January 22, 2021

My Quick Take on the Bell Blow-Up

By Chaplain Mike

Comments closed. The conversation is degenerating…

I promise not to take too much of your time with this one.

Subject: Rob Bell vs. Justin Taylor, John Piper, Kevin DeYoung, Al Mohler, et al.

You’re witnessing something big right now.
You’re witnessing a new split in Protestant Evangelicalism.

…This may be the future of Evangelicalism—and we may all be witnessing the tipping point.

But, I can see why he might have missed it; it’s not a split at all. It is more like an erosion. Those of us along the edges are simply sliding off the side into, well, all kinds of things. Some of us turn to Catholicism, others to mainline denominations. Some tumble into Episcopal or Anglican churches, others stay at their evangelical churches but choose not to identify as such. And, sadly, some slide off the edge into nothing at all.

I don’t think there will be any more of a marked change than this. A loosely gathered group of people who have never been able to agree on a name let alone the particulars of theology don’t split, they erode. And erosion doesn’t happen once and then it’s over, it’s an ongoing process.

We are in the midst of the erosion. Enjoy the slide.

And that leads to my take. I simply want to observe two things—

The power of the new media to manipulate.
Bell’s publisher, HarperOne, pulled off one of the greatest coups in the digital age with its advance release of blurbs and video teasers on the internet suggesting that the author may be advocating universalism in his new book. They knew exactly what they were doing, and it worked. The Christian blogosphere (especially in its new Reformed incarnation), known for its reactionary impulses toward anything that smells in the least like false doctrine, blew up in record fashion.

New media, same old marketing bull_____. And Christians fell for it (and in it) again.

Protestant evangelicalism’s fundamental authority problem.
When did Rob Bell become an apostle?
Did I miss that? How is it that his voice is considered so important in the church? Where does he come off as a lone wolf author publishing a book on an essential doctrine of the church? What are his qualifications for teaching doctrine? To whom is he accountable?

And when did Justin Taylor and others who consider themselves gatekeepers of sound doctrine get appointed to the magisterium? What gives them any authority to speak to or about Rob Bell? What right do they have to set themselves up as teachers and guardians of the Truth? Why do they think that they have a platform to criticize a brother in public, in full view of an unbelieving world that will only find more cause to mock the faith because of our schisms?

Oh, St. Ignatius of Antioch, where is your wisdom today? How shall we ever survive without godly bishops and elders to guard us and lead us in the way of truth and love?


  1. I must confess that I had never heard of Rob Bell until this week.

    I am not a Catholic, but this situation adds validity to question I heard from Mother Angelica of EWTN fame, “Who is your magesterium, and how do you decide which of the millions of little popes will you listen to?”

    • That is an awesome Mother Angelica quote.

      I think many evangelicals are their own pope.

      • Charles Fines says

        dumb ox @ “I think many evangelicals are their own pope.”

        I would not like to be taken for an Evangelical but being my own Pope is close enough. Would prefer Vicar of Christ since I’m not trying to be the Father in this deal. Actually Child of God comes even closer tho I’m not claiming to have arrived at that status yet and will leave that up to God.

        I live less than 50 miles from Rob Bell and I guess I’m going to have to make the trip one of these days. In the meantime I fully intend to buy his book. I don’t think I’ll get a lot new out of it but it’s nice to find growing confirmation of what you found yourself along the Way.

        And it isn’t like C.S. Lewis or even George MacDonald invented such thought. Origen was probably the most eloquent spokesman for the ideas being discussed and they were not new at the time. It was not until something like a couple hundred years after his death that Augustine and Jerome headed a lynching party that permanently trashed Origen’s reputation as the church’s greatest genius since Paul. It was only later that the idea of hell as everlasting punishment with no way out became official doctrine with offenders receiving the death sentence of excommunication, thus being sent to that same hell. Catch 22.

        As pointed out elsewhere, the Eastern Orthodox Church is much more comfortable with the idea of eventual redemption of the whole shebang. “Universalism” is the label being flung at Bell but anyone who has given even a surface investigation to this knows that there are wide ranging views on the matter which don’t fit into a single shoebox.

        There probably is a split in the church over the whole idea of hell as everlasting punishment with no way out, a growing split in my estimation, and in my opinion a move of God’s Spirit. Bell isn’t leading this, he would appear to be commenting on it, and he is not alone. The most telling comments are coming from those all bent out of shape over the matter and they would be funny if they were not so sad.

        If there is a chasm in the ground growing right before our eyes, it would seem of first importance not to fall into it. Then it would make sense to try to get on the same side of the chasm that Jesus is standing on. Apparently opinions differ on which side that is. I think I will run to the side of Love and let God sort this out in His own good time.

    • I read his Velvet Elvis in an attempt to get answers. He said some good stuff in there….

      • This comment reminds me of a story:
        A man sits at a sidewalk cafe where he is enjoying a tall large coffee. A seagull flies by and lets fly and the whole mess drops into his coffee. He looks down at it and goes, “Gross!” Then he realizes that MOST of the coffee is still good, so he stirs in the poop and enjoys the rest of his coffee. Most of the coffee is still okay right? Can the little bit of “yuck” wreck the drink? Or if one stirs it in well enough, maybe it will be neutralized?
        Rob Bell says “some” things that are right, but intermingles with those right things, he stirs in lies. Remind you of someone? “Did God truly say…?”

  2. I agree completely. We have created hundreds of thousands on “mini-Popes” ranging from Fred Phelps (Westboro Baptist) to Justin Taylor to John Piper to Al Mohler to Rob Bell to …..

    Before new media, their damage was often limited to their local congregation, not it spreads like a cancer.

    As I have been reading St. Ignatius this week as he directs the local church to follow their Bishop in order to avoid division, I ask myself who do I follow?

