It’s easy to be critical of Rob Bell’s latest book, Love Wins. He creates strawman arguments by caricaturing fundamentalist Christians. He has poor, often misleading, exegesis of Scripture. He is far better at deconstruction than reconstruction. But there is much of value here.

What I appreciate most about Bell’s book is his insistence that heaven and hell are not merely places that are somewhere else. Heaven and hell are among us, breaking into our reality in the glorious and the obscene, in the great and small events of life on earth. I think this is right.

C.S. Lewis, and later Tim Keller, made the point that there is something inside each one of us that, if left unchecked, will become hell. If you’ve not read Lewis’s masterpiece The Great Divorce, what are you waiting for? In it, Lewis profoundly presents this hell-from-within, sin left unchecked and overindulged, and its tragic consequences. Heaven and hell are trajectories of our lives here on earth. Those who trust Jesus and seek to love and obey him while in the body will get what they want–Christ himself!–in the life to come. Those who reject Jesus and seek to indulge their wicked desires while in the body will also get what they want–life solely on their terms–in the life to come. (Never mind that that sort of life is what Jesus would call “death”.)

Bell gets it right when he says, “For Jesus, heaven is more real than what we experience now. This is true for the future, when earth and heaven become one, but also for today.” Eternal life starts in this life, when you trust Jesus, swearing allegiance to him as your King. Eternal life is not for somewhere else, it is for here, and then it will be for there when there and here become one. (Oh yeah, that’s right, I just Rob Belled you.)

On the other hand, hell is also here. It is the natural consequence of fallen humanity. People throw out phrases like “hell on earth” for a reason–it’s true. A doctor once told me that heroin is Satan; she was right, heroin is Satan. Sex trafficking is hell. Abortion is hell. Domestic abuse is hell. Slavery is hell. All of these are hell because they are the manifestation of extreme evil on earth.

But here’s the thing. Hell is inside of you. Your evil desires. Your lusts. Your pride. Your rage. The idols you worship. All the great evil of which you are capable.
Hell.
Inside.
You. (Oh man, I just Rob Belled you again! BAM!)

But there’s good news here, too. By faith in Christ, heaven, in the person of the Holy Spirit, is also within you. Heaven is inside you. The Holy Spirit is at the core of your being. Destroying your idols. Changing your desires. Growing your character. Humbling you.
Heaven.
God.
Inside you. (I can’t believe you just let me Rob Bell you for a third time.)

This is the tension of who we are. In our sinful nature, we are bringers of hell-on-earth. In the power of the Holy Spirit and through faith in Christ, we are bringers of heaven-on-earth, heralds of the new King, Jesus Christ. Heaven and hell are within you. In your body. On this earth.
You.
Here.
Where heaven, earth, and hell meet. (pwned! I Rob Belled you four times in this post. Four!)

As I continue the journey through Rob Bell’s latest book, Love Wins, I’d like to examine what I consider to be the book’s greatest weakness. While there is a lot to like about the book, and I hope to get to that later this week, there are several points where Bell’s scholarship is suspect. Today I want to look at his treatment of the story of the sheep and the goats in Matthew 25:31-46, specifically focusing, as he does, on verse 46.

Bell makes the following exegetical claim:

The goats are sent, in the Greek language, to an aion of kolazo. Aion, we know, has several meanings. One is “age” or “period of time”; another refers to intensity of experience.

This statement is all kinds of messed up and misleading. First, let’s examine the grammar. Bell claims that the goats are sent to “an aion of kolazo“, implying that aion is used as a noun in this passage. It is not. The Greek phrase is κολασιν αιωνιον, and aion[ion] is an adjective. The -ion ending indicates that this is used adjectivally and tells us some other, less relevant information. It is not, therefore, “an aion of kolazo“, it is aionic kolazo, so to speak.

Now let’s look at how Bell defines the word aion. He rightly says it has several meanings. The Liddell-Scott-Jones Greek Lexicon (which, to my knowledge, is the standard Greek Lexicon of New Testament scholarship) defines αιων this way:

I. lifetime, life

A. age, generation, posterity
B. one’s life, destiny, lot

II. long space of time, age, for ever

A. space of time clearly marked out, epoch

Nowhere in this entry do we find Bell’s alternative definition, “intensity of experience”. Unfortunately, Bell does not cite where he found this meaning, so in the absence of any evidence, we must conclude that he is wrong on this. The Greek word αιων simply does not mean “intensity of experience.”

Another point that Bell fails to mention is that, in Matthew 25:46, the phrase κολασιν αιωνιον is contrasted with the phrase ζωην αιωνιον. So, whatever αιωνιον means in the first instance, it must also mean in the second. If the punishment is only for an age, then the life must also only be for an age. If one is temporary, then so is the other.

