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Christian author's book sparks charges of heresy
Rob Bell is under fire for his latest book before it even hits the shelves.
March 1st, 2011
06:00 AM ET

Christian author's book sparks charges of heresy

By Eric Marrapodi, CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor

Rob Bell, a pastor and author who has achieved rock star status in the Christian world, is preaching a false gospel, his critics say. And some of those critics are Christian rock stars in their own right.

The pastor of Mars Hill Bible Church in Grand Rapids, Michigan, Bell has authored a book called Love Wins: A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived, which ignited a firestorm of controversy over the weekend, weeks before it arrives in bookstores.

On Saturday, in a blog post on the popular Christian website The Gospel Coalition, Justin Taylor blasted Bell's new book, out March 29, for teaching "false doctrine":

I’m glad that Rob Bell has the integrity to be lay [sic] his cards on the table about universalism. It seems that this is not just optimism about the fate of those who haven’t heard the Good News, but (as it seems from below) full-blown hell-is-empty-everyone-gets-saved universalism.

Universalism, in its broadest terms, preaches that everyone goes to heaven and that there is no hell. Critics say it represents a break from traditional Christianity, which they say holds that heaven and hell are very real places. In most Christian circles, universalism is a dirty word.

Taylor's post was quickly tweeted by several prominent pastors, including John Piper and Mark Driscoll, connected to the Gospel Coalition, a coalition of theologically conservative evangelical churches, and a full-blown theological controversy was on. By Monday, Taylor's response post had racked up a quarter million hits.

Other bloggers, meanwhile, are calling Bell an outright heretic.

Bell is not the first prominent Christian pastor to be recently accused of wading into theologically troubled waters. Bishop Carlton Pearson, once a mentee of famed Pentecostal televangelist Oral Roberts, has been run out of two churches and branded a heretic for preaching what he says is a gospel of inclusion with broad universalist themes.

Last year, Brian McLaren - a popular Christian author and a former pastor - was accused of breaking with Christian orthodoxy and delving headlong into universalism in his book A New Kind of Christianity.

But it's rare that theological arguments become top ten trending topics on Twitter, as Rob Bell did on Saturday.

“To be honest, it was a pretty rough weekend,” Taylor said in a phone interview. The 34-year-old heads the editorial content for Crossway, a Christian publishing company in Wheaton, Illinois.  Taylor he says his blog expresses his personal opinion not the opinion of the coalition.

"We’re talking about the big things here, things that have been historically defined as orthodox, " he said. "I have a high degree of confidence in what God is saying and what we can understand."

Though many things that separate Catholics, Protestants, and Orthodox Christians, “this isn’t one of them," Taylor said. "We’ve historically agreed on many things, the person of Christ, heaven and hell. This isn’t a peripheral academic debate. What Rob Bell is talking about gets to the heart of Christianity.”

Taylor has not read Bell's forthcoming book in its entirety. His blog post was in response to the description released by Bell publisher HarperOne and a promotional video that features Bell.

"Rob Bell hasn’t sinned against me personally,” Taylor said, which is why he did not go to Bell before making his comments public. Instead, Taylor said, Bell's book represents a clear example of false teaching.

In the promotional video Bell refers to the nonviolent Indian independence leader Mahatma Gandhi, a Hindu, and asks, "Gandhi's in hell? He is?"

"And someone knows this for sure?" Bell continues. "Will billions and billions of people burn forever in hell? And if that's the case how do you become one of the few? "

The video follows a trend in Bell's career as a pastor: he has long asked tough theological questions and challenged traditional answers. The short promotional video raises lots of questions without offering definitive answers.

"What we believe about heaven and hell is incredibly important because it exposes what we believe about who God is and what God is like," Bell says in it. " The good news is that love wins."

Those lines raised eyebrows for Taylor and others. "It is not preaching the gospel as found in the New Testament," Taylor said. "The New Testament is pretty clear if someone preaches a false gospel… that we are to reject that and have nothing to do with them."

For all his hipster leanings - including black rimmed glasses - Bell has a traditional pedigree. He went to Wheaton College, the Harvard of Christian schools, and later graduated from Fuller Theological Seminary with a Master of Divinity.

