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Divided by Hell? An Assessment of “Love Wins” by Rob Bell: Heresy, Orthodoxy & Final Judgment – Part I

John Piper, an elder statesmen for The Gospel Coalition tweeted three simple words and linked to a blog post by Justin Taylor. Within moments, accusations flew and debates exploded among Christians on the Internet for the whole world to see.  Within a week there are stories about this event on virtually every major media source, including The New York Times, CNN, The Huffington Post, and ABC.

What set off this firestorm among evangelicals across the twittersphere and blogosphere and gained the attention of the world?  Three simple words from John Piper: “Farewell, Rob Bell” and a link to Justin Taylor’s blog, –“Rob Bell: Universalist?”  While the blog title was tentative, the accusations seemed clear. “It is unspeakably sad when those called to be ministers of the Word distort the gospel and deceive the people of God with false doctrine.”

While the book was still unreleased, and only partially read by Taylor, who formed many of his opinions based on a promotional video by Bell himself, Taylor leveled the accusation that “he is moving farther and farther away from anything resembling biblical Christianity.”   Now that the book is out, it seems that at least one tribe – those representing “The Gospel Coalition” have made their judgments.

Kevin DeYoung, whom Justin Taylor and others point to, says, “There are dozens of problems with Love Wins.  The theology is heterodox [another way to say heresy].  The history is inaccurate. The impact on souls is devastating.  And the use of Scripture is indefensible.  Worst of all, Love Wins demeans the cross and misrepresents God’s character.”

So is Rob Bell a heretic?  Will Love Wins: A Book about Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived become a classic, a passing fad, or a textbook example of heresy?  As Christians in general, and as evangelical Protestants in particular, how are we to consider the doctrine of love and unity as we examine the doctrine of hell?  History has demonstrated that we Protest-ants have a proclivity to protest and divide, and sometimes cut off the roots to “save” the branches.  How do Protestants discern heresy from orthodoxy?  Is there a “protestant pope” (either historically or currently) or a council of bishops who determine what is orthodox and what is heresy?

My goal in this essay is to review some of the more controversial parts of Love Wins and examine heresy and orthodoxy to shed light on whether we should divide over hell.  Division should not be taken lightly, for God in Christ has been in the process of creating a new humanity, consisting of insiders and outsiders, of high and low people living in unity.  Those who are too quick to call others “fools,” may find themselves on the wrong side of judgment.  And those who are too quick to spurn orthodoxy may find a wrong turn leads to darkness.

The thesis of this essay is that by analyzing two controversial issues brought up in Love Wins, we can better discern if hell is worth dividing over.  First, I will give an overview of Love Wins to understand Bell’s primary argument.  Second, with the help of various scholars and writers, I will address two controversial questions that the book has stirred up:

  1. What is universalism and is Rob Bell a universalist?
  2. Does God’s love and mercy extend beyond the grave?

While there are undoubtedly more issues that could and should be addressed, these two issues are significant flashpoints for evangelicals. I plan to address them meaningfully, but not exhaustively.  Third, I plan to examine Bell’s teachings in these two areas to discern if he is heretical or within orthodoxy. Finally, I will conclude the essay with some practical advice on how our orthopraxy ought to inform our approach to orthodoxy, if we want to be orthodox.  But before looking at those two questions, let’s start with a short summary of the book.


11 Responses to Divided by Hell? An Assessment of “Love Wins” by Rob Bell: Heresy, Orthodoxy & Final Judgment – Part I

  1. Looking forward to reading more.

  2. JR Woodward says:

    Thanks Stuart. I trust that some of my research will be beneficial for the conversation. Peace.

  3. Mark Steffey says:

    Looking forward to reading this as you post your thoughts. I have not read it.

  4. Mark says:

    This should be an exciting review. I haven’t read the book but it is on my to read list.

    I think many of the themes in this book are particular relevant to what I struggling with now. I am studying lutheran theology and the concept of Justification of grace. I’m wrestling as to what it means in terms of faith practice. how does it include or exclude people? Do we set the conditions of what faith means instead of God?

    Also looking back at Church history, groups are so easy to condemn people as heretics. The fact that they are so quick to condemn even before Rob Bell presents his questions. It seems very similiar to the Catholic churches response to Martin Luther. Let us not be quick to judge but be honest as to what Rob is really trying to ask of our faith and the church.

  5. Jen says:

    I agree with Mark, this should be an interesting review. I like the manner in which you are approaching this review, by addressing the issues of heresy and what is orthodox. These are important issues provoked by this book and should not be taken lightly. I look forward to reading more!

  6. JR Woodward says:

    Mark S,

    Hey bro. Good to hear from you. It’s a fascinating read. You should check it out.

    Mark,

    I hope the review is helpful for you. And it is amazing how quick people have used the word heretic, and in my understanding unwisely, as you will see.

    Jen,

    Glad to know you like the basic approach.

  7. Tamara Dull says:

    Thank you for tackling these questions. I’m still pondering one of Scot McKnight’s recent posts – “A Tipping Point?” It sounds like your research/essay will help address that question, perhaps indirectly. God be with you! I’m looking forward to reading along.

  8. Kerry Whalen says:

    “Those who are too quick to call others “fools,” may find themselves on the wrong side of judgment. And those who are too quick to spurn orthodoxy may find a wrong turn leads to darkness.”
    Yes. So true.

  9. JR Woodward says:

    Kerry,

    Thanks for your thoughts. I liked the way that phrase came off my pen as well.

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