I just read this exceprt from Heaven and Hell... Wanted to offer my thoughts.
"Those are powerful metaphors. But we don't live any longer in a culture in which people offer animal sacrifices to the gods. We have to understand that the first Christian writers were doing "brilliant, creative work" by putting "the Jesus story in language their listeners would understand."
The metaphors Bell is talking about have to do with the fact the Jesus' death satisfied God's wrath towards sin. Hebrews is full of these metaphors.
11But when Christ appeared as a high priest(U) of the good things that have come,[e] then through(V) the greater and more perfect tent ((W) not made with hands, that is, not of this creation) 12he(X) entered(Y) once for all into the holy places, not by means of(Z) the blood of goats and calves but(AA) by means of his own blood,(AB) thus securing an eternal redemption. Hebrews 9.
12But when Christ[b] had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he(Q) sat down at the right hand of God, 13waiting from that time(R) until his enemies should be made a footstool for his feet. 14For by a single offering(S) he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified. Hebrews 10
It bothers me that Bell would say these authors were merely putting the Jesus story in a language that their listeners would understand. In these verses God is telling us that our sin is serious and that without the shedding of blood there is no remission or forgiveness of sin. It's not just a metaphor. It's how a holy, loving God ordered things to be.
Bell writes that Jesus' death was an inspiring example of self-sacrifice and should be our motivation for living the same type of life. I don't hear anything in Bell's theology about the atoning work behind Jesus' death. Jesus didn't die just so we would have an example, but so that God's wrath towards us would be satisfied. It's the only way we find justification.
And actually people still do offer blood sacrifices to the gods. Check out tribes in Africa. I've personally met a guy who grew up sacrificing chickens for his family that the gods might be pleased and satisfied. It's not an ancient, outdated idea. It's written deep in our hearts, we've offended a holy God and something must be done.
The beautiful thing about Christianity is that God did that thing that must be done by becoming incarnate and sacrificing himself.
Because Bell downplays the wrath of God, it's not surprise to me that he downplays the reality of hell.
In my place, Jesus died
The spotless lamb, laid down his life
The wrath of God was satisfied
In my place, Jesus died.