Love Wins: Rob Bell and the New Calvinists

Love Wins

What Slavoj Zizek is to cultural theory, and what Radiohead is to … (insert genres that are now transcending), Rob Bell is to the art of preaching. To borrow a phrase from Ron Burgandy, Rob Bell is “kind of a big deal.”

As the publisher (now notoriously since the current controversy began) describes him and his new book:

“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.”

And this week, he’s been a big deal (a “trending topic”) on Twitter. In fact, as Jason Boyett noted, “#robbell was in Saturday’s top 10 trending topics, which is usually reserved for Middle East unrest, dead celebrities, and Justin Biebers.”

Why? Well, apart from sexuality there are few hotter issues (no pun intended) that heaven and hell on the evangelical landscape. Part of the reason why I’ve found it difficult to write a reflection on this is because the volume of blog posts that are coming out.

According to Google blog searches, this past week has returned 2,500+ blogs for “Rob Bell” and “Love Wins.” A particular favorite of mine was Christianity Today‘s coverage of some poor bloke in the UK who happens to have the same name and the Twitter handle @robbell (often confused with the author of “Love Wins” @RealRobBell). Some of Rob’s (not RealRobBell, the other one) tweets in response have been great. Including:

@robbell ‘oh dear, my namesake is now a Trending Topic worldwide on Twitter, best get ready for fresh lunacy! What else is gonna go mad today?!?’

What started this “fresh lunacy” from Christians to an innocent web designer from Yorkshire? Enter a three word tweet from John Piper.

In good Aussie humour (knowing i might not get an “amen” from my mates in this camp),  let me first map some of the evangelical terrain that Pastor Piper is a part of: John Piper is a bit of a Godfather of the neo-Calvinistas. In fact, if Piper is Vito Corleone, Michael Corleone is his prodigy Mark Driscoll (who’s a bit like Piper after too many energy drinks).

As the Godfather, I wonder if Piper believes he was predestined to “knock-off rival families” of evangelicals (such as the legacy of those Wesley brothers… or our brother Rob). I wonder if Piper feels he was predestined to tweet about Rob Bell’s forthcoming book? Judging by the impact of his tweet (not to mention Piper’s understanding of Calvinism), maybe “doubly” so.

“Love Wins” will not be released until the end of the month, and yet pre-sales are at #1 in Christianity and #70 overall on Amazon. After Piper’s tweet, Rob Bell and HaperOne publishing must be giving thanks in the words of the Apostle Paul, that “all things work together for good for those who love God.”

The sales of Rob’s book are certainly experiencing a blessing, but I’m not sure the backfire of rash judgment from fellow Christians is what our Lord had in mind when he promised “blessed are you when people insult you … and say all kind of false things against you because of me.”

To put it sensitively, this tweet wasn’t Pastor Piper exercising his spiritual gift of encouragement. It was closer to Don Corleone’s kiss of death (“you broke my heart”). The tweet simply read:

@JohnPiper “Farewell Rob Bell.

The babel at the end of the tweet wasn’t Piper tweeting in tongues but a link to an article by Justin Taylor, who states, “It is unspeakably sad when those called to be ministers of the Word distort the gospel and deceive the people of God with false doctrine.”

Taylor then followed up with a quote from the New Testament (which he has since removed, but was there when Piper retweeted), a passage that more than implied that Rob Bell was a “servant of Satan.”

Incidentally, the hapless UK @robbell had a cracker of a reply, saying “who is this @johnpiper and why is he denouncing me? Did he not like a website I designed?” I wonder what @RobBell must think of us Christians?

Now, you don’t have to be conversant in the nuances of evangelical subculture to know that “servant of Satan” is not a complement. It’s the equivalent of a cosmic “Yo’ mamma” joke – only, the punch line is “Yo’ mamma is the author of all evil, violence, injustice, sin and misery.”

So what is it about this book that so upset this blogger? Well, he doesn’t know yet, because he hasn’t read the book. According to the author of the article, his fury stems from two sources: the 128 word paragraph from the publisher, and a three minute video introducing the book:

When I last checked, over 20,000 people have recommended this less-than-well-researched article denouncing Rob Bell. That’s right: there are 20,000+ Christians happy to judge a book by its cover and, it seems, happy to ignore the words of Jesus, “Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.” I don’t know your story but I know I need God to show me a lot more grace than was shown to Rob Bell.

This goes to the heart of what I find most disturbing about the response to Rob Bell. Until we embody “the way of Jesus,” saying “Jesus is the way” will just be a resounding gong or clanging cymbal. As Jason Boyett said, “Labeling that mean-ness as ‘being faithful’ to the Gospel doesn’t make it less hateful.” I would also add, when it’s hateful it is no longer faithful to Jesus.

As Greg Boyd (who is doing so much to embody an alternative to the mean doctrinarians who treat grace as a dogma and not a practice, and an alternative to the limp liberals who have grace as a practice but no longer are concerned about the redeeming beauty of orthodoxy) puts it:

“If what I’m saying about the centrality of Calvary-looking love is right, we need a major paradigm shift on how we view orthodoxy – which in turn should effect who we see as the ‘heroes’ of orthodoxy.”

Here are two quotes that make Piper, Taylor and Driscoll’s comments look like warm-fuzzies from a church camp:

“Whoever shall now contend that it is unjust to put heretics and blasphemers to death will knowingly and willingly incur their very guilt.”

