Equipping God's People to Create Missional Culture

Rob Bell’s New Book – Love Wins – Gets Judged Before Most Read It

I find it quite sad that so many have judged Rob Bell as a potential heretic because of a tweet they read from John Piper which says “Farewell Rob Bell”, or because of a provocative blurb that the publishers wrote about his upcoming book - Love Wins: A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Livedwhich is set to be released on March 29, 2011 [The book is now being released March 15th, 2011]

**Special Note: HERE IS MY REVIEW OF LOVE WINS

Part I: Introduction
Part II: Overview of Love Wins
Part III: Is Rob Bell a Universalist?
Part IV: Does God’s love and mercy extend beyond the grave?
Part V: Understanding Heresy and Orthodoxy
Part VI: My Judgment On the Matter and Conclusion

Here are some of the judgments people have made on twitter, which had Bell trending in the top 10 yesterday:

@John Piper: Farewell Rob Bell (he then linked to Justin Taylor’s blog article  Rob Bell: Universalist?)

@HarrisJosh: There’s nothing loving about preaching a false gospel. This breaks my heart. Praying for Rob Bell. (linking to same article)

@between2worlds (Justin Taylor’s blog)  Universalist?:  John Piper once wisely wrote, “Bad theology dishonors God and hurts people. Churches…

@CindyCook12345 :Rob Bell, Rob Bell, so glad u took off ur sheeps clothing and glad I threw ur book in the trash years ago!

Most all of this got started by Justin Taylor’s blog post, where he now admits, “I have not read all of Bell’s book, though I have read some chapters that were sent to me… I think that the publisher’s description combined with Bell’s video (later in this post) is sufficient evidence to suggest that he thinks hell is empty and that God’s love (which desire all to be saved) is always successful.”

So that is enough to make a judgment? Actually, I think Justin’s blog post, along with John Piper and Josh Harris’ tweets will probably have more people reading Rob’s book than would have ever read it otherwise. The pre-sales, as of this writing, had it #1 in Christianity and #70 overall on Amazon.  I’m guessing the marketers are quite happy right now.

Of course not all twitters are quick to judge, in fact, some recognize the importance of actually reading a book before making judgments:

@kristimcarlson: Wow, people. I can’t believe why Rob Bell is trending. Read the book or ask him.  Remember: “Judge not lest ye be judged”. That’s God’s job.

@Matthew_Talley: Aren’t we going a bit overboard by literally judging this book by it’s cover? RT@JohnPiper: dsr.gd/fZqmd8

So what was the publishers blurb that caused such a stir:

“Fans flock to his Facebook page, his NOOMA videos have been viewed by millions, and his Sunday sermons are attended by 10,000 parishioners—with a downloadable podcast reaching 50,000 more. An electrifying, unconventional pastor whom Time magazine calls “a singular rock star in the church world,” Rob Bell is the most vibrant, central religious leader of the millennial generation. Now, in Love Wins: Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived, Bell addresses one of the most controversial issues of faith—the afterlife—arguing that a loving God would never sentence human souls to eternal suffering. With searing insight, Bell puts hell on trial, and his message is decidedly optimistic—eternal life doesn’t start when we die; it starts right now. And ultimately, Love Wins.”

But of course, the line – “arguing that a loving God would never sentence human souls to eternal suffering” must be read very carefully.  Tom Batterson (someone who actually read the whole book) talks about in his post about this book that a well known preacher said that Rob Bell said in Velvet Elvis that he didn’t believe in the virgin birth.  But when he actually read the book the context was an example of “doubt”.  So because Rob Bell has been trending and Christians have been saying a lot of nasty things about Rob, he felt it important to share a couple of direct quotes from the book.  Batterson writes:

“As a book seller I received an advanced pre-pub review copy. The author does go in the direction that this well known preacher claims. But, he once again does it to cause us to ask serious questions, to dig deep and wrestle with our beliefs. The author then lands on what I consider solid orthodox ground (though I’m sure the well known preachers legions of minions will disagree).

First he articulates what ALMOST seems to be a Universalist point of view:

“Could God say to someone truly humbled broken and desperate ‘sorry to late?’ Many have refused to accept the scenario in which somebody is pounding on the door apologizing, repenting, and asking God to be let in only to hear God say through the key hole ‘Doors locked, sorry If only you had been here earlier, I could have done something but now its to late.”

But he then goes on to give a brief over view of Revelation and focuses on the last few chapters. He lands with this:
“… In speaking of the expansive, extraordinary, infinite love of God there is always the danger of neglecting the very real consequences of God’s love. Namely God’s desire and intention to see things become everything they were intended to be. For this to unfold, God must say about a number of acts and to those who would continue to do them ‘Not here you won’t.’ Love demands freedom. We are free to resist, reject, and rebel against God’s ways for us. We can have all the hell we want.”
I certainly hope all those who saw fit to re-tweet this garbage tweet an apology after they calm down and get a chance to actually read the book.”

In addition to this, a guy named Kurt Willems makes this comment on Justin Taylors blog post:
Come on Justin! I am disappointed in your assumption. Rob Bell will be arguing what is called “Conditional immortality” which is an evangelical view…although it is not the popular one. THIS IS ANOTHER EXAMPLE OF THE NARROW JUDGEMENT OF THE HYPER-NEO-REFORMERS THAT IS MAKING ALL US EVANGELICALS QUITE FRUSTRATED!

Is Eugene Peterson a Universalist? Here is what he says on his endorsement of the book:

“In the current religious climate in America, it isn’t easy to develop an imagination, a thoroughly biblical imagination, that takes in the comprehensive and eternal work of Christ in all people and all circumstances in love and for salvation. Rob Bell goes a long way in helping us acquire just such an imagination. Love Wins accomplishes this without a trace of soft sentimentality and without compromising an inch of evangelical conviction in its proclamation of the good news that is most truly for all.”

