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. soma

    We find every truth connected with our being by digging deep into our consciousness and moving from a mentality of structure and form into a mentality of inner knowing. This connects us directly into the knowing of our real self and Christ consciousness. Christ consciousness soon becomes a normal part of our everyday existence because being one with Christ consciousness; we are united to all, to the eternal pure consciousness itself. The presence of this consciousness within us blesses us, and everyone we meet. This unity harmonizes our minds so that happiness resounds in everything that we do, and knowing that there is one consciousness in everything dissolves our negative thoughts. The more we live affirmatively, the more happiness we feel in our minds and in our affairs. http://thinkunity.com

    March 19, 2011 at 1:40 am |
  2. beenherebefore

    1) god did not write the bible, people did, people with an agenda, and not just one person, lots of people were involved
    2) later on lots of other people with an agenda decided which 'books' would be in the bible and which were thrown out
    3 if hitler can be in heaven and ghandi can't...what an incredibly botched concept
    4) don't worry you will keep coming back until you get it right : ) most christians are 'nce born', baby souls, with baby theology, but everyone grows up eventually, we will welcome you with open arms as you mature in your lives

    March 18, 2011 at 8:00 am |
  3. joe

    if we are going to stop believing in Hell, let's all join hands and sing "Imagine". For me I would run from the writings of one who is not accountable to elders who have lived the faith for more years than Mr Bell. If hell does not exist, where is Hitler, Stalin and MAO. If they repented ,yes they would be in heaven. If not, they are in Hell for killing millions of people.

    Know your Bible!!!

    March 17, 2011 at 1:32 pm |
  4. Roscoe

    This just saddens me....for him to be a pastor...a shepherd of his own flock down here and leading them astray! Paul talks about it to the Corinthians, about preaching the Jesus that's in the Bible, not the Jesus we want to make up. How can everyone go to heaven when the Word itself says Hell is enlarged everyday?! (Isaiah 5:14) When Jesus comes back, he's coming for the church first! I pray he gets himself together, because right now he's preaching a FALSE doctrine and the Bible says to not associate with that.

    March 17, 2011 at 10:23 am |
    • JJ

      He is asking tough questions, not leading preaching a false doctrince. Read the book before you judge!

      March 17, 2011 at 3:21 pm |
  5. Bill

    Everyone should take the time to read the Jefferson Bible and find out what our founding fathers really believed.

    March 16, 2011 at 6:46 pm |
  6. Mike L.

    I love it when one person can rile up so many people's faith.

    If you believe a certain way be strong inyour faith. There is not a single passage in the Bible the Torah the Talmud or the Koran that says you get into heaven by convincing someone else to believe the way you do.

    A PERSONAL relationship with God is what its about. If you don't believe Bell's take on it after reading his book than so be it. You can't get into heaven by his words work or effort and he cannot get in by your words work or effort.

    Another quick point...outside of the 10 Commandments (which may or may not actually exist) on the stone tablets there is no passages in those books that were actually penned by God. The new testament was penned by followers of Jesus on average 30 years after his death.

    Never forget what faith and belief is and that it is between only "you" and the "creator".

    March 16, 2011 at 10:53 am |
  7. Mateo

    Heaven and Hell are real, they are on earth, just as Jesus said. You make your own Heaven and Hell. Quit arguing like a bunch of lawyers over God's intentions and get on with living and creating PEACE in your own life. Forget logic – it's a circle trap. Try generosity for once.

    March 15, 2011 at 11:00 pm |
  8. lolololol

    One man's faith is another's heresy! What silly nonsense! By definition, all priests will say something like God is unknowable, beyond human understanding, etc, etc.; and then of course prattle on about what God wants, demands, requires, etc, etc.! And of course only the Priests have the conduit to this great wisdom, and the ability to act and communicate for GOD! And by the way, you should pay me for my good fortune, honor me my great achievement, and do what I say in obediance to my great knowledge! Oh, and heresy is not agreeing with the priest! That and that only!

