Rob Bell is Stirring it Up and His New Book is Not Even Out Yet

Rob Bell has a new book coming out this month called Love Wins: Heaven, Hell and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived and it is already gaining a ton of attention. It has been one of the most popular topics on twitter. It has hit the CNN religion blogs. It has been blasted by guys like Justin Taylor and reviewed from a more optimistic perspective by Kurt Willems. What has caused all the stir has not been an actual reading of the book. It hasn’t come out yet. The stir has come from information put out by the publisher and a few small snippets from the book itself and from this Promotional video:

I can’t respond to the book since it isn’t out yet but I can respond to the points he is making in this video that I assume mirror some of the contents of the book.

The Gandhi Example:
The Gandhi example seems like a straw man or a loop hole. He picks someone that the majority of of Christians would say, “Yes, I really would love if Gandhi were in heaven” because if anyone deserves to be in heaven it would be Gandhi, right? So does Gandhi make it to heaven by his own good works? I am not playing the judge here but we can’t wish Gandhi to heaven just because he did some great things. There are other scriptures we could turn to that might point us to God’s mercy on people like Gandhi (Romans 2:12-16). But what it appears to me that Bell is doing here is to pick the most likable non-Christian we all are familiar with and use him as a “loophole” of sorts that it opens up our thinking of how we want heaven to be or who we want to be there and in the process jetison what scripture actually teaches. 2 Peter 3:9 teaches us about who God wants to save – “He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.” God wants to save Gandhi. He wants to save Hitler. He wants to save everyone. That leads us to his next point but before we get there…if God is going to save everyone (which we don’t know that is what he is saying but lets assume he is for a moment) why not use Hitler as your example because he is part of the “every person” group right? Again, I am not saying that is what he is teaching here until we can all read the book for ourselves.

Jesus Rescues You From God:
Bell said this is a subtle teaching in our churches because we teach Jesus had to die so that God wouldn’t send us to hell. Again, Bell has twisted things up into a strawman approach to make his point. We don’t become Christians to keep God from sending us to hell. Some may teach that somewhere and scare people toward faith. I am sure that happens. But that is not a fundamental teaching of Christianity. Jesus followers didn’t follow him out of fear. They followed him out of love. So do we. Jesus and God aren’t at odds. Jesus didn’t die to keep God from sending people to hell. Jesus died to reconcile us with God because God wants to bring all people love and life and light and wholeness. He is making all things new. Unfortunately some people, whether they have heard the Gospel or not, will continue to choose death via their lifestyle even though there is a better way.

The Good News is that Love Wins:
I agree. Love does win. I am not certain where he is going with that. I hope he is not saying all people have to be saved by God because love wins in a way that changes the free will of those who have chosen something other than love in the way the view God and neighbor. We know that in the end God is love and that God and his people are victorious over sin and death and everything that is wrong with this world. But will that undo people who choose to live lives far from God, who embraced a lifestyle and culture of sin and death in an unrepentant, harsh and uncaring way?

I am not writing this to judge a guy out of context and based on a book that I haven’t read. That is not my point. But I do think it is fair to evaluate what he has put out there for what it is worth and try to avoid making assumptions beyond that. I hope this goes well. I hope Bell thoroughly embraces scripture and let what the Bible says develop and grow our views of who God is and what his plans are for mankind rather than who we hope will be saved. And I hope he doesn’t use straw man arguments throughout his book. Time will tell.

Last, read Greg Boyd’s post on the book…he has already read it and shares his thoughts.

HT: Philip Cunningham

About mattdabbs
I am a minister, husband, and father. My wife and I live and minister in Saint Petersburg, Florida. My primary ministry responsibilities include: small groups, 20s and 30s, involvement, and adult education.

19 Responses to Rob Bell is Stirring it Up and His New Book is Not Even Out Yet

  1. I, too, am skeptical of the book based on it’s “trailer.”

    I agree with McKnight, though. I don’t know whether it’s intentional or not, but this is the best marketing job for a Christian book in quite some time. I wonder if Justin Taylor, John Piper, and Mark Driscoll realize that.

  2. Royce says:

    It’s my understanding the the publisher, not Bell, is responsible for the blurb that has caused the uproar. However, they have a responsibility to represent well the contents of the book.