- Eugene H. Peterson, Professor Emeritus of Spiritual Theology, Regent College, and author of The Message and The Pastor

And Evangelical theologian pastor Greg Boyd:

“Love Wins is a bold, prophetic and poetic masterpiece. I don’t know any writer who expresses the inexpressible love of God as powerfully and as beautifully as Rob Bell! Many will disagree with some of Rob’s perspectives, but no one who seriously engages this book will put it down unchanged. A ‘must read’ book!”

- Greg Boyd, senior pastor at Woodland Hills Church and author of The Myth of a Christian Nation

Sarah Pulliam Bailey, of Christianity Today for a late night article yesterday asked Scot Mcknight “if he had seen a book get so much attention before its released, and he e-mailed me the following response”:

I’ve not seen anything like it. And, yes, the quickness of social media have made this such a big issue … today … and in a week it will all be gone. Justin Taylor once generated almost 100 comments by quoting a blurb of mine that was on the back of IVP’s book by Tom Wright on Justification.

Justin may be right about what Rob believes, but if he is wrong then he owes Rob Bell a huge apology. I want to wait to see what Rob Bell says, read it for myself, and see what I think of it. Rob is tapping into what I think is the biggest issue facing evangelicalism today, and this fury shows that it just might be that big of an issue.

The publicity approach of HarperOne worked perfectly. They got huge publicity for a book. They intended to provoke — and they did it well. I think it is wiser to wait to see the real thing than to rely on publicity’s provocations. Justin bit, and so did many of his readers.

Frankly, John Piper’s flippant dismissal of Rob Bell is unworthy of someone of Piper’s stature. The way to disagree with someone of Rob Bell’s influence is not a tweet of dismissal but a private letter or a phone call. Flippancy should have no part in judging a Christian leader’s theology, character or status.

Scot makes a great point here.  I’m going to see if I can get a hold of a copy of this book early and review it.  So what do you think about all of this? By the way, here is the “controversial video”, which by the way had 37.9 K hits just yesterday:

LOVE WINS. – Available March 15th from Rob Bell on Vimeo.

Additional Thought
After reading Jon’s comments below, which I think are important, I wanted to conclude this post in my response to him. Here it is: Jon, you bring up an important element, in that, how do we as Christ followers remain civil in public when we disagree with another person who self identifies as a Christian, and well known Christian leader at that? It seems to me that those who are making a lot of buzz by their reflections on Bell and those seeking to “defend” Bell both have some uncharitable elements to their approach, and all this before most (other than Batterson) have even read the book. That is probably the thing that saddens me. I do believe that after people have read the book, people need to make their judgments, but hopefully in a way that thinks through the history of the church and in a way that they would want to be judged themselves. I think that is what Jesus was saying about “Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.” Obviously we are all called in other places to judge, but we must be prepared to be judged in the same way that we judge. I think we need to engage with a book that we have read, not one we have not read.

I love these words that C.S. Lewis wrote to the introduction of St. Athanasius on the Incarnation. The main point for his words about the article is that we should be people who read primary sources, even though in his context he is talking about sources that are historical in nature. Here is what Lewis says:

“There is a strange idea abroad that in every subject the ancient books should be read by the professionals, that the amateur should content himself with modern books. Thus I have found as a tutor in English Literature that if the average student wants to find out something about Platonism, the very last thing he things of doing is take a translation of Plato off the library shelf and read the Symposium. He would rather read some dreary modern book ten times as long, all about “isms” and influences and only once in twelve pages telling him what Plato actually said. The error is rather an amiable one, for it springs from humility. The student is half afraid to meet one of the great philosophers face to face. He feels himself inadequate and thinks he will not understand him. But if he only knew, the great man, just because of his greatness, is much more intelligible than his modern commentator. The simplest student will be able to understand, if not all, yet a very great deal of what Plato said; but hardly anyone can understand some modern books on Platonism. It has always therefore been one of my main endeavors as a teacher to persuade the young that firsthand knowledge is not only worth acquiring than secondhand knowledge, but it is usually much easier and more delightful to acquire.”

Let’s read Rob’s book, and then seek to engage in fruitful discussion.


75 Responses to Rob Bell’s New Book – Love Wins – Gets Judged Before Most Read It

  1. An Open Letter to Justin Taylor Regarding His Condemnation of Rob Bell
    http://bit.ly/fLawpU

  2. JR Woodward says:

    Carson,

    Thanks for writing a thoughtful and charitable response to Justin Taylor.

  3. Andy Holt says:

    JR, thanks for giving me pause. I, like many others, have quickly rushed to judgment because I thought I saw something like this coming from Rob. I have said, a couple of times, that I’m disappointed but not surprised. I watched the video before passing judgment, but obviously I have not read the book. I look forward to reading the book with a charitable heart.

  4. Tony LaMarca says:

    I must admit, my first reaction was a knee-jerk reaction among some of my friends. We recorded the next episode of our podcast last night and I wanted to be careful not to condemn Rob Bell as we discussed Universalism because a) we hadn’t read the book and would be basing the condemnation on pure speculation and b) it is not our place to condemn. God is the only righteous judge.

    I couldn’t sleep last night as I read tweet after tweet and blog after blog that continued to condemn Bell or take their shots at the people who were throwing stones. It was a mob mentality on both sides of the line. When I came across Sarah Pulliam Bailey’s post, I finally had something I could agree with. I posted my own response on my blog, not unlike yours, and went to bed.

