In the span of about 24 hours, Rob Bell blew up on the internet last weekend. After a quote from his publisher and a personal video went online about his new book, Love Wins:A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived, blogs across the country went viral claiming the man had exposed himself fully as a heretical universalist by what seems to be his argument that God sends no one to Hell. You can view the quote and the video below:
“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.”
Personally, I’ve never been a huge fan of Rob Bell. I’ve never understood (1) why he’s famous in the first place and (2) why people flip out over his teachings. However, these recent events are beginning to sway me on the latter. The guy has a weekly attendance of over 10,000 people in his church, 50,000+ who listen in through podcast, as well as a handful of books that have been published. His approach to teaching is often controversial as he questions theological beliefs about Christianity to the point where it seems he’s gone off the deep end, but reels it back at the last minute to a safe zone of discussion. What really caused me to pay attention to this new situation was a tweet by John Piper last Saturday night.
“Farewell, Rob Bell.”
I found no humor in that statement when I read it. Rather, it sobered me up to the reality of the situation. Now, I don’t want to go on a diatribe about whether or not Rob Bell is a heretic. I would prefer to read his book before doing that, but he certainly isn’t helping himself through his publisher’s synopsis or his video. And it’s dishonest to claim that he isn’t teaching just because he’s asking questions.
My attention has been on the reaction of believers to the news. On one hand, I’m encouraged that people still recognize a false gospel and are willing to speak up about it. We should not take that lightly. I don’t in any way blame John Piper or anyone else who sees a false gospel for what it is and makes it explicitly known to be wayward. On the other hand, the online reactions have revealed to me what I can only think to call Liberal Christianity.
I cannot count the times I have read articles and blogs in which John Piper and Justin Taylor have been accused of heaping secular hatred upon the Christian faith due to their “mean” statements about Rob Bell’s new book. Over and over I have seen people call them religious idolaters and the reason is always something like this:
“Just because Rob Bell doesn’t preach the same thing you do (John Piper/Justin Taylor/anyone else saying it’s a false gospel) does not make him a heretic.”
The fundamental idiocy of these claims is that they miss the point entirely. Neither of these men are considering Bell’s words heresy because they disagree with their perspectives, but rather because they don’t line up with Scripture. Here’s a solid formula for you to follow:
If someone opposes the words of man, it’s a disagreement.
If someone opposes the words of God, it’s heresy.
Theological conviction posed in opposition to false gospel DOES NOT equal religious idolatry. And silence in the face of a false gospel DOES NOT equal love. It is especially the responsibility of these men in pastoral and shepherding positions to care for the flock and protect them from wolves at all times.
Have they jumped the gun by making these comments before the book has been released? Maybe, but Bell has given us plenty of reason to doubt this.
The evident grace is that it has opened people up to questions about Heaven and Hell. Thank God for that. But the Truth of Scripture is too precious to be used as bait on a string. Questioning such tremendously important pieces of the Christian faith without providing appropriate answers is irresponsible. Heretic or not, Rob Bell should know better.