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.
"Bell and others want to simply discard the Bible then that is their choice, but it is disengenous to just pick and choose the parts that you like and in effect dream up your own personal religion, which is pretty much what Rob Bell does for the purpose of selling books."
Almost all of Christianity does this in my experience. Cherry-pick the parts that allow you to hate those you were raised by your parents to hate, and/or the parts that allow you to wallow in smug self-satisfaction the most.
There is actually a biblical case for everyone going to heaven: http://wp.me/PNthc-i6
This biblical case honors Jesus Christ above all.
well let us crucify him....how dare he, hell is the christian trump card....the reaction of the main stream religion reminds me of the Religious leaders in the time of Jesus....hold the party line and kill those who disagree.
The 21st century and people actually still believe in this archaic BS. We're doomed.
The idea of eternal hell is probably what led me away from Christianity. Am I supposed to believe Anne Frank is in hell? and all those Jews who were killed in the Holocaust, because they certainly did not believe in Christ. To go through genocide and then see hell on the basis of not being born into the right religion or converting later in life and having forever to shun your people and culture sounds ridiculous. People have reached God through their traditions and religions, and God has reached them long before Christianity and Islam for that matter, existed.
Pearson says .. “I thought my people loved me and would walk through the valley of the shadow of death with me, but they didn’t.”
Sounds more like Jim Jones or David Koresh than a legitimate pastor. Mr. Pearson, it's NOT ABOUT YOU.
The Bible is quite clear, and universalist claims are quite wrong. When someone takes the Word of God and twists it to suit the audience, or personal objectives, the outcome is nothing more than a cult.
" When someone takes the Word of God and twists it to suit the audience, or personal objectives, the outcome is nothing more than a cult."
By which standard, everyone christian sect that doesn't have apostolic succession would be a cult. I knew those Baptists were shady characters...
If there is no Hell and everyone goes to Heaven then that makes Jesus coming in the flesh dying on the cross for our sins and His resurrection useless. REALLY????? Be NOT deceived.
Honey, you already have believing that tripe in the first place. Its easy to deceive yourself.
"BAAAAAAH" says the sheeple.
@Caroline Well, a sympathetic answer would be no, it was Christ's sacrifice and resurrection that ensured universal salvation. that would be the very opposite of useless, eh? However, a more accurate answer would be, well, yeah, it's ALL pretty useless, including universalism,
So they read "For God so Loved the world....." in the Bible..... and they accept that.. but then when they read...in the very same book....."They will be cast out into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping & gnashing of teeth" They do not accept it...
On what basis? They are using thier own judgement. You wrote a book,,,why don't you just write your own Bible? You abuse the Bible to construct your own theology. The reason they choose to use only PARTS of the Bilbe, is that they are trying to destroy Christianity any way they can. ....".....Matt 7:15“ Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves"
There is not enough space in this blog take aperson through the relevant scritpures concerning Haeven, Hell and the Love of God. One thing is for sure, Jesus said I am the way, the Truth and the Light and no one comes to me unless the Father draws him. Jesus also said that wide is the path to destruction (trust in the ability of man and rejection of God) and that many would find it. Narrow is the way to eternal life (speaking of believing in Him) and few that would find it. This must be an act of faith first based on a a conviction inside of you that God is who He says He is. We gain more understanding as we search thru the Bible in regards to realtionship with God and how our corrupt nature interferes with that relationship. That is the best way I currently know how to try to explain it.
jb...a very good explanation, I feel. I always wish I had a way to "prove" to skeptics that God is there and that Jesus is truely the Son of God through whom God's grace and forgiveness is showered upon us...I don't. It is, as you say, a faith thing. I do know that for those who truly seek, God will reveal himself. Is that "proof"? Ultimately up to the individual to decide and act upon. Peace.
Maybe they should spend their time arguing about things that actually matter like fighting poverty.
Anyone can make up all the interpretations of the Bible they choose. They can choose their own doctrine and dogma, in the end it does not matter. All religion is fantasy and fiction.
There was no Hell until the Catholic Church invented it as a way to control people. Notice how you hear nothing of the Devil until between Genesis and the New Testament - another invention.
The entire book is made up to control the masses and consolidate power. The Roman Empire was collapsing in the west, the dark ages were creeping up on Europe and this was the only organization at the time to provide relief.
