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.
Didn't we just have a similar article about another book? Running out of actual news, CNN?
Reading these posts, and looking at US society these days, makes me wonder what century we are living in. Shades of the Inquisition!! Society was far more moral in the fifties in many ways, people went to church if they so wished, kids went to Sunday school, and neighbours looked out for each other. These days to succeed in politics in the US, it is starting to look like you have to pretend to be a born again Christian, even if you aren't. Whatever happened to freedom of religion, freedom of speech, love thy neighbout – Jesus would be horrified if he visited the US these days, full of hate and greed. And most of it from people who claim to be good church going Christians. The last place one would find the Creator is in a church full of hypocrites. There has never been so much public discussion of religion as there has been in the past few years, and there has never been so much hate in the air. The US is moving, sadly, in a direction that will doom the country to turmoil and destruction, either by violence or by Nature/Creator cleaning house.
Is there a term similar to Godwin's Law that relates to religious discussions. It's only a matter of time before some ham-handed reference to either the Crusades or he Inquisition.
Tell me ladybear...how is this ANYTHING like the Inquisition? His books are still being freely distributed to the world( and he's still making money for them.) Bell has not been arrested, detained, tortured, or physically endangered in anyway. I tend to agree with Bell's point, but am sane enough to see he is not being persecuted in any Inquisitive manner. Are you so disturbed by people having a negative opinion of this guys book?
Heaven and Hell were introduced by Jesus.
There are many references to Hell in the Old Testiment as well as the New. For example this website lists some places both Old and New Testiment. http://hubpages.com/hub/Bible-Verses-about-Hell
You know the Devil has but one job. Get you to believe ANYTHING else but Jesus is God's son who died so you and I can get to heaven. That's it. Anything else and he wins the soul. So it stands to reason if I was Satan I would confuse the masses by spiting people up into sects, doctrine, religlons and diverting attentions away from one fact. That is why is states in the bible that many will parish. If all I had to do was get someone to believe ANYTHING else but one thing, my job would be pretty easy wouldn't you say. Therefore, God had to make his way just as easy. Why would he make it difficult? If he loves us which he does, then why not make salvation easy and availabe everyone? Thank God he did so. Imagine your in the ocean by yourself with no one around but God. Your exhausted from treading water and the sharks are circling. All you have to do is ask God to throw come get you. It's that easy, "God please forgive me of all my sins against you and save my life from death". He smiles and says, I love you, your forgiven and proceeds to lift you from the water and into his arms. Or you could chose to be stuborn and proud while looking at him and say I don't believe you exist and stay in the water and be eaten by sharks are drowned. The choice is yours and yours alone.
Ah, more threats from the believers. Now, my day is complete.
Cameron, with all due respect, that viewpoint is so disrespectful of others beliefs.
I am genuinely happy for you, that you have found your way. Why can you not be happy for me, that I have found mine?
Anna, I am not at all trying to be offense to you, I just know without any doubt who God is and what WILL happen when Jesus comes back to claim his people (saved persons). I would not be doing my job as a Christ Follower if I let you believe that there was some other way to avoid being left behind. I know it sounds exclusionary but it really isn't. God has two choices really, make us believe through thought control which he will not do because he promised us free will. Or give us his word, show us miracles, show us love, forgiveness and mercy and insist we have faith in him to Save us from satan's tomb. He gave us Jesus, who was God amoung us and yet we still did not believe and I believe that if he came down and lived with us today many would deny him still. Therefore it is a choice that each one of us has to make. My job as a Christ Follower is to spread the word of God so that God's prophesy of every person will have been told of God's salvations be fullfilled before the end of times. So you and every non believer in Jesus will have to chose life or death with your own free will. The choice is yours and you WILL chose. I hope you consider your choice wisely and ignore me, and everyone else trying to tell you what to do and do this one thing. Ask God to reveal to you the truth and ask for forgiveness and salvation through Jesus Christ. It may not happen right away but God is never late so when that moment in time occurs you will know it is God. I promise you, God will make himself present in your life so that your faith will strengthen to the point you will have no doubts about the truth and God. No one will be able to tell you anything that would change your mind about who God is. In turn you will do everything you can to bring God to others that don't believe also, because you don't want them to parish. You will want to see them live and not fall for the lies of Satan and the world. Fact is, if everyone really new what Hell was like then they would not play around with their souls and laugh at us crazy Jesus Followers. Eternity is a serious matter, one which no one should take lightly. There will be a moment of truth like it or not, which every soul will be accounted. God encourages questions, he wants us to ask and seek answers. Seek and ye shall find. There will be a time that all the jokes and quips will be silent and the stubborn will be crying and begging for another chance saying "I didn't know". Well yes you did. You chose not to want to know and that will carry a bitter price of death. Sadly, God says many will ignore or poke fun at the truth. After reading through this blog, I can see God is right again as always. It breaks my heart that so many will parish when it is so easy to be saved.
