Rob Bell’s New Book LOVE WINS: A Review and Response Rob Bell’s New Book LOVE WINS: A Review and Response

On Tuesday Rob Bell celebrated the release of the paperback version of his missive on universal salvation. In honor of that celebration I thought I would re-post my review and response. It’s been reviewed and downloaded tens of thousands of times, and for a while it was on google’s front page for “love wins” searches. I’m pleased with my review and pleased with its reception, both positive and negative. I hope it helps you wade through the important issues raised in this distracting, damaging book.

Some previous posts
On Greg Boyd’s Defense of Rob Bell
Why the Stakes Are High Theologically
A Prelude Post on Bell’s Universalism

A word of warning: this post is nearly 7,500 words. It is more than double what I expected. Because I wanted to do justice to the ideas in the book and because I think these issues are just too important to ignore without an adequate response, I spent time doing this right. I also realize I’m supposed to be fasting from blogging, but I’ve been encouraged to give voice to a response now, because these issues are just too important.

I hope it is helpful as you engage the issues this book raises. Here is a physical copy if it is easier to read and digest: love_wins_response.pdf.

rob bell love wins book.jpg

This is a distracting book.

It’s distracting in the way Rob frames the discussion.

It’s distracting in the way Rob uses Scripture.

It’s distracting in the way Rob talks about the Christian faith, which is a deeper conversation than universalism.

Ultimately, it’s distracting in the way Rob trades the gospel of Jesus Christ for something else.

Before I explain, let me share—and actually answer several people who’ve asked—why I have a so-called “dog in this fight.”

You see I live in Grand Rapids, MI, about 5 miles from where Rob Bell lives in East Grand Rapids and 11 miles from his church, Mars Hill. I remember when Mars Hill started back in 1999 and the ensuing controversy in 2001 when they made the decision to ordain women—which I believe was the right one, by the way. I attended the church off and on while on break from university and enjoyed the different atmosphere—both worship and teaching—it brought to the Grand Rapids area Church.

In 2005, I read Velvet Elvis shortly after it came out, a book that was extremely influential at the time during my own personal crisis of faith while in Washington, D.C.. Our family owns every single nooma, having watched most and used many of them in sunday school. I even remember defending him to my parents several times!

I’ve also have had minor personal experiences with him. I was invited to participate in a 3 hour-long sermon preparation group in July 2009 on a series he taught on forgiveness. I even wore the hat of the annoying seminary dude who questioned his perspective on the passages he was teaching through. Yes I was THAT guy! I also was invited by his publisher, Zondervan, to live-blog his Poets, Prophets, and Preachers event, which actually gave me great vision for the art of the sermon.

I share this to say that I am very aware of Rob Bell. I’ve read him, watched him, talked/interacted with him. I’ve even appreciated things he’s said about the Church and Christian faith.

And as someone who has come into, through, and beyond spiritual/theological disillusionment myself, I understand how enticing he and his church is for our area. I understand that for so long the types of questions Rob raises and the type of environment Mars Hill has crafted is extremely attractive—I would even say intoxicating—in light of our overly Christianized culture, one that can indeed be difficult.

I also have a so-called “dog in this fight” because I am a pastor-theologian in the city who is at the early stages of planting a church in Grand Rapids, called Church of the Resurrection. We want this to be a place that is as missionally inviting as his church,while also being theologically rooted and biblically uncompromising. While we care to reach the same type of culture as Mars Hill and create similar experiences, we also care deeply about the historic Christian faith and take every ounce of the Holy Scriptures seriously.

As a Grand Rapids pastor, I care deeply about the lives of the people in my city who will be influenced by Rob Bell and Mars Hill. As a Grand Rapids theologian, I care deeply about what people in Grand Rapids believe and the ways in which their beliefs will be shaped and influenced by Rob Bell and Mars Hill.

This past weekend I read Love Wins before its release date, one of the most troubling books I’ve read from someone within the Church. Through this book, Rob Bell has unleashed a massive spiritual and theological tsunami on my community—let alone America—one that will create division within and confusion among the Body of Christ.

So that’s why I am stepping into the fray and publicly interacting with and responding to Rob Bell and the type of gospel that he is suggesting in his book: I interact as one who has appreciated Rob, someone who has had a crisis of faith myself and gets his appeal, and a pastor who cares deeply about my community, the Holy Scriptures, and the historic Christian faith.

The following review and response is about dealing with Rob’s ideas. While I realize many will take this as a personal attack against Rob Bell and Mars Hill—and consequently perhaps themselves—that’s not what this is about. While Rob tried to play the “I’m not a theologian or biblical scholar” card in an interview earlier this week, he doesn’t get to. Rob Bell has proposed theological ideas and has created ideas in his interaction with the Text; he is acting as a theologian and biblical scholar. By the very nature of writing this book he is asking us to take his ideas seriously. So I am.

Rob Bell has proposed a number of ideas, so the Church has every right and duty to theologically engage his teachings and respond. Because folks: the stakes are extremely high because the real lives of real people are involved, especially in my Grand Rapids community which is why I took time to write this review and response.

First, the way Rob frames the discussion is distracting.

In the preface, Bell launches into his rhetorical tour de force with both guns blazing when he frames the discussion thus:

A staggering number of people have been taught that a select few Christians will spend forever in a peaceful, joyous place called heaven while the rest of humanity spends forever in torment and punishment in hell with no chance for anything better. It’s been clearly communicated to many that this belief is a central truth of the Christian faith and to reject it is, in essence, to reject Jesus. This is misguided, toxic, and ultimately subverts the contagious spread of Jesus’ message of love, peace, forgiveness and joy that our world desperately needs to hear. (viii)

He then tells the story at the beginning of the first chapter of an art showing at Mars Hill where someone attached a note to a Gandhi painting that read, “Reality check: He’s in hell.” He then proceeds to ask a set of rhetorical questions about whether Gandhi is in hell and how people know this while asking even more pointed, potent questions:

Of all the billions of people who have ever lived, will only a select number ‘make it to a better place’ and every single other person suffer in torment and punishment forever? Is this acceptable to God? Has God created millions of people over tens of thousands of years who are going to spend eternity in anguish? Can God do this, or even allow this, and still claim to be a loving God. Does God punish people for thousands of yeas with infinite, eternal torment for things they did in their few finite years of life?” (2)

And then the kicker: “Telling a story in which billions of people spend forever somewhere in the universe trapped in a black hole of endless torment and misery with no way out isn’t a very good story.” (110) This is Bell’s thesis, this is what the book is about. What’s more, Rob wants the reader to believe the way he is charactering—or rather caricaturing—the Christian faith story is actually real and true. Because of this story, “That’s why the Christians who talk the most about going to heaven while everybody else goes to hell don’t throw very good parties” (179).

Instead of this story—the one in which God creates people and tortures them—Rob wants you to believe the one he’s telling: “everybody enjoying God’s good world together with no disgrace or shame, justice being served, and all the wrongs being made right is a better story. It is a bigger, more loving, more expansive, more extraordinary, beautiful, and inspiring than any other story about the ultimate course history takes.” (111)

The problem is the way Bell frames, I’ll call it the traditional Christian faith, is unfair and a gross caricature.

First, Bell claims that “There are those who put it quite clearly: ‘We get one life to choose heaven and hell, and once we die, thats it. One or the other, forever.’” (103) This is simply not the true. This dualism is not the traditional Christian faith, but a made-up version of it. The Christian gospel is not about a choice between heaven and hell, but a choice about faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Messiah. Jesus Christ and He alone is the one through whom people can be rescued and put back together again, and people in all corners of the world are called to come forth and totally commit themselves to Him.

This is the choice. Not heaven and hell. Rob should know better, yet he falsely frames the conversation as if its about heaven and hell when it’s really about Jesus.

Second, while traditionalists do believe in literal hell—which I frame as the negative consequences to judgment—this is certainly not a place about which Christians are gleeful as Bell seems to suggest! And the words he chooses “torment,” “torture,” “anguish” are pitted over against a Christian view of a “loving” God in away that makes Him appear schizophrenic: Well which is it: Is God loving? Or is God a torturer? Does he want all people to be rescued or not? What Christians does he know who talk “about going to heaven while everybody else goes to hell,” as if Christians are consciously parsing who is in and out?

These questions are rhetorical devices create a false dichotomy between the love and justice of God, between the reality of rescue and judgment. The reader is left to choose between either of the two extremes, instead of realizing they can choose both: God is both loving and holy, righteous and just; rescue is available for all and all will be judged and receive either positive or negative consequences to that judgment.

But the way Rob frames this discussion paints his opposing story with such an extreme brush that those who hold to the above views feel as if they themselves are the one’s torturing and sentencing people to eternal anguish. What’s more: this framing using false dichotomies twists the Scriptural portrayal of God Himself and is dishonest about the clear passages which teach judgment.

Unfortunately, Rob’s use of Scripture itself is as problematic as the way he frames the discussion.

Second, the way Rob uses Scripture is distracting.

It’s so fascinating the way Rob uses the Holy Scripture in this book: he quotes Scripture so often I thought I was reading Rick Warren! Not only does he proof text verses entirely out of context to support his positions, he also quotes them in amazing literalness that betrays their interpretation.

I cannot attend to every single use of Scripture. I will use 2 instances to illustrate.

The first use is his defense of a universal salvation—Yes, Bell is some form of a universalist. In a chapter called “Does God Get What God Wants?” Bell quotes several OT and NT passages to suggest that not only does God want all people to be saved, but that it will actually happen. To support his thesis about “the kind of love that pursuses, searches, creates, connects, and bonds. The kind of love that moves toward embrace, and always works to be reconciled with, regardless of the cost,” (99) he quotes, among many, Ps 22, 30, 65, 145; Ez 36; Is 52; Zeph 3; Phil 2; Ps 22; Job 23; Ps 145; Col 1; 1 Cor 15; and Rom 3, 5.