    I was please to find this post tweeted out this morning and encouraged by your link to Tom Batterson’s post as well. It would seem that the social media machine has come full circle. If nothing else, there have been and will be a lot of challenging discussions that come from the comments yesterday. I’m sure even more discussion will come about when the book is released and I pray that thousands+ more are added to the body of Christ.

  5. Brad says:

    JR, thanks for a composed, disciplined, gracious response that is unfortunately rare in Christian circles today.

  6. Graham Richards says:

    THAT was a controversial video? What’s wrong with these fundamentalists? Are they afraid to use the brains that God has so wondrously given us and ask hard questions?

    Thank God that the evangelical clergyman that mentored me and my friends as teenagers encouraged us to always ask questions, debate and disagree if need be. At least I now have a healthy strong faith that is not shaken by pathetic responses to things where they don’t even have any evidence yet!

    Every blessing to Rob Bell & his new book. Must dash, I need to order a copy now…!

  7. Evan says:

    JR,

    Good work compiling the different voices vying for attention here. I’m looking forward to reading the book.

  8. Jon says:

    I feel like the people reacting against Justin Taylor’s blog and John Piper’s tweet are using the same “narrow-mindedness” and “judgmentalism” they’re accusing Taylor and Piper of. Batterson admits Bell starts in a universalist direction, then moves back to something more solid. He (Batterson) says — though unless he’s a mind-reader, I don’t know how he knows — that Bell does this to make us “dig deep and wrestle with our beliefs.”

    That’s fine. But my perspective (which is fairly ambivalent, at least on the tweet war) is that Taylor’s blog was not one of condemnation, but designed to make us “dig deep and wrestle with our beliefs.” All he did was show a video of Bell and the excerpt from the publisher, and say, it seems like Bell’s new book will teach some form of Universalism, but I’ll let you know more when I read it. I didn’t get any hatred or judgment from it.

    But the people who have risen up to “defend” Rob Bell have, it seems, often just attacked Taylor or Piper (or their fans). Matthew Turner tweeted that if you disagree with a Calvinist, the Calvinist will hate you. Batterson, above, called Piper’s fans a “legion of minions.” Obviously that’s sort of offensive.

    I retweeted Piper’s tweet (and looking at it now, McKnight is right, above, that the tweet was flippant and unfair), but not as a condemnation of Bell AT ALL, but as… well, a way to make people “dig deep and wrestle with their beliefs.”

  9. JR Woodward says:

    Andy,

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts and your willingness to read the original source before making judgment.

    Tony,

    Awesome thoughts. The book has certainly gotten a lot of pre-attention it will be fascinating to see how those apart from Christ respond to it. I”m looking forward to checking out your post.

    Brad,

    Thanks for your words of encouragement.

    Graham,

    I hear you. It may be that some have not had a historical perspective in this area of eschatology and just went into response mode.

    Evan,

    Yeah thanks. I just wanted to bring a little perspective.

  10. JR Woodward says:

    Jon,

    I wanted to thank you for sharing your thoughts, because you bring up an important element, in that, how do we as (Christ followers) remain civil in public when we disagree with another person who self identifies as a Christian, and Christian leader at that. It seems to me that those who are making some crazy buzz by their reflections on Bell and those seeking to “defend” Bell both have some uncharitable elements to their approach, and all this before most (other than Batterson) has even read the book. That is probably the think that saddens me. I do believe that after people have read the book, people need to make their judgments, but hopefully in a way that thinks through the history of the church and in a way that they would want to be judged themselves. I think that is what Jesus was saying about “Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.” Obviously we are all called in other places to judge, but we must be prepared to be judged in the same way. I think we need to engage with a book that we have read, not one we have not read.

  11. Mike Gantt says:

    There is actually a biblical basis for believing that everyone will go to heaven. It honors Christ above all because He is the only way, yet His mercy is wide.

    This does not mean that moral human behavior is not important. On the contrary, nothing is more important. And we are called to live repentant lives before Jesus. Those who don’t know of Him or the scriptures will receive more leniency in judgment than we who know the Scriptures. But though His judgment is just and every person will reap what they have sown, yet His mercy will redeem all. O how great is the wisdom of the One who created and redeemed us!

    The Biblical Case for Everyone Going to Heaven is at http://wp.me/PNthc-i6

  12. Rachel says:

    Based on your excerpt, Bell never anwers the question of will God send “humble” peoplemto hell?

    True humility to God IS accepting His plan for salvation. And His brand of love is not freedom but utter devotion to Him. You do not see Paul “loving free.” Paul was undone by the beauty of the Man. He gave up everything of Himself to follow Jesus.

    Love demands freedom is a nice, emotional idea and comment, but love demands commitment and devotion, selflessness. The Cross is the perfect example love. Where does Bell see freedom for Jesus there?

  13. B.D. says:

    J.R., Great post.

    I think the thing that bothers me about this whole dust up is how uncharitable it’s been. I have many things that I disagree with Piper on, but I’m nowhere near accusing him of heresy. But it seems that those who were jumping on the “Rob Bell is a universalist heretic” bandwagon were from the reformed camp and my impression is judge orthodoxy not by a sort of broad creedal orthodoxy but by a tighter Reformed set of beliefs.

    It seemed obvious to me in watching his video that he was going to end up in an inclusivist perspective more than a universalist perspective. I guess, I’m easily defensive about it because I wish that universalism might be true and everyone would be saved, and I worry that the doctrine hounds would jump on someone like me for even daring to say I wish it.

    Anyways, I’m thankful for your post and your irenic tone, it’s challenged me to not write the reactionary blogpost I wanted to after immediately reading on this whole thing.

