In 2003, I was a college student in Romania in need of some encouragement from pastors and teachers back in the U.S. An American pastor friend of mine recommended I listen to the preaching of two pastors: Rob Bell and James MacDonald. (Amazing that just eight years ago the ministries of these two men were seen as complementing each another!)

I downloaded dozens of Rob’s sermons from his early years at Mars Hill. I liked his preaching style and enjoyed his sermons from Leviticus. His most memorable message, “The Goat Has Left the Building,” ended with a powerful illustration of the truth that Christ bears our sins.

Two years later, I was less impressed with Rob’s teaching. I read Velvet Elvis as charitably as I could, but I was concerned by some of Rob’s affirmations. Rob likes to ask questions that appear to lead in one direction; he then pulls back and says something more akin to Christian teaching. (The “virgin birth” section, for example.)

The last time I listened to a Rob Bell sermon was in 2006. Rob had come under criticism because some were saying he denied that Jesus is the only way to God. Answering the criticism, Rob told his congregation: Let me set the record straight. Jesus is our only way. After that, I tuned out. “Jesus is our only way?” That was Rob’s way of having his cake and eating it too. He sidestepped the question in a way designed to deflect criticism, but leave the door open for pluralism.

Is Bell a Universalist?

In 2008, I read The God Who Smokes: Scandalous Meditation on Faith by Timothy Stoner. In the book, Tim recounts a conversation with some friends about Rob’s view of people without Christ:

“Okay,” I said, “I get that it is important to listen to other ‘stories.’ I get it that other points of view need to be given dignity. And I agree. But” – and here I took a breath for dramatic effect – “at the end of the day, is Rob saying that there are other stories that can lead to God? Is he just creatively repeating that old line from the 1900’s that led to the split between liberals and fundamentalists? Does he believe, down deep, that those who sincerely follow other roads, who pursue justice and compassion, even though they reject Jesus, will be saved?”

There was the moment of silence that inevitably follows explosive verbal gambits. What I didn’t expect was the fervor of the response.

In our small coterie, there was a young man who knew Rob personally. He had been a founding member of his church, had served in leadership roles, and so was on a first-name basis with him. After that split-second of quiet, he blurted out, “Of course that’s what he believes!”

The statement was not to be derogatory. It was an affirmation…

Rob’s newest book, Love Wins, promises to tackle the heaven/hell issue. The promo video is classic Bell: provocative, edgy, designed to start discussion.

Until the book comes out, I don’t think we can accurately label Rob a “universalist.” Based on Rob’s tendency to ask edgy questions and then pull back, I expect that somewhere in the book, Rob will affirm that people who don’t want to be part of God’s kingdom won’t be forced to. In the end, Rob will land somewhere between optimistic inclusivism (most everyone will be saved) and universalism (all will be saved).

Rob’s optimistic inclusivism will lead to a redefinition of Christian teaching. I suspect that in the book Rob will redefine evangelism as telling people what is already true about them (that they are forgiven, God is not angry). Conversion will be refashioned as “coming to terms with your state of forgiveness. Salvation from God is about realizing that you don’t need to be saved from God.

The Attractiveness of the Judgmentless “Gospel”

Whenever theological discussions like this erupt, it’s always a good idea to think about why certain views are popular. One of the six counterfeits I discuss in Counterfeit Gospels is “The Judgmentless Gospel” and in that chapter, I point out three reasons why it is attractive:

1. It removes an emotional barrier to Christianity.

Let’s face it. One reason we are attracted to this counterfeit is because it helps us get past a significant emotional barrier to sharing our faith. If we remove the obstacle and offense of eternal judgment, we will be in a better position to make Christianity more palatable to a society that has no room for judgment in its understanding of God.

Unfortunately, when we downplay or deny judgment, we lose one of the reasons to share our faith in the first place. Our desire to remove the obstacle actually removes the urgency.

2. It eases our conscience.

Another reason this counterfeit is attractive is that it eases our conscience when we fail to evangelize. It would take a load off my shoulders to affirm, along with Origen, that all will eventually be saved, including the devil. But the Bible doesn’t let me go down that road. Adopting the counterfeit also helps us deal emotionally with the fact that we have unsaved friends and family members who have died. We don’t want to imagine that Grandpa may be in hell. Downplaying judgment helps us cope.

3. It keeps us from having to come face to face with our own evil.

Most of us in the West have been shielded from the atrocities of humanity. If we were to have experienced Cambodia’s killing fields, or Auschwitz, or Rwanda, we might be more concerned about justice. Os Guinness quotes Winston Churchill as saying that the evidence that God exists was “the existence of Lenin and Trotsky, for whom a hell was needed.”

Once we admit that justice is necessary, we open the door for our own sins to be dealt with. Perhaps this gospel is attractive because there is a part of us that would like to suppress justice rather than admit justice and thus indict ourselves.

The Beauty of the Biblical Gospel

In the end, though, the judgmentless gospel is no gospel at all. It leaves us with a diminished God and no need for grace:

Take away the notion of judgment and you rob Christianity of any hope of satisfying our longing for justice, a longing built into us from our just and wise God. The judgmentless gospel fails to deal with the problem of evil and the detrimental way that we humans treat each other (and by extension, God). Once we take away judgment, we lose the gravity of our sin. Once we lose sight of our sinfulness, we short-circuit our experience of the powerful gratitude that comes from receiving grace.

What the judgmentless gospel leaves us with is a one-dimensional God – a sappy, sanitized deity that we can easily manage. He nods and winks at our behavior, much like a kind elderly man who is not seriously invested in our lives. But the evil of our world is much too serious for us to view God as a pandering papa.

