Friday, March 25, 2011

Love Wins, Bell Loses

I’ve never wanted an author to be so right.

I’ve never seen an author be so wrong.

First, before we get into Bell’s teachings on hell that are at the center of this controversial new book, I want to point out some flaws in his thinking. On page 10 Bell is busy criticizing the evangelism methods that some Christians employ, and he says that the Bible never tells people to have a personal relationship with Jesus; Jesus didn’t say that, he points out, nor did Paul, Peter, John, James, or the woman who wrote Hebrews.

We do not know who wrote Hebrews. Many believe it was Paul, others, Barnabas. I have heard theories and opinions, but to matter-of-factly attribute the book to a woman like we know who wrote it is wrong. This might not seem like a big deal, but it flies in the face of the premise of his book, that we don’t know anything. On the opening page he blasts someone for asserting that Gandhi is in hell. His response: “He is? We have confirmation of this? Somebody knows this? Without a doubt?”

But beyond focusing on how he knows who wrote Hebrews, look at his first claim, that the Bible never tells us to have a personal relationship with Jesus. Well it certainly tells us what happens if we don’t have one. In Matthew 7:23 Jesus tells the people condemned to the real place called hell, “I never knew you.” It has been well reported that the word used for knew describes the most intimate relationship people can have with each other. In fact, it is the same word that is used when Adam knew Eve and she conceived a child (Genesis 4:1). So yes, salvation is based on a relationship with Jesus.

Not that it matters to Bell though. He makes it very clear that he does not believe the Bible teaches that we must do anything. Basing his arguments on endless, open-ended questions, he makes the case that some Christians have gotten the message wrong. I’ll agree with him there. But he attempts to make the case that Christianity is something that happens to us “unilaterally” and that God is not waiting for us to “get it together, to clean up, shape up, get up. God has already done it (p.189).”

Always the fan of a good paradox, Bell has insisted during his media blitz that he is not a universalist (a universalist believe all people go to heaven, no matter what); to further his point, his website insists that he is not a universalist. But yet in his book Bell writes “In spite of…what we’ve done, God has made peace with us. Done. Complete. As Jesus said, ‘It is finished’ (p.172)” He then uses several verses out of context to make his point that God forgave all sin at the cross, and that we don’t have to do anything—believe, repent, surrender, or any other biblical concept—we are just at peace with God.

Well if we are born automatically at peace with God “in spite of what we’ve done,” then who goes to heaven? Everyone. And that, Mr. Bell, is universalism. Why does he bend over backwards to not be called a universalist? Because everyone knows the Bible teaches something quite different.

On hell
Does Rob Bell believe in hell? Yes. But not hell like Jesus taught. No, he believes that hell is African genocide (p.71) and a cheating husband (p.73). But an actual place? No.

In this chapter Bell sets out to show that he believes that hell is simply choosing to live apart from God’s law, not the actual place that Jesus referred to eleven times. The word hell might just mean the poor choices we make in this life. Might. This is a whole book hinging on his might.

He says that Jesus uses hyperboles to make his points. It would be better to gouge out your eyes than to embrace the hell of destroying your marriage. If that is simply strong language that Jesus is using to make a point, then it is not that big of a stretch for him to make the rich man in Luke 16 a hyperbole as well. For the rich man, hell was not flames in the afterlife (although Bell ignores the fact that the rich man was “tormented in these flames”); hell was just the reality that he still doesn’t get it. He points out that the rich man’s request for Lazarus to bring him water shows that his heart is unchanged. He still thinks Lazarus should be serving him. No Mr. Bell, he wanted Lazarus to bring him water because he was tormented in the flames of a real hell!
If this story were nothing more than a gifted storyteller using graphic language, then Luke 16 would be a parable. The problem here is that this is not a parable. A parable, by definition, is an extended simile—a story that draws outs a comparison that uses the word like or as. “The kingdom of heaven is like…” “The kingdom of God is as…” Luke 16 doesn’t begin that way. Also, Jesus never used real names in His parables, and Lazarus is mentioned by name here. This was a real account of a real man in a real place with real flames. For the rich man, hell wasn’t a state of mind or a poor decision. Hell was a place of torment.

Bell dismisses hell based on the notion that a loving God would never send anyone there. Using arrogance and sarcasm, Bell implies that a God that would send people to hell would be torturing them, and this God should be rejected.

