Is there a Hell? A Symposium by Leaders of Religious Thought. The only notable contributor whose name I knew was FB Meyer. Published by Cassell in 1913.
Here are the chapter headings:
- The History of Hell
- What is Hell Like?
- Hell and the early Fathers
- The Certainty of Hell
- The justice of Hell
- The absurdity of a material hell
- Making the punishment fit the crime
- No warrant for eternal damnation
- Hell that is man-made
- Hell a philosophical necessity
- Hell through the love of God
- Hell completes the universe
- The Catholic Standpoint
- Hell as conceived by the Jews
- A socialist’s view
- A defence of the Hell of the Bible
1913. Let that date sink in for a moment. Nearly 100 years ago they were debating hell. Before the internet, before TV. Before Rob Bell’s grandmother got her freaky painting (you have to read the book), before two world wars, before even sliced bread for heaven’s sake – there were debates about the nature of hell. Evangelicals then did not agree and funnily enough, they still don’t. Plus ça change.
I’ll try and post some quotes because it’s absolutely fascinating to realise that in some senses 100 years later we’re having the exact same argument. There are some interesting common themes and differences amongst all the contributors. For most heaven and hell is a spiritual and not material place, so in heaven we are disembodied souls and hell likewise. Even defenders of hell struggle with the idea of God ‘tormenting’ souls or conceiving it as active punishment. A common refrain is that heaven is a state not a place. We hear the observation that hell is not preached much in sermons and behind all of the questions from all of the authors is the one big question that Rob Bell asks:
‘What is God like?’
A few observations. It becomes harder to argue that there is one classical, historical, undebated evangelical view of hell. Not all of the contributors to Is there a hell? were evangelicals but a good many were. There have been, there are and there will be anxieties, questions, doubts and uncertainties about hell. We should get over that, allow there to be space for both the questions and some degree of latitude in the answers because it seems to me that good faithful Christians have not come to the same conclusion. I’m not at all sure that hell should be an issue of division for us.
Rob Bell is not saying anything new, we’ve been here before – we can handle this debate better. One good example of a gracious response is this quickly published book by Michael Wittmer (HT: Challies).
- Adrian Warnock has begun a series of responses to Rob Bell on his blog, defending the more traditional view.
- This debate now has a name. Apparently there are now the new universalists who to my ears sound uncannily like the old ones
- I very much value the questions Dave Bish would like to ask Rob Bell