Firestorm grows over 'Christian heresy' book
March 8th, 2011
12:49 PM ET

Firestorm grows over 'Christian heresy' book

By Eric Marrapodi, CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor

The firestorm around Rob Bell has grown considerably in the last week.  Now the leadership of his Mars Hill Bible Church is rushing to his defense, and we're learning more about the fight to publish his controversial new book.

Last week, we reported that conservative Christian blogger Justin Taylor suggested Bell's yet-to-be-released book, "Love Wins: A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived," was heading towards universalism ─ a dirty word in Christian circles that suggests everyone goes to heaven and there is no hell.

Taylor's claim ─ based on a description of the book released by publisher HarperOne and a promotional video ─ ignited a wave of criticism against, and a counter-wave of support for, Bell. Some critics went so far as to label Bell a heretic. Prominent evangelical pastors on both the right and left rushed to condemn or defend the Michigan pastor.

Al Mohler, president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, called the promotion of the book the "sad equivalent of a theological striptease." Brian McLaren, who has also been branded a heretic in the past, marveled at the fact people would throw around the "h" word "without actually grappling with the issues and questions the books raised."

The controversy even caught the staff at Bell's church off-guard. On Sunday, Brian Mucchi, an assistant pastor, told the church they knew a controversy could come, they just didn't expect it to come so soon, according to a church member who was at the service but did not want to be identified.

Mucchi told congregants at Mars Hill Bible Church in Grandville, Michigan, the church Bell founded, that the entire leadership team had read the book and was excited about its release. He put up pictures of Justin Bieber and Lady Gaga and told the audience that while those two stars were not trending on Twitter last weekend,  Bell was.

Shane Hipps, Mars Hill Bible Church's teaching pastor, addressed the congregation about the book before he preached on Sunday. "On a personal note, when you get to see a very dear friend spend a year of his life working to create, pouring blood, sweat and tears into something that before it even releases become this incredible phenomenon, it's just extremely thrilling," Hipps said, according to audio of the service posted on YouTube.

Hipps pointed out for context that Bell's unreleased book is outselling the latest release by Pope Benedict XVI on Amazon.com.

"This book will irreparably, irrevocably, irreversible change Rob's life and change a lot of the things in the life of this community. These are good things, but he needs prayer.  And not because he's fragile but because he's a leader, and leaders need prayer," Hipps continued.

"We are not anxious about this at all. Because I promise you when you get to read the book, you will find that it is fresh and liberating ─ but that it rests firmly in the wide screen of Orthodox Christianity and in the history of Christianity it fits perfectly.  You will be very much at ease," he said.

The church has said it will not comment on the book publicly in an official capacity until it is released and did not respond to repeated requests for interviews with its leadership team.

The book was scheduled to be released March 29, but Harper One pushed the release up to March 15 ─ next Tuesday.

“All retailers won’t get it on the same day, but it will finally give his readers a chance to hear what he’s saying,” Mark Tauber, senior vice president and publisher at HarperOne, told CNN.

He said the controversy swirling is unlike anything else he has seen in this category of books. "I'm not sure I’ve ever seen this amount of anticipation," he said.

"Love Wins" is Bell's first book since his break from Zondervan, the Christian publisher based in Grand Rapids, Michigan, that published Bell's first four books and also publishes the New International Version of the Bible, one of the most popular translations of the Bible among evangelicals.

Bell's split from Zondervan came in part over this new book. "The break with Zondervan was amicable," Tauber said. "In the end the president of Zondervan made the decision. The proposal came in and they said, 'This proposal doesn’t fit in with our mission.' "

Zondervan would not discuss its relationship with Bell but released a statement:

Zondervan has published four books by Rob Bell, as well as numerous Nooma videos in which Rob was featured. We published these titles because we believed they were consistent with Zondervan’s mission statement and publishing philosophy. We still believe these titles are impactful with their message and positive contribution and intend to continue to publish them.