It is also clear that he does not believe that God is sovereign. His opening chapter asks dozens more hypothetical, open-ended questions , each mocking the Christian idea of people going to hell. “What if the missionary that was supposed to tell that person about Jesus has a flat tire?” “What if the 15 year old atheist who died was going to accept Christ on his 16th birthday?” And mocking the age of accountability, “Did the 15 year old only have a 3 year window to accept Christ, and now God will punish him for all eternity?”

(For information on the age of accountability, check out my newest book Asleep in Heaven’s Nursery here)

If Bell believed in the sovereignty of God then he wouldn’t ask questions like that. In God’s sovereignty He will give everyone a chance to accept Him.

Bell’s idolatry peeked through on page 182 when he said, “We shape our God, and then our God shapes us.” Not only has he shaped himself a god, he has shaped a theology that is more ear pleasing.

Which is more likely, that the church has been wrong for 2,000 years about hell and God has chosen Rob Bell to enlighten us, or that he is simply wrong? Well if God chose Bell then I think God would have given him a message that was clear, not endless questions to engage in an emergent-loving dialogue or conversation. What is more likely then, is that this is part of the great deception (Matthew 24:4-5), and that this is another gospel (Galatians 1:8).

Something interesting that I picked up on was Bell’s view of the earth. No, not his environmentalist agenda. I’ll get to that next. On five occasions he refers to the Genesis account as a poem. At first mention I found it curious, but then as he continually referred to the poem I became a little suspicious. Then I remembered on page 2 he referred to the earth as being tens of thousands of years old, and then he spoke of the earth as still “evolving” on page 145. It would appear to me, and I can’t prove this, that he believes the Genesis creation account is a poem not to be taken literally, and that the earth evolved over at least tens of thousands of years. You might think that is crazy.

So is a belief that hell isn’t real.

In Bell’s last book Jesus Wants to Save Christians he promoted his environmentalist agenda, and that theme was back in Love Wins. To sum up his beliefs (or what we infer his beliefs are based on yet another chapter of unanswerable questions and out-of-context verses), Bells believes that heaven will come on earth as we make it happen. In other words, once we make this earth into heaven, then heaven will be here. That is what happens when people misunderstand Jesus’ teachings on the kingdom of heaven.

Some places of the world don’t have access to water. According to Bell, once we get them water, we will be a little closer to heaven. I would like to ask him what place Jesus went to prepare for us, and if this earth becomes heaven as we build it, why did John write that this earth passes away and a new heaven and new earth come down? All that work for nothing?

Bell takes more verses out of context to show that God’s ultimate goal is to reconcile creation, not just mankind but plants too, back to Himself. That is why the environmentalism here is dangerous. He literally thinks that recycling and good soil rotation trump personal holiness and sanctification.

In the chapter called Does God Get What He Wants? Bell needs to be reminded of God’s permissive will. He basically says that God doesn’t want anyone to go to hell, which is true, but if people go to hell then God doesn’t get what He wants. “What kind of God is that?” he asks. The answer is a loving God that has given us a free will and the power to choose Him or reject Him. God doesn’t unilaterally force salvation on anyone.

There are other issues in this book where Bell tries to have it both ways. After making his point that there is no hell after this life, on page 117 he says that God will respect our choice if we want a life free from Him. The logical conclusion then would be that these people won’t go to heaven after they die, so hell is the alternative. This is doublespeak.

And for the record I should point out that God doesn’t send anybody to hell. Mr. Bell goes on and on about how he can’t believe in a God that would torture people in hell, but that is not how it works. The consequence of the Adamic nature—Adam’s choice to sin in his free will—is that we are all sinners separated from God. God is holy and we are not. So God doesn’t send anybody there; we are headed there because of our sin, and in His grace and mercy, He saves all who choose to put their trust in Him.

I can’t let this review end without mentioning his presence at an Eminem concert in 2010.
He was there.
In attendance.
With Shady.

And because old Slim is wearing a cross necklace, Bell wonders out loud if he has been reconciled to God. Never mind the fact that Captain F Word’s new album is just as filthy as all of his others. What pastor would ever be in attendance at an Eminem concert? Even my liberal friends will have a hard time justifying that.

