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No, I don’t want to keep blogging on Rob Bell forever.

In fact, my intention is to make this the last week to talk directly about Bell on this blog.

But I do intend to continue blogging about the issues he raises, since they are perennial, eternal issues that are worth discussing and contending for.

It seems to me that everyone with a blog or a Twitter account has weighed in thus far—and 96.325% of the commentary is a variation on the same few themes.

So I wanted to highlight a few things that especially caught my eye and that I think may be worth looking at in this ocean of discussion.

If you are looking for a chapter-by-chapter summary of the book, Denny Burk’s review is helpful. His rewriting of the table of contents is a helpful way to get a feel for Bell’s conclusions.

In all the discussion about Bell on hell and heaven and universalism, I’m afraid that many are missing the central problem: Bell’s misunderstanding of who God is (cf. 1 John 4:10 on God’s demonstration of true love!) and his emptying the cross of its meaning and power. I was happy to see Russell Moore focus on Bell’s dismissal of the blood of Jesus. The key line: “If you drain the blood out of the church, all you are left with is a corpse.”

I was secretly hoping that someone with good techie skills might edit Bell’s video to say “Hitler” instead of “Gandhi” in order to make a point, but in lieu of that, Jeremy Grinnell provides a parody of Bell’s video questions, looking at it from another angle.

Trevin Wax provides an illuminating metaphor regarding the response to Bell’s critics: “If we had a thermometer for the evangelical movement, we’d find a raging fever. But some evangelicals are responding to the fever in unhelpful and pastorally-damaging ways.” He looks at two responses: (1) “the fever is the problem,” and (2) “the body is okay with infection.”


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49 thoughts on “Rob Bell (Selective) Roundup”

  1. Dan Erickson says:

    Thanks, Justin, for keeping us informed on Rob Bell and issues his book is raising.

  2. Derek says:

    Justin,
    What do you think of Mark Galli of Christianity Today’s review? I thought it was a very good one as well and worth linking to. I was a little bit surprised that his review essentially vindicates your original assessment, given his initial defense of Bell.

  3. Michele says:

    You might want to include a link to Rob Bell’s interview on GMA this morning http://tinyurl.com/46pyr94

    1. Elliot N. says:

      The GMA interview is revealing for Bell’s reinterpretations of hell and heaven. If we can’t clearly say this guy is in doctrinal error, then I’m not sure how we can say it about much of anybody.

  4. Darryl Dash says:

    “Jeremy Grinnell provides a parody of Bell’s video questions, looking at it from another angle.”

    Did you mean to say Mike Wittmer instead of Jeremy Grinnell?

    1. Darryl Dash says:

      Ignore that – my mistake

  5. Jess says:

    Seems like a case of people thinking they are smarter than God, thinking they know better what the standard for holiness is and who should get into heaven.

    21 For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe. 22 Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, 23 but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, 24 but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. 25 For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength. (1 Cor 1)

    But the problem is…a “sound argument” makes no difference…God has to soften their hearts. But we are still called to shine the light, and wait until God uses that truth that you are preaching!

  6. Matthaeus Flexibilis says:

    From Richard Mouw’s blog post “The Orthodoxy of Rob Bell”:

    Rob Bell’s newly released Love Wins is a fine book and that I basically agree with his theology. I knew that the book was being widely criticized for having crossed the theological bridge from evangelical orthodoxy into universalism. Not true, I told the reporter. Rob Bell is calling us away from a stingy orthodoxy to a generous orthodoxy.

    Let me say it clearly: I am not a universalist. I believe hell as a condition in the afterlife is real, and that it will be occupied. I think Rob believes that too. But he is a creative communicator who likes to prod, and even tease us a bit theologically. Suppose, he likes to say, we go up to someone and tell them that God loves them and sent Jesus to die for their sins. Accept Jesus right now, we say, because if ten minutes from now you die without accepting this offer God will punish you forever in the fires of hell. What kind of God are we presenting to the person? Suppose we told someone that their human father has a wonderful gift for them, offered out of love for them—and then we add that, by the way, if they reject the gift that same father will torment them as long as they live. What would we think of such a father? Good question, I think.

