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)
  1. Aezel

    Atheism is on the rise, it has been a steady trend worldwide, and eventually, we WILL be rid of this primitive nonsense. Then maybe humanity can move on and do truly great things instead of arguing about ridiculous stuff like pretend friends in the sky.

    March 1, 2011 at 1:21 pm |
    • crucified

      You sound like Nimrod..when do you start construction on the Tower of Babel.. I won't be here.. something called the rapture.. I do not have time to explain it.. but have fun with the tower thing..

      March 1, 2011 at 1:50 pm |
    • Face

      Can you tell me or ask yourself, how many generations have thought the EXACT same thing over the centuries??

      You're right, the fact that it hasn't "happened yet" means that it will becoming sooner rather than later...
      Now all you have to do is get out of the box you have with a 1" hole cut in it and gather evidence to suggest it. (and not biased conformation from the religious....from ALL sources!)

      March 1, 2011 at 2:04 pm |
    • Reheheeeaaaaaly?

      @crucified-Holy Crap, you're a Prophet! I wonder if the Tower of Babel, will actually be called Babel and if Babylon will actually exist in the future? I mean it seems plausible, I suppose, that in the blink of an eye that all Christians will disappear and be with there heavenly but very jealous father. You know the one, who would condemn all us non- Christians to a seven year turmoil of abuse and murder. And if this is all because we are imperfect beings, born with original sin, then we have to think about where sin originates from? You would most likely answer Satan, but Satan would also be created by God, thus the creator has a hand in the creation of sin. Also he created humans, who would not be perfect, so he's not perfect. Most Christians fall back on stereotypical rebuttals, sooooo go for it!

      March 1, 2011 at 2:23 pm |
    • ST Mannew

      Move on with what? Your own conjured up notions of what the truth is, based on your own neurotic feelings of self-ness. You are actually arrogant enough to believe that your feelings are the standard of what is good. People who believe that there is standard outside themselves by default are selfless. You sir make yourself a joke without the help of anyone else but yourself. Quite literally, enjoy yourself, because that is all you have.

      March 1, 2011 at 2:26 pm |
  2. Sy2502

    My invented story is better than yours!!!

    March 1, 2011 at 1:21 pm |
  3. Barbara Symons

    As a recovering Charismatic Christian I understand the fear based theology and the tactics of behavioral modification employed by the traditional fundamentalist churches. Christians need to realize that much of their dogma is erroneous and begin to separate and understand that the Bible is a timeline of our unfolding consciousness. First the law, then migration out of the law and into grace. It seems much of the church is stuck in the law and FEAR.

    March 1, 2011 at 1:21 pm |
    • MrHanson

      I base my religion on purpose and hope. Not fear.

      March 1, 2011 at 1:43 pm |
    • CheckUrFacts

      Bingo! Well said!

      Judaism: What is hateful to you, do not to your fellow man. That is the
      entire law; all the rest is commentary. (Talmud, Shabbat 31a)

      Christianity: All things whatsoever ye would that man should do to you,
      do ye even so to them; for that is the law and the prophets. (Matthew

      March 1, 2011 at 1:46 pm |
  4. crucified

    Definition of Humanism, Atheism, agnostic = a fairytale belief that some have that they are the only God and they do not need a Savior, they do not recognize their need for a savior or are mostly angry at God. They believe in the Created work of God rather than the Creator himself. Their PRIDE in themselves keeps them far from the Holiness of God. and the Holy Heaven could not be defiled by their presence therefore they GO to Hell forever! becouse of their rejection of their Maker. Purely fantacy to trust in yourself.

    March 1, 2011 at 1:20 pm |
    • Denizen Kate

      The utter presumptiveness of your comment, telling others what they believe and that they are going to burn in whatever form of hell YOU happen to believe in, is the very sort of idiocy that keeps me from being able to even LIKE someone like you.

      March 1, 2011 at 1:33 pm |
    • crucified

      @Denizen Kate--Just stating what is in the Bible.. Not my own presumptions.. they are stated in the bible.. so if you do not like what I am saying maybe you are really mad at GOD.