Now if there were only a god to go along with the bible thingy. Believing in fairy tales does not make them true.
THE BOOK HAS NOT BEEN RELEASED YET!!! THERE ARE MORE PRESSING ISSUES IN THE WORLD... i.e., oh I don't know – Egypt, Libya!
For those who have actually READ his books (I have), watched the promo video on his website (I did), it's obvious that he never denounces any part of the Christian faith (he does denounce false doctrines). He calls things into question in order to pique interest – when we wonder and have questions, we begin to seek answers. That's his point! He never says hell isn't real. Read the book, then make an educated decision!
I haven't read his book, but with just a couple of quotes, you can tell his position – and he's incorrect on Christian doctrine. core Christian doctrine, like the concept of hell, is well understood and has been for centuries. Bell asking leading questions in the designed to get one to think that the Bible is lying to us when it claims people do go to hell, even good people, is disingenuous, especially when he claims to be someone of authority and knowledge on the subject. If you feel Bell has the answers, follow Bell. If you think Christ has the answers, follow Christ. Just make sure you're fully informed on both positions. It's simple really.
In your opinion, Mike. In your opinion. When you present your opinion as fact, it's offensive.
The problem is that conservative evangelicals have forgotten that some believers do not think that hell is a place of "eternal torment" but rather that after the judgement, those who have died without Jesus simply cease to exist. If you come to the video with "eternal torment" lenses you are going to hear 'universalism.' But if you come to the video understanding that even Martin Luther didn't hold to an 'eternal hell' then you realize that Bell could potentially be tapping into some form of "Conditional Immortality" which is completely in line with the evangelical tradition. here is a post where I responded to Taylor a couple hours after his article hit: http://thepangeablog.com/2011/02/26/if-rob-bell-is-a-universalist-then-maybe-i-am-along-with-many-prominent-evangelicals/
Considering the fact that there are 38,000 sects of christianity, and each one thinks that it is more right than the others, this comes as no surprise. What does come as a surprise, is that most christians have never read the bible... the book that they hold most holy. They also consider it an act of faith that god exists, and then dismiss that it takes that same faith to believe in the Muslim god, the Jewish god, the Hindi god, and every other god that "exists" in today's culture. BTW, it took that same faith to believe in Zeus.
There are purpotedly 38k christian denominations that differ in beliefs. I am not sure why they are making a big deal about this man... Christianity is a very divided religion. everyone believes something difference. Heretic is just another name that you call someone who sees things different than you do.
Hear hear. It's funny, without having read you comment, I also went down the 38k road. cheers.
The scriptures...(law, torah, the letters to the church matt-Rev...)are understood/discerned spiritually...by the help of the Holy Spirit according to the same scriptures. Thats the key to understanding and wisdom from them...W/O the Holy Spirit to help us understand we screw the whole thing up...and we stop loving...then judge harshly which turns to hate...
I'll read the book when it comes out...and i'm sure I'll have my opinion...which usually left to its self W/O Papa God's help...
Sucks big time...smiles...but true...
This is the type of stuff that divides a people...a nation...a tribe...a business...let alone a church or our freinds and family.
It greives me and I know it greives the Lord God...forgive us Lord...and thanks for loving us inspite of our shortcomings Papa God...
Fellow readers...my fear is this may just lead to more unlawfulness...more division...though the intent of the book may not have been that in the firstplace...and I sure hope it's not about the money...as it seems it turns out that way in most cases...
I think if those who are concerned for or against this teaching, will see it is becomming a "generational" thing...a season of a certain SEED coming to fruition...
TIME WILL TELL...just watch and wait...do what's right...