The picture of God in the Bible is much more satisfying. He is angry because he is love. He looks at the world and sees the trafficking of innocent girls, the destructive use of drugs, the genocidal atrocities in Africa, the terrorist attacks that keep people in perpetual fear, and he – out of love for the creation that reflects him as creator – is rightfully and gloriously angry. Real love always wants the best for the beloved.

The God who is truly scary is not the wrathful God of the Bible, but the god of the judgmentless gospel, who closes his eyes to the evil of this world, shrugs his shoulders, and ignores it in the name of “love.” What kind of “love” is this? A god who is never angered at sin and who lets evil go by unpunished is not worthy of worship.

The problem isn’t that the judgmentless God is too loving; it’s that he’s not loving enough.

I pray that Rob will once again preach the glories of the God who truly loves, the God who upholds his own glory at all costs, the God who loves us despite our sin, the God who takes on flesh and dies for us in order that we might find eternal satisfaction in him. In the words of Tim Stoner, Holy love wins:

… The love that wins is a holy love.

The love that won on the cross and wins the world is a love that is driven, determined, and defined by holiness.

It is a love that flows out of the heart of a God who is transcendent, majestic, infinite in righteousness, who loves justice as much as he does mercy; who hates wickedness as much as he loves goodness; who blazes with a fiery, passionate love for himself above all things.

He is Creator, Sustainer, Beginning and End.

He is robed in a splendor and eternal purity that is blinding.

He rules, he reigns, he rages and roars, then bends down to whisper love songs to his creatures.

His love is vast and irresistible.

It is also terrifying, and it will spare no expense to give everything away in order to free us from the bondage of sin, purifying for himself a people who are devoted to his glory, a people who have “no ambition except to do good”.

So he crushes his precious Son in order to rescue and restore mankind along with his entire creation.

He unleashes perfect judgment on the perfectly obedient sacrifice and then pulls him up out of the grave in a smashing and utter victory.

He is a God who triumphs…

He is a burning cyclone of passionate love.

Holy love wins.

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Comments:


87 thoughts on “Rob Bell and the Judgmentless “Gospel”: Holy Love Wins”

  1. Greg Belser says:

    Once again, Trevin, you have powerfully and charitably spoken the truth. Holy love wins indeed, at a cost beyond measure. No one has the right to tell God that He is not “…just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.”

  2. Christiane says:

    I found this in a commentary on a scripture about Mercy overcoming Judgement and there is something in it that shines for me:

    “Mercy, so far from fearing judgment in the case of its followers, actually glorifieth against it, knowing that it cannot condemn them. Not that their mercy is the ground of their acquittal, but the mercy of God in Christ towards them, producing mercy on their part towards their fellow men, makes them to triumph over judgment, which all in themselves otherwise deserve.”

    That part about the Mercy of God towards us should produce in us mercy towards our fellow men.

    The thing I am getting from many (and probably misunderstanding) is that, once ‘saved’, it is okay to have contempt for ‘others’ and to sit in judgement on them. Big time.

    But you would think it would be the opposite . . that having been on the receiving end of God’s goodness, we would have compassionate for others, even those not like ourselves, and especially those whom God places in our pathway. Like that Rev. Stone who opened his Church in welcome to offer sanctuary to new Muslim neighbors, until they could build a center in his neighborhood.

    Who was it said:
    did the Good Samaritan question the injured man about his beliefs, before he helped him, somewhere on the road between Jerusalem and Jericho?

    I don’t understand people who glory in judging others, showing contempt for them, refusing them help, and then call this the teaching of ‘the gospel’. It seems so very dark.

  3. Ryan K. says:

    Well said Trevin, and thanks for thoughtfully chiming in here. Your take is very edifying.

  4. Excellent post, Trevin. Thanks for being an example to the rest of us.

  5. Pingback: HELPS ON HELL. «
  6. Steve McCoy says:

    For the record, Trevin, you aren’t an “example” to me. I don’t want you to get a big head. :)

  7. Steve D says:

    I just really wish that you had waited to actually read the book. It’s disappointing to read and hear so many who are critical without first actually READING the book.

  8. Trevin Wax says:

    Steve,

    That’s funny coming from you… the granddaddy of the SBC blogosphere. :)

  9. Trevin Wax says:

    Steve D,

    I could’ve written this article before the book was even an issue. Rob’s been on this path for years. I haven’t critiqued anything here in “Love Wins,” only predicted what shape Rob’s argument will take.

  10. Ben says:

    I think Rob Bell is a complicated guy. There are times when he is misinterpreted because of the complexity of his illustrations and arguments.

    I will agree, however, that he has decided to tread a path that is not in line with traditional Christian orthodoxy. I don’t believe he is correct in all of his thoughts, but I don’t think anyone is.

    At what point do we call someone a heretic? Would Rob Bell be considered one at this moment?

    I’ve stopped trying to figure out what is correct doctrine based on traditional Christianity, and instead have tried to let the Holy Spirit move me.

    So far, I’ve found myself reading Rob Bell with interest, though with caution as well. But I would like to think I would do that with any author.

  11. Steve D says:

    I don’t think you know who I am. Not even close to SBC. Never have been, is not now, nor will ever be SBC. Sorry, you’ve got the wrong guy.

  12. Steve D says:

    “only predicted what shape Rob’s argument will take.”

    Glad you’re omniscient :)

  13. Trevin Wax says:

    Steve D,

    Relax man! I was talking to the other Steve about the SBC thing.

