Darkening the sun
Dr. Michael Youssef, an Anglican clergyman, defends the traditional view of hell in a recent article on Rob Bell and his controversial book Love Wins, at Love has already won (OneNewsNow.com). Dr. Youssef wrote:
As an Anglican pastor, I bear scars from the war with “universalism” inside the Episcopal Church. I also have endured the battering of Bishop John Spong and his effort to “rescue the gospel from fundamentalists.” And when I saw‘s new book Love Wins, I found myself quoting former Yankee great Yogi Berra: “It’s like déjà vu all over again.”
I’m the kind of person who detests jumping through hoops, playing mental gymnastics and arguing about what the definition of “is” is. That’s why I’m not going to challenge the book point by point as wonderful scholars like Dr. Al Mohler have done. Instead, I’ll deal with the big picture in the larger, even global, context of this “new suit” placed on an old heresy.
A number of years ago, when some young people representing the sad and lost segment of the church told me how wonderful Rob Bell’s videos were, I became curious. Even back then, I felt nauseous when I watched some of these videos. I saw just how troubled this young man Rob Bell is and how he, in his effort to create a name for himself, began to trouble weak believers — causing so much harm to his soul and theirs.
Asking questions for the sake of asking questions, not in a desire to find true answers, is indeed troubling. Even then, I felt that Bell’s questions were quite similar to those of the serpent in the Garden of Eden: “Did God really say that?” He was more anxious to share his own doubts than to arrive at the truth. I felt that Mr. Bell and his equally confusing mentor, Brian McLaren, are deeply entrenched in the school of Bishop Spong from the Episcopal Church — but with one major exception: they call themselves evangelicals.
With Love Wins, what Rob Bell managed to do (once he came out of the closet of just-asking-questions-for-asking-questions’ sake) is reveal to us that he is a universalist pure and simple. Just like the author of The Shack did before him, he (for the sake of misleading larger numbers) has dressed his brand of universalism in a new suit, bringing it up to date with fashionable clothes that could easily deceive emotionally bound, mindlessly challenged and unsuspecting young Christians.
In many ways, Rob Bell’s book puts an end to the nonsense of the “I’m only raising questions” and “We all should be asking questions” gibberish.
By telling us that hell is empty, he finally came clean and revealed his modern-day modification of Bishop Spong’s universalism. Sadly, this sleight of hand has and will mislead many young people, for whom I truly grieve.
The pathetic part about this claptrap is that Mr. Bell, in his effort to draw some cheap sympathy for his heretical views (much as Bishop Spong did with his “rescuing” the gospel from fundamentalists), made himself a martyr for his blasphemous view of God and His eternal plan of salvation.
Which view is blasphemous? People who mistreat horses, or who are cruel to them, beat them, etc, are considered guilty of crimes or misdemeanors in most states and western countries. People acting abusively to others are locked up; some are considered insane. Is God insane?
Hmm.. does Dr. Youssef really think that rejecting or questioning the idea that God tortures people in hell for eternity is blasphemous?
Dr. Youssef continues:
As Bell puts it, anyone who disagrees with him is “defaming” him. Those who attack his false teaching are attacking him because he “does not articulate matters of faith as they do.”
This is the oldest trick in the book. You grab someone’s finger, poke your eye with it, and say, “Ouch!”
His biggest argument wonders how can a “great God” send people to hell. As kids would say: “Duh.” God does not send people to hell; people send themselves to hell. God is too respecting of human beings not to give them a choice.
But who made hell? According to the John 1:3, “All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made.” On which day was it made? Why was it created, if indeed such a place was created? People don’t “send themselves to hell;” no one asked to be born!
Dr. Youssef continues:
I want to think about this twisted logic.
Heaven is all about Jesus. So, the people who hated Jesus — rejected Jesus, reviled Jesus — are going to be forced against their own will by that great God to spend eternity with Jesus? To them, that would be very hell itself.
Indeed, the scriptures are called a “fire.”
The sinners in Zion are afraid; fearfulness hath surprised the hypocrites. Who among us shall dwell with the devouring fire? who among us shall dwell with everlasting burnings?
Flawed teachings are consumed by the fire of the gospel! That includes the doctrine of unending infernal torment of unbelievers, an idea employed in ancient times by rulers as a means of controlling the people. It was imported into Christian theology by Augustine.
This was foretold by the prophets, when they said the sun would be turned to darkness. The sun represents the gospel, the promise to Abraham that in his seed all nations will be blessed. The sun clothes the woman in Revelation 12:1, who represents the church.
Dr. Youssef continues:
Of course Bell picks and chooses what part of Bible history is acceptable to his warped logic; that’s why he says that some things in the Bible nullify others. This appears to be akin to the Islamic method of interpreting and explaining all of the contradictory passages in the Koran. The way they get around this is the same as Rob Bell. In Arabic they call it “Nassick WA mansoock”; later revelations cancel earlier ones. It’s not surprising that many people love Bell. After all, he created a new Christianity that eases their conscience.