I want to specifically address the Pauline passages Bell uses to support his claims: 1 Cor 15:22, Rom 5:18-19, Phil 2:10-11, and Col 1:20. They read as follows (BTW you can download a more exhaustive exegetical treatment of them HERE):

For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive. (1 Cor 15:22)

For just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous. (Rom 5:19)

that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Phil 2:10-11)

and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross. (Col 1:22)

The problem with proof texting and a literal reading is you miss the surrounding context and interpretive point. Sentences pulled out and placed alongside arguments—especially without any scholarly, primary source support—is no way to read the Scripture, let alone teach it. I have seen Bell do this time and time again: he uses Scripture in a way that serves his agenda, rather than letting Scripture itself set that agenda.

He does the same here with these and other passages.The surrounding context in each of these 4 examples in no way, shape, or form supports a universal salvation.

I’ll say it again: a universal salvation hasn’t been revealed to us. There are no revelatory grounds to argue for a universal salvation. Universal salvation is not argued for in the Holy Scriptures and has never been part of the historic Christian faith. Therefore, someone like Rob Bell has no business promising or proclaiming it to anyone.

1 Cor 15:22 argues that those who are in Christ can be assured that since Jesus Himself has been raised from the dead, so too will believers. Rather than referring to the same universal humanity who are dead in Adam, Paul places Christ in parallelism alongside Adam as a representative to indicate those who are in Him are also raised to new life and will participate in His new humanity.

Similarly, Paul employs this Adam-Christ parallelism in Rom 5:18-19 to assert that the status of all believers—Jews and Gentiles—who are in Christ are part of His new humanity. Like 1 Cor 15:22, the context is clear the believers are in mind, as they are the ones who have received God’s abundant provisions (v. 17) for new life in Christ. That all people are in the epoch of Adamic condemnation is clear from 12-14; that all people are in the epoch of Christic salvation certainly is not. Where 1 Cor 15:22 and Rom 5:18-19 emphasize the typological parallel between Adam and Christ, ensuring that believers will be resurrected along with Christ and both Jews and Gentiles are included in Him, Phil 2:10-11 and Col 1:20 are both hymns of praise announcing the authority and sufficiency of Christ as both Creator and re-Creator.

In Phil 2:10-11, Paul emphasizes the universal rule and authority of Jesus as Lord over all of creation, a rule and authority that will be acknowledged by every good and evil being whether they want to or not. Rather than arguing for a universal salvation, these verses fit into the broader context of 2:6-11 that reveal to us the exalted, authoritative Jesus who Himself is God. Paul’s language of bowing and confessing does not mean all people will willingly acknowledge salvation in Jesus or convert. Instead Paul emphasizes a final acknowledgement that “God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Messiah” (Acts 2:36).

Paul continues these Christological thoughts in Col 1:20 by sketching for us a powerful portrait of Christ as both Creator and Reconciler. Just as “all things” were created through Christ, so too are “all things” re-created through Him; just as Christ is the only one through whom all creation finds birth, He is the only one through whom creation finds re-creation. Paul’s point is that God has brought his entire rebellious creation (“all things”) back under the rule of Creator Christ. While Christian universalists like Bell interpret Phil 2:9-11 and Col 1:20 soteriologically, these hymns are instead majestic Christological statements on the person of Jesus.

In short, then, these Pauline universal salvation passages have little to do with salvation, much less a universal one. The first two examples (1 Cor and Rom) have believers in mind and are meant to assure them of their participation in Christ’s literal, physical resurrection. The later two (Phil and Col) are glorious, majestic—hymnic!—statements about the literally resurrected, exalted Creator-Rescuer Jesus Christ.

Speaking of Jesus Christ, the second example illustrates a far more troubling and puzzling use of Scripture: his use of 1 Cor 10:4 in parallelism with an event (Ex 17) in the Exodus narrative. Here is 1 Cor 4:1-4:

For I do not want you to be ignorant of the fact, brothers and sisters, that our ancestors were all under the cloud and that they all passed through the sea. They were all baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea. They all ate the same spiritual food and drank the same spiritual drink; for they drank from the spiritual rock that accompanied them, and that rock was Christ.

Now what does Rob do with this passage? He relates it literally and absolutely to the event in Exodus 17 (142-144). Here the Israelites are wandering in the desert post-Egypt and complaining about not having anything to drink. Moses cries out to God on their behalf and God instructs Moses to strike a rock with his staff. He does so and out comes water to nourish the people and quench their thirst.

Here is what Bell says of 1 Cor 10 in relation to Ex 17:

That rock was…Christ? Jesus? Jesus was the rock? How is that? Paul, however, reads another story in the story, insisting that Christ was somehow present in that moment, that Christ was providing water they needed to survive—that Jesus was giving, quenching, sustaining…Jesus was, he says, the rock. According to Paul, Jesus was there. Without anybody using his name. Without anybody saying that it was him. Without anybody acknowledging just what—or more precisely, who—it was.” (145)

Bell makes the claim—without any exegetical or scholarly proof that this is the case—that Jesus was literally in this rock, that he was present in the rock doing for the Israelites what Jesus does for everybody. It’s a rhetorical device to argue that Jesus is bigger than anyone religion or culture, especially Christianity (150-151).

The problem is, this is simply not true. The way he reads, interprets, and uses this passage is not the point of what Paul is saying. Paul is not making a theological point, here, but instead a hermeneutical and interpretive one: Christ is the source for salvation in the way God was the source for the physical needs—hunger, thirst—for Israel. And set in the broader context of the passage it acts as a warning to believers because the passage goes on to say—which Bell conveniently leaves out—that “God was not pleased with most of them; their bodies were scattered in the wilderness,” (1 Cor 10:5) which should serve as a warning and example to believers in Christ to “keep us from setting our hearts on evil things as they did.” (1 Cor 5:6)

Bell, however, uses this passage to actually make claims about the nature of Christ, ones that will be addressed further below. It is important to note here how he uses this passage to make claims about Jesus. He says:

“There is an energy of the world, a spark, an electricity that everything is plugged into” (144)

“This energy, spark, and electricity that pulses through all of creation sustains it, fuels it, and keeps it going. Growing, evolving, reproducing, making more.” (145)

“…the energy that gives life to everything is called the “Word of God,” and it is for us.” (145)

“In Jesus, [the first Christians] affirmed was that word, that divine life-giving energy that brought the universe into existence.” (146)

The profound theological implications of what Bell is saying about Jesus Christ will be explored further below. What’s important here is to see that Bell misuses this passage from 1 Cor 10 to make claims that the Christ is an energy, spark, and electricity that invades, permeates, and is in/part of everything. Not only is this just a plainly wrong misuse of Scripture, it is a wrong view of Jesus Chris; his view of Jesus has profound theological implications!

Both examples illustrate the way in which Bell uses and misuses Scripture to make rhetorical points; he makes the Holy Scriptures do and say things that they are not doing and saying to bolster his rhetorical arguments. This is not fair and this is not right. Claiming that he is no “theologian or biblical scholar or not very smart” (as he did in a recent interview) does not cut it. When you make theological claims, statements about the bible, and expect people to take your ideas seriously you can’t play the ignorance card.

Speaking of theology…

Third, the way Rob talks about the Christian faith is distracting, which is a deeper conversation than universalism.

Let me say from the outset this book argues for a universal salvation. Even though he denied being one on TV, he states quite the opposite in his book:

And so, beginning with the early church, there is a long tradition of Christians who believe that God will ultimately restore everything and everybody, because Jesus says in Matthew 19 that there will be a ‘renewal of all things,’ Peter says in Acts 3 that Jesus will “restore everything,” and Paul says in Colossians 1 that through Christ ‘God was pleased to…reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven.’ In the third century the church fathers Clement of Alexandria and Origen affirmed God’s reconciliation with all people. In the fourth century, Gregory of Nyssa and Eusebius believed this as well.

Central to their trust that all would be reconciled was the belief that untold masses of people suffering forever doesn’t bring God glory.

To be clear, again, an untold number of serious disciples of Jesus across hundreds of years have assumed, affirmed, and trusted that no one can resist God’s pursuit forever, because God’s love will eventually melt even the hardest of hearts.

At the center of the Christian tradition since the first church have been a number who insist that history is not tragic, hell is not forever, and love, in the end, wins and all will be reconciled to God. (107-108)

Rob makes this claim—completely unsupported by any documentation and footnoted support, by the way—to help his own case that everyone will in the end win. In contrast to those who believe “‘We get one life to choose heaven and hell, and once we die, thats it. One or the other, forever.’” (103), Bell proposes there will be “endless opportunities in an endless amount of time for people to say yes to God. At the heart of this perspective is the belief that, given enough time, everybody will turn to God and find themselves in the joy and peace of God’s presence. The love of God will melt every hard heart, and even the most ‘depraved sinners’ will eventually give up their resistance and turn to God.” (107)

This is universal salvation, albeit with a post-mortem salvation thrown in! I’m confused why Rob doesn’t own the fact he is arguing for universal salvation and defend it.

I actually think the way this conversation has gone toward universalism, however, distracts from the deeper issues of the book: Rob’s understanding of the nature of God, Jesus, and salvation itself. To be sure Bell is arguing for a universal salvation—no, Rob you can’t redefine the term universalist like you’ve done in every interview so far! The bigger issues in this book are about God, Jesus, and the nature of salvation itself.

Regarding his view of God, I’m not exactly sure if Bell believes in a real Being God, “the Father Almighty, the Maker of heaven and earth,” as the historic Christian faith insists. It seems as though Bell believes God is simply our word for a universal presence that undergirds life.