But the Mars Hill Bible Church, which Bell founded, is not attached to any denomination. Were it attached to one - the Presbyterian or Catholic church, say - his book and video could raise eyebrows in the hierarchy and might lead to a church trial that could result in Bell's expulsion.

"A larger denomination would take his credentials and excommunicate him like they did to me,” Bishop Pearson told CNN.

By Sunday evening, Pearson was getting sent articles about the Bell flap. He said it reminded him of his days as a charismatic leader of a big church in the largest Pentecostal denomination. His questioning of hell from the pulpit led to his ouster.

"What happened to me is happening to Rob Bell," Pearson said. "If you denounce hell, it's like you are denouncing God. You’re going to be called a heretic."

“I thought my people loved me and would walk through the valley of the shadow of death with me, but they didn’t,” Pearson said.

Bell's church did not respond to requests for an interview. His Twitter feed has been silent since he posted about writing a piece for CNN's Belief Blog a few weeks ago. His publicist at HarperOne said he would not be doing publicity until his book hits shelves.

- CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor

Filed under: Belief • Christianity • Leaders • Michigan • United States

soundoff (2,200 Responses)
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    September 7, 2011 at 8:12 am |
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    JOHN MACARTHUR – ROB BELL RICK WARREN MARK DRISCOLL SERMON JAM

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    August 23, 2011 at 12:01 am |
  3. matthew botsford

    Well..let me attest to one thing I know from very personal experience..Hell is real and Jesus is the only weay to the Father. I died in '92 gfrom a fatal gunshot wound to my head, undsaved meaning I did not lnoe Jesus and I spemnt time in Hell..C seedsoflove.nt 4 tetimonial vids and c seedsofloveministry.wordpress.com 4 blog with interviews and book A Day in Hell; Death to Life to Hope" excerpts....

    August 11, 2011 at 2:33 pm |
  4. terri dawson az

    I feel that God–could be dead and himself and that there is no HELL–i believe in ghost and other supernatural things that are out there, furthemore, if God was still alive–why did he help my 10 yrs. son from slaming the door and taking a piece of his finger off and put him through the trama of going through the whole ordeal -to include surgery?? Ihav a 50-50 spriirtual believe– I believe in Jesus(in god) but somethings cant be taken carelessly for grant–like science and logic should be alllowed in religion–i feeel God is dead–and that Jesus is left behind with the holy spririt and is doing all what he can until he returns.

    July 16, 2011 at 5:54 pm |
  5. Schaeffer

    As an FYI for those interested there is a brand new book out that responds at length to Bell's Love Wins, Thaddeus Williams' Love, Freedom, and Evil (New York/Amsterdam, Rodopi Press). For video promo, endorsements and insights into Bell's theology you can visit http://www.lovefreedomandevil.com

    May 25, 2011 at 7:55 pm |
  6. Tbo

    I still think that Phil Johnsons "Bell is in ghandi? He is? And someone knows this for sure" tweet was HELLarious. Pun intended 🙂

    May 18, 2011 at 6:33 pm |
  7. Mark Glaab

    The first person to question God's word spoke "hath God said". Now it is Rob Bell saying "hath God said".
    Hmm, sounds familiar.

    May 16, 2011 at 11:37 am |
  8. Randie

    With over 9,000 comments, mine will probably never be read, but I am going to put my 2 cents in anyway.

    Hell was something as a child and teen I just could not comprend. It never made sense. An aunt of mine told me when i was young, "The Bible has the answer to every quesstion there is." Later in life i started reading/studying the Bible. There is so much information in this book. There are answers.

    We are reasoning peoplle.......why can we reason on verson in the Bible?

    There are many scriptures common folk aren't arware of. Mostly because religious leaders hide them from us. Which one day they will be accountable for.

    Such as:

    1. It NEVER came up into God heart to burn a living humans. Jer. 7:31

    2. How many times CAN skin burn?

    3. If your child is naughty do you hold his hand over a burner? Why would be expect anyless like that from a loving God?

    4. We have technology to build a spacecraft to go to the moone have technology, go to moon. If hell existed why haven't be built a craft to dig down and get our loved ones OUT? Cuz hell doesn't exist.

