“Who’s in Hell?”
Seems like a pretty good question for a site names God versus “religion”.
I first wrote this back in 2011. It was a tough one.
It’s now 2017, one month short of six years later. As I make updates (including the line above) I’ll put them in text like this, so you can tell what’s new. There will also be an update on Rob Bell at the end.
Back in 2011, the site had a different name – one which made the article seem out of place. Given what I’ve learned since then, I think there is even more importance to knowing the difference between what some (not all) Christian churches talk about / teach – versus what the Bible actually says. Therefore – the new name – and the increased importance of things on topic for what is taught and what probably should be taught. Anyway, please keep in mind the different perspectives – from today as compared to six years ago – as you read.
Given the recent news about Chad Holtz – I think this is the right place for it at this time.
If you haven’t seen it, here are a couple links to articles –
One from Fox News and one from New York Daily News.
From the Fox News article, we see the starting point for what happened is a book called Love Wins, written by Rob Bell –
Holtz was dismissed this month as pastor of Marrow’s Chapel in Henderson after he wrote a note on his Facebook page supporting a new book by Rob Bell, a prominent young evangelical pastor and critic of the traditional view of hell as a place of torment for billions of damned souls.
In essence, what Bell’s book is about is –
Bell, the pastor of the 10,000-member Mars Hill Bible Church in Grand Rapids, Mich., criticizes the belief that a select number of Christians will spend eternity in the bliss of heaven while everyone else is tormented forever in hell.
And then the closing line in the article is a quote from Chad Holtz –
“So long as we believe there’s a dividing point in eternity, we’re going to think in terms of us and them,” he said. “But when you believe God has saved everyone, the point is, you’re saved. Live like it.”
I can see where it may be popular to preach that there’s no such place as Hell. Lot’s of people don’t want to hear about Hell and damnation. Plenty of people are turned off by the fire and brimstone preaching – repent or die! It’s scary stuff. It doesn’t sound even the least bit loving. Who wouldn’t want to think that “Love Wins” is right – that God loves everyone and no one’s going to Hell because there is no such place.
That sounds good.
That sounds too good. Too good to be true.
So – is it true? Or is God warning us about Hell – not because He wants to condemn us, but because He loves us and truly doesn’t want us to end up there?
Let me take a short break here. A handful of people saw the original posting of this article. Then I got an email saying that I may have mis-characterized the intent of the original book (Love Wins) and its author (Rob Bell). At that point, I pulled the article. The goal here is to point people to the Truth – so it had to be pulled while I checked it out.
Unfortunately (from my selfish point of view), the email turned out to be correct.
Fortunately, the email was sent and I am now able to make the correction.
Which proves at least 2 things that I’ve been trying to get across. (1) always check out statements to be sure they are true – and ultimately that they are in alignment with the Bible. And (2) I’m just human – so you need to check out what I say too.
So – the problem was that I relied on Chad Holtz’ statements about the book. I assumed that he got it right – and that what he said about the book was correct.
After getting the email – I had to go get the book. And then read it. I have to say, now that I’ve read the book, I still have some issues with it – which I’ll be writing about another day. As of March, 2017 – another day hasn’t come yet.
However – I can also say that I don’t believe it presents the picture that Chad Holtz would have one believe it does. I believe that if we were to look at what The Bible says – and what Chad Holtz says – Rob Bell’s book would be somewhere in between. From a certain point of view – and with proper guidance – Love Wins could be a good teaching tool. From a different point of view – and with improper guidance – Love Wins can lead to some very dangerous conclusions.
So – how did I come to my conclusion?
Well – at the end of Love Wins, there are some books for further reading. One is “The Great Divorce”, by C. S. Lewis. After reading Love Wins, I had a hard time believing that Bell’s view of Hell could line up with that of C. S. Lewis. So – I had to get another book and read it. (Now you can see why this took such a long time.)
Anyway – while reading The Great Divorce, there were some areas where one could come to the conclusions that Bell appears to have reached. However – in the end – we see that these were conclusions that were “jumped to” with incomplete knowledge. In the end – (pun intended) – Lewis and Bell have different conclusions – and Holtz reaches one that is beyond even Bell’s.
The real catch here – is to keep the discussion from getting personal. This whole debate can turn into one about the people rather than about the issues. You can’t really leave the names out of the discussion, otherwise it’s too hard to keep track of the statements / beliefs from one group or another.
