Tag Archives: universalism

The Curious Case of Rob Bell

Yesterday morning, ABC’s Good Morning America featured a segment on Pastor Rob Bell’s forthcoming book, Love Wins: A book about heaven, hell, and the fate of every person who ever. 

Below is the publisher’s statement for the upcoming release:

Fans flock to his Facebook page, his NOOMA videos have been viewed by millions, and his Sunday sermons are attended by 10,000 parishioners—with a downloadable podcast reaching 50,000 more. An electrifying, unconventional pastor whom Time magazine calls “a singular rock star in the church world,” Rob Bell is the most vibrant, central religious leader of the millennial generation. Now, in Love Wins: Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived, Bell addresses one of the most controversial issues of faith—the afterlife—arguing that a loving God would never sentence human souls to eternal suffering. With searing insight, Bell puts hell on trial, and his message is decidedly optimistic—eternal life doesn’t start when we die; it starts right now. And ultimately, Love Wins

Here is the promo video from Bell himself:

(For a thorough commentary on the promo video, please see here: Rob Bell Outs Himself)

These “teasers” by Bell and his publishing company have created quite the controversy in the evangelical world (see popular Christian blogs by Al Mohler, Justin Taylor, Kevin DeYoung, Denny Burk, Tim Challies, et.al.), enough so that the nationally viewed secular program Good Morning America took notice.  In that segment, they provided viewpoints of those both for and against Bells views.  Representing the orthodox Christian view on the existence of hell was Al Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, who offered the following statement, “If indeed Rob Bell denies the existence of hell, this is a betrayal of biblical truth that has severe spiritual and evangelistic consequences… Jesus was himself very, very clear about the reality and threat of hell.”1  Representing a defense of Bell’s alleged view on hell was Serene Jones, President of Union Theological Seminary, who offered this comment, “I think that the people who are going after Rob Bell as controversial are themselves closer to heresy than Rob Bell is… Jesus’ message was basically that the love of God is stronger than anything we can do. And the forgiveness of God is stronger, so why would that God be torturing people in some made-up hell?… Centuries of theologians … have said that the question of heaven and hell was not something that we should be worrying about but rather doing good in this life and loving God.”1  More on the existence of hell later in this post, but first, who is Rob Bell and what has he written before?

It’s no secret that Bell has had a dramatic effect on college students and youth groups nationwide.  And it’s no secret he’s had his share of critics, of which I am one (See the following posts: The Idolatry of Rob Bell,  4 Point Spiritual AbuseThe Emerging Heresy, My Heart is Burdened, Apostasy: The Wolves are Emerging).  So what are we to make of him and his new book?  Many, like Tim Challies, have taken a wait and see approach claiming that it’s premature to assume that Bell is departing from orthodox Christianity in favor of universalism, the belief that hell does not exist and that in the end everyone will be saved.  Others, such as Al Mohler argue, “We must await the release of the full book in order to know what Rob Bell is really saying, but his advance promotion for the book is already saying something, and it is not good.”  What many of these faithful men miss is that Rob Bell has established the pattern for what his new book will say based on his previous works and his promotional video and that’s all that really needs to be taken into consideration for this new book. 

In Bell’s first book, Velvet Elvis, he develops what he calls “trampoline theology” where each “spring” represents a doctrine of the Christian faith.  Using the trampoline imagery, what Bell actually describes is a flexible and ever changing system of beliefs that is based more on doubt than truth.  This is his modus operandi, to create doubt while never actually denying the truths of God’s Word.  In the Ligonier Ministries February edition of Tabletalk magazine, this is described as “Divorcing Doctrine from Scripture” and is an age-old attempt to undermine the truth.  This is perhaps best described in this article by both affirming AND denying the existence of the truth of God’s Word “in the same breath without ever directly challenging what He said….you must appear to accept what He says, but you must give the impression that what you are offering is nothing more than a mere codicil [addition] to what He has written.”  And this is precisely what Bell does.  In his neither affirming nor denying truths, he creates doubts, and his methods are smooth.  For instance, in the context of the trampoline theology, Bell pulls out the spring of the virgin birth of Christ by offering the following:

