and what we build while we are alive can bring glory to God’s kingdom. We can begin to live out God’s will here on earth as it will be when the kingdom comes, or “as it is in heaven.” Or we can just sit around and entertain ourselves by reading just enough Christian books to inoculate ourselves from God’s dynamic work. Frankly, I find this kind of life to be boring as hell.
Editor’s note: This article is a follow up to “‘Love Wins’: Still the center of the gospel,” which Renfro wrote for our April 13, 2011 issue. This article can be found on our website at http://www.walton