Rob Bell on “Good Morning America”

In case you missed it, here’s the segment from “Good Morning America” this morning about the controversy surrounding Rob Bell’s book (text article here). It includes remarks from Albert Mohler and Serene Jones. It even features a tweet posted by Josh Harris: “There’s nothing loving about preaching a false gospel.”

Albert Mohler is of course faithful as ever in standing for the orthodox consensus. He says,

“If indeed Rob Bell denies the existence of hell, this is a betrayal of biblical truth that has severe spiritual and evangelistic consequences… Jesus was himself very, very clear about the reality and threat of hell.”

Serene Jones, President of Union Theological Seminary, gave an honest articulation of the other side:

“I think that the people who are going after Rob Bell as controversial are themselves closer to heresy than Rob Bell is… Jesus’ message was basically that the love of God is stronger than anything we can do. And the forgiveness of God is stronger, so why would that God be torturing people in some made-up hell?… Centuries of theologians … have said that the question of heaven and hell was not something that we should be worrying about but rather doing good in this life and loving God.”

This is not surprising coming from a theological liberal. What has been surprising over the last week is how many “evangelicals” are making the same sorts of arguments as Dr. Jones’. Rob Bell is absolutely right. What we believe about hell reveals what we believe about God. Unfortunately, I think we are seeing a gigantic rift in evangelicalism on just this point.

78 Responses to Rob Bell on “Good Morning America”

  1. Michael Dewalt March 6, 2011 at 4:53 pm #

    I love how ABC decides to find a “ordained” woman “pastor” to interview about the issue.

  2. GiG March 6, 2011 at 4:56 pm #

    Social gospel in 21st century….

    …didn’t work out last time either.

    As fresh and hip as labor unions and other 19th century ideas.

  3. David Rogers March 6, 2011 at 5:17 pm #

    To start off, I do believe in the reality of hell for the unrepentant one who refuses the offer of grace in Christ.

    Mohler says, “Jesus was himself very, very clear about the reality and threat of hell.”

    I was wondering, was Jesus, or at least the author of Hebrews “very, very clear about the reality and threat of” apostasy?

  4. Jeff March 6, 2011 at 5:44 pm #

    Can we avoid the non-issues and focus on the topic? Who cares if it was an ordained woman pastor. No need for quotes around those words. I guess as a Methodist I too am engaging in watering down the gospel. I mean really, what does that have to do with anything regarding this discussion?!!

  5. GiG March 6, 2011 at 6:00 pm #

    In 40 years time, Bell’s church will be as empty as the liberal and mainline churches today….(and remain Stuff White People Like…)

  6. Joshua Wooden March 6, 2011 at 6:16 pm #

    I think Good Morning American may be stirring the pot. The response of the Evangelical community has been more embarrassing for me than Bell’s video. I am surprised (and at the same time, not surprised at all) that many Christians do not see this as such an opportunity to help set the record straight for a lot of Christians and non-Christians who have misconceptions of the Christian doctrines of heaven and hell.

    These are not popular topics in church these days. In fact, they are rather taboo where I am from. Even for a conservative, Bible-believing church, I cannot tell you the last time I heard a sermon about heaven, hell and judgement. But rather than seeing such a book as a sort of gift- a chance to explain old doctrines with fresh insight (while still remaining faithful to what the Bible says), Christians are so fearful of heresy creeping in to the church (and/or themselves), that they become defensive and reactionary rather than proactive and assertive. Rather than drawing the battle lines, why can’t people simply disagree and then go on to explain what they think is a more Biblical view (once they’ve read a book that they can properly disagree with)? I read Greg Boyd’s post on his blog (he received an advanced copy and has actually read the book). I think his comment is telling:

    “…[Q]uestions surrounding the nature and duration of hell and the possibility that all will eventually be saved are not questions Christians should be afraid of. What does truth have to fear? (I sometimes wonder if the animosity some express toward Universalists [or toward those some assume are Universalists] is motivated by the fear that the case for Universalism might turn out to be more compelling than they can handle.”

