Bell Tells Hell Farewell

Mar 17

…as pastors quell Bell who they claim fell and yell that they smell very well what he sells.

What the shell? (that’s the only other word I could think of that rhymes)

For me, the question is: Where the hell does Rob Bell stand? Hahahaha.

A lot of controversy surrounds Rob Bell’s new book, and thanks to friends who have kept me in the loop (I have to rely on them, since I never got into Nooma, his books, or Bell himself), I’ve done my share of thinking about it.

Without reading his book, and just judging by the interviews I’ve heard from him since he wrote his latest book, here’s what I conclude Rob Bell believes: If you’re an all-around nice person (i.e. obeying the golden rule, etc.), it doesn’t matter so much whether you believe that Jesus is the “Savior of the world” or not. After all, if you’re being kind to people like Jesus taught, you are actually bringing heaven to earth like Jesus wants you to. In the end, that’s really what matters to Jesus, not your religious affiliation. So don’t worry about all the nice people out there who have never heard of Jesus or all those nice people out there who refuse to believe He’s the savior of the world. They’re nice people–they will have made the world a little more like heaven, showing that they belong to heaven, regardless of their religious affiliation. Those who are not nice to people on earth are trying to make earth more like hell. They won’t succeed, because the power of love is stronger than their efforts. All they will be able to do is make their own life on earth more hellish. If you truly love people, it doesn’t matter what they try to do to make your life hell, they won’t be able to. In the end, those people who are trying to make life on earth more hellish will realize that it was a losing battle. They will then be forced to admit they were wrong and give in to the side of love.

Two questions to consider now: Is this really what the Bible teaches? Is this really what Rob Bell teaches?

Perhaps I’m wrong about what Bell believes. However, I think you’ll have a much easier time proving that the Bible doesn’t teach this than you will trying to prove that Rob Bell doesn’t teach this.


  1. I realized Rob Bell was out to lunch when I read “Jesus Wants To Save Christians” only to discover the salvation Bell was pushing was a left wing Gospel of social change. His view on the doctrine of the atonement–that if God allowed Jesus to die as a substitute for our sin, He is guilty of child abuse. In my opinion, THIS is where he got off the Gospel train.

    Bell’s God would be a bigot to confine some to hell and others to heaven. But that misses the point. WE CHOOSE HELL for ourselves by refusing to get off the throne of our lives. I like what CS Lewis wrote: “If we don’t say to God ‘Thy will be done’ in this life, He will say to us ‘thy will be done’ in eternity.”

    The problem with Bell and so many of his Emergent friends is they re-define God to fit their own cultural sensibilities. If we start from ourselves and work outward, basically we are playing the role of God, aren’t we?

  2. That sounds very convoluted, I agree with John that the truth is a lot of people actually choose to go to Hell. They don’t really need God to send them there–they’ll go willingly, even run, anything to get out of God’s presence who they can’t abide any more than God could theirs.

    I personally believe the story of Jesus needs to be told to as many people as possible. It doesn’t have to be about worrying that the lost are going to hell or feeling guilty that we may not be doing our part. The story just has to be told. It’s like this burning inner compulsion. We who follow Christ long to share and the world longs to hear.

  3. I think it’s also important to remember that most people think they aren’t going to hell when Jesus says that most people are indeed on the wide road leading to destruction. I think it can sometimes misleading to say that people choose hell, when most people are convinced they have chosen heaven. There are very few people out there who would say, “I choose hell.”

  4. This is the bottom line for me: Maybe everyone ends up in heaven. I would love that. However, it’s too much of a risk for us to take. Like Nanda said, the story of Jesus needs to be told, regardless.

    I don’t think it’s very responsible of us, as Christians, to take a chance that everyone’s going to end up in heaven anyway and thus not focus on spreading the message of salvation.

    That being said, I am not trying to appear like a great evangelist. Most if not all of the people I interact with daily are church-going believers so I am certainly not following my own advice….yet, anyway.

