Ten Questions I Have for Christian Universalists

I have been studying hell for the past several months and wanted to share a few questions I have for those who say either there is no such thing as hell or that hell is a temporary place designed to bring us to God. I hope none of this comes across as uncaring. It is not intended to do that. These are just questions that have crossed my mind that I wonder how people who are of the anti-hell persuasion would answer. If anyone has an answer they feel is appropriate, please share. I am here to learn…that is why I am asking questions.

  1. If hell is there to correct us so that all ultimately end up in heaven, wouldn’t it have been a lot more humane for God to just stick us in hell the first time around rather than have us live this life and then have hell too?
  2. How do you teach pathways out of hell when scripture repeatedly teaches that there are no pathways out of hell (Luke 16:26) ?
  3. How can you teach both an eternal heaven and a temporary hell when the same language is used of both places often set side-by-side. If you teach a temporary hell why not teach a temporary heaven? At least be consistent.
  4. How can you teach an inclusive heaven but exclusive hell when scripture teaches the opposite (narrow and broad were Jesus’ words)?
  5. When you ask the same question that was asked of Jesus in Luke 13:23, “Lord, are only a few people going to be saved?” How can you come up with a different answer than Jesus but then claim Jesus has the same belief as you do? See 13:24ff
  6. How do you teach that people can pound on God’s door from hell and God allow them out of hell when Jesus laid out exactly that scenario and taught exactly what God would do given those circumstances (Luke 13:22-30) and it is opposite of Christian universalism?
  7. If there is no hell, why did Jesus die for our sins? Chad Holtz weighed in on this recently. His answer was in two parts:
    1. Jesus did not die to save us from an eternity in hell after death.  Jesus died because hell cannot stand the presence of God.   Our sin killed Christ.  All of us nailed him to the cross.”
    2. “The question is not, “Is there hell?”   The question is, “Does hell win?” – There are several problems with Chad’s line of reasoning here. This is framed all wrong. Scripture never postures hell against God. Scripture postures God against the forces of evil and darkness in the world. In fact, in Revelation 20 hell is a place used by God to judge death, sin, the devil, the beast, Hades and those not in the book of life and all are cast into hell. My question is, who is doing the casting? If it is God, then is hell God’s enemy or are sin, death, and Satan God’s enemies? Hell is not judged. Hell is a place of judgment. Matthew 25:41 seems to say that hell is prepared or created by God so you end up in one of those Luke 11:14-28 moments where people were accusing Jesus of casting out demons by the power of the devil. Jesus taught a house divided against itself won’t stand. That is the problem I have with the question “Does hell win” if scripture teaches that hell is something either God created and/or uses for his own purposes.
  8. Why do people make the hell issue a “God’s power issue”? It always seems people are trying to prove that the existence of hell and an all powerful God are mutually exclusive. If I am interpreting Revelation 20 accurately it seems to me God is the one who puts people in hell (as we also see in Matthew 25 and many other places). So people are in hell by the power of God. It is not that the existence of hell would prove God has any shortcoming in the power department.
  9. Why turn hell into something that we only experience here and now when that doesn’t have any scriptural basis at all? Are we just coming up with whatever we want to here or will the hell discussion actually include solid exegesis/interpretation?
  10. What questions do you have that could be put here as #10…I couldn’t have an un-catchy title that only had 9 things could I?

N.T. Wright Weighs in On Hell and Rob Bell

Josh Graves mentioned this link. The video there is only a few minutes long and he doesn’t really give a ton of answers but he does help frame the discussion a little (something Wright is always exceptional at). He does say he is not a universalist but wonders why people in America are so obsessed with hell. He says he gets that question from people over here all the time but rarely back in England. Sorry that I can’t embed this video.

NT Wright on Hell and Bell

Francis Chan – Erasing Hell

Much of the discussion of hell has been framed by trying to ask better questions. In this video, Chan asks some questions of his own that are relevant and helpful in shaping our perspective on keeping God in his proper place. We have to let God shape us and not the other way around. Chan says that when we get to difficult passages in the Bible it is important to remember that maybe God knows something that we don’t. I look forward to his new book coming out in July – Erasing Hell.

There are a few things that I find interesting in the current debate about hell.

  1. No one is questioning heaven. Jesus said he was preparing a place for us but he also said there was a place for those who disbelieve and are in rebellion. He separates sheep and goats, each to their own place. Much of the language about “heaven” also includes language about hell. If you question hell then why not question heaven?
  2. Revelation 20 is often taken to be so figurative that even the fiery torment forever and ever either is not forever and ever or is just a fire to purify the rebellious into heaven. If all will be saved, what about the devil? That passage mentions his judgment as well. Will the devil be saved too through his fiery judgment?
  3. I agree with Chan that there are some passages that don’t say what I thought and then other passages that weigh in on hell that I didn’t realize were there…can we honestly and objectively lay all the cards on the table and come to some solid conclusions?
  4. It seems some have a hard time with free will. Love requires a choice. Something forced is not love. If out of God’s perfect love he gives all a choice of who they will follow is it possible that all will eventually, if given enough time, choose him? That defies the very definition of choice. We either have choice or we don’t. Some are saying that all will eventually turn to God even if it is postmortem (what about Luke 16:26?).

HT Philip C

Velvet Elvis Movement Six – “New”

This is far and away the best chapter in the book to this point. Bell differentiates between the motivation of guilt vs. the motivation of knowing who we are and operating out of that knowledge. If you want to get people to memorize more verses, pray more, and check more checkboxes all you have to do is give people a little dose of guilt. If you want it to mean something and draw someone closer to God, remind them of who they are and how those things flow out of that identity.

This is an identity issue that must be addressed in our Bible classes, sermons, and conversations. We tell people if they want to be transformed they will study harder, pray more intensely, fast, and serve others. They do all those things and wonder why they are no closer to God than when they started. It doesn’t start with me and what I can do it starts with God – what he can do, has done and will do in the future. Because God has made us new we respond through prayer, study, obedience, etc…not because those things make us any closer to him, although they can and often do, but because that is who we are.

“I heard a teacher say that if people were taught more about who they are, they wouldn’t have to be told what to do. It would come naturally. When we see religious communities spending most of their time trying to convince people not to sin, we are seeing a community that has missed the point. The point isn’t sin management. The point is who we are now.” (V.E. 144).

I couldn’t have said it better myself. Because God has renewed all things we are faced with a choice. Do we trust that and claim that as our own or do we continue to chase our own confused view of what is really real? Bell concludes with some solid application of what it means to claim the renewal that God has already provided for the world, that is ultimately called heaven and what life is like if we live in rebellion, which is known as hell. Have we chosen heaven or hell in what we have lived out in our day to day lives? Do our actions identify us as people who know we are God’s or as people who claim an identity apart from God?