Tauber said when he got the call that Bell's new book was up for bid, HarperOne jumped at the chance.

“There were at least four or five major publishers that were involved in bidding for this book," he said. When pressed for financial figures of the deal, he said, "We’re talking a six-figure deal for the advance, but I can’t say more than that."

Tauber said HarperOne had been "keeping an eye on him" since Bell's first book, "Velvet Elvis," came in as a proposal. That book went on to sell 500,000 copies. Bell skyrocketed to prominence with the the Nooma series, which were short teachings by Bell, away from the pulpit and with indie film sensibilities.

The high production values and quick releases of the short films made them a hit in evangelical circles.  In them Bell honed his trademark style of asking tough traditional questions about faith and exploring them from angles other than traditional answers.

Bell will speak publicly for the first time since the controversy erupted on March 14 at a forum sponsored by his publisher and moderated by Lisa Miller, an editor at Newsweek magazine.

Bell once told me he doesn't like to engage in what he called "blog kung fu," the back-and-forth debates that percolate across the web. He may not have a choice this time. With the release of the book right around the corner and a long tour schedule to promote it, Bell just may find himself having to hit back.

On March 4 Bell posted this message on his website:

I’m thrilled to let you know I have a new book coming out called "Love Wins." It releases on March 15 and the night before (March 14) I’ll be speaking in New York City. The event will be at 7 p.m. and it will be streamed live at livestream.com/lovewins. I’ll be taking questions.

If the interest before the release is any indication, Bell will have plenty of questions to answer.

- CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor

Filed under: Belief • Books • Christianity • Church • Michigan • United States

soundoff (313 Responses)
  1. c

    hell is not burning now!!!

    hell will not burn for eternity.

    those commonly held beliefs are not supported by the Bible. the fact is hell will burn someday, however the punishment will not torment those forever and forever .

    hopefully this author is writing to reveal the truth about hell.

    March 14, 2011 at 11:06 am |
    • PRISM 1234

      "hell will not burn for eternity... the punishment will not torment those forever and forever"
      Oh, really? What "Bible" you've got that from?!

      March 14, 2011 at 2:17 pm |
  2. Amused

    I love watching christians get their panties in a twist!

    March 14, 2011 at 8:51 am |
    • PRISM 1234

      Don't bwe to amused, friend! Time is coming when you will be anything BUT amused.
      Those who know Jesus Christ and love Him, have nothing to lose. But you are already at loss!

      March 14, 2011 at 11:39 am |
  3. PRISM 1234

    It matters not what someone says, and how many others he/she can convince to agree with them. What matters is What The TRUTH is? ... because that's what we will ultimately have to face, all of us! The Truth does not depend on any man's opinion. And if it is so, then we, humans, better seek with everything that's in us, to find it. Every human being knows deep down in it's heart that we are not just a product of an evolved cosmic blob, and that there is more to us, human beings then it meets the eye, although the consciences of so many have become numb, because they have silenced them sometimes in their lives. And we live in times when this is happening on large scale...
    .But each one of us will have to face God who put this thing in our hearts, that we may have a glimpse of Him of who He is, and so, longing to know Him more, we would seek Him, and He in turn would reveal Himself to us....
    So for unbelievers..... who truly seek, there is much to be discovered...
    But for believers..... we must be very careful to search our hearts before God , because if there is something hidden deep in them, something that's not of God, it's easy to be led astray, because satan can not lead us astray from God, unless he finds something in us that likes what's of him, and not of God. We are seeing many new, exciting doctrines, comming out lately, and they all seem to hav one thing in common... they speak of love o God at the expense of Truth . But one thing is for certain: LOVE WITHOUT TRUTH is lame, just as TRUTH WITHOUT LOVE is lame also. But those who ar of God , and do not seek the approval of crowds but approval of God, they know that LOVE AND TRUTH ar the only way to know GOD, because that's who HE is. God of truth and love. It's just that the Truth of OFG d is Consuming fire also, burning up all that's phony, fake and impersonates this which is not....And that's the part that many are offended by and hate about God But it is because of what is in their hearts. And that's how God sifts the intents of human hearts, and that's why Jesus was hated by Pharisees and religious crowd, because He cut straight thru the pretence, into the heart.
    Jesus said "What shall it profit a man if he gains the whole world, but loses his own soul? For what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?" And we have seen , as this article shows, some will exchange it for little bit crumbs of fame and self glory this world is ready to give them, if they only make God more like them....