But all the problems with Bell’s theology (his first three books, Velvet Elvis: Repainting the Christian Faith, Sex God: Exploring the Endless Connections Between Sexuality and Spirituality, and Jesus Wants to Save Christians all displayed bad theology in some form) are revealed in a statement he made on page 114. He said that “it’s important that we don’t get too hung up on details [of the Bible].”But just a few pages later on 132-134 he employs a ridiculous Bible-algebra formula to come to a bizarre conclusion about God’s ultimate motive of reconciling plant life.

Here’s the point: he urges us not to concentrate on the black and white details of the Bible (like all good emergent leaders), but yet he can play Sherlock Holmes if it helps promote his agenda. His Easter egg hunt Bible study methods are dangerous.

There is so much more I can say, for this book had many more false statements. But suffice it to say that this would not have survived an early church book burning.

That is, of course, if there was literal fire at those book burnings.


Amy said...

Very well stated! I totally agree. I talked to a homeless man one time that said he belived he was living in hell right now - as I gave him free breakfast. I felt sorry for him and I feel sorry foe Bell.

Tommy Mann said...

Thank you Amy. Its is heartbreaking to think that people think this is hell because hell is so much worse than this. It should remind us to work even harder to spread the gospel.

CrossKeysMom said...

I think I'll go have a dozen literal doughnuts with a million figurative sugar grams... I think I might like this theology...

CrossKeysMom said...

Internal inconsistency abounds as you have pointed out, Tommy.

From the Mars Hill website: When we put to words what we believe about God, we discover that he has been writing a story of hope and redemption for all the world. His story is a movement from creation to new creation, and he has given us a role to play in that story, in the restoration of our relationships with God, each other, ourselves, and creation.

So do we have a relationship with God or not? And why must that relationship need restoration? What caused the rift in the first place? And do we have a 'role to play' in our redemption or not? According to Bell's book, we do nothing. Some two-bit role. Guess we're all just 'extras.'

Some of the 'extras'... gossips, murderers, rapists, child abusers, cheaters, adulterers, & you. Obviously redemption is needed, and while God delivered the verdict and the sentence, He also sent the Deliverer, Jesus Christ to whom me MUST actively, positively, and Biblically respond if redemption is to be the result. Yes, Bell, we do have a role.

From the website: The Spirit of God affirms as children of God all those who trust Jesus.

The logical question that goes unanswered in Mars Hills' theology (and Bell's book) is what about those who don't trust Christ? Tommy, you pointed out that doublespeak in your blog.

God is not the author of confusion. Satan is. Rob Bell certainly is a confused author who has written a confusing theology... wonder who his mentor is?

Tommy Mann said...


That all makes sense, and no one can accuse you of just repeating what you've heard. You have certainly done your homework.

Where can I get this figurative sugar?

Anonymous said...

Indeed, it does not seem like a big deal that Bell refers to the author of Hebrews as a woman. It's a detail that is not important enough to dwell on in this type of book.

(Sorry, I didn't read any more of your post.)

Tommy Mann said...


You should have read more before you made your comment. You would have realized that I did not dwell on the author of Hebrews. It was a weird thing for Bell to write, but 99% of what Bell writes is weird. Just establishing a case for the double standards in his writing.

He says we can’t know anything for sure, and even though no one knows who wrote Hebrews, somehow Bell knows for sure.

Jason M. said...

Found your blog from the gungor blog. Excellent blog that states specific reasons why Bell's views are wrong instead of opinions and rubbish. I appreciate the time you took to study the Word in depth to come to your conclusions. Keep up the studying!

@ Anonymous... You have only proven my opinion of most emergent followers. Instead of reading the entire blog and commenting biblical evidence for your case, you resorted to obnoxious bullying. I'm curious to know your thoughts on Bells book and view of hell.

Tommy Mann said...

Jason M.

Thanks for the comment, and glad you found us.

Anonymous said...

First of all, I want to make it very clear that I am in no way trying to start an argument or rebuke what you have stated. I agree with several of your comments and just wanted to add my "food for thought". I do not proclaim to be knowledgeable in these matters.

First, a little bit of my background in religion, I have been to about every "Christian church" you can think of, in search of the truth of the Bible.
My conclusion is that I have absolutely NO doubts that God (the almighty one)
Exists (Psalms 83:18 (KJV) That men may know that thou, whose name alone is Jehovah, art the most high over all the earth.) and that He is the author of the Bible.
I have, however found that so many churches (in fact every single one in my community with the exception of the one I have just started attending) claiming to be Christian accept hypocrisy, or something contrary to Biblical teaching, in the church.

