Is hell losing its hold on the Christian imagination?

My colleague Bob Clark, in Florida, has just blogged on a new book that is also gaining a lot of attention here in the UK.  He writes:

Love Wins, Heaven and Hell and the fate of every person who ever lived. Rob BellPopular evangelist Rob Bell’s new book that challenges traditional concepts of heaven and hell debuted this week at No. 2 on the New York Times bestseller list. Bell’s book, Love Wins: Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived, puts Hell on trial by addressing whether a loving God would send people to a place of eternal suffering. Bell’s message is decidedly hopeful—eternal life doesn’t start when we die; it starts right now.  (Read: “Love Wins”…Challenging Tradition)

Coincidentally, the Anglican newspaper The Church Times has recently run an article entitled “Evangelicals toy with the concept of a heavenly reward for all” (behind paywall), which focuses on a conference at Spurgeon’s College, London, featuring Dr Robin Parry.  Dr Parry has written a book (under the pen name of Gregory MacDonald) called The Evangelical Universalist: The biblical hope that God’s love will save us all, and the conference was focused on Dr Parry’s radical conviction – radical, that is, in the context of an evangelical audience – that God will save all people.  He stated that “Universalism is compatible with Evangelicalism”.

The article includes the voices of those who would disagree, pinpointing writers such as Dr Parry and Rob Bell as still being pioneers among the evangelical community.

There are some very thought-provoking quotes from Dr Parry in the Church Times article.  Here are a couple:

“Fear of hell is not the only motivation for gospel proclamation.”

In response to criticism that he had attempted to “join the dots up” to argue for universalism from the Bible, he responded, “I join the dots in a certain way, but everybody does.  Nobody just reads the Bible…”

At a recent meeting I attended a survey on public perceptions about different religious faiths was quoted.  None came out well – or, it should be said, accurately – but it was recorded that the general public perception of Christianity is that it is judgmental, hypocritical, and narrow-minded. To many Christians, including Christian Scientists like myself that is the very opposite of what we feel about the spiritual way of life that Jesus came to exemplify, which has brought love to us and restored us to health and happiness.  Christian Science has long pointed towards a God who is too good to allow the existence of a two-tier hope for humanity.

One can only hope that as more and more Christian thought relinquishes the hellish belief in a God who could possibly damn any of His/Her children, the corollary will likely be a change of attitudes among Christians and among the public.  Then Christians will more universally be, and be perceived to be, followers of he who loved so much that he healed wherever he went.

Here is a link to a CNN interview with Rob Bell about his “controversial” book. My favourite lines?  “I never set out to be controversial, that’s not interesting to me, that’s not compelling. And I don’t think that when someone sets out to be controversial or shocking, or provocative, I don’t think that’s a goal that God honours. It’s not a noble goal. What’s interesting to me is what’s true.”

And here is the amazing promotion for “Love Wins”.

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Categories: Christianity, Spirituality and Society

Author:Tony Lobl

I write and speak on spirituality from my perspective as a Christian Science practitioner. I am also an Associate Editor for the Christian Science periodicals. I studied at the University of Surrey earning a BSc Hons Degree in Modern Mathematics before the impact of spirituality on health caught my attention and re-shaped my career.

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2 Comments on “Is hell losing its hold on the Christian imagination?”

  1. March 25, 2011 at 7:21 pm #

    Fabulous!

  2. March 26, 2011 at 12:36 am #

    I really like this. It reminds me of a quote from Science and Health that has always appealed to me:

    S&H 356:24
    “Does God create a material man out of Himself, Spirit? Does evil proceed from good? Does divine Love commit a fraud on humanity by making man inclined to sin, and then punishing him for it? ”

    It’s refreshing to see people opening their minds to different interpretations and possibilities besides the one they’ve been used to hearing.

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