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 Abuse, The 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