As kids we compared one another’s fathers to prove “my Dad is better than your Dad”. When my son Justin was attending kindergarten, he informed me about a kid in his class who boasted his father played baseball for the Los Angeles Dodgers. Since I am a baseball fanatic, I had to check it out.
After spending an hour investigating the Dodger website, I concluded Justin’s friend was lying. In fact, the kid’s father did not even work in the Dodger front office as a business executive let alone as a baseball player. I told my son his friend is making up stories about his Dad. I then proceeded to tell my kindergartner that I used to play first base for the New York Yankees!
Speaking of dads, in chapter seven of Rob Bell’s controversial book Love Wins, the Pastor compares our earthly fathers to God the Father.
The Theology of a Bi-Polar God
In light of Bell’s comparison, the pastor of Mars Hill Church in Grandville, Michigan comes up with the reason why people do not accept Jesus. Bell wonders, “If your God is loving one second and cruel the next, if your God will punish people for all of eternity for sins committed in a few short years . . . no amount of clever marketing . . . will be able to disguise that one, true, glaring, untenable, unacceptable, awful reality” (page 175). In light of this statement the author sums up what his view of hell is: hell is refusing to trust and refusing to trust is often rooted in a distorted view of God (pg. 175).
If we had a human father who like the God of Christianity was loving one second and then cruel the next, we would tag him an “abusive father.”
Therefore, the God portrayed by followers of Jesus is both loving and cruel. Therefore, how can Christians expect anyone to accept the Christian message of a cruel, abusive God the Father after also being told God so loved that world that He sent His Son to die on a cross to save people from eternal torment?
To prove his point, Bell argues that Christians believe if a person does not accept Jesus the way Christians present Him, then if that person dies, ”God would have no choice but to punish them forever in conscious torment in hell.” To Bell’s way of thinking, God would become a different being to a Christ-rejecting person in their moment of death.
This radical change from a God who sent His Son into the world to die for our sins to a God who would send someone to hell forever is the essence of Bell’s argument. God transforms from a loving heavenly father to a cruel, vicious tormentor. If there was an earthly father who was like that, says the author, we would call child protective services (pg. 174)!
Bell offers no clear theological response regarding the person who rejects Jesus. This allegedly seasoned pastor comes back with an emotional response to the fact some people choose to go to hell as a result of their rejection of Jesus as Savior. Bell fails to interact with the text of Scripture and settles for an emotional response to persuade his readers to climb aboard his theological train to nowhere.
In fact, throughout Love Wins Pastor Bell remains unclear, non-commital and overly accommodating in any discussion of hell. Rather than deal with the biblical teaching on hell, Bell blames traditional Christian theology for a faulty view of a bi-polar God. The good news is that Rob Bell has given us a Love Wins theology in which heaven and hell is watered down and non-offensive. As a result, Bell’s God is all loving and fails to deal with the justice of God in confronting the offense of our sins to His holy character.
The Theology of God Who Can’t Be Trusted
Bell offers another copout for people who fail to accept the gospel when he says Jesus cannot be trusted because Jesus represents God the Father – the bi-polar God.
In contrast to Bell’s bi-polar God, in the New Testament we find Jesus encourages us to trust Him because He does accurately represent the Father. In John 14:9 Jesus teaches to Bell’s chagrin: “Don’t you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’?”
According to the teaching espoused by the evangelical Christianity Pastor Bell has a problem with, the Father sent Jesus to die for our sins because the Father loves us. This is the Father Jesus shows us. How can Bell speak about people who do not trust Jesus because the God behind Jesus is not trustworthy? The God behind Jesus sent His Son to the cross to die for our sins. You can’t trust that God?
The Theology of a Sure Denial of Hell
Bell attempts to straighten out his story and iron out the wrinkles in his gospel when we admits, “we are free to accept or reject God’s invitation to new life.” To not accept God’s gift of eternal life in His Son is to turn away from the Father’s love and to resist the wonderful story He has for your life as a child of God. However, Bell’s iron slips off the ironing board and wrinkles his theology when he says, “to reject Jesus leads to a ‘form of punishment but not hell’ “(page 176). Bell calls it another reality.
Again Rob Bell backs off from offending his readers but he has no qualms about offending the teachings of the Word of God. Like a true emergent theologian Rob Bell cannot bring himself to say that if we reject Jesus, our decision will bring us to an eternal destiny of conscious punishment. To Bell, it is a belief like that that keeps people from accepting Christ. Bell’s answer is to change the gospel message.
Bell keeps avoiding the New Testament teaching that if a person rejects the gospel message, dies and leaves this earth refusing to accept Jesus, he will be assigned to hell by the Father. We cannot change the nature of hell in order to massage the nature of the Father who is both just to judge sin in the death of His Son and compassionate to provide forgiveness for sin in the offering of His Son on a cross.
At one point Bell seems a little clearheaded and admits, “If one says no and refuses God’s love that decision will take the person in another direction – an increasingly unloving, hellish reality.” Still Bell does not admit whether or not that “hellish reality” is a literal hell.
The Mars Hill Church pastor warns Christians not to reduce the gospel to simply a ticket to heaven (pg. 178). He suggests the gospel is more than just a way to get past the heavenly bouncer and be admitted into God’s club. The “good news is better than that.” The pastor is right in saying the gospel of the New Testament is more than getting rescued from hell. We surely do not want to reduce the gospel into an entrance experience. Rather, heaven is a participation in a relationship with the living God. Heaven is a place to thrive. Bell says, “Just getting into heaven is not what Jesus is all about” (pg. 179).
On this last point Bell is right on the money. However, in all his discussion in chapter 7 Bell does not commit to heaven or hell as a place one enters in the afterlife.
I close with a quote from a sermon, “Who Do You Say That I Am” by Pastor Alistair Begg regarding the work of Jesus on the cross that addresses the biblical view of the person of God:
If God in His love . . longs to forgive sinners . . . longs to enjoy friendship with sinners . . and if in His justice He cannot ignore our sins, how then can He display His love and execute His justice? The answer lies in the cross of the Lord Jesus Christ. At the cross Jesus is an emblem of the Father’s love and Jesus is the one who bears the Father’s wrath. If He [the Father] were to excuse sin, He would not be true to Himself in the perfection of His holiness. Therefore, sin must be punished. But because of the magnanimous, unbounded nature of His forgiving love, He execute His justice on His Son so that those who deserve that judgment may find in the Son forgiveness, love and their life.