Wednesday, May 25, 2011

NT Wright on Hell and Rob Bell

The controversy surrounding Rob Bell’s book seems to have subsided as quickly as it arose. But there are still a lot of people talking about it and that is a positive thing in my opinion. Whether you agree or disagree with Bell, he has got us talking about the nature of salvation and hell.

One thing that many have noticed is the huge influence that N.T. Wright has had on Bell's own thinking. Indeed, reading some sections of Bell's Love Wins is like reading sections of Wright's Surprised by Hope.

Trevin Wax has posted some responses from Wright about the reality of Hell and Bell’s take on Hell.

My usual counter question is: “Why are Americans so fixated on hell?” Far more Americans ask me about hell than ever happens in my own country. And I really want to know, why is it that the most prosperous affluent nation on earth is really determined to be sure that they know precisely who is going to be frying in hell and what the temperature will be and so on. There’s something quite disturbing about that, especially when your nation and mine has done quite a lot in the last decade or two to drop bombs on people elsewhere and to make a lot of other people’s lives hell. So, I think there are some quite serious issues about why people want to ask that question.

Having said that, I am not a universalist. I’ve never been universalist. Someone quoted a theologian saying, “I’m not a universalist, but maybe God is.” That’s kind of a neat way of saying, “OK, there’s stuff in Scripture which is a little puzzling about this, and we can’t be absolutely sure all down the line.” But it seems to me that the New Testament is very clear that there are people who do reject God and reject what would have been His best will for them, and God honors that decision. How that works and how you then deal with the questions which result I have written about at some length.

I don’t think myself that Rob Bell has quite taken the same line that I did in Surprised by Hope. I haven’t actually had the conversation with Rob since his book was published. So, one of these days, we will and we’ll have that one out. I do think it’s good to stir things up because so many people, as I say, particularly in American culture, really want to know the last fine-tuned details of hell. And it seems to be part of their faith, often a central part of their faith that a certain number of people are simply going to go to hell and we know who these people are. I think Rob is saying, “Hey wait a minute! Start reading the Bible differently. God is not a horrible ogre who is just determined to fry as many people as He can forever. God is actually incredibly generous and gracious and wonderful and loving and caring. And if you paint a picture of God which is other than that, then you’re producing a monster and that has long-lasting effects in Christian lives and in the church.”

You can read the rest of the post here where Trevin provides some responses of his own.


  1. I have to agree with Wright's assessment of our culture. I can't speak about others, but it seems that in the U.S. we spend a lot of time trying to figure out who does not belong rather than who does. This isn't evidenced in the church alone, but in our need to be members of everything, including BJ's and Costco. If one does not have the right membership card, they can't come in. I think that it is important that we in the West start looking at who can join with us and share in the good reign of God rather than to continue you speculate about who is excluded, (with a smug smile).

  2. I wonder if there is a different emphasis depending upon where one lives. I have lived in the midwest for the last 20 years and I can count the times "hell" came into conversation on one hand and still have fingers left over. Before that I lived for 10 years in the Pacific Northwest and I don't remember being overly concerned about hell or who was "in" and who was "out".

    While the evangelistic emphasis has normally been present, the focus more often was on Jesus' promise of an "abundant life" (Jn 10:10). Now, before I got saved, my friends and I used to rock out to "Hells Bells" and "Highway to Hell" (but I didn't know any better and was doing a lot of drugs).

    In the end, I really don't recognize the America Wright is describing. Could it be he has more exposure to the East coast and/or the South and maybe that is where he sees the emphasis?