At least now we know what Rob Bell thinks about hell.

LOVE WINS. from Rob Bell on Vimeo.

I am eager to read the book, not to pick a fight (though sometimes we need to fight, and this is one of those times), but because a book like this from a prominent pastor like this needs a response, many responses. We should be thankful for the clarity, but saddened by the content.

In the meantime, we must remember why God’s wrath is necessary to make sense of the Bible, the cross, and our growth in godliness.

We need the doctrine of eternal punishment. Time and time again in the New Testament we find that understanding divine justice is essential to our sanctification. Believing in God’s judgment actually helps us look more like Jesus. In short, we need the doctrine of the wrath of God.

First, we need God’s wrath to keep us honest about evangelism. Paul reasoned with Felix about righteousness, self-control, and the coming judgment (Acts 24:25). We need to do the same. Without the doctrine of hell, we are prone to get involved in all sorts of important God-honoring things, but neglect the one thing that matters for all eternity, urging sinners to be reconciled to God.

Second, we need God’s wrath in order to forgive our enemies. The reason we can forgo repaying evil for evil is because we trust the Lord’s promise to repay the wicked. Paul’s logic is sound. “Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: ‘It is mine to avenge; I will repay,’ says the Lord” (Rom. 12:19). The only way to look past our deepest hurts and betrayals is to rest assured that every sin against us has been paid for on the cross and or will be punished in hell. We don’t have to seek vigilante justice, because God will be our just judge.

Third, we need God’s wrath in order to risk our lives for Jesus’ sake. The radical devotion necessary to suffer for the word of God and the testimony of Jesus comes, in part, from the assurance we have that God will vindicate us in the end. That’s why the martyrs under the throne cry out “How long, Sovereign Lord, holy and true, until you judge the inhabitants of the earth and avenge our blood?” (Rev. 6:10) They paid the ultimate price for their faith, but their blood stained cries will be answered one day. Their innocence will be established when God finally judges their persecutors.

Fourth, we need God’s wrath in order to live holy lives. Paul warns us that God cannot be mocked. We will reap what we sow. We are spurred on to live a life of purity and good deeds by the promised reward for obedience and the promised curse for disobedience. If we live to please the flesh, we will reap destruction from God. But if we live to please the Spirit, we will reap eternal life (Gal. 6:6-7). Sometimes ministers balk at the thought of motivating people with the threat of eternal punishment. But wasn’t this Jesus’ approach when he said “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell” (Matt. 10:28)? Sometimes we need to literally scare the hell out of people.

Fifth, we need God’s wrath in order to understand what mercy means. Divine mercy without divine wrath is meaningless. Only when we know that we were objects of wrath (Eph. 2:3), stood condemned already (John 3:18), and would have faced hell as God’s enemies were it not for undeserved mercy (Rom. 5:10), can we sing from the heart “Amazing grace, how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me!”

Sixth, we need God’s wrath in order to grasp how wonderful heaven will be. Jonathan Edwards is famous (or infamous) for his sermon “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.” It’s still read in American Literature classes, usually as a caricature of the puritanical spirit of colonial New England. But few people realize that Edwards also preached sermons like “Heaven is a World of Love.” Unlike most of us, Edwards saw in vivid colors the terror of hell and the beauty of heaven. We can’t get a striking picture of one without the other. That’s why the depiction of the heavenly New Jerusalem also contains a warning to the cowardly, unbelieving, vile, immoral, idolaters, and liars whose place is in “the fiery lake of burning sulfur” (Rev. 21:8). It’s unlikely we will long for our final salvation if we don’t know what we are saved from.

Seventh, we need the wrath of God in order to be motivated to care for our impoverished brothers and sisters. We all know the saying that Christians are so heavenly minded they are of no earthly good. The idea is that if all we think about are heaven and hell we’ll ignore ministries of compassion and social justice. But what better impetus for social justice than Jesus’ sober warning that if we fail to care for the least of our brothers we will go away to eternal punishment (Matt. 25:31-46)? The wrath of God is a motivator for us to show compassion to others, because without love, John says, we have no eternal life, and if we don’t share our material possessions with those in need we have no love (1 John 2:17).

Eighth, we need God’s wrath in order to be ready for the Lord’s return. We must keep the lamps full, the wicks trimmed, the houses clean, the vineyard tended, the workers busy, and the talents invested lest we find ourselves unprepared for the day of reckoning. Only when we fully believe in the coming wrath of God and tremble at the thought of eternal punishment will we stay awake, keep alert, and be prepared for Jesus to come again and judge the living and the dead.

Excerpted from Why We’re Not Emergent.

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319 thoughts on “To Hell With Hell”

  1. Carlisle Wick says:

    I hope by now you have actually read the book, since you have already written your review.

  2. lidia frança says:

    Como ficaremos alertas se não corremos perigo? A Bíblia nos diz que devemos vigiar por quê? É preciso desmacarar essas falácias.

  3. Steve Tollestrup says:

    Kevin, I don’t need the idea of God’s wrath for any of that. Those issues I hold to daily through Confidence in God’s love.

  4. David Blackmore says:

    Methinks one could exchange the word wrath for love and have the same result

  5. Marge says:

    Where is the love and grace of God in this, Kevin? If God’s wrath is what motivates you to do the things you do, I feel sorry for you. May you live more aware of His great love for you.

  6. Albert Einstein says:

    Here’s the thing, you are a tiny, tiny, tiny man. Just as Rob Bell is. Compared to the God of the universe… you are absolutely miniscule. Maybe you have read lots of scripture, and maybe you are a big pastor known by many people, but you will be as naked before God as any of us will be. As much as you want to claim that scripture is your only authority, your personality, experiences, opinions, world view and many other factors shape your understanding. NO one reads scripture objectively. Besides, is a persons salvation based on the authority of scripture in their life? I do not deny or disagree with the doctrine of God’s wrath. I do however disagree with pretty much everything you have said about it being the motivation which only goes to prove my point that it’s impossible to be objective. I do not need God’s wrath in any way, shape or form to motivate me. I actually think it’s a terrible motivator. But see, that’s my opinion. It very well may be a motivator for some! I think God has wired us all differently, and based on our life experiences, we are motivated and mover by different things. That is an important thing to remember! I am a fan of yours, and I am a fan of Rob Bells. I’m not a fan of the idea that all of this is black and white. God’s clearly way more complex than that. At the end of the day, despite all the controversies, unity is the most important. That’s how people will know that Jesus was the son of God!!! UNITY! John 17 says this! Lower your weapons…. God’s in control.

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Kevin DeYoung


Kevin DeYoung is senior pastor of University Reformed Church (RCA) in East Lansing, Michigan, near Michigan State University. He and his wife Trisha have six young children. You can follow him on Twitter.

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