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DOES ROB BELL THINK
HELL IS A PROTESTANT PURGATORY?
(SERMON NUMBER 2 ON ROB BELL'S ERROR)

by Dr. R. L. Hymers, Jr.

A sermon preached at the Baptist Tabernacle of Los Angeles
Lord’s Day Evening, May 15, 2011

“So then it is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that sheweth mercy. For the scripture saith unto Pharaoh, Even for this same purpose have I raised thee up, that I might shew my power in thee, and that my name might be declared throughout all the earth. Therefore hath he mercy on whom he will have mercy, and whom he will he hardeneth” (Romans 9:16-18).


Rob Bell is an “emerging church” preacher who has written a book that says everyone in Hell will have endless chances to be saved, because man has the freedom to choose where he wants to be, even after death! Whatever else you may think about Romans 9:16-18, this passage makes it perfectly clear that man is not in control of his own fate by “choices” he makes after death. Salvation is not based on the choices you make, “It is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth.” Salvation was not in Pharaoh’s hands. He could not be saved, because God had already judged him by hardening his heart.

“And the Lord hardened the heart of Pharaoh, and he hearkened not unto them; as the Lord had spoken unto Moses”
     (Exodus 9:12).

The choice was not Pharaoh’s. The choice was God’s – and God’s alone. God said He raised up Pharaoh, “that I might shew my power in thee” (Romans 9:17). In Exodus we read,

“For this cause have I raised thee up, for to shew in thee my power; and that my name may be declared throughout all the earth” (Exodus 9:16).

Edwards has a sermon on this theme titled, “The Wicked Useful in their Destruction Only” (currently published by International Outreach). Our text ends with these thought-provoking words, “Therefore hath he mercy on whom he will have mercy, and whom he will he hardeneth.”

Dr. John Gill (1697-1771) said, of Romans 9:18, that since God could “without any injustice, raise up Pharaoh and harden his heart...that he might raise up and destroy him by his own power for his own glory, then he may harden any other person, even whom he will” (John Gill, D.D., An Exposition of the New Testament, The Baptist Standard Bearer, 1989 reprint, volume II, p. 509; note on Romans 9:16).

This much is very clear – salvation is a choice made by God, not by man.

“So then it is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that sheweth mercy” (Romans 9:16).

“Therefore hath he mercy on whom he will have mercy, and whom he will he hardeneth” (Romans 9:18).

Christ told the Disciples that salvation is not based on any human “choice.” The Disciples said,

“Who then can be saved? And Jesus looking upon them saith, With men it is impossible...” (Mark 10:26-27).

This is the classical Protestant and Baptist view – and it is what the Bible teaches. Salvation is based on what God does, not on what man does. We are born again, “not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God” (John 1:13); “Not of works, lest any man should boast” (Ephesians 2:9).

Rob Bell does not believe that. Bell is the author of a best-selling book titled, Love Wins: A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Has Ever Lived (HarperOne, 2011).

Bell says that “hell is not forever...in the end all will be reconciled to God” (Love Wins, p. 109). This is Universalism, the belief that all people will ultimately be saved – even those now in Hell. What is Bell’s basis for saying that those in Hell will be given another chance to be saved? According to Bell, the choice is made by man, not God. Bell said,

God gives us what we want, and if that’s hell, we can have it. We have that kind of freedom, that kind of choice. We are that free (Love Wins, p. 72).

In his comments on the Book of Revelation, Bell begins by saying it is “enigmatic” (obscure, incomprehensible), “about...bowls and prostitutes and horses” (Love Wins, p. 111). But a couple of pages after belittling Revelation, he quotes Revelation 21:25 literally concerning Heaven, “And the gates of it shall not be shut at all.” Then Bell gives this highly unorthodox, absurd explanation, “If the gates are never shut, then people are free to come and go.” Get it? “People are free to come and go” from Heaven! Yes, that is what he said! “If we want hell, if we want heaven, they are ours” (Love Wins, p. 118). So Bell implies that those in Hell can choose to go to Heaven, and later choose to go back to Hell, and still later, choose to go back to Heaven! It sounds like the TV commercial, “In and out, in and out, that’s what a hamburger’s all about.” This use of Scripture (Revelation 21:25) is indefensible. Bell bases his view that all people, including those in Hell, will have another chance partly on the teachings of the third century Catholic theologian Origen (Love Wins, p. 107), who used an extreme “allegorical system of interpretation” (Elgin S. Moyer, Ph.D., Who Was Who in Church History, Moody Press, 1968 edition, p. 315).