    5. Eex 20:4 lists the areas that do exist.- "You must not make for yourself a carved image or a form like anything that is in the heavens above, or that is on the earth underneath OR that is in the waters under the earth. If Hell was a real place-the almighty would have listed it here.

    6. God CAN NOT lie–Heb. 6:18

    7. Be reasoning, would God take his arch enemy and make him his TOP manager over a section that he owns and wants operated? Would a top CEO given HIS ARCH ENEMY managerial employment in his fortuen 500 company? No-why would God do it?

    8. Ecc. 9:5 and 10 say: "for the living are conscieous that they will die, but as for the dead, THEY ARE CONSCIOUS OF NOTHING AT ALL, neither do they earn any more wages, because the remembrance of them has been forgotten. All that your hand finds to do, do with your very power for there is no work nor devising nor knowledge nor wisdom in the grave, the place to which youa re going."

    A conscious person has their senses. See, smell, taste, hear and touch. The scriptures make it clear that at death humans are not conscious, they can not heart, see or speak or feel. What would the purpose be of buring them forever if they couldn't FEEL THE TORMENT?

    9. Most striking to me is the penalty that Jehovah ladi down to Adam and Even for their disobedience. It was death. Genesis 2:17 death is the opposit of life. Genesis 4:19 states very clearly: "For dust you are and to dust you will return."

    what would the point be in praising a naughty naughty child. Instead of a time out....let's say..we give a him a ice cream cone and baloon. Huh? So if God praised humans instead and gave them life after death, or life eternal even if it was hell, where is the disciple of their life ending? That doesn't make sense. It doesn't becasue that thinking is worng.

    It is actually a Satanic teaching. He wwants people to believe Jehovah is a liar and at death the body lives on else where. Isn't that what he told Eve,,,,,"you will positively not die..........." What a liar!

    It is a Santanic teach just like a few others: 1 Timothy 4:1-3 "However, the inspired utterane says DEFINITELY that in later periods of time some will fall way from the faith, paying attention to misleading inspired utterances and TEACHINGS OF DEMONS, by the hypocrisy of men who speak lies, marked in their conscience as with a branding iron, FORBIDDING TO MARRY, COMMANDING TO ABSTAIN FROM CERTAIN FOODS, which God created to be parten of with thanksgiving by those who have faith and accuratlel know the TRUTH."

    Wonder which RELIGIONS teach that marriage in their ranks is forbidding? Do these same religons teach not to eat certain food on certain holidays, only fish????

    Need I say More??? Nope

    April 23, 2011 at 7:06 pm |
  9. Name*Bill

    Haha. Bell is totally wrong of course! There is no hell or heaven. I should say he is only half right.

    April 20, 2011 at 10:41 am |
  10. Steffani

    Wow this saddens me. I have watched many Rob Bell NOOMA videos. He seemed like a squared away young pastor that was affecting young people's lives, for the better. But.... this is the worst kind of turn he could make. We live in such a fallen world and that is evident everyday to me when I go to work. I teach high school and deal with young people all day long. To even suggest that their are no moral absolutes deems these kids marginalizes their lives, everything is up for grabs. I liken God to a father who loves me so much that he can't stand to see my turn away from him, because he knows that their are consequences to that. I have teenagers of my own and it breaks my heart to watch them make those bad decisions, knowing that they will reap what they sow, but I allow them to do it, because I can't force them, nor will a loving God. Go read Luke 16:24-31. What is it the rich man is concerned about? God is a truly, infinitely loving God but he will not beg you, that is the crap of free will. Seems to me like Rob Bell needs to read Tim Keller's book, "The Reason for God." Maybe he will recant his views.... and maybe not.