    • exactly how i felt. for a bunch of folks who have rejected the structures of the Catholic church, they sure were acting like “bishops” and “popes”. and i love the question: “who do I follow?”

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says

        Not just Bishops and Popes, but Inquisitors and Witchfinders-General.

        • No one is suggesting burning Bell at the stake. He is a false teacher, his teachings are to be treated with special care (treated like poison, specifically because that’s what they are).

    • I would suggest submission to the best of Christian tradition, centered around the creed. Admittedly, that’s very broad, but then Christianity *is* very broad. It’s also something the Guardians of Orthodoxy are failing to understand.

  3. Allen says: March 19, 2011 at 1:12 pm:

    I ask myself who do I follow?

    Follow Jesus.

    I know that doesn’t necessarily solve the problem, but it’s what Jesus told Peter in John 21.

    And it’s what He still says to each of us today, I think.

    The devil is in the details.

    • Follow Jesus, yes, but where do we find Jesus today? Ephesians 1:23 says the Church is the fullness of Him who fills all in all. If the protestant situation is accepted as a legitimate expression of “The Church”, and the Christ we are to follow is found in His fullness within the Church, then we are lead right back into the problem being discussed. I don’t see an answer for this problem within evangelicalism or protestantism in general.

      • “Church” is translated from “called out ones”. It can mean all Christians everywhere for all time, or all the Christians in a particular area (what might be called a “local church”). “Church” never meant an organization or building, until after the Bible was written.

        • I don’t disagree with anything you wrote. But I think my point still stands. If the Church is the Body of Christ, and the fullness of Him who fills all and is in all, the protestants have a problem in understanding ourselves as the Church because of our division into thousands of different denominations. How can Christ be divided?

          • Christ is not divided. All Christians are one in Christ. For the time being, in the world, we are divided into local churches. This is natural. No one group can span the whole world.

            I believe the disagreements among local churches are to some extent, like divorce under the Mosaic law – because of the hardness of our hearts.

          • You’re missing my point. The issue I was responding to is the authority question. I am saying that the authority for Christian faith and doctrine is found within the Church (see the Ephesians verse I quoted, also 1 Tim 3:15). This is why the dividedness is a problem – it’s an authority problem.

          • This connects to my other point, feel free to join them somewhere…

            If “the authority for Christian faith and doctrine is found within the Church”, then each local church is free to set its own doctrine. At the end, we will see which are true and which were false. Their rewards will be paid out by their masters.

        • That’s the “root fallacy,” I believe – i.e., saying that εκκλησία means εκ + κλήσις.

          • Eric, I’m not sure what you mean.

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says

            It’s all Greek to me.

          • εκκλησία already had a meaning in Greek society and in the LXX was used to translate קהל, assembly, congregation. So it had become a term on its own separate from its etymological roots. That doesn’t mean that εκκλησία doesn’t come from the words meaning “called” and “out,” only that one shouldn’t say that it (literally/really) means “called-out ones.” D. A. Carson wrote a book about these things called EXEGETICAL FALLACIES.

          • Are you suggesting there is a significant difference between “assembly” or “congregation” and some group of believers?

          • No.

        • Also the (Church) at the root of it’s word is those that are owned or slaves. We in the church are those who belong to. we are property we have freely given our selves to be slaves to Christ. that is what it means to be of the church…

  4. There is an entire marketing machine that consists of creating authority where none existed. Not to say that Rob Bell doesn’t possess knowledge and passion for his subject, but he is certainly the beneficiary of those who know how the machine works, as are Justin Taylor et al.

    However, the machine didn’t create the problem of authority in the church. That goes back to at least Martin Luther.

    Luther’s abandonment of the authority bestowed by tradition may have been necessary, but it also left behind a mooring from which we seem to have irrevocably slipped.

    • “at least Martin Luther” From my limited reading of Eastern Orthodox, the primary reason for the split was not the filoque controversy, but the primacy of the patriarch of Rome. The primacy of the Roman patriarch doesn’t exactly seem correct to me, but neither does the complete abandonment of the Bishop system seem correct either.

      • The pope and indulgences where small potatoes. Luther’s main point stick was the bound will and justification by faith. Luther to Erasmus:
        “I give you hearty praise and commendation on this further account-that you alone, in contrast with others, have attacked the real thing, that is, the essential issue. You have not wearied me with those extraneous issues about the Papacy, purgatory, indulgences and such like trifles. . . . You, and you alone, have seen the hinge on which all turns, and aimed for the vital spot ” i.e. the freedom of the will. (or really the lack thereof).

  5. the marketing piece was GENIUS. it got Rob Bell into mainstream media interviews and will probably land the book on bestseller lists. can you blame them? publishing companies and authors want to sell books, right?!

    the polarization of the church as postulated by Spencer is an interesting concept i too came across yesterday through Jesus Creed. i can see that polarization actually happening within the evangelical denomination of which i am a part. there are some of us who lean toward “mainstream,” “liberal” theology and those who are borderline fundamentalist, neo-Calvinist. hmmmmm. where will this really go?

    it all makes me want to leave the denominational, church-politic malarky, read the Bible, love my family, and serve my community.

    • Christiane says

      I think that the mainstream media was attracted to the story by the intensity of the venom of the ‘critics’ of Rob Bell who had not even read his book.

      The smell of something like that travels far and wide.
      I think the ‘critics’ have peaked much interest in Bell’s book among the general public.

  6. “They knew exactly what they were doing, and it worked.”

    Thus proving that Rob Bell is not interested in truth, only in money. Anyone who rejects orthodoxy and follows him reveals their love for preachers who will tickle their ears.

    You don’t need a magesterium to identify and mark false teachers. Mohler and the rest are only doing their duty to flag Bell as an apostate.

    • I disagree. I don’t think Rob Bell is in it for the money. I bet he actually thinks that orthodox historic Christianity has the gospel wrong. He is correct that some people have the gospel wrong, but I suspect that he feels the historic confessions of faith have it wrong.