    March 15, 2011 at 3:37 pm |
  9. Michael O

    Ive read all the comments pro and con and the only thing I would like to know is how does anyone know how God judges anyone. I think we need to look after our own souls and let God decide what hes going to do with each of us as individuals.
    Bottom line, dont judge, dont hate, worry about your own failures. If your like me that should keep you busy enough.

    March 15, 2011 at 2:56 pm |
  10. joanne

    For God So Loved the World – that He gave Jesus to be our LifeSavior- so that we don't have to go to hell. People send themselves to hell- by rejecting God's Son. Jesus is the way-the truth- and the life. Hell is real– and was only supposed to be for the angels- that fell- with Luicipher- satan– but unfortunately- people, who deny Jesus as their Lord- send themselves there!

    March 15, 2011 at 12:25 pm |
  11. Astonished

    Isn't it amazing that so many spend their time and intellect on debating what might be the correct interpretation of a fairy tale? Isn't it time to leave all this silliness and spend more time in the real world, folks?

    March 15, 2011 at 2:07 am |
    • Minerva

      I agree with Bel. Do we really think God is so narrow minded as to throw billions of good but non-Christian people into hell? That's something humans would do- if God can't do better, than he's imperfect, and therefore not God.

      March 24, 2011 at 7:39 pm |
  12. James Dulebohn

    In the video, Bell questions whether Ghandi was in heaven. The point is that Jesus made it clear that He is the Way, the truth, and the life and no one comes to the Father, except through Him. Ghandi was familiar with the claims of Jesus but he rejected them. He did not accept that Jesus is the only begotten Son of God and he did not believe that he was raised from the dead. He rejected his physical death on the cross for sin and his resurrection from the dead. Thus, he rejected the only name under heaven whereby men can be saved. Bell is ignorant of the historical Ghandi. All Christ rejecters do not have their names written in the Lamb's book of life and therefore have rejected God's free gift of salvation and the atonement for their sins, and escape from having to enter into eternity to pay for their own sins.

    March 14, 2011 at 9:20 pm |
    • Andy

      @ James Dulebohn, Apparently you are also ignorant of the "historical Ghandi" as you apparently don't even know how to spell his name.

      March 15, 2011 at 7:06 pm |
  13. Larry Hollon

    This debate was at its peak in the 1930s & 40s with The Rev. Harry Emerson Fosdick the leading liberal proponent. He went beyond Bell's statement. Bell's comments reveal the maturing of the evangelical movement which he leads. Not necessarily cutting edge theology, nor really new ideas. Also reflects these Christians coming to terms with living in a multifaith world, which we must in an interconnected, wired Earth.

    March 12, 2011 at 7:10 pm |
    • Mike P.

      Not really, its just a copout for those who want to think everyone gets to go to Heaven, unfortunately, God, (our Creator) says otherwise. Try reading His book...

      March 13, 2011 at 6:13 pm |
  14. Iqbal Khan

    To become a Human being... Read... Read...Read..


    March 11, 2011 at 11:37 pm |
  15. tom tonsky

    doesn't the Apostle Paul tells the Corinthians that our ministry is to proclaim that "God was in Christ reconciling the world unto Himself and is no longer counting men's sins against them" 2Cor. 5:19. Why do Christians have such a hard time believing that Jesus might have actually accomplished what He came here to do, which was to save the whole world?

    March 11, 2011 at 11:32 pm |
    • Mike P.

      Um, I think it says save all that would believe in Him, try reading more than just one verse...

      March 13, 2011 at 6:11 pm |
    • Keith M

      Read in context Tom. Right before this is said it is said: Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come:
      Anyone IN CHRIST Tom. This alone refutes Robs statement: "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.

      March 15, 2011 at 2:12 pm |
    • Martin

      It's not hard to believe that Jesus came to save the whole world. I believe He did. You just have to acknowlege it. It is an unearnable gift that you must recieve/accept to benefit from. e.g.: If you want to enjoy the latte your friend just bought for you, you have to accept it as a gift, take it into your hands, and drink it-never hurts to say thank you either. It's as simple as that, Tom.

