Hell, Rob Bell and What Happens When People Die
Multnomah Books: Colorado, 2011
Rob Bell has started a small cottage industry in the number of books that have responded to him. Tim Challies and Kevin DeYoung were among the first full reviews, we then had the first book response by Mike Wittmer and now this by Bobby Conway. Others recently released include God Wins by Mark Galli and Erasing Hell by Francis Chan.
Many of the responses on blogs and twitter were knee-jerk responses. This brief book is more nuanced. Bobby Conway, the One Minute Apologist, realises that Bell is not a full-blown universalist. He describes him as holding a 'postmortem, nuanced purgatorial, inclusivist view of eternal destiny'. Such a view is also held by Clark Pinnock, John Polkinghorne, Gabriel Fackre - who prefers the term 'Divine perseverance' - and Donald Bloesch (at least according to Fackre) and by Marcion and Schliermacher; some have even suggested that Augustine held this view.
Conway provides a helpful critique of Bell's view of hell, but falls into the trap of polarising the many views of hell into two camps: what he calls the traditional view - that unbelievers will suffer eternal conscious torment - and Bell's more liberal view. He doesn't seem to realise that there are others biblical views, or if he does, does not consider them. Annihiliationism is never mentioned, for example.
The 'whatever happens when people die' - is only a discussion of the final fate, there is no discussion of what an intermediate state, if indeed one exists, might look like. His view of heaven is rather platonic. At least Bell avoids that. Conway writes: 'time does not exist in eternity. Eternity is a timeless reality that knows no end' (kindle loc 293).
Bell's approach is a soft target. His version of evangelical universalism is not well thought out. A more rigorous approach has been taken by Brad Jersak, Thomas Talbott, Jan Bonda and Gregory MacDonald (aka Robin Parry). Those who are unhappy with evangelical universalism would do better to look those views rather than Bell's popularisations; however, that might not sell as many books!
The book is accessible and well written and it is written with a passion. Conway sees hell as God's idea, it is no laughing matter, he sees it as an eternal lodging place, a place of conscious torment, he is certainly not embarrassed by the doctrine of hell and is not intimidated by 'a tolerance-based society' that has infiltrated the church. He understands Bell's position and provides a good defence of the so-called traditional view of hell. He writes with the heart and motivation of an evangelist. Watchman-like he warns the unwary of the unfortunate consequences of accepting Bell's argument if Bell is wrong.
Disclosure: this book was supplied by the Waterbrook Multnomah blogging for books program. The views are my own.