For instance, Bell makes the claim—with NO scriptural or scholarly support—that “In Jesus’ day, one of the ways people got around actually saying God’s name was to substitute the word ‘heaven’ for the word ‘God.’” (42) Aside from the problem that Bell doesn’t actually support this claim by identifying who said this, does Bell himself believe that God is heaven? That God is simply “the way things are supposed to be” in existence? He even makes the claim that Jesus Himself simply used the word “heaven” to refer to the word/concept “God” (58), which is extremely troubling as this perspective would lean toward believing God is simply a concept of the way things are supposed to be, a universal presence of all that is good and true and loving that permeates the world.

This is not a Christian view of God. A Christian view of God believes God is an actual being that is ontologically separate from creation, not an experience within it. Again, I’m not saying Bell denies God is an actually Being, but he is not clear in his book and has actually created more confusion with his recent public interviews.

Later Bell speaks of Jesus speaking with God “as if God was right here…Jesus lived and spoke as if the whole world was a thin place for him, with endless dimensions of the divine infinitesimally close, with every moment and every location simply another experience of the divine reality that is all around us, through us, under and above us all the time.” (60-61) Perhaps I’m misunderstanding, but I want to know what does Bell mean by “endless dimensions of the divine” and our “experience of the divine reality that is all around us, through us, under and above us all the time.” What does he mean by the divine? This seems to enhance the argument that God is simply an experience that invades all of reality, which is both theologically liberal and also panentheistic.

Also when he states “God is love” (e.g. 177, 178) does Rob mean love is a characteristic of God or that God equals Love, as in Love is god? Unfortunately, the latter appears to be the case and I would welcome a statement of clarity from Bell and even Mars Hill.

In a recent interview with Lisa Miller, an editor at Newsweek, Rob answered several questions regarding his theological views. One of those questions came from a member of the audience. Like me, he wanted to know his views on God, if God was a real Being or simply an action of love:

(Question asker) I like idea God is love. A question for me is does God become the act of love or just an action, or is he an actual being. Does the understanding that God is love remove him from being a Real Being.

(Bell’s Answer) At the heart of the Jewish understanding of the world out of which the Christian understanding emerged is that God is a divine being separate from creation but also moving and present in history. The Exodus. King David.

The Scripture endlessly speak of actual history, real people in real places in real times encountering the Divine.

Sometimes God becomes an esoteric man detached from history… But the Scriptural consciousness is God at work in history. And the Christian story is God at work in history and coming among us. A great book by Heshel (“God in Search of Man) makes the idea that God pursues people in history.

The experiences you’ve had when you had the sense that you weren’t alone. The moments you had a total coincidence but it felt more than a coincidence. You heard a song and the song struck a chord within you, like the world’s ok. Or someone made an off-handed comment and it was a kind, nice, comment, but later you realized that it lifted you up and carried you for the day. The sense you have almost like a radar that keeps pinging.

That is God in search of people. And it is an experience that people have witnessed to for thousands and thousands of years.

Either Bell isn’t being clear, I am misunderstanding him, or he is being very clear. While he seems to affirm God is an actually being that is separate from creation, he seems to believe that God is much more of a divine universal presence and experience in the world. He says the the “Scriptural consciousness is God at work in history.” While I absolutely believe and affirm that God is not an absent deistic God, but instead involved in the lives of real people, this seems to suggest God is simply an historical universal presence like theological Liberals—Schleiermacher, Ritschl, and Tillich—have argued for decades.

The final paragraph especially doesn’t help his cause, as since when has the Christian faith ever described God as an experience. So God is a human comment, human song, and human feeling?

A recent quotation in an article on Bell’s book by our local newspaper, the Grand Rapids press, further complicates things, or perhaps makes it even clearer: Bell says, “God is love. Love is the ground of our being. Jesus came to give us and show us this love.” On the surface this seems innocent. Understanding Bell’s “Love is the ground of our being” comment directly reflects the existential theologian Paul Tillich, however, is very concerning and perhaps answers our questions about his view of God.

Tillich’s word for “God” was “ground of being” or “ground of our being.” For Tillich that which gives meaning to life, that is of ultimate concern in life actually is God. He consistently refers to God as an idea, an existential idea in which God is the foundation (ground) of meaning and existence (being); “God” is that which is meaningful and gives our being and existence meaning. As Tillich says, “The word ‘God’ points to ultimate reality.” In other words, God is a symbol for that which is ultimately meaningful in existence.

Is this what Bell means by “God is love?” Is this what Bell means by Love itself? Does he equate Love with God as that which gives life meaning, that which is the foundation to our existence?

These concerns make more sense when one considers what Rob says about Jesus.

Here is the Jesus described in this book:

Jesus is “the very movement of God in flesh and blood.” (78)

Jesus is described as “The divine in flesh and blood. He’s where the life is.” (129)

Jesus “is the source, the strength, the example, and the assurance that this pattern of death and rebirth is the way into the only kind of life that actually sustains and inspires.” (136)

“In Jesus, [the first Christians] affirmed was that word, that divine life-giving energy that brought the universe into existence.” (146)

“The insistence of the first Christians was that when you saw Jesus…you were seeing the divine in skin and bones, the word in flesh and bones.” (147)

“Jesus for the first Christians was the ultimate exposing of what God has been up to all along.” (148)

“Jesus is bigger than any one religion. He didn’t come to start a new religion…He will always transcend any cages and labels are created to contain and name him, especially the one called ‘Christianity.’” (150)

“He is for all people, and yet refuses to be co-opted or owned by any one culture. That includes any Christian culture. Any denomination. Any church. Any theological system. We can point to him, name him, follow him, discuss him, honor him, and believe in him—but we cannot claim him to be ours any more than he’s anyone else’s.” (152)

“[Jesus] holds the entire universe in his embrace. [Jesus] is within and without time. [Jesus] is the flesh and blood exposure of an eternal reality. [Jesus] is the sacred power present in every dimension of creation.” (157-158)

Here’s my question: Are these adequate ways of defining Jesus? Anything you see missing? No where in this book does Rob give a positive statement of Jesus’ deity. He describes him as ‘divine in flesh and blood’ or has a special oneness with the divine or is ‘one with God’ (178) But he never says that Jesus is God. Why? And why does he describe Jesus using the terms “for the first Christians” or “the insistence of the first Christians” as if Jesus is the Christ only because he was received that way by his followers.

The manner in which he describes Jesus is as a teacher and a liver of divine goodness, peace, and love. Jesus the man simply showed the world what it means to be human, what it means to live a meaningful existence on this earth that’s “heavenly” rather than “hellish.”

The picture becomes a bit clearer when considering what Bell does with the cross and resurrection, which appear to simply be symbols in his theology.

First he insists that his early followers, the ones that wrote about Jesus and his death, “set out to communicate the significance and power of it to their audience in language their audience would understand…What happened on the cross is like…a defendant going free, a relationships being reconciled, something lost being redeemed, a battle being won, a final sacrifice being offered, so that no one ever has to offer another one again, an enemy being loved…What the first Christians did was look around them and put the Jesus story in language their listeners would understand. ‘It’s like this…’ ‘Its like this…’” (128-129)

For Bell, then, the early followers of Jesus that wrote the earliest descriptions of Jesus’ death used “images and metaphors” (129) to simply communicate what was happening. So words like justification, substitutionary sacrifice, reconciled, and redeemed aren’t literal descriptions of what objectively happened on the Cross through Jesus Christ’s death. Instead they act as symbols pointing toward a higher “mechanism,” one that also involves the symbol of the resurrection.

As Bell writes, “What gave the early Christians such extraordinary fire and fuel was the insistence that Jesus’ death on the cross was not the last word on the rabbi from Nazareth. What set all sorts of historic events in motion was his follower’s insistence that they had experienced him after death. Their encounters with him led them to believe that something massive had happened that had implications for the entire world.” (131)

On the surface this seems to suggest Bell believes in a literal resurrection, where God physically raised Jesus Christ from the dead as the early church witnessed and believed and testified. It’s important to note that Bell uses specific words here to describe what “happened” post death: the disciples insisted that they had an experience of Jesus.

Insisting you have an experience of someone is not the same thing as actually physically experiencing them in the flesh as the apostles proclaimed. Liberal theologians believe Jesus was resurrected spiritually through the memory of the community of Jesus-followers. Existentialist theologian Paul Tillich argues that Jesus became the Christ after his disciples received him as such; their experience of Jesus’ message and teachings after his death was communicated through their use of the symbol resurrection.

I am stopping short of suggesting Bell does not believe in a literal, physical resurrection. But it becomes far less clear when Rob writes that the idea of resurrection after death was not a new thing, but rather “this death-and-life mystery, this mechanism, this process is built into the very fabric of creation.” (131) For Rob the idea that “death gives way to life” is just that: an idea. He uses the example of nature and how plants throughout the seasons die and wither in the fall and through the winter only to come back again in the Spring: “For there to be spring, there has to be a fall and then a winter. For nature to spring to life, it first has to die. Death, then resurrection. This is true for ecosystems, food chains, the seasons—it’s true across all the environment.” (130) His lack of clarity causes confusion and distortion.

He goes on to suggest that “when the writers of the Bible talk about Jesus’ resurrection bringing new life to the world, they aren’t talking about a new concept. They’re talking about something that has always been true. It’s how the world works.” (131) We don’t know for sure what he believes, but it appears that Bell views the Cross and Resurrection as symbols that reflect a truism of reality. The early followers of Jesus simply borrowed from nature to describe the new good, peaceful, loving reality Jesus brought through his teachings and message.

It isn’t clear how Jesus’ actual death on the cross does anything for humanity, let alone creation. In fact, I wonder why he had to die at all since this event isn’t described by Bell as doing anything with the objective realities of Evil, Sin, and Death. It’s as equally unclear whether something literally happened after the cross by way of God (the real, Being, Creator God) raising His Son Jesus Christ to new life, and the significance of that actual event for our lives now and in the future.