Origen believed in “the ultimate salvation of all persons. Unduly influenced by Greek ideas, he denied the bodily resurrection and taught the Platonic preexistence of the soul... his overly allegorical approach still yields a negative effect today” (David L. Larsen, D.D., The Company of the Preachers, Kregel Publications, 1998, pp. 74, 75).

It should be remembered that Origen castrated himself to avoid sexual temptation, and he believed that even the Devil will eventually be saved. He was listed as an “ancient heretic” by the Council of Constantinople in A.D. 553.

It seems to me that Bell’s book is also subtly influenced by the man-centered “decisionism” of Charles G. Finney (1792-1875). Finney said, “Saints in heaven can by natural possibility apostatize and fall, and be lost” (C. G. Finney, Finney’s Systematic Theology, Bethany House Publishers, 1994 reprint, p. 508).

Yes, you really read that! Finney said that saints in Heaven can “fall, and be lost.”

Of course, Origen, Finney and Bell are wrong on this important point. How do we know they are wrong? Because the Lord Jesus Christ Himself gave these words of Abraham to the rich man in Hell,

“And beside all this, between us and you there is a great gulf [chasm] fixed: so that they which would pass from hence to you cannot; neither can they pass to us, that would come from thence” (Luke 16:26).

Christ said that no one in Heaven can “pass” into Hell, “neither can” anyone in Hell “pass” into Heaven. There is “no second chance after death” (The Ryrie Study Bible).

But Rob Bell overlooks Luke 16:26. Bell says, “There will be endless opportunities in an endless amount of time for people to say yes to God...even the most ‘depraved sinners’ will eventually give up their resistance and turn to God” (Love Wins, pp. 106-107). Yet, in Luke 16:26, the Lord Jesus Christ said that Bell is wrong,

“They which would pass from hence to you cannot; neither can they pass to us, that would come from thence” (Luke 16:26).

For Rob Bell, Hell becomes a sort of “Protestant purgatory.” Dr. Charles Hodge said this about the Catholic doctrine of purgatory. It is a place where people experience “suffering...from material fire. The design of this suffering is...purification” (Charles Hodge, Ph.D., Systematic Theology, Hendrickson Publishers, 1999 edition, volume III, p. 749).

Since Bell relies on Catholics like Origen, Gregory of Nyssa, Jerome and Basil (Love Wins, p. 107), it should not surprise us that he implies that Hell is really a form of purgatory. But there is no Scripture to support purgatory. Dr. Hodge said, “The first, most obvious...and most decisive argument against the doctrine is, that it is not taught in the Bible” (ibid., p. 757). The Bible gives only two options,

“He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life: and he that believeth not the Son shall not see life; but the wrath of God abideth on him” (John 3:36).

“He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned” (Mark 16:16).

There is no second chance after death. You are either saved or damned. Those are the only two possibilities given in Scripture.

Like Origen, Rob Bell is a universalist. He believes that eventually “even the most depraved sinners” will be saved – after they go to Hell (Love Wins, p. 107). A British author, Dr. John Blanchard, said,

The universalist’s position is...fatally flawed in that it makes its primary concern man’s welfare rather than God’s glory. The most important aim of universalism is to ensure that man is satisfied with the end result. But how can this ever be achieved when sinners in hell are infinitely guilty? The only way for the situation to be remedied would be for the sin to be pardoned, and in order for it to be pardoned there must be repentance. However, the ability to repent is not something that man has by nature...as repentance is a gift of God’s sovereign, saving grace, how can a sinner ever repent in hell when all God’s grace, common and saving, has been permanently withdrawn, and the wicked are specifically described by Jesus as “you who are cursed”?, Matthew 25:41 (John Blanchard, D.D., Whatever Happened to Hell?, Evangelical Press, 2005 edition, pp. 205-206).

“Therefore hath he mercy on whom he will have mercy, and whom he will he hardeneth” (Romans 9:18).

The salvation of your soul depends on God. Will He have mercy on you? Or will He harden you? Rob Bell said, “God gives us what we want, and if that’s hell, we can have it. We have that kind of freedom, that kind of choice. We are that free” (Love Wins, p. 72). He is wrong, according to Romans 9:16,

“So then it is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that sheweth mercy” (Romans 9:16).

Salvation does not come to “him that willeth.” Salvation is not based on a “choice” we make! Salvation is based on a choice God makes! Dr. Lloyd-Jones said, “Do you want to ask, ‘But why are only some saved?’ The answer to that is that none deserve it; all should be damned, and therefore God is free to show and manifest His mercy when He wills, when He chooses, and where and when and in whom He pleases and chooses” (Martyn Lloyd-Jones, M.D., God’s Sovereign Purpose, The Banner of Truth Trust, 1991, p. 244).

“Therefore hath he mercy on whom he will have mercy, and whom he will he hardeneth” (Romans 9:18).

Has God chosen to have mercy on you? Or has He chosen to harden you? After fifty-three years in the ministry, I have become convinced that Gospel preaching will either be a means of mercy or of hardening. Either you become more and more hardened, or you become convicted of sin, and feel your need for mercy in Christ Jesus.

So I ask you, are you being hardened? Are you getting so used to hearing sermons that they make no impression on you? Can you go away from these sermons without feeling moved by the thought of your sin in the sight of a holy God? Can you go to sleep each night without any fear or any feeling of guilt? If that is so, I am afraid that God may be hardening you.

Or, on the other hand, are you beginning to feel that you are a ruined sinner, deserving the wrath of God? Are you beginning to feel that there is no hope in anything you can say, or learn or do? Are you beginning to lose all hope? Are you beginning to feel desperate? Dr. Lloyd-Jones once said, “The first sign of spiritual life is to feel that you are dead!” (The Law: Its Functions and Limits, The Banner of Truth Trust, 1995, p. 145).

Are you beginning to feel that you are hopelessly dead in your sins? This may mean that you are a person on whom God will have mercy. You may then be made to feel your need for Jesus, “The Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world” (John 1:29). You may then be enabled to feel what Horatius Bonar (1808-1889) felt when he wrote,

Thy work alone, O Christ,
   Can ease this weight of sin;
Thy blood alone, O Lamb of God,
   Can give me peace within.
(“Not What These Hands Have Done” by Horatius Bonar, 1808-1889).

Click here for Dr. Hymers' sermon, "Does Rob Bell Think God Has Only One Attribute?"

(END OF SERMON)
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Scripture Read Before the Sermon by Dr. Kreighton L. Chan: Romans 9:14-23.
Solo Sung Before the Sermon by Mr. Benjamin Kincaid Griffith:
“Not What These Hands Have Done” (by Horatius Bonar, 1808-1889).


THE OUTLINE OF

DOES ROB BELL THINK
HELL IS A PROTESTANT PURGATORY?
(SERMON NUMBER 2 ON ROB BELL'S ERROR)

by Dr. R. L. Hymers, Jr.

“So then it is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that sheweth mercy. For the scripture saith unto Pharaoh, Even for this same purpose have I raised thee up, that I might shew my power in thee, and that my name might be declared throughout all the earth. Therefore hath he mercy on whom he will have mercy, and whom he will he hardeneth” (Romans 9:16-18).

(Exodus 9:12, 16; Mark 10:26-27; John 1:13; Ephesians 2:9;
Revelation 21:25; Luke 16:26; John 3:36;
Mark 16:16; Matthew 25:41; John 1:29)