Pastor Rob Bell of Mars Hill Bible Church in Grand Rapids recently released a book called Love Wins that has stirred up a fair bit of controversy over this question. While he doesn’t seem to actually directly answer that question in the book, he’s (negatively) being labeled a “universalist” and even a heretic by many conservative “Evangelicals.” But what’s interesting to me is what the book has brought to the surface about the state of the “belief” in hell in American Christianity. In one (more thoughtful) review of Bell’s book, the author calls hell a “foundational doctrine” of the church.
It makes me wonder what is the “state” of hell in our own community. I’m guessing most of us would prefer to talk about it in metaphorical terms of “the state of separation from God,” and the like. I’ve had professors who openly say they don’t believe in hell. But I don’t know whether they meant they don’t believe in hell as a literal place as traditionally defined, or as a state of being, or if they just don’t find it helpful to talk about as an idea. But no matter what your thoughts are about the subject, I think it would be unhelpful—pastorally—to just leave the whole idea behind as archaic and irrelevant. There are people in many of our congregations who would be shocked to read the third sentence of this paragraph. As we progress through seminary and into all kinds of “enlightened” viewpoints, we also have to remember and/or learn how to engage in conversation with people that have all kinds of perspectives.