The third chapter of Bell’s Love Wins is the one that got the media to pay attention and got conservative pastors to tweet farewell messages. Only this chapter is just like a teaser, before he gets to the soft universalism that got everyone jacked up.
What I appreciate about this chapter is that Bell clearly describes hell as a present as well as a future reality. If hell is separation from God, then it’s a reality that some people are currently living, and a reality that some people will live in later.
He lists all of the Scriptures he claims refer to hell in the entire Bible, though conservatives would claim there were more. He also emphasizes the teachings of Jesus on hell, more so that the teachings of the Old Testament and the rest of the New Testament. This isn’t necessarily bad, but it does reveal a method in his treatment of Scripture. One great paragraph he notes who Jesus tends to talk about hell with,
“Jesus did not use hell to try and compel ‘heathens’ and ‘pagans’ to believe in God, so they wouldn’t burn when they die. He talked about hell to very religious people to warn them about the consequences of straying from their God-given calling and identity to show the world God’s love.
Bell also treats parables like parables…mostly. He brings up the story of Lazarus and the Rich Man, which is the one that is always brought up when people talk about hell. When conservatives talk about it they emphasize the parts of the story that help them, which is exactly the same method of reading the Bible that Bell uses. It’s almost silly to me when people try to base doctrine on parables. Weak.
This is the section of the book, I think, where Bell starts to make some leaps in his thinking. This makes for fun theology, but not necessarily correct theology. Of course, there’s more fun saved for the next chapter.