    1. Michele says:

      “What kind of God are we presenting to the person?” Um…a righteous God?

    2. Nick Mackison says:

      I believe in hell but Love Wins is a “fine book”? Cake and eat it.

  7. Pastor Matt says:

    I was where Bell was once (I posted on it today) and am eternally grateful that God called me back into the evangelical camp. Thanks your willingness to tackle the issues and take the heat that comes with it, Justin.

    Blessings.

  8. Scott says:

    In Jeremy Grinnell’s parody of Rob Bell’s questions in the video, he says this early on:

    God forgave Hitler?

    He did?

    And someone knows this for sure?

    And felt the need for the rest of us to know?

    Do the most evil and unrepentant people in history, remaining what they are, still make it to heaven?

    Doesn’t this fall short of considering our own lives in light of reformed Calvinism and the doctrine of total depravity? What if I inserted my name in place of Hitler’s? What if we each replaced Hitler’s name with our own? How would we handle it in light of the doctrine of total depravity?

    1. AStev says:

      Grinnell was not saying that’s the position he holds, he was merely using that to demonstrate the flaws in Bell’s logic.

  9. Tad says:

    Scott,
    The point of that statement was to rhetorically effective. It was not to postulate that Hitler is actually worse than us in the eyes of God. It was merely to show that the opposite of what Bell did could also be done, and make Bell sound ridiculous for thinking that if God was not at all Just and only loving he would still be good.

    1. Scott says:

      Yes, but I am very aware that Justin Taylor holds to total depravity in the reformed, Calvinistic sense. So why cannot my name, your name, JT’s name, or anyone else’s name be inserted in place of Hitler’s. At least according to total depravity, none of us deserve our sins to be wiped way regardless because of our sinful condition.

      So I didn’t know why JT recommended this article of Grinnell’s knowing what would probably be his position on the human condition and sin. Realising this logic, I don’t think Grinnel’s point was that helpful in reversing the point.

  10. Carey Olson says:

    Let us pray for the people of Rob Bell’s congregation. I wonder how they are reacting to his book.

  11. Ray A. says:

    Ahhhhh… so it all comes down to; Reformed vs EVERY OTHER CHRISTIAN THEOLOGY!

    big whoop. thanks all for spreading libel and slander to an individual like Rob Bell who shares his views with saints like Billy Graham, John Wesley, C.S. Lewis, most of the church fathers, and a majority of christians today.

    I pray for God’s mercy on you. James 3:1.

    1. Luke Allison says:

      “thanks all for spreading libel and slander to an individual like Rob Bell who shares his views with saints like Billy Graham, John Wesley, C.S. Lewis, most of the church fathers, and a majority of christians today.’

      See, this is where I’m confused. Because, you’re basically saying that libel and slander only equals libel and slander if it’s directed against people who you agree with. The problem with “outrage!!!!!!” of any kind is that one usually winds up being a perpetrator of the same outrage at which they were initially outraged. Namely, outrage.
      On a purely practical note, Billy Graham may lean towards a more inclusivist view of “the unevangelized”, but I think you should double check whether his views on God’s character and the atonement are the same as Rob Bell’s. It’s not so much what Bell has been saying about Hell that bothers me, it’s what he says about the nature, character, and attributes of God. When you say “try and see things through his perspective”, it’s basically like saying “try and see the Biblical narrative through the eyes of a Hindu”. It’s pretty much impossible.
      One thing that should be pointed out, however, is that Rob definitely believes in negative judgment for some people. All of the Reformed types who disagree with him are equated with the religious leaders of Jesus’ day. So Hell definitely exists for conservative theologians, just not anyone else.
      I’m so confused by all the ardent defenders. Either God saves people by grace through faith (He’s that kind of God) or He saves people because of their attempts at goodness and works (He’s that kind of God). The two are antithetical to each other. He’s that kind of God.

