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 totally agree with Bell! I'm a proud Christian myself... and I personally believe in a LOVING, PERFECT God. This idea of a damning, horrific God – why, that sounds more like a devil to me. Imagine those individuals, like what Bell mentioned, like Ghandi.. peaceful, loving, kind.. and yet he will burn in hell for eternity because he wasn't a Christian? Honestly, that's not a loving or perfect God. Thus, to me, that's not God. Now THAT practically (in my opinion) is heretical.
Then you do not believe the Bible..Luke 16:19-31
You personally believe in a LOVING, PERFECT God. Good for you!! You're halfway there. Now you just need to work on the HOLY and JUST part and you'll have it.
Let's get one thing straight here...God has done everything HE can to redeem us. God made the first move. God chose to send Jesus Christ to Earth to live a sinless life and pay the penalty for our sins (yours AND mine). There's nothing more HE can do. The Bible says this about Jesus...."behold I stand at the door and knock". We (you and me) have to decide...are we going to let him in or not.
So, this whole idea about God SENDING people to Hell just because he derives some sort of sad-istic pleasure from it is totally blasphemous and COMPLETELY contrary to the whole idea of the Gospel message. If a person dies and suddenly finds themself in Hell one day, it absolutely positively won't be because of something God failed to do.
The Bible says that God's desires that ALL people come to repentence. God doesn't want anyone to die in their sins. If this whole idea of "everyone goes to Heaven" were true, then why on Earth did Jesus have to die???
The Bible say's about Jesus..."I am the way, the truth, and the life. No man comes to the Father BUT BY ME". That sounds pretty exclusive to me.
Maybe you are a proud "Christian". But, have you ever accepted Jesus Christ as your PERSONAL saviour?? That's the real question.
Jesus clearly said 'I am the Way' so basically for you 'idea' of Christianity to be true you would have to negate Jesus. Which means your 'idea' of Christianity is false.
Sorry but EVERYONE has the opportunity to turn to Christ, if you don't then you must deal with your choices.
DWM, I think in your reading of the bible you may have missed out on the big picture. Right now we're in between the time when creation came into being perfectly, and the time when creation will be restored to perfection and even taken up a notch or two. Right now we're in the midst of a rebellion. Spiritual beings started it (though details are shady), and mankind was deceived/chose to take part in it. So the first miracle is that God didn't wipe it all out right then. Anyway, God has continued to let humans be born into a creation that is under a curse and frustrated. It's a world where God is not ruling as he could be simply because he is honoring our choice to reject him. So now you have your lifetime in which to decide if you want God to be your king or you want to exist completely without him. But at some point, the time will be up. The rebellion will be ended and there will be a separating. There will be no rebellious or sinful thing in the new perfect creation where God is fully honored and obeyed as king. Interestingly, every person in the kingdom of God will know what it was like to have lived in rebellion and yet been saved by what is really God's love. God is holy, patient, loving, just, and totally determined that creation will be perfect. Whatever does evil will be "out". Maybe our idea of what God should be like is different from how he is. But he sees the big picture and is acting accordingly.
Hell is not a place of burning eternal torture. It's separation from God. Think about it like this- What existed before the Big Bang? Without light there can only be consciousness. God essentially is consciousness. When you die your consciousness either rejoins the greater consciousness that is God or you are turned away and left to spend eternity alone. That is hell.
I'm going to have roll up another fatty before I start thinking about that... Just kidding, that's some heavy stuff, is that in the bible, JKV, new / old, hebrew, greek what are we talking here?
"preaching a false gospel" – I got news for you people – it's all false. It is a delusion. These religions are fighting over myth. Nobody can win because there is no correct answer when it is all made up. Amazing to realize that all the wars have been fought over a bunch of crazy stories that include some nice metaphor, good social lubricant, and a social adaptation. Religion is a great demonstration of evolution in action – cults of yesterday evolved into religions of today. Religion is a social adaptation, but it is delusional and collectively it is leading to a crisis of civilization. News sites should start to present a balanced view on these stories and have an athiest contribution. They have 'balanced' views on the anthropogenic climate change debate – even though in the real world we have ten thousand publishing scientists for every denier that received a 'degree' from a right-wing think tank. Why not do the same for the religious debate? Put one athiest scientists opinion on the matter for every ten thousand religious automaton's who promote and believe in this mythological sewage.