“What if tomorrow someone digs up definitive proof that Jesus had a real, earthly, biological father named Larry, and archeologists find Larry’s tomb and do DNA samples and prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that the virgin birth was really just a bit of mythologizing the Gospel writers threw in to appeal to the followers of the Mithra and Dionysian religious cults that were hugely popular at the time of Jesus, whose gods had virgin births?  But what if as you study the origin of the word virgin you discover that the word virgin in the gospel of Matthew actually comes from the book of Isaiah, and then you find out that in the Hebrew language at that time, the word virgin could mean several things.  And what if you discover that in the first century being ‘born of a virgin’ also referred to a child whose mother became pregnant the first time she had intercourse?” (Velvet Elvis, pg. 26)

Clever approach isn’t it?  If nothing else, Bell is smart, very smart, in a dangerous sort of way.  While beginning his supposition with the ridiculous, “what if” Jesus were the son of a man named Larry, he ventures into more than just speculation by intermingling facts with more doubts, such as the existence of cults during the time of Jesus, and distorting the meaning of virgin in the Bible, followed by more “what ifs” for the cultural definition of virgin birth.  All meant to subtly undermine the truth.  Now notice the pattern that follows.

“What if that spring was seriously questioned? 

Could a person keep jumping?  Could a person still love God?  Could you still be a Christian?

Is the way of Jesus still the best possible way to live?

Or does the whole thing fall apart?

I affirm the historic Christian faith, which includes the virgin birth and the Trinity and the inspiration of the Bible and much more.  I’m a part of it, and I want to pass it on to the next generation.  I believe that God created everything and that Jesus is Lord and that God has plans to restore everything.

But if the whole faith falls apart when we reexamine and rethink one spring, then it wasn’t strong in the first place, was it?”(Velvet Elvis pg. 26-27)

Observe his pattern of creating doubt in the mind of his readers, affirming certain “truths” for himself, then concluding by saying if the “spring” of the miraculous virgin birth was removed and the whole faith fell apart, then it wasn’t strong in the first place.

In his “what ifs” and intermingling of truths with doubts what Bell doesn’t explain to his readers is that “if” the virgin birth is taken away, then Christ is now of sinful origin, not a miraculous work of the Holy Spirit.  It also means that Jesus is not God’s Son and likewise asserts that the Bible is a lie.  If his “what if” spring of the virgin birth is taken away, not only does the Christian faith fall apart, but it’s null and void.  In similar fashion, he questions the real definition of faith/believing, the authority of Scripture, individual ability to interpret Scripture, and hell.

Bell’s slick “what if” methods are not something new, quite the contrary.  In fact, they have their root in the oldest sin, the original questioner of the truth, the father of lies, Satan himself.  1 Now the serpent was more crafty than any other beast of the field that the LORD God had made.  He said to the woman, “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?” 2 And the woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden, 3 but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.'” 4 But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die. 5 For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” 

Bell employs the exact methods that Satan used on Eve by creating doubts and “what ifs.”  “Did God actually say?”  Which brings us back to Bell’s new book, Love Wins where he once again resorts to this same strategy by questioning if the Bible actually says that hell is a real place or merely a misunderstood, mistranslated word and instead no one will end up there.  This doubt will once again be created in the mind of the reader, while Bell himself will likely claim to hold vaguely to the orthodox truth, but then summarize that a God who is love cannot actually send anyone to hell. 

19th century minister J.C. Ryle offers the following statement on the questions surrounding the existence of hell during his own time:

“I believe the time is come when it is a positive duty to speak plainly about the reality and eternity of hell.  A flood of false doctrine has broken in upon us.  Men are beginning to tell us that God is too merciful to punish souls forever, that there is a love of God lower even than hell, and that all mankind, however wicked and ungodly some of them may be, will sooner or later be saved.  We are invited to leave the old paths of apostolic Christianity.  We are told that the views of our fathers about hell, and the devil, and punishment, are obsolete and old-fashioned.  We are to embrace what is called ‘kinder theology’, and treat hell as a pagan fable, or a bugbear to frighten children and fools.  Against such false teaching I desire, for one, to protest.  Painful, sorrowful, distressing as the controversy may be, we must not blink it, or refuse to look the subject in the face.  I, for one, am resolved to maintain the old position, and to assert the reality and eternity of hell.