      1. Ray A. says:

        “it’s what he says about the nature, character, and attributes of God”

        you need to listen to Bell without your reformed filters. he doesnt say anything but the grace of God saves.

        to reformed mind swimming in determinism of course Bell would sound like a univeraslist.

        like Driscoll quoting Lewis, God says to the person “thy will be done”. ROB IS SAYING THE EXACT SAME THING.

        1. AStev says:

          Ray, Rob also argues that people will have the chance to repent after death. Do you agree with him, or disagree?

          1. Ray A. says:

            @AStev

            “Bell said. “But after you die, we are firmly in the realm of speculatio­n.”

            ’nuff said, please stop spreading lies.

        2. Luke Allison says:

          I wouldn’t identify myself as either Reformed or deterministic. And I didn’t say that Bell was a universalist. He’s more of an inclusivist with universalist tendencies. I lean toward inclusivism with a notion that the God of the universe will do good and perform justice. I’ll leave the working out of that to Him. I’m sure He’s grateful for me.

          “God says to the person “thy will be done”. ROB IS SAYING THE EXACT SAME THING.”
          SORT OF.
          But, Rob has preached for many years that Jesus is merely “our” way, and not the way for, say Hindus, Muslims, etc. CS Lewis seemed to hold this view as well. The point is, CS Lewis was probably right about some things, but wrong about others. Love Wins, both the sermon and book, are asserting that Jesus is more of a “force of good” in the universe which we have identified correctly, but other “sincerely religious” people are serving whether they know it or not.
          When I was in my early twenties, I listened to Rob Bell quite a bit, and I’ve tried a few times since then to listen to him at various times. The problem is that his hermeneutic is so fundamentally different from mine. Not just different like, say, an Arminian versus a Calvinist, but a completely different view of sin, salvation history, the authority of Scripture, etc. So how am I supposed to see things from his perspective? It’s almost like a different religion. We don’t just get to say “I believe in a literal resurrection” and then be free to say whatever we feel like.
          It’s not that crazy, dude. Rob’s a classic liberal theologian, with a liberation grid hermeneutic and an anthropocentric view of Scripture. It doesn’t seem like he denies that at all.
          If he gets to call any kind of traditional formulations of sin, atonement, redemption and the like “toxic”, then I get to call liberal formulations of the same ideas “wrong”.
          Get the hatred you feel toward the word “Reformed” out of your head, and respond to what I’ve written. I don’t represent Justin Taylor. I represent Luke Allison of Lakeville, MN, land of 10000 lakes and 9 month winters. Now……shoot.

    2. Shaun Little says:

      Ray, I generally don’t even read the comments in these threads because ignorant and unsubstantiated comments such as these tend to really get me worked up. I am not attempting to insult you, but what you stated really has no backbone.

      Instead of bludgeoning you for your rash statement, would you care to back up your claim that the men (or church fathers) you sited are in agreement with Bell’s theology.

      Also you make it seem like everyone in the Christian faith aside from us of the Reformed persuasion would affirm the type of theological oatmeal Bell has cooked up in his book, and that I would declare to be an absolutely false statement.

      Although there may be severe issues in the doctrines of the men you sited (especially Billy Graham in his latter years), that aside, I do not believe any of them would agree at all with Bell’s book. I am certain John Wesley for instance totally believed in an eternal hell. He did a sermon entitled “Of Hell” where he is fairly descriptive and refers to hell as Gehenna and describes it as a place where the fire is never quenched and the worm never dies.

      Seriously friend, back up your statements: Site the church father’s, church history, quotes, and mostly the bible if you can in fact prove your point. I am convinced you cannot. I don’t wish you any harm and my tone isn’t meant to be harsh, but I am concerned with the state of your soul and I pray that His mercy may open your eyes, amen.

