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":
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.
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.
I'm christian and I don't believe Gandhi is in hell. I do believe in hell though. I think there must be some kind of inclusiveness that we may not be aware of.
Inclusiveness isn't really new; the catholic church has already expressed the belief that Jews are not in need of conversion to Christianity- that the covenant made to Moses is still in effect for the descendents of Jacob.
it is not revealed to you nor anyone else where Gandhi is so why speculate and form an opinion where you have no authority to make that opinion to believe on not believe that Gandhi is in heaven or hell? This is where Christians fail. They do not base there beliefs....on what is written but they speculate which gets them in trouble.
Are you a gambling person? Do you really think you know it all? Well I for one am not a gambling person, and I sure donot know everiy thimg, in fact I am not all that smart. But I can read and I have read the bible many times, KJV, and I believe that it is the word of God. I also believe that Jesus is the Son of God, and that He came and died on the cross for all our sins, and if I repent of my sins and accept Him as my Lord saviour I will go to heaven and be with Him forever. If I reject Him and seek another way you are bound for a very real place called hell. WELL you cnn believe any thing you want, you can believe you are a cat or dog, or any thing you want, BUT do you want to gamble on life eternal and take the chance that the KJV bible is not true, AND reject Jesus as your saviour, that is up to you and I hope you fully under stand what is going to happen if you are wrong and the bible is right.
What if YOU are wrong and picked the wrong god? Zeus won't be happy with you....
Allah does not allow himself to be split into three; if you believe that Esa, created as Adam was, is the son of God Almighty, you are a heretic doomed to be thrown into the Fires Eternal. There is no God but God, and Muhammad is His Prophet.
Wotan despises the weak, and those who die a straw death shall be denied the Hall of the Slain and shall not be part of the glorious war of the Twilight of the Gods.
Those who deny their dharma and Vishnu's supremacy shall be doomed to poor reincarnation and shall be stuck in Samsara longer then need be instead of reaching the glory of Moksha.
Those who do not appease the loa are going to face their wrath as they strike upon you for not giving them their libations.
And so on and so forth. Further, there's the idea that your deity would actually be pleased with hollow, self-interested worship to avoid horrible punishment, as opposed to actual faithfulness (and that assumes the deity would not respect a reasonable, rational decision that a lack of evidence means that one cannot worship without feeling it is a hollow worship to nothing in particular).
As a Unitarian-Universalist, I for one welcome Rev. Bell to the fold.
Universalism may not be doctrine, but I've met many ministers who believe in it in some way shape or form. The message of Jesus was love and acceptance, not exclusion.
Very true sir. I think a lot of people forget there was a new testament to replace the old one. LOL that should get'em going. I love that I can't type that will get them going and it will still get'em going
How can the opinions about a book of myths and legends be called heresy?
You're an idiot.
Theres no such thing as a "Christian Rock Star". The very stringing of those words should be punishable by lashing!
HAHAHA good one, dude
I've always thought that hell is a metaphor for the consequences you have to live with when you make bad decisions or act in bad faith. In that sense, I think it is real. But you make it yourself (or not), and you choose to go there (or not), and it's all up to you. I don't know about other people, but even without the fire pit imagery being literally true, that is still enough for me.
Millions live in Hell today because of what has been taught in mainstream church.. For 48 years, I too lived a life of Hell, thinking that my loving Heavenly Father would reject me or burn me, if I made just one mistake.. Today I know the True meaning of Freedom. Freedom is knowing a Father that loves me and created me because He wanted someone just like me..Freedom is knowing a Father that would no more burn me than I would burn my own child.. The Bible teaches that God is Love and then the church system teaches He is mean and loves to torchure His creation. May Our Heavenly Father Bless All His Children by opening their eyes and ears to His real Truth in love.
It wasn't all that long ago that a similar argument raged concerning slavery, and the Bible was used to support its validity Proponents of slavery had a vested interest - slaves. I submit that strong proponents of hell also have a vested interest - they want to see people who "break the rules," or simply those with dissimilar beliefs and behaviors "pay" for their "crimes." Deep down inside (ah, that sin nature) it feels good to say "I'm a member and you're not, and if you don't want to become one you will suffer!" And what of the Bible? Folks need to take a closer look at the words, at the original language, before theological "clubs" fashioned the translations. There is an abundance of literature out there on the subject. Or maybe just get a hold of a Strongs concordance or Zodhiates dictionary. You might find that slavery - uh, I mean eternal hell isn't God's idea.