      March 1, 2011 at 1:36 pm |
    • Face

      Such an educated statement!!
      You demonstrate just how critical thinking religious people are
      If you actually READ the definitions they are obviously not even close to your strawman argument....
      (and you DO know better, you're just p i sse d off and are attempting to create biased opinion, and label people)

      can you say: inside the box and loving it?
      Dum b @$$

      March 1, 2011 at 2:01 pm |
  5. jo an

    I arrived, long ago, that I could not believe in, worship, follow a god that would do any of the things FUNDAMENTALISM teaches...'sending people to HELL', 'sending a SON to die on a cross for people's SINS', teaching that we come into the world with ORIGINAL SIN'. NONE of this was taught or believed by the EARLY CHRISTIANS...it was made up by the CATHOLIC CHURCH to empower it. If no one 'needs saving from ORIGINAL SIN' then the CHURCH would be out of biz. Jesus was awesome because of what he taught and how he lived his life and he was a human being. The CHURCH had to make him OTHER to sell THE CHURCH. No,there is no HELL nor HEAVEN as they teach. Our species is all in this together and we are all going on together or we'll perish together, like the other species that have become extinct.

    March 1, 2011 at 1:20 pm |
    • Denizen Kate

      Where's a "Like" button when you really need one? Well put, jo an.

      March 1, 2011 at 1:29 pm |
  6. MrSJoe

    Reading these it makes me understand how too many Americans are no less extreme in their religious fervor then their Al Qaeda counterparts... wow! The anger and absolutism in the comments is scary!

    March 1, 2011 at 1:18 pm |
  7. bg in oregon

    Here we go again, a bunch of hoopla from, and about, people that have Imaginary friends.

    March 1, 2011 at 1:17 pm |
  8. fsmgroupie

    He's got it partly right. Now all he has to do is admit there is no heaven either.

    March 1, 2011 at 1:17 pm |
  9. kwidmayer

    Rob Bell thinks there is no hell, or that there is no one there? He should talk to Bill Wiese(Author of 23 Minutes in Hell), because Bill has been there, and so has Jesus. It's under our feet and there are many people there.

    March 1, 2011 at 1:16 pm |
    • pdpslide

      Your kidding right? Under our feet! so, Heaven is just the other side of the moon?

      March 1, 2011 at 1:28 pm |
    • Godless

      Wow. Really, kwidmayer? Wow. Seriously, wow.

      March 1, 2011 at 1:34 pm |
  10. Fooled

    @Anna, what do you base your beliefs on? You can't just make stuff up. Proof text it for us. Otherwise you're making up your own imaginary religion.

    March 1, 2011 at 1:16 pm |
    • Denizen Kate

      Why not? Aren't all religions imaginary?

      March 1, 2011 at 1:26 pm |
    • Godless

      "You can't just make stuff up. Proof text it for us. Otherwise you're making up your own imaginary religion."

      Irony, thy name is Fooled.

      March 1, 2011 at 1:33 pm |
    • MrHanson

      I agree the Church of Darwin, made up this religion called evolution. Sounds pretty imaginary.

      March 1, 2011 at 1:42 pm |
  11. Ken Silva

    If you want to know the truth about the mythology of Rob Bell (cf. 2 Timothy 4:3-4) I recommend you check the evidence in here: http://tiny.cc/o6fcp

    March 1, 2011 at 1:14 pm |
  12. Denizen Kate

    Mr. Bell should have known better. This is what happens in the evangelical Christian community when one actually THINKS about something. Now he knows how I felt when, as a child in Sunday school, I asked the uncomfortable questions such as who did Adam and Eve's sons marry? And there it began . . .

    March 1, 2011 at 1:14 pm |
    • Reheheeeaaaaaly?

      Duh, Cain and Abel married their sisters.

      March 1, 2011 at 1:31 pm |
  13. dave

    Here we go again, getting worked up like children over supposed understanding of fairie tales and imaginary friends.

    No religion, know peace.

    This is stupid that this is even news.

    March 1, 2011 at 1:13 pm |
    • Godless

      No religion, know peace. That's awesome. That should be on a bumper sticker or a billboard.

      March 1, 2011 at 1:19 pm |
  14. everettereb

    If there is no hell then there is no need for people to do right.
    If there is no hell then there is no sin.
    If there is no hell then there is no need for churches.
    We can all just go out into the world and do what we please without worry.
    If there is no hell then there is no need for Rob Bell's church or any other church for matter.