    April 17, 2011 at 8:12 pm |
  11. Bibletruth

    God has no place in all existence that is operating on a different set of rules/laws, that is, a different government than His set of rules/laws. When one chooses against Gods form of government (i.e.chooses sin) he chooses non-existence, as there is simply no place of life outside of Gods government. That is why the wages of Sin is Death. God cannot give eternal life to anyone that is unwilling to live and be within a government of love. That death, the second death per scripture, is the death from which there is no ressurrection for all eternity.

    April 5, 2011 at 6:55 pm |
  12. Bibletruth

    There is a heaven and a hell. The focus seems to be on hell...not 1 in a 100 knows what hell is as it is plainly presented in scripture. Hell is the place (the bible also calls it the lake of fire) where Satan and the lost are consumed to ashes and never shalt they be anymore. Hell is not a place of torture that never ends. What you believe about hell has a lot to do with defining the character of God.. it is impossible to believe that God is love and also believe that God is an eternal torturer. It is simply impossible. Scripture, when it is actually studied, supports no such concept. It is Satans work to have people believe that God is an eternal torturer. Death does not equal life in any form. Death is 100% non-life.

    April 3, 2011 at 11:36 pm |
    • correy

      WOW.it is sad that know one reads thier bible and studys anymore the bible is clear about hell their is one.Aslo why would a loving god send some one to hell because a loving god is aslo a holy god and sin cant be in his presence.You see hell was made for the devil and his angels.The ? should be if theres a hell or not the bible is clear and any one that says not either cant read or dont want to read.The ? is why do you reject the free gift that his son provided on the cross.Bottom line you send yourself there god dont he has done all he is going to do by the cross.

      April 20, 2011 at 9:20 am |
  13. jeff

    The Iron Maiden is going to get all of you!

    April 3, 2011 at 6:51 am |
    • Brian

      Thank you and good night! From Iron Maiden, from Eddie, and from the boys!

      April 4, 2011 at 3:37 am |
  14. weasel

    Jesus was branded a herectic.

    Luther was branded a Herectic.

    Seems anyone who's words do not conform is called one.

    March 30, 2011 at 7:33 pm |
  15. Casual Observer

    I think that any rational thinking human being can see the "message" within the bible.
    But whether you are digesting the the OT or the NT a degree of reality needs to be the filter.
    The ever increasing biblical related archeological evidence suggests that there are serious challenges/questions as to who wrote the bible and when and of course what was the real agenda of their effort.
    To blindly believe in everything in the bible is a dangerous path to take – most of the OT stories can be found in other cultures thousands of years before. There are serious questions as to whether, Salomon, David and many other of the bibles super heroes even existed at all.
    Almost all of the NT does not even pass the most basic challenges as to who, when and why .......
    Faith is a wonderful thing – blind faith is not. The easy way is to take whatever is presented to you and never ask the questions "why"?? Much easier to be a lemming and follow the others over the cliff ..........
    There is no proof that there is a heaven or hell ........period. There is no proof you have a soul. There is no proof that there is even a "god" – a god that is defined by man.
    Just look around at all the religions in the world – not just the big 3

    March 30, 2011 at 12:01 pm |
    • Cindy

      A very articulate clear observation! Thanks for putting my thoughts in to words. I used to believe without question in the Bible and all the evangelical lines of teaching. Now, that I have grown up I see as you do ; it doesn't make sense and there is no proof about the Bible-this stand doesn't make one very popular around former Church friends . I am so glad pastors like Bell are brave enough to publish their thoughts. Thanks!

      August 8, 2011 at 4:30 pm |
  16. Bibletruth

    If folks would actually study the subject from Genesis to revelation, they would all know that death=non-life, that the wages of sin is eternal death, that is eternal non-life....that those who are true to God, Jesus & the Holy Spirit are the only ones who recieve eternal life...that only God hath immortality, etc. etc. Just do it friends..study the word "soul".. it occurs about 1100 times in scripture...study it from Genesis to revelation and you will know and you will know that you know....and feel immensely blessed.

    March 28, 2011 at 6:53 pm |
  17. Paul Bischoff

    It's about selling books. Great marketing, Mr. Bell, at the expense of the Gospel.