And this one:

“Anyone who can be proved to be a seditious person is an outlaw before God and the emperor; and whoever is the first to put him to death does right and well. For if a man is in open rebellion, everyone is both his judge and the executioner; just as when a fire starts, the first man who can put it out is the best man to do the job.”

The first is from John Calvin (after the execution of Servetus for preaching a non-Trinitarian understanding of God). The second is from Martin Luther (in a pamphlet one historian described as “boldly encouraging the slaughter of peasants (often Anabaptist Christians)” who held agendas other than that of the Elector of Saxony).

Now Boyd and I aren’t arguing for a reactionary “they sinned so I’m going to discount their whole work.” On that logic we would also have to discount the work of Augustine, Martin Luther King, John Howard Yoder and, well, everyone [except Jesus] post-fall! That kind of dismissive approach shows little spiritual maturity and lacks the hard work of removing the logs from our own eyes in our own contexts.

And yet isn’t this exactly how Rob Bell has been treated?

Brave New Films

So from a deep desire to first remove our own logs and then assist the body of Christ that I love and seek to serve in doing likewise, I’d like to raise some questions regarding the bench marks for our orthodoxy.

Why is it that the litmus test for orthodoxy for so many today has been frozen in the sixteenth century in the thought of brilliant men  who nevertheless had theologies that made it possible to disobey Christ’s commands to put away the sword, love our neighbour and even enemies like God has loved us? (By the way, I must say that I am thankful that Mark Driscoll has never threatened to drown, behead or burn me at the stake).

In particular, I am puzzled why the benchmark of “orthodoxy” should be confined to systems of theology that themselves fail to preach Christ crucified in ways that keep Christ central for both atonement and discipleship. Is it not a deep hypocrisy that we have found ways of preaching Christ crucified while crucifying others!?!

My suspicion is that one of the surest indications of the presence of false teaching in the church today is the fact that we keep the cross central to our understanding of atonement, and yet have created systems where the cross-shaped love of Jesus is not central to the ways we exercise power, get things done, and manage conflict with those with whom we disagree.

I would insist that orthodoxy should always look like Jesus Christ, and be obedient to him – in other words, that those who claim to be in Christ must walk as Jesus walked.

Doctrines (not a popular word but I believe extremely important none the less) such as the Trinity aren’t just boxes to tick but profound realities we undergo and are witnessed to in our lives.  So it seems that not just Servetus but Calvin (as immense his contributions are) was also heretical regarding how he understood the Trinity because it didn’t express itself in refusing to kill his enemy because of the kenotic, self giving love that is seen in the Triune God revealed in Jesus. I don’t judge Calvin, but we can learn as much about God’s grace from the shadows of our heroes as the light they reflect. Orthodoxy should always be marked by humble, Christ-like, cross-shaped love, and empowered by the Spirit that raised Jesus from the grave.

Unfortunately, Rob Bell has experienced little of this orthodoxy this week. But if I was a betting man, I suspect the issue here is not that Rob Bell is sub-biblical regarding hell (after all, on page 72 he actually states, “Do I believe in a literal hell? Of course.”). I think it’s more than likely the issue is he doesn’t answer to the Godfathers John Piper and Don Carson (“Don” here not being a mafia term, but his first name) who are trying to monopolize doctrine and thus “keep it in the [Reformed] family.”

In fact, I hope Rob Bell’s take on hell will be closer to those evangelical luminaries that I deeply respect like N.T. Wright, C.S. Lewis, Sylvia Keesmaat, Chris Marshall, Nancey Murphy, Tony Campolo, Marvia Dawn, Richard Hays, Greg Boyd, Richard Foster, Scot McKnight, Stanley Hauerwas, Miroslav Volf, Joel Green, John Ortberg, Glen Stassen, and many, many others.

Not having received my copy of Love Wins yet, my hope is that Rob Bell will fiercely defend a biblical understanding of “the New Heavens and New Earth” in the light of God’s very nature and beauty being revealed scandalously in the crucified and risen Jesus.

Speaking last night on the phone to Scot McKnight (who has been such a wise statesmen through all of this), I was reminded of a great line in his brand new little primer on discipleship for young adults called One.Life:

“I hope I believe in hell as Jesus believed in hell … I don’t believe hell is a gassy furnace where humans are scorched forever and ever and ever and ever … I don’t believe in Dante’s hell or in God as the grand torture.”

So let me conclude with a portion from my own humble attempt to provoke Christians to re-engage Scripture for themselves by responding with a parable to questions that many young Christians are asking re: heaven, hell & the God revealed in Jesus:

On that day, everyone from every nation were raised from the dead as all of creation gathered around the glory of his burning thrown. As the brilliance of the seraphim and cherubim circled above, humanity was separated into two groups. Some started asking each other “did you accept Jesus?” In both groups you could hear people saying:

I went forward at that rally!

I’ve never heard of Jesus!

I went to church and played bass in the band!

I was born centuries before him!

I drove out demons and did deeds of power in his name!

I was a good person, I’ll be going to heaven!

The Son of Man, frustrated with the talk of ‘going to heaven,’ interrupted the babel and confusion with a clarifying question that silenced all of creation:

“You thought this was about going somewhere else? Did I teach you to pray ‘Your kingdom we’ll go?’ or ‘Your Kingdom come?’ I have come to bring heaven here, not to take you elsewhere. Heaven isn’t a ‘place’ that you go, it’s the very Presence of God that I bring. And now, those who have responded to God’s grace and have not dammed Heaven from flooding the earth by accepting me will inherit this kingdom of a transfigured creation.”