    And making a prediction doesn’t mean I’m omniscient. Believe me, I’d love nothing more than for my prediction to turn out wrong.

  14. Justin says:

    Great post, Trevin. Steve D-yo man he was talking to the other Steve. Guess you’re not omniscient. I’m just sayin’

  15. The Popular Jesus Votes Democrat says:

    But Rob has made Christianity popular right?

    Look at all the fruit produced…profits for Zondervan, six figure book deals, darling of the corporate media..love wins bumper stickers…non-believers safely nonoffended…

    The world loves the guy, right? Isn’t that meaningful?

  16. The Popular Jesus Votes Democrat says:

    “I don’t understand people who glory in judging others, showing contempt for them, refusing them help, and then call this the teaching of ‘the gospel’. It seems so very dark.”

    Careful, your own contempt is showing….

  17. Steve D says:

    I’m the only Steve D posting right now…

  18. Ryan K. says:

    Uhh no Steve D. Steve McCoy was also posting, and has a well-known blog with ties to SBC.

    Take it easy there Steve D, very short fuse there and somewhat snappy toward Trevin. I gotta say I am kind of befuddled by the resentment you seem to have toward even the thought of being linked with the SBC. Careful you might be a little to quick in judging…

  19. btknisley says:

    Great post laying out many of the problems in Bell’s theology. Definitely interested to see the direction Bell does go in the new book, I agree with Trevin in the hope and prayer that Bell doesn’t go this direction, but again like Trevin said Bell has been going down this road for a long time. Praying for Bell, Trevin, and my own pastor who are all certainly attacked strongly by the enemy due to their public lives. May they rest I the arms of Christ for strength and truth.

    I believe someone earlier said that Bell was wong on some things, but not on others, which is certainly the case. The problem is Bell is wrong, or disagrees, on some issues that if you don’t get right you have left the realm of Christianity. Those issues are often reffered to as “close-handed”. Those are the essentials of the Christian faith. There are other issues, often termed “open-handed” that if wrong, or in disagreement with, it does not affect one’s salvation.

  20. Chris E says:

    “Rob Bell and James MacDonald.”

    These are similiar aren’t they, they just speak to different audiences. Rob Bell entertains the pomo crowd, and James MacDonald the evangelical.

  21. Clay says:

    I consider myself a hopeful universalist. We know that in Christ, all of mankind has been reconciled to God (Col. 1:19-20). My hope is that, eventually, everyone will no longer be God’s enemies in their minds and will accept the reconciliation He offers in Christ.

  22. Jeff Clarke says:

    It seems we need to find a happy medium between the love of God and the justice of God. Leaning too heavily in either direction has the capacity to lead us in inappropriate directions. “God is Love” and “God is Light” are not two contradictory statements, so we have to find a way to hold them both at the same time, without allowing either one to dominate. Love may cause us to eliminate hell all-together; while Light may cause us to focus almost exclusively on it. Either option is an over-emphasis that demands revision; for universalists on the one side and Calvinists (etc) on the other.

  23. mason says:

    I guess my “issue” with heaven and hell is the idea of eternal punishment (of course I understand that God really does not care if I have an issue with it or not, nor does my issues make it any less Biblical). In the OT God is quite clear that the punishment should fit the crime. An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth type stuff. You sacrifice children to Moloch and I wipe you out. God’s judgment is proportionate to the crime. But God is not seen as giving out more punishment than is necessary or deserving. God is just. having said that where is the justice of taking a sincere religious person who gives to charity, supports efforts for justice and mercy to widows and orphans and basically “behaves” maybe even better than most Christians and when that person dies God places that person in eternal torment forever and ever just because that person did not accept Jesus as Lord?? As I read the scriptures Jesus is clear that there are degrees of punishment…remember when Jesus says that it will be more tolerable for Sodom in the Day of Judgment than for other cities b/c the other cities rejected the Gospel. It appears that judgment is given out based on the sole judgment of God. Also, when you do a study of “hell” in the OT and NT people are often surprised how little the word Hell is actually used. Sheol is not hell neither is Gehenna. Sheol is the holding place of the dead similar to Hades. Gehenna is a garbage dump outside of Jerusalem where children were sacrificed to Molech during the OT. some could argue and i do not want to write Bell’s book for him, but that Jesus’ words concerning Gehenna are similar to Jeremiah’s warning to Jerusalem that if they did not repent then they would be subject to Gehenna..meaning they would be judged and destroyed in the fires of Gehenna, the city of Jerusalem would be leveled to the ground and bodies thrown into Gehenna, not eternal torment but consumed in judgment meaning perhaps and leaving opee the possibility of nihilism, that they would suffer for a short time and then cease to exist. Therefore Jesus’ discussion on Gehenna could be the same as Jeremiah (7.3). Jesus could be simply saying that if you refuse to be part of the Kingdom of God (which includes recognizing me as the one true Messiah and aligning your life in accordance with my kingdom) you too will be judged just as in Jeremiah’s day and be subject to the fires of Gehenna. Sure enough that is exactly what happened 40 yrs later when Titus marched on Jerusalem and leveled it and piled up all of the bodies in Gehenna. Notice also in Revelation, hell is not mentioned. Death and Hades are mentioned, but those “places” are not hell. The only place that could be understood in the traditional since as hell is the lake of fire. But those thrown into the lake of fire are not said to burn forever. One could argue that they are consumed. Meaning they no longer exist. Some have argued that there is such a thing as “conditional immortality.” Meaning that humanity was created with the possibility of being immortal but they were not created inherently to be immortal. There is only one immortal person and that is Jesus (1 Timothy 6.16). We are immortal as long as we are in the immortal one (Jesus). Without Jesus we are not immortal and we die. We cease to exist. Just a few thoughts…I think that we need to read Bell’s book before we jump to conclusions. All I am saying is that our traditional few of hell if correct should not fear challenges from those either inside of outside the church. If it is true it will stand the test of time. I would ask though that we make sure that our beliefs are shaped by the Bible and not by medieval literature (Divine Comedy).

