Kevin DeYoung has criticised Rob Bell's new book at length on his blog.
This review and some others that I've read may well be right in their denials and affirmations about heaven and hell. But there is an implicit message in them that I think is too narrow, and ultimately, unbiblical. The message is this: People go to heaven because of God's love, but people go to hell because of God's holiness (or justice). Bell is being accused of neglecting the holiness of God by denying the eternal, conscious torment of sinners in hell. That's quite an accusation, and one that I think is at least partially unfounded. I say that because to talk only about salvation isn't to not talk about God's holiness: quite the opposite, in fact.
I will not execute my burning anger; I will not again destroy Ephraim; for I am God and not a man, the Holy One in your midst, and I will not come in wrath. - Hos. 11:9
Kevin DeYoung seems only to leave open the reality that God will execute his burning anger because he is the Holy One. Hosea speaks of God's holiness, his otherness, as the very reason that wrath will be spared. Therefore the tension within God is not "I am loving so I want to save you, but I am holy so I must unleash my anger on you". Tension is described in the passage, but it is the tension of what should have the final word over Israel - judgement or compassion, exile or return? Because God is Holy, judgement is penultimate, but compassion and return are ultimate.
To reinforce the point, Ezekiel speaks of Israel's restoration as occuring for the sake of God's Holy name (Ez. 36). When Yhwh's people are saved, Yhwh's holiness -- not his love, not his holy love, but his holiness -- will be vindicated.
DeYoung and others are keen to attach the 'holy' modifier to Bell's reckless, liberal 'love'. In this understanding, a fundamental question underlying the biblical story, How can a holy God dwell with unholy people?, is answered by the (holy) love of God revealed in the cross of Christ. My point, however, is that the question, How can a holy God dwell with unholy people? can be answered by appealing to very holiness which seems to stand in our way. How can a holy God dwell with unholy people? Because he is holy! Because his holiness is strong enough to cleanse us of our unholiness; a strength revealed in the death and resurrection of Christ.
This isn't to presume on the holiness of God as standing at our beck and call, nor is it to deny God his role as judge. Yet as Stanley Hauerwas said during a radio debate in the UK, "God judges the world, and that's a good thing." Contrary to the implications of DeYoung's review, God is holy, and that's a good thing for the unholy to hear.
(For a similar discussion of a narrowly understood biblical word, see this post on justice)