      I would pay Rob Bell a nice $ to read through the Lutheran confessions and show me line for line what he disagrees with. It might actually put him on the line to make a stance.

      • “I would pay Rob Bell a nice $ to read through the Lutheran confessions and show me line for line what he disagrees with. It might actually put him on the line to make a stance.”

        Good luck. That would be like trying to nail jello to the wall.

      • I don’t think you should compare it with the Lutheran confessions, Bell is more influenced by the new perspective on Paul, postmodern neo-anabaptism and I think some old eastern-orthodox church fathers (on atonement for example). But I heard that besides the overtly optimistic inclusivism and some sloppy exegeted verses most of his theology in ‘love wins’ is similar to C.S. Lewis’ the great divorce’ and N.T. Wright’s ‘surprised by hope’. so there’s nothing spectcacularly new about it… But all reasons for calvinists to dislike it though…

        • That is the point. The Lutheran Confessions are entirely focused on Jesus and the justification of the sinner. That is the heart of the matter.

    • it’s a Judging party!!! come on in everybody! the water’s fine!

      • Christians know how to smell blood in the water!!! They know how to pounce and jump on someone. Let’s be honest reformed are reactionary!!

    • nedbreck, Unless i am mistaken, you, like all of us here, do not know Rob Bell. It is very unfair to accuse him of only being interested in money without any evidence to suggest it

      • How many best-selling books does Bell have now? How quickly will this book rocket to the top?

        I don’t need to know him. I know what he says and what harvest he is reaping.

        If it is as Rob says (“I bet he actually thinks that orthodox historic Christianity has the gospel wrong.”) then, to quote Darth Vader, “he is as incompetent as he is stupid” (not 100% applicable, but how often do you get to quote Darth? :).

    • FOUL!!!! Why are fundgelicals so reactionary? Heck I admit when I ate, drank, inhaled, swallowed the Kool Aide I did the same thing. Why do fundy’s have to have this “us” vs “them” mentality? Is John Piper that insecure?

      • Here are some suggestions why..

        1) a belief that the Bible and God needs defending.

        2) It’s about power

        3) It’s a “lost your first love” situation.

  7. If Bell where serious about being a pastor then he would do exactly what he is told to do in the bible. Proclaim Christ crucified for the forgiveness of sins. Literally open his mouth and say “Christ body and blood was given for you, for the forgiveness of your sins”. Proclaim forgiveness in Jesus name to his crowds. Give Christ’s body and blood to his church for the forgiveness of their sins. Baptise for the forgiveness of sins. Then let new life grow and be sustained.

    • “If Bell where (sic) serious about being a pastor then . . . ”

      Rob, have you read Bell’s other work? Have you seen him preach, watched his videos? This guy has devoted his entire adult life to pastoring. He may be wrong-headed, but not “serious”???

      • I have watched and listened to many of his talks. He makes no proclamations. He has a duty as a pastor to proclaim Christ. He does a fantastic job with greek, in context, etc, but he does not proclaim forgiveness in word or sacrament. These are the marks of the church, the duties. He talks about Jesus but does not bring Jesus to people by the proclaimed word of salvation, i.e. “Jesus comes only for sinners” “Jesus died on the cross for sinners, he died for you.” Proclaim Christ crucified for sinners and let God do the rest in his word. Look at Peter’s Acts 2 sermons. Did he say “God will melt the hearts of people eventually”? or did he say “this Christ whom you have crucified….” There is amazing great news in these words. Words that make believers, words that sustain believers. Dead to alive.

    • Why do I have the sneaking suspicion that you are a Lutheran? 🙂

      • Absolutely. Been to many others but there was always a catch and left me uncertain and in despair. “If you believe in Jesus, he will forgive you.” is very different that “Jesus died for sinners, he died for you.” One demands a dead heart decides and the other tells you what Jesus did for a dead man.

        • One could spend an eternity contemplating the beauty and simplicity of that. I’m considering Lutheranism strongly, but the systematic consistency of Presbyterianism has such a strong appeal to me. And the generosity of Anglicanism, but they’re so hit and miss when it comes to confessionalism, I doubt I’ll ever find a home there.

  8. Your response puzzles me a bit, perhaps I’m missing something. Having a learned protestant pastor approved by elders be a gate-keeper of the truth is bad, but having a bishop, cardinal, or pope act as one is okay? There seems to be a double standard between protestant and catholics…

    And criticizing a brother publicly has it’s place. Paul did not quietly go to the Judaizers and sort out their issues privately. He publicly denounced them in his letters and even threatened to castrate them!

    • Paul was an apostle, protestant pastors are not. The difference between protestants and Roman Catholics (and Orthodox Christians) is that the bishops authority recognition has been passed down from the apostles – there is direct lineage. When heresies were being fought early in Christian history, the orthodoxy of specific Church was determined by whether or not what they taught is consistent with what has been passed down from the apostles, and the mechanism to ensure the protection of apostolic teach was the apostolic succession of the bishops, which has been continued to this day (or so the claim is). A protestant pastor under the authority of elders is not the same as a Catholic or Orthodox Bishop ordained by a Bishop who was ordained by a Bishop…who was ordained by an apostle.

  9. Thank you.

    I wish I had a buck for every person I know who has said, “I’m gonna get that book and read it for myself so I can___” I’d have enough money to start my own publishing company. I’d call it Harper Two.

  10. I think Red Letter/Patrol are being a bit exaggerated (hopeful?) in their analysis. One overhyped book responded to by alarmist bloggers does not split a movement.

    Remember the Greg Boyd Open Theism controversy of a decade ago? I remember Piper saying that it was one of the biggest things the church had to address in the 21st Century. The more alarmist said the same thing about “The Shack.” Same with Brian McLaren’s book from last year (and the year before…etc).