  24. Julie says:

    Stumbled across this from twitter. I think this is the best post/blog about the Rob Bell stuff.

  25. Rob G says:

    Hi Trevin,

    Thanks for your thoughtful post. I’m currently reading some material by Robert Farrar Capon, who majors on God’s grace and how it is generally far beyond our wildest imaginings. Being a recovering self-righteous so-and-so, this is the kind of message I need to hear.

    Anyway, Capon, it appears to me, has deep insight into the Gospel texts, and draws some unconventional conclusions. One that I’ve just read is that both heaven and hell will be populated by forgiven sinners – it’s just that those in hell will have rejected the overwhelming paradigm shift that receiving God’s grace requires us to undergo. This is a revelation to me. Clearly, Capon isn’t a universalist, but clearly he is pretty radical in his interpretation of God’s forgiveness and what it means for us.

    I realise this isn’t bang on topic in that it isn’t about Bell specifically, but it is about how far along the road to universalism God’s love really is. Capon’s interpretation appeals to me, and I don’t think it’s because it’s a nice, safe message. But does this mean I’m edging towards heresy? Or could it be that we have, over the centuries, so sanitized and deradicalized God’s grace that any attempt to rediscover it appears scandalous to the point of being heretical.

    This is just stuff I’m working through in my own head and heart. I’d appreciate your thoughts.

    Thanks,

    Rob

  26. blake says:

    This blog post is just more speculation.

    Wait till you read the book and then write something.

  27. AStev says:

    “The God who is truly scary is not the wrathful God of the Bible, but the god of the judgmentless gospel, who closes his eyes to the evil of this world, shrugs his shoulders, and ignores it in the name of “love.” What kind of “love” is this? A god who is never angered at sin and who lets evil go by unpunished is not worthy of worship.”

    Yes, this.

  28. Ally Spotts says:

    Honestly I’ve been really sad the whole weekend as I’ve watched this drama unfold – both because I worry about how easy it is to buy into a Gospel that allows us to be complacent and ALSO because of the way that I’ve seen people respond to Bell with attacks and judgment… many of whom haven’t taken the time to listen to his message.

    I really appreciate your perspective here because I believe you HAVE taken the time to listen, and you’ve also balanced what you’ve heard with the Truth of Scripture.

    All weekend I kept thinking: there has to be a way we can speak the truth in love, without attacking, without acting like this is about winning an argument. I think you really executed that with a whole lot of grace. Thank you for writing in a way that draws readers in, encourages them to ask critical questions, invites them to join the conversation.

  29. Joseph R says:

    Dear Steve D,

    Trevin’s comment about the SBC was addressed to Steve, not Steve D. He was talking to Steve McCoy who commented right before you did. Hope this clears the air for you.

    Joseph

  30. Clay says:

    Personally, I think the question of hell is one of the biggest issues facing Christianity and how we engage non-Christians. I cannot believe that a God who actively sustains a person’s existence in eternal torment as a punishment for their not believing in Jesus before they died is in any way a loving God. Whatever hell is, it has to be understood in a way that doesn’t contradict basic notions of love and compassion. God is love. He cannot act in a way that is contradictory to his nature.

  31. Tom Goodman says:

    Hang on: If your name is Stoner, you probably shouldn’t name your book, “The God Who Smokes.” Okay, back to conversing about the real point of the post…

  32. Dan Stringer says:

    Thanks Trevin for this helpful and sober post on a story sizzling across the evangelical news ticker.

    You’re right about Bell’s doctrinal drift over the years, although JT and Piper could have used some of your thoughtfulness and restraint.

    I am saddened by this whole situation and the intensified intra-evangelical polarization that will likely ensue.

  33. Clay says:

    @Mason – I have thought along the same lines as you with respect to annihilationism (you referred to it as nihilism – that’s different). This view actually has some traction among evangelicals – John Stott for example. I run into a problem in thinking that idea through when I try to hold it together the meaning of the incarnation. Classical Christianity teaches that, through the incarnation, human nature (for everyone) has been joined to the divine nature – God “made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions” (Eph 2:5). This is the universal aspect of salvation – God has made everyone alive in Christ. So it would be impossible for someone to undo what Christ has done and separate themselves from Him and cease to exist, even if they wanted to. Here is where a proper understanding of hell can be found, I believe – hell is the experience of God’s love by those who don’t want it. Heaven in contrast is the experience of God’s love by those who joyfully receive it. This is illustrated in the parable of the prodigal son. The Father offers his love freely to both of his disobedient sons. The younger son experiences that love as pure joy, the older son as misery. I don’t believe we can get around a belief in hell, but I do think it has to be understood within the context of God’s love and grace.

  34. Terry says:

    Trevin Their is only one way To the Father who is in heaven and that is in the body of Christ the church.You quote what another man says about another man.Why?God placed the punishment for all sin on Jesus he settled the sin issuse the only thing left is for us to believe it.All power in heaven and earth is given to the son who are you.How can a murderer be saved if you Judge him guility.Jesus says he will see him in paridise.We as the church needs to tell them their forgiven all needs done is to believe it.God is real good!

