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In Theory: Is the idea of heaven and hell 'toxic'?

March 23, 2011

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?”

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Bell, whose church has 10,000 members, has been slammed by evangelical leaders, with one going so far as to say that Bell is toying with heresy by claiming that a person can reject Jesus but still be saved, which goes against the gospels and the teachings of Jesus. Another, Justin Taylor, said: “It is unspeakably sad when those called to be ministers of the Word distort the gospel and deceive the people of God with false doctrine.”

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.

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