Why is there any reason to believe an Atheist scientist anymore than any other scientist, None. They have their own presuppositions as anyone else; and if they are atheist they will put a atheist spin on it. They have just as much and I would say more to lose than a Christian scientist, at least a Christian as something to look forward to end the end, but the atheist only as what they have and that’s it, so they are much more inclined to accept lies than Christians. This goes right to the heart of atheism and its arrogance, they actually believe that they have a neutral pedestal of judgement so they can look down on all other belief systems and tell everyone what is real or not. And what gives them this great power, the belief in unbelief. Here’s a news flash, there is no such thing as unbelief, and it is a misnomer. There is no such thing as a negation of belief. You believe what you believe because you want to believe it.
Hell, the Norse goddess of the underworld Helheim, got inserted into the "divinely inspired Word of God."
Here is one I have always found a tricky one to crack, I know its a little off topic but thought I would share.
If god is omnipotent he can give us redemption, happiness, and free will without the need for Christ’s redemption, evil, suffering, or death, but he doesn’t.
Either god is omnipotent and allows us to suffer unnecessarily because he/she/it is malevolent OR
God is not omnipotent.
Actually, suffering is caring more about this world than the destinantion to come.....
God can do whatever He wants and could have put a system in place to allow redemption and happiness without having Christ pay the sin debt for those that believe. He did give us free will which got us into this mess in the first place. Allowing restoration without punishment is not in the plan. For example, a parent would not ordinarily allow their child to disobey and then ignore the disobedience without any correction. God in his mercy, has set the standard, which is perfection. The bad news is we can't make it on our own. The good news is that God sent Jesus to bear that pain. I think we would be hard pressed to point the finger at God when he has provided a way of escape. Hope this helps.
That's right, crucified, the infant who was burned yesterday when some idiot set off a firework in an apartment is being caused to suffer because the infant cares more about life on earth than the after-life promised in the bible. Not!!! You, sir, are an ignorant and weak person who shall be remembered as such by future generations of human beings. On behalf of all right thinking realists, I hope you find your way to heaven real soon. Good day!
Sorry Bill, Infants get free ticket to Heaven... besides there are no fireworks right now... You making this up... anyway, The infant will enjoy heaven much better than here.
Texas, here's a profound thought from Romans: "For God has bound all men over to disobedience so that he may have mercy on them all."
I believe that God has deliberately placed mankind (made in his image, able to choose) in a position where we must realize and confess our utter need for his mercy. To vastly oversimplify, we are still being created. We are being taught a lesson which, if we accept it, will make us fit for his eternal kingdom. He does it this way because he wants to and he can. What about all the years of suffering that the world has seen? Once the "class" is over, we are told he will wipe away every tear. That's another profound thought but that tells me that no matter what we've been through, we'll be able to say it's worth it.
Sorry to ramble. Just sharing a viewpoint I've developed as I've tried over the years to get my mind wrapped around the whole bible.
Maybe this verse will help a little: The living know that they shall die, but the dead know not anything. And how about: the soul that sinneth, it shall die.
The rightous dead are in the grave (hell/sheol) until the first resurrection (any body here sermons on the resurrection..try 1 thess 4 " and note the "and so shall we ever be with the Lord"...by the way you rapturists out there shouldnt read that verse..its a bit noisy..lol.
The lost dead stay in the grave until the second resurrection, at which time they are destroyed forever in the lake of fire and so is Satan and his angels at that time...................If all would actually study what the bible says on any particular subject and study it from genesis to revelation, you would understand....just one example :look at the word soul (about 1100 occurences in scripture) ...look at all those verses and their context and about 99% of the comments in here would never have been written.
this is a good promotional piece. Thanks for letting me know. I'll be sure to pick up Rob's new book now.
Hell, seen it, don't want to go back...