And this isn’t a new problem either. If we look at 1 Corinthians 1:10-17 – this kind of thing has been a problem since the very beginning of Christianity.
Divisions in the Church
1Co 1:10 I appeal to you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another so that there may be no divisions among you and that you may be perfectly united in mind and thought. 11 My brothers, some from Chloe’s household have informed me that there are quarrels among you. 12 What I mean is this: One of you says, “I follow Paul”; another, “I follow Apollos”; another, “I follow Cephas’”; still another, “I follow Christ.”
1Co 1:13 Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Were you baptized into the name of Paul? 14 I am thankful that I did not baptize any of you except Crispus and Gaius, 15 so no one can say that you were baptized into my name. 16 (Yes, I also baptized the household of Stephanas; beyond that, I don’t remember if I baptized anyone else.) 17 For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel—not with words of human wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power.
And in that last verse lies the heart of the matter – not with words of human wisdom – because that’s where things start to have meanings other than what God intended. And when that happens – Paul’s warning comes into play – lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power.
So – as we investigate issues like these – we probably have no choice other than to use the names of the people involved – but must be careful to use them only for that purpose. To update and paraphrase Paul – we don’t follow Holtz, or follow Bell, or follow Lewis. We follow Jesus.
Free will comes in – we have the free will to interpret God’s Words – we have the free will to follow them or not – we have all sorts of free will.
But – in the end – it’s not ourselves that made the rules and gets to pass judgment. Neither is it Holtz, Bell, or Lewis. It’s Jesus. He’s the One we follow – He’s the One whose Word we look to – and it’s His Word that we have to try to live up to.
So – when you read this – or in any other matters – there will be people’s names – conclusions will be drawn about what some of them had to say, as it relates to how closely I believe they follow the teachings of the Bible – but it stops there. Holtz, Bell, Lewis, anyone else – we are all free to draw our own conclusions. I can say whether I agree with any of them or not. So can you. Investigation is a good thing – otherwise we remain ignorant. Questioning is a good thing too – otherwise we can become like robots, just believing the first thing we see or hear or read.
But judgment – that belongs to God alone.
I think that’s why I really like another C. S. Lewis book – “Mere Christianity”. It gets down to what are the main points that all Christians agree on and that are based on what the Bible teaches us.
So – with that in mind – back to the original article.
Chad Holtz says –
“But when you believe God has saved everyone, the point is, you’re saved. Live like it.”
Let’s start our examination with that statement.
He says – when you believe God has saved everyone, you are saved.
Really? Is there anything in the Bible that would say this is true?
There better be – because as I’ve written before – we don’t get to make up the rules. God does. And He also judges us – and enforces the rules. Just because we don’t like them – doesn’t mean we can ignore them.
So let’s see what His rules are.
If you search the NIV translation of the Bible – and look for the words saved everyone – how many times do you think they appear?
None – zero – not at all.
What about the words will be saved?
They appear 21 times.
The first is in Isaiah 45:17 –
Isa 45:17 But Israel will be saved by the LORD
with an everlasting salvation;
you will never be put to shame or disgraced,
to ages everlasting.
And that is talking about Israel – and in the future.
No – nothing there about everyone being saved. There are 6 more instances in the Old Testament – similar in what they say.
The first time these words are used in the New Testament are by Jesus –
Mt 10:21 “Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child; children will rebel against their parents and have them put to death. 22 All men will hate you because of me, but he who stands firm to the end will be saved. 23 When you are persecuted in one place, flee to another. I tell you the truth, you will not finish going through the cities of Israel before the Son of Man comes.
That doesn’t say anything about everyone being saved either. Only those who stand firm – with Jesus – will be saved.
A little later – in Mark – Jesus is speaking again on this topic. This time – He also includes what will happen to those who don’t believe that He is the salvation of the world.
Mk 16:15 He said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation. 16 Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.
Uh Oh. There’s that word that Holtz doesn’t want to hear – condemned.
Later – in John – Jesus speaks on this again –
Jn 10:7 Therefore Jesus said again, “I tell you the truth, I am the gate for the sheep. 8 All who ever came before me were thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not listen to them. 9 I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved. He will come in and go out, and find pasture. 10 The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.
Jesus is the gate – the way to salvation. Any other gate – any other path – leads someplace else – and what was meant for us will be stolen. The Salvation that was intended for us – through Jesus – can be stolen and taken away from us.
Later in the New Testament, the Apostles make references to some words from the prophet Joel,
The Day of the LORD Is Coming
Joel 2:28 “After that, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy. Your old men will have dreams. Your young men will have visions.