  14. greg says:

    thanks JR.
    Very good, balanced thoughts.

    peace,
    greg

  15. Devin says:

    The fact that Rob hasn’t publically said “I am not a universalist” speaks for itself. Unfortunately, Rob is so vague that I doubt we’ll get any objective statements from him. I’ve read a fair bit of his books and will read this one. He is a great writer but not the guy I go to for solid biblical teaching.

  16. Ruth says:

    This whole firestorm hurts my heart. Thank you, JRW, for writing about this situation today. It seems to me that one of the (many) problems people have with “Universalism” is that they don’t necessarily know what it IS. And that would be the case because even Trinitarian, Christian Universalists don’t line up on the “hows” of ALL being returned to Christ.
    Some hold a very “orthodox” belief of Divine Judgment, and they believe in hell. They just don’t believe in a retributive version of hell, rather something more like the Catholic doctrine of purgatory in which hell is the place for punitive but ultimately restorative action on the part of God.
    Others maintain that there is no hell and that Universal atonement has its way exclusively through the power of the Cross and the Mercy of God.
    Yet when people hear Universalism, they tend to think of Unitarianism and don’t hear any vestige of Trinitarian orthodoxy in it.
    When you say that some may not have an historical comprehension of these issues in Christian thinking, I think you are right on.
    But in the meantime, the Devil is gafawing at the Body attacking itself and the world tunes in to watch another episode of the Family Brawl.
    It grieves me.

  17. RobS says:

    Yeah, I saw the “publisher’s review” comments and they were a bit hard to understand in just a simple context. Certainly the entire book deserves a look when it’s released.

    Maybe Rob is going to sell a ton of books!?

  18. JR Woodward says:

    Mike,

    Thanks for your link to read more about your perspective. You have obviously thought a lot about this topic.

    BD,

    I hear you man. I appreciate your heart, and certainly we see your “heart for all” reflected in the scripture, when God says he desire all to come to repentance. This little “controversy” seems to have brought to surface the various camps of evangelicalism that exist today. The question is will we be able to hold hands and not see eye to eye on everything.

    Greg,

    Thanks man. Let’s connect this week.

    Devin,

    Thanks for your thoughts. So who do you tend to go to in regard to your theological perspective?

    Ruth,

    Thanks for bringing a bit of historical perspective. If I can get an early copy of the book, I will probably bring Rob Bell into conversation with other people about this topic that is obviously important to many.

    Rob,

    You can bet this book will sell a lot, mostly because of how John Piper and others have chimed in.

  19. Zakk says:

    Great post JR. I think the coolest thing about all of this is that it’s a great opportunity for grace to be shown and it really highlights that we are all imperfect. John Piper is imperfect, Rob Bell is imperfect, other pastors are imperfect, the flock is imperfect, tweeters… (there’s probably no hope for us, ha). It is by God’s grace on the cross that these imperfections, our sins, have been forgiven, so flare ups like these can totally be a reminder of that point.

    However, I do think we can also ALL learn how to better react the next time something like this happens, whether on a national level or a personal, everyday life level.

    I can almost 100% guarantee that each one of us has acted hastily in our lives at some point. We’ve been quick to anger or gotten riled up or frustrated or whatever.

    As it says in James 1:19 Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, 20 because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires. We would all do well to remember this.

    This is the biblical approach we should be taking in our lives and with Rob’s book. We should reserve judgement until we’ve read the book ourselves and tested it with the scriptures as our standard.

    Matthew Henry put it like this in his commentary on these verses…

    “An angry and hasty spirit is soon provoked to ill things by afflictions, and errors and ill opinions become prevalent through the workings of our own vile and vain affections; but the renewing grace of God and the word of the gospel teach us to subdue these: Wherefore, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath, James 1:19.

    (there were two other points as well)

    3. This may be understood as referring to the disputes and differences that Christians, in those times of trial, were running into among themselves: and so this part of the chapter may be considered without any connection with what goes before. Here we may observe that, whenever matters of difference arise among Christians, each side should be willing to hear the other. People are often stiff in their own opinions because they are not willing to hear what others have to offer against them: whereas we should be swift to hear reason and truth on all sides, and be slow to speak any thing that should prevent this: and, when we do speak, there should be nothing of wrath; for a soft answer turneth away wrath.

    As this epistle is designed to correct a variety of disorders that existed among Christians, these words, swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath, may be very well interpreted according to this last explication. And we may further observe from them that, if men would govern their tongues, they must govern their passions. When Moses’s spirit was provoked, he spoke unadvisedly with his lips. If we would be slow to speak, we must be slow to wrath.” – Matthew Henry -

    It bears repeating, “If we would be slow to speak, we must be slow to wrath.”

    Lets aspire to that standard.

  20. Josh Rowley says:

    So what if Bell is some kind of universalist? (There is more than one kind.) Origen was a universalist. Barth and Newbigin were hopeful Christian universalists (that is, they hoped that Jesus would ultimately save all people). The whole Eastern Orthodox tradition leans toward universalism–it teaches that when Jesus “descended into hell” he broke open its gates and left them wide open (Christus Victor). I’d rather read Bell than Piper and friends any day.

  21. JR Woodward says:

    Zakk,

    Thanks for sharing some great words of wisdom. We are all imperfect, and we should be quick to listen and slow to speak. They actually go well together. We all bring our various eye glasses to scripture, and though we have the help of the Spirit, we still see through the mirror dimly. Thanks again for some sane words in a time when people haven’t been too careful in what they have said.

    Josh,

    I think what you are bringing to the table here, is that we need to help bring this conversation into historical perspective, and engage with some thoughtfulness and mindfulness in how we actually approach and understand the scriptures.

  22. Pingback: Bell a Universalist? - Christian Forums

  23. E.G. says:

    Devin#15 wrote: “The fact that Rob hasn’t publically said “I am not a universalist” speaks for itself. ”

    Devin, have you publicly stated that you’re not a universalist? I haven’t heard it, therefore you must be a universalist.

