“Can it be true that Mahatma Ghandi, a non-Christian, is burning in hell?” asks Rev. Rob Bell, pastor of the 10,000-member Mars Hill Bible Church in Grand Rapids, Mich.
“Misguided and toxic,” Bell added, “is the dogma that a select few Christians will spend forever in a peaceful, joyous place called heaven, while the rest of humanity spends forever in torment and punishment in hell, with no chance for anything better.”
This, and the expressed denunciations from a number of his fellow evangelical Christians, was reported in a 20-paragraph feature in the Sunday edition of the New York Times, which noted:
“Such statements are hardly radical among more liberal theologians, who for centuries have wrestled with the seeming contradiction between an all-loving God and the consignment of the billions of non-Christians to eternal suffering. But to traditionalists, they border on heresy. …”
For example, the Times noted Justin Taylor, vice president of Crossway, a Christian publisher in Wheaton, Ill., who declared:
“It is unspeakably sad when those called to be ministers of the Word distort the gospel and deceive the people of God with false doctrine.”
Southern Baptist Theological Seminary President R. Albert Mohler said in a blog post:
“By suggesting that people who do not embrace Jesus may still be saved, Mr. Bell is at best toying with heresy.”
To which I would respond:
What bliss will fill the ransom souls
As they in glory dwell
To watch the sinners as they writhe
In quenchless flames of hell!
Times writer Eric Ekholm also notes that in Pastor Bell’s version, “heaven is something that begins here on Earth, in a life of goodness, and hell seems more condition than an eternal fate – ‘the very real consequences we experience when we reflect all the good and true and beautiful life that God has for us.’
“While sliding close to what critics consider the heresy of ‘universalism’ – that all humans will eventually be saved – he never uses the term.”
I have often used the term “universalism” – in which I believe – and which is in the title of one of our nation’s denominations. Universalism was advocated by second-century Christian theologian Origen, as well as the most brilliant of all the archbishops of Canterbury, William Temple.
In 1958, when I was rector of an Episcopal parish in Pasco, Wash., I preached a sermon titled, “The Damnable Doctrine of Damnation.”
I said, among other things, that the New Testament contains far more references to God’s forgiveness of all sinners than to his alleged preference for the hellfire and damnation – which, if true, His Son, Jesus, telling us to forgive 70 times seven, damnation would be heavenly hypocrisy.
My sermon was reported in one of the local daily newspapers, the Columbia Basin News. On the day following, the News, in another front-page story, headlined: “RECTORS CLASH OVER HELL,” it was reported that Rev. Charles May of St. Paul’s Church, Kennewick, just across the river, had denounced me.
“‘There is no hell,’ claims Kinsolving.
“‘The hell there isn’t!’ retorts May.”
There were reports that other clergy would demand that I be tried for heresy – all of which was reported in an article in Time magazine.
But no such trial ever took place.