    I read the “what we believe” section on the Mars Hill Bible Church website and will say that If Bell follows the path hinted at by the publisher he will have departed from their stated positions.

    At Best, Rob Bell is way too far out in left field for my taste. But then I am an odd ball by my own admission.

    Royce

    • mattdabbs says:

      He does have some really good material. Some of the Nooma videos are outstanding. There were a few I didn’t care for but for the most part they were really, really good. I didn’t really care too much for Velvet Elvis. It made some points that resonated with me and with a lot of young guys but it also made some points that were way out, as you said, “in left field” that really hurt his over all message in that book.

  3. hey matt!
    how are you guys? your kids are cute in their pics on facebook! along these lines, have you read The Great Divorce by CSLewis? If you have I’d be curious to hear your thoughts. I had never read it until about 6 years ago; another missionary recommended it. I read it and really, really liked it, but was then kinda puzzled because I was pretty sure that the lady who recommended it was thoroughly evangelical, and what I read by Lewis was not along normal evangelical lines. when I asked her about it, she said “oh, it’s just fiction!” which I thought was funny. Allegory, maybe, but I don’t think Lewis meant it as fiction. Also, have you read Surprised by Hope by NT Wright? Really good stuff…
    –Rachel Howell

  4. K. Rex Butts says:

    I’ve been reading responses and articles on both sides of the chalk line in response to all the hoopla surrounding the advertisement of this forthcoming book. Though we must read the book before we draw any conclusions, it seems that his book is probably going to espouse a very accessible view a “new heaven and new earth” that includes an annihilation view of hell. If that turns out to be the case, his view will be nothing new to the broad stream of evangelicalism.

    What bothers me about the entire thing has nothing to do with what position Bell may or may not take in the book. What bothers me is the way some people are just so quick to throw out the labels of “heresy”, “false-teacher”, etc… to any view that is different from their own which seems to be the case of some in the so-called “Neo-Reformed” camp. Too many seem to forget that so much of our own personal creed of what constitutes the Christian faith is up for debate due to issues of biblical exegesis, historical theological development, etc… For example, what is the biblical meaning of “justification”? How we answer that depends a lot on how we exegete specific biblical passages and how we are shaped by theological development throughout Christian history. Does that mean we ought to then be so arrogant to hold our belief with such certainty that we exclude any possibility that we are wrong and thereby condemn any dissenting belief and those who hold a dissenting belief?

    Sectarianism reveals itself in many ways. Regardless of its form, it is always ugly.

    Thanks for your post.

    • mattdabbs says:

      You point out a huge problem. They are disagreeing with Bell without even knowing what he wrote. Then going so far as to call him a heretic based on what? At least hear the guy out. That is why I just stuck with keeping any evaluation limited to the promo clip and even at that trying to keep the perspective of still not knowing exactly what his thought process is and where he lands. I like to hear what others have to say before I say extreme things. Actually, I don’t really like saying extreme things about people even when I do know what they believe!

  5. Terry says:

    It’s important to take our sins, the wrath of God, heaven, hell, and propitiation very seriously. These concepts are at the heart of the gospel. It’s appropriate to be concerned about them.

  6. Vic Pruett says:

    Most of the people that have problems with Rob Bell’s material don’t read Rob Bell’s material. Those that do often read it looking for something to disagree with, which can be found in almost books that we read. The value in reading Rob Bell’s books is that he teaches us how to effectively communicate with the post modern generation. Of course the book will be flawed, but it will also have some great stuff in it as well. It’s too early to judge this book, like momma always said, do not judge a book by its promo!

  7. Of course it’s stating the obvious that we’ll all need to wait to see what Rob Bell says. But I do think Rob’s new book is more than likely tapping into what I think may be one of the biggest issue facing evangelicalism today, “Will God only save believers in Jesus Christ.” And this fury shows that it just might be that big of an issue:)

    My guess is that in the end Bell will take a vague Universalist position—not outright universalism but still something that is still clearly unorthodox and vague and leaves the door open for universalism.

    But from what I’ve heard and read previously from Bell, God and Jesus Christ will be seriously misrepresented to multitudes of people, and this kind of deception always leads to destruction and death. There’s nothing loving about preaching a false gospel. This breaks my heart.

