Rob Bell’s new book, Love Wins, hits the shelves this week. It is fairly widely regarded by those who have read it as some sort of denial of the traditional conception of hell as eternal conscious torment. Whether it is universalism, inclusivism, or some variant may be more hard to tell. Reviews are coming out from people like Tim Challies, Kevin DeYoung, and Ed Stetzer. Al Mohler is weighing in on the book and doctrine as well.
I doubt I will read the book. I have things to read that I am actually interested in, books about things that are actually controversial. Hell is not.
So here’s my take on the question of hell.
Hell matters because God matters. Hell is the only reasonable punishment for sin against God. If you doubt that, you either don’t understand God or don’t understand sin.
Hell matters because God says it exists, it is horrible, and it is eternal. If hell doesn’t exist, isn’t horrible, and isn’t eternal, then God lied. And that’s a pretty big deal.
Hell matters because Jesus says it exists, it is horrible, and it is eternal. If hell doesn’t exist, isn’t horrible, and isn’t eternal, then Jesus lied. And that’s a pretty big deal too.
Hell matters because Jesus died, and I doubt the love of a Father who kills his own Son to save people from something they were never in danger of anyway.
Hell matters because Scripture matters. If Scripture is wrong on the very important point of hell, what else might it be wrong on?
Hell matters because heaven matters. Hell and heaven are both said to be eternal. If hell isn’t actually eternal, and heaven is the same, then heaven isn’t actually eternal. This then leads us to some form of annihilationism, both for the just and the unjust.
Hell matters because the church matters. The church is an “assurance factory” for those who profess to follow Christ. If there is no hell to avoid, then there is no reason to seek the affirmation of the church as a guard against our own idolatries leading us into hell.
Hell matters because the resurrection matters. Jesus died as victor over death and hell. It is all useless and vain if there is not a real death and hell, not the kind of death when the body stops to function, but the kind of death that is eternal.
Hell matters because suffering matters. The Bible promises that those who seem to prosper now in the persecution and tormenting of Jesus’ followers will one day have a far greater torment that will be the just recompense of their unbelief. The hope of gospel-driven suffering is that the inflictors of suffering will one day have a far greater suffering that will be evidence of God’s righteous judgment.
Hell matters because justice matters. Scripture laments the fact that sometimes the righteous perish and the wicked prosper. If there is no hell, then this obvious injustice goes unaddressed. Hell serves as the eternal scales where injustice is repaired by bringing the just reward of sinners on their own head in a way that the society of humanity could never achieve.
Hell matters because preaching matters. The biblical basis for preaching is, at least in part, to warn people to flee from the wrath to come. Neither God, nor Jesus, nor the prophets, nor the apostles were so sophisticated as to pretend that hell was not real, not horrible, or not eternal. Neither should we.
Hell matters because hell matters.