  35. Richard says:

    I think where Bell and the Reformed camp differ most on this isn’t whether there is a “hell” or a “judgment”, or a need for “repentance.” Clearly the reformed camp, and the Gospel Coalition, hold these to be true but so does Rob and so do many of the “new Christians.” That’s one reason why acts of social justice and reconciliation are so big in the forefront of that movement – if everything was just fine and sin wasn’t an issue, they wouldn’t be working to change things – they’d sit back and watch TV. Where they differ from the Reformed camp is in their definitions of judgment/justice/hell/repentance, etc. Are these intended for reformation and restoration or are they intended for retribution and punishment? And this is not a new debate and it certainly goes back further than the 20th century. Afterall, was Calvin debating with himself in his commentary on John’s gospel: “Some view the word, judgment (πρίσις) as denoting reformation, and others, as denoting condemnation. I rather agree with the former who explain it to mean, that the world must be restored to a proper order; for the Hebrew word משפט, mishpat, which is translated judgment, means a well-ordered state.” (http://www.ccel.org/ccel/calvin/calcom35.ii.v.html).

    Now Calvin was no universalist but he definitely used the term “judgment” in a different way than many of us use the term today and I would agree, more in line with the Hebraic mind of the Scriptures that Jesus fulfilled.

    The issue is not whether or not there is a “judgmentless” love, it is what is the nature of the judgment that love brings and wins with?

  36. Terry says:

    Without believing the body of sin was destroyed on the cross Rom6:6 that body still rules us and he doesn’t know God that man is a sinner as a believer I seen him destroyed on the crossmHeb2:14 that through death he might destriy him that had the power of death ,that is the devil.So here we are is the devil destroyed or not if not judgment is eminent if we believe by the cross God destroyed him we can go to the deceived and tell those living in fear and death the good news here is our choice do we believe the first death the was with the 1st Adam the second on the cross where the sinner is desroyed described in Rev21:8 Jesus acording to John baptized us as believers with Fire who will you believe the spirit of man who will not see God or the Spirit of God.Can you believe it?

  37. Clay says:

    Well said Richard.

  38. Rory says:

    @Clay – I rather think Paul, in Eph 2:5, means “the people of God” when using the pronoun “us” – not humanity in general. He’s speaking as one reflecting retrospectively on something he now realizes to be the case. It feels as though your interpretation does something with that verse that Paul himself wasn’t intending to be done.

    For anyone interested, I own a copy of the book and am currently in the process of writing a several-posts-long review. The first is already up and is basically a preliminary question-asking exercise which I think it’s helpful to do prior to jumping into weighing these issues. I’ve linked my blog, and I’d appreciate feedback / discussion.

  39. Clay says:

    @Rory – I agree that Paul’s use of “us” means the church. My point was that this state of being alive in Christ was a reality before there was even belief. So if it was true for a Christian before they believed, then it is true for everyone else who doesn’t yet believe. This is consistent with the many “all” passages that speak to the universal implications of Christ’s incarnation, death and resurrection (John 12:32, 2 Corinthians 5:14-19, Romans 5:12-19, Colossians 1:19-20, 1 John 2:2). This is not a radical or new doctrine. This understanding of the atonement is all over the patristic writings. Calvin’s idea of limited atonement is the new doctrine.

  40. John L. says:

    http://isrobbellauniversalist.tumblr.com/ – little extra time on my hands, so I made this

  41. I don’t think I’ve met any Christian, especially an evangelical one, who pursues “justice and compassion”. The standard is not met. I have anecdotal evidence from bible-believing pastors who let their wives tweet about Glen Beck while they themselves repost lies about the temperature record. Furthermore, there’s empirical proof in “Scandal of the Evangelical Conscience” and it shouldn’t surprise anyone who’s read Romans 3. So in one sense, Rob Bell’s creed sets a ridiculously low standard, if any evangelical, myself, or even Gandhi could make it by virtue of their work for peace (intents or actual effects).

    On the other hand, the point of citing all those foibles of evangelicals is to show that all you pastor are already are pushing a “judgmentless” gospel. You don’t preach half the law and reduce the other to posturing about certain pieces of legislation.

  42. St. Gandhi? says:

    Exceptions to the author’s reserve mostly center on Gandhi’s limitations as a family man. Where the world sees a saint, Rajmohan Gandhi sees a cruel husband and a mostly absent father, paying scant attention to his children’s schooling and dragging wife Kasturba across continents at will, belittling her desire for the simplest of material possessions, then expecting her to comply when he turns from amorous husband to platonic companion to apparent adulterer. Gandhi took on a magnetic personality in the presence of young women, and was able to persuade them to join him in peculiar experiments of sleeping and bathing naked together, without touching, all apparently to strengthen his chastity. (Whether these experiments were always successful is anyone’s guess.)

    Read more: http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,1609478,00.html#ixzz1FYQhGpaf

  43. Dave Wilson says:

    Trevin,

    I ran across a five-year-old Rob Bell sermon titled “Love Wins.” Could this provide old sermon an insight into Rob Bell’s view on hell? http://bit.ly/fc6Mcd

    It is the first message in a series. It seemed solid, but possibly hinted at a universalist perspective toward the end.

    Has anyone heard the rest of the series? This might provide some interim information for those in the “wait ’til the book comes out to have an opinion” camp.