    I also haven’t heard you publicly deny Gnosticism. Or polytheism. I’m starting to worry about you here.

    Back to reality…

    Good grief. Does everyone have to publicly announce each and every idea that they don’t adhere to, or they become, in your eyes, linked to it? This is the strangest reasoning that I’ve seen in quite some time.

  24. Linda says:

    The issues will not be resolved when the book comes out. At the end of the day, intelligent Christians who respect Scripture and love Jesus will land at different understandings concerning these issues. Sadly, we rarely respect the sincerity and intelligence of those who do not agree with our understanding.

  25. JR Woodward says:

    Linda,

    You are absolutely right, in that the release of the book will not solve everything, it may very well complicate things even more, at least for a season. I hinted toward that in my last paragraph. People will make their judgments, but hopefully we will learn what it means to walk hand in hand while not seeing eye to eye on everything. If I’m able to get an early copy of the book, I hope to bring some historical context to the debate. If I don’t, I may write up something after the release of the book. It does seem that this topic and this book may heighten our need to think more deeply about our epistemological and hermeneutical approaches.

  26. Pingback: Jim Pace » Rob Bell… and what about hell?… » author of the book Should We Fire God

  27. Pingback: An Open Letter to Justin Taylor Regarding His Condemnation of Rob Bell (via Musing of a Hard-Lining Moderate) « Xn Realists

  28. Ben Vos says:

    There’s some Genesis 50 wisdom in the midst of this whole controversy. Justin Taylor may have intended to correct Rob Bell and even admonish or condemn him, but as Romans 2 says, “You, therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else, for at whatever point you judge the other, you are condemning yourself because you who pass judgment do the same things.” Taylor may have intended to bring condemnation on Bell but it’s evident from the flurry of responses that Bell has plenty of defenders as well as many “cultured despisers” who find his questions reprehensible. To me, Taylor’s blog reflects a tendency we all have to be prejudiced in our interpretation of others, and to read into the text (eisegesis) instead of truly exploring the meaning of the text as intended by the author (exegesis). An awful lot of “defenders of the faith” are merely defending their own prejudices. Deriving our understanding of God’s character from the crucifixion of Christ mistakes our own bloodlust for God’s, and misinterprets the self-sacrifice of God the Son on the cross “for us and our salvation” as a demand for retributive justice that is a human creation designed to make sense of a miraculous mystery.

  29. Pingback: Rob Bell – Love Wins « And They Lived Happily Ever After

  30. Pingback: It’s ironic isn’t it? « a little bit.

  31. Kurt says:

    JR… we keep running into each other in small ways on the web. Hey, I like your commentary here and am wondering if you read my response to the situation? The comment I left on the blog does not quite do me justice I don’t think. Here is that post:
    http://thepangeablog.com/2011/02/26/if-rob-bell-is-a-universalist-then-maybe-i-am-along-with-many-prominent-evangelicals/

  32. Wendy Falzarano says:

    #11 Mike Gantt,
    I am stunned to think, according to the excerpts below(*) from the link you posted, that the reason I should repent is because I don’t want to hang my head in shame when I get to heaven…what?? I’m getting into heaven, free pass (according to you,) and I’m ashamed of not repenting of all the “excess fun” here on earth, and not following God more closely? Why should I if my reward is still heaven? I mean, really, I can have my cake and eat it, too! That is utterly ridiculous to me- must be a slap in the face of God-that He would send His precious Son to die so that all mankind may live life in any manner they please and still enter the gates of heaven.

    *(excerpt) “Since all of us need to repent, we must repent – that is, live a life of repentance and humility before God. We do not repent so that we can get into heaven; we repent because we are going to heaven and don’t want to have to hang our heads in shame when we get there.
    It has been running away from God, running away from heaven. In this life you can either win the approval of the world or win the approval of heaven. Which will you seek – passing pleasure or eternal joy?”
    -According to you, I can have both!! We both know that’s not true.

  33. Jeff Clarke says:

    It seems we need to find a happy medium between the love of God and the justice of God. Leaning too heavily in either direction has the capacity to lead us in inappropriate directions. “God is Love” and “God is Light” are not two contradictory statements, so we have to find a way to hold them both at the same time, without allowing either one to dominate. Love may cause us to eliminate hell all-together; while Light may cause us to focus almost exclusively on it. Either option is an over-emphasis that demands revision; for universalists on the one side and Calvinists (etc) on the other.

  34. Aaron says:

    it’s amazing to see that Christians could be such assholes

  35. Pingback: entering the “love wins” controversy « Jesus community

  36. Wendy Falzarano says:

    Aaron,I’m curious, is this a blanket statement that includes all Christians (including yourself?), or are you responding to certain opinion(s) previously posted?

  37. Josh says:

    There has been a huge whirlwind of commotion and excitement surrounding this book. And rightly so because we as Christian’s have a responsibility to represent Jesus Christ as His body here on earth, which He commissioned to spread the Good News of a saving relationship with Christ, baptizing and making disciples of all the nations (Matthew 28:19-20). So, when something questionable comes from within that own body, there is a reason to have some concern about it. If there is a 99% truth mixed in with a 1% lie or error, then doesn’t it corrupt the whole thing (Galatians 5:7-10). Just like what is coming from the video and the excerpt from the publisher seems to appear as universalism, there is a need to respond to it. Granted, there is a proper and Christ-like way of responding to it, as it has been pointed out neither side is really doing that. But all opinions aside, if we just take a look at the words of Jesus Himself as well as the other Holy Spirit inspired writers of the Bible, I think that they speak loud enough for themselves. Check out all of Matthew 25. As much as I would love to see that there would be no one that perishes and that everyone is saved, it just doesn’t line up with God’s Word. God doesn’t want anyone to perish, that is true and Biblical (2 Peter 3:9), but it is possible to “fall from your secure position” (2 Peter 3:17). With the book having not been released to the public yet and a statement by Rob Bell hasn’t been made, there is a need to reserve a complete judgment on the matter. At the same time though, we have to be cautious of everything that is surrounding it, and use the wonderful mind that God has gifted us with to judge what we read and hear against God’s Word.