    One of my biggest problems with Rob Bell and other Emergent leaders is that they have begun to craftily portray the essence of Christianity as following Jesus and treating people the way Jesus did. While this is an essential part of living for Jesus, living the “Jesus life” is not the essence of Christianity. The essence of Christianity centers upon the work of Christ on behalf of sinners (i.e. substitutionary atonement, cf. Romans 5:5-9; 2 Cor. 5:17-21; 1 Peter 2:24; Isa. 53).

    This is the matter of first importance (1 Cor. 15:3) that was the prioritized message of Jesus’ apostles (e.g. 1 Cor. 2:2). Missing this is no small oversight by Bell. I t is missing that which is of first importance! Over and over again Bell talks about living the way of Jesus and being like Jesus, but without the essence of the gospel, which is Jesus’ work! This to me is scandalous.

    When I read Bell’s last book Velvet Elvis this really began to be one of his most glaring and fundamental erros and he is showing with this new book and prom teasings just how he continues to wander further away from Biblical Christianity and truth.

    Now don’t misunderstand me. In the past years I have played some of Bell’s Nooma video’s at camp and in some of my adult Bible classes. I liked Bell a lot more back then:) I am not saying everything Bell says is false or that we can’t learn from him. But we need to advise extreme caution regarding his teachings.

    In the end, really, there is nothing new about Rob Bell. He is a theological liberal resembling the mainline denominations of the early 1900’s and his message is just repackaged into a post modern bite sized format with a sporting fashionable new dress, or in his case, a new pair of geek-chic glasses:)

    Seriously my concern is that if evangelical conservative churches and ministers cannot grasp the underlying reality and spiritual framework behind the message of the key proponents of the emerging church like Rob Bell, Shane Claiborne, Brian McLaren, then they could find themselves swept up into a spirituality that is not in harmony with the Gospel of the grace of God.

    Sincerely,
    Robert Prater

    • mattdabbs says:

      Robert,

      That is very well thought out. We are seeing glimpses of the social gospel all over again. That is probably because things tend to do pendulum swings and many begin to see the church as irrelevant for doing ministry as Jesus did it. So they swung the pendulum to the other extreme that says all that matters is doing good things to people and those who do so must be buddies with Jesus. We have to keep in mind what the gospel is really all about. People don’t like terms like “sinner” any more but it is still a biblical term. We just have to know how to approach non-Christians on these issues in ways that open doors rather than close them. Thanks for sharing.

  8. mattdabbs says:

    Philip,

    Thanks for posting the link. I looked for it the other day and missed it somehow. That is a great read! It sounds like we have a lot of work to do if all that he says is true. I asked a friend familiar with our young people if that many of them were probably universalists in some way, shape or form and he agreed. That is very eye opening. Very balanced approach on McKnight’s blog.

  9. dave says:

    Christ wins.

  10. Bob Bliss says:

    Matt, in your response you claim that Jesus’ rescuing us from hell isn’t a fundamental teaching, yet Romans 5:9 says, “Much more then, having now been justified by his blood, we shall be saved from the wrath of God through him.” (NASB) I realize that it would be nice if we could all come solely on the basis of God’s grace and love but that isn’t always the case. One of my teachers at Sunset School of Preaching (who later became a professor at one of our colleges) admitted to me that he was baptized mainly because he wanted to avoid hell. But later he came to understand God’s grace better. Paul’s argument in Romans 1-5 really does seem to bring God’s wrath into the discussion quite prominently. We are less of what we should be if all we preach is a hell-fire-and-brimstone doctrine, but doesn’t Paul’s use of wrath suggest that hell for unrepentant sinners should at least figure in somewhere in our teaching? And doesn’t that makes it more or less fundamental?

  11. Vic Pruett says:

    I think we see what we look for. If we want Bell to be a liberal heretic, then we will find evidence for it. Jesus came to save sinners, but even that is connected to the most basic and greatest of commands, love God & love others. I don’t listen to Rob Bell that often, however when I do I feel put in my place. Some of these author / preachers that are labeled as liberal sound more back to the Bible than the people who love to criticize them.

  12. Bob Bliss says:

    Matt, here’s a link to Christianity Today’s online magazine about Rob Bell’s book.

    http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2011/marchweb-only/rob-bell-universalism.html

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