    Love to hear your thoughts,
    Dave

  44. JT Caldwell says:

    Whatever Bell actually believes about heaven and hell, it’s not pastorally helpful to others for him to intentionally be ambiguous in these matters.

    Let’s assume with hopefulness he answers (rightly) the questions he asks. 2Cor. 4.2

  45. Nate says:

    I see what you are saying, but also in the bible we see verses that talk about judging or I believe a better word for it would be correcting. In Galatians we are told that when fellow believer walks off the path we are to redirect him back to it. We are not supposed to “judge” nonbelievers because we can’t hold them to the same standards we hold ourselves to.

    Rob Bell has a huge church and such a popular person in the “christian” world. All I am concerned about is that he is preaching truth and not lies to his congregation and those who listen to him or read his stuff. The bible clearly says that there is one way to Heaven and that is Jesus. If he is teaching otherwise he is leading others astray. Therefore he needs to be corrected and held accountable for what he is doing.

  46. ed says:

    all who died in Adam shall be made alive in Christ.

    for God was, in Christ, reconciling the world to Himself.

    for God did not send his son into the world to condemn the world but that the world would be saved through him.

    God, who is the savior of all men, ESPECIALLY those that believe.

    for this purpose was the son of God manifest, to destroy the works of the evil one.

    Seventy ‘sevens’ are decreed for your people and your holy city to finish transgression, to put an end to sin, to atone for wickedness, to bring in everlasting righteousness, to seal up vision and prophecy and to anoint the Most Holy Place.

    the last enemy to be destroyed is death…where oh grave is your victory, where oh death is your sting; for the sting of death is sin, and sin is empowered by the Law.

    And death and hell shall be thrown into the lake of fire.

    IF death is destroyed and sin put an end to, how can anyone be tortured forever and ever and ever.

    Whose work is more powerful:Adam or Christ? God or the devil? Whose will is greater: God’s or man’s?

    Love wins.

  47. Clay says:

    I recently posted a comment at Jared Wilson’s blog that may or may not get published, but I thought I would repeat the gist of my comment here since this post has gotten so much attention. My intention is not to argue for argument’s sake, but to encourage Christians to more clearly think through the implications of their theology. I apologize in advance for the length of this post, but please bare with me.

    My fundamental problem with the traditional (western) conception of hell is this: No person exists apart from the active sustaining power of God (Col. 1:17). So hell cannot be understood as a place people go in some state of separation from God where he just leaves them be in their misery. If hell is a place of separation from God, the people would cease to exist. This is a very disturbing truth if you hold to the idea of hell being a place of eternal torment where God punishes people who didn’t have a proper understanding of the gospel before they died. The most evil human would have more compassion than to burn someone alive for all eternity, even for a punishable crime.

    Also, the argument is consistently put forth (in this blog for example) that hell is necessary because otherwise the atrocities of the likes of Hitler, Stalin, or Kim Jong Il will go unpunished. My concern has nothing to do with evil dictators. It has to do with the North Korean mother murdered by the evil dictator, who tried her best to raise her children as best she could within her horrible situation, but who had no opportunity to hear the the name of Jesus before she died. It has to do with the Muslim woman who had no choice in being born into a non-Christian culture, but who dedicated her life to feeding the poor in her village, but who will die with no chance of ever having believed the gospel. It has to do with the gay kid I went to high school with who rejects the gospel because the only “Jesus” he ever had contact with was me and my friends when we psychologically tortured him for being different. These are the people whose lives you are saying will be actively sustained by God as they are experiencing his unceasing wrath.

    Until you guys can stop talking/writing from within your abstract theological paradigm and address this issue on a human level, you have nothing to say to anyone who doesn’t already agree with you. However, I suspect that you will never dare to take a peak outside of your safe theology because you are afraid of what you might find there.

    Thanks for letting me post.

  48. Clay says:

    I apologize for the rudeness of my previous post. I’m not a seasoned blogger, and it’s easy to get carried away when writing about a topic that has caused me much mental anguish. I do stand by my concerns about what I see as the traditional evangelical understanding of hell that I described.

  49. ed says:

    for a truly biblical examination of the concept of “eternal fire” and such, please read this article, entitled Jesus Teaching on Hell by Sam Dawson,

    http://pantelism.com/JesusTeachingonHell.htm

  50. Dan says:

    The amen was for mason’s post.

  51. ed says:

    Dan, the article that I linked to is from an annihilationist perspective.

  52. Mike Gantt says:

    There is actually a biblical case for believing that everyone is going to heaven, and I believe it.

    This doesn’t lead to licentiousness. On the contrary, we are being judged and will be judged for everything we think, say, and do. Clay’s decent North Korean mother who never had a chance to hear the gospel will not be judged as strictly as those who heard it and didn’t live up to it. Depending on the depth of her morality we might even see her honored in heaven far more than any of us because it’s righteousness the Lord seeks. If we know Christ, He expects even more righteousness from us.

  53. Rob B (seriously, just a different one) says:

    What must I do to be saved?

    Believe in the orthodox church approved understanding of judgement, eternity, punishment, atonement; and be able to catalogue correctly what is/is not sin, and you will be saved … you and your house.

    Of course, once you have made sure that your understanding of Truth is greater than the understanding of the Bible commentators and doctrinal directors, and you are confident that you are saying the right words in the right way, with the right inflection and with sufficient unambiguity … well then maybe you could call on the name of the Lord, and you may want to consider selling all that you have and giving it to the poor and devote your life to following Jesus.