So, in essence, in trying to find the truth, they have actually discouraged me, but my faith in God pushes me on to try to find the truth in what He is trying to get across to all of us. I want to live for God and have a desire to know him, (Matthew 5:3) but I know that it takes more than merely believing or having faith in him. (James 2:26)
{James 2:26 (NKJV) For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also.}
I know that action is required on my part, and maybe that is what I am trying to do here, I don’t know.

The Trinity (Scriptural?)
In my quest for my own salvation there are things that the church(es) have tried to teach me and I either can’t understand their way of teaching OR I cannot accept it. I believe that God is the Almighty God, and Jesus is His Son, and that the Holy Spirit is here to guide us (or at least exists) But I cannot accept the Trinity Doctrine. This is something that I have tried time and again to understand but there are so many scriptures that show the Father is Greater than the Son (John 14:28) and the Son prayed to God (Matthew 26:36) and Jesus was tempted by the devil (Matthew 4:1)(Logically, God could never be tempted) There are so many more scriptures I could site (in context) here.
My conclusion: Jesus and God just can not be the same being. I do however know that they are in union with one another, just as all Christians should be in union, with the same purpose.

Anonymous said...

Then we get into the Is Hell for Real? Issue.
(My search for this, that continues, is how I stumbled across your blog) I don’t know of Bell or his writing and Frankly, don’t care. I can see by your description (even though it is biased) that it would not be something truthful, and a waste of my time in reading.
So onto my thoughts, yes, just my thoughts, again, I am not trying to claim to knowledgeable in the matter, just curious.
I do believe God is Sovereign and give everyone the chance to know him and accept him and His Son, Jesus. (Free Will)
BUT, it is hard for me to believe that He, the God that IS LOVE would create a literal burning Hell for tormenting those who do not choose to follow him. To go along with your Adamic-Nature thought, we do all Sin. {(Romans 5:12)(KJV)
Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned:}
BUT, here is where I differ from your view, The Wages of Sin is Death (Romans 6:23)
So, what I am to believe is that when I die, and of course being judged by God, my sins have been wiped away with my death. I am going to add here that I do NOT believe I have to do nothing and can enjoy my time here however I wish, and when I die my sins are wiped away, b/c this would contradict other scriptures. I do know that Only God (or maybe Jesus is the judge?) will judge my heart condition, but the Bible never says that if I sin or keep sinning, I will go to hell and be tormented. It says that the wages of sin is death.

Just as God told Adam that if he ate of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, he would surely die. For dust he was and dust he will return. (Genesis 3:19) He did not tell Adam he was going to punish him by a tormenting hell, but that he would die, he will no longer exist. (Ecclesiastes 9:5 says that (KJV) For the living know that they shall die: but the dead know not any thing, neither have they any more a reward; for the memory of them is forgotten.
Since Adam and Eve sinned, it has passed on to all of human kind, we are all sinners and all shall die.

I have many more thoughts on this topic, but know I am running a little long here, so I would really like for you to “debate”, if you will, on this matter and I will look at your views with an open-mind.

Thank You -Searching for the Truth

Anonymous said...

Please do not confuse me (the last two posts) with the anonymous written on April 2.
After this, I will refer to myself as Searching for the Truth

Tommy Mann said...

Searching for the Truth,
I’m glad you stumbled upon this blog, and don’t worry, I won’t confuse you with the 1st Anonymous. You have raised some tough questions about explaining the Trinity and the reality of hell. I personally believe that Scripture teaches that both are real.

You are very right that Jesus said that the Father was greater than He, and Jesus was tempted, and even died, which are things that cannot be attributed to God. The best way to understand the seeming discrepancies is to keep in mind the duality of Christ, in that Jesus was fully God and fully man at the same time. A man could not have given sight to the blind, but God could not have died. Jesus was the perfect God-man while on earth. That’s why the Bible says He was tempted, yet without sin. He was tempted as a man, but as God He could resist temptation every time. And as a man, Jesus would certainly be lesser than the Father.

A person cannot rule out the Trinity based on those verses while overlooking verses where Jesus says that He and the Father are one. Jesus also forgave sin and accepted worship, which are two things that only God can do. His very name Immanuel means “God with us.” All three members of the Trinity are seen together at Creation and at the baptism of Jesus. Also consider that the Hebrew Elohim means “the Gods,” not just God.