A parable: A father was walking his two young toddlers along a city sidewalk. He's told them both on many occasions not to walk into the street or they might get hit by a car or a bus. On this day, one of his sons, who never believed this business about cars and buses, runs out into the street and is indeed killed by a passing vehicle. The father could have easily stopped him, but didn't on the basis of free will. The other son simply said his brother deserved it for steeling his Monopoly game and not saying he was sorry.
Absurd? You bet.
The truth is…there is only one truth, that’s all there can be. God is that truth and has penned his truth through the people He chose and inspired to write it. God is perfect and Holy (only good). He will not tolerate sin in His kingdom. He created man with a free-will, knowing that man may choose to rebel against Him.
Jesus said, “ I am the way, the truth and the life; no one comes to the father except through me.” John 14:6
Jesus spoke more about hell than he did about heaven. He knew that most people would choose the wide, popular, worldly path that leads to death and the destruction of the soul. The only way to heaven is through Jesus Christ who died with our sins, he willingly took upon Himself. It is our choice to accept Jesus, follow Him and inherit the Kingdom of God or die in our sins and suffer the penalties of our wrongdoings. There is no universal salvation. It is a lie intended to deceive. Satan is real and his only goal is to keep us away from the truth of Jesus Christ. Its time we start believing what the Bible says through faith in our Lord Jesus Christ. That includes you…..Rob Bell.
lol just lol
God does not give free will......how can it be free will.....if god alrady knows your choice......silly rabbits
Here we go with this argument again...
Let me ask you this. If you put a cookie on the table and let your hungry child decide whether to eat it or not, do you know what decision they will make? Yes. And since you know what decision they will make, by your definition, they didn't have any 'free will', even though you didn't force them to eat the cookie.
More than likely the child will eat it but not ever time that is flawed logic. The likely hood is high but it's not written in stone that the child will eat the cookie. It could be a kind he/she doesn't like. There could be an ant on the cookie. Why would you even make a statement like that. You could say you have faith the child would eat it but it's hardly for certain. I kind of feel dumber having to explain that to you.
Clearly you missed the point of the illustration. Just because you know the outcome of something doesn't mean free will isn't exercised. Sorry to confuse you like that.
Careful, he'll torture you!
People fail to see that this often has more to do with money. Quite simply, it is easier to attract butts in seats at a church if it is "universalist" or holds to no doctrine. Its populism. It appeases the majority. I brings in money.
Ummm, the narrow minded haters seem to do pretty well with a buck as well! I think we all want to define the world, and hope that buck will do the trick.
The true religion of this world is compassion toward all without judgement. I was Christian-only most of my life, but after reading and analyzing a lot of the Bible, my eyes "opened" more to the fact that most of the Bible is not to be taken literally but moreover as parables of "alchemical knowledge" that helps a person whom is reading to open their eyes to the wisdom of living in the 3rd dimension of materialism, and how to free your mind and ascend.
Thing is though, I did research beyond the Bible and found that most religions at their base, and most of the ascended "avatars" of time were saying the same thing. It is man whom has distorted it by not reading in between the words in the Bible or other holy books or ancient knowledge, and have set "literal" beliefs into play that stop them from thinking beyond what is taught in the book that they go by for that religion. Jesus, Buddha, Krishna, and a lot of the spiritual masters of our history all had the same message. Love one another, with no judgment. Be compassionate to your fellow man, and the world will be a better place for all.
God's greatest gift is free will. You can choose heaven or hell, right here, right now. But in truth, All paths lead to God. This cannot be changed only accepted of denied.
Zeus's greatest gift is free will. You can choose heaven or hell, right here, right now. But in truth, All paths lead to Zeus. This cannot be changed only accepted of denied.
There is no difference or any evidence to support our statements. They both sound equally rediculous.
Judgement Day is coming, when all who ever lived will face a holy God. Only the blood of Christ can cover our guilt and shame on that day.
Wait, so you're saying that someone who died 50 years ago and supposedly is in heaven hasn't faced god yet? You people need to at least get your stories straight. And stop sounding so excited for "the end of the world" – if you want to get to heaven so badly, just step in front of a bus. The rest of us would like to enjoy our time on earth (aka, the only life we have).