    That’s not to say that none of those aren’t riddled with bad thinking or shouldn’t be responded to. Just not in the breathless, tabloid-esque way things have been handled in the past few weeks. It just turns into a gossip circle (“Why won’t everyone shut up about Charlie Sheen? Because everyone is talking about Charlie Sheen. That and it gets blog hits.”)

    I’ll say it a lot over the next few weeks: Dustups like these make me miss Michael.

    • WenatcheeTheHatchet says

      I thought two or four years ago the great threat to Reformation teaching was N. T. Wright and the New Perspective on Paul. R. C. Sproul was talking about how if we lose double imputation we just lose the whole Gospel, really.

      Now if Bell or Bell’s publisher has shrewdly blurbed controversial statements which, when probed, are defended as being misconstrued or taken out of context that means that Rob Bell’s team has successfully pulled off a move more commonly seen with that other Mars Hill church, the one over in Seattle that has nothing to do with Rob Bell and wishes his church didn’t have the same name. Now if you just listened to the whole Driscoll sermon instead of the five minute rant against video games or against Avatar (posted on the church’s own website in that soundbite form) you’d see that Driscoll isn’t REALLY saying video games are stupid so much as whatever it was in that sermon the soundbite was taken from that you should really go listen to. Which is, not coincidentally, why I think a lot of blame goes on the promoters of controversial pastors more than just the controversials pastors themselves.

      A lot of the problem, as I see it, is that a lot of people like to play the game themselves when it comes to incendiary soundbites about soundbites but are loathe to see other people operate from the same playbook.

    • That Red letter/Patrol analysis has made me think….. never a good thing 🙂
      About the whole call that the Imonk made about the “Post-Evangelical wilderness” & where is at & where it is going. Evangelical to me is nothing more than a cultural or Political word. ultimately a word is dying. does that upset me? no, I never fit in politically or culturally anyway. But, the ‘black & white’ world of what was evangelicalism will not work in another box. so I believe their will be a slide into something – hopefully something with less politics & more willingness to dialog with culture, instead of isolation or war. peace.

      • Briank,

        Thanks for the note 🙂

        Actually, I think Evangelicalism is larger than a word — I don’t know if I am one (or even grew up as one), but it’s much larger than it’s sometimes perceived. One big upside of watching the Lausanne Conference talks a few months ago reminded me that it’s a wide group of people with a host of issues: most of which DON’T run around creationism, being Truly Reformed, and sin management.

        I’m not conceding Evangelicalism to the loudest or those who get the book deals. Overall, it’s still not a movement of the past.

  11. This blow up over Rob Bell is another little piece that reminds me of James’ simple and profound advice. “Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness.” – James 3:1 ESV

    I am concerned that American church has too many teachers and not enough laborers.

    • Great point.

    • Can we not add Pharises? Fundegelicals need to remember that there are some edvangelicals struggling with faith issues, doubt, alcohol, homosexuality, porn, gambling, etc.. who need to be stoned!!!

    • My whole point in this matter is that the American church is flooded with people who have some new doctrine to teach or old doctrines to re-teach. However, there seems to be a lack of work towards matters like healing families or helping one’s neighbors.

      Sometimes walking in silence can be better than teaching out loud.

  12. Four heretical thoughts in some people’s view of the universe:

    1. What really happens to us in the intermediate state? How are we prepared to enter God’s presence? Does sanctification stop once we die? What is the perfection that Jesus talks about in Matthew 5:48? I really think the doctrine of purgatory has legs, and the concept would allow space for further sanctification and preparation for heaven. (I have no idea, though, if that’s God’s plan, though!)

    2. CS Lewis’ “The Great Divorce” (and the reality of conscious choice and second chances in eternal destiny) espoused something that is not so different from what Rob Bell appears to be saying (caution – I say this only from how his views are described in the blogosphere – haven’t read the book yet).

    3. With apologies to all the Calvinists, I think the abhorrence to works is overblown. I really think “works” means religious rituals, and NT Wright may be on to something.

    4. And, I do think women can teach and lead, gasp, even men.

    Am I right on any of these points? I have no idea – I just love Jesus! If the self-proclaimed judges of the Gospel Coalition et al were determining my fate, I am not sure I would make the Big Party in heaven. That said, I believe in a God whose grace is big enough for some baggage, including that of the Gospel Coalition and my own.

    Grace to all.

    • I completely agree! I too see comparisons with CS lewis in Rob Bell’s points.
      A little secret …….just between me & you ………CS Lewis believed in purgatory too.
      you should check out George MacDonald’s ‘Unspoken Sermons’ – will blow your mind!
      Mystery is not a bad word. no matter how much the Gospel Coalition thinks it is. peace.

    • 1. Food for thought. 2. Lewis was an Anglican. Wouldn’t be the biggest stretch ever seen. 3. I am a Calvinist. You are dead right. Haven’t read Wright though. 4. Also correct, and they do! But sorry, still barred from office. The Bible is clear on Elder. Deacon is up for grabs I think. I prefer to say that men should lead, not that women should not.

  13. Here is very intelligent and helpful discussion on Hell. I highly recommend watching or listening no matter what your theological background is.


    • Refreshing to hear a Methodist take Hell seriously. Perhaps God will grant him relief from his Arminianism as well 😛

  14. I actually think this kind of blow up is good. silly? Yes, but good.

    first – writing a book is not pastoring. though most mega-churches really don’t do pastoring.
    second – did they know what they were doing? Yes! but I think the Neo-Reformed crowd is looking more & more childish (oh well there are the elect 😉 )
    third – Rob Bell seems pretty close to CS Lewis’ “The Great Divorce” – if they throw Rob Bell under the bus , are they also going to get rid of CS Lewis? good luck. ( talk about your Evangelical Pope & saint all rolled into one!)

    sometimes a bandages have to be ripped off to heal. I will take Rob Bell word for it, that he wrote this book for many people with questions & misconceptions that have been brought to him about hell & after life.