How does someone like Bell get taken seriously? How does he get published as a Christian author and authority on Christianity? His fundamental confusion on basic Christian doctrine is astounding. He actually questions if Gandhi is in heaven, as if admission into heaven is based on the good things one does. Man, this guy is writing books? It appears like he's trying to appeal to those who have no understanding of Christian doctrine in order to sell books, and he's calling himself a Christian pastor to do it. Guys like this are dangerous for only one reason, the people he appeals to are ignorant of the gospel.
Many will fall away.
Guess what, kiddies! The final decision on who goes where rests with the One who created us. I am so glad that, when I die, I will stand before my Creator and not a jury of my peers because, guess what, I will stand a much better chance with my Creator than I ever will with a jury of my peers! Christians can be so nasty when it comes to the issue of salvation. Too many of them want to be the only ones in Heaven. If left to making such judgements, they would. Thank God that God is just! Amen, and see in in Heaven!
Yes. Praises be to the god that sends people to hell and infinite torture for their finite sins... while allowing an elite few to experience eternal bliss for believing in him.
Thanks be unto the supernatural creator god for caring so much that people believe in him.
Praise to the god that wants people to forgive those that reject them but he cant forgive people for rejection.
Praises be to the god thats all knowing, knew adam and eve would sin but placed the trees in the garden anyway. Praise him for knowing that lucipher would betray him but he not only created him, but created him with wisdom, power and beauty.
yes, praise god...he is worthy of our praise!glory be to him!!!
God sends no one to hell. People send themselves to hell by choosing wrongly. God also offers eternal life, paradise, and love – stuff you conveniently left out. It's a simple choice – take it or leave it. It's precisely that choice that enables true worship for God, free moral agency to do what you like and believe what you like, and it's what gives you a chance for eternal bliss. Your argument is with yourself, not with God. You're mad because you want to be God, and you resist God being God. Unfortunately, you're the creation.
Why does god need an instruction manual?
HERESY! Are we in the Middle Ages?
The critics should keep in mind that there was a time when EVERYONE of them would have been burned as a heretic in regard to something.
I'm not a Christian and this sort of silly mud slinging is only one of many reasons why.
For me it's just a good laugh ...until I remember that there are people who would love to once again weild the power to determine othodoxy and penalties for its violation.
It is good to know that regardless of my personal feeling about it, there are people like Bell who are trying to transcend the pettiness and bigotry that has dominated the religion for most of its history.
Here's this pagan lifting a toast of good wishes to you Pastor Bell. Keep it up. If they are offended...Let Them Be Offended.
Christians are still being burned at the stake, or something like it every day somewhere in the world. What's your point? "Pastor" Bell is lost. It's your choice if you want to walk along side him. God's pretty cool eh? He'll let you follow who you will. But only you will take responsibility for your actions. Bell will be standing in line right next to you to answer for his.
You're upset that heresy is still a topic of debate. But you do so by making comments about what people should think about certain topics. Anyone else see the silliness in that...or just me?
Look, what people and communities think and believe is important. People should have different ways to think. But there is also a need or at lest a use for actually making distinctions between – for example – what being Christian means. Besides in a world where heresy exacts few tangible consequences, what does it matter if someone gets that label. The problem in the middle ages wasn't that people thought about heresy and drew clear distinctions between what counts and doesn't coutn as true Christian doctrine...the problem was heretics got killed.
If this man truly believes what he is preaching then who are we to say he is wrong. HE is the one who believes it, and he is just sharing his belies with others. Who is anyone to say what is right or wrong for other people. Different beliefs about the many things life has to offer is what humanity is all about. Wouldn't this world be boring if we all thought the same thing, ate the same food, lived in the same houses, smiled, danced, and looked the same. Embrace difference. You don't have to own it, just don't shun him for having beliefs that aren't hurting anyone else. We have free will so we can make our own choices, not so we can restrict the choices of others.
This is teaching directly against the word of God. I am glad he is being called on it and can only pray that God will show him the errors of his way.
Yeah in the old days they would show him how incorrect he was. They would toss the red hot holy trinity on his face then in the name of God remove it with his skin and eyes. Those boys had it going on in the old days and all you gals would be taught the way of the father.
I've got a question? Can my dog get into Heaven, he has not peed on the rug for a while, I'd like to have him there, if there is room, is this covered in the bible I have not seen it but could have missed it. I'd hate to think he's gonna fry for enternity. Please reply with a passage. Also cold beer? I would enjoy a good microbrew. Lot's of un answered questions.
