Is is possible that a Christian can be too loving? Can a follower of Jesus emphasize the love of the Lord so much that he or she leaves out other essential qualities of the Lord in their theology?
In Lynne Hybels’ recent blog on God’s Politics she asks, “What is an evangelical?” In one of her summary statements, Hybels notes:
I am a Christian today because of what I found in Jesus.
In the lover of my soul and the radical activist, I found the Christianity my mind and my soul had longed for.
In my humble opinion this is what it means to be an evangelical.
But whatever the label, I believe it’s the Christianity that our world desperately needs to see.
Hybels focuses on God’s compassion for others and the compassion of Christians towards other people as the true meaning of what it means to be a Christian. In essence I agree with her. Still I question any Christian writer who focuses mainly on love as the main description of Christianity.
Focusing Only on God’s Love Can Be a Formula for Theological Disaster
If the most important expression of God is love, then what shall we make of the afterlife? Will a loving God go so far as to express His love in such a way as to make sure everyone enters heaven? If God’s chief character is love and His sense of holiness and justice is ignored, then what else can one conclude? If that’s what a person believes, that person is a universalist. He or she believes everyone will be saved. There is no other alternative. How can a God who is all loving send anyone to hell?
Rob Bell, in his book Love Wins is a universalist as I understand him. In the fourth chapter of his book, he asks whether God gets what He wants? If God wants everyone to be saved, as Bell asserts, then the all powerful God will make sure everyone will be saved. If not, then either God is powerful enough to save us all despite His loving desires or He is not truly loving if He refuses to exercise His power to guarantee everyone a spot in heaven.
Since the Bible does not teach universalism, I interpret this belief as one in which the Christian ends up being too loving.
Since ScriptureSolutions is committed to biblical teaching and preaching, it is important that Christians are hearing the truth being taught from the pulpit. If one’s pastor is teaching universalism then the congregant has every right to ask whether their minister is being faithful to the Word of God.
Salvation Calls For a Personal Decision to Drink the Water of Eternal Life
To prove his position on universalism, Pastor Bell gathers together all the passages that refer to the Lord’s intent to ultimately restore “everything and everybody” (pg. 107). For instance, he quotes from Colossians 1:19-20: “For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.” To Bell this verses and others like it provide us the evidence God will be reconciled with all people.
If that is true, then why in Romans 10:1 did Paul pray for the salvation of Israel? According to Bell’s way of seeing things, they will be saved anyway, so what’s the use agonizing over something God has already taken care of?
Why should Jesus give anyone an invitation that involves a willful decision to follow Him as seen in John 4:13-14: “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” A seeker must make a decision to “drink the water Jesus is offering.” The process of drinking water involves a decision to bring a cup to one’s mouth, tip the cup and taken in the cool, refreshing water. I’ve never heard of a thirsty person quenching their thirst by hearing about the refeshing qualities of water but never drinking the liquid.
If everyone is reconciled in Christ in the end, then Jesus’ invitation to drink from the water of life makes no sense. God’s plan of redemption is a fixed game. In the end there are no winners or losers but love wins and everyone takes home a trophy.
If a baseball game is fixed and the winner is already determined, then the players are merely going through the motions to execute a previously defined outcome. Is an invitation to accept Jesus such as seen in John 14:13-14 simply going through the motions of a “fixed game”?
A Belief That Sidesteps the Justice of God Contains An Empty Hole
Restoration, according to Pastor Bell glorifies God, but eternal torment doesn’t. Can the existence of hell bring God glory? Not according to Bell, but according to the Bible hell is a place for punishment for the devil and his angels. Hell is a place where divine justice is eternally executed. Does that not bring glory to God?
The time comes after all this focus on God’s love that the seeker must step back and ask about the justice of God.
Jesus died on the cross to pay the penalty for our sins thereby satisfying God’s judgment on sin. When men and women reject God’s offer of salvation through Jesus, they reject the Lord’s satisfaction of justice against our sin as seen in the death of His son on the cross. Therefore, to reject the cross is to reject God’s justice and to take on the responsibility to satisfy God’s justice on your own. Good luck! If you’re unsuccessful, which is always the case, then hell has been created as an alternative to the cross where God’s wrath falls on the unrepentant and unforgiven person.
Getting into a Fender Bender with God on the Issue of Hell
On page 109 Bell claims “hell is not forever” and love in the end will triumph. He provides no scripture passages for this outlandish and unproven belief. Does he believe in a purgatory?
The writer takes his bizarre and erroneous teaching one step further when he suggests people don’t accept Jesus because of the teaching about “hell and torment and all that” (Pg. 110). Such a doctrine makes people too uncomfortable.
No one likes the Bible’s teaching about hell, says the author of Love Wins. Sorry Pastor Bell, but the question is not whether I am comfortable with such a doctrine, but whether it is taught in the Bible. To be truthful, I’ve preached many sermons where the subject matter has made me very uncomfortable as well as my hearers. Yet my discomfort did not influence whether or not I would preach certain passages in the Scriptures. Expository preaching is not a crap shoot where you only preach the comfortable passages. A true expository preacher teaches the entire Bible.
To tell people about hell, says Bell, is not a good way to start off a story. It’s more appealing to the human mind to speak of everyone enjoying the goodness of God. So we should present the gospel in a way that makes people comfortable even though such a message sells the hearer short on the truth about God’s character.
Am I supposed to feel better about Bell’s gospel story that tells me (due to God’s love and reconciliation), I will be spending eternity with Adolph Hitler? That’s right. With Bell’s confusing theology, a maniacal killer like Der Fuhrer will spend eternity with the very people he exterminated all together in one big happy family of God. No justice. Just happy faces and hearts.
Does Hell Exists On Earth or in an Eternal Place?
The only hell Bell seems to believe in is a hell we create on earth by our bad choices. When we “resist, reject and rebel against God’s ways,” we have all the hell we want (pg. 113). The hell that does exists, says Bell, is the one we create. “We do it every time we isolate ourselves, give the cold shoulder to someone who has slighted us, every time we hide knives in our words, every time we harden our hearts in defiance of what we know to be the loving, good and right thing to do” (pg. 114).
At this point of chapter four I could hardly read anymore. I leave you with Bells’ final summation of the issue of hell:
Will everybody be saved, or will some perish apart from God forever because of their choices? Those are questions or more accurately, those are tensions we are free to leave fully intact. We don’t need to resolve them or answer them because we can’t, and so we simply respect them, creating space for the freedom that love requires (pg. 115).
That my friends, is the ultimate theological cop-out. No certainty. No answer. No resolve. No convictions. No one made to feel uncomfortable.
Bell ends the fourth chapter with his version of a chilling end, “The more we want nothing to do with all God is, the more distance and space are created. If we want nothing to do with love, we are given a reality free from love” (pg. 117). Is this Bell’s hell or hell’s bells?
The author says nothing about eternal life, but he merely offers us a vague idea of a “hell on earth” living apart from God. I don’t know.
Is hell our earthly choice to have nothing to do with God? Does that include the afterlife? Again, we’re not told in a definite manner. We are left hanging. I would not want to preach a sermon based on Bell’s belief system where I leave my hearers hanging over eternal issues.