  15. Headless Unicorn Guy says

    Bell’s publisher, HarperOne, pulled off one of the greatest coups in the digital age with its advance release of blurbs and video teasers on the internet suggesting that the author may be advocating universalism in his new book.

    Ever since Last Temptation of Christ, “Pissing Off Those Xians” has been a viable marketing strategy. Just leak something that you KNOW will get the Christian Culture Warriors or Truly Reformed Theology-parsers in a snit. (Hint: It doesn’t take much.) They give you all this self-sustaining FREE publicity and FREE marketing, and it doesn’t cost you a dime after the initial leak. A self-sustaining, completely free Publicity Machine.

    • I get the impression that Christians are going to get a bum rap from other Christians no matter what they do. If there is a strong reaction to supposed bad doctrine or offensive entertainment, then the Christian Culture Warriors (as UHG called them) are overbown jerked knees. On the other hand, if the church is generally passive or quiet or unconcerned in the face of such controversies, then they are considered cowards (a word one speaker actually used).

      In various conversations over the years I have heard voices within the church openly wonder why Christians tolerate what they do and then criticize Christians when they respond.

      • Yes, but it is one thing to criticize a book after having read and analyzed it, and another thing to grab headlines with attacks before the book even comes out.

        • Do we know for sure whether Mohler, Piper, et al have not read the book? Perhaps I just assumed they were given advanced copies so they could read it and comment on it.

    • HUG…agreed you hit the nail on the head

  16. Paul Davis says

    Rob Bell should be allowed to believe what he wants and when he wants, is our faith so shallow that we can’t accept other ideas? How many of us cringe at extremists who want to Jihad anyone who doesn’t follow their system, and yet we let these character assassinations go on all the time, while we turn a blind eye.

    We as believers should do like the bereans and double check what he says. I’ve not read his book, and probably won’t have time to. So no offense to Mr. Bell, I simply don’t have time in my spiritual walk to dissect every book that comes out, so I will not pontificate like so many others about it’s merits.

    But CP is right, the theology cops are out in full force, and they are driving more and more people away. Atheists have some solid ground when they point out how bad things have gotten, It’s sad when you don’t even have the grace to be “Gracious” to others. Whether you agree with them or not. I’m almost ashamed to say I am now or ever was an evangelical…

    Shame on Piper and the others who acted like religious thugs, I’ve learned everything I need to know about their belief system in how they have handled this and other theologies that don’t align with their specific beliefs.

    What a mess.


    • The theology of the Christian faith points to Jesus, his completed work on the cross for us, and is a profound source of comfort. Theology is essential because is points us to Jesus and His promises for us. It keeps me from making up my own ideas about how God acts. The reason people are going at Rob Bell is that he is suggesting based upon his interview with Bashir that trust in Jesus is not essential for redemption. He suggests that God may have a separate plan outside of Jesus in the after life. He is removing sure and certain promises in Jesus that we based our hope and life upon. You can see the video for yourself.


      • I like Bashir.

        • Bashir would have flunked the Journo 101 class I took 35 years ago. His question on Japan was the rhetorical equivalent to “Have you stopped beating your wife yet?” He was on MSNBC, not TBN,CBN,or Daystar, his audience was not specifically Christian. Hint: Bashir would have been better with an open ended question where Bell could have gotten himself into trouble. It’s what happens when you don’t read the book yourself and depend on bloggers for your background.

          • It’s theodicy, and anyone who claims to be Christian should be prepared for it before addressing millions of people.

          • Yes, Bashir’s interview technique was horrible. All he did was ask Bell yes or no questions that can’t be answered with a simple yes or no. By the end, he was simply trying to bully Bell into choosing a side from the false dichotomies he was presenting to him.

      • “He suggests that God may have a separate plan outside of Jesus in the after life.”
        this is wrong!!!!! – you are making a mistake when you say ‘outside of jesus’ – noone is saying ‘outside of jesus’ – they are saying we can’t put limits on how Jesus works in people’s lives – both here on earth & in the afterlife. It is a hope that the good news can truly be proclaimed everywhere to everyone – even the captives in hell. peace.

        • Watch this video:

          Then tell me that Rob Bell wants people to proclaim the Gospel.

          • Great find. Its another nooma video that asks questions, strikes down law, but does he does not proclaim the forgiveness of sins in Christ. It needs to be said explicitly, week in and week out to the congregation. In our witness, we proclaim Christ, not ourselves, not doubt, not questions, but certainty that Jesus has accomplished and fulfilled all for us at the cross.

            This is another video where he raises great questions but does not close the deal on “Christ died for sinners, he died for you.” Instead he dilutes the law yellling of the megahorn guy because Bell will not follow it up with a clear declaration of the forgiveness of sins (i.e. the gospel). Strong law should be followed by strong sweet promiscuous gospel of forgiveness of sins in Christ. Free gift.

            At the heart he preaches as if we have free wills to turn towards God. He wants to wrestle us into the shoe. We don’t have free wills. We have bound, hostile wills towards God. That is why the message is the forgiveness of sins through Christ. This word (and word with water, bread, wine) and proclamation is the means by which God has chosen to save us. When Bell dilutes this he is doubting Gods saving means and power and is not doing what he is called to do.

      • Paul Davis says

        My point is that it does not matter, we have religions that pose as christian all the time. Half the current Christian population doesn’t even know what they believe, we have society struggling to find peace. And the people with the answers are all bickering, fighting and making themselves look like a group of fanatical idiots.

        I’m going to use Billy Graham as an example here, no matter what you think of his theology. He learned a very important lesson early in his career, that his words had impact and that guarding his tongue was one of the most important things he could do. When was the last time you heard him weigh in on an attack like this, instead he focuses on the Gospel and leading people to Christ. Even for those he disagrees with he has a kind word, and does not make a public spectacle, why should we be any different?