    Boyd is not a universalist, but I think his point was to say that people are to fearful of ideas being good, that they over-react rather than disagreeing civilly and explaining why. We must admit that bickering back and forth and accusing someone of heresy does precious little in edifying the church, much less bringing ohters into it.

    I would recommend reading his whole post in order to read that in context, if you wish to respond to it. (See link below). That comment is really an aside in his post more than anything else, and doesn’t actually have anything to do with the book itself, as much as some people’s responses to the promo video and what-not.

    @ Denny,
    Very well worded.

    @ GiG,
    What do labor unions have to do with anything? What has Bell said concerning the Social Gospel, and what do you mean when you say it didn’t work?

  7. Joshua Wooden March 6, 2011 at 6:23 pm #

    Further, the video seems to suggest that Bell argues that a loving God would not sentence souls to hell to suffer for eternity. Does anybody know where he argues this? It seems that they (like many others) are reading an argument into the video. If that is the case, then I think they are caricaturing Rob Bell; in which case they are not criticizing Rob Bell, but rather they are criticizing their own skewed view of him.

  8. Ryan K. March 6, 2011 at 6:38 pm #

    This Rob Bell story has more legs than the Chilean miners story did.

    And since the book is still to come out and then the onslaught of reviews to follow, we are maybe half way through this story finishing its run.

    Bottom line, is March 2011 could set blog records for you and others Denny. I imagine your blog hits are up at least %300 if not more.

  9. Ryan Healy March 6, 2011 at 9:12 pm #

    I have no idea what conclusions Rob has come to since I haven’t read his book, but I have been studying The Restoration of All Things (Acts 3:21) for 9 years. I’ve concluded God will save all. That’s why Jesus said in John 12:32-33:

    “And I, if I am lifted up from the earth, will
    draw all men to Myself.” But He was saying this to indicate the kind of death by which He was to die.

    Was Jesus lifted up on the cross? Yes! Then, He says, I will drag all men to Myself. Your “will” doesn’t matter here. Jesus is going to drag you to Him sooner or later.

    The biblical evidence for The Restoration of All Things is enormous.


  10. Stephen March 6, 2011 at 9:20 pm #

    All else aside, did anyone find the byline at the beginning of the bit really confusing?

    “Is there no hell? One pastor says no” ??

    So, one pastor answers the question negatively, ie, that there is in fact a hell. Yeesh, they need to hire a grammarian.

  11. Kamilla March 6, 2011 at 9:37 pm #

    Has anyone noticed that even ABC/Good Morning Ameria thinks Rob Bell is teaching there is no hell?


  12. Louis Tullo March 6, 2011 at 10:27 pm #

    Serene Jones clearly doesn’t understand the pastoral responsibility of making local church bodies aware of false doctrine. If she had read any of the epistles with a sense of clarity, she would see how Paul, James, and others make a point of declaiming false teaching in order to preserve Christ’s message. To call those who are condemning the universalism that underlies the promotional video for Rob Bell’s book heretical is absurd.

  13. Derek March 6, 2011 at 11:28 pm #

    Louis, I’m chuckling about what you read because I agree with you, but Serene Jones is at Union Theological Seminary. In that world, the heretics are people like Denny Burk and Al Mohler.

  14. Ken Silva March 6, 2011 at 11:29 pm #

    I can tell you sources inside MHBC that there is a growing concern from some at MHBC about Bell’s book:

  15. Louis Tullo March 6, 2011 at 11:42 pm #

    Derek, you make an excellent point. I guess it seems I was trying to find oranges on an apple tree.

  16. Christiane March 7, 2011 at 12:41 am #

    “Rob Bell is absolutely right. What we believe about hell reveals what we believe about God. Unfortunately, I think we are seeing a gigantic rift in evangelicalism on just this point.”

    Is this ‘rift’ generational ?

  17. Mark March 7, 2011 at 3:42 am #

    Prof. Serene Jones teaches at that red-hot liberal Union Theological Seminary in NY. Her words in this debate mean nothing.

