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Ben Witherington, Justin Taylor, John Piper, and the Rob Bell Circus

As you may or may not know, Rob Bell is coming out with a new book called Love Wins. Justin Taylor wrote a blog post about this book based on the publishers promo video they put out. In essence, Justin’s argument is that Bell’s book looks like it will be promoting universalism (the belief that all will eventually make it to heaven). Many have responded to Justin’s post both at his site and at other blogs. With over a thousand comments and twenty-eight thousand Facebook shares, I seriously doubt Justin knew that it would cause this much of a stir.

The issue has not progressed yet to a debate over the doctrine of universalism, but is, as of 3.3.11, over whether or not it was charitable for a Christian to write a blog post accusing another Christian of universalism before the book was even published.

Of course, I think we should all go out of our way to be kind and gentle, even to those who depart from a central issue of historic Christianity. This is often hard to do. But Paul is clear:

2 Timothy 2:24
“The Lord’s bond-servant must not be quarrelsome, but be kind to all, able to teach, patient when wronged, 25 with gentleness correcting those who are in opposition, if perhaps God may grant them repentance leading to the knowledge of the truth, 26 and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, having been held captive by him to do his will.”

I, for one, do not think that Justin’s post was quarrelsome or uncharitable. After all, if you watch the video on the Justin’s site, you will see that the publisher’s intent is to be provocative. It would be naive to say that they were not attempting to at least suggest that Bell’s book is going to promote universalism. Just how much Bell had to do with this promo video is unknown. Either way, he had to have approved it. He directly (by scripting the video himself) or indirectly (by approving it) at least said “I want people to think I am writing in favor of universalism.” This alone is enough to instigate a response which informs people of Bell’s seeming departure from a cardinal truth of historic Christianity.

If in the book he comes out on the orthodox side of things, then the video was a manipulative trick which was created simply to sell books. You do with that what you will. If he comes out a universalist (or something similar), then the direction the video pointed was accurate.

Frankly, when I heard that Bell might come out on the side of universalism, I thought to myself, “Oh, I thought we already knew that.” I don’t expect much these days from popular writers who don’t screen their thought through historic Christianity and contemporary Evangelical scholarship. In fact, I am very surprised (and excited) when people do take stands on the more difficult issues of Christianity like hell, homosexuality, the exclusivity of Christ, or unconditional election. To go with the current of the culture on these issues is easy and takes little faith. To go against the cultural grain is difficult and breeds popular rejection.  

While there is a lot of Bell’s teaching methodology that I find amazing, I have never noticed him taking stands with historic Christianity on the difficult issues, so why would I be surprised when I see a video that suggests he is going to advocate universalism. He, like many of the progressive popular authors and pastors today (and, indeed, throughout church history), likes to think out loud. But as the old proverb goes:

“Think out loud. But don’t do it from a platform.”

Ben Witherington recently threw his hat in with those condemning the one’s who are (pre)labeling Bell a universalist before reading the book. He put his critique in the form of a blog post. Ben’s critique has me scratching my head a bit here.

In essence, he does not agree that the Rob Bell promo video was enough to warrant suggesting Bell may be a universalist. While I disagree, I am not so concerned about this. Witherington, in defense of Bell, goes on the offense against Piper, Driscoll, and (implied) Justin Taylor. Here is what he says:

“I must say I am hugely disappointed in people like John Piper and Mark Driscoll, who also haven’t read the book yet, and yet are prepared to condemn Rob— one even saying dismissively— ‘Farewell Rob Bell’.   Frankly this is all too typical of the hyper-Calvinistic wing of the Evangelical world. Shoot first, ask questions later.”