The seas roared with the outcry and joy from within both groups as some lamented they have never heard of Jesus let alone accepted him, while others ecstatic that they prophesied and saved souls in his name.

Then the King with a voice like lightening silenced the nations with this stunning declaration:

“You accepted me, as a child solider in Darfur, as a Thai child enslaved in sex trafficking, as a refugee seeking to enter your country, as a disabled black youth on death row, as a homeless vet on the streets, as a gay youth victimised in High School, as a drug addicted prostitute needing a meal, as an inmate needing a visit …”

As the list of where Christ had been camouflaged throughout creation when on, a shockwave rippled throughout all of reality at the realization that the two groups were not separated by their doctrines or ideas about Christ, or grace, or Heaven, or hell. They were separated by their response to the saving grace of Jesus in the most vulnerable and oppressed. The reality of this revelation for one group felt like eternal punishment. And for the other, eternal life. Eternal Life of the New Heavens and the New Earth liberated from all that does not look like Jesus’ Calvary-shaped love.

How might this conversation change if we include in the list of were “Christ is camouflaged”; the “neo-Calvinist brother” and the “Rob-Bell-reading-N.T. Wright-loving sister”?

So brother Rob, amen to “In Jesus, love wins. I hope that love’s victory is seen clearly in his new book, and pray that that same love is seen so clearly in our lives that Yorkshire based web designer @robbell could tweet “I know these are Christians by their love.”

This article was originally published on in Australia

Jarrod McKenna the National Advisor for Youth, Faith and Activism for World Vision Australia. He is a peace award winning founder of EPYC and co-founder of the Peace Tree Intentional Community in Perth. You can follow him on Twitter here.

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About the Author

Jarrod McKenna

Jarrod McKennaJarrod McKenna is amazed by grace. A peace award winning nonviolence trainer and activist, Jarrod is now World Vision Australia’s National Advisor on Youth, Faith & Activism. Jarrod with his amazing wife and son Teresa and Tyson, are three of 17 people living at First Home Project; an innovative community welcoming, housing and empowering refugees. Follow him on twitter here.View all posts by Jarrod McKenna →

  • Thank you. Waiting 48 hours for this post really gives it a chance to settle in. I also need to repent from my initial reaction to Rob’s clip and John Piper’s tweet. I still am amazed at the magnitude of Christians bashing each other “in love”. Steve Furtick had a great post this AM – check it out…

  • If Bell did claim he does not believe in a literal hell (which he didn’t), the doctrine of hell itself was never a topic for establishing orthodoxy. I still cannot understand why so many Protestants are fixated upon the doctrine of hell, suffering, and damnation, but seem to focus very little on being reconciled to a holy God for all eternity. Jesus did NOT die on the cross to save us from hell. It’s certainly a benefit. But, if we focus on hell as the reason why we surrender our lives to Christ, then our salvation should most assuredly be called into question.

    • Jjciccog

      A classic heretic answer, yes Jesus came to the world in the flesh to save people from going to hell. Explain John chapter 3, how about john 3:16? Ever heard of that verse? Please repent, we are praying for you. May God remove the scales from your eyes!!

      • Jon

        Well, technically John 3:16 doesn’t mention Hell. It says that people will perish or have eternal life.

      • Envoy4him

        May God remove the logs from your eyes.

    • Tiggerex

      Are you really sure about God did not send his son into the world to save mankind from the penalty of sin — death? What is eternal death? Eternal damnation in hell.

    • Benmanben

      I’m not sure what you mean by “fixated on the doctrine of hell.”
      Firstly, I am not sure that “so many” protestants are fixated particularly on the doctrine, and secondly I do not think a secondary doctrine exists in the Bible.

      If hell does exist, then surely it is the most dangerous of things. Surely we ought to know of it and preach of it. Not simply of the idea that there is such a terrible place, but it is important. 

      I believe The Bible makes clear the existence of hell, and I believe it does so for a REASON. I don’t find it particularly pleasant in thought, and I can hardly imagine that even the other traditionalist Christians do. You may have a false stereotype that traditionalists only talk about hell, or that they are “fixated” on it,(whatever you mean by that, though, I am not certain.)

      Perhaps the cause of the appearance of such a fixation is the doubt of it that some people seem to struggle with.
      I suppose if a large group of people started questioning the existence of Heaven in a similar way that traditionalists might become “fixated” on that.
      It does seem as if many people don’t like to think much at all about hell, and I suppose this may relate to the fact that it is an unpleasant thought. Still, surely we must sometimes set our minds upon thoughts that do not make us smile.

       I think that many Christians are concerned about the doubt of hell, for it is made clear to be real in The Bible, and it seems that for whatever reason, some people may be trying to ignore it.

  • Tomgrossman1

    Fear God and worship Him!

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  • Jarred, this was an excellent article and I too question who the “heroes” ought to be for ‘orthodoxy.’ I am with you and Boyd… and thought it was quite bold of Boyd to use the Michael sevetus story as a sermon illustration a few months back!

    This warmed my Anabaptist heart: “I would insist that orthodoxy should always look like Jesus Christ, and be obedient to him – in other words, that those who claim to be in Christ must walk as Jesus walked.” Nailed it!