  18. Derek March 7, 2011 at 10:20 am #

    Greg Boyd is an open theist. If he is the most prominent and vocal theologian/pastor supporting Bell right now, that is actually kind of a red flag.

  19. Joe Blackmon March 7, 2011 at 12:49 pm #

    Can we avoid the non-issues and focus on the topic? Who cares if it was an ordained woman pastor. No need for quotes around those words.

    Of course there are. Since she’s a woman she isn’t a real pastor. Pastors are men. I Timothy 3.

    I guess as a Methodist I too am engaging in watering down the gospel.

    Well, at least we’re clear on that.

  20. Joe Blackmon March 7, 2011 at 1:02 pm #

    I am glad Rob Bell has finally come out and showed his true colors. By the reactions people have to what he has said, you can tell where they line up theologically. Christians oppose him and what he teaches. Those of the other theological stripe (i.e. mainline denominations, moderate baptists, liberal academics) prove by their support of him that they are christians–those who name the name of Christ but reject clear, orthodox, biblical theology.

    I appreciate his helping seperate the wheat from the tares, even if it was unintentional.

  21. Joe Blackmon March 7, 2011 at 1:13 pm #

    Is this ‘rift’ generational ?

    Nope. This rift is theological. Christians recognize that Rob Bell preaches a false gospel. Pretend christians that have already abandoned the gospel (i.e. mainline denominations, moderate baptists) agree with what he’s saying.

  22. Joshua Wooden March 7, 2011 at 1:14 pm #

    @ Mark, Serene Jones has the ears of a lot of people- saying that her words in this debate mean nothing is simply not true any more than saying John Piper’s words in this debate mean nothing. There are people who would not listen to what John Piper says on the basis that he is hot-headed and hopelessly reformed- and they would be foolish for thinking that way. In the same way, it is not beneficial to discredit someone’s opinion on the basis that they go to a liberal school. Nevertheless, I think Dr. Jones has really exacerbated the issue by saying things that Rob Bell himself has not (and probably would not) say. I think that they were trying to have a universalist view represented, but that had the unfortunate consequence of essentially putting words in Bell’s mouth.

    @ Derek, what is the relationship between Open Theism and Universalism? I certainly wouldn’t want someone discrediting my views on the basis that my views on something un-related were disagreeable- that’s a logical fallacy. Would you not listen to Martin Luther on his interpretation of Romans or Galatians because he was anti-Semitic? I certainly hope not.

    Dr. Boyd may have disagreeable views when it comes to Open Theism, but the fact is, he knows what universalism is and is not, he explicitly said that he is not a universalist, and I have good reason to believe that he (unlike many in more conservative circles) would give Rob Bell (and anybody else) a fair hearing before disagreeing with him.

    The truth of the matter is (and this must be admitted)- there are many conservative Evangelical Christians who would disagree with Bell no matter what he says because they have come to the conclusion that he is a liberal at least and a heretic at most, and as a result they feel justified in not listening to anything he says, but I think that is ignorant.

    I reccomend another post by one of my professors, Scot McKnight (his post was mentioned in the recent New York Times article:

    And he posted a second one on the same issue just this morning:

    If you would like to see the NYTimes piece:

  23. Joshua Wooden March 7, 2011 at 1:25 pm #

    @ Joe Blackmon

    “Pretend christians that have already abandoned the gospel (i.e. mainline denominations, moderate baptists) agree with what he’s saying.”

    I am an Evangelical Christian (and for what it’s worth, after studying the history of Evangelicalism in the United States, I’ve come to the conclusion that many “Evangelicals” don’t have much of an idea of what it actually means to be Evangelical, apart from what their preacher tells them on Sunday morning. I have to say this: it is not wise to throw a blanket over mainline Protestant Christians by saying that they have abandoned the gospel- you simply do not know that. That not only varies from church to church, but from person to person. Wheat and chaff, Joe, Wheat and chaff.

    Also, Rob Bell’s “true colors” won’t come out until the book comes out, and even then, from what I’ve heard from those who received advanced copies- it’s not even really about what the promotional video may lead some to believe. It’s wise to reserve judgement until you know for certain what he says.

