Jewish Journal

Rob Bell’s new theology on heaven and hell

by Brad A. Greenberg

March 9, 2011 | 9:53 pm

I’ve been sleeping on the whole controversy over what Rob Bell says in his new book “Love Wins: A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived.” The gist of the book is that, according to the publisher, “a loving God would never sentence human souls to eternal suffering.”

That’s a pretty bold statement for a Christian minister. Especially one of Bell’s rockstar evangelical status. And, as you could imagine, it hasn’t one over well. The Christian Science Monitor explains:

debates over hell are as old as the Bible itself and the near-unanimous belief in eternal punishment has been giving way to kinder, gentler views (including universal salvation) about the afterlife since at least the 19th century, so why is Bell’s book causing such controversy today?

In part, it’s because defenders of traditional doctrine may have reached a statistical tipping point, making the perceived defection of one of their own on such a core, sensitive point seem all the more significant. Indeed, the fault line is no longer between evangelicals and mainstream culture; it’s between a core group of traditionalists and the rest of evangelicals (especially younger ones) who are increasingly uncomfortable with “my way or the highway” doctrine.

According to a 2007 Pew survey, a full 57 percent of evangelicals believe that many religions can lead to eternal life, while only 24 percent of evangelicals agree that “my religion is the one, true faith leading to eternal life.” And more than half agree that “there is more than one way to interpret the teachings of my religion.”

I remember that Pew survey, and I still can’t comprehend how a majority of evangelicals could believe something that is antithetical to central evangelical theology. Which brings us back to Bell. Thoughts?

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Since launching the blog in 2007, I’ve referred to myself as “a God-fearing Christian with devilishly good Jewish looks.” The description, I’d say, is an accurate one,...

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