Discerning the Truth, Part 1: What If There’s No Hell?

Posted on April 20, 2011


It’s late April, 2011. You’re standing in line at a grocery store somewhere in North America. You navigate your eyes though the minefield of magazine covers to the safe haven of Time…

The cover article is “What if there’s no HELL?” It’s about the author of a new book, Love Wins: A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived. Rob Bell, a pastor in Michigan, wrote this short book. Here’s the article if you want to read it.

This little book is causing quite a stir in the evangelical circles. Why? I’m not sure. But I am sure that it repackages a not-so-new idea that in the end, after everything is said and done, everyone will be saved by God. That idea is called


“That’s a stupid idea,” you say. But wait. Have you read Colossians 1:19-20a?

“For in [Christ] all the fullness [of the Godhead] was pleased to dwell and through Him to reconcile all things to Himself, having made peace through the blood of His cross.”

Now let me ask you, when God says “all things” does He mean all things or not? Wouldn’t all things include all people whom God loves and died for? There’s about one or two other verses that hint at something similar.

When I first heard about universalism, my gut told me, “That’s a stupid idea.” But I didn’t know what the Word said. I decided to read through the New Testament and make a list of verses that either confirmed or denied universalism. This is what I found:

“…it is better for you to enter into life maimed or lame than to have two hands or two feet and be cast into the eternal fire.” (Matthew 18:8b, Recovery Version)

Why is the fire eternal? God doesn’t make a container just to leave it empty. What goes in the eternal fire?

“Then He will say also to those on the left [the goats, signifying the unbelievers], Go away from Me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.” (Matthew 25:41, Recovery Version)

That could not be clearer. The contents of the eternal fire are the unbelievers, the devil, and his angels.

“How Sodom and Gomorrah and the cities around them…are set forth as an example, undergoing the penalty of eternal fire.” (Jude 7, Recovery Version)

There’s more, but that’s the nail in the coffin as far as I’m concerned. Universalism debunked. Ergo, “Love Wins” loses.

But This Brings Up a Bigger Question.

In the Time article, the author claims that the Bible is “a document that often contradicts itself and from which one can construct sharply different arguments.” It’s easy to see why he would say that. The Christian tradition today is infinately splintered over its Biblical interpretations.

Universalism is one of those interpretations that’s not hard to debunk. But in between that and the proper, pure interpretation of the Bible, there are a thousand shades of gray.

How on earth can a believer discover the proper interpretation of the Bible with so many things to distract and derail him? Is all hopeless? Will we, in the end, quote Pilate’s snide question to the condemned Christ “What is truth?”

How to Discern Good Bible Teaching

I don’t believe so, and I’ll tell you why. The Bible is an enormous and diverse book, written by over sixty people over a span of 3,000 years. However, there is a central line that runs through the scriptures, from beginning to end. This central line has its “seeds” in Genesis, and the “harvest” of those seeds is found in Revelation.

The central line is made up of seven interrelated items. One of them is the all-inclusive Christ. Another is the Body of Christ. For a more complete discussion of this, see Thomas Marvin’s post.

In addition to the central line, there are many supplemental points. These are major themes in the Bible that are not the focus. However, these points, when interpreted correctly, always lead us back to the central line. An example of a supplemental point is a popular subject on this blog, the kingdom of God. When interpreted correctly, the study and experience of the kingdom of God should always lead us back to an item in the central line, the Body of Christ.

There is a third and final category of items in the Bible. To describe it, Witness Lee uses a term I like a lot: “the leaves and branches.” The analogy is obvious. The central line of the Bible is like the trunk. There’s only one trunk. The supplemental points are like the big branches that come off of the trunk. There’s a few of those. Then there are thousands of other items that cover the tree. These leaves and branches. Some examples of the leaves and the branches are speaking in tongues, calling on the name of the Lord, and having a Biblical family life.

With the leaves and the branches, remember 3 things:

  1. Never make the leaves and the branches the focus of the Bible. That is not their place.
  2. When properly interpreted, the leaves and the branches will always lead us back to the central line.
  3. We cannot ignore the leaves and the branches. They are still necessary. Just as the beauty of a tree is in the leaves, so the “leaves and branches” in the Bible are its beauty.

In the sequel to this post, I will attempt to show how the subject of healing in the Word can bring us back to the central line of the divine revelation.