Joel 2:29 In those days I will pour out my Spirit on those who serve me, men and women alike.
Joel 2:30 I will show wonders in the heavens and on the earth. There will be blood and fire and clouds of smoke.
Joel 2:31 The sun will become dark. The moon will turn red like blood. It will happen before the great and terrible day of the LORD comes.
Joel 2:32 Everyone who calls out to me will be saved. On Mount Zion and in Jerusalem some of my people will be left alive. I have chosen them. That is what I have promised.
In verse 32, it says Everyone who calls out to me will be saved.
I think it’s important to remember here – the Old Testament was full of prophesy about the coming Messiah – about Jesus. This section is even titled “The day of the Lord is coming“. That day – which Jesus talked about – and which the Apostles taught – was the second coming of Jesus.
It would seem to make sense then – that this reference is not so much to “God, the Father” – as it is to “God, the Son”.
So now we need to ask – is there any evidence of this?
How about back to John —
Jn 10:11 “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. 12 The hired hand is not the shepherd who owns the sheep. So when he sees the wolf coming, he abandons the sheep and runs away. Then the wolf attacks the flock and scatters it. 13 The man runs away because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep.
Jn 10:14 “I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me— 15 just as the Father knows me and I know the Father—and I lay down my life for the sheep. 16 I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also. They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd. 17 The reason my Father loves me is that I lay down my life—only to take it up again. 18 No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again. This command I received from my Father.”
So we see here –
- Jesus lays down His life for us – for our salvation (verse 11)
- Although Both Jesus and the Father are One God – they are also in some ways different. (verse 15)
- In relation to the OT references to Israel, some others will also be saved – the Gentiles / non-Jewish people. (verse 16)
God, The Father – loves Jesus because He dies for us (verse 17)
- Jesus did this because it’s what The Father wanted – but we see He also had the authority to do it on His own and did it on His own. The implication here would seem to be that Jesus could have refused. It’s interesting – and maybe a topic for another time – but free will is always something of interest.
So far – like it or not – there seems to be plenty of evidence that it takes more than believing that God is going to save everyone in order to actually be saved.
Because the assumption that God has saved everyone is false. He has provided a path for everyone – but not all of us will take it.
Clearly – there are some who will be saved and some who will not be saved.
How about from Revelation.
First – Rev 20 —
Rev 20:14 Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. The lake of fire is the second death. If anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.
and then – Rev 21 —
Rev 21:22 I did not see a temple in the city, because the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple. 23 The city does not need the sun or the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and the Lamb is its lamp. 24 The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their splendor into it. 25 On no day will its gates ever be shut, for there will be no night there. 26 The glory and honor of the nations will be brought into it. 27 Nothing impure will ever enter it, nor will anyone who does what is shameful or deceitful, but only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life.
Clearly – some go to the lake of fire – Hell.
Clearly – some go to the temple – Heaven.
No matter how much Holtz – and others – may wish to believe there’s no such place as Hell – there is no proof – nothing to stand on – for a Christian to believe otherwise.
But – let’s keep going, just in case. There is another reference in Isaiah 40 –
Isa 40:3 A messenger is calling out, “In the desert prepare the way for the LORD. Make a straight road through it for our God.
Isa 40:4 Every valley will be filled in. Every mountain and hill will be made level. The rough ground will be smoothed out. The rocky places will be made flat.
Isa 40:5 Then the glory of the LORD will appear. And everyone will see it. The LORD has spoken.”
The Glory of the Lord will appear – and everyone will see it.
Maybe this is the passage that will lead to salvation for all?
That’s what the Jewish leaders thought. Until they ran into John the Baptist in Luke 3 —
Lk 3:4 As is written in the book of the words of Isaiah the prophet:
“A voice of one calling in the desert,
‘Prepare the way for the Lord,
make straight paths for him.
Lk 3:5 Every valley shall be filled in,
every mountain and hill made low.
The crooked roads shall become straight,
the rough ways smooth.
Lk 3:6 And all mankind will see God’s salvation.’ ”
Lk 3:7 John said to the crowds coming out to be baptized by him, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? 8 Produce fruit in keeping with repentance. And do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham. 9 The ax is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.”
Oops. So much for that.
Isaiah was talking about the one calling in the desert – John the Baptist. And Isaiah was talking about all mankind seeing God’s salvation.
