An upcoming book by bestselling author and controversial preacher Rob Bell has gotten a lot of evangelicals talking about hell.
Though his book, Love Wins: A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived, is slated for release later this month, a promotional video has already drawn claims of heresy.
"Will only a few select people make it to heaven? ... And will billions and billions of people burn forever in hell?" Bell, pastor of Mars Hill Bible Church in Grandville, Mich., poses in the video.
"Millions and millions of people were taught that the primary message, the center of the gospel of Jesus, is that God is going to send you to hell unless you believe in Jesus. So what gets subtly sort of caught and taught is that Jesus rescues you from God. How could that God ever be good? ... And how could that ever be good news?"
He states in the video that the good news is that "love wins."
Justin Taylor, vice president of Editorial at Crossway, responded to the video, saying Bell has laid his cards on the table about universalism.
He admitted in an earlier blog post that he has not read the entire book yet, but said the video alone "shows that he is moving farther and farther away from anything resembling biblical Christianity."
"I think that the publisher’s description combined with Bell’s video is sufficient evidence to suggest that he thinks hell is empty and that God’s love (which desires all to be saved) is always successful," Taylor said.
The publisher (HarperOne)'s description reads:
"[I]n Love Wins: Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived, Bell addresses one of the most controversial issues of faith – the afterlife – arguing that a loving God would never sentence human souls to eternal suffering. With searing insight, Bell puts hell on trial, and his message is decidedly optimistic – eternal life doesn’t start when we die; it starts right now. And ultimately, Love Wins."
Taylor contended, "If Bell is teaching that hell is empty and that you can reject Jesus and still be saved, he is opposing the gospel and the biblical teaching of Jesus Christ."
Taylor is just one of many evangelicals who have weighed in on the upcoming book.
Gaithersburg, Md., pastor Joshua Harris tweeted that Bell was preaching a false gospel. Though the book is not out yet and he has yet to read it, he stressed that Bell's statements in the video alone are "concerning enough to be challenged."
While concerns that a popular pastor like Bell could be leading a lot of Christians in the wrong direction continue to pour out on the Internet, the debate has also prompted pastors to address the topic of hell.
"Hell," Harris stated, "is what our sin deserves."
"Hell is what God in his love has rescued us from. And we are not rescued from hell by our merit or the rightness of our doctrine. We are rescued from God's wrath by the self-giving love and sacrifice of Jesus on the cross."
But he added, "[T]here should be no glee or triumph in our tone in seeking to proving this biblical doctrine. Our hearts should break for the lost and for our own coldness of heart towards their spiritual condition."
The conversation that's being had should lead Christians to redouble their prayers and evangelistic efforts, Harris stressed.
Also joining the discussion, East Lansing, Mich., pastor Kevin DeYoung reminded the public of why God's wrath is necessary.
"We need God's wrath to keep us honest about evangelism," he said. "We need God's wrath in order to: forgive our enemies; risk our lives for Jesus’ sake; live holy lives; understand what mercy means; grasp how wonderful heaven will be; be motivated to care for our impoverished brothers and sisters; and be ready for the Lord’s return."
"Believing in God’s judgment actually helps us look more like Jesus. In short, we need the doctrine of the wrath of God."