Dear sisters and brothers!
The controversy spurred by Rob Bell’s recent book, Love Wins, is continuing, in some Christian circles. I haven’t read it yet, but the argument it started is less about the book than about the simple question of whether a Christian (and especially a pastor) is required to believe in hell, or not.
The flap has spun out into United Methodist circles as seminarian & student pastor Chad Holtz was removed from the pastorate of his North Carolina parish after writing that he doesn’t believe in hell. I don’t know Chad’s future with the United Methodist Church, but I know he has a pastor’s heart and a keen mind; in my opinion, he’d be a better pastor than most of us of any denomination.
About believing in hell: “believe in” is a funny phrase, isn’t it?
- Sometimes “I believe in” means “I believe that something exists.” I believe in the rubber-band on my desk. I believe it exists. That is a very, very trivial belief. Some people “believe in” God that way: they believe that God exists, but this belief doesn’t make any significant difference in their lives. That is also a relatively trivial belief. (The Epistle of James says even devils believe that God exists!)
- And sometimes, “I believe in” means “I trust my life to.” This kind of believing has a more familiar name, Faith. This is Christian belief. It’s not about believing a doctrine, it’s not about believing that something exists or doesn’t exist, it’s about trusting in the object of your belief – for Christians, trusting God – with your life.
“So, pastor Wes, do you believe in hell?”
No. I believe in God. I believe in Jesus Christ. I believe in the Holy Spirit. I believe in the Church. I believe in the indwelling spirit and image of God in every person living. I believe in you.