The first sentence is fine. He has voiced his opinion and disappointment. However, the second sentence is what disappoints me. Notice the labeling: “hyper-Calvinistic wing”. Notice the accusation: “Shoot first, ask questions later.” Defending Rob Bell against the possible (yet very unlikely) mislabeling of universalist, he handles many of those who stand with him on historic Christianity with some pretty harsh polemics. I know enough to know that Witherington knows that this “hyper-Calvinist” label is completely pejorative and would be outright rejected by these men. Not only this, but by using such ad hominem rhetoric, he ends up offending millions of others who, like me, love and identify with this “wing” of Christianity. In order to protect Rob Bell, Witherington sets fire to a bridge in his own town. I don’t get this.

Finally Witherington makes this judgment upon these men who are simply looking in the direction that the promo video was pointing:

“And even it it turns out there are some unBiblical ideas or thoughts in Rob’s new book, shouldn’t the approach to the matter be to first ‘go to the brother’ and gently talk to him personally about these things before  twittering, tweeting, or blogging about the matter?”

I don’t agree with this either. If someone is going on a platform with their views, sometimes the only response is from a platform. The video about the book was public. The warning about the book was public. Plus, I don’t think this situation qualifies for the private talk as that is only when your brother sins against you (Matt. 18:5). Plus, can you imagine all the millions of people who would be at Bell’s door asking for a private audience in order to fulfill this biblical method?

That debate set aside, I wonder if Witherington approached Taylor, Piper, and Discoll before accusing them of the offense of rash criticism? I don’t know. Maybe he did. But I would assume that he would have mentioned something about it if he did.

In the end, if it was the purpose of the publisher to release this video to sell the book, I predict some pay raises at Harper Books.

While I hope and pray Bell takes a stand for orthodox Christianity, I don’t expect it. However, I do look forward to this progressing to a debate about universalism and the orthodox understanding of hell. Contrast always presents opportunity for clarity. Any time people are stirred to speak about doctrine, love does win because truth is placed on the platform.

51 Responses to “Ben Witherington, Justin Taylor, John Piper, and the Rob Bell Circus”

  1. Hey Michael, thanks for the post. I recently commented on it on Facebook, and had a commentator post the following blog link from someone who has already read it: http://thetenthleper.com/2011/03/01/review-love-wins-by-rob-bell-part-i-some-introductory-thoughts/. Not sure where the guy stands theologically, but in the blog post, he shares that Bell supposedly makes the argument that there is a literal place of punishment called hell, but that it’s not eternal. Not sure how he gets around that one, considering that Jesus himself is the one who used the phrase “eternal punishment.” But anyways…

  2. I have a friend, Steven Clark Goad, who is a church of Christ minister. He has written in support of the idea that the sentence of Gehenna is eternal, or irrevocable, but the act of punishment will end with the annihilation of the condemned soul.

    I disagree with him, but his argument is thorough and internally consistant, and he is, other than on this point, consistantly orthodox.

  3. Co-sign. Dr. Witherington is guilty of the very judgment he has reserved for Piper, Driscoll, and the rest of us “hyper-Calvinists.” It is silly and quite revealing of a larger issue, I think.

    It appears that this has given folks a chance to pick on the evil mean Calvinists. Throw a “hyper” before a label and I guess you make your point…

    Or not…

  4. I must say, I’m pretty much with the Calvinists on this one. 1) Bell has given ample reason in the past to doubt his adherence to orthodoxy. 2) He’s taught patently bad theology in his Numa videos and basically said that it wouldn’t matter if Jesus hadn’t really raised from the dead or hadn’t really been born of a virgin.

    To point out this seeming lean toward universalism even before the release of the book isn’t necessarily bad. Perhaps a couple of them could have toned it down a bit and been a bit more charitable, saying something like, “watch out because it looks like Bell could be promoting universalism here,” or something, instead of condemning him to hell.

    Bell has no one more to blame than himself for this situation. As you point out, Michael, even if he doesn’t hold to universalism, he released that silly video that gives the impression that he does. Look at what this dishonesty has done in causing separation among brethren. That alone should tell you something…

  5. John from Down Under March 4, 2011 at 3:48 am

    Has Rob Bell himself come out to deny any of these premature “accusations”? If not, would that not only serve to cement the view that he is heading down that road? Then again he may be contractually bound to refrain from public comment until the book’s release. It makes for good PR.

