Weeks before Rob Bell’s newest book was released the claims of heresy started swirling. People like Mark Driscoll, John Piper, and Justin Taylor had condemned him while only reading select excerpts or in some cases nothing at all.
John Piper famously tweeted: “Farewell, Rob Bell,” apparently insinuating that he was no longer considering him to be a fellow Christian.
And truly, I don’t blame him. I don’t hold them responsible for this reckless criticism. How could I? They were predestined to do it. It’s not as though they had a choice. From the beginning of the world, they were fated to do this very thing. It’s almost as if the words were typed into Twitter on their own.
I just finished reading “Love Wins” for myself yesterday. And as I read it, I was struck by how orthodox it was. Having watched the blog and twitter world for the last two weeks I expected to find the reincarnation of Buddha or the Wiccan “Rule of Three” being proclaimed by Rob Bell.
Turns out though, he still believes and follows Jesus. He believes in His divinity. And His humanity. He thinks His sacrifice was the crucial point in human history that reconciled us to God, set us free from sin and defeats evil. He believes He died and came back to life. He believes only through Christ can we experience true life, healing, salvation and wholeness, and that through him all things hold together. He believes that what we do on this planet has real consequences, either for good or bad. He states his belief in the “already-not yet” paradoxical components of heaven and hell.
And he believes in free-will.
Which is actually where I think the real problem lies.
Over and over in the book, Bell asserts that “real love” requires the capacity to deny or reject that love. Love that is compelled is not truly love.
Much of his theology is based on the rules of this love. Rules that God himself chooses to play by in order to allow our decisions the reality of significance. And though he acknowledges our ability to deny it, Bell believes that God will never stop His divine attempts to woo, pursue, and offer us His incredible love.
It is the topic of choice then that is on trial for many. Does Rob Bell believe in hell? Yes, both in the sense that it exists now and in the age to come. But he believes God doesn’t SEND people there. He believes people choose to live in hell now and presumably in the future as well.
What is on trial is not the existence of hell, but the parameters of human freedom and choice.
And by the way, this is not new. Nor is it universalism. And I’m sorry to ruin the hype, but it isn’t heresy by a long shot.
This book is controversial because there are many people who do not share the ‘free-will” or “open” view of the human condition.
We live in a time that is currently marked by a significant “resurgence” of the Reformed theology/Calvinists that believe that all things are determined in advance by God. Or if you prefer to think of it in building terms, that God has a divine blueprint that shows every decision every person will make. And not only does he know that decision, but that we are in fact created to make that decision. It isn’t really a “decision” at all, just the appearance of one.
And if you read the reviews closely, I think you’ll find people coming down on this book mostly along those lines: free-will or determinist.
Though the “heretic” rhetoric is flying around more carelessly than radioactivity spewing out of a nuclear meltdown, this isn’t a new battle for these tribes. This is an age-old disagreement clothed in different garments.
So don’t buy the hype. Rob Bell isn’t tearing down Christianity or saying that any path you take will lead to eternal life. He’s not a universalist or a heretic or a “wolf in sheep’s clothing”. He’s just another guy contributing his voice to a long conversation of well intentioned followers of Jesus trying to make sense of the Divine.
And also, don’t be too hard on the Piper/Driscoll/Taylor clan. It’s not their fault. They were predestined to dislike Rob Bell.
Here is another thought Nick. Who are Rob Bell, Justin Taylor, John Piper and Mark Driscoll? Oh, I have heard these names before. But I know “God” and I know “Nick Loyd”, But I do not know these men nor have I ever met them. Which prompts me to remember that before I put weight on the words of man I should put “Weight on the Words of God”.
BTW Good Job Nick
Agreed. Good reminder. I think it’s important not to deify any person and their position, whether they are a minor Christian celebrity or not.
I am glad you wrote this blog as I am now less interested in reading this book. I thought it was going to be a perspective from a liberal christian. It’s really too bad because the “hell does not exist and Jesus’ grace will save all creation” clan really needs a celebrity spokesperson.
Well, it’s not that he doesn’t address that topic, and it seems as though he is sympathetic to that position. Ultimately, I think he finds that “everybody ending up in heaven” violates human free-will too much. I think for him there is good reason to believe that many many people will eventually choose to live and participate in God’s kingdom (even some people who might surprise us or who have been acknowledging Jesus while not recognizing it was him), but ultimately he thinks there are some that will choose not to. He leaves open the possibility that hell may not be a timeless punishment, but yet another step meant to lead people to correction. That as Revelation 20 describes “the gates of the city will always be open” though some may not choose to enter. None of this is, of course, is new or heretical and is based around the beauty of human free-will.
I am not reformed and am seeing universalism in his views. Orthodox? Just seems like hip repackaged liberal Christianity to me. And, I actually love most of his stuff, including question asking!
It’s O-K, Nick.
We know you were predestined to hate Piper, Driscoll, and Taylor!
We are not predestined to be saved…. we are predestined to be conformed to the image of Christ upon believing.
I have to say that this article really meant a lot to me. I have read Love Wins and have found Christ in almost all of his words. He does not blindly make his case, he supports it with scripture, and I believe many of the “hell fire” and damnation pastors that currently rule over the church, such as my own, dislike Rob Bell out of shear ignorance. This book helped me find my religion again, and who I am in the eyes of God and Christ. I had been struggling to find how God could make millions of people burn in hell, and this book helped me find the answer. He doesn’t; his unrelenting love is just like it is stated, unrelenting. It lasts for eternity, and all those who live will have the opportunity to find his love, and will, whether that means going through their own hell for a while or not. I have tried to have arguments with people about this book, but most who dislike it are just too stubborn to sit back and listen to his teachings, and just listen to what he has to say. I feel that those pastors out there who can’t look at what they consider the “other side”, are ignorant, and will never be able to expand their knowledge of their faith. And that any Pastor who condemns this book to a congregation is doing nothing but hurting their congregations’ faith, and ultimately holding to much religious control over the people in their congregation. I love this book, and I wish that all would be able to just hear Rob Bell for what he really is, a good upstanding christian man who, just like me, is tired of the judgemental, almost elitist outlook modern christians have, thinking that they are the only ones who will be save, and that God’s love is finite, but in all actuality love wins in the end no matter what.