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  39. Sean Hankson says:

    I was a firm believer in hell since 5 years old when my pastor scared it out of me. I grew up defending it, passing out tracts to save other people from it. I knew many of my agnostic relatives would someday be burning in it. I was just like all the rest who firmly believed that from the foundations of the world God planned to send his son to save people from hell. Then something happened.
    Suddenly hell stopped making sense…
    Suddenly all the things people told me about hell started to sound ridiculous. But oddly at the same time my relationship with God started growing. His love made sense, his command to love enemies made sense, his desire that none should perish made sense. Never could figure that one out. Why God created hell to punish the ones he hates, and yet desires that none of those he hates should ever go there.

    Other things that didn’t make sense:
    If hell is literal fire and not spiritual fire then doesn’t that literal fire require fuel. (wood, gas, human flesh?) Will there come a time after say a billion years when the fuel runs out, like the fuel running out and a dying star. Will God literally have to refuel the fires of hell? At which point wouldn’t those in heaven just think.. what’s the point of continuing to refuel this fire. I mean those 12 year olds (or whatever the real age of accountability is) have been burning now for a billion years. Do we really need to stoke it up for another billion.

    Ok is the lake of fire in hell? is hell in the lake of fire? or is the lake of fire another word for hell? I’ve heard it all ways. But the bible talks of hades(hell) being thrown into the lake of fire.
    Also is Hell or the lake of fire the designated place for one to be tormented with fire and brimstone forever and ever, or will there be some other places where this happens as well. Revelation 14:9-11 seems to indicate that the holy angels and the lamb(jesus?) will be forever and ever overseeing the tormenting of those who recieve the mark of the beast on their foreheads or hands.

    What about the whole thing with every knee will bow and every toungue confess? If you confess Jesus as Lord aren’t you saved? 1 john 4:15 Romans 10:9; Acts 8:37. Will Jesus gain any satisfaction from billions of people passing before his thrown for a quick bow and a quick confession on their way to burn in hell.

    ok heres on that i dont get. If you die you go immediately to heaven or hell right?
    So Lazarus died- did he go to heaven or hell?
    If hell then it was because he deserved hell- yet Jesus gave him a free pass out of hell- why doesnt jesus give a free pass out of hell for everyone, not just his friends.
    If lazarus went to heaven- to paradise only to be raised from the dead (ie ripped out of paradise to be brought down to a hellish place called occupied israel) was lazarus thankful to jesus? Why would his sisters want him ripped out of heaven and returned to a miserable exsistence?

    If the good news is: Jesus died so that people would have a chance to go to heaven, why isn’t it that clear. Seems to me that it would be fair for God to say right away at the beginning- Look here if you eat of this fruit you wont just die, you will also force me to create a place called hell where men women and children over the age of 8 (in some religions, 12 in others) will be burned alive for 5 minutes which is how long it takes for a normal body to be burned to the crisp, then another five days, then five years, five decades, five billion years, five trillion, then five to the five trillionth power years after that. And the only way you can be saved from this nightmare ( that most all of humanity will be unable to imagine because i did not create within them the capacity to imagine such horror sure they come close with murders, holocosts, tortures, rapes and slasher films but those only last for a few minutes or hours or days. This goes on forever.) is to say a prayer asking my son Jesus into your heart.
    Adam sinned and condemned the whole human race to hell but the best that the new Adam (jesus) can do is save some.

    IT IS FINISHED- Jesus said these words but were they true or optimistic? Was anything finished or had it just begun. Wouldn’t he feel silly if no one became a christian. If no one said the prayer or made a confession. Sure he had a gut feeling, but could he be sure ( i mean human free will is more powerful than Gods sovereignty- its like gods kriptonite) So what was finished. I think he meant it is finished in the sense that the sin debt that man was under had been cancelled. God was no longer holding mans sins against them. Humanity was freed from slavery to sin. The ransom had been paid and sin no longer had any rights to humanity. God saved the world that Adam condemned.

    I think Rob Bell’s book will the beginning of many lines being drawn in the stand. I believe most people have doubts on hell but dont dare talk about them. Here’s our biggest fear. If hell didnt exist then we could just do whatever we wanted. To which i ask, is hell the only thing keeping you from doing whatever you want? What is it that you want to do? Why do you want to do those things? Is that christ in you speaking? Or are you of a carnal mind, and fear of hell is the thing that keeps you compliant? Does anyone love anyone who threatens them with death, torture if they stop loving them. I believe there was a movie with Julia Roberts about a girl trying to get away from a guy who threatened to kill her if she left him.

    I have three sons and a daughter. If i knew one of them didn’t say the prayer and is therefore going to hell. i would beg and plead with God to spare his/her soul and take mine instead. how many of you dads feel the same about your sons, daughters? Is that a good thing or bad thing that we feel that way. If it’s good where do we get it from? If its bad why do i hear of so many christians who say it. Are they sinning when they say they would take their childs place in hell if they could. What if a bunch of us parents of non christian kids all signed a petition asking God to let us take the place of our children, would he honor it? If he didn’t would we be upset with him?