Throughout history, God has offered humanity a choice: His way or theirs. Each choice bears its own consequences. Rob Bell chose his way. To change this is to impose on God Mr. Bell’s ideas of what His love and justice should look like.
Imagine a school headmaster saying to his students, “It doesn’t matter if you come to school on time or not, study or not, keep the rules or not. All students will get an A.” That’s the kind of gospel Bell and his emerging-church cohorts are establishing — spiritual anarchism.
I think another tragedy of Love Wins is Bell’s effort to marry a popular political agenda, articulated by President Obama as “spreading the wealth,” and apply it to the Christian faith. I’m sure Mr. Obama loves this kind of gospel: those who work hard should be equal to those who are idle — in a sanctified kind of a way. Sadly, what Rob Bell and the emerging-church movement is preaching imposes a brand of socialism on the Bible, and in so doing, they twist every text to make it fit their theory.
Just about every parable Jesus told has to do with those who obey and those who do not. Evangelicals did not come up with the words, “Their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched,” (Mark 9:48 NIV) when describing hell; these are Jesus’ words.
A maggot that does not die turns into a fly!
The fire that is not quenched is God’s word.
Dr. Youssef continues:
For a man who was born in Africa, I came to the same conclusion about heaven and hell as Western Christians. Imagine that!
Augustine of Hippo was from Africa; he was responsible for importing pagan ideas about unending infernal torment of the souls of unbelievers into the western church, that is represented by sun being turned to darkness in several prophecies.
The sun is symbolic of the gospel. The woman in heaven, in Revelation 12:1, is “clothed with the sun.” She represents the church. I suggest the sun turning to darkness pictures the gospel being obscured by false teachings. In the early centuries of the church era, pagan superstition and philosophy was introduced into the church. Plato’s theory, that man has an immortal soul, was merged with the teachings of the apostles, by the Alexandrian scholars Clement and Origen, and others. St. Augustine, who had been involved with the Manichean sect before his conversion to Christianity, elevated the pagan idea of the unending infernal torment of unbelievers into a church dogma. These and other flawed doctrines obscured the gospel, and the promise of a resurrection from the dead, and this was pictured in the prophecy of Joel by the darkening of the sun. [Joel 2:31]
Dr. Youssef continues:
Where did you get the funny idea that hell exists, you may ask? The text of the sacred Word of God. For to deny hell as a real place with real people in it who reject Christ’s gracious salvation is to deny the very words of Jesus in Luke 16 where He told us about the rich man and Lazarus.
Not only that, but this heresy makes total mockery of Jesus coming from heaven, dying on a cross and rising again.
If suffering “unending infernal torment” was what Jesus saves us from, then that is the fate that he would need to have suffered. His death on the cross would have been insufficient. He would still be down there!
Jesus spoke of Gehenna, not hell, except in the parable of Lazarus and the rich man, where the word he used was Hades. In Matthew 5:22, 29, 30; 10:28; 18:9; 23:15, 33; Mark 9:43, 45, 47; Luke 12:5, the KJV translators interpreted the word Gehenna as hell, based on their traditions and superstitions. That interpretation is flawed.
Gehenna has a special connection with Jerusalem, the holy city. The earthly city of Jerusalem had a garbage dump, called Gehenna, which was a valley on the southeast of the city, outside the wall. Jesus used the word Gehenna figuratively to refer to the fate of those considered unfit for the kingdom of God.
His use of Gehenna implies that his words apply especially to Christians and those who hear the gospel, rather than the world, and the nations, who had not heard the gospel. The reason is that one has to be in Jerusalem to be cast out of it.
Jesus said, “Ye are the light of the world. A city that is set on an hill cannot be hid.” [Matthew 5:14] The city he refers to here is not the literal, earthly Jerusalem, but the heavenly one, the church.
Similarly, he referred to the heavenly Jerusalem when he said:
Again, ye have heard that it hath been said by them of old time, Thou shalt not forswear thyself, but shalt perform unto the Lord thine oaths:
But I say unto you, Swear not at all; neither by heaven; for it is God’s throne:
Nor by the earth; for it is his footstool: neither by Jerusalem; for it is the city of the great King.
To be cast into Gehenna implies having to endure the judgment, which those who are worthy will escape.
And if thy right eye causeth thee to stumble, pluck it out, and cast it from thee: for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not thy whole body go into hell [i.e., Gehenna].
And if thy right hand causeth thee to stumble, cut it off, and cast it from thee: for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not thy whole body go into hell [i.e., Gehenna].