You mean your own guilt and shame. When I feel guilty about something I work it out with whomever I have offended or possibly hurt in some way. I feel no shame because I do my best to correct my errors and mistakes. I'm not perfect – no one is, and I will face my death with little to no fear. I'm not afraid of death itself, it's the dying part, kinda like when you're afraid of pulling a loose tooth but you don't fight it anyway because it's ineveitable. I'm not afraid of what comes after death because I can look God right in the eye and say I did my best. I don't need your God or anyone else to tell me wether I've been a decent human being or not. I choose not to believe in a wrathful deity out for blood and fire & brimstone for the masses. I wouldn't call that a good architect of the universe. But I don't judge you for doing so. If it is what keeps your moral compass pointing true then by all means that is what is best for you.
Oh my heart makes much Noise peace be on earth.Long Live the Kingdom of Heaven.
If you believe in Jesus Christ you will go to heaven.
If you do not believe in Jesus Christ you will go to hell.
In todays churches this concept is rarely preached out of fear of offending someone. You know what's really offensive? Walking them down the path of "whatever you feel" or "think" etc. That's scary! AND that's NOT love. Let the Bible interpret the Bible.
Prove to me there is a Heaven or Hell first.
The Bible was written by human hands, and there is no reason to assume that it escaped the human tendency of shaping one's writing to fit one's agenda. Remember, the Roman empire had it's own agenda for adopting the Christian religion as its own. They saw Christianity as a means of solidifying power and gaining the obedience of the willing masses. What better way to do this than to threaten people with hellfire if they deviate from the holy text... the holy text they compiled, edited, and endorsed long after Jesus, the Apostles, and all of the people who knew them were long dead. Before the First Council of Nicaea (the event in which the early church decided what actually counts as Biblical text), there were many different version of the Gospels. There were Gospels that the council just decided to reject. Why? Because the all-to-human attendees of the council thought that those Gospels just didn't sound right. God and the heavenly host didn't descend from high to point out the "correct" texts that he wanted in His book. Fallible people who desired obedience did.
Who's to say what comes after death? The closest that anyone ever comes is the near death experience, and most people near death experiencers report seeing and feeling things that fit Rob Bell's belief system far more than they fit the fire-and-brimstone teachings of orthodox Christianity. Orthodox criticism of these near death accounts often paint them as illusions brought on by ill health or even demonic influence! Because they believe that their God would allow demons to show people an afterlife of love and acceptance in order to trick them into hell. Their God sure seems to be trying hard to keep people out of heaven.
YHWH is a cruel tyrant who thirsts for human suffering, then. YHWH condemns humans to infinite suffering for finite transgressions; were a human to act in a similar manner, he would be condemned as evil. Yet, YHWH is exalted as supremely good for what is, essentially, child abuse against a toddler who spilled her juice. If you wish to sing your "holy holy holies" to such a monstrous fiction, do as you will, but do not try to spread this mental virus to other humans.
Further, is is not Christian doctrine that those who do not know of Yeshua are not doomed to the Lake of Fire? Then, would it not be the most humane thing to scour the earth of Christianity? Would that not save everyone: to destroy every church, to burn every Bible, and to silence every priest? Would not the obliteration of Christianity, then, save all mankind for their ignorance of YHWH and Yeshua?
What's important is how one lives, not what happens after one dies.
Very true. Good comment!
Wrong! whats important is where we spend eternity, not this life of 0 to 100 years.
@Jon – well, I shall be spending eternity striving to learn more. To me, hell as well as heaven is here on earth. Earth is the insane asylum of the universe. I hope next time around I get to see something intelligent in the Orion Belt region.
Epidi, Eternity with God will include continual learning and life similar to this life, only without the pain and suffereing from sin. Put your faith in Christ who takes away the sins of the world and you will be awarded the kingdom of heaven which is not on this earth but will include the Orion Belt and beyond.
@ Jon – I respect your convictions. But I am Pagan and the universe is my God/Godess and I plan on spending an eternity with it. I ask you not to try to convert me but to repect my own convictions as I do yours. I do not believe in heaven or hell except as adjectives. Jesus was/is a wonderful guiding light as a teacher. But so is Budda, Mohammed, the Mother, and the Great Spirit. I have read many of the great religious books and am fond of each one in the enlightenment each offers. But no single one has all the answers and I believe my journey in this lifetime and others will lead me to knowing and growing more. I don't see death as an end. I see it as a transition into a rebirth. See you in Summerland. Peace.
