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.
It's very interesting that all the posts defending God/Hell/Religion are just bible quotes, regurgitation of words learned form years of brain washing. I also find it fascinating that people who claim to be followers of Jesus, a person who preached love and tolerance, have little tolerance for anyone who disagrees with their doctrines. They even go so far as to condemn them to Hell.....in the name of God, of course.
Actually I am a firm beliver because of the Martyrdom of the deciples. If Jesus even commited one sin they would not of believed. They would of just died a happy life. so I look at Jesus words which come from the BIBLE.. hence the belief in what it says... Jesus describes Hell in Luke 16:19-31 so I believe what He says about it. Would you have you skin flayed from your body while your alieve such as batholemew if he did not see Jesus resurect. would you go through that torture for a belief in antheism? certainly not? good luck with those thoughts though....
@ crucified: as I pointed out on your original post, no religion corners the market on followers that have died in gruesome ways as martyrs. None. There are plenty of Muslims that died for their faith during the crusades. There are numerous buddhist that have been massacred by various regimes rather than renounce what they believe. The fact is there is no final PROOF for any religion. It all comes down to a matter of faith at some point as nothing can ever be proven beyond a shadow of a doubt.
Also, I know quite a few atheists that, yes, would be killed in horrible ways rather than renounce their beliefs. You need to get outside of the 4 walls of the church my friend and meet some people that believe differently than you, go experience life and truly get to know people rather than judge from the the ivory tower of evangelical Christianity and all of it's supposed "answers". Otherwise the choir is the only group who will listen to you...
at propervillian,, yes but in all the other religions they did not actually see the prophet or the resurection.. which means they believed the thought because of a belief system.. These people witnessed Jesus in person and his resurection..Therefore their first hand accoumt is the bases for martyrdom.. there fore logic not flawed.... analyze more closely next time.
We commonly joke with my friends that we're all going to hell... and in that case, I could be happy there surrounded by good and fun people, which in the eyes of christianity are sinners. The concept of hell has been distorted by "religious" people and is an excuse to teach bad kids good behavior.
Why, when we have learned that God is almighty, benevolent and forgiving, do we need a mental image and constant reminder of his "wrath" and punishing nature? Maybe hell does exist, here on earth and our punishment is to live surrounded by all these people that try to shove their believes in our minds, those ignorants that instead of occupy themselves taking care of their brothers, have to criticize open-minded people that are offering an alternative to outdated religion. I like this alternative better, a loving God, universal and forgiving, and a religion that gives us the option of living without fear and reaching our potential of being as good as we can.
Oh no… someone believes something contrary to the norm…
Here’s my silly 2 cents. If Hell is a reality, and no one has been to the afterworld but God himself, and Jesus is the first person with that claim, and capable of not only describe it, but to reveal it, why aren’t there more questions like “Jesus, what the hell is this Hell you are talking about?” in the Scriptures. When Jesus talks about Hell, it sounds as though he is using a pre-conceived notion to illustrate good and bad behavior. God did not reveal that there was a Hell and that He was going to send people there…it was already a concept that Jesus used in his parable constructs.
Parables are used to describe real events, things, and places... what you are talking about is a allogory.. Hell is Real.. and Jesus himself described it many times in the new testament. Luke 16:19-31 is an exact description of Hell from Jesus(GOD)
I will ask Rob when I play soccer with him this week what he meant about those comments. Maybe I'll get an early copy of the book as well! :p
I suspect that it is Jehovah who decides who gets in to heaven and not preachers, scholars and not the Bible. Jesus created and redeemed, let Him decide and stay out of it. Shame on a bunch of hate filled fundamentalists for their blasphemy.
We are unfortunately seeing this more and more these days. If you don't like the message of the bible and of Jesus, then just re-write it to suit your own purposes. Unfortunately people who do this are worshipping themselves instead of God. I will pray that the millions of people looking for an easy way out of the TRUTH don't fall for it in this case. Only the most selfish creatures on earth could reject God's free gift of grace.
None of this matters, because there are no gods. Argue and fight over theological minutia all you want. Have fun, suckers!
@ Matt–I really really liked that. Will check out the CS Lewis book.
The idea that everyone is so loved that they are saved does violence to the scriptures. It is contradictory to what Jesus himself says. It is contradictory to what Moses understood and to what actions the Father wrought in the OT. Christ himself says that there is a particular sin that cannot be forgiven, and forgiveness of sins is the very basis of salvation. If one cannot conceive of the presence of sin and therefore the power of God to forgive them, they cannot be saved since they cannot conceive. This is where unbelievers sit – a place where things are considered and debated in a language they neither understand nor speak. They are trapped in the language of science, one that believers also understand, and understand that the language of spirituality cannot be used to describe science – much like a request that birdsong be used to explain Calculus.
"This is where unbelievers sit – a place where things are considered and debated in a language they neither understand nor speak"
The same can be said for nonbelievers not understanding mentally delusional people.
