The Christian concept of hell has proven to be a strangely difficult one to accept for a species that has developed the concepts of capitalism, natural selection and the survival of the fittest. And it is an odd world in which metal bands contemplate the theology of damnation in a more sophisticated and intelligent manner than religious ministers – one cannot reasonably call them Christian – of national standing.
Rob Bell, the central figure of Time magazine’s recent piece, titled “Is hell dead?,” asks much the same question as Disturbed singer David Draiman asks in “Overburdened.” How is a man determined malign and therefore worthy of hell by God? But whereas Draiman correctly concludes that his place in the line awaiting hell indicates that there was some sort of meaning underlying his existence, Bell declares, on the basis of little more than his childish reasoning, that there is no eternal consequence to human action. Therefore, he concludes that hell is not only not overburdened, it is entirely empty since everyone will go to heaven, regardless of his beliefs or actions.
Bell tells Time that he wonders if “there is a massive shift coming in what it means to be a Christian,” that “something new is in the air.” But there is nothing new about yet another wolf in sheep’s clothing attempting to strip Jesus Christ from Christianity. There will be no change in what it actually means to be a Christian. There will merely be more people like the members of Bell’s Mars Hill Bible Church and the secular cult formerly known as the Episcopalian Church who call themselves Christians without demonstrating any respect for the teachings or the sacrifice of Jesus Christ of Nazareth.
What passes for Bell’s theology is particularly pernicious as it strikes at the very heart of the Christian faith. Whereas tertiary issues such as the endorsement of homosexual marriage, female pastors and secular political issues testify to the spiritual decline of a church, they are consequential in nature and reflect the decline rather than causing it. But Bell’s teachings eviscerate Christianity itself, as they not only remove the very purpose for the Word becoming flesh, but render both the Crucifixion and the Resurrection entirely irrelevant.
R. Albert Mohler Jr., president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, is absolutely correct to urge a hard line against Bell’s heresy, because for the church to eliminate the distinction between itself and the world is tantamount to committing theological suicide. But it should come as no surprise that the secular media has made a poster boy of Bell and his book, “Love Wins: A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived.” Something of the sort was inevitable due to the failure of the much-celebrated New Atheism to have even the slightest impact on the religious mindset of Americans. And Bell’s nonjudgmental pseudo-Christianity is far more potentially appealing to the average individual than the arrogant social autism of the evangelical atheists.
The theological truth is that hell is not so much a punishment as it is a necessary consequence of divine creation. While we may not understand God’s purpose in creating man, much less His intentions for utilizing those He saves through the agency of His Son, Jesus Christ, we do know that there is a purpose. That purpose involves separating those He finds sufficiently useful and obedient and those He does not. This is the only possible interpretation of the message that is driven home again and again in the Bible in a variety of parables. The sheep and the goats, the wheat and the chaff, the seed that is fallen on fertile and stony ground, the good servant and the useless one: In each case, the core message is the same.
It is perhaps useful to think about heaven and hell in terms of utility rather than fairness. If God has a purpose for man beyond the grave and is distinguishing between those He finds useful for that purpose and those He does not, and if man has been created with an immortal soul, then obviously something must be done with those immortal souls who have been determined to be of no use to Him. This logic answers Rob Bell’s simplistic concerns regarding the fate of Gandhi and anyone else deemed “good” by humanity; their perceived goodness during their time on Earth is totally irrelevant with regard to their eternal utility in the eyes of God. This should not be a difficult concept to grasp, as even the best Mixed Martial Arts fighter in the world is not considered to be of any value whatsoever to the United States Marine Corps.
As for the frightening flames of hell, they need not be viewed as a matter of punishment, either. After all, even earthly compost is known to produce a good deal of heat by the mere virtue of being thrown into a pile. Hell may well be nothing more than an eternal compost pile for human trash that has rendered itself useless to God by rejecting His offer of salvation through Jesus Christ.
Since all are fallen, we have all been standing in the long line awaiting hell at one time or another. In much the same way that the camp guards of the SS-Totenkopfverbände once reassured Jews lined up for their lethal showers, Rob Bell is now encouraging those who stand in that line to remain there calmly awaiting their eventual destination instead of urging them to repent and remove themselves from the black parade. And in doing so, he is much more aptly described as a servant of hell than as a minister of Jesus Christ.