        Paul instructs Timothy like this:

        ‘with gentleness correcting those who are in opposition, if perhaps God may grant them repentance leading to the knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, having been held captive by him to do his will.’ (2 Timothy 2:25-26 NASB)

        Why do Piper and the others get a pass because they disagree with Bell?, why do any of us?. I’m not saying that we should sit idly by, but the blog-o-sphere, and the new immediate media have opened up a whole new world of danger. We who live in this age should know better by now, it’s far too easy to malign someone online without the hassle of actually finding out what they actually are saying.

        Disagree with Bell all you want, send him a letter or give him a call. But don’t try to justify the lynch mob mentality that has taken over modern evangelicalism.


    • Good point..it was the theology police from Campus Crusade, and some of the places I was involved with that helped convert me to agnosticism. Screw the effort the person has made in dealing with sin, or being honest!! They have to be lynched by the religous police…ALLAH AKBAR!!!!

      Makes me wonder when John Piper, Mark Driscoll, etc.. will lead a firing squad at the Emergents, liberals, etc.. is that too far away?

  17. “But, I can see why he might have missed it; it’s not a split at all. It is more like an erosion. Those of us along the edges are simply sliding off the side into, well, all kinds of things. Some of us turn to Catholicism, others to mainline denominations. Some tumble into Episcopal or Anglican churches, others stay at their evangelical churches but choose not to identify as such. And, sadly, some slide off the edge into nothing at all.”

    That nails it.

    I read Mohler’s comments on Bell, and his prediction of an evangelical split caused by the onslaught of “liberalism”. His definition of liberalism is non-existent; at best it is a cartoon caricature with nothing in common with classic liberalism at all. Part of this may be a deception to draw attention away from the liberalism inherent in his own teachings; any time emphasis is placed upon human effort to please God – as found in Mohler’s cultural war diatribes – one is entering the waters of classic liberalism.

    I have heard him make the same caricatures out of existentialism, painting every existentialist as a depressed, barrett-wearing follower of Sartre. Perhaps he’s never read Kierkegaard.

    This is why conservative evangelicalism as represented by Mohler and Piper will eventually die. Their arguments tend to leave a choice between their brand of evangelicalism or a strawman that they set up to represent the ultimatum. I think people are deciding that even a strawman has got to be better than what they are offering.

    It isn’t that I agree with Bell. I just think it isn’t as simple as a choice between two alternatives. And Bell may not be totally wrong. (Gasp!) I have recommended it before, but I will again: Read Tony Campolo’s “Partly Right”.

  18. I think you’re right as far as saying marketing is equally a culprit as heresy. Harper One is brilliant. In an evil, conniving sort of way. They should make a good buck off this, and nobody gets hurt, right?

    Well, unless, of course, Bell is wrong.

    And I don’t understand what credentials Piper and Mohler and Taylor etc are all supposed to have before they can denounce un-biblical teaching masquerading as Christianity. Who do they think they are? I’d be asking that if they kept their mouths shut! I understand the reformed blogosphere is full of grace nazis, but when fundies bomb abortion clinics, we ought to distance ourselves from that. When lefties ordain lesbian buddhists, it is a good thing for us to explain how that is not consistent with a Christianity centered on Biblical authority. Why should they keep silent when Bell joins the mainliners and refuses to admit it?

    Evangelicalism is NOT suffering from an over abundance of doctrine police. That is a false caricature if I’ve ever heard one. The opposite is true: Church goers simply don’t care what the Bible really teaches about key issues, much less do they read it and submit to the revealed word of God. You don’t have to believe the Bible. Just admit it and stop calling yourself “evangelical”. Any theologian worth half their salt knows that the doctrine of hell teaches something much more beautiful than “Jesus died to save you from God.”

  19. I haven’t read all the comments here, but unlike many people who seem to be commenting, I actually read the book. I found, well, for lack of a better description, inspiring. I gave up on reading most popular level Christian books a while ago, but Bell is one author who I make an exception for. He has a knack of taking ideas and concepts that would be far too academic for most people to be interested about and presenting in a way that is accessible.

    There’s nothing particularly new in his book. He borrows from Lewis and N.T. Wright, and ultimately I’d say his view of heaven and hell is probably closer to historic, orthodox Christianity than those who are criticizing him. Bell isn’t a liberal and he isn’t a universalist. Honestly if someone calls him that after reading the book, they simply were not reading carefully, or they are being dishonest. It is sad when Christians feel the need to act like politicians, but reading many of the responses to the book, that is what I’m most reminded of.

    • KR Wordgazer says

      Thank you so much. I was hoping to hear from someone who had actually read the book.

      Frankly, I don’t understand the firestorm anyway. Salvation by grace through faith in Christ is what the Christian walk is about– not what you think about hell. And I frankly don’t understand all the vitriol against Protestants for not having or wanting a Magisterium. In what way is this different from the typical Protestant vilification of the Orthodox and the Roman Catholic traditions? How about if we just respect one another’s choices?

      Jesus will continue to build His church as He sees fit, and He is able to do so. Ultimately, we don’t need to worry about it.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says

        Salvation by grace through faith in Christ is what the Christian walk is about– not what you think about hell.

        Or Young Earth Creationism.

        Or the exact choreography of the End Time Prophecy checklist.

        • I can’t recall Christ giving a doctrine test before proclaiming someone’s sins were forgiven. The woman at the well, the thief on the cross, the woman who touched His garment to be healed were never asked about Hell or predestination. They just had faith and believed. .