So, the good news Bell hoped to be proclaiming turns out to be really, really bad news. What happens when that zoe is over? Are we up for judgment again? Do we disappear into the divine, subsumed by his goodness? Does God start over? Is anything eternal?

Or maybe αιωνιον means what the Bible translators say it means. Maybe Rob Bell doesn’t know Greek as well as the people chosen by the various Committees on Bible Translation, who have studied this ancient language their entire adult lives. Maybe, just maybe, “eternal” was exactly the word Jesus had in mind when he first told this story.

Rob Bell has tried to sow seeds of doubt regarding heaven and hell using poor exegesis and an incorrect understanding of a particular Greek word. His work on the Matthew 25 passage is misleading, at best. There is a lot more that could be said here, but the point has been made: αιωνιον, in Matthew 25:46, refers to time, and because of its adjectival form, the most compelling translation is “eternal”.

When reading Rob Bell’s latest book, Love Wins, it’s important to keep two things in mind: Who the book is for, and who the book is against. Ironically enough, Love Wins is an often angry diatribe against a very particular group of people (fundamentalists) for the sake of another very particular group of people (skeptics). If you don’t catch this, you’ll miss the point of Bell’s book altogether.

Love Wins was written with the intention of destroying a popular view of the afterlife. Bell alludes to this indirectly on page 200, where he writes, in the Acknowledgements, “[Thanks to] Zach Lind for saying ‘wrecking ball’ under his breath several times in a row.” The book, then, is a wrecking ball against a peculiar understanding of heaven and hell, salvation and damnation. What, exactly, is that understanding? Let’s sketch the main points.

Heaven is Somewhere Else

Heaven is where you go when you die if you prayed the sinner’s prayer in this life and put your faith in Jesus Christ. It is an entirely spiritual place, and is basically a worship service that goes on forever. It is completely discontinuous with life on earth, which will be entirely destroyed anyhow, so life on earth doesn’t have much significance, other than putting your faith in Jesus.

Hell is Somewhere Else

As with heaven, hell exists somewhere else. Metaphorically speaking, heaven is up and hell is down. Hell is a spiritual nightmare (or possibly a physical nightmare). Eternal torment goes on and on forever amidst the raging fires.

It’s All About Eternity

All that really matters in this life–your life now–is what it means for your eternal destiny. The only thing that has any true, lasting significance is whether you surrendered your life to Jesus in faithful obedience.

God is Angry With You

Your sin makes God angry. He is waiting to pour out his divine wrath upon you as the just penalty for your sins. Fortunately, Jesus has stepped between you and God; he took the full brunt of the wrath of God against the sins of humanity on the cross. Those who place their faith in Jesus Christ will receive God’s love, but those who reject Jesus Christ (or have never heard of him) will bear God’s wrath forever in hell.

Turn or Burn

Repent of your sins, renounce your ungodly ways, and turn to Jesus; or else face the consequences of burning in eternal hellfire. It’s really that simple.

The Gospel is Your “Get Out of Hell Free” Card

Our primary motivation to trust in Jesus is that he saves us from hell. “If you were to die tonight, are you 100% certain you would go to heaven?” That’s the question that must be asked of unbelievers. While the forgiveness of sins is important, it is our escape from hell that is the gospel’s greatest benefit to us.

God has Predestined a Select Few for Heaven and Everybody Else Goes to Hell

In his sovereignty, and for his glory, God has predestined a certain number of people–the Elect–to receive salvation. Conversely, he has predestined everyone else to receive condemnation. The Elect will enjoy eternal communion with God in heaven, but the rest will suffer eternal torment in hell.

Those Who Have Never Heard of Jesus will Spend Eternity in Hell

The Bible teaches that, besides Jesus, “there is no other name under heaven by which we can be saved.” Conscious, responsive faith to the gospel message is the only means of salvation available to humans. We are all, from birth, under the wrath and judgment of God as the due penalty for our sins, and he has graciously offered one way, one truth, and one life–Jesus Christ, his son. Nobody can come to the Father except through him.

These eight main points comprise the basic worldview which Rob Bell is seeking to destroy in Love Wins. This is the eschatological building against which Love Wins is the “wrecking ball”. You should know this going in.

I’ve tried to present the views as accurately as possible, though I can’t say that Bell has been as gracious in his book. He often creates a strawman based on caricature beliefs of extreme fundamentalist Christians, and then proceeds to swing his “wrecking ball” at the strawman. While it’s rhetorically effective, I found it rather disingenuous and, in the end, detracted from the force of his argument.

I’ll continue to post more on Love Wins this week. Some of it I like, some of it I don’t, and I’ll try to offer some reasonable counterarguments where I disagree with Bell. In the meantime, if you want to know the love that Bell is referring to (though he doesn’t talk about it like this), check out this post, and this one, too.

I try not to pay attention to the comments sections when I’m reading news articles online. It can only infuriate you. But sometimes I allow my curiosity to get the best of me, and, predictably, I read something that infuriated me.