    I have seen the video, and if universalism is NOT what he had in mind, then the publisher should be sued for deceptive and misleading conduct. Don’t know how things are in the States, but in my neck of the woods this would be a breach of the Trade Practices Act, attempting to sell a product on false pretenses. Unless they are resorting to Hollywood tactics that use trailer teasers as ‘hooks’ and then it turns out to be a fizzer.

    The surprise should not be if Bell IS a universalist, but if he ISN’T.

  6. Lisa Robinson March 4, 2011 at 6:11 am

    What gets me is that the issue is not about the book at all, but about what he said in the video. All Taylor was doing was raising a red flag about doctrine that contradicts Christian orthodoxy, which given Bell’s persuasive charisma, can be delivered in very innocuous ways. You wanna bet that results in a spike in belief of whatever he is promoting? You betcha.

    While I agree that contradiction raises good dialogue about competing viewpoints, I don’t think we that means we wait until the seeds of deviating doctrine get splattered across the evangelical garden and let it take full bloom, and then say ‘oh look at these flowers here’. That is typically how it goes down, making the refuters look like the pompous narrow jerks. I applaud Taylor’s action in pointing out the seed.

  7. Sad to read your thots here Michael, I enjoy reading your take on many things, but here you fall into the same group of “I’m right and no way can another view point be right”. Seriously, just wait and read the book. I like your writings a lot better when you hold on to your human-ness.

  8. There are two major things that bother me about this whole hoopla. First, I’m bothered by the fact that everyone seems to already know that Bell is wrong before even having read his arguments. Sure, I’m not particularly optimistic about there being anything revolutionary about this book, but it’s as if they’ve declared beforehand, simply on the basis of the position supposedly being defended, that there is no way they could possibly be convinced. There is something to be said for keeping an open mind, rather than these knee-jerk reactions against officially proscribed doctrines.

    The other thing that bothers me is why church leaders feel the need to make these comments preemptively, as if they feel that everyone else needs to have the same inoculation against “heresy,” warned that no matter what he says, we know before he says it that he’s wrong. This isn’t critical thinking. It’s just indoctrination.

  9. Marv Borst says:
    March 4, 2011 at 7:52 am

    Sad to read your thots here Michael, I enjoy reading your take on many things, but here you fall into the same group of “I’m right and no way can another view point be right”. Seriously, just wait and read the book.
    ______________________
    Marv,

    What I read, primarily, is Michael giving a response to those (Witherington, etc.) objecting to giving an opinion on material approved by Rob Bell that obfuscates, at best, his position on universalism. Does not the continued slide into and on top of bad/distorted/unorthodox theology by Bell on more than one occasion not give some rise, in your mind, to the necessity of such proactive concerns? And what if such concerns are right? Will you come back and say, “thanks for warning us”?

    Most poignant by Michael:

    “If someone is going on a platform with their views, sometimes the only response is from a platform. The video about the book was public. The warning about the book was public.”

  10. The problem isn’t that Taylor or Piper critiqued the video (which in my opinion raises some excellent ideas and doesn’t in any way preclude universlism), it is the way they did not… dismissive and making claims of “unviersalist,” “false teacher,” and “false gospel.” These are very strong words (and damning) for a promo video and a book that the people in question have not read.
    Interestingly, heavy weight Eugene Peterson apparently endorses the book, and the CT write up by the one guy who actually has read the book, states that Bell stays within orthodoxy and does not come down as a universalist. My guess is that he is probably going to be an inclusivist, or fall more in line with NT Wright.

    Why are people getting so worked up about a provocative promo video?

    Will Taylor apologize for calling Bell a “false teacher?”

    Do the blogologians even know the difference between inclusivism and universalism?

    Why would Piper diss Bell so flippantly over a book that he…

  11. hasn’t read?