Observer – this is untrue. Believers also understand the language of science, along with the language of spirituality, and have based their decisions upon both. Unbelievers are those who cannot understand spirituality as they do not know this language, and even deny its existence. Ignorance is defined as the absence of understanding or knowledge. Therefore, non-believers are those who lack, not believers.
Observer – I'm afraid that this debate cannot continue because you will be forever confused about God and spirituality. Think of it in this way – like two opposition groups at an abortion clinic, both screaming at each other all day. By the time the sun goes down neither side is convinced by the argument of the other, but both sides are covered in the spit of the other; both are defiled bu t neither has accomplished anything.
I maintain that non-believers are limited in their understanding because they cannot speak the language of spirituality, and demand that spiritual matters be explained to them using unspiritual words. I can never prove to you why the taste of broccoli appeals to me, or how I love things without using a language or a concept you cannot understand. This is impossible without the assistance of God, and since you deny his existence ....
"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."
Which means his response is based on incomplete knowledge of Bell's position and is therefore totally without validity. Nice to see the "accepting" Christian community, once again, not racing to judgement or villifying people in the press before all the facts are in (rolls eyes).
Pathetic. It's behavior like this that makes me ashamed to be called a Christian...
***“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! 🙂
If you are a Christian solely for the purpose of going to heaven, you're doing it wrong. Plain and simple. Jesus didn't just "exist", but rather worked to live out the Kingdom of Heaven here on this earth. Jesus' mission on this earth was to show us a new way. That way was one of reconciliation with God and with creation. That way came against the establishment of religion and they killed him for it. And his first stop? Hell. Jesus went to hell to steal the keys of sin and death.
How many of us are willing to go through Hell here on this earth to save others? How many of you are willing to have that separation from God so that others may have life and have it to the full? I'm willing to bet that anyone only arguing theology is not walking as Jesus did. When you get out there and meet people who need, hurt, been abused, etc... you will see something different. Perhaps you will even meet Jesus there in the "least of these".
Or... you can go to church every Sunday in your pretty little church clothes with your perfect little family and shelter yourself from the very real Hell that people on this earth live everyday. So make your choice.
If you believe in Jesus, you will do what he says. What he said was simply "love"... Love God, love others, love yourself... it's all summed up in this. There is no truer gospel than that, and that's what Rob Bell preaches.
Well said:) I wish more Christians felt this way. I'm all for the notion that we Christians need to talk less and love more.
Batholemew was one of Jesus disiples his skin was peeled off his body while he was alive then hung on a stick and burned. He along with 11 of the deciples where martyred for their belief. the roman tradition was to ask you up to three times before the killed you. they ate, slept, lived with Jesus for 3 1/2 years if jesus was not real.. they certainly would of denied him. who would go through all of that with out seeing him resurected. therefore he is God. I trust the deciples Motivation rather than all the post on this site. For would you be skinned alive for your belief in no God.. certainly Not. Good luck with that thought.. and just for a description of Hell to add flavor to conversation.Luke 16:19-31
The problem with your logic is that there are numerous other followers of other religions that met equally as gruesome and painful deaths. So are we now saying belief is validated solely on how much pain their followers are willing to suffer rather than renounce? If this is the case then all religions are true and equal including Islam whose followers were butchered at the hands of knights during the crusades.
So we are suppose to believe David Kuresh was jesus then, his followers gave up their lives for him and stayed with him for so long, standing up to tanks and machines guns...
Glad to follow your logic
Marking Wins: http://theamericanjesus.net/2011/02/28/marketing-wins-why-rob-bell-isnt-going-to-hell/
OK, if we accept the fundamentalist view of hell then for whatever mistakes I make during my life, I can be condemned to burn in hell forever. Does anybody have a concept of what forever is? Say, 100 million years from now I'll be still burning for mistakes made during about 0.0001 percent of my soul's existence. If that is the official Christian belief, then one would have to reasonably realize that their God must be both petty and hateful to those who don't stick to the party line. The official view of hell then is, if they insist on it, incredibly damning to their claim that God loves us.
God is not petty and hateful because He Himself made a way out for us if we just believe that Jesus died for us sinners. "For God so LOVED THE WORLD that He gave His only begotten Son that whosoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life." (John 3:16)
@Lucy: What about the people who existed before Jesus was supposedly born? Were they grandfathered in?
@Lucy. What if I am a hard working woman, living a good life, being good to all people, helping the poor, giving the shirt off my back, but live in a place where the christian faith is not known. Am I therefore condemned to hell because I never had the opportunity to get to know Jesus
Yes, Godless, they were. This discussion is an involved one, but if you would like to have it I'll get you some information on it. However, since you are limited to a single language you will not likely understand it. You see, believers understand both science and spirituality – speak both languages, as it were – and have based their decisions upon both. You can hear but cannot understand the language of spirituality, which limits your ability to understand the concepts we are discussing, as it does for all atheists and 'scientists' who maintain an absence of spirituality.