    Also, I like you made an informed guess about the direction Rob will go in his book:
    “In fact, I hope Rob Bell’s take on hell will be closer to those evangelical luminaries that I deeply respect like N.T. Wright, C.S. Lewis, Sylvia Keesmaat, Chris Marshall, Nancey Murphy, Tony Campolo, Marvia Dawn, Richard Hays, Greg Boyd, Richard Foster, Scot McKnight, Stanley Hauerwas, Miroslav Volf, Joel Green, John Ortberg, Glen Stassen, and many, many others.”

    I couldn’t agree more bro!

    If you are interested in my take on it from Saturday afternoon shortly after Justin posted his article and just before the Piper-bomb, here it is:



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  • Ross Christopher

    What the Bell???

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  • Christian Piatt

    Nicely done Jarrod, my brother, And Amen to Rob Bell’s sentiments.

    I was honored to work with Jarrod McKenna, Jason Boyett and many others on a new book, called BANNED QUESTIONS ABOUT THE BIBLE, which he quotes at the end of this piece. Our publisher is offering a 40% discount to all ABC readers on all orders before April 30th.

    Visit the Chalice Press website, search for BANNED QUESTIONS ABOUT THE BIBLE and/or BANNED QUESTIONS ABOUT JESUS and enter the promo code “BANNEDQ1” at checkout.

    For those in Australia, check out Rainbow Books

    (Pardon the shameless plug, but Jarrod let me know the promo code didn’t make it into the article.

    Peace and grace!

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  • Navigator

    I have read some of Rob Bell’s stuff—been to hear him a couple times when he was on tour in the area—and we have all of the Nooma DVDs here and have used them in study groups. The title of his recent book, “Love Wins”, is wrongheaded no matter what is inside the covers. God wins not love. God is love but love is not god—our idea of love gets easily off-track ending up with an wrongheaded idea of love all together, let alone what it would mean for our idea of love to win. But God wins and that is all we need to take comfort in, however that plays out.

    • randyman

      But the Bible says, “Love never fails”. Isn’t that the same as saying, “Love wins”?

      • Warren Street

        “Love never fails” means love perservers, dosen’t faulter, keeps loving. “Love wins” has the connotation that love gets its way. We know from life that love doesn’t always get its way. From the epic love story recorded in the Bible between God and his beloved, the chosen ones, we know that even Gods love dosen’t always win as Rob Bell states. In fact Gods love was spurned, His heart was broken. Yes, love never fails. Does love always win, even Gods love, no.

        • Envoy4him

          In the end, Love still wins, my friend.

          • Nebali_faraway

            In the end Love Wins because God wins. God is love. Let’s not just apply our desires of what we want love to be to a God Who IS LOVE. God his purposes and his glory being loving and perfect and all powerful in all of His attributes will WIN. SO yes love wins. but not the love that elevates man higher than God like satan would have us believe

          • Envoy4him

            Nebali, I thought you got my point, until your last sentence, which I didn’t say.

            God wins all the time. Since God is love then love wins all the time.

            I believe in hell, I just don’t believe anyone of us exactly knows what happens there. God is bigger than our own thoughts of how God should punish unbelievers.

            But there is a wide chasm to bridge for those who believe both in the eternal torture of sinners and the nature of God as eternal love. Love doesn’t torture.

            The only mandate from Jesus is to get people to come to him in full surrender. Let’s not market salvation by scaring people with the threat of hell. Salvation in Christ is enough to expand the kingdom on earth.

          • glw

            The debate and conversation between Bell’s “Love Wins” and Galli’s “God Wins” continues.  I do not believe we have examined all the  questions that have been asked regarding this issue within either book nor within Chan’s “Erasing Hell”.  Even Chan states on page 89 that he is not certain where he lands on this issue and that we ought to “continue our research”.  There is a new site that has been created for this very purpose: it is for Evangelicals and presented in a gracious and congenial tone.  We invite you to explore the questions and wrestle with their implications.  As evangelicals we have come to believe that God’s love really does win not because we wish it to be so but because Scripture, God’s character, logic, and our God-given consciences demand it.

  • crowe

    Im not judging his book because I have not read it. However, it appears that his publisher (who Rob Bell pays to write about his book is happy to imply that Bell believes in a literal hell but believes that it will be empty. His video does nothing to dispel that rumor. At best, Rob is trying to stir up controversy by asking open ended questions that he may or may not answer in his book…he rarely does…either way he needs to check his motives. He needs to focus more on the actual spreading of true doctrine and not how many copies of a book he can sell by making this video as vague as possible.
    As far as the little story you put at the end here in italics.
    WAY OFF!!
    You dont accept Jesus by accepting others that he camouflages himself with.
    You accept JESUS and you kow exactly what you are accepting when you do and afterward you then live out that faith by treeating others in the way that story depicts. You dont get tricked into heaven any more than you get tricked into hell. At the end God gives everyone exactly what they have wanted their whole lives. Either they have lived for Him and his glory and they want nothing more than to spend eternity with him or they have lived otherwise, not embracing his word and his mercy and wanting to be “free” and untethered and therefore they get hell.
    Some Christians want to soften the message of Hell because they dont like the thought of their grandma deserving hell just because she wasnt a Christian. They say things like “she was a good person”. well just like that story above, without Jesus sans camouflage, hell is not only not gonna be empty but it is gonna be quite crowded.
    I am not condoning the behavior of Piper et al either but I do think that Rob Bell needs a wake up call from someone before his popularity distorts his doctrine.