  5. Point well taken, Tim. What I was driving at is what Fernanda alluded to: that by resisting God and running from His class on their life, people aresetting themselves up for an eternity without God ie he’ll. Certainly, everyone would like to go to heaven. But NOBODY wants to die to themselves—except those who experience a revelation of the cross. Those who are broken on the rock versus those who are ground to powder. From God’s perspective, all those who go to into an eternity separated from Him choose to. Man’s persecutive is so clouded by sin that none would ever admit the truth. Yet I believe ALL he’ll dwellers are those who shout NO to God in there hearts every time He calls them to repent and believe.

  6. Sorry for the mega typos. My itouch screen is too small to go back and edit!

  7. I actually think in this case, referring to heaven and hell can get confusing. People tend to think of those as geographical locations somewhere in the Cosmos with heaven being the “nice place for good people” and hell being the “awful place for bad people.”

    The truth is salvation is about spending eternity with God. In order to be able to spend eternity with God, you have to become like God in the sense that you follow Him and allow Him to transform your life, your being, and essentially make you into His image.

    If instead you set yourself against God in your life, resist Him at every turn, you are not going to be able or willing to spend eternity with Him. Nor is He going to be able/willing to spend it with you. It’s more like it just can’t be done. People in this position may still think they are going to heaven (the nice place for good people), but they mean something different by “heaven” than the being with God for ever part that we Christians mean.

    When it comes down to brass tacks, it’s pretty clear what needs to be done: Go out and preach the Gospel, tell the story of Jesus, bring people to Christ. Pray for God to send laborers into the field (because the harvest is ripe) and then don’t be too shocked when He calls you out.

    • Very well said. I agree wholeheartedly! Well done!

    • I think Rob Bell is questioning what it means to resist God or follow Him. I think he asserts that those who are generally good people in the world are not “resisting God at every turn,” regardless of whether they put their faith in Christ or not.

      • Yes, and I have found what at first glance appears to be a bit of ambivalence in the Gospels about this. In one place Jesus is telling His disciples “Whoever is not for me is against me.” In a different place He is saying: “Whoever is not against us is for us.”

        Without even going into where people are going after they die, I think we all know about how destructive the well intentioned actions of “generally good people” can be. People who cooperated with Hitler and company during WWII were “generally good people.” Many of them thought they were doing what was best–they weren’t the ones sending the Jews to the gas chambers.

        As a generally good person myself, I think it’s disingenuous to all my fellow generally good people to leave them in the dark and take the risk that their general goodness won’t actually come back to bite them (or someone else). I mean, come on, we all want to be truly good people who actually consistently do good in this world, not have the vague sinking feeling that our innate goodness could be manipulated and turned to evil by the truly evil ones in the world.

        I think if you have a problem with the assertion that everyone who doesn’t consciously choose for Christ is going to hell, then leave it out and just talk to them about Jesus. Jesus didn’t bring it up in every conversation either. People like Bell et al should spend their energy preaching about Jesus and trying to bring as many to Him as possible instead of trying to draw these fine distinctions or whatever it is he’s doing that sounds incredibly confusing and at the very least not worth most people’s time. They should express their confusions to people in their lives who can be trusted to hep them work through it.

  8. Tim, I came across the following link in my blog reader tonight and wanted to share it with you. It’s from several years ago…so who knows how Bell’s views have changed, but it might bring some perspective here. It doesn’t deal with Hell, but does shed some more light on his values (and since he’s hard to nail down, I’ll take what I can get).

    I should admit that back in the day I listened to Bell’s weekly messages quite a bit. Eventually I got busy and stopped and since then have focused my attention elsewhere.

    I got his new book the other day, so I’ll read it and try to make heads or tails of it. I’m skeptical though, because I’m assuming it will be rather vague. The frustrating thing is that all he needs to do is give us some straight talk and it would help immensely. I think the vagueness just polarizes the discussion more.