      March 16, 2011 at 11:05 am |
  16. Mike P.

    Wow, this is all SO sad, another of my heroes bites the dust! Come on Rob, God says there is a Heaven and a Hell, Jesus says there is a Heaven and a Hell, the Bible says there is a Heaven and a Hell! What were you thinking rob? How in the world did Satan get a hold of what once was such a good man??? Sad, so very sad...

    March 10, 2011 at 10:06 am |
    • Robert L.

      First of all, how can you say that Satan has gotten a hold of Pastor Bell? Are you saying that we have so got the Christian faith nailed that there is no room for dissenting opinions? Is our God too small to be questioned? Are the doctrines which man has interpreted to be truth so right on that there is no possibility that maybe somewhere along the way someone somewhere got it wrong? Are we not willing to learn?

      How can it be said that he is even denouncing the doctrine of Heaven and Hell? The book has not even been released yet.

      I'm not saying one way or another if I agree with Pastor Bell on this subject, but I will at least wait until I have actually read the book to make that decision.

      If we can't allow our faith to be questioned and the doctrines which were interpreted by MEN and WOMEN, people, in the church throughout Christian history, then we are putting our faith in men and not in the Holy Spirit to enlighten and grant us revelation.

      We put a God whose complexity and very being cannot be described in a box.

      March 11, 2011 at 2:38 am |
    • Mike P.

      Hey Robert, as a Youth Pastor in Michigan who has subscribed to Pastor Bell's teachings and used his numerous, excellent NOOMA series of videos for many years; it is very clear to me that only Satan could have led him to such a dangerous and erroneous view of Heaven and Hell. I do not believe I am guilty of "putting God in a box" as you say, when His Holy Word is so very clear on this subject. I appreciate your viewpoint, but believe it is flawed by not understanding the love and respect I have had for Pastor Bell for so long. My students are equally appalled at this perplexing hypocrisy of his. Peace

      March 11, 2011 at 10:14 am |
    • Ikkstans

      Think about what he says however. Who is God saving us from? Who sends people to Hell? Is it God? Is it Satan? Is it ourselves? At what point does a soul in hell become the victim? I live my life 70 years on this earth which is finite and serve an infinite punishment that I myself cannot even fathom (theoretically). Is that fair or just or loving? The idea of grace is lost with the idea of Hell because Jesus becomes simply a scape goat and tool of salvation. It is simply a way out and the gospel is not truly lived, breathed, spoken the way it should be which is Kingdom Today. It is okay for what you believe, I have no quarrel but examine carefully both ends, what you believe and what it says and what else is there because simply believing because it says is an empty way of life.
      Peace and Blessings.

      March 11, 2011 at 1:20 pm |
    • JJ

      So, Mike P, I take it you and your students have read the book before you started judging?

      March 14, 2011 at 12:08 pm |
    • Mike P.

      Um, no JJ, we havent read it yet, just the above article. I guess you and I would have a fundamental difference on what it means to judge. I, personally, am in no position to judge anyone, and try very hard not to. I believe I am simply expressing my opinion as to what Pastor Bell is proposing in his new book; which I believe to be some seriously flawed theology, and inconsistent with what the Holy Bible teaches on this subject. It is most assuredly not my place to say he has sinned by writing what he has, or that he should be punished, or what that punishment should be. Fortunately for all of us, we must leave that to the One True Judge of all mankind, Jesus Christ Himself. Hope this helps...

      March 14, 2011 at 1:32 pm |
    • Keith M

      I am sad at this as well. He relates well in his NOOMA videos and i have used them in my Sunday school class with the youth. There choice between good and evil are clear, and so are the consequences.

      Richard L, How do you tell Satan has a hold on Rob? You tell by his fruits. Is Rob promoting God's word? There are too many verses to list that he is clearly, not.

