Monday, March 28, 2011

Bell's Hell

My boss has read it twice; several of us on staff have or are reading it; many of our customers are too. It's #3 on and has been the subject of intense scrutiny and debate on the news and internet. Love Wins by Rob Bell may have the same effect on Christendom as the recent earthquake and tsunami in Japan. The repercussions will be devastating, divisive and far-ranging. 

I want to embrace Rob Bell's conclusions, honestly I do.  His gospel is much much more friendly than the Good News that I was taught and now believe.  There is no offence in Bell's gospel, no rock of stumbling.  He presents a beautiful, inclusive message.  Sin is not a fundamental and ongoing rebellion against God and His law. It is not a fatal flaw, just a hurtful, damaging series of wrong choices. Hell is not a real place and no one is going to suffer eternal punishment for shaking their fist in God's face. Heaven is not even a real place which is a comfort for those not intending to go there anyway. 

Whether we agree with Bell's conclusions (if you can call such round about, faintly sarcastic rhetoric conclusive) or not,  you had better not ignore the book.  It may stick in your craw but it will give you on-going food for thought, reflection and discussion.

Martin Bashir recently interviewed Bell on MSNBC. He begins with this:  “You’re creating a Christian message that’s warm, kind, and popular for contemporary culture. . . . What you’ve done is you’re amending the gospel, the Christian message, so that it’s palatable to contemporary people who find, for example, the idea of hell and heaven very difficult to stomach. So here comes Rob Bell, he’s made a Christian gospel for you, and it’s perfectly palatable, it’s much easier to swallow. That’s what you’ve done, haven’t you?”

Read some of the comments posted after Martin Bashir's interview with Rob Bell:

"I have not read the book by Mr. Bell and I probably won’t because based on his defense of it during the interview he’s not sure of what he wrote either. He did not know how to defend his point of view."

"Bashir was frustrated because Bell wasn’t answering his questions, and Bashir has done enough interviews with slippery people that his guests should know that he’s not going to put up with their nonsense and side-stepping the questions. Bell paid Bashir a tremendous disrespect by showing up to the studios unwilling / unprepared to answer the questions that Bashir posed."

"Bell’s version of God looks like what Rob Bell would want him to be if he was God. And Bell isn’t."

"Rob Bell is basing his message on the Bible as many Christians in history have interpreted it. Just because that is not the doctrine you espouse or have been exposed to does not mean that he is wrong.”

One post-er wondered if he was the new "Christian" Deepak Chopra.

Kevin DeYoung, author of Why We're Not Emergent writes in his blog:
"Any Christian worth listening to loves the cross and is loath to see it robbed of its glory. To ridicule what the cross accomplished is to make war with the heart of the gospel and the comfort of God’s people. J. Gresham Machen understood this well:
They [liberal preachers] speak with disgust of those who believe ‘that the blood of our Lord, shed in a substitutionary death, placates an alienated Deity and makes possible welcome for the returning sinner.’ Against the doctrine of the Cross they use every weapon of caricature and vilification. Thus they pour out their scorn upon a thing so holy and so precious that in the presence of it the Christian heart melts in gratitude too deep for words. It never seems to occur to modern liberals that in deriding the Christian doctrine of the cross, they are trampling upon human hearts. (Christianity and Liberalism, 120 [pagination may differ])"

My personal feeling towards the contents of the book is that Rob Bell has mixed up a dangerous and potentially lethal concoction of truth and error.  He wants to preach a better gospel than the one contained in Scripture. He has a theory of what he would like Scripture to say and  he wrests certain verses out of context to support his doctrine.  

The book has proved valuable in that I am now reading my Bible more than ever and examining what I believe to be true and why.  I fear that Bible-believing Christians will now, more than ever, be considered intolerant, violent, vicious, blood-thirsty legalists.

What do you think?


Below are some blogs that you may find helpful:


  1. Reading it as we speak Becky! We'll have to talk at work!! -- Barbara

  2. I found this book to be very annoying. Primarily because the book was very little argumentation and more stream of consciousness. He does not provide a foundation or define his terms. Instead we are expected to a priori accept his. Once we do, he has us. Next, he starts to play with our emotions. Tear jerking stories meant to enlist the response he wants. Much of it is mis-direction and slight of hand, meant to make you feel how he wants you- even though it has no bearing on the question at hand. He rarely cites anything, and again requires us to trust his claims. Bell provides no evidence of the exegetical and theological work that we expect from a pastor before a sermon, let alone a book.
    This is great rhetorically, but not really an argument.
    There is a good section when he starts addressing under-realized eschatology. Heaven is breaking into earth, so we must must live that way. Although I think he makes here too much heaven, it was a good corrective. The problem is that many folks who need to read this won't because they have been scared away by the controversy and Bell's constant, but subtle, mocking of their beliefs.
    Another very concerning part is when Bell starts discussion what God is like. Bell makes the Liberal Theology (19th cent.) mistake and defines God's experiences and human characteristics, based on human ones. This leads to considerable problems.
    Finally, he hides behind the claim that he is not a theologian or a scholar. This makes me ask, then what possessed you to write this book and why should we care? Because he is dealing with real questions from real people? Bad theology hurts real people.
    There is good stuff in this book, but it gets lost in the useless drivel.

    I do not think the Bashir interview was fair. Bashir accepted one critics claims as accurate, thus presupposing Bell was wrong. Second, Joshua Harris has little business making claims about this book. He came out against it before he had read it, and makes similar styles of foundational mistakes in Deeper. Scot McKnight's blog has a great, but long, review. McKnight is a scholar, but has been sympathetic to the concerns of the emerging church(or whatever we want to call them).


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