Some people think he might be flirting with universalism. Some think he may deny hell. If the latter is true, he’d be going against a New Testament scholar he seems to admire more than any other: NT Wright. In this Youtube video Wright affirms and explains his view on hell. He ends with this:
“The choices you make here really do matter. There’s part of me that would love to be a Universalist and say, ‘It’ll be all right, everyone will get there [heaven] in the end.’ I actually think the choices you make in the present are more important than that.”
If Bell’s view in “Love Wins” is far from Wright’s he may lose a number of supporters who heretofore have largely considered him to be Evangelical.
“Much of “traditional” Christianity gives the impression that God has these rather arbitrary rules about how you have to behave, and if you disobey them you go to hell, rather than to heaven. What the New Testament really says is God wants you to be a renewed human being helping him to renew his creation, and his resurrection was the opening bell. And when he returns to fulfil the plan, you won’t be going up there to him, he’ll be coming down here.”
—NT Wright, TIME Magazine (source)
I love this video. It’s a little taste of heaven, right? It’s almost like a modern day parable. What’s heaven like? What’s it like when the god of heaven has his dreams come true? What’s it like when humans act genuinely human? It’s a bit like an autistic man who starts singing the national anthem at a baseball game…
“The new earth will be an exciting, interesting place to be. We will be always growing, always learning more about ourselves, the world, and God. We will never bottom out and become bored, for we will never know as much as God knows. There will always be some new joy to discover, some place to visit or revisit, some new dish to create, a new flower to breed, a new song to sing, a new poem to write, a new golf club to try out, a new lesson to learn and then pass on to someone else, some person to know more deeply, something new in our relationship with God. And this stretching and growing will go on forever…
Because redemption restores rather than obliterates creation, we will find that its completion in our next life will be the fulfillment of our humanity. Nothing will be more satisfying than dwelling with our Father on the earth we call home, enjoying the well-rounded, flourishing lives he intended for us all along. Our next life will look an awful lot like this one, lacking only the suffering that arises from sin.”
For many people, entire theological systems are built around us getting out of here. And so many presentations of the gospel are, “Do you wanna know how you can get outta here?” And yet the Scripture is the story not of people going up, the Bible is the story of God coming down. God wants to come down and he wants to take up residence in the midst of his people.
See, we have whole theological systems built around scaring the hell out of people so they won’t be left behind.
Alright…nobody got out a stake and set it on fire…I’ll keep going.
Be honest. Let’s be honest. Many presentations of the gospel are, “Hey, do you wanna know how to get outta here?” And the center of Jesus’ teachings is bringing God here.
Maybe you could say it this way (and this is not like either/or): Is the question, “How do I get into heaven” or “How do I get heaven here?” See, you have whole theological systems that are built on, “Some glad morning when this life is o’r, I’ll fly away.” Now what happens – and if that’s your favorite hymn, I’m sorry…kind of – what happens? And obviously we believe that when we die we go into God’s presence in heaven, this is obviously not some sort of denial of heaven, but nevertheless, if your theology is getting out of here, what subtly happens over the years?
And we need to just be brutally frank about this. What happens over time is this life becomes irrelevant, correct? If our message is “Hey, do you want to join us in getting out of here?” then what happens subtly over time is our message is really about some other places and we really have less & less to say about life now. And we have less & less the kind of eyes to see a whole world right here within this one, right here, right now.
And so we have to understand that the Bible is the story of a God who wants to come down and wants to inhabit this place, and take up residence in the midst of his people.