    In a word: Sad.

  12. “Interestingly, heavy weight Eugene Peterson apparently endorses the book, and the CT write up by the one guy who actually has read the book, states that Bell stays within orthodoxy and does not come down as a universalist.”

    Endorsements from the most liberal and friendly ends of Evangelicalism. With statements from Bell such as:

    “Heaven is full of forgiven people. Hell is full of forgiven people. Heaven is full of people God loves, whom Jesus died for. Hell is full of forgiven people God loves, whom Jesus died for. The difference is how we choose to live, which story we choose to live in, which version of reality we trust. Ours or God’s.” – p. 146 ” (No, Rob, they are not forgiven in hell).

    One need not look to his latest publication for validity concerning objections of Bell’s theological fitness to teach. But there is a point about Piper and those who, while objecting to Bell, look the other way regarding Piper’s record of theological distortions and miscarriages.

  13. Alex,

    Wow!!

    I wouldn’t call Peterson liberal, and he’s extremely respected across the spectrum. I thought anyway, so I guess he’s not kosher in some circles. Sad, he has a lot to offer. CT, well its a news magazine, so they try to be objective… something that can be very important.

    We will see where Bell comes down once we can read his entire book and stop relying on half quotes, videos, and hyperventalating.

    Piper is still flat out wrong for posting a mean-spirited tweet about Bell.

    Taylor is wrong for calling Bell a false teacher without real cause, and then even if he has real cause, he needs to rethink posting that on the internet.

    What is sad, is that is seems to be that Piper fans simply can’t admit that what Piper did was mean and beneath a man of his apparent stature. At least Taylor addressed the issues to some degree, Piper just dissed Bell.

  14. “Frankly, when I heard that Bell might come out on the side of universalism, I thought to myself, ‘Oh, I thought we already knew that.'”

    Exactly!

  15. So Rick, this issue makes all of the unorthodox statements by Rob Bell in the past, such as the one I posted, simply go away? Do you have any idea how many there are? Do you not concede there is validity from the past for concern about Bell’s fitness to teach in light of such statements regardless of the current micro-crisis of “Taylorgate”? And which statements by Rob Bell concern you the most, if I may ask?

  16. Is there an online link to the CT article that has been mentioned here? I tried to find one but haven’t been able to.

  17. Alex,

    Bell pushes the envelope, sure, that is an issue. And I never said people can’t critique him, or point out the weaknesses in his argument. If they think his books are poor, that is their opinion. That is fine.

    But calling someone a “universalist” when from everything we have heard and really know… he isn’t, (And by the way, universalists don’t need to be outed, they usually are pretty up front about it), or a “false teacher of a false gospel” based on book that Taylor hasn’t even read, is poor form, divisive, and unbecoming of a Christian. It’s a serious charge. Frankly, who appointed Piper and Taylor (or anyone else for that matter) the theological thought police? I didn’t vote for them. If Bell is really a heretic that is an issue for his church, and not for the internet, and people who actually have no authority over him. It seems to me, that for many this isn’t really about Bell’s book, but about Bell in general, and their frustration with him.

  18. CT article:

    http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2011/marchweb-only/rob-bell-universalism.html

    And Scot McKnight’s very balanced, reasoned, and theological take on the whole issue.

    http://www.patheos.com/community/jesuscreed/2011/03/02/waiting-for-rob-bell/

    And Alex, this isn’t about Bell’s past statements. It is about a book that hasn’t come out yet, and its about Bell’s particular views on hell and salvation… and its really about how to handle theological disagreement in the public forum, in a gracious and Christian way.

  19. BTW Taylor’s article was about the promo video and what it communicated in light of Bell’s history, not about the book he clearly stated he did not read. It is a proactive concern about a Teacher with a history of unorthodox statements.