    For what it’s worth, Al Mohler’s comment in the video posted above showed great reserve- I wish his constituents would demonstrate similar reserve.

  24. Joe Blackmon March 7, 2011 at 1:37 pm #

    I wish his constituents would demonstrate similar reserve

    Tell you what…I’ll show all the reserve that Paul showed Peter or that Jude told us to show when contending for the faith. 🙂

  25. Joshua Wooden March 7, 2011 at 2:24 pm #

    @ Joe

    Please calm down. Making that claim is presumptuous to say the least- you are setting yourself up as the final arbiter of authoritative, Biblical truth without even listening to what others have said (much less read the book currently in question). Be faithful to what the Bible says, certainly, but that includes James 1.19-20: “Know this, my beloved brothers: be quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God.”

  26. Joshua Wooden March 7, 2011 at 2:28 pm #

    I cannot recommend enough the post by my professor (above). I think his words on this issue are both wise and Godly. Here is a clip of it:

    “My horror, then, was three-fold: first, the image of God that is depicted when hell becomes the final, or emphatic, word and, second, the absence of any context for how to talk about judgment in the Bible and, third, the kinds of emotion expressed: we saw too much gloating and pride and triumphalism on both sides. I felt like those who watched the sinking of the Titanic and who didn’t cringe at the thought of thousands sinking into the Atlantic to a suffocating death. They were instead singing and dancing to a jig that they were right or had been predicting the sinking all along.”

    Here is the link once again:

  27. Derek March 7, 2011 at 2:54 pm #

    Joshua Wooden,
    you asked “the video seems to suggest that Bell argues that a loving God would not sentence souls to hell to suffer for eternity. Does anybody know where he argues this?

    The answer is that the book publisher’s description says “Bell addresses one of the most controversial issues of faith—the afterlife—arguing that a loving God would never sentence human souls to eternal suffering.

    While it isn’t clear yet whether Bell can be classified as an inclusivist, an annihilationist, a universalist, a Christian universalist or some brand new category, many Christians are simply wondering how that statement can be squared with Scripture. I guess we’ll find out in a week.

  28. Joe Blackmon March 7, 2011 at 3:29 pm #

    Quite the contrary. I’m saying the Bible is the sole arbiter of truth and that when Rob Bell makes statements (and he has–numerous times) that contradict clear biblical teaching he should be publically castigated. No reserve is necessary.

  29. Joshua Wooden March 7, 2011 at 3:53 pm #

    Derek, thanks for pointing that out. If that is what Bell argues, then it does not square with scripture; in which case, he is guilty of false-teaching. However, publishers sometimes exaggerate in order to grab peoples’ attention. I think it is dishonest, but it’s important to reserve judgement and see beyond the marketing strategies.

  30. Ryan Healy March 7, 2011 at 4:06 pm #

    @Joe and @Joshua – I don’t know how much you’ve studied about The Restoration of All Things, but to dismiss it out of hand by saying it “contradict[s] clear biblical teaching” and “it does not square with scripture” is presumptive at best.

    There is, in fact, much biblical evidence in support of The Restoration of All Things. It is my view that the concept of eternal damnation has more to do with orthodox teaching than the Bible.

    While I can’t go into all the details here, there are dozens of books on the subject in case you are interested in truly understanding the biblical evidence for The Restoration of All Things.

  31. Linker March 7, 2011 at 4:10 pm #

    What I’d Have to Deny to Deny Hell…

  32. Joshua Wooden March 7, 2011 at 4:16 pm #

    Joe, that just begs the question. There are passages in the Bible which may make traditionalist uncomfortable, but need to be taken into account, nevertheless (cf. Lk. 15:28-32; 1 Cor. 15:20-28; Col. 1:15-20; Jm. 2.13; and 1 Tim. 4:10.