Why those who only believe in science ask for believers to explain their beliefs in a language that excludes spirituality seems, well, rather ridiculous to me. If you wish to learn calculus, you must first learn the language of calculus, or etc.
iveeno, that's interesting. Are dinosaurs in heaven or hell? I've always liked dinosaurs, so depending on where they are, that will dictate which fictional place I'll try to get into.
I can do the vilest things on earth and still make it to heaven? That's some gospel! If everyone is going to heaven, then there's no need to be a Christian.
Finally you got the point..No need
There's nothing in this that doesn't say there aren't reprocusions, just a different interpretation of the "eternal fire" scenario
I think the story is that as long as we truly repent, all is forgiven. Hell, I plan on truly repenting when I'm on my death bed. If I'm hit by a truck and don't have an opportunity to repent at the last minute, well... that's life!
A lot of hot air about a mythical creation, god. Like arguing how many angels, another myth, fit on the head of a pin. Opiate of the masses for sure.
Sorry, Stan, but you know not of what you speak. Angels are real and so is God - and I've seen proof!
@ Lucy You mean you had a hallucination. I feel sorry for you. Your brain had some sort of moment of thinking you saw something. Instead of being a reasonable sane person and understanding that all of our brains do that to us sometimes because of how they work, you chose to think you had seen "proof" of angels. How very sad and how very laughable.
@ Lucy. Yeah, and the Son of Sam heard voices. What gets me is that all you Christians say God answered my prayers when you get the answer you want one out of a hundred prayers, then say it God's will when he says "No" the other ninty-nine times. Not very good odds, I'd say. How about this: life is a crapshoot. That's all. God has nothing to do with it.
Amen Stan – they are arguing over who has the best imaginary friend! When you die – you are DEAD. No nothing, just dead.
Peoples’ ego makes them think they are so important their lives cannot end. You need to get a life, a real life now and not wait on that great reward in the sky. Enjoy this life, there is nothing else!
Sorry, Lucy, – your are delusional. God exist in your single celled brain..
My favorite picture of the difference between heaven and hell is in C.S. Lewis' book The Great Divorce. He depicts hell not as a place of pain and torture but of inward focused isolation. Hell is a refuge for those who can't let go of themselves as the most important being and ultimate end of all endeavors... he describes the doors of hell as "locked from the inside". He posits that God will not force himself on anyone who refuses to accept him, and hell is full of people who cannot stomach anything besides themselves as the ultimate center of importance. Given time, these tendencies intensify to their logical conclusion, and people choose to withdraw and isolate themselves away from the demands of any other being.
Its alot like the last book in the Narnia series, where there are creatures in heaven that can see nothing but misery because of their own devices
Ron Bell, Brian McLaren and their ilk are part of the apostasy that was prophecied by Jesus! They have fallen away from the Gospel - the one that gets people saved and to heaven. Tell me, if everyone goes to heaven, then why did Jesus have to die? These so-called Christians are leading their flock to the very hell they say doesn't exist. Woe on them.
Lucy – Jesus did not die – he was resurrected – the dying is a misleading story he still lives.
Well, see that's the point. Jesus died to save EVERYONE from hell. And I find it a little much that this person has so many accusations toward a book he hasn't even read.
Wow... that is quite the endictment.
GOD IS DEAD!
Sounds like you stopped reading at Christ Crucified. Spoiler alert sweetheart...HE IS RISEN!
I am so sorry you feel this way... anger with God does not mean he is not their. and the consequences are the same.
He is dead to you because you are limited to a single language. Those who understand and feel the concept and presence of God speak another language as well. At present your intellect is not capable of grasping the idea since it is spiritual and not scientific. Believers understand both Science and spirituality and have used both to make a decision. You make decisions on a concept you do not understand because you do not possess the language with which to understand it. You make decisions, therefore, based upon ignorance, not reason.
god maybe dead, assuming that god ever existed in the first place. It seems to me that this universalism is the same stuff as telling every child that they have passed their grades and therfore are not failures. If everyone goes to heaven, then that accounts for the total disatser that ther majority of lives seem to be – i.e. life is so grim here on earth that anything else must be heaven. How can any thinking/rational being concur with such utter claptrap. Folks need to get a grip on themselves and recognize their good and bad points and try to improve themselves by eliminating or reducing their bad points. Stpo trying to take personal responsibility away from individuals – make them responsible for their own actions. No more god nonsense or "heaven awaits us all" – the fact is that everyone goes to sleep at night without any idea that they will wake up the next morning. The fact that they do is just part of life, and then one day "boom" they don't wake up – i.e. game over. Get used to it, because that's the way it is!!
Yes; and without 'Hell', Christian pastors will have no stick to beat their followers with 🙂 You can't raise much money if you have nothing for the folks to be a-feared of, right? Take away Hell, and the bank accounts of all those televangelists, etc will dry up and dissappear!
@ crucified - so sorry you can't spell. @ Andrey–god can't be dead because he/she/it never existed.
@DK I am so sorry you came from APES
I am always very amused at people who "know" there is no GOD. There is no way in "HELL", (pun intended), that you could know that. Tell you one thing though. It takes much more faith to be an Atheist than it does to believe in God.