This is huge. Most Christians do not read their Bibles, they only ape what they are told. this is a FACT. When you do read it, try cross referencing the prophecies from the New Testament to the Old Testament and read them in context. See if they match. Most of the time, they don"t match at all. Then you will be more open to someone like Rob Bell. I think his book will do a great service. I will have to read it of course. I also recommend reading "The Age of Reason" by Thomas Paine or anything at near-death.com. I sat in a church of 20,000 last year, a very conservative evangelical church. The pastor asked if they had read through the Bible. Less than 1% raised their hands. Christians get all fired up and angry over something they have not read. Its really sad. But nothing draws a crowd like fear and all too many pastors are willing to tell people to fear Halloween, the Apocolypse, gays or whatever. God bless Rob Bell.
This is like an argument over which color jellybean tastes better. I don't like jellybeans.
http://www.isrobbellauniversalist.tumblr.com – this is what I do when I have 20 minutes free.
Jesus the Christ Himself said that there was a hell. People are free to believe what they want, but don't call yourself a Christian if you are calling Jesus a liar. It gives this guy Bell the warm fuzzies to believe that there is no hell, but he is just deluding himself. If you are heading off a waterfall, would you rather be warned, or deceived that there is no danger?
Actually, as a devout believer in heaven, you should get in your canoe and start your journey to heaven right now. But I don't think your verson of heaven has any virgins to play with. Farewell and have a nice trip.
Hell is the name of the Norse Goddess of the Nordic underworld realm Helheim, and was inserted into the Bible. Jesus talked about the Valley of Hinnom, not Norse mythology.
@ hELL IS A NORSE GODDESS ...Your comment makes sense because so many Jews and christians had contact with Norsemen back then... think before you make comments like that... Athiest try to use that to confuse Christians knowing the 2 groups did not have contact with eachother..
Hell didn't exist until the Christians invented it. It was essential to frighten the poor and ignorant into believing. The Jews view of Satan was as a Joker and G*ds jester, never the monster that the Christians created.
wrong...Jews believe in a place called Sheol-= the abode of the dead, righteous and wicked.. Jesus died got the righteous out.. left the wicked... and those that dont believe will join 6000 years of wicked people in what we now call HELL.
Don't know much about ancient religions do you?
Universalism has been a strain of Christianity since the time of Origen.
You guys terrify us nonbelievers–and actually as an atheist I'm tired of defining myself in the negative. We are realists, and theists are arealists. Any kind of theist belief, whether liberal or conservative, is ludicrous in the extreme. There is an utter rejection of science and history and rational thought by arealists, and the wish-fulfilling fantasies of ALL religions are simply delusions meant to assuage the fear of death. Please grow up and face the real world, the magnificent world, and the cosmos in which we live but a brief moment.
You guys terrify us believers–and actually as a believer I'm tired of defining myself in the negative. We are realists, and atheists are arealists. Any kind of atheist belief, whether liberal or conservative, is ludicrous in the extreme. There is an utter rejection of science (which shows the universe is not eternal) and history (which validates Christ's life) and rational thought by arealists, and the wish-fulfilling fantasies of ALL atheistic faiths are simply delusions meant to assuage the fear of judgment and of God. Please grow up and face the truth, the magnificent truth, and the reality in which we'll live for all eternity.
wow, you've read a lot of one-sided books
Will E. that is, not Rob
Rob, see you in the dirt buddy. Maybe we will both be recycled as a tree. meanwhile, if belief in a flying spaghetti monster makes you happy and harmonious with your fellow man, thats great for you. For me, I am harmonious with my fellow man because I love our planet and species. but god has nothing to do with it.
Just so you know, Will E.... the best philosophers in the world who study logic from either side have come to the conclusion that God, logically, can not be proven OR disproven. Which means your adamancy against the existence of God is equally as "ludicrous to the extreme" as the theist's assertion of God.
Max and Rob, you both choose to be guided by one of the most one-sided and internally inconsistent books known to man, the bible. As a person who was raised in a Christian faith and attended a Lutheran-affiliated college, I have read and studied the bible, along with many other books. Based on 50 plus years of personal experience, I believe that smarter and psychologically stronger people are more likely to be realists and not theists. Theists like both of you are cowards who cannot handle the truth. Get over yourselves. When you die, you are dead forever. So, start living like there is no tomorrow (because there might not be for any of us).
As per usual a non Christian wades into a Christian issue and claims to know some great truth about all Christians. My truth is that since becoming a Christian I no longer fear death or dying because I know where I am going and who I will see. As an atheist I did all I could to avoid death and the irrational fear it brought me.