    • Debbie

      It is a growing tree that thinks the fruit of the gospel is the gospel itself. Very much agreed with your post.

    • Mss6259

      You don’t get it….

      • crowe

        What do I not get?

    • Socrchik7723

       Read it. In the chapter “Does G-d Get what G-d Wants?”, the conclusion Bell comes to is this: it isn’t whether G-d gets what He wants, it is more Do we get what we want? Ultimately, we choose. Heaven or Hell. Now, you do have to take into account his opinion of what Heaven and Hell are. It is all very interesting. Anyway, I thought it was. I don’t know how much I agree or disagree with him. Definitely something to pray about. But I am not arrogant enough to say he is wrong. So many people put G-d in a box. And Yeshua. Bell takes Him out of that box and people react negatively. Also interesting. I think his intention with this book was more to ask questions, get people thinking, go to Scripture, go back to the Hebrew and Greek, don’t blindly follow. And, as we can see with the backlash, what happens when questions are asked? Judgement by the very people that are told not to judge. Lol. Ironic. I like him pushing people to ask questions much more than those who, by their actions, tell you not to. That doesn’t make him look like the bad guy. Neither does calling him a heretic, like many have. Really? Heretic? Wow.I feel like I am living in The Crucible or something. Haha. Anyway, what I want to know….what is wrong with questioning? As long as you keep your eyes on Yeshua….what is wrong with it? He asks questions within the context of what he has read in Scripture. Okay. Awesome, right? Apparently not. It seems people misunderstood his intentions. He isn’t claiming that this book is the end all answer to everything. Just musings from a man that is searching for the truth. I get that. And if it sparks discussion about G-d, Yeshua, Heaven, Hell, and the Bible….I think that is kind of wonderful. People that may not read their Bible much might just dive right in to see what’s what after reading this. People who may not converse about G-d much might strike up a conversation with friends about this. How is any of this a bad thing?

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  • 4granted

    Thoughtful and well-written post. An important step in clarifying your beliefs is to talk about and even defend them. So the fact that the publicity campaign for Rob Bell’s book has provided an impetus for Christians to actually do theology (to figure out what they think about God) is a positive thing. Even if you disagree with Bell, it’s important for Christians to wrestle with what they believe. Another great resource on heaven, what it’s like and who will be there is “Heaven Revealed” by Dr. Paul Enns, released this week by Moody Publishers. I recommend it. Here’s the amazon page:

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  • MS26

    Re-read the story of the sheep and the goats. IF Rob Bell or anyone else does not believe in an eternal Hell, then they are not reading the same Bible I am reading. God wants us all in Heaven with Him, but what an amazing God he is to give us the choice. Just merely accepting Jesus’ spilled blood on the cross is not enough. I can say I believe exercise is good for me, but until I engage in it on a regular basis, it is only a good concept. We have to follow Jesus’ teachings and live out His guidance for us in scripture.

  • Anonymous

    I can tell you sources inside MHBC that there is a growing concern from some at MHBC about Bell’s book:

  • Joissah

    So who’s tweeting about John piper? I mean while calvinism has some Biblical support it is hardy a hard and fast doctrine. Piper at times treats calvinism as if it is up with there with the trinity and Jesus both being man and God. So a tweets carries little weight to me because his dogmatic pursuit of calvinist has not furthered the gospel anymore then Rob bell. John piper just happens to push a slightly more accepted view of a doctrine. Last time i checked i don’t have to be a calvinist to be a christian.

    • Evelyn

      You haven’t met many Calvinists then, huh? 😉

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  • Anthony C

    I would agree on many levels that there is much that the evangelical world has missed creating bubbles that protect us safely from the world, and that if our faith isn’t bearing fruit than scripture would say their probably hasn’t been regeneration of heart and thus no “conversion”. The truth is the Gospel has never been about “going to heaven” or “not going to hell”, but in fact has always been about the Glory of God as he reconciles this world back to himself through the Gospel of Jesus.
    I’ve heard a lot about the “Kingdom of God” lately and almost always it’s in terms of making the world look like “the kingdom” here on earth, therefore we have to go out and do good works, like feeding the poor, taking care of widows, etc. While I would agree this is a part of that, if it’s not flowing from a heart of sanctification than it’s simply Humanism. In the end, the Kingdom of God implies that It is a kingdom ruled by God and therefore all his “subjects” if you will, are under his authority, anyone who is found in rebellion to that authority is to be brought to justice. Jesus is our substitute to pay for our rebellion (sin), but if Jesus is our king, than I would say the primary aspect of the “Kingdom of God” is not the out working of our faith (Good works) but obedience to the king. Because we put ourselves under the authority of our idols (slaves of sin) we have to repent and bring out lives into obedience to the way God hardwired the universe to work, which is the “law” essentially. I.e. Sex in marriage designed to create worship of his name, etc. As this happens the fruit we bear begins to reflect the kingdom, one where we fall in complete obedience to the right and good laws of the King.

  • Jimwelch1957

    I do not know about this. I am to tired to care. Next.

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  • Jer

    Wow.. this was a fantastic article. Thanks for trying to be objective. I have been furiously looking through articles regarding this new book and trying to see if what has been said is fair. Thank you for giving Bell a little slack.