Nothing more and nothing less. The RCC has more wealth than 80% of most nations.
Um...read Job man.
Paul has read too much Dan Brown and too little ancient history.
6I marvel that ye are so soon removed from him that called you into the grace of Christ unto another gospel:
7. Which is not another; but there be some that trouble you, and would pervert the gospel of Christ.
8 But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you let him be accursed.
HE IS PREACHING ANOTHER GOSPEL. HE IS CURES BY GOD!
Seriously? This is the big deal? The guy asked questions in an advertisement for his book that deals with the subject, and everyone flies off the handle. They haven't even read his answers!! Good on Rob Bell for not answering with sound bites but instead waiting for his book to do the talking for him. And for the record, hell has always been a topic in the church. C.S. Lewis, one of the most famous Christian writers of the last century, offered up very nontraditional ideas on heaven and hell and the man is practically considered a saint.
However, one difference between Lewis and Bell is that Lewis was capable of sustained and careful thought on such matters.
The bible is written by man, inspired by God. Jesus' death and resurrection was to show that nothing here that happens to the physical body is permanent; that our soul is eternal.
"Organized religion" is a man-made construct to control the masses. How can Jesus come and teach us forgiveness, unconditional love, to give freely without expectation, to not judge... His final act on the cross was to forgive those who tortured him. So, how then can He come back as a god of war to smite everyone "who is not worthy?" That is in direct opposition of what Jesus represented.
If "God is Love" and we ALL were created in his own image, how can God possibly hate what He created? How can God be capable of hate, period? How could God make it so difficult for us to return to him? Why would he? These are human beliefs, not spiritual ones.
We have chosen to separate from God, and therefore have come to fear God's will. Instead of simply trusting Him, we have created all of these "beliefs" of what God demands from us. We refuse to believe there is a simple answer, therefore looking for answers where there are none to find. WE create all of these concepts, which paradoxically move us further away from God, not closer. Uniting with God is simple, and the path is laid out to be easily seen; the human race just needs to remove all of the unnecessary dogma to see it. These are universal truths that all of us know within our souls:
Treat others as you would have them treat you.
Give without expectations of receiving anything in return
Forgive without being asked.
Share the truths of God without requiring anyone to understand your point of view.
Know that God is totally aware of every single person and knows exactly what each person needs in order to step closer to him.
Love those who think they are your enemies.
Do not see any action towards you as an attack, and therefore, never attack back.
Be totally defenseless in your beliefs.
Don't focus on what you do, but only on what you are being.
Do not try to understand anything on your own.
Trust God's judgement alone.
All your sins have been forgiven.
Nothing physical that happens to you on earth has any spiritual effect.
Hell is here, now. It is what we are creating for ourselves by not listening to our hearts and the truth that has been with us the whole time.
Of course the "religious establishment" is up in arms... if the fear of god is erased, how can they control the masses? How does one start reconcile that they have believed something based on ego and fear for thousands of years... That the truth is so simple, yet they have been unwilling to see it?
If humanity does not wake up to the truth, we will destroy ourselves... not God. That is self-fulfilling prophesy, not God's prophesy.
Amen and Amen!
Well put. Amen.
You dealt with Gods love and His plan for what He wants for us but you left out the part of God's word that comes from hundreds of scriptures that deals with His righousness and judgement. We should have a healthy fear of God lilke a child for a good parent. You mention th ecross which is God's answer to our sin, but it only pays the debt of sin for those who accept it and become obedient the Christ. You are a universalist leading many a stray. Jesus even tells us to fear one who can destroy the body but the one who can destroy both the body and the soul. In the book of Mathew we read "Then shall he say also unto them on the left hand, Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels:". This is one scripture. Read it all to gain a better understanding my friend. Hell is real and God's wrath as well as His great love is real.
JBMAR1312.... you are quoting a book written by man. How can you be so sure that you are not just being a pawn that is controlled?
jbmar1312: I am not going to engage in a back-and-forth quoting scripture - there is enough of that going on here as it is (and it also contradicts the truths I listed earlier). But I would like to address your point that we should fear God as a child fears a "good" parent.