    The good news option A-
    God created (it existed in the mind of God) a literal place
    called hell then created humanity and put the fate of the entire human race in the hands of two people who were just a few days or few years old. God put a beautiful tree in the center of the garden then allowed (or didn’t notice) a serpent (the craftiest agent of deception ever created) to have a talk with the two young immature people without God interferring. They fell into temptation, they ate, and sentenced billions and billions of humans to death. But not just death a living death that includes torture and flames and demons and some say getting your flesh ripped off and watching it grow back on only to be ripped off again and again for a trillion years. However if you are fortunate enough and God did not cause you to be born into a muslim family or a family that was hindu, buddhist, jewish, alcoholic, aids stricken, sexually abusive, poverty stricken, oppressed, black, mexican, agnostic, phiilipino, atheist, involved in the dark arts, cannanite, hittite, not jewish, lived during the dark ages, lived during the inquisition, etc etc. And you say the right prayer then you don’t have to go to hell because God loves you and sent his Son to die for you, but not the person who died of aids a day after his 8th birthday or 12th birthday depending on which age of accountability pertains to that person.

    The Good News option B- God created the world, he created humanity to reveal himself to, to love and to show his glory. He created Humanity with the intention that there would be a fall, without a fall there is no need of redemption. So a created adversary was placed in the garden to bring adversity into the good garden. God cannot tempt people but can create a being whose purpose it is to be an adversary or a satan- (This may explain why the adversary appears before God’s throne and asks permission to do certain things- inflict job, tempt jesus, sift peter like wheat.)
    So in adam all died but in christ all will be made alive 1 cor 15:22
    All of humanity was in slavery (to sin) Jesus as the kinsmen redeemer paid the price to redeem all humanity. They all belong to Jesus now, he paid the debt for all of them.
    2 corinthians 5:19 god was in christ reconciling the world to himself, no longer counting peoples sins against them. If you die and your sins are no longer counted against you how can you be found guilty?
    Jesus died to save the world, not to attempt to save the world or save some or even alot.

    Honestly don’t we who have Christ in us want this to be true? Don’t we whom Jesus taught to love our enemies want the most ugly, sinful, and vile creatures the world has ever seen to be walking hand in hand with Jesus someday?

    Paul said he was the chief of sinners, the worst of the worst. All the Christians feared and hated him. Yet Jesus personally converted Paul. Why him, and not others?

    I believe many christians who claim to love their enemies don’t really like the idea of Jesus accepting all of humanity into his paradise someday. This is the spirit of the pharisees, the older brother of the prodigal son, and all else who say it isn’t fair. I’ve been living a good life all my life and God’s just gonna let everyone into heaven anyways? Thats not fair. Boy does that sound familliar, there are many stories in the gospels just like that.

    Even if its totally false, don’t you want it to be true. Don’t you want you’re alcoholic grandpa to be sober and smiling with jesus rather than burning in hell. Wouldn’t you rather see Hitler apologizing personally to all the 6 million jews he killed in the presence of jesus rather than to be burning in hell with most of the jews he killed because you know most of them were’nt christians.

    Don’t we all want God’s justice and mercy to somehow work in cooperation in such a way that all of creation glorifies God together and says there is no possible better story than this. God has done the greatest thing ever imaginable.

    I don’t know how many people have ever lived on earth. some say between 50 and 100 billion. Lets say 50 Billion souls have been born on this earth.

    Lets say God saved 39,876,232,421 people from hell. And only lost 10,123,767,579 but one of those he lost was a little girl who grew up in Aids stricken africa. She buried both her parents and was rasing her little siblings until she turned 12 and the village men found out she was a virgin so they raped her to make their aids go away. She died during the rape and was just one day older than the age of acountability. She did not say the prayer or make a confession. All of us in heaven now know this story, and some of us say well thats not Gods problem. Others say this case should be brought up for review. Some of us cry justice, others mercy.
    Some of us could imagine a better ending to the story, an ending where that one last girl got in. If we can imagine a better ending than this God is not the being than which nothing greater can be conceived. We will always wonder… couldn’t he have saved one more.

    Couldn’t he have saved Ghandi, Couldn’t he have saved Mother Teresa. I mean i know she was Catholic and probably never said the sinners prayer, But she did more Christ like living in one day than many religious “saved” people do in a lifetime.

    If you’re reading this far thanks for your time.

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  41. bobby says:

    Wow…obviously a touchy subject considering the amount of comments you’ve gotten here on it. While I can appreciate to some degree the point that we shouldn’t react back in judgement as well, it also seems like Piper, Driscoll, Harris, and the like have become the ones constantly calling out everyone not in their camp as practical heretics. I shared with you when we met a few years ago that Piper had a huge influence on my personal theology through some of his teachings and through his book Desiring God, but I have been increasingly disappointed in the direction he has gone in becoming what seems like the reformed watchdog of the evangelical world.

    I would say that you have a good point and quote from C.S. Lewis on your addendum there, but there was recently a post at the Gospel Coalition site about Lewis being a heretic and a universalist as well, so I guess his thoughts don’t hold much water either. ;)

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  43. Here’s what I think. IF Bell’s book is NOT an argument for universalism, and the video’s rhetorical questions are NOT meant to ridicule the traditional beliefs of eternal conscious suffering, penal substitutionary atonement, and salvation by faith alone in Christ alone, THEN the marketing mechanism is a paradigm example of what Harry Frankfurt has defined as “bullshit.” This is a good reason NOT to like Bell as a communicator. The strategy is pretentious, deliberately vague, and falls just short of lying. The “he’s being provocative” defense doesn’t help much in that provocation is not necessarily a virtue. It becomes vicious when you misrepresent yourself, acting like a phony heretic, so you can make a point.