Once let the old doctrine of hell be overthrown, and the whole system of Christianity is unsettled, unscrewed, unpinned and thrown into disorder.  I believe that the man who finds arguments for evading the evidence of the Bible on this question has arrived at a state of mind in which reasoning is useless…The minister who keeps back hell from his people in  his sermons is neither a faithful nor a charitable man.”

The problem with drawing attention to Bell’s new book, without explaining Bell’s previous writing patterns, his theological errors, and the unbiblical denial of hell’s existence is that it creates curiosity in the public arena.  People will be curious what Bell’s conclusions will be and what all the fuss is about and this is precisely what any author or publisher interested in selling books wants to accomplish.  But herein lies the greatest danger.  Because of Bell’s creative, polished delivery, and the intelligent dialogue which he develops with his readers in creating doubt, the result is a brainwashing of false doctrine and misguided philosophical ideas.  This is precisely what the Apostle Paul warns the church at Corinth of in 2 Corinthians 11:3-4, 3 But I am afraid that as the serpent deceived Eve by his cunning, your thoughts will be led astray from a sincere and pure devotion to Christ. 4 For if someone comes and proclaims another Jesus than the one we proclaimed, or if you receive a different spirit from the one you received, or if you accept a different gospel from the one you accepted, you put up with it readily enough.”  Note here that Paul refers to the exact same passage that we looked at earlier from Genesis 3 and says just as Eve, “your thoughts will be led astray from a sincere and pure devotion to Christ.”  This is where submitting to the curiosity of the fleshly mind in desiring to read what Bell has written opens the door to lead astray the thoughts of the Christian mind.  Don’t take this lightly brethren.  False doctrine has no place in the Christian mind.  Scripture is replete with examples of false teachers and bad doctrine, but it never commends the Christian to take up the study of these philosophies and allow them a foothold in the mind.  Quite the contrary.  Scripture warns to “beware of false prophets” (Matthew 7:15) to “test the spirits to see if they are from God” (1 John 4:1) and to “Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them.” (Ephesians 5:11)  Instead of allowing these dangerous teachers a place in our minds, we are to think on whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is  just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” Philippians 4:8

When Bell’s new book is released, do your mind a favor and avoid it.  Your reading time would be better spent in God’s Word, or in God glorifying books such as Knowing God, The Holiness of God, Holiness, or The Works of John Owen.

1. Quote source: Denny Burk

Update: Good Morning America properly credited, with link

The Political Gospel

If you’ve been following along with me on this blog for any time now, you’ve likely seen some posts regarding the social gospel, a wing of the Liberal Emerging/Emergent church that promotes social well-being and improving people’s lives here on earth with a dominionistic, kingdom-now philosophy.  What this says is that we can establish Christ’s kingdom here on earth through a “missional” approach to meeting peoples felt needs.  This is contrary to the Great Commission that Jesus laid forth to His disciples which is to go and make disciples of all nations and teaching them what Jesus commanded.  Today however I want to introduce another “wing”/offshoot/ false gospel that has been cleverly masked as the real Gospel.

You may have read Liberty University: An unbiblical alliance with the world the post I wrote that covered Liberty University’s decision to invite political commentator and noted Mormon, Glenn Beck, to deliver their recent commencement speech.  It was a post I took some heat for and one that quite frankly surprised me as God allowed several national websites to link and quote that post.  In that post I stated:

“This announcement is further evidence of the ongoing ecumenical shift taking place within the Church body.  Alliances such as these are not glorifying to God, in that what association has God with false religions?  The tangential dangers when the evangelical community unites with the secular world for the sake of social or political agendas are numerous because it leads to a dilution of truths from the Word of God, opens the door to give credence to non-believers within evangelical circles and ultimately leads to the eternal destruction of lost people.”