    March 14, 2011 at 12:28 am |
  4. mary martha

    the very fact that my posts are " awaiting moderation" is a perfect example of what I was expressing to Jacqueline. Fear caused a reader to report my statements as abuse. I rest my case, counsel.

    March 13, 2011 at 11:25 pm |
    • Get A Grip

      mary martha,

      Before you go all paranoid on us - there is an inane automatic word filter in place here, which flags certain words:

      CNN posting tips for new visitors – GNU public license – feel free to copy for your very own
      bad letter combinations / words to avoid if you want to get past the CNN "awaiting moderation" filter:
      Many, if not most, are buried within other words, but I am not shooting for the perfect list, so use your imagination.
      You can use dashes, spaces, or other characters to modify the "offending" letter combinations.
      ar-se.....as in Car-se, etc.
      co-ck.....as in co-ckatiel, co-ckatrice, co-ckleshell, co-ckles, lubco-ck, etc.
      co-on.....as in rac-oon, coc-oon, etc.
      cu-m......as in doc-ument, accu-mulate, circu-mnavigate, circu-mstances, cu-mbersome, cuc-umber, etc.
      cu-nt.....as in Scu-ntthorpe, a city in the UK famous for having problems with filters...!
      ef-fing...as in ef-fing filter
      ft-w......as in soft-ware, delft-ware, swift-water, etc.
      ho-mo.....as in ho-mo sapiens or ho-mose-xual, ho-mogenous, etc.
      ho-rny....as in tho-rny, etc.
      jacka-ss...yet "ass" is allowed by itself.....
      ja-p......as in j-apanese, ja-pan, j-ape, etc.
      koo-ch....as in koo-chie koo..!
      pi-s......as in pi-stol, lapi-s, pi-ssed, therapi-st, etc.
      pr-ick....as in pri-ckling, pri-ckles, etc.
      ra-pe.....as in scra-pe, tra-peze, gr-ape, thera-peutic, sara-pe, etc.
      se-x......as in Ess-ex, s-exual, etc.
      sp-ic.....as in disp-icable, hosp-ice, consp-icuous, susp-icious, sp-icule, sp-ice, etc.
      ti-t......as in const-itution, att-itude, ent-ities, alt-itude, beat-itude, etc.
      tw-at.....as in wristw-atch, nightw-atchman, etc.
      va-g......as in extrava-gant, va-gina, va-grant, va-gue, sava-ge, etc.
      who-re....as in who're you kidding / don't forget to put in that apostrophe!
      There are more, some of them considered "racist", so do not assume that this list is complete.

      March 13, 2011 at 11:32 pm |
  5. oneway40

    Rob Bell has been a person that has changed the lives of many people and won them for Christ. It is sad to think that the same man all these people looked up to is now disregading the most important princple of Christian faith. If Bell believes all the Bible is God-breathed, then how can he simply become so selective in what he wants to believe? It seems that Bell has taken up selective christianity and is not facing the hard facts. This life nor the next is not a fluffy matter. There is struggle here, and when this life it over, there is still struggle for some. I believe Hell is a real place. Jesus the savior went to hell after being crucified before he beat death rose from the dead! The truth is in the Bible there Rob! It is time to face it for real.

    March 13, 2011 at 4:04 pm |
  6. doriangrey1

    Get back to me on the nontroversy when Christian start murdering people over this book, until then this is pure propaganda.