Instead he describes the cross and resurrection in this way: “the cross and resurrection are personal. The cosmic event has everything to do with how every single one of us lives every single day. It is a pattern, a rhythm, a practice, a reality rooted in the elemental realities of creation, extending to the very vitality of our soul.” (135) I have no idea what Rob is talking about! Here he speaks of the cross and resurrection as a pattern, rhythm, practice and reality. In other words they are a symbol.

And they seem to simply be symbols for living well and they are powerful metaphors for existing as we ought to exist,: “When we say yes to God, when we open ourselves to Jesus’ living, giving act on the cross, we enter in to a way of life. He is the source, the strength, the example and the assurance that this pattern of death and rebirth is the way into the only kind of life that actually sustains and inspires.” (136) Again, Bell isn’t clear how this is the case and why this is the case in the way he uses the cross and resurrection.

This confusion is only heightened when one considers what Rob says about the idea of salvation, which he terms heaven.

It appears as though salvation for Rob—the gospel for Rob—is about pursuing the life of heaven now. He recounts Jesus’ encounter with the rich man, his promise to him of heaven meaning “he’s promising the man that taking steps to be free of his greed…will open himself up to more and more participation in God’s new world, the one that was breaking into human history with Jesus himself.” (47) He goes on to say that “When Jesus tells the man that there are rewards for him, he’s promising the man that receiving the peace of God now, finding gratitude for what he does have, and sharing it with those who need it will create in him all the more capacity for joy in the world to come.” (44) “Jesus teaches us how to live now in such a way that what we create, who we give our efforts to, and how we spend our time will all endure in the new world.” (45)

In other words: salvation, Rob’s gospel is about humanistic utopianism.

“Jesus calls disciples in order to teach us how to be and what to be; his intention is for us to be growing progressively in generosity, forgiveness, honesty, courage, truth telling, and responsibility, so that as these take over our lives we are taking part more and more and more in life in the age to come, now.” (51) While I certainly affirm these positive ethical actions, those ethics themselves do not change us, that is not the gospel.

The gospel says that Jesus Christ himself through His death and resurrection transforms us through faith in Him. Bell seems to say something entirely different, that as we behave as Jesus would behave then our behaviors themselves will change us and we will bring positive ethical living of heaven to earth.

When Jesus talks with the rich man, he has one thing in mind: he wants the man to experience the life of heaven, eternal life, now. For that man, his wealth was in the way; for others it’s worry or stress or pride or envy—the list goes on. We know that list Jesus invites us in this life, this broken, beautiful world, to experience the life of heaven now. He insisted over and over that God’s peace, joy, and love are currently available to us, exactly as we are. (62)

If heaven is Bell’s Salvation, then Hell seems to be his judgement, but not in the way the Christian faith has ever viewed it.

In recent interviews when asked if he believes in hell or that there is a hell he has consistently said, “Yes! I see people creating hell on earth everyday.” As he writes, “we create hell whenever we fail to trust God’s retelling of our story.” (173) He even says that Hell is refusing to trust God, “it is the consequences of rejecting and resisting [God's] love, which creates what we call hell.” (177) He uses the Lazarus story, which he says affirms “that there are all kinds of hells, because there are all kinds of ways to resist and reject all that is good and true and beautiful and human now, in this life, and so we can only assume we can do the same in the next.” (79)

Not only does that last quotation suggest Bell believes hell is a symbol for the bad stuff we do now that is a rejection of our true humanity, he also suggests this same existential hell will happen in the “next life,” whatever that means. For Bell, hell is existential, not literal. In fact, he maintains that even this existential symbol called hell will not last forever, but instead will ultimately be conquered, crushed, and renewed. (86-88) Even when Jesus refers to eternal judgment, as with the parable of sheep and goats, Bell claims he refers to an intense experience of pruning—again he plays fast and loose with Scripture, but goes one step further: he misuses Greek word definitions to rhetorically support his arguments(91)

In short, the word hell works well for Rob because “we need a loaded, volatile, adequately violent, dramatic, serious, word to describe the very real consequences we experience when we reject the good and trust and beautiful life that God has for us. We need a word that refers to the big, wide, terrible evil that comes from the secrets hidden deep within our hearts all the way to the massive, society-wide collapse and chaos that comes when we fail to live in God’s world God’s way.”

Notice that the consequences we experience are here on earth and because we reject God’s life, not because we rebel against God Himself our Creator. Hell isn’t an actual consequence that results from individuals being judged by Jesus as God when He returns at the Day of the Lord as the Holy Scriptures and historic faith maintain. In the end there really isn’t justice for human rebellion, because humans get what they want.

Ultimately, Rob Bell’s teachings distract from the gospel of Jesus Christ by exchanging it for something else.

Roger Olson, a historical theologian wrote, “The story of Christian theology is the story of Christian reflection on the nature of salvation.” Throughout history many men (and women!) have wrestled with the pieces of God’s Story of Rescue which ultimately have bearing upon the nature of that rescue itself.

Rob is one of those people who is adding to the story of Christian reflection on the nature of salvation. That is what this book is: a reflection on the nature of salvation itself.

This discussion is not simply about institutional preferences. It’s not like the worship wars of the 80′s or women’s role in ministry convos of the 90′s—or even the 2000′s!—or the ongoing discussion of infant vs. immersive believers baptism. Discussing the nature of salvation is not window dressing, folks. It is the very heart of the gospel and center of the Christian faith, which has massive consequences for the real lives of real people and their real eternal outcomes.

After considering the nature of Rob’s reflection one thing is clear:

this is no gospel. It is fake.

What deeply concerns me is that the conversation of this book will affect real lives and real people. Because this book is neither honest about the whole Scripture nor rooted in the historic Christian faith, thousands of people could be taken for a ride and led to believe that they really are OK. That they’re in. They have nothing to worry about and all that’s necessary is to live your best life now.

Yes, Jesus died for them. Yes God loves them. Yes salvation is available to all. But an honest, rooted, Scriptural story recognizes humans have rebelled against their Creator Himself and are guilty before Him of that rebellion. All people are busted and not the way they were meant to be. All of us do things that were never intended at the beginning when our Creator crafted us. And what we earn because of our rebellion against God is death. Death in the existential sense, yes—oh how much our life, right now, is consumed by death and chaos; life bites sometimes!—but more significantly ultimate death.

Rescue from both existential and ultimate death is available by the grace of God and through “faithing” in Jesus Christ. But without faith in Jesus Christ, there is real judgment and real consequences to judgment, forever.

This book should be deeply troubling for anyone in Grand Rapids, because of the significant theological and biblical suggestions Rob makes regarding the nature of God, Jesus, and salvation itself. He has unleashed a spiritual and theological tsunami the likes of which will have lasting consequences for Grand Rapids, which deeply saddens me.

I for one am tired of Rob Bell getting a pass for the story he tells. At this point Rob is not simply asking questions, he is giving answers, ones that are far outside the historic Christian faith and compromise the Holy Scriptures. He is not simply adding to the conversation, he has hijacked it to the point where I wonder at what point is the conversation no longer even Christian.



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  • Jack Brown

    Wow. What an amazingly thoughtful and thorough review. Thank you, Jeremy.

  • Tim

    I live in Grand Rapids and am not troubled by Rob or his book. Why? Because I don't think there's a conversation God can't handle. Christians would do well to stop arguing amongst themselves because of this book and just show the world what it's like to be a Christ follower. Who would want to join a family where the members are constantly publicly arguing over who's right and who's wrong?

    By the way, Jeremy, I don't know you (found you in the comments on Ben Witherington's blog) but I browsed your site and am wondering why you think it's necessary to start another church in Grand Rapids? Isn't this just contributing to the existing divide among Christians by creating more factions? Why not join an existing church and use your influence there?

    • poopemerges

      Tim:
      1. Grand Rapids has thousands upon thousands of unsaved folk, from hundreds of nations on earth who are not being reached for Christ, for us to reach all of them it will take thousands more churches.

      2. "Show what it's like" and what would we be left with? Well behaved pagans who still face the judgement Bell does not believe in? Either the Bible says something or it doesn't. i believe it does, and one of those things it says is to contend earnestly for the faith.

      • Tim

        1. Are you serious? Thousands more churches? I can't tell if you're joking because that sounds so ridiculous. How about more creative thinking within existing churches to improve outreach. A new pastor could join a church with way more resources and have an amazing impact on Grand Rapids. But that would require leaving his ego at the door.

        2. As to be expected, a Bell critic like yourself leaves out the last half of my statement. It should read "…show the world what it's like to be a Christ follower." Obviously I'm a Christian and advocating witnessing in Christ's name, but if you quoted me properly, you wouldn't have been able to twist it into something else.

        • poopemerges

          Tim, it's simple math, if we were to truly want to see Grand Rapids come to Christ it will take more churches. I will use my neighborhood as an example, there are 17,000 people and 5 churches….that means for everyone here to be reached there would have to be 3,400 people in every church…none of the 5 could hold a thousand. If we expect that God might do something big it will take churches planting more churches together….church planting is a sign of cooperation and a basic new testament expectation…not dissension.

          • JJ2

            Last I knew Gun ru had more churches per capita than any other city in the U.S. The last thing that city needs is more churches. I haven't read this book, but based upon the negative reviews of the funde's, I'd probably like it.

