I finally gave in and read Love Wins, Rob Bell's controversial new book on heaven and hell. For those who don't follow intramural fights among evangelicals, Bell has come under fire for suggesting that God might not send anybody to hell. Or rather, that the opportunity to repent continues to exist even after death, and that given the time involved (eternity) and the persuasiveness of God's love, that like the million immortal monkeys with typewriters who eventually pound out Hamlet, it's possible that eventually everybody will be saved. (BTW--this is a terrible oversimplification of what he says, or rather implies, and is more-or-less from the perspective of the critics.)
I am of two minds about this whole tempest in a teapot. I'm not a huge Bell fan. I find his style grating--everything from his haircut to his glasses to the font he uses in his books screams out "Look at me! I'm edgy and cool!" The selective leaking of some of the more provocative passages from the book generated a bunch of buzz, which of course translates to more attention for Bell. And he is very careful to never actually SAY anything that can be nailed down. That gives him the cover of being able to say, "I was just asking the question" without ever owning up to an answer. What's more, the topic itself isn't even particularly original. I much prefer C.S. Lewis' The Great Divorce.
That said, I find my reaction to Bell almost perfectly mirrors my reaction to Sarah Palin. As I have written elsewhere, I am not a Palinista, and would prefer she not run for president. If she does, I will almost certainly not vote for her in the primaries. I think she is a genius at self-promotion, but that her very skill at that distracts from a message that less-controversial messengers might deliver better. BUT... the people who mindlessly hate her force me into her camp. I find myself supporting (or at least defending) Palin, if only because I really can't stand the likes of Andrew Sullivan, Bill Maher, David Letterman, and so forth. I find myself half-smiling at the idea of her running (even winning), just because it would possibly cause Maher's head to explode on live TV.
And so it is with Bell. The sorts of "evangelical leaders" who have pretty much written him out of Christendom are of a sort that I would say have magnetic personalities--they repel me. Attacking a book one hasn't read, ripping quotes out of context, jousting at a veritable army of straw men--those things offend me even more than Bell's suspect theology. (If it even IS Bell's theology.)
Perhaps later I'll weigh in with my own views on heaven, hell, and salvation. The very short version is that I have many of the same questions Bell does, and am even willing to entertain the possibility that God can and will choose to act in a way that conflicts with what I perceive as orthodoxy. After all, He is God, and I most definitely am not. But I am also satisfied that whatever He does, it will be both merciful AND just, in a way that I am not able to do. And I also keep coming back to Romans 6:1 (Should we sin more, that grace may abound? By no means."). So I do not presume upon God's goodness or mercy, for myself or others.