  20. I think one of the biggest problems we have in this discussion is how people jump to conclusions with hearing half of what someone said.
    the ‘universalism’ that we are talking about (not that Rob Bell is proposing it) is not just universalism & pluralism, it is “CHRISTIAN Universalism” – all saved in the ‘end of ages’ or Apocatastasis. Saved thru JESUS.
    this is not being saved w/o Jesus! – I & many Eastern Orthodox, Catholics, & Protestants have a hope that this is true. scripture does give some hints but there is not a clear defined answer to all of our hell & salvation questions.

    noone is saying there is no hell. the question is – is hell everlasting? or can those who go there still call on Jesus for salvation?

    noone is taking hell away or Jesus away! – hopefully if evangelicals can realize that we are talking about the mysteries of salvation & not the fundementals, maybe there can be better dialog in the future.

    • Christiane says

      Here’s the problem: ‘Hell’ is the main stock and trade of the fundamentalists.
      Without the ‘threat of hell’, do they have a ‘message’ left?
      Have they ever taught people about Our Lord’s Kingdom . . . the Beatitudes . . . Christ’s Great Commandment to love . . .

      They have something they call ‘the biblical gospel’, but it is not ‘of Christ’.

      Without their ‘hell’ doctrine, they disappear.

    • Thank you.

  21. “Why do they think that they have a platform to criticize a brother in public, in full view of an unbelieving world that will only find more cause to mock the faith because of our schisms?”


    That’s what the information age has done. Consider the news media: now that there are 10 channels of news programming running 24/7 everyone is a political pundit. Through blogging, social networking, etc. every voice really can be heard, and each speaks with authority. Joe the Blogger with 10 readers can tear into Franklin Graham like he’s the anti-christ and do so with the authority with which Nathan the prophet confronted David.

    I tell students that non-believers should never see Christians arguing. What they need is to see/hear us spreading the Gospel. On the other hand… the Christian blogosphere. Where would comment threads like this one be if no one voiced differing opinions?

    • ‘ I tell students that non-believers should never see Christians arguing. What they need is to see/hear us spreading the Gospel. ‘

      agreed. i would go further though, and state that non-christians SHOULD see christains arguing, for they SHOULD see us lovingly resolving conflict. this broken world needs to see an example of people accepting one another even though they do not agree with one another:

      ‘ “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” ‘

  22. “The matter is quite simple. The Bible is very easy to understand. But we Christians are a bunch of scheming swindlers. We pretend to be unable to understand it because we know very well that the minute we understand, we are obliged to act accordingly. ~Soren kierkegaard-

  23. i’ve actually met rob bell a couple of times and spent some time speaking with him personally at some length about various things, both theological and otherwise. i’d have to say that i found him to be a pretty genuine, authentic seeker of Jesus.

    having said that, i just want to say that the vast majority of the comments that i read here make me sad. so much vitriol, so much accusation, judgment and condemnation, and how many of you here have actually shared air space with rob bell? how many of you have actually looked into his eyes when talking with him? i would venture to say none? please correct me if i’m wrong.

    comments like:

    ‘I don’t need to know him. I know what he says and what harvest he is reaping.’

    are just plain anti-Christ. none of us knows a man’s heart except God, and as much as we’d like to think that we can predict, understand or control the movements of God in this world, Scripture is quite clear that God has the habit of behaving in ways that simply confound us and do not make sense to us.

    briank nailed the “rob bell controversy” (if fundegelicals had their way, this “controversy” would be covered with the same pomp and fanfare that our current intervention in libya is being covered with….. so this would be the point in the broadcast where the swirling graphics and inspiring battle hymns would be cued to proclaim “operation down with bell: love does not win – we do!”):

    ‘you are making a mistake when you say ‘outside of jesus’ – noone is saying ‘outside of jesus’ – they are saying we can’t put limits on how Jesus works in people’s lives – both here on earth & in the afterlife. It is a hope that the good news can truly be proclaimed everywhere to everyone – even the captives in hell. peace.’

    rob bell simply sees and articulates the scandalous nature of God’s amazing grace, and people line up to cast their stones. hmmmm, i think this happened to someone else who had the audacity to throw wide the doors of God’s grace to humanity.

    i’m out.

    • Well said jason. I don’t know Rob Bell, but I do know that somehow God’s plan has continued moving forward through the ages despite countless individuals labeled as heretics and those that anoint themselves the arbiters in making that determination.

    • I am a pastor in Grand Rapids who attended MHBC for many years. I personally know hundreds of people who are passionate about following Christ through their involvement in the local body that Rob helps lead. I am grateful for the way God has worked through Mars Hill.

      Regarding the conflict, far too often we tend to try to demonize “the other.” We see it in relationships between individuals, communities, and even countries (have you been watching the “spin” on both sides of the current conflict in Libya?). When we disparage the ‘other,’ it makes us feel more right and can serve as a substitute for actual engagement and listening.

      This morning I led a discussion with a group of teens on conflict and Matthew 18. I’m convinced part of the reason Jesus told his disciples to go directly to the person which whom they had conflict was to try to avoid the situation we have today. As we demonize or de-humanize “the other,” we don’t need to see them as a brother or sister in Christ. It has become far too easy to denounce someone.

    • “the vast majority of the comments that i read here make me sad. so much vitriol, so much accusation, judgment and condemnation”

      I agree. This entire thread (and a few other ones recently) have made me wonder if it’s time to move on from this site. It’s been very discouraging.

      • Marie,

        I’ve often felt the same way. Don’t despair; you are not alone. Continue to be true to your beliefs, because I firmly believe that many others here are open to hearing from all sides.

    • “rob bell simply sees and articulates the scandalous nature of God’s amazing grace, and people line up to cast their stones.”

      I don’t think that is what Bell is selling. He is selling us permission to stop preaching the Gospel. Permission to not preach sin and judgment and the need for repentance.

      I’m sure he’s a nice guy, and a lot of fun to drink coffee with. But his teaching is junk.