    March 1, 2011 at 1:13 pm |
    • Godless

      So, where is hell? Ever been? Ever known someone who has?

      March 1, 2011 at 1:18 pm |
    • Denizen Kate

      "If there is no hell then there is no need for people to do right" - Really? You truly believe that without the threat of hell, a person cannot be good? That the only thing that forces human beings to be kind and caring towardseach other is fear? What a sad, pitiful world you live in.

      March 1, 2011 at 1:18 pm |
    • Observer

      What nonsense!

      Actually, agnostics and atheists deserve credit because they try to be good people for the sake of humanity rather than because of bribes (heaven) and threats (hell).

      March 1, 2011 at 1:22 pm |
    • pdpslide

      IF, the only reason people are honest, kind to others and have love and compassion for their fellow man IS because their is a HELL–then you live in FEAR because of the thoughts of doing otherwise. GOD creates perfect, not imperfect. Do unto others as you would have the Do to you.

      March 1, 2011 at 1:25 pm |
    • MrHanson

      @Denizen Aren't we all just meaningless organisms fighting for our own survival? What's the difference between saving a person's life and the life a a tapeworm? Don't we all have the 'selfish gene' as Richard Dawkins put it?

      March 1, 2011 at 1:26 pm |
    • DELLA

      If there is no hell then there is no need for people to do right. REALLY? AN INSURANCE POLICY THEN...
      If there is no hell then there is no sin. DEFINE SIN
      If there is no hell then there is no need for churches. IS THAT WHERE WE SIGN UP FOR THE POLICY?
      We can all just go out into the world and do what we please without worry. AH, YEAH, CUZ THAT BRINGS SUCH PEACE AND JOY...
      If there is no hell then there is no need for Rob Bell's church or any other church for matter. CUZ THAT'S WHAT IT'S ALL ABOUT, STAYING OUT OF HELL...

      One can only hope that eventually you will get knocked over with the Love that Rob Bell is talking about...you will weep at your posting here.

      March 1, 2011 at 1:30 pm |
    • RM

      God is love. Love is healing and uplifting and pure and holy and giving and kind. Love is the basis of the greatest commandment. Judging people and codemning them to Hell or rewarding them an enternity in Heaven is not our role. For we see as through a glass darkly. We don't know the full story and therefore we should concentrate on and focus our minds on whatsoever is good and holy and pure.

      March 1, 2011 at 2:02 pm |
  15. jlynnrey

    Regardless, I am disturbed by the fact that Taylor has not even read Bell's book "in it's entirety." It just seems to me that people should read the guy's book - it's not even out yet! - before they make a judgment about Bell's beliefs. Who knows what he is saying within the context of the chapter? Let's give Bell the benefit of the doubt until we know what the book actually says. Just a thought.

    March 1, 2011 at 1:13 pm |
  16. c free

    man u guys still can't have an article with someone rightly presenting Christ and the true gospel? just one article! please....everyday there's a new article on cnn.com about a universalist, a guru, a catholic, a heretic, whoever, as long as it's not a true christian who is rightly proclaiming the gospel...so the readers and people who visit this site just see a divided church and confusion which is not of God but of the devil. the true church is not divided, that's why we can know a heretic like Rob Bell by his fruit as the bible says. He is trying to have his own gospel, the exact opposite of what Jesus taught...is he was of Christ he would hear his voice and obey him...read the new testament.....

    March 1, 2011 at 1:12 pm |
    • Q

      @c free – I'm sure you'll be able to precisely describe what const-itutes a "true christian"? Presumably, one who believes your specific brand of mythology?

      March 1, 2011 at 1:15 pm |
    • Observer

      What is "news" about a Bible that hasn't changed in hundreds of years based on a 2,000 year old story? What kind of article would you expect that is "news"?

      March 1, 2011 at 1:16 pm |
    • MrSJoe

      Ha! So not Catholics and others unlike you are not "true Christians"?! Scary! Change gods name from Jesus to Allah and this clown @ c free is an Al Qaeda recruit!

      March 1, 2011 at 1:21 pm |
    • Denizen Kate

      @c free, if you are depending upon CNN or any other mainstream news media to proselytize your beliefs for you, you're seriously looking in the wrong place.