Ah...the famous I'm-a-glib-ass-so-I-must-be-right argument. I always love these guys, who mock the illogical of religion with such sound, critical debate. I mean, Thomas Aquinas is no match for your intellectual rigor.
Maybe your bible. Since you've obviously made yourself "God" over your dog, and it sounds like he's obeying one of your commandments, he'll probably go where you go. Hmmmm....poor dog.
@Ants – These simple questions always offend the believers because somewhere deep in the irrational coc-kles of their hearts, there is a glimmer of reason betraying the fact that their belief is founded in an ego-driven crippling fear of their own mortality. However, it is amusing when they attempt to defer to the "intellectual rigor" of those who defend belief in magic as reality, i.e. a priori belief + magic + more magic = my magical beliefs are correct!
"Intellectual Rigor"? You're kidding, right? How is it "intellectual" to refuse a free gift of everlasting life, in favor of a few years on this sin infested planet? Here's my logic – match it with yours if you can find it. If I decide to be Christian, I have everything to gain, because if Christianity is true – I win. The Bible is then right, I'm favored by God, and I live forever in paradise. If Christianity turns out to be false, I'm no worse off than I was before as a non-Christian. However, if I chose to use my "intellectual rigor" and decide against Christianity and it ends up being true, I lose everything. It makes no logical sense to be a non-Christian using strictly "intellectual rigor."
I'm serious, I'm not giving the faithful a hard time, serious question does the King James Version of the bible say we can have our dogs and cold beer in heaven, if it does I may become interested, you may save my soul!
@mike – Go look up Pascal's Wager to learn why your argument is a fail. And you believe yourself worthy of commenting on intellectual rigor without even knowing your own arguments? But then, they aren't really your arguments. You're simply parroting them from some other like-minded theist without any critical reflection...
21st Century: The word "heretic" shouldn't even exist. Freedom. Love. Truth.
Hell is not truth, it is manipulation. Religious manipulation and control. An invention to control the masses. It's o.k. Humans can come out now and be free.
Read: Angels on My Stage or Teaching of Gabriel. Go ahead. Dive in!
With all our knowledge, and wisdom, calling one mans myth less accurate than another mans myth seem a bit hypocritical... doesn't i? Heretical thinkers are the best thinkers, but in this instance its just comparing piles of emotional self righteousness. I love it when religion can't get all its facts together, please continue to support the secular cause!
Narrow is the path to life, wide the road that leads to destruction. Most end up on the latter path.
Well if hell isn't truth then I guess you will assume your having a long nightmare when you get there and expect to wake up. You won't.
By the way, truth is not always pleasent.
If Hell does not exist why did Jesus respond to the Pharisees in Luke 6:19-31 like this:
"Now there was a certain rich man, and he was clothed in purple and fine linen, living in luxury every day. A certain beggar, named Lazarus, was laid at his gate, full of sores, and desiring to be fed with the crumbs that fell from the rich man’s table. Yes, even the dogs came and licked his sores. It happened that the beggar died, and that he was carried away by the angels to Abraham’s bosom. The rich man also died, and was buried. In Hades, he lifted up his eyes, being in torment, and saw Abraham far off, and Lazarus at his bosom.
He cried and said, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus, that he may dip the tip of his finger in water, and cool my tongue! For I am in anguish in this flame.’
"But Abraham said, ‘Son, remember that you, in your lifetime, received your good things, and Lazarus, in like manner, bad things. But now here he is comforted and you are in anguish. Besides all this, between us and you there is a great gulf fixed, that those who want to pass from here to you are not able, and that none may cross over from there to us.’
He said, ‘I ask you therefore, father, that you would send him to my father’s house; for I have five brothers, that he may testify to them, so they won’t also come into this place of torment.’
"But Abraham said to him,
‘They have Moses and the prophets. Let them listen to them.’
"He said, ‘No, father Abraham, but if one goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’
"He said to him, ‘If they don’t listen to Moses and the prophets,
neither will they be persuaded if one rises from the dead.’"
Hey Gerald, the red unicorn in my closet told me that it can save you from your religions hell. Believe it, the unicorn said so!
@gerald: Apparently, you are still stinging from our debate when I proved that "faith" is not a path to truth. I would be happy to prove it to you again, if you wish.