Tim Keller on Hell

In the midst of the “discussions” going on online about Rob Bell’s new book, I remembered something Tim Keller said in a video I saw a while back.

The video below is from the a talk Keller gave at the Veritas Forums on March 4, 2008, at The University of California, Berkeley. This is before The Reason for God came out and it covers many of the topics in the book. I’d encourage you to check out the whole video, but I’ve set the video to jump to a particular point relevant to the topic of hell (ending around 1:05:50).

In light of all the “controversy” I thought this might shed light on a perspective of hell that many Christians don’t consider. Now I have no idea if this is Bell’s view of hell or not. It’s just that as I watched the video for his new book, this talk by Keller came to mind.

By the way, if you haven’t read Tim Keller’s book The Reason for God, do yourself a favor and pick it up.

I really like his statement: “God only gives you what you want.” I think it puts a lot of things in perspective.

Author: Erik

Erik lives in Bethalto, IL were he serves as the Executive Pastor at Cornerstone Church. He and his wife, Bethany, have two boys (Parker and Kent). He's an Apple fan and all around techie who loves Angry Birds and Words With Friends.

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  1. Ok, Erik, I’ll bite! I’ve never read his book, although I’ve heard good things about it. According to this view of hell, what would be Keller’s response to someone–say, a peaceful Muslim–who really does want to spend eternity with God in heaven, and whose life is focused on submitting fully to God, but absolutely refuses to believe that Jesus is His Son? If such a person ends up in hell, wouldn’t they want out? Or do such Muslims go to heaven because of good intentions? Do you know if he answers such a question?

    By the way, my current view of hell is probably not mainstream either, as I wonder if hell lasts for all eternity. I also am not sure that it is literal flames, etc. The idea of hell is not favorable to me, and I wrestle with its existence. I feel similarly to C.S. Lewis who stated that the theology of hell is the one he wishes he could get rid of the most, but he can’t do so as the Scriptures and Jesus both clearly affirm its existence.

    Jesus infers in the Gospels that only a few will find eternal life. That’s very hard for me to swallow, but I worry that I am more interested in finding a more palpable truth than what the Bible teaches. And since many “young” people today (our age and younger) are very illiterate of the Bible, I do worry when they latch on to some hip teacher because of the way he makes the Bible relevant. How do they know if what he is saying is faithful to what the Scriptures really say? Most of us, I’m afraid, are not as Protestant as we claim. Because we tend to be lazy and not take our faith personally enough to study the Bible for ourselves, we are perfectly willing to accept what our church tells us. That has more of a Catholic bent to me. This attitude would be fine I guess, as long as the church remains faithful to Scripture.

    That’s why I more prefer someone like Francis Chan (over someone like Rob Bell) who constantly encourages people to read the Bible for themselves instead of adopting what we see around us, even in the church world. I’m afraid that people like Rob Bell encourage us to look at the Bible differently, when most of us aren’t looking at the Bible at all. So people embrace his different perspective ignorantly. I’m not saying his unique views are wrong, since I know very little of him. He could be dead on, or dead wrong. I guess I’m afraid that people will base that decision on what sounds good, not on what they’ve personally studied from the Bible.

    Sorry if this rambled.

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    • Well done! I found Tim’s response wise, as well as, endearingly honest…no a ramble at all, thank you!

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  2. Tim,

    Excellent thoughts.

    For more on Keller’s perspective on hell, visit here.

    Also, check out the teaching he did at his church on this topic here. Around 16min in, he addresses some of your questions…but since he’s building his point up, it’s worth listening to the whole thing. (This is part of a series he did on the book.)

    I think you’ll line up with it.

    The the audio link above he says: “There are only two kinds of people in the end. Those who say to God ‘Thy will be done.’ And those to whom God says in the end ‘Thy will be done.’ All that are in hell choose it. Without that self-choice, it wouldn’t be hell.”

    So I suppose that even the good person who wants to be with God, but rejects the Son…really don’t want to be with God (as he is). They want to dictate the terms and be with a god they create. Not sure if that makes sense….

    I love the following statement you made:
    “I’m afraid that people like Rob Bell encourage us to look at the Bible differently, when most of us aren’t looking at the Bible at all. So people embrace his different perspective ignorantly.”

    Very true. If I have a problem with Bell, it’s in relationship to this comment, coupled with the fact that he’s vague and doesn’t always clarify what he’s getting at. People like to jump aboard and don’t really think through what’s being said. They end up believing something wrong. On the one hand that could be that Bell is teaching something wrong, or on the other hand it could mean that they are misunderstanding his teaching and believe something he’s not saying.

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    • Thanks for the links! I really enjoyed his message. Much to think about. And he said some very powerful things as well.

      Very quickly: I do think that hell is more than a choice we make. In the OT (and even in the NT), we see examples of God punishing/killing people as a result of their sinfulness. I don’t think any of them wanted God to punish/kill them. As a result, I’m not comfortable trying to put all the “blame” for hell on humanity. Paul’s statements on God’s wrath Romans 2:5-9 come to mind. I’m guessing Keller would agree with me, but sometimes it sounds like he’s saying that in hell, God is only giving people what they want–I’m not sure that’s completely accurate.

      Also, if we say that a Muslim didn’t want to be with God (as He really is), then in order to be fair, we should also say that if the Muslims are right, it is us Christians who don’t really want to be with God as He really is. We have wrongly assumed that righteousness isn’t based on works, when God has been looking for works all along, and as a result, we Christians should be punished in hell. I’m guessing you agree with me on that.

      To take the inverse of this discussion, I heard a quote recently that said something along these lines: “Heaven is the place where God’s will is always done. If you don’t want to do God’s will here on earth, why at all are you looking forward to heaven? Don’t you realize you’ll be miserable there?” This idea has really made an impact on me lately, because I often find myself not wanting to do God’s will, but instead to do my own will. I then ask myself, Am I ready for heaven? Would I really like it up there? It’s possible I’d be pretty miserable in heaven…

      Lastly, regarding Rob Bell, after I posted my first comment here, I started thinking more about the issue of false teachers, etc. I think the situation is similar to Christians “raising hell” about all the violence/sex, etc. on TV or in Hollywood. Where does the real problem lie? Does it lie with Hollywood, or does it lie with the fact that most of us are all too willing to indulge in it? As much as I feel our passion toward Hollywood is often misplaced, perhaps we should be more concerned with the masses of people too ignorant to tell truth from lie, than to try to crucify false leaders. I’m not saying we shouldn’t speak out against false teachers (or Hollywood), but perhaps the real problem goes deeper than we realize.

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  3. Tim,

    Here’s another article for you.

    Preaching Hell in a Tolerant Age

    In it, Keller delineates between preaching to Traditional and Postmodern audiences (the article spends more time on the later…probably because we’re more familiar with the former). I think that distinction answers the comments in your first paragraph.

    Hopefully the result of all this discussion is positive and actually prompts people to understand their beliefs on this issue.

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    • Awesome article. Thanks, Erik. I hope you don’t feel I hijacked your post. To be a little more transparent with you, our church is currently in a sermon series that isn’t so much a sermon series, but rather a discussion-based Bible study on Personal Evangelism and the Gospel. Ironically, this Sunday, I am presenting the perspective of a non-believer in regards to tough subjects in the Gospel such as hell/judgment/sin/evil, etc. I will be doing this by taking on the persona of an atheist. I have to admit, these things challenge even my faith, and this discussion couldn’t have come at a better time for me. Thank you!

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