Upon the arrival of John the Baptist – we learn that God’s salvation – to be seen by all – is Jesus. It’s not that all mankind will be saved by God – but that all will see the way to salvation – which is Jesus.
Let’s try another example.
At the Last Supper – when Jesus offered the bread and wine as substitutes / remembrances for His body and blood – let’s see what He said there.
In Matthew 26 we see –
Mt 26:26 While they were eating, Jesus took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to his disciples, saying, “Take and eat; this is my body.”
Mt 26:27 Then he took the cup, gave thanks and offered it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you. 28 This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. 29 I tell you, I will not drink of this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it anew with you in my Father’s kingdom.”
The blood of Jesus – poured out for many. Not for all – for many. Again – it’s offered to all – but not everyone will accept it.
Jesus told many parables of a similar situation. Maybe Matthew 22:14 sums it up the best –
Mt 22:14 “For many are invited, but few are chosen.”
Even John 3:16 – maybe the best known verse in the Bible – says this –
Jn 3:16 “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”
Whoever believes in Him – whoever believes in Jesus.
Not everyone – but those who believe in Jesus.
Everyone is to be made aware of Jesus – but not all will believe and not all will be saved.
So – does this mean that Christianity really is the Fire and Brimstone / Hell and Damnation religion that people like Holtz would have us believe?
Go back to every one of the examples in this article. They all have a choice involved. We can choose to believe – or not believe.
God gives us free will. We don’t have to follow His plan for our lives. But we do have to play by His rules – and our decisions have consequences. Many of the articles I write on this site are all about that.
We can choose life – or death. (Sorry, as of right now, this one’s not moved over yet. I’ll put a link in here when it is)
We can make choices that will bring us to God being angry with us – or loving towards us.
It’s all up to us.
What some would say is exclusionist – or fear mongering – talking about Hell and scaring people – that’s the flip side of God’s love.
We get to choose which we go towards. We’re not forced into either one. That’s what free will is all about – it’s the ability that we have to make the choice.
If God didn’t tell us what the consequences of our choices are – that would be an unloving god. It would be a god who let us do whatever we wanted – never told us the rules – never let us know that there were consequences – but delighted in sending us to Hell when we unknowingly made choices that set us on the wrong path.
But – He does tell us. Very plainly. He gives us the map that let’s us know where we’re headed. He also gives us the map that let’s us know how to get back to the right path.
I dare say, God has told us more plainly than many of us know. Here in 2017, I’ve started really looking into the Genesis account of The Garden of Eden and The Fall. It’s amazing how much gets “lost in the translation”, to be polite, between the original Hebrew and what we tend to hear in church. Add to that the differences in the way the Jewish people read their scriptures (Yes, it was originally theirs before it got included into the Christian Bible, if you weren’t aware of that) and the way Christians are generally taught to read it. For a look into that, see Protected from the Bible – The Problem of Free Will. That is the starting point for that examination, and learning just how much Adam and Eve were likely told.
So – I have to say – I think people like Holtz are more like the thief that will try to steal what God has offered us.
For a Christian to deny that Hell exists – that’s to say that God lied.
To say that everyone goes to Heaven – that’s to say that God lied.
To say that God saved everyone – that’s twisting what God actually said – and that’s a lie as well.
And ultimately – saying all these things – and having someone believe them – that’s what Jesus was talking about in Matthew 18 —
The Greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven
Mt 18:1 At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?”
Mt 18:2 He called a little child and had him stand among them. 3 And he said: “I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. 4 Therefore, whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.
Mt 18:5 “And whoever welcomes a little child like this in my name welcomes me. 6 But if anyone causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a large millstone hung around his neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea.
Mt 18:7 “Woe to the world because of the things that cause people to sin! Such things must come, but woe to the man through whom they come! 8 If your hand or your foot causes you to sin cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life maimed or crippled than to have two hands or two feet and be thrown into eternal fire. 9 And if your eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into the fire of hell.
It’s maybe ironic – the things that people like Holtz are saying – may be the very things that end up causing them to experience Hell first hand.
God can do whatever He wants. He can save whoever He wants.
But – to think that all this was said in His Book – and to think that it’s not true – that’s too much of a stretch.
To essentially call God a liar – that takes more than just nerve.
To bring others on the ride with them and have others call God a liar too – that’s real trouble.
People who believe like Holtz and speak out like this – if they choose to take advantage of God’s gift – can be forgiven. And I pray that they will ask.