    Also, at the end of the hour long talk/interview he did the other night, he said he wasn’t a theologian or a scholar. Critics may agree (lol), but I thought that was disingenuous. People look to him in that way and because of that I believe he should take some responsibility in that regard.

    With all of that said, I’m sympathetic to Bell because I’ve gotten a lot out of his teaching in the past and I actually like the fact that he challenges our conventional ways of thinking. At this point I’m not convinced he’s WAY out there…but it also would not surprise me if he’s across the line (whatever line that is…). Of course, I need to read the book to get a more full perspective.

    Sorry for the long, rambling post. I guess you deserve it after all the ones you left me!

    • Hey Erik,

      Thanks for the link. Uh yeah, I think I’ve left many ramblers up to this point. 🙂

      I’m not one to try to uncover heresy under every stone–I actually think that’s generally a waste of time. However, there were a couple of statements in that clip that made me question what exactly he means. I think that’s because I’ve spent the past 8 years in the Methodist Church, and have learned that people mean different things when they say the same thing. For example, a Mormon would say, “I believe Jesus is the Savior of the world, and there’s no other savior except Him.” While I agree with that statement, I know that I don’t agree with what the Mormon actually means by that statement.

      I question what Rob Bell means in that video when he states what he believes about the Bible. I know many Methodists who would say the exact same thing, but what they mean by “God-inspired” and “authoritative” is different than what you might expect. For example, in regards to my conversations with my former pastor about what the Bible says about certain issues (such as homosexuality), the response I was given was: “But Jesus didn’t say anything about homosexuality. I know that the Bible does in certain places, but Christians don’t worship the Bible, we worship Jesus. Putting the Bible in the same place as God is idolatry…” (just like Bell said in that clip). In addition, I found it curious that Bell said, “Jesus is the only way I know of.” That’s also something I heard in my former context.

      By the way, I’d be happy if everyone ends up in heaven and no one ends up in hell (I know Bell doesn’t believe that will happen), but I just want to say on the record that the point of this is not because I love hell or enjoy the idea of people going there. In fact, it is one of the most troubling aspects of the Christian faith, IMO. But I am leery of those who would try to make it less troubling.

      I think much of this controversy is based on the fact that Christians have historically placed much more emphasis on the afterlife than this life, and Bell is trying to swing the pendulum the other way.

      • “I think much of this controversy is based on the fact that Christians have historically placed much more emphasis on the afterlife than this life, and Bell is trying to swing the pendulum the other way.”

        That puts a different perspective on it. I actually like the idea of considering more what following Jesus means for us right here and now. Sometimes I think people view becoming a Christian as some sort of afterlife insurance policy and I think that’s a very limited way to look at it.

        • I agree with you about afterlife insurance policy thing. I think most people who are disappointed with Bell’s statements also agree with you.

      • Great insight, Tim. Your experiences in other churches brings a great perspective to the discussion.

        I also agree with your last paragraph that Fernanda already quoted. The problem with swinging pendulums though is that often it doesn’t just rest at the bottom…it just swings way to far in the opposite direction.

        On my blog the other day you made a statement that I’ve been quoting to people as they ask me about it. You said, “I’m afraid that people like Rob Bell encourage us to look at the Bible differently, when most of us aren’t looking at the Bible at all.”

        I think that’s the biggest concern I have here. My hope is people take the time to actually consider the issues being raised and don’t just run with whatever is being presented.

        • Hey Erik,

          Obviously, I too share that concern. I do think very few people currently have a solid understanding of Scripture before reading his book (or anyone else’s book).

          I also recognize the concern of blasting someone’s beliefs w/out ever having had a conversation with the person. I feel more comfortable talking about my personal experiences with my pastor/church than some pastor I’ve never been in relationship with (Rob Bell). All I can base my concerns are on the several video clips I’ve recently watched. I think it’s great that you’re going to read the book. Maybe that should be the mantra for all of this:

          What does Rob Bell teach? Read the book.
          What does the Bible teach? Read the Book.

