Imagine there's no heaven
It's easy if you try
No hell below us
Above us only sky
Now Pastor Robert Bell of Michgan's Mars Hill Bible Church has sketched out the theology to accompany Lennon's classic tune.
The Time article offers a meandering outline of Bell's theology regarding the issue of hell's existence. The news magazine makes it crystal clear that the traditional evangelical message is that salvation is found only in the atoning death of Jesus Christ. Bluntly stated, Time author Jon Meacham acknowledges the classic Christian viewpoint, "In the Evangelical ethos, one either accepts this and goes to heaven or refuses and goes to hell."
In contrast the Michigan pastor suggests that the redeeming work of Jesus Christ "may be universal." In other words, every person who has ever lived has a place in heaven. Rather than parlay with Bell's non-evangelical theology on every jot and title, I want to address a few disconcerting issues in his belief system:
*Pastor Bell's lack of certainty in his denial of the existence of hell is a red flag. In contrast to the New Testament authors who speak with confidence about salvation through Christ alone, Bell speaks of his "salvation for everybody" with a great deal of uncertainty. He feels the eternal destiny of those who don't accept Christ is a "mystery" and that his view is a "suggestion".
Of what advantage is Bell's beliefs if they are merely uncertainties and suggestions of mystery? Pastor Bell is concocting a stew of controversy in the church over issues he is not really sure of himself. Consequently, his book helps no one but is a tragic piece of Christian literature whose sole purpose is to raise doubt regarding the veracity of the Bible.
Perhaps Bell should have written a science fiction novel about a make-believe Christian utopia rather than a book about a make-believe theology!
*If Bell's view of hell is true, then, as Meacham points out, "Christianity becomes [little] more of an ethical habit of mind than a faith based on divine revelation."
If all Christianity has contributed is just one more religiously based moral code, then Christ died needlessly. Without the substitutionary death of Jesus, the Apostle's have given us a set of rules to follow in order to live a better life. Eternal salvation through Jesus becomes a non-issue in Pastor Bell's uncertain theology.
Even if Jesus died for everyone resulting in the fact everyone is going to heaven, where is the motivation for sharing the gospel message? There is no need for the church to share the message of Christ and there is no need for the cross which is the essence of the gospel message.
*Finally, if there is no hell as John Lennon merely imagined, then there lacks a sense of justice in the universe. In the afterlife both the victimizer and the victim are destined to the same end. Even if one believes the afterlife is a state of sleep or annihilation, the adherent to this view has to deal with the fact life ends without a sense of divine justice. Hitler and Mother Teresa share the same fate.
An afterlife without divine justice means that murderers like Jeffrey Dahmer, Joseph Stalin and Pol Put will never face judgment for their sins. Unless they confessed their sins and sought forgiveness from Christ for their heinous crimes, they will be enjoying eternal bliss with their victims.
Though I am not a betting man, I highly doubt if anyone of these brutal killers ever repented of their sins and begged Jesus for forgiveness. I don't know about you, but a world that does not include divine justice is a sad, meaningless world.
The worse aspect of Bell's Love Wins is his question, "What does it mean to be a Christian?" Bell's book leads us to the conclusion that a follower of Christ is non-judgmental, lacks a sense of conviction about the gospel message of eternal life through Christ and that other faiths are no different than the New Testament message of salvation through Jesus. If am a Buddhist, then why do I need to accept Jesus as my Savior if He has already redeemed my soul and promises me heaven?
Robert Bell has a lot of answering to do for his "denial of hell" which has placed him outside the fold of the evangelical faith.