    Jeremy in London, Ont

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  • So it seems that not just Servetus but Calvin (as immense his contributions are) was also heretical regarding how he understood the Trinity because it didn’t express itself in refusing to kill his enemy because of the kenotic, self giving love that is seen in the Triune God revealed in Jesus.
    I don’t judge Calvin…

    That’s gold. Pure gold.

  • Wesley

    Here’s the main issue i have with your post: it feels like you’ve just done exactly what you’re accusing so many neo-Cals of by focusing on those with opposing views of Bell rather than on what Bell puts out in his video/promo.
    I’d love to see a post on how you would argue for/against the questions Rob asks in the video from Scripture rather than try to tear down those who have spoken out against him. Please tell me you’re not one of those ‘all he was doing was asking questions’ camp b/c that feels like the equivalent of closing your eyes and hoping!
    I agree that doctrine should line up with actions not just beliefs, but there are plenty in the reformed camp who do fit that bill. So let’s all remember to respond in grace and, if needs be, suffer unjustly for it, lest we become what we hate.
    There is, i felt, a fair review of Rob’s book now at
    Worth a read.

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  • Trex1946

    There is a quite informative book on this topic written in 1992 by Jesuit author Francis A Sullivan called “Salvation Outside the Church? Tracing the History of the Catholic Response.” The book examined the controversy in 1949 when Leonard Feeney SJ accused the Archbishop of Boston of heresy for holding that Jews and Protestants could be saved. It is interesting to compare this Catholic experience to that of certain Protestants today who condemn the rest of the world outside their world view to damnation. I think that Reverend Bell is on to something here.

  • Jeff Stewart

    “Rather than the other…” The bible does not portray *uni*versalism, but it *does* portray *re*versalism. (Mt 7:21-23; Lk13:22-30; Lk 18:9-14). Don’t replace reading with sitting and soaking.

  • D wells

    I reviewed Bell’s live interview regarding his new book. His answers were frightening. Here’s the blog:

  • Andrew

    Do you see that you’re accusing the Calvinists of being mean to Rob Bell. Do you also see that you’re being mean to the Calvinists? If you’re going to use Matt. 7:1, which is not meant for this situation, (We always judge false teaching within the church) then you are just as guilty as them. Is it so wrong for people of the church to defend the Bible?

    • It’s funny isn’t it?  Especially when John Piper even blessed Rob Bell as he announced he’ll be doing something else in California. 

  • Find out the vital answer to the question ??

  • Find out the vital answer to the question ??

  • Brcolorblind17

    I have no idea how you can claim to read the Bible and believe this garbage.

  • Winvries

    I am preparing a sermon on ” M God, My God, why have you forsaken me “. After much reading and struggling I come to John Piper’s conclusion, ” Farewell Rob Bell!”

  • Kel

    There is another Christian perspective on heaven & hell! Since the time of the early church fathers, the Eastern Orthodox Church has taught that heaven and hell are the same “place” — that is, both are in the bosom of God. Some experience the presence of God as paradise because they have allowed Jesus Christ to cleanse their sins and transform their hearts. Others, on the other hand, experience the presence of God as eternal torment because their hearts are tarnished with sin and can’t bear the holiness and purifying love of God. But both are in the loving arms of God. Neither the fire & brimstone view nor the universalist view are the original Christian perspectives.

    • Bob

      How come in Rich Man vs Lazarus, the rich man was “in agony” in this fire?

      • Anonymous

        It was a parable – a metaphor, not a real thing that happened!

  • Jonmac

    Bell’s book causes “theological earthquake”

    It appears that we are experiencing a “theological earthquake.” The opposing “plates” of Calvinism and Arminianism have been grinding and pushing and are finally shifting the ground beneath indicating that they cannot logically co-exist any longer. The internet has given them “extreme contact” and the pressure has given way to a shaking of the Evangelical world. Rob Bell at the very least has revealed that Christianity must somehow reconcile these two sides or it will not survive this generation’s honest questions and their desire for a worldview that fits human history and the narrative story they presently find themselves in.

    This debate isn’t over someone suddenly gaining an audience for a co-called “universalism” but about the paradigm shift that has been taking place for a very long time. The fact is, until now the 2 “plates” haven’t been close enough to clash and expose how diametrically opposed they are and cause this extreme shaking down. The internet and social media have changed all that. The God of “I am willing to save all but not able” has met the God who “is able to save all but has chosen not to.” Evangelicals up to this point have convinced themselves that they could co-exist in this manner and say to the world that we both are Christians and worship the same God. There are exceptions to this if course; those who call the other side heretics or those who claim to be “Cal-minians” (which BTW creates an even more incoherent position). Rob Bell is simply exposing these serious contradictions and beginning to bring the conversation to the surface. And it’s just that, a beginning. But the questions are now in black and white to a wider audiience and they’re not going to go away.

    Intellectual honesty and integrity should have the theologians admitting that these 2 views of God cannot co-exist in the same religion. The only God that could emerge out of the rubble is the God who both DESIRES to love and restore His creation and is ABLE to do ALL that He wills and desires. The God of Scripture has done this within a mysterious Story that includes enormous conflict and devastation and eventually death. But, not only has the God of the universe participated in this brokenness, pain, and death through Jesus but He guarantees restoration through redemption in the end! Our sin, rebellion, ignorance and even our death are not too much for Him. And as far as justice goes, His is not the Hollywood type of the bad guys getting their due and then locked up “forever” but it’s one of complete reconciliation of His creation to Himself and with others (Col. 1:20). This is the Story God has written on our hearts. It is indeed “Good News”…and it takes our breath away.