I also respect your convictions and am not trying to convert you or anyone for that matter. We all have our own beliefs and I understand and respect yours. I only choose to tell about my belief in Jesus as Lord because there is power in His name. Jesus proclaims to be the only truth and the only way to salvation. (John 14:6) Either He is who he says he is or he is one of the greatest liars of all time. He cannot be both. There can be only one truth. We are not able to understand that on our own, but with the help of the Holy Spirit we gain understanding and knowledge. Good luck on your journey my friend.
It's amazing to me that some "Christians" will preach love, tolerance and understanding, until you say something they disagree with, and then they will attack you as viciously as a pitbull, all the while claiming that Christianity os a faith of love, tolerance and understanding. You people can't have it both ways. Do as you preach, or shut up.
I wholeheartedly agree. Of course, "they" lose control of their flock when beliefs stay from what they have pounded into people's heads.
You're an idiot
I'm a christian and indeed, this is true. Christians should remember that Jesus spoke out most frequently against the hypocracy of the religious elite of his time. Yesterday's pharisees are often today's Christians.
You're the worst kind of bully there is, the kind who thinks its a fair fight only if your opponent has their hands tied and their mouth gagged. You sure do think its okay to bore us with your drivel though, don't you?
The ignorance displayed in these comments is mind blowing. I was sure that more people would know at least a little about God, the Bible and the Son of Man. What ever Bell says, let him say and then study it out in the Bible and decide for yourselves if it is true to the Gospel. 1 Thessaly. 5:21; Hosea 4:6
Could you at least not pretend that there is some value in "religion"?
My faith has value, sorry non believers can't accept that. Could you at least admit there is value in others beliefs? Since they are not your beliefs, you can't respect them at all. You're no better than the "religious types" who proseletyze. I guess forcing beliefs or the lack of them on others is a human thing. Atheists are just as smug and obnoxious as anyone else.
As I read through all the postings. I am always amazed how pointed the arguments get of "is there OR is there not a god". If one has faith- Great. If the other doesn't- Great. Why get so offended by anothers beliefs? I know what I belief and I live my life by it.
I'll leave this as my last comment for the day.
There are a growing number of athiests, naturalists, agnostics, etc, that have grown tired of being cast in a negative light, and of having no voice in society. We would be content to leave others be with their beliefs if the same could be said of others. But religion frequently drives opinions, politics, and has a large boot print on society. We can not escape the negative effects of religion, so many are now crying out for people to be rational.
The day that I see the religious stop trying take away a woman's rights, I shall relent. The day I see religion stop trying to cause decay and ostricizidation within our public school system, I shall relent. The day I see people close their kiosks at the door of their local walmart designed to raise funds to take in disadvantaged women just to have a chance to indoctrinate fear and hate into the mind of a vulnerable woman, I shall relent. The day that religion is not used as a tool to incite hate and bloodshed, I shall relent.
In the meantime, this stuff effects me and the world I live in, in a negative fashion. I want to live and let live. Trust me. It's others that have a hard time with the concept.
It is funny to think that a pagan/greek idea has been so deeply engrained in the beliefs of modern christians. The idea of hell was created as a means to scare non-believers into believing, regardless of what religion is in question. It is equally hilarious that a preacher/minister/priest/whatever still exists. The original need for a preacher was to bridge the gap between the illiterate public and the church. Well today WE CAN READ, so their use should have come to an end. Why should someone tell you how to interpret what you are reading? You have your own mind and opinion, so use it! Have a mind of your own and take ownership of the meanings you derive from your religious texts without being influenced by these propagandists
“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.
hint of false POMPOUS FALSE PREACHER "MY PEOPLE", watch out when they start elevating themselves that's when you know YOU HAVE A FALSE TEACHER IN FRONT OF YOU. "wolves in sheep's clothing"
"We all have the right to believe what we believe but not all we believe is right" – Ravi Zacharias
To all elitist pretentious hypocritical atheist, you all still have a lot to prove about your own beliefs but you believe it anyway so don't pretend you don't use faith in your own hypothesis,assumptions and theories i.e. faith, you have your own religion that's afact, you're not proving anything about your religion by ridiculing others', if you're really smart you should know that.
i'm just saying... peace! 🙂
Axle: I shall believe in YHWH, Allah, Thor, or Neptune when adequate evidence is provided for any of them. As of yet, all we have are books in antiquity and poor anecdotes that can be reliably explained in light of human confirmation bias. I have as much faith in them as I do in leprechauns, fairies, or tengu: none. That which can be asserted without evidence can be dismissed without evidence.
Believers in Christ usually don't get offended by non-believers. They get sad.