    The point of whether it is an issue for the church or not and whether it is legitimate for Taylor to respond has been addressed. It is a public forum and a public commodity by Bell, it fails any of the parameters of Matt 18, nor does Matt 18 here forbid or even imply the curtailing of a public response. And even if it is related to generic concerns with Bell, so what? Are you saying you find nothing about which to be concerned? So let me ask again, which statements by Bell in the past concern you? Any?

  20. Rick,

    I couldn’t disagree with you more when you say that if Bell is a heretic that is an issue for his church. Sure it is an issue for his church–but not ONLY for his church. His teachings are reaching far and wide beyond the doors of his church. And no one else is supposed to say something or warn all of those he affects? We are just to sit back and let someone (I am not just speaking of Bell here–but of anyone spreading false teaching) spread false teaching all over the country/world and hope that finally someone from his church will step up and say “Stop!” By then the damage might be done far and wide and how are you going to correct it?

    There is an old saying that I believe applies here. “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”

    Yes, we need to be careful in how we say things. But people do need to be warned about false doctrine. To not do so is an extremely dangerous and unloving thing.
    And to sit back and wait for his church to do it is to…

  21. Cherylu,

    There is nothing wrong with warning people. But, once again lets wait till the book comes out before we call someone a false teacher. And frankly there are a lot of books out there, and a lot of teaching out there, that is a lot worse. The question is: in a broad movement with no central authority made up of 100s, maybe even 1000’s of individual denominations and organizations… who has the right to label people outside your realm of control a heretic? And really who cares? We aren’t Catholic, or Orthodox, and Bell isn’t a part of a denomination that has a system for this.

    And also, does anyone care about Rob Bell in all of this? Are Piper and Taylor not concerned for his spiritual well being and should they not be trying to communicate with him in such a way as to restore him to solid teaching and peace in God’s love?

    Surely, the gospel is powerful enough that this can be done without ad hominem attacks.

  22. I thought Kevin DeYoung “nailed it” in his blog reacting to all the comotion over the preemptive strikes from the blogosphere on the video promoting the Rob Bell book.
    http://thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/kevindeyoung/2011/02/28/bell-brouhaha/

  23. Alex,

    As I said, past statements from Bell are irrelevant to the issue. I kind of feel like you are fishing for something, maybe trying to catch me and out me, as some kind of Rob Bell fan, or heretic myself. The thread is ultimately about whether Taylor and Piper were justified in their actions. Taylor was certainly justified in writing about the video and expressing concern, he was wrong to call Bell a universalist and a false teacher. Piper is just wrong, and frankly I am glad that Witherington called them both out. Driscoll deserves applause here, because he did the honorable thing and held back till he gets the chance to read the book. Witherington owes him an apology.

    The video was a teaser and posed some interesting questions, that for me, as an alum of DTS I had heard more than 1 theology professor pose. Hopefully, we can allow people to question and think, and not shut them down because we don’t like the questions.

  24. Rick,

    You ask, “Who cares?” Maybe that is a large share of the problem anymore. It doesn’t seem that too many out there care about what is being taught in the name of Chrisitainity. Just about anything goes any more and many times no one says a word and nobody seems to care. And when concerns are raised, the people raising the concerns get lambasted for doing it.

    And for the record, I did not say I approved of ad hominem attacks. But that doesn’t mean I think concerns should not be raised.

  25. Norm,

    I’d disagree. I think he’s back peddling and covering for Taylor so they don’t have to apologize. DeYoung and Taylor will win this battle one way or another.

    Now if the book comes out and it turns out that Bell isn’t a universalist, which everyone who read the book says he isn’t, then they don’t have to apologize because it was still Bell’s fault for putting out a “misleading” video.

    If Bell is a universalsit in the book, then they can say “we told you so.”

    They should not have over re-acted, and all they need to do is simply apologize for jumping to conclusions and do their best to heed the calls for concern from many wise people. We are Christians, indwelt by the Spirit, forgiving our debtors, and loving out neighbors… it would be nice for some Christian leaders to model that for, and show humility and grace.