But what of the people that listen to them – that come to the same conclusions because of what they said? Will they reach out to every one of them and say they were wrong? Not likely.
And I think that’s why it’s important for us, as Christians – to correct things like this – To be God’s voice – to keep people from falling away and following the wrong path – to be His light.
If you found this site because you were looking up this topic from the news – I urge you to check it out further. Don’t just take my word. Look to the real source – the Bible – see what it says.
God tells us about Heaven and Hell both – because He loves us and wants us to make the right choices.
He doesn’t tell us about Hell because He delights in sending people there. He tells us so we know what our decisions will lead us to.
He does tell us about Heaven because He delights in having people enter there. And He tell us so we know where our decisions will lead us to.
Mt 22:14 “For many are invited, but few are chosen.”
If you’re reading this – you’ve been invited.
I pray that you take the path that will lead to your being chosen.
And – I pray that you tell others as well – so they will also be invited – and chosen.
We looked into the statement – “But when you believe God has saved everyone, the point is, you’re saved. Live like it.”
And we saw the problems with it.
However – there is a portion of that statement which, if we were to actually try to do, would probably be beneficial to ourselves and others –
“Live like it“
Except that I would prefix that phrase with something to make it like this –
When you are saved, according to what God’s word really says, live like it.
That fits nicely with what Jesus said –
Mt 5:14 “You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.”
Rob Bell Update
Here’s an update from Wikipedia
Bell and his wife moved from California to Grand Rapids to be close to family and on invitation to study under pastor Ed Dobson. He handled many of the preaching duties for the Saturday Night service at Calvary Church. Bell announced that he would be branching out on his own to start a new kind of community and he would call it “Mars Hill” after the Greek site where the apostle Paul told a group, “For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: TO AN UNKNOWN GOD. Now what you worship as something unknown I am going to proclaim to you.”
In February 1999, Bell founded Mars Hill Bible Church, with the church originally meeting in a school gym in Wyoming, Michigan. Within a year the church was given a shopping mall in Grandville, Michigan, and purchased the surrounding land. In July 2000 the 3,500 “grey chair” facility opened its doors. As of 2005, an estimated 11,000 people attend the two “gatherings” on Sundays at 9 and 11 AM.[full citation needed] As of March 2011, Sunday attendance numbered between 8,000 and 10,000. His teachings at Mars Hill inspired the popular “Love Wins” bumper sticker, and the congregation freely distributes these stickers after services.
In order to maintain balance in his life, Bell maintained his Fridays as a personal sabbath, where he did not allow contact by electronic means, and had all pastoral duties transferred to other Mars Hill pastors.
In the January 2007 issue of the magazine TheChurchReport.com, Bell was named No. 10 in its list of “The 50 Most Influential Christians in America” as chosen by their readers and online visitors.
In June 2011, Bell was named by Time Magazine as one of the “2011 Time 100”, the magazine’s annual list of the 100 most influential people in the world.
Bell stepped down from the church he founded on September 22, 2011 in order to pursue other areas to reach a broader audience. He later said that his Love Wins had led to a fallout with the congregation and forced him on a “search for a more forgiving faith.”
In July 2012 Bell held his first major event since leaving Mars Hill, speaking at the famous Viper Room night club in Los Angeles. Bell hosts conferences and workshops in Laguna Beach for “leaders, teachers, preachers, entrepreneurs, artists, pastors—anyone whose work involves creating something and then turning it loose in the world.”
There’s more – much more. I’ll probably end up doing a whole article on what Rob Bell has turned into, but for now – here’a an excerpt from an article talking about Rob and his wife –
But that is exactly what Rob Bell is calling for: Go with the culture, stay “relevant,” dismiss the outdated biblical evidence, and listen to your emotions.
Kristen, for her part, explained that, some churches are just not getting with the program: “There are churches who are moving forward,” she said, “and there are churches who are almost regressing and making it more of a battle.”
Chad Holtz Update
This is a Headline from The Huffington Post
Pastor Fired for Doubting Hell Now Believes in Hell Again
When I do the Rob Bell update, I’ll include Chad as Well.
It’s easy to get mad at God because of Hell. But we have to remember – no, we have to know that Hell wasn’t made for us. We also have to realize that we don’t go their without plenty of warnings from God – and from our own choice. Some go so far as to “condemn” God – without realizing what’s even going on.
This is an attempt to bring some beginnings of knowledge about God and Hell to people who may need it.
To take a deeper look, I invite you to check out Protected from the Bible – The Problem of Free Will