    • http://utmgr.org Joel Shaffer

      Tm, I want to comment about your belief that there are already enough churches in Grand Rapids that we don't need new ones. I run an inner-city ministry that reaches out to at-risk teens and young adults, many of them that are drug-dealers, gang-members, single mothers of multiple children, rappers, athletes, and etc… Many of our students have come to faith in Christ and are being discipled, but we needed a church to incorporate them into. We tried several churches over the past 5-10 years and it didn't work. So we have been in the process of planting New City Church and many of our students are now part of the core group and serving Christ in this church plant. These redeemed "Thugs" were shut out of existing churches and the few we thought might be a good match for our students (The Edge, Crosswinds, and Tabranacle Community) were between 7-10 miles away, which doesn't work for

      My point from our experience is that as long as existing churches are not reaching and discipling people for Jesus (there are many people groups that are not being reached) in Grand Rapids, there is a need for church planting. I wholeheartedly believe that Jeremy's church will be able to reach people with the saving Gospel of Jesus and live out their faith with social justice within a different context and neighborhood than existing churches already in Grand Rapids and even the church plant that I am involved in…….

      As for Rob's book on Hell, I am in agreement that there is not a conversation that God cannot handle. That we should not be afraid of questions. But neither should Christians be afraid of answers that are based on absolute truth to those questions…. And just living like a Christ follower is not enough or else all we have to our faith is a social moralism. By the way, aren't you glad that Christians all over America argue and try to show how wrong the Gay hating Baptist church in Kansas is? What if we took your argument that "who would want to join a family where the members are constantly publicly arguing over who's right and who's wrong and applied to them?" We could just be silent and hope the world sees in us that we aren't fighting with them, because they also claim to be Christians…….

      No! No! No! We refute bad doctrine and beliefs, whether there are so called Christians publicly hating instead of loving, or whether there is a pastor in Grandville that is deviating from 2000 years of the historical Christian faith's view on hell……..

      • Tim

        I do think there are needs in Grand Rapids that need to be addressed, such as the inner-city ministries you pointed out, but I don't necessarily agree we need more churches to accomplish that. However, if there is an overwhelming need for a church in that type of environment, I am all for it. I should've clarified that I don't think Grand Rapids needs more churches in the Grandville, Jenison, Kentwood, etc. areas.

        As to criticizing Love Wins vs criticizing Westboro Baptist Church, I see your point. However, I'd argue that the difference is one is promoting a message of love and hope and the other is promoting hate and damnation. And in my experience, the one promoting love is the one Christians are most up in arms about. It's a bit odd.

  • http://web.me.com/craigadams1/ Craig L. Adams

    Good grief, Jeremy. Did you really have to come out of your self-imposed blog fast for this? Really? A 7,500 word exercise in missing the point?

    I'm just about done reading Love Wins and it is confusing & very much open to misunderstanding. It is not a book I would recommend.

    I believe the basic thesis is an essentially Arminian one: God is love (both: loving the the source and definition of love) —> love implies freedom —> freedom implies that we can accept or reject that love. Heaven & Hell are realities in the here & now and in the world to come. And, needless to say, I'm fine with that thesis.

    When you couldn't understand why Rob didn't just call himself a universalist, it should have been your first tip-off that you weren't getting it. In universalism love doesn't win. At some point love must be abandoned, and has to become coercion. I understand why the Calvinists aren't getting it: it's outside of their paradigm. In their view freedom is illusory and God gets whatever God wants. But, I don't understand why you're not getting it.

    Yeah. Well, except for the fact that the book is confusing and very much open to misinterpretation. And, then there's fact that Rob seems unable to give a straight and understandable answer to a straight question in his TV interviews.

    People on the Internet have told me that they feel Rob's characterization of fire and brimstone Christianity is spot on. And, I think Martin Bashir was very insightful in suggesting that part of what's going on here is that Rob is trying to work through the issues he has had with his own evangelical upbringing. That insight really helped me in reading the book. When other people chimed in that these passages rang true for them, too — I started to see this as a clue to his intended audience: people whose Christian upbringing had been shaped by a God of Wrath / fire & brimstone religion.

    I'm not part of that intended audience. My issues and hang-ups are with "liberal" Christianity, not evangelicalism. I became a Christian in my late teen years. I am thankful to the (mostly Holiness and Pentecostal) Christians who first shared the Gospel with me. But, my Christian conversion was rooted in a search for meaning, connection with God, forgiveness and hope. Yes, I've heard some fire & brimstone preaching over the years, but I can't say it has shaped me. I was trying to fill the spiritual emptiness I felt inside.

    Once I connected with the Wrath of God thing, I began to see this book more in light of his own spiritual / theological journey — and why he thought this would be helpful to others.

    I don't think Rob should get a pass on what he says either — and this time he isn't getting one! Let's hope that this sparks a helpful conversation in the larger Christian community and encourages Rob to tighten up and clarify his theological concepts in this area. That would be good for all of us.

  • Mark Hertstein

    Thanks so much for taking a stand. It seems to me that most of the pastors in our city (GR) have gone into hiding over this. What are they afraid of? A wishy-washy group, I must say. Rob Bell, obviously has his own truths. Unfortunately, they are not God's.
    Mark Hertstein-TLC Pastor

  • chris o

    A 7500 word exercise in missing the point… Couldn't have said it better myself. I agree that Rob has been less than clear, and outright evasive, but I think the point was missed in this review because much of it was a game of gotcha. While Love Wins might be a bit confusing to someone who hasn't attended Mars for the past 10 years, it is also incredibly simplistic and is nothing more than Rob putting basic Christian ideas into plain and more real-to-life language.

    What had me tearing my hair out while reading this review is how you seem to go out of your way in finding things to question Rob's understanding of the faith. For example: "On the surface this seems to suggest Bell believes in a literal resurrection, where God physically raised Jesus Christ from the dead as the early church witnessed and believed and testified. It’s important to note that Bell uses specific words here to describe what “happened” post death: the disciples insisted that they had an experience of Jesus.
    Insisting you have an experience of someone is not the same thing as actually physically experiencing them in the flesh as the apostles proclaimed. "
    ARE YOU KIDDING ME??! The apostle insisted they actually experienced Jesus in the flesh. Is that better?? Ugh…. For crying out loud, the guy wrote a blurb on N.T. Wright's book defending a literal resurrection, and he listed the same book in his for further study reading list. Not to mention I've sat through a sermon where he did nothing but defend the literal resurrection using arguments found in Surprised by Hope. For you to question this shows that you don't really give a damn about what Rob actually says, you are merely reading your own assumptions into what Rob says. Also, Rob has been saying that the resurrection is nothing new in God's world FOR YEARS. He only means to say that this isn't something weird or off-the-wall, and my hunch is that he does this to communicate better with a secular audience who would think a dead guy coming back to life is weird, or something from an ancient culture not yet enlightened by science.

    Another example: "“Jesus teaches us how to live now in such a way that what we create, who we give our efforts to, and how we spend our time will all endure in the new world.” (45)
    In other words: salvation, Rob’s gospel is about humanistic utopianism."
    Uh, no, actually "Jesus teaches us how to live now in such a way that what we create, who we give our efforts to, and how we spend our time will all endure in the new world" sounds a lot like like 1 Corinthians where Paul talks about the quality of our work being shown for what it is, hence what is good in us will go on into the new creation, and what's bad will be burned away.

    One more example. Rob DOES believe Jesus is God. You criticize him for calling Jesus the divine in the flesh or that he is one with God. Gee, I thought divine was another way of saying God, which would mean Rob is saying Jesus is God in the flesh, and I also thought Jesus said that he and the Father were one. Once again, you read the most negative possible meaning into Robs words.

    • http://www.muskegonberean.com Craig Apel

      Chris,

      Unfortunately the vast majority of people who will read "Love Wins" will not have had your experience of hearing Rob preach on any regular basis. They will have to reach their understanding of what he believes based on the book. For that reason Rob should have made every effort to express himself clearly and to interpert Scripture carefully. I believed he has failed on both counts. You yourself agree he has been less than clear and even accuse him of being "outright evasive." Lack of clearity can be true of any communicator at times , but for a Christian pastor to be evasive concerning what he believes to be the truth is inexcusible. In addition to his lack of clearity (whether intentional or not), his exegisis of Scripture in this book is truly pathetic. I am truly amazed by his "prooftexting" and his completely avoiding any comment upon those Scriptures that might oppose his argument for universal salvation. By these two standards alone, this is a book that has done the Body of Christ no serv ice whatsoever. It never should have been written.

      • Greg Gorham

        If the standard for being a good Christian Pastor is crystal clarity, Jesus himself would fail. Horribly.

  • chris o

    I am currently at the end of the second to last chapter. I totally agree with criticisms that Rob isogetes the text, and can be sloppy with his interpretations. Rob does appear to strongly lean towards universalism, but the honest reader will note that, in the end, he leaves room for mystery and the possibility that people are free to resist God's love. I'm not convinced the book argues for outright universalism let alone that Jesus isn't God, the resurrection is a symbol, or panentheism. But then again, I am actually trying to give it a fair read.

  • http://apprising.org Ken Silva

    Jeremy,

    Thank you for this and being willing to bring out the facts for people concerning the continued slide of Rob Bell. I put it in here, Apprising Ministries: Rob Bell Resources: http://tiny.cc/5wi2b

    Bell's definitely influenced more and more by Richard Rohr, a Roman Catholic mystic and Christian Universalist. Bell's own practice of mysticism is deluding him even further now.

    • poopemerges

      Ha ha Silva just said he was a resource! lol.

  • Pedro

    Pretty sure Ken Silva is getting the last laugh. He is the Stephen Colbert of the Christian world. Too funny.

  • http://apprising.org Ken Silva

    It doesn't bring me any joy that by the grace of God I'm being proved correct for exposing Bell's false teachings years ago.

    • Pedro

      "by the grace of God I'm being proved correct"

      Yes, yes, that's the good stuff! Keep it coming. Classic!

      • http://www.RandyBuist.com Randy

        I'm thinking that being on Ken Silva's 'categories' on his website is likely the mark of a Jesus follower.
        T.D. Jakes
        Rob Bell
        Dallas Willard
        Richard Rohr
        Tony Campolo
        Jim Wallis
        Richard Foster

        Jeremy – Be careful who you crawl into bed with. Eventually your gospel will be so small and filled with so little grace that it will be impossible to see the goodness in anyone even if it were Jesus Christ who happened to come over for dinner.

