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Rob Bell, pastor of Mars Hill Bible Church, has never shied away from asking hard questions. He recently release the following video to promote his upcoming book, Love Wins. The following quote from the video illustrates his propensity to question what many consider to be foundational beliefs.
Millions and millions of people were taught that primary message, 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. But what kind of God is that, that we would need to be rescued from this God? How could that God ever be good? How could that God ever be trusted? And how can that ever be ‘good news’?
His words have created quite a stir and led some to prominent evangelicals to denounce Bell as a heretic. In response to Bell’s video, pastor Kevin DeYoung created a list of eight reasons that Christians need to believe in a wrathful God. Another blogger at C. Orthodoxy provided a succinct, effective rebuttal of DeYoung’s reasons that illustrate how most of his points aren’t grounded in history or logic. Furthermore, DeYoung paints himself as the archetype of those Christians whom Bell raises such strong questions against. This isn’t a problem per se, except that DeYoung does such a poor job at answering the questions that Bell raises.
For me the most perplexing thing is that people feel the need to defend a wrathful God. What about a wrathful God is worth following? If humanity’s finite mind is able to conceive of a being greater than its creator God, what does that say about the nature of that God? Furthermore, what does it say about humanity? What is it about such a God that is so appealing that millions around the world give their unquestioning devotion to such a God?
I know many Christians who subscribe to the view that hell is a state of eternal, conscious torment. Despite the fact the Bible’s descriptions of hell only fits such an interpretation if one accepts the views of non-canonical texts while selectively ignoring the historical context of most of the canonical texts that address the subject, many, like DeYoung, defend this view of hell as a necessity. DeYoung said, “We need the doctrine of eternal punishment.” Do we really? Is such a view really a necessity, and if so why did Jesus never mention it? Sure, Jesus talked about Gehenna (translated “Hell” in most English Bibles), which was a valley outside Jerusalem where trash was dumped and burned. Perhaps Jesus just forgot to mention the eternal, conscious torment bit.
What frightens me most is that people defend the necessity of believing in the eternal, conscious punishment for all but a small percentage of the 105 billion people who have lived and died on this planet. Just as with the genocidal God, I see no reason to defend such a God. Perhaps the most baffling thing to me is that people will argue that God is both loving and a genocidal, mass murderer who condemns billions to eternal, conscious punishment. I just don’t understand how that makes sense.