Rob Bell, the pastor who wrote the book Love Wins that has been a lightning rod for criticism, stated clearly in a recent interview that he believes in hell.
In a videotaped interview with Sally Quinn of The Washington Post, which was posted online this week, Bell responded to a question posed through Twitter and asked by Quinn: If there is no hell, then why did Jesus die for our sins?
"I believe in hell now, I believe in hell when you die," stated Bell, pastor of Mars Hill Bible Church in Grand Rapids, Mich. "I believe God gives people the right to say no, to resist, to refuse, to reject, to cling to their sins, to cling to their version of their story.
"So the Bible, there's a whole chapter in the book about hell, and I think we should take hell very seriously. I think it exists, and so, there being no hell isn't something that I believe."
Bell has been accused of being a universalist (all will be saved in the end) and for being a heretic.
Usually, Bell gives evasive answers when asked about hell. But in this video interview he was notably clear in his answer on the subject.
In a recent MSNBC interview, host Martin Bashir asked Bell a question about people's eternal destiny.
"Is it irrelevant about how one responds to Christ in this life in terms of determining one's eternal destiny?" asked Bashir, who accused the popular pastor of changing the Gospel to make it more palatable.
"It is terribly relevant and terribly important. Now, how exactly that works out and how exactly that works in the future, we are now firmly in the realm of speculation," Bell had replied.
Bell is known to give unclear answers, which is typical of the emergent church style. Emergent church leader Brian McLaren uses "question & response" on his blog instead of "question & answer" because he feels he doesn't have answers but only responses.
For Bell, one of the big problems he has with the traditional teaching on heaven and hell is that he finds it irreconcilable that a loving God would send billions of people who never heard of Jesus and thus never had the chance to accept Jesus as their savior to hell.
During the Washington Post interview, Quinn asked the question, "What if you are wrong about hell?"
"If, billions and billions and billions of people, God is going to torture them in hell forever – people who never heard about Jesus are going to suffer in eternal agony because they didn't believe in the Jesus they never heard of – then at that point we will have far bigger problems than a book from a pastor from Grand Rapids," replied Bell, who exclaimed earlier in the conversation that he is a "serious follower of Jesus."
U.K.-based Evangelical Alliance, the world's oldest evangelical alliance, commented earlier this week that Bell apparently adopts a "wider hope" theology, which believes that God will ultimately save most people, even, perhaps, all people.
The Alliance said it is open to "wider hope" for those who have never heard the Gospel, children who die in infancy (including the unborn), and those who have limited mental capacity.
But Derek Tidball, a member of the Alliance's Board and Council and former principal of London School of Theology, called Bell's book "theology lite" and pointed out that it "ducks some hard issue while firing out a lot of questions."
"God's wrath, and His holiness, is touched on only very inadequately and insubstantially," said the theologian. "He (Bell) says the sacrificial understanding of the cross belongs to a primitive cultural world we no longer inhabit, so he sidesteps a key understanding of the cross."
Dr. Albert Mohler, Jr., president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky., praised Bell as a "master communicator" in a recent column on Love Wins, but said Bell's argument "alienates love from justice and holiness."
"Bell wants to rescue God from any teaching that his wrath is poured out upon sin and sinners, certainly in any eternally conscious sense" writes Mohler. "But Bell also wants God to vindicate the victims of murder, rape, child abuse, and similar evil. He seems not to recognize that he has undercut his own story, leaving God unable or unwilling to bring true justice."
The Michigan megachurch pastor and bestselling author commented in the Post video interview that what hurts him the most is that he is misunderstood.
"To be honest with you, I am passionate about all the people out there who want to know Jesus, they want to know God, and they are sick of a system that is hung up on a bunch of things that have nothing to do with the love of God," said a visibly emotional Bell. "They say, 'If that is how you act, why would I ever want to know your Jesus. You are not even kind at a basic human level, let alone to people who are apparently on your team, so to speak. You crucify them. That's what you do? Why would I want what you have?'
"So for me it's about my friends and neighbors who want nothing to do with this, but are open to Jesus. And it's a justice issue. They need to know the Good News."
Love Wins: A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived is No. 2 on The New York Times Best Sellers list