I grew up in fear of my parents. Fear of being hit. Fear of a withdrawal of affection if I did not "tow the line" of my mother's dictates. Fear of being told my feelings were unimportant. Fear of being told again and again that I was not good enough. I know first hand what growing up with that kind of fear causes. That is the LAST thing I want for my children.
Children should not live in fear of their parents. Children should know that their parents love them unconditionally. I am doing my best to raise my children with the truths I listed above. Yes, there are consequences of behavior - both good and bad. But I would never stop loving my children or cast them out of our family for a mistake they made. Children should know that they are safe with their parents, that we have their best interest in mind at all times. I would never dictate that my children should behave a certain way for me to simply LOVE them. I love them unconditionally for one reason: because they are a my children... just like we are children of God. He loves us unconditionally, too.
Fear, hate, judgement can only exist where love does not. Period.
Not true, the Bible is the inspired word of God (meaning it is the Word of Truth, Christ), meaning the concepts carried in the Bible are the path that leads and points to the Truth (Christ). And for those who believe the Truth (Christ), which all that is Truth does come from. Thus it is to those who believe on and through the Truth that will have eternal life. To believe in lies is to believe in nothingness,. That is what a lie is, something that is said to be true but is not, literally nothingness.
“Religion” that is not based in the Truth is a construct of man, but the Truth is not a man-made construct. Truth is truth no matter if man believes it or not. Humans do not create Truth, we just fulfill it’s requirements, and our responsibility in which keeps us in Christ (the Truth) is that we believe and be lead by the Truth. Christ = Truth.
God’s love is unconditional but it does require us to be corrected when we believe things that are not true, God loves who He corrects, no correction then no love. And what is it that corrects, but Truth. God cannot love us if we are in opposition to the Truth, Christ did forgive those who crucified Him but He did not say that they would find eternal life, you are arguing using things that He did not say. God is not in opposition to anyone, those who do not believe the Truth are in opposition to Him, whatever is not true is by default in opposition to God.
God is love, but love has a Standard, and if we do not use His Standard, which is Truth (Christ) then we stand in opposition to Him, not Him to us. God hates no human, but He can only love us if we follow Him (Christ, the Truth). He does not make it difficult, how difficult is it to believe the Truth? Can you make yourself believe what you don’t believe, No. If you believe something that is not true, then what you believe is a lie, and you do not believe the Truth because what you believe stands in opposition to the Truth. So, the only way that you can believe the Truth is to stop believing what is not true and embrace what is true. And your feelings have nothing to do with what is true, they are just feelings and are not for the purpose of judging such things, emotions are human constructs based on the character of the human, not a measurement of Truth.
This is true in that those who do not embrace the Truth have to fear, because they have put themselves in opposition to the Truth (Christ). This is not a safe place to be and all of reality stands against anyone who denies the Truth. Trust in the Truth (Christ) is the only real position to be in, anything else is by default in opposition to God. The only thing that He demands from us is that we accept correction, and embrace the Truth (Christ). God as no secrets that He holds from those who follow Him, if you believe on and in the Truth then automatically there are no secrets, God hides His knowledge in the Truth.
There are no contradictions and paradoxes in God, if you know the Truth then you know Him. All what is (real) is from and through Him, if you are confused about what you believe, then you believe something that is not true, there is a conflict in you that disallows you from believing what is true. Thus if you are confused, you should not speak of things that confuse you as though to assert that you know what you are talking about, rather you should seek the Truth on the basis of what the Bible says, minus your presuppositions. Your list is full of contradictions to scripture.
If you think your life in Christ is hell here right now, then this is an example of your ignorance of the Truth. ”Heart” implies human feelings, that is exactly what we don’t need to judge the Truth. We need Truth to judge the Truth, the standard of Christ. Christ is in us and us in Christ if we embrace the Truth. No mystery here.
Actually the "religious establishment" is you and the people who believe that there is not objective truth, Unitarians are the “establishment”. Conservative Christianity is the minority. You think otherwise because you see yourself as the underdog, the perpetual victim of everything that offends your feelings. That’s alright, you have the right to be offended, but just don’t expect everyone else to cow-tow to your offended feelings. The Bible does not teach a bunch of floating preferences, it uses an objective Truth, Christ.
Yes, we need to wake up to the objective Truth, because those who think that Truth is subjective in nature put themselves in the line of fire with Reality (God). Anyone who opposes the Truth loses. There as to be someone left for to live in eternity, and it will be those who have trusted in the objective Truth of God (Christ).