    March 27, 2011 at 9:36 am |
  18. Heather F

    Romans 6:23 says “The wages sin pays is death,” not fiery torment in hell. Ecclesiastes 9:5 says “the dead are conscious of nothing at all,” so what good would tormenting them hell do anyway if they’re not conscious of it? When Adam sinned God told him his punishment in Genisis 3:17-19. “From dust you are and to dust you will return.” Since Adam greatly sinned and is the reason we all die(Romans 5:12), wouldn’t it have made sense for God to clearly state there that Adam would be burning in hell if that is actually the punishment?Instead we read clearly that his punishment was death. I think you would be surprised what you would find if you researched the history of the hellfire doctrine. It was not a doctrine taught in the congregations of the first Christians- the same congregations founded by the disciples who were personally taught by Jesus. The Catholic Church- huge proponents of the hellfire doctrine- admit in their own encyclopedia and history that the doctrine came much later, but they still hold fast that it is truth. Begs the question, why didn’t Jesus teach his disciples this doctrine if it’s such an important part of Christianity? Or does it come from another source?
    The truth is in God’s word. 1 John 4:8

    March 24, 2011 at 9:09 pm |
    • Dale

      Not in the first generations of christians- you better study Matt. 25:46

      March 26, 2011 at 10:51 am |
    • Heather F

      Dale-
      Although most translations use the word “punishment” at Matthew 25:46, the basic meaning of the Greek word κολασιν (ko′la·sin) is “checking the growth of trees,” or pruning, cutting off needless branches. So while the sheeplike ones receive everlasting life, the unrepentant goatlike ones suffer “eternal punishment,” being forever cut off from life. This is reassuring to know and understand since the Bible doesn't contradict itself, so this scripture is actually in line with the others I already cited.
      Jesus did not teach that God would maliciously torture the wicked forever. Rather, Jesus said: “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life.” (John 3:16, NAB) Why would Jesus imply that those who did not believe in him would die? If he really meant that they would live forever, suffering misery in a fiery hell, would he not have said so?

      April 1, 2011 at 3:12 pm |
    • Heather F

      I should also clarify that I am not a supporter of Bell. I'm not a member of his church, this article just intrigued me. Then I noticed that most posts and replies didn't include scriptural citations and I thought this was sad. Especially sad to me was the antagonistic repies of one particular commentator (not you, Dale) who repeatedly, sarcastically told people to try reading the Bible sometime, but never gave a citation to follow up with, nor an articulate arguement. There are a few posts in this discussion that are not very Christlike- and those are from the "Christians." Whatever his motives or teaching, this shouldn't be argued from Bell's point of view. It should be argued from the Bible and the simple truths found in it. Sadly, some have over the years changed the meanings of words to fit a certain doctrine, but thankfully God has made it possible through study and research to find the truth. We juat have to put forth the effort.

      April 1, 2011 at 3:25 pm |
  19. Pohleece

    Awesome – thinking like this disturbs those that want to pressure you into a belief system by wielding the big stick (hell)! Can't wait to read the book, for GOD is LOVE!

    March 22, 2011 at 3:46 pm |
    • Tatillana

      Agree!

      April 27, 2011 at 9:39 am |
  20. blake

    Classic example of what happens when one is a rock star wanna be and becomes obcessed with hipster culture. Interesting to see the cult following this heretic has acquired - almost entirely folks with the same poorly chosen values.

    March 19, 2011 at 7:58 pm |
    • January24

      Rob Bell is free to believe whatever he wants to believe. But he isn't free to represent his beliefs as Christianity.

      Jesus spoke more about Hell than He did about Heaven. He warned people over and over not to go there. Jesus said, "I am the way, the truth and the life. No person comes to the Father except by me."

      If Jesus didn't die to save those who would accept His death as their atonement, then why did He die? If there is no Hell, what is Jesus saving us from?

      Sadly, Rob Bell will not only discover that there is a Hell, but he will also be punished specifically for leading so many people astray. These are the types of false teachings that the Bible warned us would be prevalent during the last days.

      April 18, 2011 at 12:36 am |
    • williamjones

      who are we to judge who goes to hell only God

      April 26, 2011 at 1:07 pm |
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About this blog

The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.