With all of that said, this is still a very difficult concept to wrap my mind around. So is the existence of hell.

Tommy Mann said...

One thing we have to remember about hell is that it was never intended for humanity, but was created for the devil and his demons. Once Adam and Eve chose to sin, they in essence chose to follow Satan instead of God, which is the same decision the demons once made, and was even the same decision that Lucifer himself made. It would only make sense that hell would be their natural punishment.

You raise a very good point about the wages of sin being death with no mention of hell. However, the Bible teaches about two kinds of death. For those of us who have put our faith in Jesus, the Bible says that we pass from death to life. One day my heart will stop and my body will die, but my spirit will live on. But in Revelation 20:14 the Bible says that death and hell will be cast into the lake of fire, and that is the second death. So the wages of sin is not the stopping of a beating heart, but a sentence in the lake of fire.

I might have misunderstood you, but my sins will not be wiped away by my death. My sins are wiped away because I have confessed them and repented, which is the promise of I John 1:9. The ones who never confessed (literally “agree with God”) their sin will stand before Jesus on Judgment Day as one who has rejected Him.

Rob Bell and others like him try to make the case that hell is not eternal, but Jesus used the same Greek word to also refer to heaven. So by their logic if hell is not eternal than neither is heaven, and I have never met a Christian who didn’t believe in a literal, eternal heaven.

If you do not believe that hell is real then I would suggest reading Luke 16, which describes a man in hell who is “tormented in flames.” He is not annihilated, he doesn’t cease to exist, and hell is not a state of mind or regret for him. He is literally standing in flames, fully aware of what is going on, and the words of Abraham back to him show that he is not going anywhere for a while.

As much as I do not want to believe in hell, the Bible, especially Jesus, teaches it. That is what motivates me to study, write, and preach the way that I do. People call me a legalist and Pharisee all the time, but I don’t care because I believe that hell is real. Jesus told His disciples to pray that God would send more workers to do His work, and He left them the Great Commission to make disciples of all nations. Why would He have done that if there were no hell?

As for God being a loving God, He can still love even if people go to hell. God is perfectly balanced in all things. God is both love and wrath, merciful and just, patient and vengeful. Because of this, He can show unconditional love and be a just judge at the same time. His own holiness demands that He punishes sin; if He doesn’t, then He is no longer just. If He allows unrepentant sinners into heaven, then He is no longer holy.

I am sorry for the troubles you have experienced with church. There will not be a perfect church until we worship together in heaven, and sadly, most are far from perfect. I hope you don’t let the shortcomings of those churches keep you from the One that church is really about. I agree, the church is full of hypocrites. The hospitals are full of sick people, and those sick people are exactly where they need to be. Those hypocrites need church just like the rest of us.

I hope this has been helpful to you, and I look forward to hearing back. Please know, though, that I am not writing this because I want to be right about these things; I just want to know the truth, and I firmly believe that this is what the Bible teaches.

Jason said...

I find it intriguing that Rob Bell takes ideas of a belief system, puts them under a microscope, and is condemned as a heretic and hypocrite. Is it so much easier for us to believe in a god of eternal damnation that a god of eternal love and grace? Does it appease our souls more to think that billions from the dawn of time until the dusk of time will "burn" for an endless amount of time based on the short years they had on this ball of mud?

Am I saying that all of Bell's controversial material is legitimate? I'm doing my own heartfelt research, but it amazes me how "god-fearing" men and women slam their foot and throw up their fists in anger at such statements. It reminds me of Martin Luther's writings of the Catholic Church, the spark of a reformation that lead to what many "mainstream believers" believe today. We call Catholicsm a religion of idol worship, empty prayers, controversial for their monetary payments for penance, and corrupt in their thinking and acting.

Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is —his good, pleasing and perfect will. - Rom 12:2

Tommy Mann said...

Thank you for your comment Jason,

There is nothing wrong with asking questions, but we must also work hard to fight against heresy, or as the Bible puts it, "contend for the faith."

If you are doing heartfelt research, then please let me suggest Erasing Hell by Fancis Chan and God Wins by Mark Galli.

Galli's premise is that God's justice also wins. Bell refers to African genocide--but what if the evildoers are never brought to justice? Is that love/ Hardly.

God is both love and just. If God fails to bring the unrepentant to justice than He is not just, violating His own holiness, and not loving to the victims, such as the victims of rape, genocide, or abuse.