        • “I’m afraid that people like Rob Bell encourage us to look at the Bible differently, when most of us aren’t looking at the Bible at all.”

          What a great quote! When it comes to Theology, I think people will always have their disagreements and for the most part that’s OK.

          The key is whether or not you actually do look at the Bible and that you allow what you read there to seriously challenge you, not just your beliefs, but the way you live your life. I think if you have that attitude, you and God can easily get sorted out and on the same page about what you believe. If you don’t have that attitude, then it doesn’t matter if you believe everything 100% correct if you don’t live it.

  9. You guys mentioned long rambles. OK—let me give it a go!

    I had a chance to listen to the link Erik submitted. Apparently at the time he spoke, he had just finished his first book-“Velvet Elvis”. I read Velvet Elvis and really liked it. I didn’t really get to worked up when at one point in the book he wrote his soon-to-be-controversial statement regarding the virgin birth as follows:

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

    I let that go because he asked “what if?” and didn’t try and give an answer. THIS IS THE ATTRACTION of Rob Bell, along with the fact that he probably has a genius IQ. He attracts us because he raises questions and invites us to dig deep and find the answers for ourselves.

    In the Reformation, there was a return to scripture as the authoritative means by which we were to measure all of life and all of conduct. Not everyone agreed then nor since on how this was to be worked out, and exactly how the Bible was to be interpreted on finer points.But there WAS a radical commitment the same standard. There was a sense of believing in OBJECTIVE truth that judged us all. What the emergent church is drifting into (and has actually been present in high philosophical circles since Rene Descarte) is the belief that truth is SUBJECTIVE, and in a very real sense cannot be absolutely known at all.

    Rob Bell, Brian McLaren and others in the Emergent Church are simply articulating in a fresh voice the tenets of liberal theology ie liberal Christianity, which has been around since the 18th century.

    HERE is a WIKIPEDIA summation of liberal theology/Christianity:
    “Liberal Christianity does not claim to be a belief structure, and as such is not dependent upon any Church dogma or creedal statements. Unlike conservative varieties of Christianity, it has no unified set of propositional beliefs. The word liberal in liberal Christianity denotes a characteristic willingness to interpret scripture without any preconceived notion of inerrancy of scripture or the correctness of Church dogma.”

    It sounds good on the surface. But it leads to all kinds of problems, and as Tim pointed out, to a whole gamut of re-definitions of everything from who Jesus is to what salvation is to what the Gospel is to what evangelism is etc.

    Bell really does fit the liberal theology mold. He would hate to hear that, and would refuse any label. But it is uncanny how predictable his teaching is once you understand the way liberal theologians think.

    Read “A New Kind of Christianity” by Brian McLaren and see how many re-definitions you find. McLaren has had a big influence on Bell. These men are very captivating in the way they repackage and redefine the truth.

    • John, because I like to ramble, I will never discourage anyone else from rambling. I often find that as I ramble, it’s like I’m thinking out loud (which is sometimes scary, because you might want to take some of it back later). But I find it very helpful in processing through my thoughts. Unfortunately, others have to wade through it too, haha.

      I agree with you that much, if not all, of the debate between “liberal” Christians and evangelical Christians is how one views Scripture.

      Unlike most conservative Christians, I’ve always been tolerant with people’s different opinions on how to view Scripture as long as they don’t mess with the Gospel. However, my recent experiences did cause me to realize how much the Gospel is tied to Scripture. It seems that those who hold loosely to Scripture somewhere down the line end up loosening their convictions of the Gospel as well–and to me that’s the real problem with a weaker view of Scripture. If someone continues holding on tightly to the Gospel truth as presented in all of Scripture, how they feel about the rest of Scripture is not as concerning to me comparatively (although it still is important to me).

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