  • The Skeptical Magician

    I personally don't think that Rob Bell goes far enough. Rather than take up a mile of comment space here, you can see my thoughts on the issue here: http://theskepticalmagician.wordpress.com/2011/03

    • http://www.theodorepong.com Theodore Pong

      I love your story and views. However, think there is a baby in the bathwater, although certainly hidden amongst a lot of difficult metaphor. The fact is that ALL scripture the Bible included, ( as well as the Buddhist Tripitaka, Ancient Vedic teachings, Koran, Ancient Chinese Taoist teachings, Greek philosophy, ancient Wiccan, and any other you can think of) consists of about 10 percent divine truth hidden amongst much metaphor that attempts to create an image of something that cannot be imaged much less described in a dualistic world, about 40 percent INaccurate history, and about 50 per cent deliberate lies to make a trap for fools. Or to be a bit kinder and more charitable I will say of the last 50 percent as deep metaphor that represents a truth to those with eyes to see and ears to hear.

  • cwjking

    People talk about how we shouldn't argue and debate, but damn even the apostles did it amongst themselves…??

    Not to mention the Saints of old used to publicly write reproving and admonishing each other constantly. Replying to bogus theology and so on.

    I think it is good to see anything from both sides. I personally have enjoyed many of the NOOMA videos and so on but I am not convinced that Rob is really trying to put out an agenda. He may be more trying to relate then anything. Either way I have to give it a good read.

    Thanks for sharing.

  • http://www.theodorepong.com Theodore Pong

    After a careful and boring reading of all of Jeremy's review, (with many yawns and sighs,) the question kept recurring in my mind, "What is the matter with you Jeremy, it sounds to me like you have a vested interest in seeing at least half the world's population roasting in hell forever and ever, but you are too cowardly to just honestly come out and say that you are really so full of such hate and venom in your soul, so you spend your whole time picking holes in Rob Bell's words with insignificant and weird little sophistries, you must have spent many nights thinking and dreaming up."

    Of course the fact of the matter is that anyone who seriously believes that anyone, even Hitler, Stalin, or Joseph Mengele, (spelling? Nazi experimental physician of Auschwitz) will really have to spend eternity in any hell world without hope of redemption, worships an anthropomorphic god (lower case "g" deliberate) who is about on par with a sadistic and corrupt federal district court judge placed on his bench by a gang of crooked political thugs, certainly NOT THE omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent, ALL loving, ALL merciful. and ALL compassionate source of all that is in the universe.

    • Brian

      Dang, dude. Is this real, or are you joking around? Because… doesn't this pretty well prove what Jeremy's thoughts are, that (even regardless of Bell's beliefs himself), looking for truth in Bell's work will draw fire from folks who are universalists themselves? Doesn't that kinda support that, at the very least, this book stirs an incredible amount of confusion about the core of Christian life itself, that of the nature of salvation? Just an interesting commentary…

  • http://web.me.com/craigadams1/ Craig L. Adams

    For whatever it's worth: A review of Love Wins by Dr. Jerry L. Walls, visiting scholar at the University of Notre Dame and former Professor of Philosophy of Religion at Asbury Theological Seminary, author of many books on theology and the afterlife, including: Hell: The Logic Of Damnation, Heaven: The Logic of Eternal Joy, and (with Joseph R. Dongell) Why I Am Not a Calvinist: http://web.me.com/craigadams1/Commonplace_Holines

  • Brian

    Jeremy — thanks for your work here. I appreciate your review, and I also appreciate that you are willing, out of love for folks who could be exposed to this text, to take hits for the sake of truth. That's certainly the heart of a pastor.

  • Sarah

    Sadly it's people like you who turn people off from God….I honestly couldn't get past the use of the the word "tsunami", utterly tasteless. I wish everyone could just realize how much focus they are putting on a "book" by a "man" and realize that the "passion" about Rob Bell and his "book" could be driven into more things like the homelessness, child abuse, poverty, etc.
    You are the one stirring up the trouble….and all of "your" followers. I on the other hand follow Jesus. Love Wins.

  • Shaun

    Jeremy thank you so much, this is truly thoughtful. I also appreciate the way that you have studied and read the book, and your critique is of the content and not of Rob Bell. Thank you for making this a healthy discussion about scriptural truth; and in that regard, I think you have exactly gotten the point.

    What is most troubling to me are the comments following your blog that acknowledge the book as confusing and that recognize the isogesis of the scriptures in the content, and yet somehow find that the book turns that around to make a larger and somehow acceptable "point". To me, it illustrates that this book is merely an externalization of the doctrinal error that many of us already find ourselves in…when did it become widely acceptable for us to permit loose interpretation of the scriptures in the name of making a point? When did it become okay for us to accept the idea that scripture is somehow incomplete in making its point about God? How many Christians, who truly love God (I believe every Christian in this forum, including Rob Bell, love Jesus–that's my belief) but despite their love for God, and their commitment to living a life pleasing to God, have misinterpreted scriptures under the false impression that God somehow needs our help in translating himself to the world? When did we accept the belief that God needs to be updated to culture? I know and I agree that Christians have not always been the best at reflecting God in the world (I hardly think of myself as a perfect image of God and His love for humanity), but why do we feel the need to use that as a pretext for invading and diluting the eternally existent truth of God with musings that have been constructed by our own limited and impure reasoning? How do we celebrate and lift up a man's passion, even if that passion doesn't follow through on the responsibility to rightly divide the word of truth???

    I am all for shouting God's love from the rooftops, all for His love being the focus for all we do. But we have a responsibility to speak the TRUTH in LOVE. Truth and love go hand in hand, and the truth doesn't have to be compromised in the name of love. Whether this is a "gotcha" or not, the reality is that these conversations are necessary in helping people arrive at the truth about God and helping them arrive at a clear orthodoxy for their faith, not giving people a nice stream to swim in as the love of God shines down on their lives lived in error. Jeremy, thank you for providing a forum (and a ministry) that is responsible to help people arrive at the truth about God's love: love definitely wins, but God's loves wins by making a way for us to know Him and to be saved from sin. And the bible is not mysterious about that, it is CLEAR. John 3:18, Romans 10:9, Hebrews 9:27-28.

    Again, I say, thank you for a healthy discussion about this. My prayer for those who have commented on this blog, for Jeremy, for Rob Bell, for myself and for the church today is that we all learn, we all grow, and we all experience that amazing redemptive power of God's love as we live it out in God's truth and not our convenient philosophical constructs.

  • Jeremy C

    Bravo to all you that are BREAKING DOWN ANOTHER CHRISTIAN!!! I am sure God is looking down on you and applauding. How about you stop following someone that missed the point of the book entirely, that coincidentally is opening a church in the same city and has a "dog in the fight", and read the book? How about you stop making the faith look bad with your judgemental, negative, attacking ways? People like you have lost me 2 people in the last month I finally convinced to come to church because they see no difference in you and a nonbeliever. Good job. Read the book with an open mind. By the way I look forward to the ensuing posts about the Adventists who OPENLY ADMIT they don't believe in Hell.

    • Dave

      Jeremy C: Were those people who finally came to your church looking for a Christian who knows how to lay on sarcasm really thick in a negative, attacking way?
      Jeremy B. has done a service to the church by doing his homework. He has read broadly, especially liberal theologians of the past century, and finds much of what Bell is saying merely a repeat of what happened not so long ago. It's encouraging to see him plant a church in my city that will be firmly rooted in the historic Christian faith and speak into the current cultural context. Since when are Christians not able to engage in the conversation about whether a certain teaching is Scriptural?
      It seems to me that Bell supporters have two strategies in dealing with Bell critics. Strategy 1 – Call the critics names. Don't deal with their arguments. Don't deal with Bell's position. Just criticize their character. Strategy 2 – Tell stories. These tug at people's hearts!

  • Jean Moseler

    Jeremy,
    I appreciate your thoughtful blog and I appreciate that you took the time to read the book prior to making your comments. I have one question, in Greek the word 'Hell' is portrayed as a purification process. If that is the case – could it be, as portrayed in C.S. Lewis' book, "The Great Divorce" an option for those who see the 'light' after death and prior to Hell (Revelation 20:14)? This conversation is as old as Christianity – and it is worth having until we ferret out the truth according to the Word, and led by the Holy Spirit, and not according to what any preacher says. I want to thank you for having this conversation, and offering an opposing view, in a civilized manner.

  • Bill Reynolds

    Let me start out with a basic premis that I believe; truth is typically pradoxical. For the purposes of this discussion I would suggest the paradox being explored is; God's love and mercy on one hand, God's wrath and judgement on the other.

    I can't sight where I read the quote but I recall Bell making a statement along the lines of: "let's at least admit we are dealing in speculation when it comes to life after death." That is foundational to the discussion. Lewis speculated on this very topic in "The Great Divorce". Perhaps that raised a similar rucus; I can't say. However, if you recall one of the hellish creatures, the guy with a lizard on his shoulder (monkey on his back?), actually chose to remain in heaven. Everyone else chose to return to hell. Lewis' point was that through the choices we make we are continually either becoming the type of person who would be more comfortable in heaven or hell. If we consistently make bad choices we will become the kind of eternal souls that would reject heaven even if (key word) offered.

  • Bill Reynolds

    A third post will be necessar as I am still too long to post.

    On thing that my Christian/church experience has taught me is that the accuracy of the doctrine believed is not as critical of a point as many would suggest. Look at the life of St. Vincent DePaul and ask yourself if your theology would match up with his and then consider the life of service he lived during a period of tremendous suffering. Also towards that point I could recount the crazy sefl serving nature of the church I attended during my teen years. In retrospect I recognize teaching/preaching that was very different than what Christ taught yet I believe that many people found Christ in that church that resulted in lifelong changes. God seems to do positive things when he is sought even if the theology isn't perfect.