    I am not saying Piper or Taylor acted with pure intellectual virtue. But to be surprised at their response, I think, shows a staggering lack of empathy for how they might hear what Bell is saying.

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  47. Anzaholyman says:

    I find it interesting that receiving Christ sounds more like some kind of ultimatum with the veiled threat of Hell’s fire. I can see why if this is your preferred method of Sharing the Love of God found in Jesus Christ with others, you would be none to happy if your Hell card was pulled from your deck. All this is just a method designed by men i.e. “The Roman Road” or the assumption of “Total Depravity” read into the words of Paul. Orthodoxy has become the wet firewood for those who wish to keep us in a frozen state in theology, after all that good old sixteenth century is a great place for a mental vacation. Let me quote from John Calvin here; “Whoever shall now contend that it is unjust to put heretics and blasphemers to death will knowingly and willingly incur their very guilt.” Not much has changed for some as their numbers shrink but after all “many are called but few are chosen”, good bye John Calvin. ANZAHOLYMAN

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  49. Jeff says:

    Thanks for an intelligible response to Taylor’s successful attempt at aiming traffic toward his blog. Piper’s flippant response only adds fuel to my fire…the fire being that “enlightened” members of the Christian culture have to be the theology police. Has anyone really looked to see how many differences in theology we all have? I dare say that no two people have 100% identically-detailed pictures of theology, yet we throw around the term “heretic” like people threw around the term “witch” in Salem, or “blasphemer” in the Inquisition. Christians err on the side of “we know better” paranoia, rather than truly intentional thinking and researching. This line of thinking has made words like “liberal” profane. Do any of these people even know what the root definition of liberal means? Ok, I’m off my soapbox. I need to go calm down before I write my blog post on this.

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  53. Carol says:

    Through the work of Rob Bell and others, I am growing in love with the One Who Gives each human person a brain, to think critically and to act justly; aware that there is a spirit of life which enables the human heart to respond with kindness in all circumstances (even when we have different perspectives to communicate) and to live with a certain humility that humankind does not have the last word. I hold on to the hope that love wins, even when the Christian community does a poor job of embodying the message of their story in public discourse.

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  55. 4granted says:

    An important step in clarifying your beliefs is to talk about and even defend them. So the fact that the publicity campaign for Rob Bell’s book has started a conversation has provided an impetus for Christians to actually do theology, to figure out what they think about God. Another great resource on heaven, what it’s like and who will be there is “Heaven Revealed” by Paul Enns, released this week by Moody Publishers. I recommend it. Here’s the amazon page: http://dld.bz/P8sz

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  59. Joel says:

    Read Rev. 20: 11-15. Seems to me that not only will some people reject God, but the ones who do will go to hell AND be thrown into the lake of fire along with Satan and his demons. Don’t deny God’s punishment of sin. It’s VERY real.

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  61. Elliott says:

    Acts 17:10 – 12 The brethren immediately sent Paul and Silas away by night to Berea, and when they arrived, they went into the synagogue of the Jews. Now these were more noble-minded than those in Thessalonica, for they received the word with great eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see whether these things were so.

    It’s good to receive the word, but let’s make sure it’s the word…, lest we end up believing and proclaiming a lie, bearing false witness, and becoming a stumbling block. As Paul admonished the Thessalonians concerning anything ‘prophetic’ — test everything, hold fast that which is good.

  62. Tony Stiff says:

    JR there’s a part of me that says we’ve done this to ourselves. We’ve bought into the viability of ‘celebrity culture’ in the Church and now we’re in a place where lines are easily drawn with ‘us’ vs ‘them’ camp leaders step up and make sure everyone knows where the line is. A lot of heat and not a lot of light in almost of all of Bell’s pre & post release book reviews.

    Someone like Bell will step up and say ‘xyz’ and then the post-evangelical crowd redirects their boats to navigate that way. And then someone like Piper will step up and say no ‘xyz’ and then traditional evangelicals with calvinistic leanings point their boats in that way. Few really wrestle with scripture, tradition, etc.. Its herd mentality.

    For my part perhaps the simpliest and most helpful thing any of us can do with a controversy is to go back to primary sources (scripture, creeds & confessions, historical theology, etc.) and discuss those with others in community while practicing a level-headed acknowledgment of our own cultural locatedness with all the effects it has upon our own reading of Scripture, and finally patiently walk through statements that are in question in the writers material step by step, being willing to return or sustain judgment if we don’t have enough to draw a conclusion from. Its basic civility, basic scholarship, basic cruciform love.

    I’m reading Bell’s book and watching the web-based interviews. I’m looking forward to seeing what you do with the review and to reading the valuable insights of everyone sharing in the comment chains.

  63. JR Woodward says:

    Tony,

    Thank you for your level headed thoughts here. They are right on! I love your words “basic civility, basic scholarship and basic cruciform love”. Absolutely key to this debate.

  64. Trex1946 says:

    There is a quite informative book on this topic written in 1992 by Jesuit author Francis A Sullivan called “Salvation Outside the Church? Tracing the History of the Catholic Response.” The book examined the controversy in 1949 when Leonard Feeney SJ accused the Archbishop of Boston of heresy for holding that Jews and Protestants could be saved. It is interesting to compare this Catholic experience to that of certain Protestants today who condemn the rest of the world outside their world view to damnation. I think that Reverend Bell is on to something here.

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  69. Sean says:

    Here’s another response to Rob Bell’s Book, Love Wins.

    http://www.hellsbell.net

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  71. Luxembourg says:

    Would a loving, all powerful, God sentence human souls to infinite torment and suffering for something they did in a finite amount of time? What about a child who grew up and never had the chance to get to know this loving God? What about a person who is repulsed by those who claim the name of Jesus but, live a life closer to his teachings than some of his followers do?

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