    But you know … first things first

  54. GW Thumper says:

    What about the doctrine of Predestination where God will choose who He will have mercy upon and who will receive justice. We are lost in our sinful nature unable to save ourself from the wrath of God. It is only by the GRACE of God that we are BORN AGAIN. We are givin the keys of the Kingdom and that is to preach Christ and Him crucified. Show yourself as one approved by the way you walk through life.

  55. ed says:

    what about it? Predestination to damnation is perhaps the most disgusting doctrine ever invented by the sick twisted mind of the religious elite. That God, in his “sovereignty” would choose that a vast majority of those that he created would be tortured endlessly – all to show how “just” he is?

    The bible says that God is just when he “forgives our sins and cleanses us from all unrighteousness…” It also says that his very character is LOVE…

    As any parent (the one who creates the child) would do, God corrects those whom he has created. He uses some for “object lessons” yet when over restores them…this is the judgment language of the NT, when God used “Israel after the flesh” those who were “dead in their trespasses and sins” as “vessels of dishonor” to show his mercy towards those who do not deserve it that he is LOVE.

    When the vessels of dishonor’s lesson was complete, and the message of Grace fully known, God raised Israel from the dead, making a new covenant with the houses of Judah and Israel, making one new man out of the two with one shepherd over them all, thus “ALL Israel was saved.”

    As God had promised, ALL died in Adam. ALL were made alive in Christ. Just as sin reached all and death abounded…GRACE reaches ALL and LIFE abounds.

  56. GW Thumper says:

    Hey Ed, When I speak of Predestination and being Born Again I picture people that understanding what the Bible teaches about these doctrine not what you say come from the sick elite. Read ALL of Ephesians. Its says that God chose His children before the creation of the world. In love he predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will.
    Ephesians 4:17-19 speakes of those who are lost in the darkness of their minds and separated from the life of God because of their ignorance. When you have a proper understanding of Predestination you understand the GRACE of God. The free gift of Eternal Life that gives us a peace that passes all understanding

  57. ed says:

    GW,
    I was a Calvinist for over 20 years…an elder in a conservative Reformed church for the last two or three. I certainly understand predestination…

    Calvinism teaches “double predestination,” which brings in the lapsarian argument. Did God choose to damn people BEFORE he created Adam and Eve, or did he do so after? Supra- vs. Infra-lapsarianism.

    It is a despicable doctrine that would teach that God would DAMN people to eternal torment before there were even an opportunity for them to do good and evil…oh, and don’t give me the Esau vs. Jacob argument. If God HATED Esau the way the Calvinist teaches, WHY would Jacob later call Esau “the Face of God”? In addition, did Jesus really teach us to HATE our parents for his sake? Or did he, as SO many preachers tell you, simply mean that we are to love him more than our parents? If that’s so, then the verse that teaches that God “hated” Esau means that he loved Jacob MORE than Esau – iow, Jacob was “chosen” to bring forth the messiah.

    I believe wholeheartedly in the sovereignty of God. I do not believe that God chose a minority of his creation to be blessed and to TORTURE the remainder. His nature is LOVE, not torture or hate.

  58. GW Thumper says:

    Hey Ed, Your own words betray you. Calvin never taught “double predestination”. That teaches that God is resposible for salvation and damnation which is a false doctrine. We are all lost in our trespasses and sin and God is not obligated to save anyone. But by God’s grace He has mercy on some and others he leaves in their sin. If God were obligated to save all where is the Grace. The Potter has the right to do with the clay what He wills. Your understanding of predestination is “a despicable doctrine”, because it is a false teaching. I am saddened by your confession of being a Calvinist and an elder and not know the truths of the Bible. Please read ALL of Ephesians with some CREDIBLE REFORMED commentaries. It’s not what you beleive but what the Bible teacher.

  59. ed says:

    “The predestination by which God adopts some to the hope of life, and adjudges others to eternal death, no man who would be thought pious ventures simply to deny…” (Institutes of Religion, Chapter 21.5).

    GW, this is clearly Calvin teaching that God “adjudges others to eternal death…” He may not have used the phrase double predestination, but it has been used by a variety of Calvinists since that time.

    I was examined by 2 elders of one of the most conservative Reformed denominations in America – the only one MORE conservative would be the Protestant Reformed Church, which teaches that there is no common grace. I was examined on the entire Westminster Confession of Faith. My Reformed credentials are indisputable – regardless of your ignorance of your professed beliefs.

    And btw, I never said that God was “obligated to save all,” I said that He has saved ALL. Romans 11:32 says, “For God has consigned all to disobedience, that he may have mercy on all.” HE, in his sovereignty consigned all over to disobedience (dead in Adam) so that he may have mercy on ALL (alive in Christ).

    The judgment passages in the NT were clearly spoken to the unbelieving Israel after the flesh – that they would experience “punishment” (Gk. kolasis, which means “correction” and its root means “to prune”). IOW, Israel was to be pruned…and its branches (the dead works of the law) were to be cut off and thrown into the “lake of fire” (the destruction of Jerusalem, cf. Joel 2). This pruning during the age (Gk. aionios) was so that a greater harvest would come forth – when the “seed” that had fallen to the ground and died (Jesus, and his bride, Israel) would RISE, like the dead bones of Ezekiel 37, being restored to the “heavenly city,” the New Jerusalem, the New Heavens and Land (Gk. ge; Heb. eretz).

    God turned over all Israel to disobedience that he might have mercy on all Israel…and thus, the whole world; for “God, in Christ, was reconciling the world to himself,” and “God, who is the savior of ALL humanity, especially those who believe.” Scripture is clear. All that God has done was for the purpose of reconciling ALL to himself.

