Two Comments On The Love Wins Debate

I just watched the following video debate between UK blogger Adrian Warnock and Rob Bell. I commend it to you all. Adrian manages to get Rob to be less jello-like for brief moments in the exchange. See my comments below:

1) Bell calls Warnock out for his understanding of ‘eternal’ (aionion). In Matthew 25:46 Jesus invites the sheep to eternal life and the goats are sent to eternal punishment. Bell sees the goats’ experience as not being eternal but a temporary “period of pruning,” “a time of trimming,” or an “intense period of correction.” Bell says this is one possible way to read the phrase aion of kolazo in Matthew 25:46. Mike Wittmer responds:

However, the Greek text does not actually say “aion of kolazo,” but rather “kolasin aionion.” Bell’s phrase, “aion of kolazo,” literally means “age of I punish/ prune.” Unless we assume that Jesus’ grammar was very poor, it’s difficult to imagine him saying this. The phrase Jesus actually uses, “kolasin aionion,” refers to a period of pruning or punishment that lasts longer than a single age, or aion. It lasts through all the ages, which is why Jesus uses the adjectival form aionion. Even if you don’t know Greek, it’s not hard to figure out that Jesus is speaking of “eternal punishment.” As I mentioned above, the cursed goats are cast “into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels” (v. 41). Unless “the devil and his angels” are heading to hell for a temporary time of correction, it’s safe to assume that “eternal punishment” in verse 46 means what English Bibles say it means.

Don Carson would agree. In his commentary on Matthew 25:46, Carson says the following:

The same word ‘eternal’ (aionion) modified ‘punishment’ as modifies ‘life.’ Aionion can refer to life or punishment in the age to come, or it can be limited to the duration of the thing to which it refers (as in 21:19). But in apocalyptic and eschatological contexts, the word not only connotes ‘pertaining to the messianic age’ but, because that age is always lived in God’s presence, also ‘everlasting’.

2) Bell’s main problem with hell seems to be theodicy (on this, see what Andrew has written here). How can God be just and punish someone forever? In the interview, Bell concedes that he doesn’t believe that God is like that. It just can’t make sense. Bell’s main problem is not exegetical then but an a priori commitment to who and what God can be like. This is bad epistemology. In Scripture God is everywhere described as Lord. And if God is Lord, this implies that our knowledge is not on the same level as His. To be a creature is to be limited in thought, knowledge and many other areas of life. As John Frame says in The Doctrine of the Knowledge of God,

We have a beginning in time, but He does not. We are controlled by Him and subject to His authority; we are the objects of ultimate covenant blessing or cursing, and so the nature of our thought should reflect out status as servants. Our thinking should be ‘servant thinking.’

In light of this, if God has spoken in the text and the most probable reading of a text leads us to affirm that hell exists and is eternal then so be it. We are servants and must submit to the Lord who determines reality. It seems that Bell, troubled by a priori commitments, refuses to seriously consider orthodox readings of the texts on hell. Other interpretations are bandied about that fit his pre-commitment to who God is. The problem is that these readings are not the most probable and our task as servants is to submit to the most probable reading of the text, not advertise less probable positions. Let’s not join Bell on the bandwagon of his uncertainty. It’s bad epistemology and dare I say, it’s borderline idolatry.