    March 12, 2011 at 2:22 pm |
  7. Jacqueline

    If you truly believe in God (and I respect the fact that not everyone does), then you believe that it is up to Him and Him alone as to where our souls are cast once we pass from this life. This book is Bell's opinion and I would personally love to read it and find out his thought process. Evangelical Christians can't stand for someone to have opinions different from their own an that gives all Christians a bad name. Seriously, what are these people scared of?

    March 12, 2011 at 12:41 pm |
  8. The Good Doctor

    "Love wins"? How about, "Psychosis wins"? When will we grow up and leave behind our imaginary friends (God) and imaginary places (heaven and hell)? These are not merely harmless ideas that bring comfort and keep people in line; they are yokes on the human mind that limit our potential and justify unimaginable evil. "Love wins"? More psycho-religious blather. Human idiocy is proof enough for me that God and all that follows from God is pure fiction, utter malarkey. Drugs and religion are for people who can't handle reality.

    March 12, 2011 at 12:24 pm |
    • Tom

      Interestingly enough, you've spent a measured amount of your limited time resource to comment on something that, by your own admission, is a waste of time. So, Good Doctor, I'm interested in why you would take the time to do so? I have to think that if my beliefs ended in worm food that I sure wouldn't be worrying about other people's commentary on a topic I find silly. So what's your angle?

      March 13, 2011 at 2:42 pm |
  9. ADavidson

    why is it when folk see visions, hear voices speaking to them and talk to someone not visible to the eye get into the pearly gates without the label of a schizophrenia disorder? just asking

    March 12, 2011 at 12:04 pm |
    • ImLook'nUp


      THAT is a wonderful question! I'm thinking it is because they are Messengers! Why? is it, some folks pick up on these sort of things? Because some of us are wired/sensitive in this fashion, I guess. (Our antennas are up?) We are labeled odd, quirky, 'ill' just to name a few, and we just don't seem to understand why everybody else can't be this way, too! I've never had 'the voice' inside my head tell me to do a violent thing, and if it did, I would certainly ignore it. I seem to get information only, and it comes in the form of dreams, visions, sometimes voices, as well as everyday occurrences. I go to school everyday! I am convinced it is the Spirit of God reaching out, helping in ways I could never do myself. I am a Christian and I test, watch and consider the information that is given. More often than not, I have to give God a wink....

      Thumbs up, Jesus wins!! Keep your eyes,nose and ears in the Bible and test, test, test.

      March 13, 2011 at 1:07 pm |
  10. JR Jake

    As a Christian I believe it is ILL ADVISED for anyone to claim something that cannot be found in the Bible, that is if they are trying to support the thesis of heaven versus hell. Everyone going to one place or another is a mockery of all things good and right.

    Love is an adhesive that bonds people and systems together. Love can also be used as a weapon. How many times have we heard of an abusing father stating to a child "If you loved me.........." or "I and everyone else will stop loving you if ...................". Gang bangers use the thesis of love and family to create a bond with a wayward person looking for something. A pimp uses 'love' in a perverse manner to keep women at his fingertips, to abuse and use them for his sick lusts.

    Pandora's box is big and the genie's bottle is sealed but when someone uses their wisdom or magical undertones to try and free the contents, one needs to consider the source of their inspiration inter-mixed with their message. Note: Maybe that was one of the enticements to Eve to lure her into the serpent's lair. 'If God LOVED you He would allow you to know all things” or “Since He loves you He won't do anything to you if you do partake of the forbidden fruit'. Of course these are characterizations of what I might assume Eve heard. Are they accurate? Well one day we might find out.

    Under the guise of love men have coerced their wives and children and women the same. The word love is used in many contexts, not all good. 'I love playing baseball', that is a good thing. "I love to be with you and share my life with you", that is a great thing. "I love going to bars and getting laid by telling women 'I love you'" is a TERRIBLE thing. Love is a precious word that means nurturing another with the utmost care, not with the reckless behaviors and wants of a selfish person.

