No Hell = No Jesus (by Christian Beyer)
When I was an altar boy, my mother used to say, “You have to believe in Hell but you don’t have to believe anyone is there.” This was my mothers gracious understanding of an essential Christian doctrine. But this understanding is decidedly Universalist – the heresy that says all of us, everyone, even non-Christians, will go to Heaven. And it was expressly against Catholic doctrine of the time. But wasn’t she right about one thing: Don’t you have to believe in Hell to be a Christian? This must be the case, if Universalism is a heresy.
Right now Rob Bell is in the hot seat with Neo-Evangelicals, Hyper-Reformed Calvinists and other Christian Fundamentalists because his new book, “Love Wins”, is apparently suggesting that no one goes to Hell. I’m not sure if he says there is a Hell or not – I haven’t read the book. Apparently none of his detractors have either, basing their criticisms on promotional sound bites. But the blogging world is alight with angry Christians who are essentially condemning Bell to Hell for not believing in Hell, which I imagine for Bell would be a tough sell. (Cute, huh?)
The progressive Christian defense of Bell has been tremendous. Just as many Emerging Church bloggers have been busting the chops of people like Piper, MacArthur and Hagee for accusing Bell of the Universalist heresy. And, for the most part, they are right on the theological money. They rightly criticize the conservative Christian tendency to make Hell such a big part of their theology, to the point to which this doctrine obscures most of the Gospel message. But, sadly, few of them go far enough.
Because in their defense of Bell they make it quite clear that they, too, are not willing to let go of the doctrine of Hell, but only change it to make it more palatable, much as my mother did. Almost all of them embrace the mostly orthodox doctrine of a Final Judgment and most will not dismiss the idea of a physical, supernatural, punishment, even though they may not focus on it. Even with little or no scriptural support for it. As I heard a pastor once say, God is merciful or God is just, but God cannot be both. But even that alludes to a judgmental God.
I think the reason conservative Christians are so emotional about holding on to Hell, and why the progressives still cling to its vestiges, is that, in reality, Hell has been the cornerstone of the Church, not Jesus. Because without Hell, what is there for Jesus to do? What does he save us from?
No Hell = no Jesus. Or at least the Jesus so many love and a few fear. Without Hell he loses his job description. He loses his purpose, and any meaning he may have had for millions of Christians.
Without Hell, can Jesus have any value, any meaning, as our savior? I certainly think so, he does for me. The love I have for this man’s heart, as shown through his teachings and the example of his life and death, compels me to reject the doctrine of Hell as untenable and ultimately depraved. If I believe, as he claimed, that as I have ‘seen’ him then I have also ‘seen’ the Father, then I cannot believe a God ordained Hell exists. As someone once said, the opposite of fear is love, and if God is love then God need not be feared. Conversely, how can I love something I fear?
There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love. – 1 John 4:18
Christian Beyer, a lapsed Catholic, is passionate about interfaith dialogue, particularly between Christians and Muslims, as well as fostering respect and mutual appreciation between atheists and theists. He blogs at www.sharpiron.org.