  • Bill Reynolds

    Here's the last of it:

    Unravelling mysteries while looking through a dark glass is complicated and difficult. Truth must be sought and it can not be done without asking difficult questions and speculating. The idea that we can understand God so thoroughly as to argue from a position of absolute certainty seems foolish to me. I don't know what is going to happen after death with any degree of certainty but I thing the search/speculation and the pursuing debate is valuable. I am dissapointed by the amount of venom directed Bell's direction over this book; many question his Christianity. That seems to be rather judgemental and contrary to at least some of the teachings of Christ. If you disagree with him don't throw him under the bus; God may be using him to get closer to people who otherwise might not be interested in Christ.

  • Chris

    Jeremy, thank you for this. The strength, conviction, and clarity with which you sifted through this book is inspiring.

    @ all those who don't like this post because it is "argumentative": You should learn to make a distinction between the healthy debate of ideas (necessary to a healthy society) vs. the emotional mudslinging that is spiteful, tasteless, and immature (like most modern-day political discourse). If this valuable critique were the latter, it would be full of profanity and personal attacks. Instead it addresses the Bell on an academic level–his use of logic, methods of interpretation, etc.

    And if you think works like this critique are a poison to the Christian faith, you have clearly never experienced the pain of being lead astray by well-meaning teachers who are off the mark. Bad logic and bad use of scripture = negative consequences. Never mind what you think about Bell, to bring ideas under scrutiny and to critically think about them is not wrong. In fact, it is a very holy thing.

  • Patty

    Jeremy, thank you for (contrary to what some may think) speaking the truth in love. If the truth about salvation and our eternal destiny is hard to accept, it stands to reason that the truth and commands about "living out our salvation" will be hard to accept. Unless we are willing to surrender all to God's sovereignty we will be laboring in vain. Take My Life and Let It Be Consecrated Lord To Thee.

  • Matt LaMaire

    First of all I agree with a lot of what you say. But rob bell does not read the Bible literally. He is not a dispensationalist. That's his whole problem. If he would read the Bible as a dispensationalist he would believe differently. The problem is that he does not read the Bible literally. Dispensational theology is the only correct theology. rob bell is a heratic and a false teacher. His book should be burned.

  • karla

    Hello,
    I read Rob Bell's book. I went to the same seminary as the person reviewing this book. I grew up in GR and do not go to Rob's church, but have attended on a number of occasions. I have friends and family who live and are in ways influenced by Rob Bell.
    I read your review, and it comes down to this: I wonder if Calvinists, no matter how hard they try to understand and really "hear: while having discussions with Arminians, just cannot grasp Arminian perspective before calling it heresy in the end. People keep saying that Rob says Love Wins and that means all go to heaven in the end, but he says, clearly, that God gives us what we want, because love wins.

    And that doesn't always mean heaven (or salvation or redemption).

    He says, "Do we get what we want? Yes, we get what we want. God is that
    loving. If we want isolation, despair, and the right to be our own
    god, God graciously grants us that option. If we insist on using our
    God-given pwer to make the world in our image, God allows us that
    freedom; we have the kind of license to do that…….that's how love
    works. It cant be forced, manipulated, or coerced. It always leaves
    room for the other to decide. God says yes, we can have what we want,
    because love wins."

    I guess I agree with that. God gives us the freedom to choose him (or
    not). Rob says we can see, even today, in this life, that some don't
    choose "life" and it is probably (yet sad) that some won't ever choose
    life. But that God offered all of us that option and he did all he
    could to save us. If lots of people don't get in, it isn't because of
    chance, luck, random selection, etc, it's because God loves us enough
    to give us the freedom to choose.

    I think Calvinists misinterpret Rob, thinking he is saying that all get in, because Love Wins. He's not saying that. He's saying we don't get in by chance or because God just randomly chooses. We are all ABLE to receive salvation, because Jesus Christ, by dying on the cross, made it possible for ALL to be saved. LOVE WINS, not because we all end up in heaven, but because God, because He loves us, gave us the freedom to choose Him (or not), because loving relationships cannot be coerced. Love wins, because we choose salvation. Love wins, because we participate in the story of redemption. That's all he's saying. I wonder, though, if Calvinists just can't enter into the conversation, because all they hear is, "God doesn't get what He wants?! Heresy!" I'm not trying to be disrespectful. I just couldn't understand, except through the lense of calvinism vs. arminianism, understand where your conclusions or even understanding of Robs book came from. We should do a poll of how many Calvinists vs how many Arminians are upset by Rob Bell's book. :)

    • jeremy bouma

      News flash Karla: I'm NOT a Calvinist. I could be considered Arminian on most things.

    • Nate Dawson

      I do think Karla makes a good point here Jeremy. While Rob suggests that salvation is available to all, he does not dogmatically state that all will be saved? Do we agree on this point, Jeremy?

      • jeremy bouma

        Nope. He has made clear in several places that Bell starts with the assumption that since people can make choices in this life that people can make choices in the next. He also written in VE and LW, in addition to the comments he has made in interviews, that his position is of a universal salvation variety.

        Both his religious pluralism, post-mortem salvation, and support for a universal salvation reading of Scripture passages combine to suggest Bell indeed believes all are in, in the end all win.

        • http://darylunderwood.squarespace.com dary lunderwood

          'combine to suggest'…in other words this is Jeremy interpreting Rob Bell…and of course this doesn't make it necessarily so any more than should one 'interpret' you…perhaps Nate's 'interpretation' of Rob's view is more on target

          • Nate Dawson

            I think Daryl has a good point. Jeremy and I are clearly interpreting Rob differently. OK, so how do we go on from here? Let's keep clarifying so at least we can make sure we're on the same page.

            1) I interpret Bell's assumption, "since people can make choices in this life that they can make them in the next," as speculation. He suggests in interviews that most considerations of the after-life are speculation, even his own.

            2) I also interpret Bell as suggesting that the above, i. e. the possibility of a choice in the afterlife, is broadly part of the Christian tradition. It may not be Protestant Orthodoxy, but it surely can be found in the larger Catholic tradition. It is somewhat-kind-of-an evangelical purgatory.

            3) Even if his position is of a universal salvation variety, that doesn't make him not a Christian, and therefore we must't judge his theology as wrong-headed. Again, this is how I approach such issues of theology. That is, interpretively, not dogmatically. Theology is interpretation, in my view.

            4) I don't believe that suggesting Gondhi might not be in heaven is religious pluralism. He clearly states that Jesus is the way of Salvation and the way to God. Though he suggests some people might not even know it. Theologically, there are issues here regarding faith and revelation, for sure, but anyone suggesting Gondhi is in hell is speculation.

            5) So what? If Bell believes all are in or one day will be, (even though he suggests many will NOT choose heaven), this doesn't make his a false teacher? Which is why I think Karla has a point. I am interested how, you Jeremy, are so convinced you are not a Calvinist when you are so sure some are in are some are not? You must not thing God has pre-ordained who is in and who is out or you would be a double-predestinationist, which you suggest you are not. But it seems to me that the only people that really have a problem with Bell's thinkings are those who think they know for sure that there are some who will be in and some who won't be. Bell says this too, although yes, he does speculate that God could and might save all. I am convinced he does not dogmatically claim this, as Robin Parry does.

            All this in peace and hope for dialogue, thanks.

        • karla

          I haven't really read anything that suggests religious pluralism. My understanding of religious pluralism is that it believes every religion, if followed devoutly, will lead us to eternity with God. Rob seems to believe that we are all atoned through the saving blood of Christ, and that we have the choice to accept or reject him (see my above quotations) and our choices have results in salvation or not. I'm still trying to figure out how we have come to different conclusions on this while reading the same books. I didn't see the religious pluaralism you speak of in Rob's books.
          And I'm not seeing the universal salvation. I "hear" Bell saying that love gives us the freedom to choose or reject Christ. With that said, if salvation is a result of our acceptance (or not) of Christ, Rob says it seems to make sense that we might be given a sincere opportunity (either in this life or post-mortem) to hear the gospel so that we can actually make that choice. He clarifies that this is speculation. I guess I don't see this as all that detrimental to our salvation. I haven't decided, yet, that this conversation, especially when it is disrespectful in nature, is not more detrimental to people's faith and view of Christianity than Rob's view on hell. If I had read Bell's book without all the hype about it, I don't think his views would have concerned me. I understand that we should feel a sense of urgency in sharing the gospel, but is it a "turn or burn" urgency, or is it more of a "your life can be saved NOW if you accept and follow the Christ that died for you and wants to redeem your life even now"? (The latter is what I hear Rob saying.) If it's not the Calvinism vs. Arminian difference, what do you think it is that causes some to be concerned and not others, yet all of us are concerned for communicating the gospel message?

          • Nate Dawson

            Karla, I think you are 'right on' in understanding Rob. And I am not saying that from merely reading Love Wins, but from listening to his teaching for over ten years and having personal conversations with him regarding his ideas and theology.

            We all must confess that it is difficult to reflect theologically on ones own interpretations of Scripture, but it is clear that those who oppose Rob's ideas lean toward an evangelical Protestantism. I would add though that most of those in opposition to Rob are so stooped in Western Protestant Christianity. WPC is so deeply opposed to Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy, even though they could find much in common. Rob's THEOLOGY could easily be rooted in the history of biblical interpretation in the light of the Catholic Faith and Eastern Orthodoxy, but it is being caricatured as liberal protestantism. But, as an Episcopalian I could easily fall into the so-called category of liberal Protestantism. Though that would be a mistake because of my Anglo-Catholic thinking.

