Nothing is more central to the meaning of life, the nature of God and the purpose of existence than Heaven & Hell. And it’s about high time the church got serious about what the Bible says and doesn’t say; what is mindless traditionalism; what is neo-interpretive nonsense and what we can and cannot say with confidence. There are thousands of issues and troubles around understanding hell rightly. And the issues aren’t new. Neither Bell nor his detractors are saying anything that hasn’t been said for hundreds of years.
Is there eternal conscious torment? Are souls tormented for a while then destroyed? Is there no hell at all? These are tough questions. And my guess is that if you strongly support one of those positions already, you’ve already thought of four or five proof-texts to defend what you think. Here’s the problem: The people that support a different view thought of four or five texts too.
The Bible is massive, massively complicated, and terribly important. We owe it to ourselves, and those we love and minister to, to understand as much as we can about eternity and God’s salvific ends. That means listening to different voices and taking their position seriously. Here’s the thing: The traditional view of hell (eternal conscious punishment) is the most popular. Therefore, when we read scriptures about hell, we interpret it in view of that perspective. Yet, by no means is it the ONLY interpretation that has been at play in the history of the church. Plus, we can never forget: When someone says, “The Bible says…” what they mean is “My interpretation of the Bible says….” It’s the only intellectually honest way to mean that, and we have 2,000 years worth of church history to prove it. All this means is that many of us – both inside and outside the church – need to stretch our legs and dig more deeply into the other views. Some interpretations are better than other, no doubt, but the fact that they all exist is a call to community and humility, not grandiosity.
Anyway, if you’re interested in going deeper into hell (wink:wink), let me help you get started: