Heaven and Hell


KIM LAWTON, correspondent: For millennia, people have being trying to imagine what happens after death. Is there a heaven? Who gets in? And what happens to those who don’t?

LISA MILLER: Everybody dies. And we want to hope that the people we love we’ll see again, and we want to hope that our own identities and our own consciousness and maybe even our own bodies exist in some other realm after we’re gone from this earth.

LAWTON: Books trying to provide answers to these age-old questions continue to be bestsellers. One of them—Love Wins by Michigan megachurch pastor Rob Bell—has ignited an intense new debate, particularly among evangelical Christians.

REV. ROB BELL: A lot of people, the conception they were handed of the Christian faith is that you go around making judgments: So-and-so we know for sure is burning forever in that place. You don’t know that. That’s speculation.

post02-heavenandhellPROFESSOR MARY VANDEN BERG (Assistant Professor of Christian Theology, Calvin Theological Seminary): If you reject the kingdom of God, it doesn’t really look all that good for you.

LAWTON: According to the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life, an overwhelming majority of Americans believe in life after death. Seventy-four percent believe in heaven, and almost 60 percent believe in hell. A majority of Americans also believe that many religions can lead to eternal life. The exception: Evangelicals, who are more likely to say that theirs is the one true faith that leads to eternal life.

Journalist Lisa Miller is author of the book Heaven: Our Enduring Fascination with the Afterlife.

MILLER: It’s a mistake to think you can even talk about God in the Western tradition without talking about heaven, right? How you get to heaven, the question of salvation is central to Judaism, Islam, and Christianity.

LAWTON: Evangelicals have been especially certain about their answers, with many saying that people must accept Jesus as their personal savior.

post08-heavenandhellREV. BILLY GRAHAM: Jesus said there are two roads in life. One is the broad road that leads to destruction and judgment and hell. The other is a narrow road that leads to heaven and paradise.

LAWTON: Mary Vanden Berg is assistant professor of systematic theology at Calvin Seminary in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

VANDEN BERG: There is one sure way to know that you will spend eternal life with God, in the presence of God, and that is through faith in Jesus Christ.

BELL: Gandhi is in hell? He is? And somebody knows this for sure? Will only a few select people make it to heaven, and will billions and billions of people burn forever in hell?

LAWTON: Bell offers a more expansive view. He’s pastor of the nondenominational Mars Hill Bible Church just outside Grand Rapids, which has some 10,000 weekly attenders. He’s also a popular speaker whose videos have a huge international following among younger evangelicals.

BELL: For me, interacting with countless people over the years who literally are carrying around an image, God is not good and God is not good because my grandmother died and at the funeral the pastor wanted us all to know for sure that my grandma was burning in torment forever.

LAWTON: Bell points to Scriptures where Jesus says he is restoring all things and drawing all people to himself.

post01-heavenandhellBELL: And Jesus tells stories in which the key character doesn’t give up on whatever is lost, and I think we should take that seriously. I don’t know what God has in mind, but I do know that this story that Jesus tells causes us to pause before we make any of those sorts of judgments. Be very careful, because God may be up to something way, way bigger than you’ve ever been able to comprehend.

LAWTON: Heaven, Bell says, is not a far-away place but a renewal of the earth that begins here and now. Bell believes the spectrum of people who will be part of it is “wide and expansive.” Hell, he says, is the consequence of choosing not to be part of God’s massive embrace.

BELL: God is throwing a party and everybody’s invited, but if you don’t want to come, you are given that option.

LAWTON: And in one of the most controversial parts of his book, Bell takes issue with the traditional Christian teaching that death ends any opportunity to make that choice.

BELL: So a seventeen-year-old atheist dies. God will punish this seventeen-year-old atheist forever? Yup. So 17 million years from now God will be tormenting and punishing this seventeen-year-old atheist? Yup. And this is okay with God? Yup, that’s how it is. And for me it just seems like, I don’t know, that doesn’t—it’s not compelling. That doesn’t seem to be what Jesus was talking about.

VANDEN BERG: Maybe we can think about those things, and maybe we can wonder about those things, but the Bible’s pretty clear that when the end comes that’s the end. You don’t have a second chance. Now might there be? Could God do that? I don’t know of any theologian that would say God couldn’t. God can do whatever God wants to do, but what does the Bible say? The biblical text doesn’t indicate this at all.

post07-heavenandhellLAWTON: Vanden Berg says while she believes Bell raises some interesting questions, she is concerned that he is lifting out a few particular verses without taking the full biblical narrative into account.

VANDEN BERG: I’m uncomfortable with the way he frames things in the book that make it sound like sort of like don’t worry about it because it’s just going to be okay, and I’m not convinced that the Bible says that. I’m fairly convinced that the Bible says if you reject me, I’ll reject you.

LAWTON: Some evangelicals say Bell doesn’t give enough importance to the passages where biblical authors describe God’s judgment toward sin.

JUSTIN TAYLOR (The Gospel Coalition): When they talk about God’s great love, it’s always set against the backdrop of God’s righteousness, God’s wrath, God’s holiness.

BELL: I think what happens for many people is they heard about the judgment before the love. But if you start with the love and the judgment flows out of that, God’s love is for us to flourish in God’s good world. For us to flourish in God’s good world, judgments have to be made. Well, that then… now that puts judgment in its proper place.

LAWTON: Many evangelicals have been severe in their condemnation of Bell. Some even called him a heretic.

TAYLOR: We care about people, and people who have grown up in the church, who have sung these same songs, who are being won over by somebody who has produced great videos and is a good communicator but is ultimately teaching a false Gospel.

post06-heavenandhellMILLER: What made people mad about Rob Bell was that he calls himself a conservative evangelical, and he believes in a much looser idea of heaven and salvation than conservative evangelicals traditionally believe in. So if he had called himself an Episcopalian, for example, nobody would have batted an eye.

LAWTON: Miller says the conversation itself isn’t new, but the fact that it’s taking place so openly within evangelicalism is.

MILLER: This is a radical upheaval of that entire worldview. Then what does that do to your doctrine, to your creeds, to your world view, to your, to your mission for evangelism? What do you need to teach people if they’re going to get in anyway? It’s a real theological struggle.

LAWTON: Miller says Bell has particular resonance among young evangelicals who increasingly have friends from different faith traditions, and that’s precisely what troubles conservatives.

REV. ALBERT MOHLER JR (President, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary): And I think that’s why we have to talk about this, because we’re very concerned about the loss of the Gospel. Not just getting a doctrine wrong, but the loss of the Gospel in this.

LAWTON: In June, the Southern Baptist Convention voted to reaffirm its belief in the reality of hell as an “eternal, conscious punishment” for those who don’t accept Jesus.

Bell says he wants people to see that Jesus’ ultimate message was about love, not just avoiding hell.

BELL: Jesus didn’t come along and say, “You don’t want to be a part of that thing, do you?” No, he came along and said, “Trust me. Something big is going down. Here, here’s a taste.” Ah. People thought it was amazing.

LAWTON: He says he’s not bothered by those who accuse him of inciting a dangerous conversation.

BELL: It seems to me like the church would be the place that would lead the way in having dangerous conversations. I mean, isn’t that what faith is?

LAWTON: And the conversation isn’t ending anytime soon. Several more books about heaven and hell are being released over the next few weeks.

I’m Kim Lawton in Grand Rapids.

  • Dave Schlener

    What seems to be missing in this discussion is what God said about it. In His word. In the Policy/Operating Manual For Life, it is not even a bit vague. Whether Old or New Testaments, whether Jesus is speaking, or one of His prophets/disciples/apostles. There in a one-time choice that occurs in this life, and it has eternal consequences. Although there are strong hints that hell may certainly have different levels of anguish and separation, there is no doubt in the Bible that it exists, and is terrible.
    Hence, the Great Command and the Great Commission. We are compelled to Go/Preach/Teach/Make disciples…..and we are to do it while loving the Lord our God with all our heart/soul/mind, and love our neighbor, and love ourselves.
    Rob is a great thinker, but he is just wrong. I hear the faint serpentine hiss here….”Did God really, really say….”

  • JDE

    Cue the fundamentalists and reactionary conservatives who’ve commandeered these threads of late…

    “Vanden Berg says while she believes Bell raises some interesting questions, she is concerned that he is lifting out a few particular verses without taking the full biblical narrative into account.”

    Right – because it isn’t as though conservative Christians do that *all the time*.

    R&E producers – could you please not give this inane woman any more airtime?

  • mattincinci

    spoiler alert: god and/ or gods do not exist, heaven does not exist and hell does not exist

  • ungodlynews

    This conversation could have been a lot shorter if you take into account that both heaven and hell are imaginary.

  • Da Big Q

    The Bible™: The Great Big Book of Multiple Choice!

  • rod griffis

    Where in blazes is the continued conversation which is supposed to occu;r after the half hour TV program is off the
    air? It was a good program, however, and it did get me, for the first time, to search the conmputer for PBS. Org. I finally found it, but not the conversation I was looking for. Rod

  • Doug

    Jesus said: ” I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.”

    Saving us from hell does not seem to be his ultimate concern. If we did not have some notion of hell (misery or at least the lack of life or non-being) could we have a notion of “heaven?”

  • Carey

    Satan got Eve to question what God had clearly said in the garden. She was emboldened to take what God had forbidden by the devil’s clever insinuation and paid for it. It astounds me that in a book about heaven and hell that supposedly is teaching what the Bible says that Rob Bell would never even quote the clearest OT passages about the resurrection of the dead and the eternal damnation of sinners- Isaiah 66:22-24 and Daniel 12:2. And even more so, key NT passages like Luke 13:23-28, Mark 9:43-48, Romans 2:4-5, Romans 10:14-17, Luke 12:58-13:9, etc. These passages and others so perfectly refute the writer’s conjectures that if he merely quoted them without explaining them away he would then have nothing to write about.

    The good news of the gospel is necessary because there is bad news, as Paul shows in Roman 1:18-3:20- our guilt before God and righteous condemnation of us on the day of judgment- if we’re not made new creatures and forgiven in Christ. The Bible says “Flee from the wrath to come” and to bring forth fruits meet (fit) for repentance (Matthew 3:7-10). That is the response we must make to God’s generous offer of mercy and grace through the death and resurrection of Christ.

    When we consider that Jesus himself warned his hearers to turn from sin or be punished in hell forever; and that he left a responsibility for us to do so in the limited time of our lives in this world in Mark 9:43-48, Luke 12:58-13:9, then anyone who claims to speak for Jesus and denies that warning and that urgency must be treated as a false teacher/prophet. Jesus loves us more than anyone else, and to deny and leave out what he has clearly said is to oppose him. What “Love Wins” does is give false comfort to those who have not turned from all sin and let Christ take his rightful hold on their lives (Psalm 2:10-12, Hebrews 5:9). The same type of false comfort the Serpent gave Eve in the garden.

    “Love Wins” also doesn’t take into account that it is often more pleasurable SHORT-TERM to disobey God than to follow Christ. There is a pleasure to sin that is uncomfortable to forsake to the point it can be called suffering to do so (See Hebrews 11:25, Romans 8:17). That goes against Bell’s premise that hell is what we create for ourselves by disobeying God. Truly obeying God can be extremely unpleasant and only those who are totally convinced by Christ’s total faithfulness and the sureness of his promises will actually be his disciples and walk the narrow way that leads to life. That is when God really does get glory. We have the privilege that we can go straight to the Bible to see those promises, the truth about heaven and hell, and the entire counsel of God regarding salvation. May all who read this not be deceived by preachers who say what appeals to the itching ears of people.

  • Bill

    It is incumbent on the person, group, or institution who asserts a thing to prove their premise. The premise is that a ‘heaven’ exists where some ‘righteous clan’ of people will end up, serving a genocidal deity, surrounded by loved ones, all while knowing that the rest of their loved ones who didn’t believe a certain specific set of rules and regulations are ETERNALLY burning in some sort of supernatural hell – which is not even Biblical.

    How utterly bizarre is that pre-scientific speculation!

    Prove this location exists outside of time and space. Prove that this unprovable and magical supernatural location exists where only CERTAIN people have entry.

    It sounds like s country club to me.

    I asset the following position because i CAN prove it. Your personality is dependent on your brain. Proof: brain damaged people no longer operate the same way as they did before the brain damage. When you no longer have a brain (eg, when you DIE or when brainwaves are no longer detected), you are DEAD and your personality ceases to exist. That’s it. End of YOUR story. No country club for YOU.

    Advocates of the continuation of ones life simply by believing in a deity’s messenger (eg, God –> son) is not proof, it’s an assertion based solely on Bronze Age mythology and absolutely nothing else.

  • Samuel Williams

    The teaching of the destruction of the wicked by the fires of hell has been around for hundreds of years. Yet it is ignored. Fudge in the Fire that consumes and the Seventh day Adventist church are modern advocates of this position. The doctrine of eternal torment leads to many of the question and problems found today.

    It is good that the church is talking about it.

  • David Ayuba

    I am sure Mr. Bell has forgotten his John 3:16. For God so love the world that he gave his only forgotten son that whosoever believes in him will not perish but have everlasting life. If I may ask Mr. Bell the word Perish what does it mean? And has he ask himself the question, Perish where? On earth or in the heart of the earth? Jesus said so many people will come to tell you doctrines base on their human understanding not base on the Holy Spirit leading them. Do not swallow what Bell tells you in his book but pray for the HolySpirit to lead you. Jesus mentioned hell many times more than he even mentioned heaven. Do not be decieved Hell exist and hell is not meant for we humans but falling angels but anyone that don’t have Christ in him will go there God did not mix words when he said that he said it clear and simple for somebody like Bells to come and tell us the mind of God that God did not mean it will be the way we are thinking you should be very careful with him. Once somebody reaches the age of accountability when he or she dies its either the person goes to Hell or Heaven. Children that are aborted or miscarried or died before the age of accountability automatically goes to be with the Lord. Praise God.

  • E.Patrick Mosman

    This panel discussion of whether there is a Heaven and Hell and who goes where is reminiscent of the medieval monks discussing how many angels can dance on the head of pin. One only has to visit the Sistine Chapel in the Vatican and take in Michaelangelo’s “The last Judgment” filling the wall behind the altar to understand the message in the Bible. All humanity will be judged based on having followed the Ten Commandments of the Old Testament and lived a good life according to the teachings of Jesus Christ found in the New Testament. The answer might be to post a copy of The Last Judgment in every place of worship and all the cleric would have to do is stand before the congregation, point to the picture and say “That’s all folks,” just as Porgy Pig ended the Loony Tunes cartoons.

  • Chuck Queen

    Great interview. This raises issues about whether Rob Bell can remain within the evangelical camp. Read my take on his greatest challenge at http://www.afreshperspective-chuck.blogspot.com

  • Brad

    Hebrews 11:1 “Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.” Romans 10:17 “Consequently, faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word about Christ.” So the way to have faith is by reading the Bible because the that is where we can increase our faith. Jesus did preach love (Matthew 22:34-40) but he also preached repentance(Matthew 4:17) and he also was an example for in how we should refute those who debate the word of God (Luke 4). My point is that Jesus explains hell (Luke 16:19-24 Revelation 20:14 and I suggest one should read them because if you believe in Jesus’ word, which he spoke, why not believe in what he is saying?) So we must hold to what the Scriptures say, again I say “the Scriptures” because, like stated above, that is our evidence, that is where we increase in our faith so we can follow God fully and have life to the full. “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” John 10:10
    To have faith is to have what Hebrews 11:1 states. If you believe in what you do not see and certain for what you hope for…well that is what God wants because “without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.” Hebrews 11:6. In conclusion if you believe in the Bible you will see by reading it that there is a heaven and hell and we must obey it.

  • E.Patrick Mosman

    With all the talk about God’s love, it is surprising that not one of the panel mentioned Pope Benedict XVI’s first Encyclical.
    1.“God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him” (1 Jn 4:16

    But what about those who chose, using their free will, not to abide in God’s love? Depending on the severity of their rejection of God’s Love, after death they are two paths, Purgatory “a state in which those suffer for a time who die guilty of venial sins, or without having satisfied for the punishment due to their sins” with eventual elevation to Heaven or directly to Hell. The actual fate of many may not be known until The Last Judgment.

  • Nelson Robison

    The idea that a just and loving God, would and could condemn anyone to an eternal punishment for a finite “crime,” that of not “believing” in a God, is ludicrous and inane. Why do the “conservative Christians” believe that there are winners and losers?
    Someone must hold the conservative Christians feet to the fire, the fire of logic and reason. The doctrine of a hell, a place of eternal punishment is a new(relatively) thing. Nowhere in the Old Testament does it mention or state a doctrinal equivalent of hell. We are now inundated with a message of winners and losers, the losers get to spend an eternity, not a thousand, not a million, not a billion but all eternity being punished for a finite crime. Does this sound like a loving and caring God? I believe not. I am certain of only one thing, NO ONE, knows what will happen at the end. No one can predict or send back a message to the living of what is in store after we die.
    Because of this, I choose to live my life, in an ethical manner, loving my fellow man without regard to race, nationality, creed or any other qualifier. In this way, I believe that I fulfill the great directive, Love my neighbour as myself.

  • Mark Glamack

    All answers to all questions can be found in God’s word which can only be found in the Bible. When people like Bell question or interpret scripture according to their own imagination(s) then they are playing God. When anyone puts themselves above God, the end result of their efforts can only be flawed. Anyone can intellectualize about anything, but only God will have the final say about all things.God gives us a choice which all comes down to a path in satan’s darkness or in God’s heavenly Light.

    “…thy kingdom come, thy will be done on Earth as it is in heaven…”

    “And Jesus called a little child unto Him, and set him in the midst of them, and said, Verily I say unto you, except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven. Whosoever therefore shall humble himself as this little child, the same is greatest in the kingdom of heaven. And whoso shall receive one such little child in My name receiveth Me. But whoso shall offend one of these little ones which believe in Me, it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea.”—Matthew 18:2-5. (Mark 10:5.) It’s really that simple and that’s why He gave us His word. It’s not for Him – it’s for us to live the best life possible now, and for all eternity. Otherwise what would be the point?

    A very different reading experience can be found in the novel “Littluns: And the Book of Darkness.” “Littluns” are representative of God’s perfect child-like creation for all to discover and what it means to be a true Christian under the very worst of adversities. It’s a fantasy that takes readers into God’s reality and truth. You can read about it at http://www.littlunsblog.com

    In this life no one can possibly understand all that is God. If we did what would be the point of choice and earning our way to Him?

  • JDE

    @Mark Glamack: “In this life no one can possibly understand all that is God. If we did what would be the point of choice and earning our way to Him?”

    I thought the whole point of your conservative Christian theology is that we *can’t* “earn” our way to God.

  • jlc

    George McDonald, the 19th century author whom C.S. Lewis called “his master” came to the same conclusion as Mr. Bell over a hundred years ago. Just as I would be hurt if my kids didn’t want to be around me. I would never destroy them. The” burning and nashing of teeth” they would experience would be of their own choosing since no one can love them like I can.

  • Elisabeth Bunnell O’Reilly

    Those rushing to “Judgment” on two extremes have not only missed the point, but have jumped further than either religion or science can take us.
    The emphasis, of some, on the eternal hell imagery, oweing its existence much more to medieval, even Greek/Roman limited theological thought, are doing exactly what Mr. Bell has argued quite effectively concerning actual usage of the biblical terminology for hell. Additionally, all those whose comments include using Biblical “Justification” to refute Mr. Bell made arguments that are based on many “Understood” assumptions not even universally accepted in specific Christian dominations.
    Those making the leap of faith that nothing exist have misunderstood the role of science defined by the scientific method. Something must be measurable, quantitative, in order to pass the hypothesis stage to theory. Qualitative existence of faith, God, love, hate, etc., may or may be “Real”. However, not being measurable/countable/of quantity, are outside of the realm of scientific examination. Therefore, “I don’t know” is the only truly scientific answer to questions antecedent to their referenced “Leap of faith”.

  • Michal

    Talk to one of Jehovah’s Witnesses. They know what the Bible teaches, and it doesn’t teach hellfire, or hell, period. The catholics changed the words in the Bible to support their teaching to keep the masses controlled by morbid fear. This is well documented by Bible scholars. And Bell is just another case of the blind leading the blind and making a nice paycheck…

  • Tom Taylor

    In the Orthodox Tradition, we are saved by Grace through Faith for something. It isn’t a fire-insurance policy, but it is the purpose of our lives, from Life itself: Theosis.


  • Channah

    Plain and simple:

    To me, heaven and hell were made up to keep people ”in line”.

    Who cares if there is heaven and hell? I live my life to be a good and charitable as possible and I do not worry about a heaven and a hell.

  • JDE

    I’m watching the rerun of this segment as I type this, and, once again, R&E producers, re: Vandenberg (as I said in the thread beneath her extended interview):

    PLEASE don’t give this inane woman any more air time.

  • Casey Archer

    This is how the major manmade religions got so big. These religions excel in manipulation that begins with a vile threat. Follow-me-or-end-up-in-eternal-torment. And it continues by convincing the people who dare to listen that they are wretched, despicable, soul-tainted people who have no means by which to save their own souls. Then these religions offer the one and only cure. In any culture, this would be considered abuse — spiritual, mental, emotional abuse, and it is nothing short of a form of tyranny. Fear should never be the basis for one’s beliefs and devotion.

    Dave: Jesus never compelled human believers in the 21st century to preach/teach/make disciples. When Jesus made his commission, he was speaking only to the 11. When people take what Jesus gave to just his disciples, they are committing a serious prideful sin.

    Doug: Jesus came that THEY may have life and have it abundantly. Who is the “they”? Sorry, not the evangelicals of the 21st century manmade churches. “But he answered and said, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” It was Paul who invented Christianity, not Jesus.

    Carey: There is absolutely no proof of ha-satan in the GofE. It is simply a creature. And it is a creature that tells the truth and is punished by God for doing so by being forced to crawl on the ground, not by being ejected from heaven as an naughty angel.

    The bible god is quite clearly not a god of love. I don’t understand why anyone would worship a god who creates a special place of eternal torment so that he can deliver his wrath upon them for all time. Why do you people worship such an angry, evil deity?

  • Michelle Logan

    How bitter do you have to be, to believe that someone who does not agree with you will be tortured after death? I find religion to be very disturbing.

  • Humanist

    As of today, there is absolutely no evidence that God exists. All these religious books were invented/written by people, mostly males. Some good has come out of religion, as has very bad stuff. As a species, we should learn to be kind to all people and try to create a “heaven” right here on this planet, which is not an easy task.

  • JDE

    @Casey Archer: “Why do you people worship such an angry, evil deity?”

    Projection. It’s who they are.

  • Winston

    Rob Bell is obviously being fed by demonic influence and is patently ignorant of Biblical Truth.

  • Guest

    Rob Bell is neither “reverend” (God says No man is reverend except God Himself) or a Biblical Christian. He’s the typical anti-Christ spirit which leads innocents astray by twisting Scriptures and bending the truth. Bell will be one of those who Christ will confront before His throne and tell him “I know you not… begone with you” and Bell will immediately join his father of lies, Satan, in hell for eternity…and that won’t be a warm and fuzzy place because it is real. Bell is apostate to Biblical Christianity.

  • Susan

    “Once somebody reaches the age of accountability when he or she dies its either the person goes to Hell or Heaven.” Then exactly what is the age of accountability – is it 16, 18 or 21? Some would say it was younger. It would vary from country to country, and in the UK is 18 now, whereas it was 21. How can that possibly be fair, or just? Are we saying that God is not fair, not just? In Genesis, didn’t God say we would ‘die’ for our sins. If he meant we would go to hell for eternity, why didn’t he say that? Jesus said we would perish, or go to the grave (Gehenna was basically a real place, a graveyard, that exists today). There is other scripture that says some will not have eternal life, so how can they be in eternal hell? “Prepared for the devil and his angels’ means just that, not humans. I think it is inconceivable that a God of love would allow an eternal hell, especially for the creatures that he loves (yes, even while we were sinners). As being in hell for any length of time would undoubtedly drive many people mad, then it would be a case of torturing a mentally ill person. I do absolutely believe that there is a hell, and that it is far worse than we imagine, but it is not eternal. Eternal hell sounds like something that is so beyond belief that only the warped mind of a human being could believe in it.