I’m very appreciative to Fox Carolina for the opportunity to give a reasoned, conservative Evangelical response to the “progressive” view being espoused by Rob Bell’s book “Love Wins”, and by Chad Holtz, the local pastor who was fired from his church for publicly stating his lack of belief in hell and his universalistic belief that everyone is somehow going to make it to heaven. I want to be careful not to come across as unreasonable or, frankly, kooky, as so many conservative evangelicals are portrayed by the media, and I appreciate the fact that they used statements that very clearly expressed what we believe about Scripture.
I also want to make very clear that I have nothing personal against either Bell or Holtz. I don’t hate them, as some will certainly accuse me of, but I do indeed loathe what they are teaching. They, under the guise of being men of God and teachers of Scripture, have allowed their own opinions, perspectives, and ideas to supersede the authority of that which they are charged with teaching. As one who is under the same charge they claim, it is my privilege and responsibility to “rightly divide the Word of truth” so that it might be understood as God intended, not as I think it best. It is for this reason that I stand so firmly against false teaching of this, and any, sort. Do they have the right to believe as they wish? Absolutely. But, as I said in the interview, one can only depart so far from Biblical Christianity before it is no longer appropriate to refer to oneself as a Christian.
The exclusivity of the claims of Christ–particularly, “I am the way, the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father except through Me” (John 14:6)–is a non-negotiable facet of Christianity. To suggest that salvation is attainable by any other means undermines the very foundation of what Christianity is. Further, if there is no hell, why is there any salvation at all? What are we being “saved” from? Why must we, as Jesus told the pharisee Nicodemus, be “born again” if we are to “see the kingdom of God” (John 3:3)? If there is no hell, Jesus’ death on the cross is the biggest waste of time in all of history. Some quotes from Holtz on Fox last night:
“Is there a place of eternal, conscious torment? No, I don’t believe that.”
“I don’t believe that God’s love, and God’s mercy, and God’s patience stops at the point of death”.
Let’s examine a parable Jesus relates of this very reality. We do not know whether this is a true story (Jesus, being fully God, would have the perspective to know and see this as it transpired) or merely an illustrative parable, but Jesus tells it as an authoritative principle. In chapter 16 of the Gospel According to Luke, Jesus tells of a rich man and a beggar named Lazarus (not the friend of Jesus who would be raised from the dead) who both die and go to very different final destinations. The poor man is carried to “Abraham’s bosom” (Luke 16:22), a phrase that refers to heaven, while the rich man is being punished and tormented in Hell (Luke 16:23). Jesus tells what transpires next: “And he cried out and said, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus so that he may dip the tip of his finger in water and cool off my tongue, for I am in agony in this flame.’ But Abraham said, ‘Child, remember that during your life you received your good things, and likewise Lazarus bad things; but now he is being comforted here, and you are in agony. And besides all this, between us and you there is a great chasm fixed, so that those who wish to come over from here to you will not be able, and that none may cross over from there to us.’ And he said, ‘Then I beg you, father, that you send him to my father’s house— for I have five brothers—in order that he may warn them, so that they will not also come to this place of torment.’ But Abraham said, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them.’ But he said, ‘No, father Abraham, but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent!’ But he said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be persuaded even if someone rises from the dead’” (Luke 16:24-31).
Jesus makes very plain here that death is indeed the dividing line of the point of decision. Once a person dies, their fate is sealed. To suggest, as Holtz clearly does, that God is somehow unloving by not allowing people to have “one last chance” is insulting to the offer of grace providing through the substitutionary atonement of Christ at the cross.
“Let’s not resort to labelling people, or condemning people, or dismissing people from our fellowship just because they might have the audacity to actually believe that God may just win in the end.”
Those who don’t want to be labelled generally have a good reason. False teachers never like being called out as such. I realize that some might accuse me of the same, saying that I am teaching some false religion taught by some false teacher claiming to be a false God. The difference here is that I am merely declaring what the authoritative text of my faith teaches. I am not claiming to be of that faith and then manipulating of ignoring the teachings thereof. You might not believe what I am teaching, but it certainly is not false doctrine within the context of the faith of Christianity and the relationship with God through Christ. Scripture makes very plain that those who corrupt its teaching are to be identified and set apart, not to be listened to. Jesus Himself said to “beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves” (Matthew 7:15). Paul, never one to shy away from conflict, said that false teachers present themselves as anything but: “And no wonder! For Satan himself transforms himself into an angel of light. Therefore it is no great thing if his ministers also transform themselves into ministers of righteousness, whose end will be according to their works” (2 Cor. 11:14-15).
The apostle Peter has some harsh words for those who claim to be men of God but twist and manipulate Scripture according to their own ideas and interests. He first identifies them, saying “there were also false prophets among the people, even as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Lord who bought them, and bring on themselves swift destruction” (2 Peter 2:1), and later referring to them as “wells without water, clouds carried by a tempest, for whom is reserved the blackness of darkness forever” (2 Peter 2:17). The “blackness of darkness” that Peter is talking about? That would be the hell Bell and Holtz don’t believe in.
Peter goes even further than merely “labelling” them by pointing out specifically the foolishness of turning from Biblical truth after having once recognized it: “While they promise them liberty, they themselves are slaves of corruption; for by whom a person is overcome, by him also he is brought into bondage. For if, after they have escaped the pollutions of the world through the knowledge of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled in them and overcome, the latter end is worse for them than the beginning. For it would have been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than having known it, to turn from the holy commandment delivered to them. But it has happened to them according to the true proverb: ‘A dog returns to his own vomit,’ and, ‘a sow, having washed, to her wallowing in the mire’” (2 Peter 2:19-22).
The apostle John also “labelled” false teachers: “Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits, whether they are of God; because many false prophets have gone out into the world. By this you know the Spirit of God: Every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is of God, and every spirit that does not confess that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is not of God. And this is the spirit of the Antichrist, which you have heard was coming, and is now already in the world” (1 John 4:1-3).
What you believe, and what you teach, does matter. If your child’s math teacher instructs them that 2 times 2 equals 6, wouldn’t you identify the teacher’s error? If their science teacher taught that gravity wasn’t real, wouldn’t you label that as erroneous? If their social studies teacher taught them that Karl Marx was the first president of the United States, wouldn’t you demand that they be reprimanded for the error, if not outright dismissed from their position? James, the half-brother of Jesus, said “let not many of you become teachers, knowing that we shall receive a stricter judgment” (James 3:1). Labelling, condemning, and dismissing false teachers is very clearly taught as the responsibility of faithful, vigilant believers. And that is why, as long as false teachers corrupt the Word of God into a twisted shadow of the truth, we must be vigilant and faithful to defend the truth. God has won, through the grace, love, and forgiveness shown at the cross, that “whosoever believes in Him would not perish but have everlasting life” (John 3:16). I pray that Bell and Holtz would see that from God’s perspective and not their own.