Farwell Rob Bell. With three words and a link to Justin Taylor’s article, John Piper tweeted an assessment of Rob Bell’s upcoming book that threw the blogosphere into a tailspin last week. At the time, the tweet appeared reactionary and presumptive. But after giving more thought to Rob Bell’s promotional video for his upcoming book, Love Wins, I was beginning to think that the tweet might very well be on target.
Now there’s this.
Today, Tim Challies has released a full book review of Love Wins that confirms the fears that many evangelicals and reformed Christians had suspected. In his review, Tim provides a particularly devastating quote from the preface of the book that doesn’t leave Rob a great deal of wiggle room when it comes to his own views and holdings on hell:
“The plot has been lost, and it’s time to reclaim it.” (Preface, vi)
“A staggering number of people have been taught that a select few Christians will spend forever in a peaceful, joyous place called heaven, while the rest of humanity spends forever in torment and punishment in hell with no chance for anything better…. This is misguided and toxic and ultimately subverts the contagious spread of Jesus’ message of love, peace, forgiveness, and joy that our world desperately needs to hear.” (ibid)
Justin Taylor also weighs in on the controversy with an equally devastating assessment and quote from the book:
Bell also argues that the historic understanding of God’s character and salvation—that eternal punishment awaits those who reject the gospel in this life—is “devastating . . . psychologically crushing . . . terrifying and traumatizing and unbearable” (pp. 136-7).
Tim’s review is thoughtful and fair, and it’s simply a must read that takes a no-nonsense approach to Bell’s book that also leaves out the typical condemnations, innuendos and rants that are too commonly laced inside controversial book reviews. Tim also hovers on an ongoing (and now quite fair I’d say) criticism of Mr. Bell.
The questions you probably want answers to as you read this review are these: Is it true that Rob Bell teaches that hell doesn’t exist? Is it true that Rob Bell believes no one goes to hell? You’ll just need to keep reading because, frankly, the answers aren’t that easy to come by.
How he asks the question is just as important as the question itself. “Has God created billions of people over thousands of years only to select a few to go to heaven and everyone else to suffer forever in hell? Is this acceptable to God? How is this ‘good news’?” They say that the person who frames the debate is going to win the debate. That is especially true when the debate is framed in this way, through these particular questions. You’re damned if you do and damned if you don’t. No offense, and no pun intended.
Does Rob Bell deny the existence of hell? He would say no. We would say yes. He affirms, but only after redefining. And that’s just a clever form of denial.
Make no mistake about it, this emotional plea for doubting both the existence of hell and that God has the will to send souls to it is powerful and emotionally compelling. But it’s not really an argument per se. It’s assertion that doesn’t deal with the directness of Scripture and what it plainly says. And Rob’s assertions here are just emotionalism packaged around empty questions that deny the clear implications of what the Bible teaches about hell. Bell’s commentary on hell is a classic academic and rectionary protest. There’s little new about his objections and for the most part they’re just naked assertions that harnesses our imperfect and incomplete understanding of God’s wrath and love in order to tug at our heart strings and use them as a basis of proof to claim that the Bible does not say what it clearly says.
And since it now appears that Mr. Bell is beginning to do far more than just “ask questions” about universalism and the reality of hell, it might be time to join with John Piper and say: Farwell Rob Bell.
Because a Gospel that removes the fundamental need for a Savior -removes the eternal seriousness of our offenses before God and their great consequence unless a Savior would rescue us – is not the Gospel.