      • I don’t think that is what Bell is selling. He is selling us permission to stop preaching the Gospel.

        I’m sorry, but this is simply not true. Bell simply teaches that our motivation for spreading the Gospel is a positive one rather than negative one. We need not be racked with guilt about not nagging everyone we see about accepting Christ. We simply proclaim the truth that Jesus is Lord, and demonstrate that truth by the way we live our lives.

        • Do you see Bell’s message as different from, say, the Mormons?

          • Yes, I’ve listened to a series that he did on the Sermon on the Mount that was quite Biblical. At the same time he brought out points that I had never heard another preacher talk about. Backed those points up with Greek translation and Biblical quotes. Found him to be a fresh view on a subject that I’ve heard many times.

            If you’re looking for hell fire and brimstone then no, Rob Bell will not make you happy. However, hell fire and brimstone as a preaching style only goes so far. It doesn’t speak to how to live in the here and now. It tends to make shallow believers who have bought “fire insurance”. The Great Commission calls us to make disciples, not just believers.

          • Have you even read any of Bell’s books or listened to his sermons? If the answer is “no”, I’d suggest you do before start throwing accusations around.

            Mormons are essentially modern-day Arians. I have no idea how you would compare someone who affirms all the historic creeds of the Church like Bell does to a Mormon.

          • Yes, at the church where I became a false convert (believing myself to be a Christian, when I was not) – we did a study in Nooma.

          • Nedbrick
            Did you believe that Jesus was your Lord and Saviour? What made you a false Christian?

          • Sorry for the misspelling…nedbrek

          • No. I answered an altar call, to try and get a better life.

          • No. I answered an altar call, to try and get a better life.

            So how do you know it “stuck” this time?

  24. Joseph Ogborn says

    What saddens me is that while we may not approve of the way that John Piper et al. have responded to Rob Bell, I don’t hear a whole lot of grace being extended to them either. Taking pot shots at John Piper et al. is not loving them. Why must we seek to slur the characters of others? Do unto others as you would want them to do to you.

    • You make a good point these men are God’s creation too and should have grace extended to them as well. The one thing that confuses me in all this is why Piper said “Farewell Rob Bell” I mean Bell has been controversial for some time. People acted as if John MacArthur just wrote a book that suggested there might not be eternal punishment. This makes no sense to me because Rob Bell has never been in this “Truly Reformed” camp… why are they so shocked???

  25. Headless Unicorn Guy says

    Slacktivist did a series of postings on this recently. Great title:

    “Rob Bell vs Team Hell.”

    And several of Slack’s commenters pointed out “Team Hell” sounds like something out of Pokemon.

  26. The question if authority in the protestant churches is a good one. But I think it has to be dealt with on a case-by-case basis. In this case, Bell is submitting to the authority of Origen and those who are in his theological line. Taylor and others are submitting to all of the Councils of church history in their anathematization of Bell’s theology.

    I don’t think it can be said that either Bell or his opponents are without human authority. I just happen to believe it’s better to submit to the authority of the Councils. And I think that’s a valid option for those who require a king to follow.

    • I’m talking about actual authority in the church today, Mike. My comments are more of a lament than an actual suggestion of structural change. I would have no idea how to do that. All I know is that we have ten thousand loose cannons out there. This causes a lot of chaos and confusion, and makes it virtually impossible to talk about the Christian faith as a single coherent belief system and practice. This, of course, is nothing new, but it is exacerbated in this age when everyone can say what they want when they want and there is no actual accountability except for the marketplace.

      • The only option seems to be to increase out trust that Christ will build his church. It’s tempting to say that the loose cannons seem to be prevailing against it. But I think that God uses some of those cannons to defend his Church from others. It just sucks that it looks a lot like civil war. But it’s not civil war between flesh and bones, it’s regular war with principalities and powers. So do we need a lament? My lament is that heresy is regarded, not that there seems to be civil war.

      • But weren’t there already plenty of “loose cannons”, as you say, in the first century as well? Granted it may not have been as easy for them to get their messages out as it is for someone today, but you still see the Apostle Paul responding to them in his epistles.

        It seems to me that the solution to the problem, if there really is a solution, isn’t to implement more top-down authority, but rather to get back to the idea that a leader’s authority isn’t simply based on the power to tell those under him what to do, but rather it comes from serving those he or she is leading. Of course there will always be those who simply want power (something Bell doesn’t really strike me as, btw), and there will be those who think they should submit to no one. I guess I don’t know that it’s a problem can actually ever be solved, and really, I guess I kind of think that wherever there is real life, there is chaos to some degree.

        Have you ever read Alistair McGrath’s book Christianity’s Dangerous Idea? The question of authority is something he explores in the book, and he proposes that the Reformation went hand in hand,or was actually a forerunner to, the Enlightenment where long held assumptions on the notion of authority were beginning to be questioned. He comes down on the side that freedom is better than control, but does of course acknowledge the chaos that can come with freedom.

  27. Hi All,

    This whole discussion has proved somewhat disappointing. Instead of discussing the tactic of generating a blurb before a book hits the shelf (creating a firestorm before people have had enough time to read and think about the issues for themselves), the predictable defense of each one’s particular theological identity and boundary markers were belted out.

    None of the critics of Bell’s theology is discussed with the intention of getting other people to think for themselves, rather it is automatically labelled as heretical and censored. So in effect, those holding to the opinion of the critcs of Bell will be thoroughly innoculated and will not read Bell’s book for themselves.

    Personally, I don’t know Bell’s work well enough to comment, which I would prefer to do in a thoughtful way, giving respect to others to arrive at the proper conclusions by themselves. Do we even trust in God to guide us anymore? Bell is not immune from theological inaccuracies, but then again, none of us are!

    History reveals that people have this innate tendency to expel, and suppress anyone who is not like themselves or hold their views. As the saying goes “the more things change, the more they stay the same”.