  26. Cherylu,

    Some Christians throw the term’s heretic, false teacher, etc. around way to easily. Yes, people should feel free to raise concern and try to clarify good/bad theology. But, if you are going to call someone heretic, unorthodox, etc., then maybe there should be more thought, oversight, and well maybe some kind of process beyond a blog post that took 25 minutes to write… or comments on a message board… or a tweet. These things hurt and they cause division… things God does not like, and while they may be eventually warranted… love can reprove and punish… there probably should be more steps and caution involved.

    My point about who cares, is that I last I checked there was no evangelical pope, or theological watch group department. The charge of heretic or false teacher needs to be taken care of through an actual church body of some sort, not on the internet… like in the old days.

  27. Cherylu,

    I would also ask you… with concern to “in the name of Christianity”… whose Christianity? Catholic, Pentecostal, Presbyterian, Methodist, Bible Church, Dispensationalist, or Charismatic Anglican?

    Bell isn’t going to say anything new, nothing that hasn’t been asked or provoked by theologians going back centuries. He may come out in places some people don’t like, me included, but the church will still march on, the gospel will continue to change the world, Jesus will still be the king, and all will be put right one day.

    I will say it again, Bell isn’t going to say anything that Lewis, or Stott, or Wright or a host of others haven’t already said about hell, in attempts to come at the topic from a different perspective. This is all a tempest in a teapot, and what seems more like a take down of Rob Bell for past and imagined “sins.”

  28. Truth Unites... and Divides March 4, 2011 at 2:18 pm

    This post by CMP is good. Thanks for posting your thoughts.

  29. Leslie Jebaraj March 4, 2011 at 3:13 pm

    CMP:

    Ben Witherington does say in Comment # 46 that he indeed has spoken to both John Piper and Rob Bell.

  30. Why don’t we save our thoughts until after reading the whole book and getting the whole context, which is what we are supposed to do with scripture? Seems only fair to me.

    Definitely not a Rob Bell fan myself, but let’s get the whole story first, and here’s what’s important : Let’s take the WHOLE thing in context before we decide to wholeheartedly condemn it or defend it.

    Anything else is unfair, IMO.

  31. Has anyone read this review of the book? This man says he has read the whole book in a pre-release, before final edit form. And he says that Bell believes all will eventually be restored to God. Bell, according to him, believes that there is a hell but that it is not eternal for anyone.

    http://thetenthleper.com/2011/03/01/review-love-wins-by-rob-bell-part-i-some-introductory-thoughts/

  32. ” Plus, can you imagine all the millions of people who would be at Bell’s door asking for a private audience in order to fulfill this biblical method?”

    HA ha ha…..yeah, good point!

  33. Richard Worden Wilson March 5, 2011 at 2:46 am

    As an aside from the Bell a Universalist? bruhaha, I’m wondering if there isn’t some reason to think it possible that screening one’s every thought through “historic Christianity and contemporary Evangelical scholarship” isn’t just as much a matter of going “with the current of the culture,” just a different culture. The attitudes, actions, and beliefs of many whose desires seem so inclined toward fitting in to this particular sub-culture don’t always, or even possible often, reflect the Jesus one might encounter through Spirit engaged interaction with the God Jesus revealed in his life. Really, an extended check list of particular doctrines didn’t seem to be high on Jesus’ list of priorities, did it?
    All the best to all in Christ,
    Richard

  34. I think this is a very balanced post on this controversy. I share CMP’s view on the problems with BW3’s blog post. I was disappointed that he seemed so dismissive of the concerns expressed to him. Not that I don’t have problems sometimes with the rhetoric coming from the YRR crowd. And Piper’s tweet did seem a little snide.

    But I think it’s disingenuous to suggest that such a public, intentionally provocative video—with serious theological implications—can be heavily promoted by a very well-known author, guaranteed to be seen by a wide range of believers, but that other pastors and teachers shouldn’t say anything about it because it’s promoting a book not yet released. That seems to be stacking the deck, imo. Shouldn’t we have a pastoral concern for people who may be influenced by the video itself? As long as any comment is on the video and includes the qualification that the commenter hasn’t read the book, I think it would be irresponsible to fail

  35. [cont.] . . . to respond.

