First let me respond to the recent Richard Mouw article: The Orthodoxy of Rob Bell, Christian Post, March 20, 1011.
He begins by saying that he agrees with Bell, and he does. But the fact that he agrees with Bell does NOT relieve the problems. He said, “Suppose … we go up to someone and tell them that God loves them and sent Jesus to die for their sins. Accept Jesus right now, we say, because if ten minutes from now you die without accepting this offer God will punish you forever in the fires of hell. What kind of God are we presenting to the person?”
This is indicative of the problem because this kind of presentation of the gospel is NOT biblical. I know that the Evangelical Church has been using it for a long time, but that does not make it biblical. The problem is in the way that God is depicted in this presentation. Nowhere in the Bible is God depicted as giving people the choice of Christ or hell. This will be difficult for Bell or Mouw to understand because it does not fit with their understanding of God/Scripture. Nonetheless, be a sport and try to understand what I’m saying.
The assumption behind this kind of gospel presentation is that people are in a kind of neutral position in that they are neither hell bound nor heaven bound until they make the choice between Christ and hell. The assumption is that their destiny depends upon their choice between Christ and hell. But this is not the way that Scripture presents the gospel. So, whatever follows in this line of reasoning is equally unbiblical because it is a response to a false assumption.
But, you might say, the ultimate biblical issue is Christ or hell — and I agree that it is. But it is not that people are somehow free to choose between Christ and hell as if they have equal access to either choice. Rather, the Bible says that ALL people are already destined for hell because of Adam’s sin. People don’t have to choose to go to hell because that is already their ultimate destination. No choice is involved regarding hell. Hell cannot be avoided apart from Christ. So, people are not free to choose between Christ and hell because hell is already their predetermined and unavoidable destination, apart from Christ. Christ should not be presented as an option until they agree and understand that they are already going to hell if they continue as they are. God’s damnation and hell are the context of the gospel. Christ cannot be correctly understood apart from that context!
God is not presenting people with the choice between Christ and hell. Rather, people are already on the train to hell and Christ has come to rescue them. There are not two choices: Christ or hell. There is only one choice: Christ. Yes, it is true that the failure to make this choice will result in hell, but it is not true that people are in a position to objectively choose between Christ or hell. God is not going to punish people for not choosing Christ. Rather, God is punishing people for Adam’s sin. That is water under the proverbial bridge. That punishment has already been decided. That judgment has already been made. All people are already hell bound, period.
God, then sent Jesus Christ to rescue those who will believe. God is not a monster who punishes people for not choosing Jesus. Rather, God is a just judge who has judged Adam and all of humanity for sin. Sinners should be punished, so God is not a monster for punishing sinners. God is to be praised for His justice!
But God is also merciful. So, He sent Jesus ….
The problem is that the way that the gospel is presented in the Evangelical Christ or hell scenario is not the way that the Bible frames the situation. Bell is simply an honest person who has believed that this kind of Evangelical presentation is accurate. If it is, then he is right to proceed as he does — but it isn’t!
Mouw goes on: “What kind of God are we presenting to the person?” He understands that there is something wrong with the presentation of God, but wants to adjust various biblical teachings to correct it rather than correcting the presentation itself. He is willing to change traditional doctrines rather than changing the gospel presentation model because (I think) that he is committed to an Arminian viewpoint that values human choice above all else.
He continues, “Suppose we told someone that their human father has a wonderful gift for them, offered out of love for them-and then we add that, by the way, if they reject the gift that same father will torment them as long as they live. What would we think of such a father?” Here he uses a human model of father to judge the biblical presentation of God as Father. Again, this is NOT the way that God is presented in the Bible, and to suggest that it is demeans God’s character. He is applying human criteria to judge God.
Mouw said, “In a book I wrote several years ago defending the basics of a Calvinist perspective…” This could not possibly be true because there is no evidence that he understands the Calvinist perspective in this article. He obviously thinks that he does, but no actual Calvinist will.
He then cites Billy Graham to bolster his position. And Graham does bolster it. Gram said, “Those are decisions only the Lord will make. It would be foolish for me to speculate on who will be there and who won’t … I don’t want to speculate about all that. I believe the love of God is absolute. He said he gave his son for the whole world, and I think he loves everybody regardless of what label they have.”
Graham is right in saying that people are foolish to speculate about who will or won’t be in heaven or hell. That is God’s decision, not ours. However, the Bible does not say that God loves every individual. It does suggest that God loves all believers, of course. Does God have enemies? Are there people who hate God? Of course, Jesus did tell us to love our enemies, but does this mean that God loves His enemies? Perhaps.
If so, it means that God is willing to send people to hell as an expression of His love for humanity. I know that this will trouble many people, but try to understand what I mean — from my perspective. There is no problem with God loving believers, so the problem comes with His loving unbelievers. How can damnation and hell be a loving response to unbelievers? It is NOT. Okay. Got that? From the unbelievers’ perspective damnation and hell are not judgments of love. They are judgments of justice, just punishments for real sin. However, punishment for sin issues out of God’s love for humanity.
A father who does not punish his son for his son’s disobedience is not a loving father. God chastens those He loves. He loves humanity, so unrepentant unbelievers are punished so that they can be object lessons for humanity’s benefit. Humanity, the object of God’s love, can then learn from such object lessons about the dangers of sin and disobedience. Such lessons issue out of God’s love for humanity.
And who will learn such lessons? Believers. Believers can benefit from such lessons, and particularly as they are deciding whether or not they are believers.