    It’s natural that this debate regarding “love wins” has brought up in Bell’s interviews the question about Japan’s recent tragedy: “Is the God who is in charge of this universe not strong enough to prevent this from happening OR, is He just not loving enough?” First, I believe Rob Bell failed to represent the magnitude of hope he gives in his book. (So don’t judge him by his interviews; read the book). But what hope can the Calvinistic God or the Arminian God really give? It’s only to the person in front of you, and THAT is only IF they repent and believe the gospel of your particular ilk of theology. You cannot give them ANY hope for their Shinto relatives who drowned or for 99% of their existing fellow Japanese who haven’t believed yet. This can’t be the message sent from the “God of all Hope” that Scripture talks about. Is the verse “we are not of those who have no hope” just about your own little personal hope b/n you and God? My biggest, tallest, most yearning hope in all the world is that God is going to restore everything back to it’s original glory and beauty and righteousness. (Albeit through fire and a “severe mercy” for many). Proverbs says that “hope deferred makes the heart sick.” Can we really out-dream and out-hope God? If God really didn’t “reconcile the world to Himself” through the cross why would He tease us with the sweeping promises of the prophets (Ez. 16) and verses like: “He is loving toward all He has made” (Psa. 145) and “every knee will bow” (Phil. 2) or that through the cross He is going to draw all men to Himself? (John 12:32) If it’s not really true then it only dashes our hopes and breaks our hearts. I believe Rob Bell is trying to restore the “God of all Hope” to Christianity. Can we please start with that?

    The irony in all this is that we KNOW every Christian relief worker in Japan is not giving the response consistent with their narrow view of redemption. We know that they are bringing a bigger hope than they are allowed to have. They really can’t help it because it’s written on their consciences and hearts to believe more, bigger, wider. “Yes”, they say, “God loves you and cares about you and He cares about your family, even the ones who have perished.” “God is BIGGER than all of this,” “He will someday restore everything,” I hear Christians say often. So most of the time we transcend our theology and act like people of hope! How wonderful if we could actually have the permission from the theologians to SAY we believe in a God who “hopes all things” and whose love really does win.

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  • Keith

    Sorry to come to this late but… This page is advertising Tarot readings. I’m not sure that was your intention?

  • Jjciccog

    He’s a wolf in sheeps clothing, he chooses to seek an destroy. This writer is not a part of the kingdom. He denies undeniable Truth and therefore can not be of God. If you are not a slave to God you’re a slave to sin(Satan)
    Please pray for this lost soul. Pity him
    Gods wrath is coming for all who reject him. Sorry it’s the truth

    • Jon

      So what undeniabke truth has he denied then? Be interested if you could give me a page reference for it.

  • Anonymous

    I’ve just started to read “Love Wins” myself. I want to make sure I’ve read the book before I make any comments, negative or positive…

  • Mseinen

    Thanks for looking thru cross-shaped glasses. John 17… May they be one, Father, so the world will know you sent me.

  • It’s not at tall surprising why there’s such a ruckus around this book. We, humans, hate for our fundamental beliefs to be questioned. Another source of tension, I believe, is that in addition to the touchy subject matter is the fact that Rob, is not a theologian, he’s a poet but his rhetoric goes into deep theological territory. I wrote a review in two parts on the pros and cons of the book on The Third Drive

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  • gr8commission

    Osama Now in Heaven:  “Love Wins”.

    • Envoy4him

      You are not God to know who is or is not in heaven.

  • Yosua Suharda

    Well put. It’s refreshing to read your view and understanding of cavalry-shaped love, it’s relevance to our lives on earth, and the logical link it has with God’s destiny for creation. If everyone be disciples of Christ in this way, that they allow their lives to be led and governed by love, the Kingdom of God -Heaven- would manifest here on Earth indeed!

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  • Sean

    The problem with Rob Bell is not just simply what he believes BUT how he gets there. 
    Here’s another review of Rob Bell’s book, Love Wins.

  • Stanstillwhite

    The more you grow in the grace and knowledge of Jesus the more you see the big picture, and the personal relashionship we have with the Father. My Bible tells me “that the goodness of God leadeth thee to repentance”  And let us not forget :

     Rom 11:32  For God has shut up all unto disobedience, that He might have mercy upon all.

    That makes verses like 1 Tim 4:10 all to clear:

     1Ti 4:10 For to this end we labour and strive, because we have our hope set on the living God, who is the Saviour of all men, specially of them that believe.

    May God show you the way!

    1Ti 4:10

    For to this end we labour and strive, because we have our hope set on the living God, who is the Saviour of all men, specially of them that believe.

    May God show you the way!

  • Jackson

    I was recently fired as youth and teaching pastor for my belief that Hell is not eternal torment. I wrote a book about my beliefs and what the Scriptures actually teach on the subject. It’s coming out soon, you can check out my blog to follow along. I’d love to get the message out to as many people as possible. The book is called “What the Hell” How Did We Get It So Wrong?