      1. Ray A. says:

        Shaun,

        I’ll give you as much time as you deserve;

        Bell has said nothing about the eternity. He is taking about the context of hell/heaven here and now. Which is precisely what Paul spent the entirety of his time doing.

        I suggest you do the same.

        Godspeed brother.

        1. Luke Allison says:

          That’s sort of like saying “Farewell, Shaun Little” isn’t it? You’re a prickly fellow, Ray. Are you sure you’re not Reformed?

  12. Stephen says:

    Rob Bell will soon be yesterday’s news. Before long I expect to see copies of Love Wins on the clearance rack at Barnes & Noble.

    1. Truth Unites... and Divides says:

      “Before long I expect to see copies of Love Wins on the clearance rack at Barnes & Noble.”

      I still wouldn’t buy it.

  13. adam says:

    Whatever the case, the blogosphere has given Mr. Bell a ton of unsolicitied publicity which pretty much ensures his book will sell. He isn’t the first controversial evangelical nor will be the last and spending all of this time pointing out where he is wrong surely could be spent on other things. His opinions are an a non-issue. Im sure sooner or later we’ll find out how this will fall at Mars Hill and elsewhere.

    1. AStev says:

      I disagree. Pointing out false doctrine is one of the ways the church grows together in the truth and unity.

      Did Pelagius get more publicity when his teachings were denounced as heretical? Did Arius? Did Marcion? Possibly. Probably. But that doesn’t mean the church should have kept silent.

    2. Sure. The time could be spent on other things. It is still a noble task to point out heresy. It serves the body of Christ. Years ago a friend of mine was attending a church at which the youth pastor started pushing Velvet Elvis. My friend got a copy and knew something was wrong but couldn’t place his finger on it. I went the through the book detailing error after error. My friend and his church have benefitted.

  14. donsands says:

    “But he is a creative communicator who likes to prod, and even tease us a bit theologically.”-Richard Mouw

    That’s a scary fact about Bell, if he is supposed to be a shepherd of God’s sheep.
    Like Ray A said: “James 3:1″

    1. Another scary fact, Richard Mouw is considered by many to be an evangelical.

  15. PJ Lincoln says:

    I use to think like Bell until I really started studying the Bible. IMO, and I’m still very much a newbie, Jesus was pretty clear on how to get to heavan. Unfortunately, not everyone will make it … we can’t change the facts to suit our desires. Do I want any of my friends or loved ones to go to Hell? Certainly not. But I can’t make them believe … each individual has the free will to accept Christ as their savior or not. It’s really a black and white issue, as far as I’m concerned.

    1. Scott says:

      PJ –

      Do we ‘get’ to heaven, or does heaven one day fully invade here?

  16. Mallory says:

    I too have posted a blog about Bell’s book and, stance towards Hell. I am studying to become certified in Nouthetic “Biblical” counseling, and approach the subject from the angle of mental health.
    http://orlandonouthetic.blogspot.com/2011/03/where-hell.html

  17. Justin: There is there no mention of Mark Galli’s excellent review in Christianity Today?

    “Rob Bell’s Bridge Too Far”
    http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2011/april/lovewins.html

  18. Tim Campbell says:

    Maybe this is already stated somewhere on the blog, but people are giving kudos for Zondervan for “passing” on the publishing of “Love Wins”/ HarperOne (sub of HarperCollins) picked it up. Problem is they are all owned by same company — NewsCorporation (Fox, Murdoch, etc). So, Zondervan, who has been profiting for years off of the Nooma series really is disingenuous for making it seem they passed on “Love Wins” because of a theological conflict when in fact they will benefit (indirectly) from the “Love Wins” sales as part of the NewsCorp/Harper family. Sweet huh????

  19. Justin writes: “No, I don’t want to keep blogging on Rob Bell forever.”

    That would be hell.

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Justin Taylor, PhD


Justin Taylor is executive vice president of book publishing and book publisher for Crossway and blogs at Between Two Worlds. You can follow him on Twitter.

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