      March 1, 2011 at 1:22 pm |
  17. JDJ

    I am hopeful that the author does not conclude that since God is love there will be no judgment. The Bible describes God in many other ways in addition to "love." If there is no eternal punishment, then there can be no ultimate justice. There will be a time when all people are judged for what they have done on earth. The good news is that they do not have to take the eternal punishment if they will call on Jesus and ask for forgiveness now.

    March 1, 2011 at 1:12 pm |
    • CheckUrFacts

      What exactly is just about eternal torture from a loving god because you didn't say the magic words?

      March 1, 2011 at 1:24 pm |
    • opinion

      It is worthless to argue with this Bell guy or anyone else who doesn't truly believe in Jesus. Also, everyone has to travel their own path to belief and this could be his. I do like these belief articles CNN is putting out. Whether they are right or wrong is no matter, at least they are acknowledging that people believe.

      March 1, 2011 at 1:26 pm |
    • karen

      how can people be so stupid read the bible and then you will know there is a hell judgement will come the devil is everywhere even in a lot of so called pastors i beleive that god will do what he say's he will.

      March 1, 2011 at 1:34 pm |
    • W247


      In the bible there is only one way to the Lord, and that is through His son Jesus. IF everyone is going to Heaven regardless if they accept the Lord or not into their lives, then why was Jesus crucified?

      He was crucified for our sins, those that ask for forgiveness and ask God to not just be our Savior but also the Lord of our life.

      March 1, 2011 at 3:20 pm |
  18. Don R

    Interesting how the fundamentalist & evangelicals are so quick to condemn Bell (and anyone not of their persuation). I know, I know the Bible is inerrant & infallible and that is of course where their info comes from. Great to be so sure of your information.....I, on the other hand, am not so sure. Tell me your views of Hell and I tell you your views of God.

    March 1, 2011 at 1:12 pm |
  19. Adrien

    @crucified: That's just silly. We all didn't come from apes. We came from the holy Flying Spaghetti Monster...

    March 1, 2011 at 1:12 pm |
    • MrHanson

      Your Mommy and Daddy let you post on CNN?

      March 1, 2011 at 1:19 pm |
    • Elphaba

      I'm a born again Pastafarian. I pray to the great Meatball in the sky. Sometimes He gives me more sauce, bu tmore often than not, He gives me the big Italian Sausage!

      March 1, 2011 at 1:23 pm |
  20. curiousdwk

    It's interesting to note that it is the Christian hierarchy which is saying that this is heresy. Yet if I talk to most of my friends, who would claim to be Christians, almost all of them would agree that there can't be a hell and that any god is not going to send us to burn in hell for eternity. There is a definite disconnect between the Christian hierarchy and the Christian believer. Similar to the disconnect between the Catholic hierarchy and the Catholic laity who will continue using birth control. When will the heirarch realize that they were marginalized years ago and don't matter any more?

    March 1, 2011 at 1:11 pm |
    • Elphaba

      Actually, the deal is that God doesn't send us to eternal damnation, we go there on our own accord because we don't ask forgivness for our sins. And we do need the heirarchy. They set the standard, afterwhich we pick and choose what does and doesn't work for us. It's pretty hypocritical to pick and choose, but it works for most Christians, even to the point of two Christians I know who live together without the benifit of marriage. Their explaination? God knows their love for each other and therefore don't need a government issued piece of paper. Hypocritical!!!

      March 1, 2011 at 1:18 pm |
    • jpaulnorton

      I would check w/ those friends again. Orthodox Christians believe in Heaven and Hell. Rob Bell is part of the Emergent Church movement and yes, many who agree with this movement might say there is no Hell, but that isn't what most Christians would agree with.

      The real question is "What does Rob Bell and those who believe as him do with Jesus?" If they say he is the Son of God who died on a cross and would affirm the Gospel, than they are in the ball park. But, if they are missing the mark on such a cut and dry issue like Hell, I would say they must not have a true picture of Jesus either.

      March 1, 2011 at 1:20 pm |
    • W247


      That is a good question, if we are ALL going to heaven without the need of accepting the Lord into our lives, then what did Jesus die on the cross for? Then why NOT sin?

      March 1, 2011 at 3:17 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.