If the Lord God, Creator and Shaper of All Reality is petty enough to eternally punish those who pick the wrong denomination out of innumerable choices, He should have been a bit less ambiguous as to who has The Truth instead of forcing His creations to rely on faith to choose.
And besides, in the New Testament, 'hell' is quite often referred to as "Gehenna", which was a massive, perpetually burning rubbish heap outside of Jerusalem where locals would not only toss their trash, but also the bodies of those considered unclean.
So yes, Hell was a real, physical place – but it was created by man for man's purposes.
Your argument is self-refuting. Denominations don’t matter, they teach the Truth or they don’t. And that is the whole point, there is only One Truth and that is Christ, anything else is just lies believed to be true. The Truth automatically excludes all other options (lies). That is why it is called Truth.
This is soooo dumb. It's like people getting upset over Santa Clause going out the front door instead of the Chimney in The Night Before Christmas.
heheh 'Like' 🙂
So Unitarian Universalist are finally coming into their own .. again.
Thomas Jefferson, John Adams and Ben Franklin would be proud.
It means very much to those who actually believe that the things in the Bible actually happened.
Seriously, I can't for the life of me understand why you guys, who obviously don't believe in God or the Gospel, read these articles and then post snarky remarks.
Do you really think it's doing a service for your own beliefs and that we'll wade through your sarcasm and realize that "yes! of course we were all created by chance!" ?
I agree with you that religion is ridiculous and man-made, assinine even, but the majority of us just happen to love God and want to do good things in the world and what could be wrong with that?
If you guys haven't watched the promo video yet, I would recommend watching it. It is thought provoking. Bell asks several great questions. I don't believe Bell is questioning Jesus, or the Bible, but rather the traditional "christian" doctrine. Yes, there is a difference.
My yardstick is simply the Bible. Rob Bell and Brian McLaren have been off of the reservation of Christianity for years, yet the media loves to refer to them as "leading evangelicals" as though they somehow represent the bulk of Christian thought in America. All that they really represent is the neutered view of what the media and the left would like for Christianity to be, which is a "social gospel" in which there is no absolute right and wrong, and existing only to do nice things like feed the hungry. If Rob Bell and others want to simply discard the Bible then that is their choice, but it is disengenous to just pick and choose the parts that you like and in effect dream up your own personal religion, which is pretty much what Rob Bell does for the purpose of selling books.
"but it is disengenous to just pick and choose the parts that you like and in effect dream up your own personal religion"
Interesting comment, how do you think the bible came to be. LOL
Please. That's what every Christian sect has been doing since this Nicean conference in 325 A.D.
Funny you mention about picking and choosing considering the whole bible is an incongruent string of fables intentionally strung together with books that could go together to support a one god one one church ideal.
One word for xtians and muslims in general "BAAAAAAAAH"
Bob: "it is disengenous to just pick and choose the parts that you like and in effect dream up your own personal religion."
Uhm, isn't that essentially just what was done when those compiling the new Testament decided not to include the Apocrypha?
Oh please! Every christian who has ever eaten a cheeseburger or enjoyed a shrimp coctail has cherry picked what bible passages they follow. (The christian bible calls eating shellfish and mixing meat with dairy an abmonination.) At least Bell is trying to minimize the biblican contradictions.
Which Bible? The Catholic one? The Protestant one? The Coptic one? Nestorian one? The Dead Sea Scrolls? (wiki:canon, you'll see what I'm talking about) We are all idiots, and searching all the same. Stars are louder than the Bible. Just saying.
Picking and choosing what to believe is really the Christian way isn't it? If all Christians were on the same page in terms of what the bible says then there wouldn't be so many different denominations. Thankfully Christians bicker amongst themselves so much they will never organise the world into a theocracy under...someone elses god.
The current Gospels were a culmination of a couple of centuries of picking and choosing, with some gospels not making the cut. The real error that every religion makes occurs when the picking and choosing is done, and the book is considered permanent. Happens every time.
Here's a question–why don't people who are were wolves just move around the world so they never are in an area with a full moon, huh? Answer me that.
Don't know a lot about astronomy eh? but your question probably has more validity than this other whole subject.
<> "You are out there Dude."