Who's in Hell? Pastors' Criticism of Eternal Torment for Some Sparks Fierce Debate [Excerpts]
A Methodist pastor who voiced support for a book questioning the view of hell as a place of eternal damnation is "shocked" by his church's decision to fire him. Chad Holtz, who served as pastor of the United Methodist church in rural North Carolina, said he hoped his personal belief posted on Facebook would engage -- not anger -- members of his congregation.
Holtz was dismissed this month as pastor of Marrow's Chapel in Henderson after he wrote a note on his Facebook page supporting a new book by Rob Bell, a prominent young evangelical pastor and critic of the traditional view of hell as a place of torment for billions of damned souls.
Bell, the pastor of the 10,000-member Mars Hill Bible Church in Grand Rapids, Mich., criticizes the belief that a select number of Christians will spend eternity in the bliss of heaven while everyone else is tormented forever in hell.
"This is misguided and toxic and ultimately subverts the contagious spread of Jesus' message of love, peace, forgiveness and joy that our world desperately needs to hear," Bell writes in his book.
Making his new belief public was both liberating and a little frightening for Holtz, even though his doubts about traditional doctrines on damnation began long before he heard about Rob Bell's book.
A married Navy veteran with five children, Holtz spent years trying to reconcile his belief that Jesus Christ's death on the cross redeemed the entire world with the idea that millions of people — including millions who had never even heard of Jesus — were suffering forever in hell.
"We do these somersaults to justify the monster god we believe in," he said. "But confronting my own sinfulness, that's when things started to topple for me. Am I really going to be saved just because I believe something, when all these good people in the world aren't?"
"So long as we believe there's a dividing point in eternity, we're going to think in terms of us and them," he said. "But when you believe God has saved everyone, the point is, you're saved. Live like it."
[TBC: Many have pointed out that there are more verses in Scripture warning against hell than speaking of the joy of heaven. That strongly implies a priority with the Lord regarding our preaching to others. According to the God who is "love" (1 John:4:7,8), hell is so horrific that, "if thy hand offend thee, cut it off: it is better for thee to enter into life maimed, than having two hands to go into hell, into the fire that never shall be quenched" (Mark:9:43).]