 

This wasn’t limited to Liberty only, as I stated it’s exactly what is happening within the Church today among self-professing Christians.  The political gospel has infiltrated and become the focus of many, many self-professing Christians and most do not even realize how harmful and dangerous it really.  The political gospel plays on the emotions of concerned citizens in America but instead of simply taking a political stance, it disguises itself by using words like “God”, “faith”, even “Jesus” making it sound even more appealing to the Church.  All of these are words that the undiscerning ear hears and assumes to be the truth because they “sound Christian” and because they are in fact the same words that we read in the Bible and apply in our Christian walk.  However, in 2 Corinthians 11:12-15 the Apostle Paul writes:

 

“And what I do I will continue to do, in order to undermine the claim of those who would like to claim that in their boasted mission they work on the same terms as we do.  For such men are false apostles, deceitful workmen, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ.  And no wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light.  So it is no surprise if his servants, also, disguise themselves as servants of righteousness.  Their end will correspond to their deeds.”

Let’s stop and think for a minute about what Paul is saying here.  Paul is continuing to write and preach the truth such that he undermines the false teachers invading the Church.  He states that their claims of truth appear similar and that these false prophets would claim to have the same mission as genuine Bible teachers/ Gospel proclaimers.  Paul then calls them out for who they really are, false, deceitful, and disguisers, which should come as no surprise since Satan himself disguises as an angel of light.  Therefore, Paul continues, these servants of Satan also disguise themselves as servants of righteousness.  With that context of Paul’s letter, let’s now return our focus to the political gospel. 

Many people follow political voices like Glenn Beck because they have a national platform which can appeal to the masses.  When we look around and see the destructive path that this nation is on, these national voices grab our attention because they recognize the same things that we see.  But instead of pointing us toward the One True Gospel of Jesus Christ, all of that gets lost in political, social, and cultural talk.  When they mix in words such as those we mentioned earlier like “God”, “faith”, and “Jesus” it sounds like “church” words so they then garner our full attention and become a rallying voice for political change.  But these words are a disguise, just like Paul mentioned in Corinthians and they lure our focus away from the One True God and away from trusting and relying on Him as a solution to the mess we’ve created.

Watch the following video clip from last week featuring Glenn Beck on Bill O’Reilly’s show and you’ll see what I mean.

In that video we’ve got a lot going on, but it gives a bit of insight into the motives taking place within the political gospel.  What we immediately heard are the “culture war” topics like homosexual marriage and abortion.  This is the first problem; the culture war is an illusion.  We are in a sin war.  The political gospel fails to recognize this “culture war” nonsense as sin.  It is sin and it is offensive to THE Holy God.  But it’s never called that because when you politicize these issues it makes them more palatable and debatable, versus saying they are sin, which sounds far too judgmental and harsh.  The second problem is you heard Beck use one of our buzz words from earlier, “faith”.  Only listen to his context, “general faith”, returning to our “churches, synagogues, and mosques”, and then a second of our words, “getting back to ‘God’”.  Christians wake up! This is universalism.  This is the classic all paths lead to God language and it is anti-Biblical. Yet these are the words that are used to lure you into following this political gospel.   These other religions are false.  There is only One God and He sent His Son Jesus to die on the cross for our sins.  Jesus clearly states He is “the way truth and the life and NO MAN comes unto the Father” but by Him.  But the political gospel dresses up their language to make it sound churchy.  You’ll even hear them talk about Jesus, sin, and His death, but in another breath they promote a different God, a different Jesus and it is a lie and truth is not in them.  You cannot believe that Jesus died on the cross for your sins, trust Him as Lord and Savior and then talk about Christians, Jews, and Muslims all getting back to God. That is an antithetical, or opposing, statement yet it is typical bait for the political gospel peddlers. 