  60. GW Thumper says:

    Hey Ed, Your justification for your belief in Universalism is weak and your reference to your credentials and your use of scripture is not impressive. I have so many scriptures running through my mind I don’t know where to start to refute you. This alone is enough to stop your problem with the word ALL. Romans 9:6 states “It is not as though God’s word had failed. For not all who are descended from Israel are Israel.” But let”s not stop there, Romans 9:7-9 reads “Nor because they are his descendants are they all Abraham’s children. On the contrary, “It is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned. ”In other words, it is not the children by physical descent who are God’s children, but it is the children of the promise who are regarded as Abraham’s offspring. For this was how the promise was stated: “At the appointed time I will return, and Sarah will have a son.” And then you have the problem with Ishmael who was blessed but was not to inherit the promise. Please notice that I stopped short of “the Esau vs. Jacob argument.” Ed, where is your Study Bible?

  61. ed says:

    well GW, first you claim that I don’t understand Calvinism, that he never taught predestination for the wicked (what I called double predestination), so I showed you that he DID, in fact, teach it; and also pointed out that I was not just a nube, like yourself, but actually examined by elders from Joseph Morecraft’s church in Atlanta – Wayne Rogers and John Otto…that I was a Calvinist for over 20 years – and you say it’s unimpressive…LOL. Well, you are right – I’m not impressed with it either…

    In fact, it is hilarious to me that you actually think that I have never seen those verses in Romans before; that I have no answer to those sections of scripture…that I will just cower in fear of those verses “oh no, what am I going to do now? I’ve never seen those verses before…in spite of being a Ruling Elder in a Reformed Presbyterian Church of the US congregation…oh, GW’s got me now…”

    Hardly. You see, this is what systematic theology does to you…you propose something, and then find the texts to prove it. You rip many verses out of context in order to “prove” your proposition…which is no proof at all, because it ignores, or is contradicted by so many others.

    E.g., you claim that the verse in Rom 9:6 disproves universalism (or more specifically, God’s love for ALL Israel, even those after the flesh). Yet, in the rest of Romans 9, we see Paul making the point about Ishmael…and in Romans 11 about Esau…You see, Ishmael was blessed through his brother, Isaac…as Esau was through Jacob…and so, Israel “after the flesh” who was like Hagar (cf. Galatians), who were the vessels of dishonor to show forth God’s wrath, was BLESSED by the true Heir, Jesus.

    Paul, when speaking of Israel after the flesh (whom Jesus calls “sons of the wicked ones” or “sons of your father, the devil”), says that they were “enemies” (i.e. satans)of the gospel; but that they were “beloved for the sake of the patriarchs” (Rom 11:28) WHAT????? Those who, in 9:6, Paul tells us are not “of Israel” are yet beloved for the sake of the fathers? That the gifts and callings of God are irrevocable?

    And, as I’ve already pointed out, these enemies were “turned over (or consigned) to disobedience” so that God may have “mercy on ALL.” In Romans, Paul clearly tells the readers that those who were dead in Adam (who Calvinists teach includes every man, woman and child who ever lived) would be “made alive in Christ.” ALL. ALL. ALL.

    Seriously GW, I feel bad that poor Trevin has to have us beating our chests on his blog…it would be a much better thing to discuss elsewhere, but please…don’t underestimate my knowledge of scripture or Reformed theology. You can ignore my “creds” if you want, but your lame attempts to disprove my position won’t go far…feel free to post 25 verses, I’ll answer every one…I’m not bragging, I’m just warning you…I’m not a novice…

  62. ed says:

    Correction: the sentence should read “That the gifts and callings of God are NOT irrevocable?”

  63. GW Thumper says:

    OK Ed, I do agree with you and thought the same thing about using his blog sight. I’ve justified it by the fact that we are debating the false teaching of a Universalist which Rob Bell is accused of being and you assert he should be proud of. I would love to debate you some more. I’am not sure of the rules that regulate the blog sights. Can you post your e-mail? But if this is the end, sobeit. I think I’ve got the idea anyway that you just regurgatate the same answer that you’ve now posted 3 times. And oh yea, what Creds.

  64. ed says:

    well, I won’t give you my e-mail address. If you click on my name, it takes you to my Facebook articles page, where I post Notes frequently. I want to keep this debate public…

    btw, before we quit posting here…I’d like to know your history with Calvinism…seminary grad? Pastor? How long have you been a Calvinist? What experience brought you to Calvinism?

  65. hank says:

    I’m too late, but I’ll throw in 2 cents:

    1) Some of the arguments about the judgmentless gospel are the same ones often used against Calvinist predestination— if its true then people will not be urgent in witnessing and be able to ease their conscience that God has it all decided already anyhow. And coming face to face with evil is not an automatic for inspiring justice–many perpetrators have seen evil alot closer than we, and found it inspiring and empowering. And the fact is a mass killing looks like a mass killing whether done by an oppressive tyrant or by an invading army (even if led by Joshua).

    2) Holiness — The demands of God’s holiness were met in Jesus death, so holy love can still win even if it makes a way for everyone, or more people than we expect, to be saved. And holy love can still win with annihilationism.

    What is the nature of judgment after death?

    Annihilationism seems more likely than universalism to me. And I think it will still be enough to scare my kids into believing . . . :)

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Trevin Wax


​Trevin Wax is managing editor of The Gospel Project at LifeWay Christian Resources, husband to Corina, father to Timothy, Julia, and David. You can follow him on Twitter. Click here for Trevin’s full bio.

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