      March 15, 2011 at 1:36 pm |
    • JJ

      By you saying that "Satan has go ahold of what once was such a good man" is quite a judgement, not an opinion. Judgement, opinion, whatever you want to call it, you state you are basing it on what Rob Bell is proposing in his new book, yet you and most of the comenters haven't even read the book or even given it a chance for that matter. The information in the book is nothing that hasn't been taught before, just a fresh new way to interpret, encouraging people to ask tough questions. The information in the book is also supported by Bible verses, quoted throughout the text, followed by questions and possible meanings to the verses. Rob Bell isn't even giving his opinions, just asking questions... since when does that mean Satan has gotten ahold of you? Maybe you should give the book a chance before you make such bold statements about Rob Bell that you can't even support.

      March 17, 2011 at 2:28 pm |
  17. kay a.

    Everyone should read a mind stimulating new book-ESCAPING ARMAGEDDON by James Bouvier

    March 9, 2011 at 10:10 pm |
    • Well Read

      Kay A.-Hey I read that book, couldn't put it down. There is a good preview of the book on http://www.jamesbouvier.com. Check it out!!!!!!!

      March 9, 2011 at 10:22 pm |
  18. Andy

    I am confused. Have people read the book? Do they know what it says?

    If the book is proclaiming universalism as truth then we know that the book is false and it is not of the Bible and we can move on to loving people like Jesus commands us to. Simple. Stop being mean and love people.

    March 8, 2011 at 8:14 pm |
    • Ann

      well said!

      March 9, 2011 at 11:03 am |
    • Keith M

      Why the confusion? The article states: 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.

      Even I have read enough to see that Rob's fruits are not of God's. Should we aknowledge and move on. I believe this is what we are doing. Rob's followers need to know that his view does not concur with scripture or gospel, this is not hate for Rob but love for his followers.

      March 15, 2011 at 2:01 pm |
  19. Barry


    Actually to believe in nothing and to believe that the universe is just here requires much more faith than it does to accept that a creator made it.

    They say there are no atheists in foxholes.

    It's easy to speak so irreverently when one is young and healthy, but when one lies on their death bed and they consider the awesome reality of death, it's another story.

    The noted French atheist, Voltaire, died a frightening death.

    Let me quote for you the exact record as published, “When Voltaire felt the stroke that he realized must terminate in death, he was overpowered with remorse. He at once sent for the priest, and wanted to be ‘reconciled with the church.’ His infidel flatterers hastened to his chamber to prevent his recantation; but it was only to witness his ignominy and their own. He cursed them to their faces; and, as his distress was increased by their presence, he repeatedly and loudly exclaimed, ‘Begone! It is you that have brought me to my present condition. Leave me, I say; begone! What a wretched glory is this which you have produced to me!’

    “Hoping to allay his anguish by a written recantation, he had it prepared, signed it, and saw it witnessed. But it was all unavailing. For two months he was tortured with such an agony as led him at times to gnash his teeth in impotent rage against God and man. At other times in plaintive accents, he would plead, ‘O, Christ! O, Lord Jesus!’ Then, turning his face, he would cry out, ‘I must die-abandoned of God and of men!’

    “As his end drew near, his condition became so frightful that his infidel associates were afraid to approach his beside. Still they guarded the door, that others might not know how awfully an infidel was compelled to die. Even his nurse repeatedly said, ‘For all the wealth of Europe I would never see another infidel die.’ It was a scene of horror that lies beyond all exaggeration. Such is the well-attested end of the one who had a natural sovereignty of intellect, excellent education, great wealth, and much earthly honor.” (Dying Testimonies of Saved and Unsaved by Rev. S B Shaw, pp. 49-50.)

    March 8, 2011 at 1:28 pm |
  20. gary

    People here should check out bible-truths.com Some very good teachings from a guy who is not a preacher but a teacher of the word.

    March 7, 2011 at 9:20 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.