Denny Burk, Justin Taylor, Kevin DeYoung, Josh Harris, Alex Chediac, and many others have written responses to Rob Bell’s book, Love Wins. I noticed that Chan’s response is different from these others in important ways. These are listed below, but first…
A significant side-note, Rob Bell recently resigned as a pastor at Mars Hill Bible Church in Grandville. The official statement is:
The infamous quote “change is the only constant” certainly holds true at Mars Hill. We have experienced ongoing changes that have improved and transformed—as well as at times unintentionally created tension or heartache within our community. And now, we have another significant change to hold together.
Feeling the call from God to pursue a growing number of strategic opportunities, our founding pastor Rob Bell, has decided to leave Mars Hill in order to devote his full energy to sharing the message of God’s love with a broader audience.
It is with deeply mixed emotions that we announce this transition to you. We have always understood, encouraged, and appreciated the variety of avenues in which Rob’s voice and the message of God’s tremendous love has traveled over the past 12 years. And we are happy and hopeful that as Rob and Kristen venture ahead, they will find increasing opportunity to extend the heartbeat of that message to our world in new and creative ways.
Now, back to the blog. What I like about Chan’s attitude:
1. He is genuine and transparent in his willingness to explain his inner conflict regarding eternal torment.
If I were to name every time Chan made a statement similar to the one below, quoting interviews, sermons, and his book, this would be a very long blog. Chan writes:
Even as I write this paragraph, I feel sick. I would love to erase hell from the pages of Scripture. [...] Until recently, whenever the idea of hell – and the idea of my loved ones possibly heading there – crossed my mind, I would brush it aside and divert my thinking to something more pleasant. While I’ve always believed in hell with my mind, I tried not to let the doctrine penetrate my heart. [...] So I decided to write a book about hell. And honestly – I’m scared to death. [...] If I say there is a hell, and I’m wrong, I may persuade people to spend their lives frantically warning loved ones about a terrifying place that isn’t real. [...] Part of me doesn’t want to believe in hell. [...] Hell should not be studied without tearful prayer. We must weep, pray, and fast over this issue, begging God to reveal to us through His Word the truth about hell. Because we can’t be wrong on this one.
2. He demonstrates his Berean qualities in his emphasis on how personal motives play into one’s decision to accept or reject eternal torment. Chan writes:
Do you want to believe in a God who shows His power by punishing non-Christians and who magnifies His mercy by blessing Christians forever? Do you want to? Be honest. Do you want to believe in a God like this? Here’s my gut-level, honest answer: No. No way. I have a family and friends who reject Jesus. I do not want to believe in a God who punishes non-Christians. Okay, maybe He should punish extremely wicked people – that makes some sense. But punishment in hell for seemingly good people, or those who simply chose the wrong religion? That feels a bit harsh, at least according to my sense of justice. But let me ask another question. Could you? Could you believe in a God who decides to punish people who don’t believe in Jesus? A God who wants to show His power by punishing those who don’t follow His Son? Now that’s a different question, isn’t it? You may not recognize the difference immediately, but read them again and you’ll see that these two questions – do you want to? versus could you? – are actually miles apart. The problem is that we often respond to the second question because of our response to the first. In other words, because there are things that we don’t want to believe about God, we therefore decide that we can’t believe them.
*I do not agree completely with what Chan writes here, but I do see that the emphasis he places on personal motives is an important factor in how we choose to view not only eternal torment, but many other true or false ideas about Who God is and what God does. I will comment more specifically on this later in the blog series.
3. He is fair in that he clearly defines that there are misleading subheadings under the label “Universalism”.
When I first openly shared my Amazing Hope, I was met repeatedly with a particular ignorant response, that is, “You are a Universalist? How can you say that all religions are true? How can you dismiss that Jesus is the only way? Have you lost your mind?” In other words, they put words in my mouth and dismissed anything that I might have to say as nonsense, based on an incorrect view of Universalism. It’s faulty logic, in the most classic sense. For example, “All Nazi’s were human beings, therefore, if one is human, one is a Nazi.” Or, “I was bit by an abused pit bull, therefore all dogs are dangerous.” It’s a nonsense way of going about trying to make sense of anything. Chan takes the time to debrief people about this.
4. He is committed to unity in the body of Christ in that he doesn’t dismiss Christian Universalists as heretics.
The message of Amazing Hope is received or rejected in various ways. If I were to make a list of reactions that really took me by surprise, number two on my list would be that people who have known me and accepted me as one of their own for years could suddenly (like flicking a switch, seriously!) believe I’m a heretic. Chan avoids this, and he encourages others to do so as well.
5. He is honest enough to recognize that Christians don’t actually behave as if they believe in eternal torment.
I am convinced that the only people who truly believe in eternal torment are the ones who hold/where signs, hand out those “God love you but…” tracts, and stand on the side of the road, shouting, crying, and pleading with anyone who will listen to their warnings – and even those who won’t. The others who claim that the doctrine of eternal torment is real and don’t act like this are fooling themselves, or they are behaving like unconcerned, loveless, selfish people. I don’t see any middle ground there, do you? If you do, then by all means, please do make use of the blog comment section! Chan explains this more delicately than I do. He writes:
The thought of hell is paralyzing for most people, which is why we often ignore its existence – at least in practice. After all, how can we possibly carry on with life if we are constantly mindful of a fiery place of torment? Yet that’s the whole point – we shouldn’t just go on with life as usual. A sense of urgency over the reality of hell should recharge our passion for the gospel [...] We should not just try to cope with hell, but be compelled – as with all doctrine – to live directly in light of it. [...] for the sake of people’s eternal destiny, our lives and our churches should be – no, they must be! – free from the bondage of sin, full of selfless love that overflows for neighbors, the downcast, and the outsiders among us.
6. He is considerate enough to take about three months to study and consider his response.
So, you are wondering about the first thing on the list back in point number four (glad you asked…). It surprises me that church people, or at least all the church people I know, don’t even take the time to pray hard, study hard, and really allow their current views to be put to the test before choosing to react. With the exception of one married couple who very hesitantly entertained the idea for perhaps half an hour with me, I’ve never had more than five minutes of conversation with any believers about Amazing Hope, because they either shut down themselves, or shut me down as soon as they realize I am scrutinizing their heavily guarded doctrine of eternal torment, a so-called pillar of faith. I’m glad that Chan took three months. His first mistake was calling on the expertise of an evangelical theologian to help guide him through that process. His second mistake was setting a time limit on God. The Spirit of God is the only Teacher who can be completely trusted. Any other teacher’s words should be held in a default position of false until proven true. Looking back, I can see that God took His good old time to open my eyes. It was a process that began with him preparing my heart, and then three years later, He changed His approach. He started dropping breadcrumbs – a two year trail! Then it took me a full year to grow the balls to face whatever backlash awaited me when I came out of the religious closet. Three months is nothing. But, hey, at least he gave it a shot, which is more than I can say for churchianity in general.
Next blog in this series: Why Chan Can’t Erase Hell