  • I was not knowing about this information,this is the first time i ‘m hearing this information. And i learned more information from your blog. 

  • dan

    i am going to buy at least a used copy, anyway, lol

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  • April Emery

    posing questions for questions sake is dangerous when you are in such a position as Rob Bell. I am disappointed by him to be honest.

    It would do all lovers of “Love Wins” justice to listen to this and THEN take all of Scripture into account before you believe the lies in Bell’s book. 

  • Jesus often asked questions when he spoke to people…

  • Jon

    The discussion continues over Love Wins.  For the neo-Calvinists there is a new website from a Reformed perspective including a very insightful “Open Letter to Dr. Keller” respectfully challenging his stance on the nature of hell.

  • Marty

    Gosh darn it all folks, its NOT about Arminians vs. Calvnists in some sort of Mafioso war! It’s about the reality of Hell and the possibility of spending an eternity away from God. The post is written as if Piper and company were just Reformed meanies.

    All this hand wringing, thank God you’re not my doctor wondering whether or not to tell me I have cancer (that would be MEAN after all). All that orthodox Christians are doing is telling the lost world that they are on the highway to hell and there’s a way out. This is not meanness but LOVE.

    If there is NOTHING to save us from (everybody gets a free pass, even Satan) then what good was the cross?


    ps. you left off one of my favorite universalists, George Macdonald, the “mentor” of C. S. Lewis. In his seminal fantasy, Lilith, he postulates that even Satan will be saved some day.

  • gulksd

    hey it’s funny that you are mocking Piper and then criticizing him for saying farewell rob bell. You aren’t avoiding judging piper anymore than (you feel) He did to rob bell. People’s defense of what the believe doesn’t have to be considered an attack.

  • Are you serious?  Three words and we judge John Piper like this? This game of moral superiority is stupid.  Even John Piper had words of blessing for Rob Bell when he announced he’ll be moving onto to a different job.

    This subplot trying to be conjured up against the new calvinists is pretty stupid.  In fact, one may argue they may be reaching groups of people Rob Bell wouldn’t be able to.  Look at the success of Driscoll with his new marriage book, or the rise of Jeremy Lin who’s mentor is a student of John Macarther’s, and then there was the viral video of bethke’s who’s attends Driscoll’s church.

    How about we stop trying to create divisions and just do our own thing. Any movement built on an enemy will not last, but one that has a foundation of things they stand for will keep going.

    • Phillip

      I totally agree.  Rob Bell and Piper are reaching different groups because they each have an essential element of the character of God to share.  One is the God who is sovereignly able to save and the other is the One who desires and is willing to save all. People usually gravitate to the sovereignty piece or the free-will piece depending on their background, personality etc., Ideally it would be best if these two views of God could merge since they are both taught in the Scriptures. (And what would that look like?)  

      We are grateful for the teachings of Piper, Driscoll, Bell, Olsen, Galli, Chan, Keller, Packer et al.,for they have built our foundation of faith.  There is no need to pick and choose and fight over their doctrines.  They actually fit together quite well.

      I invite you to see how these theologians are actually supporting one another in astounding ways, without realizing it at: 
      (a brand new site showing how the Church is teaching the ultimate restoration of all as in Keller, Driscoll, Chan, Galli …even Jefferson Bethke!)

  • Jesus was preaching to Hellenized Greeks, right? And the word he used was not the Old Testament “sheol” (the grave) but the Hellenistic “hades.” Those words do not have the same meaning we have come to assign to the term “hell.” I believe God is just, and that there is no known justice resembling eternal punishment. God is in the business of reconciliation, restitution, and redemption both now and, yes, over the long haul. If we want to use the KJV term “hell” to mean some kind of divine justice by a merciful and understanding God, then do so. God knows more about us than just what we did and didn’t do. He knows our genes, our ancestors, our culture, where we’ve been abused, and everything else that may affect our short journey in this life. It’s much more complex than the simple absolutist/reductionist ideas of a Calvin or an Arminius. PS — I was a fundamentalist for over 30 years.

    • GLW

      I appreciate your comment Alan.  I was also in fundamentalism for about 40 years and have come to the same understanding that you so well  presented, that God is indeed in the business of restoration.

      I like the way you stated that “God knows more about us than what we did or didn’t do…”etc., great point!  He will be perfectly fair and just in all He does considering all the factors involved. And all this will be done in the context of love. (new)

  • Bob

    I’m late to the party, but it doesn’t seem like “Tony Compolo and Friends” are very tolerant of those with other points of view. I mean, their argument is “straw man” through and through….

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  • Ryan

    This is a disaster of an article.

  • Ryan

    If anyone delivers to you a different gospel, let him be damned. Right? Not in red letters though…Seriously this is as liberal as it gets, not in a cool way.

    • glw

      Look up the word damned in an interlinear–can be found online.
      “If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed.”

      It does not mean “eternal conscious torment.” It meant excommunication or perhaps some kind of divine judgment but not “eternal hell.” Look it up.

      We are not “liberal” in our theology and yet we believe the Bible teaches the restoration of all mankind.

  • Two years on and whaddya know — Justin Taylor was right. Your acknowledgement of this fact must be just around the corner.

  • EasyJim

    Thought provoking discussion. I see that this is an old thread. I discuss Rob Bell and the many and manifold problems with “Love Wins” in my own book: “CrossCurrents: Making Sense of the Christian Life” on Amazon.

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