The third point from this video is the statement Beck makes of ignoring the “decisive things” such as gay marriage, because we have “bigger fish to fry.”  Sir, I must ask what is bigger: offending an infinitely Holy God by ignoring sin or solving the financial problems of an increasing godless country?  The reason to return to our churches, namely those that preach only Christ and Him crucified, is to repent of the sins that we have committed and beg God for mercy, not because “the country is burning.”  On a side note, listen to 1:58 in the video where Beck offers O’Reilly “a little Jesus” in a mocking way.  It’s almost as if he knows using “Jesus” is a buzz word to gain a following from the Christian community, but this cavalier, mocking usage here begins to reveal the wolf hiding under the sheepskin.  The fourth and final point is the quote by Thomas Jefferson, “If it neither breaks my leg or picks my pocket, what difference is it to me?”  Think about what the Apostle Paul said earlier, “And what I do I will continue to do, in order to undermine the claim of those who would like to claim that in their boasted mission they work on the same terms as we do.”  Paul was teaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ while at the same time battling those who taught anything contrary to it.  What if Paul had said like Jefferson that if it doesn’t hurt me or cost me money then I don’t care?  This language takes the focus off of God and places it on self, typical of the man-centered political and social gospels.  Instead Paul preached the message that Jesus taught of denying oneself, picking up your Roman torture device, i.e. cross, and following Him, a substantially different message than either Beck, O’Reilly, or Jefferson would state.     

So what do we make of all this?  First I would like to remind you that as Christians, this world is not our home.  We are dual citizens, but our permanent home residence is with Christ and His Kingdom.  As such, our focus should be on where we will spend eternity and not on a fallen, deceitful, and sinful world, whether that focus is America or not.  Secondly, let’s address these common “church” words that we are hearing tossed around.  In the verses that immediately precede those we read earlier we see Paul’s staunch warning, “But I am afraid that as the serpent deceived Eve by his cunning, your thoughts will be led astray from a sincere and pure devotion to Christ.  For if someone comes and proclaims another Jesus than the one we proclaimed, or if you receive a different spirit from the one you received, or if you accept a different gospel from the one you accepted, you put up with it readily enough.” 2 Corinthians 11:3-4 Paul is warning the Church about those who will come and preach another Jesus and a different gospel, note he says here “your thoughts will be lead astray.”  Additionally, Paul writes a warning to the Church at Galatia, but steps up the intensity a bit, “I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel— not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ.  But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed.  As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed.”  The Apostle states even if he or any of his fellow teachers comes to preach another gospel, even if it’s an angel from heaven then let them be accursed.  This gospel and this Jesus that we are hearing in the political gospel is not the same Gospel message of the Bible and it is not the same Christ Jesus the Son of God.  Thirdly, why do we associate with the people that peddle this gospel?  In 2 Corinthians 6:14-15 we read, “Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers. For what partnership has righteousness with lawlessness? Or what fellowship has light with darkness? What accord has Christ with Belial? Or what portion does a believer share with an unbeliever?”  What business have we following or aligning ourselves, politically or otherwise, with unbelievers?  When you follow unbelievers you open yourself up to susceptibility of the lies they teach.  Anything other than the truth leads to a path of destruction.  That old saying is so true, “On Christ the solid rock I stand, all other ground is sinking sand.”

Paul’s warnings should stand as a sobering wake up to all of us today.  What we hear on the left is the liberal/social gospel and what we hear on the right is the political gospel.  Both are lies and both are contrary to the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  Unless we return to the True Gospel, the One True Jesus Christ, and His Father, then this country will continue its moral slide and the visible Church will continue the path to apostasy.  Wake up Christians!  “Besides this you know the time, that the hour has come for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed.” Romans 13:11      

I Timothy 6:3-5 “If anyone teaches a different doctrine and does not agree with the sound words of our Lord Jesus Christ and the teaching that accords with godliness, he is puffed up with conceit and understands nothing. He has an unhealthy craving for controversy and for quarrels about words, which produce envy, dissension, slander, evil suspicions, and constant friction among people who are depraved in mind and deprived of the truth, imagining that godliness is a means of gain.”