    March 12, 2011 at 12:04 pm |
  11. Loco Moco

    Ask yourselves this question: Would a loving God create a living being "in God's image" (partaking of rationality and free will), with a "lifetime" only a brief moment of human time in the timeless infinity of God's eternity - and then, based solely on the outcome of that one, brief moment - condemn that creature to an eternity of torment?

    Are you comfortable with your answer to that question?

    I sure am with mine. I serve a loving God.

    March 12, 2011 at 11:59 am |
    • Kevin

      Loco, many feel that one must fully know God and then reject Him, before being irrevocably separated from Him. (The fallen angels are a case in point.) Hell is not a torment, I think, as much as a vacuum, a lack of God love's and the comfort that it brings. Can a human, within his or her lifetime, turn away from God, be separated from Him, and never turn back? I suppose it's possible, but it would have to be becasue of the human's stubborn and complete resistance against the truth and not the act of God.

      Haha, read some of the comments here to see stubborn resistance!

      March 12, 2011 at 1:47 pm |
    • Tom

      Can you guys please explain to me, because I think I'm missing it here, how we've come to pick and choose the character pieces of God that we want to hang on to? I mean, God is love and God is good...totally get that. But why is it that people seem to have a problem with Him being just? In the grand scheme of things (if you believe it), God created everything and the gemstone was mankind. We blew it and it could have all ended right there with God's justice. However, he's still love and greated a way out of that in the person of Jesus. He's spent thousands of years calling mankind to turn away from their own selfish little worldview and enter His story. The wages of sin is eternal separation...not my words. At some point He will call for final judgement on the peoples of this planet. Evil is real, my friend, and God will judge it finally and completely (Revelation).

      March 13, 2011 at 3:00 pm |
  12. an atheist

    Do people really fret over this nonsense? Bring back the old time heresies: Arianism, Nestorianism, etc.....

    March 12, 2011 at 11:59 am |
  13. Karla Porter

    I believe it's all mythology and hocus pocus – that being said, there is a benefit here for believers. That is that perhaps they will now be able to get on with reaching their full potential in life rather than relegating a portion of it consumed with negativity hanging over their heads about guilt of the first humans' stupidity resulting in the condition and effects of birth under original sin and trying to figure a way out based on a cobbled together cryptic book they believe to be the word of a supreme being that holds the keys to life and death and life after death – useless waste of time.

    March 12, 2011 at 11:48 am |
  14. wormfood

    Dead horse here. Sorry religion is completely false. You might as well believe in the easter bunny and santa cluas (who by the way, if he did exist would be living in the arctic ocean when the ice melts in the warm months.)
    Is the bible fact or fiction?
    If you go to the book store it will be listed under fiction.
    When you die, you are dead. You can only live on through the memories of the living.
    We are all worm food. On the bright side your energy does not go wasted. The energy is rightfully returned back to the land. You are recycled/reclaimed by the land. I prefer to go back to the land. You mind stops after death. No dreams, no heaven or hell, just lights out. Kind of like when you pass out, but you don't wake up. Thank you for your time.

    March 12, 2011 at 11:47 am |
    • Andy

      The fiction section? The last time I checked my local book store it was shelved under "inspirational". Ignorant jerk!

      March 12, 2011 at 12:01 pm |
    • ADavidson

      I agree with you, thanks

      March 12, 2011 at 12:09 pm |
    • ADavidson

      with wormfood that is

      March 12, 2011 at 12:10 pm |
    • Mel

      That's depressing.... Jesus is not about religion.

      March 13, 2011 at 1:33 pm |
    • Diestrong

      Wormfood if what you say is right(by the way it isn't) why are you wasting your precious little time arguing about this. You should spend it getting the most out of this life. Jesus said I am the way,and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me. John 14:6

      March 14, 2011 at 12:32 pm |
  15. D Ervin

    And if you'd spent any time at all listening to Rob Bell you'd know that he preaches the pure Gospel – the good new- that salvation both here and for eternity in Heaven comes ONLY thorough the acceptance and heart-felt belief that Jesus (God in the flesh) led a sinless life, died for all of humanities sins, was buried and resurected on the third day. While this gift of grace by God is open to all, only few will accept it.