The state of Florida is preparing to pass the Andrew Widman Act, which will close a loophole in the state’s law regarding probation restrictions. Andy was a friend of mine (I’ve known him since 3rd grade), and he eventually became a police officer in Ft. Myers, FL. He was shot and killed in the line of duty in 2008. The man who killed him was on probation, had been arrested on a felony charge just a few days before, but was out on parole. This is the loophole the law is hoping to clear up. (If you’re new to the blog, please go back to the archives of July, 2008 to read more. Andy was an incredible man of God who is greatly missed.)

Apparently it’s passed both the House and the Senate in Florida unanimously, and now just awaits the signature of the governor. This is good news. But not to everyone, apparently. One moron, lowlife, scumbag left this comment on the news article:

Forget the Widman, better training!!! and maybe if he held his gun up instead of the cross, he be aljve?????????????

My first reaction was seething rage. My second reaction was even greater seething rage because this person is clearly an over-opinionated idiot who can’t spell and doesn’t know how to write, and he’s denigrating my faith and the faith of my deceased friend.

My third reaction was to smile, because three years later, Andy is still remembered as a man of the cross, even by ignorant imbeciles. Yes, Andy chose to bear the cross rather than the gun. No doubt Andy would have used his gun if he had to, but he wanted to show perpetrators the agape love of God more than the business end of a weapon.

There was a story circulating about a man who came to Andy’s funeral. A reporter approached him and asked him, “Why have you come to Officer Widman’s funeral?” He replied, “Officer Widman arrested me twice this year, and both times he was so kind and friendly. I just had to come and pay my respects.”

The truth of what happened that night in 2008 is that Andy didn’t have time to raise his gun. He was shot in cold-blood by an evil, cowardly man. But in his death, the cross he held up each day–the cross of Jesus Christ–was lifted up for millions to see. So thank you, idiot commenter, for reminding me that Andy is still remembered, first and foremost, as a man of the cross.

The news cycle on Osama bin Laden’s death is waning, which means that, as a nation, we’re pretty much over it at this point. The Facebook statuses have moved back to the trivial and mundane. Christians aren’t tweeting and posting scriptures at each other anymore.

Yesterday I tried to collect my thoughts on his death, but, like many of you, couldn’t make heads or tails of what was going on in my own heart or mind. I wasn’t happy, but I certainly wasn’t sad. He needed to die, I think. But it wasn’t a tactical strike, as far as I can tell. It was justice. America needed a blood avenger.

As I laid awake in bed last night, I began to wonder what the gospel is for Osama bin Laden. Not what he thinks it is, but how he needs to hear it. Yes, I know he’s dead, and I don’t want to go all Rob Bell on you…but the question wouldn’t leave my mind. What is the gospel for Osama bin Laden. So here’s my attempt at an answer. This is how I would communicate the gospel to him.

You are a fraud. You are a deceiver. You are the son of a billionaire, and yet you rail against the evils of capitalist America and prey on the hopelessness, ignorance, and illiteracy of poor young men. You use them as pawns in your sick game. You are a sociopath. You don’t even see these young men as humans, and you use women and children as shields. You are a coward. You are a false prophet, and you seek to serve God through violence and terrorism. You approach God through a false system of beliefs. You are a megalomaniac. You hope to be saved by your acts of violence. You are a murderer–the worst kind because most of the murders you committed were by proxy, through brainwashed servants whom you convinced were doing the will of God, but they were really just carrying out your sick perversion of justice.

And yet, Osama bin Laden, the perverted desires of your heart are no different than the perverted desires of my heart. The only difference between me and you is Jesus Christ. You thought he was just a prophet; he was is so much more. He is the Son of God, the King of Creation. You thought he merely swooned on the cross, or that a substitute died there; he was the substitute for you, and for me. You have just died for your sins, but he died for your sins 2,000 years ago. And then he rose again from the dead, conquering it once and for all.

As hard as this is for me to say to you, Osama bin Laden, Jesus loves you. He paid the divine penalty for all of your murderous rage. All of your murders, all of your lies, all of your manipulation, all of your violence are eternally forgiven at the cross of Jesus Christ. When the towers fell on 9/11, and the rubble was finally cleared away, do you know what was left? Two iron beams in the shape of a cross. That cross is for you, Osama bin Laden.

Let me tell you something: You deserve hell, and there are millions of people on this planet who hope you get it. You are in a select group of criminals against humanity, and the human race stands ready to condemn you. Your only hope for salvation is not in pleasing Allah through violence, but in clinging to the cross of Jesus Christ with a repentant heart and a humbled spirit. Only Jesus can save you. You must drop your agenda of violence and take up his agenda of grace. This is your only hope. Turn to Jesus, the Son of God, the Savior of the World, the King of Creation.