Few people believe that Jesus meant to pluck out one’s eye literally, or cut off one’s foot literally. How many Christians have plucked out their own right eye? How many have literally cut off their own right hand, or right foot? Few or none. But think about what right eye represents. Jesus was likely referring to the way we view things; for example preterism views all prophecy as fulfilled in 70 AD. Those whose right eye is preterism have a twisted outlook on scripture.
Some need to rid themselves of their belief in preterism. It needs to be plucked out, as if it was their right eye. Then they can begin to understand. And similarly, those who believe in dispensationalism misinterpret prophecy, and the promises of God, which they say apply to ethnic Jews. Typically, they claim that much of the book of Revelation applies to Jews in a future seven years, which of course is untrue. People whose spiritual vision has been impaired by belief in dispensationalism, who are deceived by it, also need to somehow get rid of it, and pluck it out, as if it were their right eye, so that they can begin to understand. Of course this is not easy to do.
How does a person’s right foot cause offence? It alludes to their walk, the way they are headed. “The highway of the upright is to depart from evil.” [Proverbs 16:17]
The right hand alludes to our works. For example using the right hand on the keyboard to type things that are published on the Internet is work. If a person’s work is evil, lies, defamation, bearing false witness, etc., such things are evil “works,” that could possibly cause them to be disqualified from the kingdom of God. Christ’s warning applies to all Christians.
Dr. Youssef continues:
It mocks not only the entire plan of salvation that God articulated to Adam and Eve in Genesis 3:15, but also the prophets’ prophesying of Jesus’ coming as the only Redeemer of mankind for those who believe in Him.
I understand Rob Bell’s desire not to “traumatize” people. Believe me, I have never preached on hell without weeping, even sobbing. I don’t want to see anyone, not even my worst enemy, go to hell. I do, however, wish Bell would think of the traumatization of the many persecuted, tortured, imprisoned and killed Christians who are dying for their faith. I suppose Mr. Bell would tell them to abandon Christ and embrace the religion of their persecutors, because after all, everyone is going to be in heaven together.
What kind of justice says, “It does not matter what you do, what sins you commit and whether or not you reject God’s gracious offer of salvation here and now; everyone will get off scot free”? The fact is that love already won when God so loved that He gave so that whosoever believes (in this life) will be saved. This is a clear indication that His love, not Rob Bell’s perception of it, has already won the day.
The sun turning to darkness was one of the “signs” that Jesus referred to, which signal the day of the Lord.
The moon turning to blood seems to refer to the Jews and the Mosaic legislation, and a wide-spread aversion to things Jewish, antisemitism, and antinomianism, which term comes from two Greek words, anti, meaning “against”; and nomos, meaning “law.”
The reason for this is that when Jacob interpreted the dream of Joseph in Genesis 37:10, the moon was identified with Rachel, Joseph’s mother. In Matthew 2:18, where an Old Testament prophecy of Rachel weeping for her children is interpreted, Rachel was identified with the Jews. The moon reflects the light of the sun, and this is the role of the Mosaic legislation, and of the history of the Jews in the Old Testament; they provide “shadows,” and types, and examples for the church. [1 Corinthians 10:1-11]
The earthly Jerusalem was identified with Sinai, and with Hagar, who was handmaid to Sarah, Abraham’s wife. Sarah is identified with the heavenly city, Jerusalem above. [Galatians 4:24-31] Paul said, “So then, brethren, we are not children of the bondwoman, but of the free.” [Galatians 4:31]
The sun turning to darkness, (distortion of the gospel) and the moon to blood, (antinomianism, and antisemitism) are “signs” in the sun and moon. What about the signs in the stars? One third of the stars are described being drawn by the tail of the dragon, and cast to the earth, in Revelation 12:4. They represent the saints who are deceived by false teachers, and abandon their faith, and return to the world. There are many examples of this, in previous centuries, as well as today. When Christians embrace false teachings, and when we see apostasy, and all that goes with it, that is one of the “signs” in the stars that Jesus mentioned.
And there shall be signs in the sun, and in the moon, and in the stars; and upon the earth distress of nations, with perplexity; the sea and the waves roaring;
Men’s hearts failing them for fear, and for looking after those things which are coming on the earth: for the powers of heaven shall be shaken.
What are the “powers of heaven”?
Paul spoke of “powers in heavenly places.”
Unto me, who am less than the least of all saints, is this grace given, that I should preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ;
And to make all men see what is the fellowship of the mystery, which from the beginning of the world hath been hid in God, who created all things by Jesus Christ:
To the intent that now unto the principalities and powers in heavenly places might be known by the church the manifold wisdom of God,
Evidently, offices in the church are “principalities and powers.” And Paul said the saints wrestle against spiritual powers, “the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.” [Ephesians 6:12]
Rob Bell, Love Wins: A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived (HarperOne, 2011).