    March 12, 2011 at 11:42 am |
    • Timothy

      For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear.

      March 14, 2011 at 3:58 pm |
  16. jamesMarshamelski

    Eh, Christianity is just a Jewish heresy anyway.
    And I suppose Judaism is just a Babylonian heresy.
    Anyone can say pretty much whatever they want with an equal claim on truth, but none of it has any basis in reality as far as that goes.

    March 12, 2011 at 11:42 am |
  17. Work Tinker

    Bell's form of magic appears to be superior to the others.. Wait... I just remembered there is no such thing as magic!. So, really it is just his arguments about his made-up nonsense being better than others' made-up nonsense. Folks, quit wasting your time and wasting our nation's resources on nonsense. Get a real education, ground yourself in reality, and start doing things that better the human condition.

    March 12, 2011 at 11:41 am |
  18. Neal Donohue

    J.D. expository diatribe that appears endless, is prevalent in our American culture. Thousand of years of theological study of language translation and precise interpretation of the Bible is tossed out by 'pastors' intoxicated by mass-mind approval. These devils are clever but would write their own 'bibles' if you weren't looking. The message I get here is that even Adolph Hitler has a private villa in the Nazi section of heaven. Oh, well! This stuff is not new.

    March 12, 2011 at 11:32 am |
    • Jonadab

      Will the meek or righteous inherit heaven?
      (Psalm 37:11) But the meek ones themselves will possess the earth, And they will indeed find their exquisite delight in the abundance of peace.

      Is the earth going anywhere?
      (Psalm 104:5) 5 He has founded the earth upon its established places; It will not be made to totter to time indefinite, or forever.

      Why renew the earth if everyone will be in heaven?
      (Isaiah 65:17-18) “For here I am creating new heavens and a new earth; and the former things will not be called to mind, neither will they come up into the heart. 18 But exult, YOU people, and be joyful forever in what I am creating. For here I am creating Jerusalem a cause for joyfulness and her people a cause for exultation.

      Why will some resurrected need heavenly bodies, but others need earthly bodies?
      (1 Corinthians 15:35-40) Nevertheless, someone will say: “How are the dead to be raised up? Yes, with what sort of body are they coming?” 36 You unreasonable person! What you sow is not made alive unless first it dies; 37 and as for what you sow, you sow, not the body that will develop, but a bare grain, it may be, of wheat or any one of the rest; 38 but God gives it a body just as it has pleased him, and to each of the seeds its own body. 39 Not all flesh is the same flesh, but there is one of mankind, and there is another flesh of cattle, and another flesh of birds, and another of fish. 40 And there are heavenly bodies, and earthly bodies; but the glory of the heavenly bodies is one sort, and that of the earthly bodies is a different sort.

      March 12, 2011 at 12:31 pm |
  19. Kevin

    I can only speak from my own faith. (I am Roman Catholic.) We believe that there is a Hell. Of that, there is really no doubt; it is where the fallen angels were cast. But ... we do not identify any human as having been sent to Hell for eternity. We feel it is not our place to say. We assert that judgment is left to God alone. Many of us also feel that one should never underestimate the power of God's mercy. What's important to realise is that all of us now living CAN be saved.

    March 12, 2011 at 11:30 am |
    • barnboy

      Really? You have no doubt that there really is a hell? Prove it.

      March 12, 2011 at 5:29 pm |
  20. Larry Schoonover

    Looks to me like an attempt to get book sales through negative attention.

    March 12, 2011 at 11:26 am |
    • rebeccahigh

      Is heresy, or being called a heretic, even relevant to anything now? Who cares? This isn't the Dark Ages.

      March 13, 2011 at 1:27 am |
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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.