    [Why did the ‘characters available’ box show that I was within the 1000 characters, but then the comment was cut off?]

    And one more thing (since I’m posting a second comment :) ), Eugene Peterson also gave a glowing endorsement of The Shack. I don’t know how the rest of you feel about that, but it calls his judgment into question for me.

  36. I am very happy with this post. I have followed this issue a lot over the past few days, and it seems that the entire argument has become one of whether or not bell is a universalist. but people are right who knows until you read the book. What people aren’t noticing is that the promo which had to be approved by bell, is obviously implicating this belief, so either bell is saying one thing when he really means another, or he is truly off on this. either way, let your yes be yes and no be no. How deadly it is for a person in spiritual leadership to be saying one thing and meaning another, no matter what the belief is it definitely is a dangerous way to lead as a christian if not an unbiblical one.

    I would like to point out however, that this isint an issue of calvanism versus arminianism. I have read many of my fellow brothers post, bashing calvanistic attacks on bell. and many of the, bashing the “arminian worldview that has led to bells belief. but the fact is, [Cont…..]

  37. [Continued.] for all that I find myself drastically at odds with calvanist theology, I still love my brothers who believe as such. Bell (would be) just as wrong by a arminian standpoint as he is from a calvanistic one. we all believe we need Christs sacrifice. so we all believe he is the only way. simple as that. I look forward to reading the book. but no matter which way bell goes, he has stepped out of a christian conduct either way.

    -Isaac

  38. P.S.
    oh and we are all forgetting something. Just because we see a promo video, does not mean we are going to read a book. in fact I am sure millions of people will watch the video and never grace the book, for whatever their various reasons may be.

    So my big disappointment, if unsaved (or saved for that matter) people watch this video and never read the book, what will they think?

    well they will obviously walk away with this simple idea, (I dont have to follow Jesus to be saved. and that isint out of context from the video. so no matter what the book says, bell has made a very risky move, and there will be people whose spirituality is affected.

  39. One of the things I notice about the eagerness of those who point the “heretic” and “false teacher” fingers is that what Bell may (or may not) be saying does have historic precedent. Universal reconciliation or universal salvation are nothing new.

    In light of that, I find it interesting that none of the ancient creeds seems to articulate a specific doctrine of Hell. There was a lot of thought (and prayer, I assume) put into early statements such as the Apostle’s Creed and the Nicene Creed. But they did not include a statement on Hell.

    Or look at Paul’s statement about what is “of first importance” in 1 Cor. 15. No mention of Hell. Or let’s look at Peter’s sermon on Pentecost. Or Stephen’s testimony. Or Paul’s defenses. Hell is simply not the core of their testimony. But it seems to be almost the central element of faith for many today, and no abuse is withheld if someone dares question it.

  40. I empathize with much of your post, even if I don’t necessarily agree. But one thing you said struck me as particularly careless:

    “To go with the current of the culture on these issues is easy and takes little faith. To go against the cultural grain is difficult and breeds popular rejection.”

    Let me illustrate my problem with that statement by adjusting it slightly:

    “To go with the current of the evangelical sub-culture on these issues is easy and takes little faith. To go against the evangelical cultural grain is difficult and breeds popular rejection.”

    Disagreeing with Rob Bell and universalists is perfectly fine; dismissing their position as a convenient, shallow accommodation to the world is silly and unworthy of your usually reasonable demeanor.

    Notwithstanding that, I’m still a fan of your blog.

  41. I am still confused how the video teaches that Bell holds to universalism (or better term universal reconciliationist). It leaves one asking what Rob Bell believes, with one possibility being that of universal reconciliation. But the video by no means inherently suggests or reveals Rob Bells view.

