At this point I’ve only read the preface and a few pages of the first chapter, so nothing is set in stone. However, I’m getting a few things so far:
1. Bell is really going with the emotional angle. Is it loving that God would torture people forever? Is it fair? What if they would have been Christians if they only had the right Sunday School teacher or the right parents, or been born in the right country?
I’m not a fan of emotions. I think they’re useful in making moral decisions, but I always subject them to reason. Leading a book on an emotional note is a dangerous thing to do if we want to discover what is true, not what feels good.
2. Bell is starting with the assumption that those who go to hell are tortured forever. That is probably a fair assumption, but it’s worth noting because if you take away that assumption, his arguments will make far less sense. That’s the way arguments work.
3. When Rob Bell lists the reasons people are sent to hell, he does not even suggest that they are responsible for it. He says:
“How does a person end up being one of the few? Chance? Luck? Random selection? Being born in the right place, family, or country? Having a youth pastor who ‘relates better to the kids’? God choosing you instead of others?
What kind of faith is that?”
See, Bell is putting the popular doctrine of hell on a disadvantage here by loading the dice, so to speak. By suggesting that people are condemned to torture by no fault of theirs, he’s winning sympathy for his position from the reader. But I know of no Christian who has ever suggested that. In fact, what I’m often told is that people condemn themselves (be that true or not). Hopefully, Bell will redeem himself in the following pages. If he continues in this way, he’ll destroy his credibility by presenting only one side of the case. He will also deserve the outrage produced in the Christian community by his book.
The sad thing is , I would like to believe that the popular Christian understanding of hell is wrong. It would be wonderful. And I think a good case can be made for that, but in just the first few pages, Bell is shooting himself in the foot. Let’s see how this ends.