You will never understand Christian faith unless and until you have accepted Jesus. Reading the bible without God giving you understandimg is the equivalent of opening a French text book and reading it. You may get the pronunciation right but you won't get the meaning.
Amen Sadie . . . great analogy!
"My truth is that since becoming a Christian I no longer fear death or dying because I know where I am going and who I will see. As an atheist I did all I could to avoid death and the irrational fear it brought me."
That's a point for me, not you. Thank you.
Who cares if he is a "heretic"? Religion is nothing more than mythology, and it's so sad that people worship a collection of ancient writing called "The Bible", and use it as a club to control and subdue other people that are gullible. How sad that we criticize people with other belief system or no belief system at all. As the bus advertisement said " Be Good for Goodness Sake."
In Judaism, there is no hell in the traditional sense at all. When did all these silly people invent their pagan hell? With the new testament. Furthermore, in Judaism, they believe that god will love and accept all people of any denominational faith, including atheists, as long as they do 'good' and make the world a better place, so to speak. if there were to be a heaven, that is the kind of heaven I would want to go to. I would rather go to this bizarre concept of hell than to a heaven that is so exclusive as to send any and all non-christians there. I want nothing to do with that kind of 'loving' god.
What you want does not affect what may or may not be true. Also there were quite a few different views from judiaism in the first century and there are quite a few more today, so this imaginary uniformity you speak of regarding ancient belief in the afterlife is a bit simplistic. That is not to say that there was any developed view prior to Jesus about Hell but the view of Hell in question was indeed articulated by Jewish folks reliant on the tanakh. Also there is no question that the afterlife was and is fundamental to the Jewish mind. Even maimonedes says there is obviously a place where good people receive reward and bad people receive punishment ( maimonedes 13 principles of faith)
Mike, in spite of what God tried to show them to the contrary, most of the Old Testament Israelites were under the impression that there was a "good enough" that could be attained in order to enter heaven. The message that Jesus brought into clear focus is that no one can be good enough, so God is willing to forgive and save and make perfect. The only people God will reject are those reject the truth that they aren't good enough. Is God being unreasonable? How much longer should he sustain his creation in a state of imperfection? It hurts him, it hurts the rest of creation, and it hurts us.
Religion vs. George Carlin
until he dies
umm..Didnt Carlin die? If he can resurect then he can win..Jesus is the only one to beat death. Let me know when George pulls that off. Ill stick with the sure thing.
He's already dead ding-a-ling. I don't think you can prove God's existence by claiming death as an indicator.
ding-a-ling here. thanks for letting me know mr. carlin has already passed. must have missed it
Carlin's soul is stuck on a roof in Buffalo, being a Frisbeetarian.
Frisbeetarian! Ha! Love it!
Not a scrap of proof that Jesus beat death either! The Gospels are just the propaganda writing of the christian sect after their leader's death and cannot be taken as historically accurate. The christians got the idea of a dying-rising God from the story of Osiris in Egyptian theology, he supposedly rose from the dead after 3 days too!
wow, this went in totally the wrong direction. regardless, 'supposedly' is the key word here. its definitely a stretch to say osisis who was proabably nefilim or anunnaki, was 'raised from the dead'. those same egyptians were taught the lie by those same 'gods' that they would pass through the afterlife by mummifying themselves. that worked out pretty well for them
To those who mentioned that Carlin is dead, well no kidding. But he lives on through his comedy and that's more than many of us can expect. His opinions and influence will carry on through the ages – and that's not so bad.
Um, could it be Mr. Bell is asking rhetorical questions in the video that will be definitively – biblically based answered in his book? I really don't know until I actually read the book. The questions he raises are core to what many outside Christianity struggle with. The debate is surely getting some early attention for the book though ; )
I don't know WHAT this guy is...but he is NOT a Christian. He's just another gay guy trying to make scripture fit his demented lifestyle. If there is no hell, there is no heaven either.
As a Christian I believe that all who do not believe and accept Christ fall short of the entrance into God's Kingdom. Are those good people that have lived and died without even having the chance to hear of Christ condemned? That sounds like something that is in conflict with a loving God.