Q. A new book has attracted a hail of criticism on the Internet. “Love Wins: Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived” by Pastor Rob Bell, the leader of the Mars Hill Bible Church in Grand Rapids, Mich., questions the traditional view of heaven, hell and damnation, which Bell describes as “misguided and toxic.” It also challenges the dogma that “a select few Christians will spend forever in a peaceful, joyous place called heaven, while the rest of humanity spends forever in torment and punishment in hell with no chance for anything better.”
In a promotional video for the book, which was published on March 15, Bell says: “God is going to send you to hell unless you believe in Jesus. And so what gets subtly sort of caught and taught is that Jesus rescues you from God. But what kind of God is that, that we would need to be rescued from this God? How could that God ever be good?”
Do you agree that what Bell is saying borders on heresy? Is the dogmatic view of heaven and hell really “toxic”? Or does he have a point?
I can hardly think about Rob Bell; I’m just so excited that 10,000 people will be showing up at my church this Sunday — since many in the Episcopal Church have held the same theological views about hell and so forth that Bell does for decades. Once this article comes out, thousands of people will come to St. George’s.
We’ll need more donuts.
Honestly, General Public, I just don’t get it. We’re here. We’re right here: the church of your dreams. A church with an intelligent, thoughtful, tolerant faith. A church that does its best to do good and fight injustice in the world. A church with deep, mystical spirituality alongside a glad embrace of science and philosophy, alongside earthy, sensory, fun and real ways to be human, alongside beautiful liturgy with short-yet-inspiring sermons preached by witty and charming folks such as myself. AND we’re totally cool with sex, alcohol and dancing.
Putting our theological cards on the table, as the Rob Bell bloggers put it, here are some things you will not be clubbed over the head with in an Episcopal church:
Creationism; Original Sin (the idea that babies are sinful and flesh is bad); Heaven and Hell; moralizing bigotry disguised as divine Judgment; Predestination; The Rapture; being washed in the blood of Jesus; substitutionary atonement (Jesus was the innocent victim, killed by God to take the punishment that sinful humanity deserved); misogyny; homophobia; intolerance of non-Christian faiths; and the downright idiotic notion that God uses natural disasters to punish people.
What’s it going to take, for you, General Public, to get that not all people of faith are moral bullies and theological imbeciles? Is Bell’s snazzy video the reason you flock to him instead of us? Fine, we’ll do a video.
We’re right here. The ‘cutting-edge theology’ that Bell is hinting at is old news to the Episcopal Church. Come to us, all you who are weary of ugly religious ignorance and intolerance, and we will give you ways to be in touch with the God of unbounded love, whose will is for humanity’s wholeness.
The Rev. Amy Pringle
St. George’s Episcopal Church
It often seems to me that many of us have a problem with the concepts of heaven and hell. First of all, we normally conceive of each of them as a “place.” If heaven is a place, where is it? Up there? And hell—is it down below somewhere?
We further compound the misunderstanding by describing what happens in these “places” as a physical experience: We enjoy heavenly bliss or suffer the torments of hell.
It seems to me that we have forgotten that we are talking about things in the realm of the Spirit. Heaven is a state of existence, existence with God for all eternity. Hell is a state of existence without God for all eternity. These states are for those who are spirit and whose bodies are not yet resurrected. On the last day, the resurrected bodies will join their souls for eternity and thus there will be eternal happiness (heaven) or eternal loss (hell).