Rob Bell “Love Wins”: Hell

This is a part of the conversation where I am going to push back on Bell some.  This third chapter is about the subject or doctrine of hell.

Let me start off by saying that I have never really studied much about what the Bible reveals about hell.  I know enough to know there are at least a couple of different views held by those who have a high view of scripture.  Those would be the traditional view (eternal torment in fire) and Annihilation view (hell is where the wicked are totally destroyed into a non-existent death).  For a quick presentation of this later view see this brief piece by Edward Fudge who has written an entire book on this view.  I also know enough to have some serious questions about the traditional view and see the plausibility of the Annihilation view but, I really haven’t made my mind up on either view.  There may be other views and/or nuances but I’m not the one to ask about them.

But I don’t understand Bell’s view of hell.  Bell believes hell is simply our rejection of God and the life God creates/redeems us for in exchange for a broken and corrupt life of evil.  Now since both Bell and I believe in the doctrine of free-will, we both are being cast into hell some strong deterministic Christians already but that’s another issue.

As a preacher/pastor, besides seeing great feats of God’s joy and victory, we also see the dark side of a fallen world.  This includes situations like a young man talking about being sexually abused as a child, a mother being haunted by growing up in a home where the father commits suicide, a person who just lives a selfishly perverse and ugly life…  After Bell describes a few similar scenarios he writes, “I’ve seen what happens when people abandon all that is good and right and humane” (p. 71).

This is how Bell arrives at the basic of his view on hell which boils down to the choices we make.  So Bell writes:

…it is absolutely vital that we acknowledge that love, grace, and humility can be rejected.  From the most subtle rolling of the eyes to the most violent degradation of another human, we are terrifyingly free to do as we please.  God gives us what we want, and it that’s hell, we can have it (p. 72, italics mine).

I can appreciate what Bell is saying.  After all, when you’ve watched someone choose a life on the streets and addiction to crack-cocaine, you can see how they are choosing a “living hell” for themselves.  But is that all that hell is?

Bell will spend time discussing the various biblical passages relevant to the subject of hell, providing some decent and not-so-decent understandings of how he reads the passage.  This provides explanation for why Bell  comes to view “hell” as the choices we make for ourselves.  This is also why Bell does not want to give up the word “hell” from the Christian vernacular because it serves as a “…loaded, volatile, adequately violent, dramatic, serious word to describe the very real consequences we experience when we reject the good and true and beautiful life that God has for us” (p. 93).

It is not that I disagree with this assertion but I am not sure that that is all the hell is.  Unless I missed it, one passage that Bell seems to overlook is Revelation 20.11-15.  From what I’ve read in the book thus far, Bell wants to uphold the vision of Revelation 21 as a real picture of the future.  Very good, so do I.  However, it seems very inconsistent to accept that vision as a picture of a real concrete future but deny the vision right before it as a picture of a real concrete future (by the way, in case you’re wondering, there is room for both the traditional and annihilationist view in Rev 20.11-15).

So help me out.  Am I misreading Bell or not?

That being said, I still liked this chapter.  I do believe God grants us free-will choice.  Without choice, we cannot truly love, repent, obey, forgive, etc…  In the previous chapter, I thought Bell did a remarkable job of painting a picture of what it’s like for God to bring heaven from the future into present history as we participate in the kingdom of heaven way of living.  If that gives us some glimpses of what the new heaven and new earth (cf. Rev 21) will be like then perhaps we are seeing glimpses of what hell will be like when we choose the ways of evil over the way of God.  I’m just not convinced by Bell that this is all that hell is.  How about you?

See also:


10 responses to “Rob Bell “Love Wins”: Hell

  1. Thanks for these reviews. I am exactly where you’re at in my understanding of Hell and in my appraisal of Rob’s teachings on it. While I find his definition of Hell useful, I don’t think he is convincing that that is precisely what Jesus meant when he used the word.

    I sldo don’t find his interpretion of Revelation complete or accurate. It seems to me that he does not understand what the gates on cities were for. They were for, primarily, protection – protection from wild animals, from enemies. For the gate to be open in Revelation, from what I can tell, to say that there will be no fear in God’s Kingdom – that we will not need to worry evil coming into the city because evil has been eliminated everywhere. To me, that speaks more towards a traditional (either eternal torment or annihilation) view on Hell, not to the kind that Rob refers to.

    Anyways, thanks again and keep up the good work; I’m enjoying your review.

  2. I agree. I found Bell’s description of “hell on earth” interesting (and I could sympathize with his feelings about some of the more extreme suffering that is best described by “hell”), but I feel he is being too optimistic about the “hell later” that he touches on. And James, I agree that I found his ideas about the gates being open to be missing the point, kind of a stretch that ignores the cultural implications of a gate in that day and time.

    Now, there’s also the questions brought up by pseudepigraphy about who wrote Revelation and when it was written… *sigh*

    This is one chapter that I know I’ll be spending a lot of time in when I re-read the book.

  3. I haven’t gotten to this chapter yet but I will say that the view is hell is what we make of it is nothing new. I will have to find some quotes on that.

  4. Pingback: Rob Bell “Love Wins”: Does God Get What He Wants? « Kingdom Seeking

  5. This link presents the view of Hell in the Eastern Orthodox Tradition. Once again we do not have the liberty to come up with a ‘better’ interpretation of Scripture, but are under the duty to pass on that which was handed to us…no more and no less.

  6. Pingback: Rob Bell “Love Wins”: Dying to Live « Kingdom Seeking

  7. I read many of the blogs you comment on and I remember reading you were going to cover the book chapter by chapter. I appreciate your willingness to add to the conversation -we’ve got a small group reading through the book and your blog has been helpful to give context and a summary. Thanks! Sorry for adding to a blog 2 months late, but our group is a little behind!

    If you’re a reader of Wright, Bell’s chapter on Heaven was nothing new, but the way I see it his take on hell is similar understanding. If heaven is both NOW and LATER, what is stopping hell from being similar? (he points this out on p. 79) The difference between the 2 is heaven’s ability to last through the end of ages while hell is a temporary place, used for restoration and correcting. Is this his thrust in the 2nd half of the chapter (p. 85-93)? If the premise is “love wins” and (essentially, God wins), wouldn’t it make sense he will one day be with ALL his creation and all his creation will join with his heavenly work? Some of us just may need some corrective measures after our heart stops beating.

    Am I getting the pulse of the chapter? Is the temporary nature of hell something you’ve thought about? Does his use of the variances of Greek vocabulary bother you or open doors?

    In Christ alone, together.

    • I hope my reflections are of some help. I would say that one of the great weaknesses of Bell’s book is his failure to do thorough exegesis. His view of heaven is certainly similar to Wright’s, which I find to be quite biblical. However, in discussing what hell is (which he sees as simply a product we self-create by making sinful choices), he ignores some important passages. For instance, he mentions Rev 21 to defend his view of the new heaven and new earth coming together. But when it comes to hell, he completely ignores Rev 21.8. It seems to me that coherency demands that if we take Rev 21.1-7 as a true description for the future then we must also take Rev 21.8 as a true description that the wicked will face in God’ judgment. Revelation 21.8 leaves room for a less than traditional view of hell, such as the annihilation view, but I don’t know how one can read this passage and arrive at a view of hell that is nothing more than the hell we create for ourselves.

      As for his use of the Greek vocabulary… I read some reviews by both Scot McKnight and Ben Witherington III, who both are formidable NT scholars, and both of them have been generous towards Bell (not vitriolic like some of the neo-reformed people like A. Mohler and J. Piper) but both have been critical of Bell’s use of the Greek NT.

      I hope that helps.

      Grace and Peace,


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