    No doubt the video has done its job, provoking and stirring interest. HarperOne are extremely excited over the stir it has created. They hear the cha-ching. But I wonder if we are reading a little too much into a 3-minute the video. Again, it leaves one asking what Rob Bell believes, with one possibility being that of universal reconciliation. But the video by no means inherently suggests or reveals Rob Bells view.

  42. All this ‘stuff’ got me curious, since I’m not familiar with Rob Bell. So I googled and found a 2006 sermon of his (FYI) @ “Love Wins”. Great message! (about 35 mins). Whether it will ‘match’ the book remains to be seen. Thanks.

  43. Greg Boyd, who endorsed Rob’s book, and also holds to Conditionalism, (aka, Conditional Immortality), has a new blog:
    Rob Bell is NOT a Universalist (and I actually read “Love Wins”).

    I haven’t read it yet, (just FYI), thanks!

  44. Errata – Greg Boyd mentions “Annihilationism” in the blog. It’s how he describes his view elsewhere too. While he may differ in some degree with others who hold to Conditionalism (aka, Conditional Immortality), the basic thrust would be the same.

    Greg Boyd sermon, Tormented by the Flames? (about 45 mins, Jan ’09).

    FYI–Rick C.–out.

  45. I can tell you sources inside MHBC that there is a growing concern from some at MHBC about Bell’s book: http://tiny.cc/l23aj

  46. A better read is McKnight’s final thoughts on the issue. Too bad, all can’t be as kind, gracious, and careful as Dr. McKnight.

    http://www.patheos.com/community/jesuscreed/2011/03/07/waiting-for-rob-bell-2/#more-14657

  47. Hold on, just one thought. If Rob Bell said

    “Heaven is full of forgiven people. Hell is full of forgiven people. Heaven is full of people God loves, whom Jesus died for. Hell is full of forgiven people God loves, whom Jesus died for. The difference is how we choose to live, which story we choose to live in, which version of reality we trust. Ours or God’s.” – p. 146 ”

    Then HE IS NOT A UNIVERSALIST. I guess he may have become one lately, but certainly that is NOT a universalist statement. He’s saying that THERE ARE PEOPLE IN HELL.

    What he is saying is that forgiveness is there for everyone.

    Actually the problem I would have with that statement is that it can be misconstrued as works-based salvation. But I don’t think that’s what he means by it either.

    Anyhoo, I thought I’d throw that in, this blog is the first I heard about the issue though so no thoughts on that, sorry.

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Friday Headlines & Links - Faith Experience - March 4, 2011

    […] Kevin White, Mere Orthodoxy The F Word and a Pious Proposal – William Griffin, High Calling Ben Witherington, Justin Taylor, John Piper, and the Rob Bell Circus – C. Michael Patton Why Did Jesus Have to Die? The Roman Perspective, Part 1 – Mark D. […]

  2. Morning Digest « Covenant and Confession - March 4, 2011

    […] The Rob Bell Circus — If you’re familiar with the world of theoblogy at all, you’ve probably heard about the recent controversy concerning the promo video for Rob Bell’s new book, Love Wins. I have chosen to reserve my opinions and prejudgments until I read the book, and I think Michael Patton’s thoughts most closely reflect my own at this point. […]

  3. [ad hoc] Christianity , Archive » Episode #10: Blogosphere roundup, March 9, 2011 - March 11, 2011

    […] with many prominent evangelicals? (A response to Justin Taylor)Michael Patton (Parchment and Pen): Ben Witherington, Justin Taylor, John Piper, and the Rob Bell CircusRichard Beck (Experimental Theology): Musings about Universalism, Part 1: What C.S. Lewis, N.T. […]

  4. Love Fails – Rob Bell, Hellgate, and the Ethics of Christian Conversation | Philosophical Fragments - March 11, 2011

    […] Mohler; Mark Galli of Christianity Today, Jason Boyett at Beliefnet; Tim Challies; Michael Patton; and many […]

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