            Many who are critiquing Rob are so focussed on a model of evangelical / protestant interpretation of Scripture and Tradition, which, will always place Scripture above all things. Though the author of this blog wants to take history and church tradition seriously (I applaud him for that), he has yet to claim Scripture and Tradition the way a Catholic would. At least that is my sense from conversations with him thus far. I on the other hand am comfortable with Scripture and Tradition being Authoritative for the church, but that said, the tradition for me should be passed on by Bishops.

            All too many critiques come from a Reformational perspective and they rarely take into account the plurality of our larger Christian tradition today, which should include East and West, Catholic and Protestant, as well as LIberal and Conservative. All have something to offer and we must focus on the truth in each tradition, not who MIGHT be wrong in them. The reality is one can take a unifying posture or an exclusivist posture. I am choosing to find the similarities in Rob's teaching within and throughout this larger Christian tradition.

            I have much to commend Jeremy for, so I do hope my comments are not oppositional or antagonistic. My concern is with his approach and posture, much less with content. While I would disagree with some of Jeremy's content, he is not far off from Rob in the way he portrays the biblical narrative, which is my primary interest. That is, the biblical narrative and the truth it reveals to the People of God.

  • karla

    hi jeremy, I am reading 1 john right now. Here are some of the verses I stumbled upon today. Sorry, I didn't copy/paste all of the references, but they are in order and easy enough to find. I'll reference Scripture, and then I will list my question/comments: 1 John 2:3 We know that we have come to know him if we keep his commands. 4 Whoever says, “I know him,” but does not do what he commands is a liar, and the truth is not in that person. 5 But if anyone obeys his word, love for God is truly made complete in them. This is how we know we are in him: 6 Whoever claims to live in him must live as Jesus did. 18 Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth…And this is his command: to believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and to love one another as he commanded us. i John 4:1 Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world. 2 This is how you can recognize the Spirit of God: Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, 3 but every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God.

  • karla

    And finally…..I wonder if it is even helpful to spend our energy writing about fellow brothers/sisters who have it all wrong….who as you say, might not even be Christians? I guess I felt that when Paul "confronts" those that are arguing over church leaders…disagreeing over who is better or who is right, it was to point out that none of us is wise, that no leader should be idolized….and also that division among the church is not what Christ intended to be the result of his sacrifice. Can you help me to understand when and why being able to check off a long line of specific doctrines became the basis for salvation in Christ? It seems, over and over in Scripture that Christ redeems those whose lives are modeled after his own. Should that not be how we encourage one another to live? I guess, I look at Rob Bell's life, and I wonder….does Jesus say, "You did not hold specifically to the doctrine that Jeremy Bouma or Karla propposes you should" or will he say ,"Did you feed me? Did you give to the needy?" What does Jesus say his judgment is based on? And is doctrine sometimes "distracting" us from living out the life Christ commands us to?

    • jeremy bouma

      No Karla. Christ redeems people who repent, confess, and believe. Repent of sin for the forgiveness of sin. Confess that Jesus is Lord and Messiah. And believe in faith that God raised him from the dead and Christ's death has atoned for sin once and for all. That's Christian. That's the gospel.

      By the way, Bell suggests all three are unnecessary because they would be "works." And because everyone is "in" anyway…all that is needed is for someone to accept that they are accepted. That's unfortunate. Unfortunate indeed.

  • jeremy bouma

    <div class="idc-message" id="idc-comment-msg-div-160400758"><a class="idc-close" title="Click to Close Message" href="javascript: IDC.ui.close_message(160400758)"><span>Close Message</span> Comment posted. <p class="idc-nomargin"><a class="idc-share-facebook" target="_new" href="http://www.facebook.com/sharer.php?u=http%3A%2F%2 Fwww.novuslumen.net%2Frob-bells-new-book-love-wins-review-and-response%23idc-cover#IDComment160400758&t=I%20just%20commented%20on%20Rob%20Bell%E2%80%99s%20New%20Book%20LOVE%20WINS%3A%20A%20Review%20and%20Response%20%7C%20novus%E2%80%A2lumen" style="text-decoration: none;"><span class="idc-share-inner"><span>Share on Facebook</span></span> or <a href="javascript: IDC.ui.close_message(160400758)">Close MessageActually Karla you couldn't be further from the truth re: the need to respond to false teaching. Paul is explicit in 1 Cor 4 that we are to judge those inside the Church. James is explicit in ch 3 that people (ie Bell) should not presume to be teachers because they will be judged more harshly—especially rockstar pastors with millions of followers. And you cannot escape the explicit pleads of warning by Paul in several of his letters to guard against false teachers. In fact he urges his churches to have nothing to do with them. At all.

    As you observe in 1 John a teacher who denies Christ—everything about him including his deity, his death, and resurrection—is a false teacher and should be dealt with accordingly. This is exactly why many of us are responding to him. What he says about Jesus—his person and works—affects the gospel itself. And what he says is no gospel at all.

    • karla

      I'm not trying to be difficult here, but when I read 1 Cor 4, this is a continuation of what Paul's is warning the church of earlier, which is division in the church resulting in quarreling and disunity. Paul asks, "Is Christ divided?" He goes on to say, that the people of that time (those judging him and those judging other leaders) should *stop* judging him, because "it is the Lord who judges….wait till the Lord comes. He will expose what is hidden in darkness and will expose the motives of men's hearts…." And the next verses are about not taking pride in one man over against the other…."For what makes you different from anyone else?" Even when Paul talks, in verse 12-13 and encourages us to follow his example (v. 16), it has less to do with all the right words and more to do with cursing in the midst of blessing, enduring in persecution, speaking kindly in the face of slander….Can you help me see what you are talking about when you say Paul tells us to judge inside the church? And then, what criteria does he tell us to use?

    • Karla

      You say that James 3 says people (ie Bell) should not presume to be teachers because they will be judged more harshly, but what I find interesting about this is that James has nothing to do with *doctrine*. He hardly ever mentions Jesus (he doesn't mention his atonement or his resurrection at all) and he never mentions the Holy Spirit. It seems, when you look at what he is warning teachers of, his focus is not wrong doctrine. While he does say the tongue corrupts the whole person, the only specific examples he feels necessary to mention are boasting and cursing those who have been made in God's likeness. "Out of the mouth comes praise (for God) and cursing. My brothers, this should not be." Even when he does talk about wisdom, he talks about one's loving actions (not doctrinal correctness): humility, pure, peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy, impartial, sincere, peacemaking….Am I wrong about his focus? Doesn't it seem his focus is on faith lived out rather than doctrinal perfection?

    • karla

      You say that a teacher who denies Christ…..should be dealt with accordingly. And you go on to say that is why you are responding to Rob. But he says "God has inaugurated a movement in Jesus' resurrection to renew, restore, and reconcile everything on earth or in heaven just as God originally intended it" and "just as one trespass resulted in condemnation for all people, so also one righteous act resulting in justification and life for all" and "the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world" and "Jesus is the atoning sacrifice for our sins…" and "Jesus calls us to let go, turn away, renounce, confess, repent, and leave behind old ways." He talks of "the life that comes from [Jesus'] death…." I am having a hard time seeing where Bell is denying Christ. I know you say he quotes Scripture and says things like, "the ancient writers say….", but I'm wondering if maybe you are interpreting with an agenda when you say that must mean he doesn't really believe it, if he's got to say it in those terms…?

  • karla

    Well, I think an Arminian belief in general is that Christ's atonement covered all sins and made it possible for all to be saved. God, in the name of love and free will, gives us the choice to accept or reject His offer of redemption. That's not heresy, is it,? I was under the impression that that is what Bell is communicating. And I wonder (some) if you are being unfair when you say Bell suggest that all three (accepting, confessing, believing) are unnecessary because they would be works. That idea is just one question he poses among pages and pages of questions, all, he says, questions that people could and have raised when trying to figure out how one receives salvation (p. 11) Actually, what he states, without question, later is that Jesus invites the rich man (and consequently, us) to experience eternal life, now and in the age to come. He doesn't say that "all are in" here (p. 62). He says the opposite: "For that man, his wealth was in the way, for others it's worry or stress or pride or envy-the list goes on. We know the list."

  • natedawson

    eremy, unfortunately you are misrepresenting Bell, but I can get over that. It sounds like you continue suggesting one can't be a theological liberal and a Christian. I know you want to use the term descriptively, but your description of the gospel is clearly an american evangelical gospel. I am only using these words descriptively, as you try to use the term liberal. This is not an attack. I am totally OK with your theological positions, but I am NOT OK with your desire to defrock and call out so-called false teachers. That is exactly the bit where I think you are buying into Wittmer's presuppositions and use of Paul for supporting heretic-hunting. I will say it again, I am OK with your evangelicalism but not your attitude toward Rob and his teachings. You are not the judge so-called emergents. If that is what you believe you are doing, I hope you see the arrogance coming through your posture. I should say, nor is Rob the judge of conservative evangelicals. The posture you are embodying is exactly like those in the churches I grew up in, though cynical in the other direction. Obviously, Mars Hill needs critique, but we should point out our commonalities and the goodness within your church and Mars Hill, and less the differences. Such pointing out of theological differences is the very nature of Protestantism, you must know this by now.

  • Sean Scott

    Here's another site that reviews Rob Bell's Book, Love Wins.
    http://www.HellsBell.net

  • anzaholyman

    Just like in WWII Rob's Strategy is to go around the Islands of Calvinist Orthodoxy, in order to go after the big population centers.

  • http://antwuanmalone.com Antwuan Malone

    That, my friend. is a worthwhile read. I've done my own treatment on this book, but it took me several posts. Good stuff though.

  • http://www.whatthehellbook.com Jackson Baer

    It makes for great discussion and study and it's amazing what we find when we seek for truth instead of defending what we've been taught as truth.
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yjRcO1Sm0HU