    In the same way there are many passage which talk about judgment and hell, and many universalists need to take those into account (cf. Mt. 5:22, 29, 30; 10:28; 18:9; 23:3; Mk. 9:43, 45, 47; Lk. 12:5; 13:28; Jm. 3:6; 2 Pet. 2:4- some of those passages in Mt./Mk./Lk. are repeated).

    I believe the Bible is the final authority, Joe, but saying that it is the final authority only begs the question: what does the Bible say, and how shall we interpret what it says. In that regard, I think we would be wise to differentiate between what the Bible says, and how we interpret what it says. There are many good arguments for universalism based on what the Bible says, and even if we disagree (which I do) with a view, we should be humble as we disagree with others.

    And I think reserve is necessary- we must be conscious of the fact that there are many non-Christians who may not understand, and if this isn’t handled carefully, then we may be alienating the very people we are trying to reach with the good news. Being firm is necessary, but not showing reserve? I disagree.

  33. Louis Tullo March 7, 2011 at 4:18 pm #

    To those who would deny that judgment will come to humanity, please take time to read Revelation 19:11-15.

    While I can empathize with those who find the tone of evangelicals who’ve rallied against Rob Bell, the fact of the matter is that the promo for his book is incredibly irresponsible if he is not trying to endorse universalism. For anybody to make a claim that a specific human being is or isn’t in hell (Rob Bell specifically mentions Ghandi in the promo video) is incredibly presumptuous. The only authority of eternal judgment is God himself, and the way Christians view hell is solely limited to Scripture. Thusly, we can make good cases for the way of salvation because God revealed it to us through Christ, however, we can not see into an individual’s heart.

    Love does win, in the sense that God’s love through the sacrifice of His son made a way for humanity to escape judgement. However, there is a hell, and it will be occupied by those who haven’t accepted Christ as Lord and Savior.

  34. Derek March 7, 2011 at 4:22 pm #

    Joshua Wooden,
    I join you in hoping that the publisher’s summary is incorrect. I found that statement more troubling than what was said in the video, though I was also troubled by that.

    My greatest concern here is that some people will consider hell a tertiary or lesser concern. We would never consider a doctor to be loving or good if he tells a terminal cancer patient that his cancer will clear up in time – especially if has the one treatment that is guaranteed to heal the patient. Bell wants us to accept an enhanced view of God’s love, but I wonder if he also sees that God’s great love is connected to hatred for evil. Again, I hope that we’ll discover that Bell does not trivialize the danger and reality of hell, but we’ll find out soon.

    As to a connection to open theism, I saw a quote today on Justin Taylor’s blog that would help us see one: A truncated view of who God is, combined with a minimalist view of what we have become in our sinfulness, inevitably leads to a myopic view of the Last Judgment.

  35. Joshua Wooden March 7, 2011 at 4:22 pm #

    @ Ryan,

    Thanks for your response. I don’t think it is presumptuous to say that something does not square with scripture if you have come to that conclusion after extensive research. I think there are some good (even great) arguments for universalism, but at this point, I ultimately disagree. Therefore, saying that it does not square with scripture is not presumptuous from my point of view, but a carefully considered conclusion.

  36. Joshua Wooden March 7, 2011 at 4:28 pm #

    Ryan, thank you for your response. I hope Bell is vindicated when the book comes out- from what I’ve heard, he does believe in hell and judgement, but the point of his book is to emphasize that the beauty of the gospel is that “death is swallowed in victory” (1 Cor. 15:54), and we should instead focus on the beauty of salvation in Christ, rather than the prospect of eternal damnation for refusing to accept that grace. At least, that is what I have heard, and I hope for the sake of Bell’s critics and his followers, that maybe both sides are wrong.

  37. Joshua Wooden March 7, 2011 at 4:34 pm #

    Ryan, about Boyd- I think his views on Open Theism are often misunderstood, even though I myself am not an open theist. Have you read his book? If not, there is a brief essay response written by him (in an originally private letter, made public). Here is the link to that letter if you’re interested:

  38. Joshua Wooden March 7, 2011 at 4:36 pm #

    Louis, I’ve recommended this already- please read Dr. McKnight’s post on the subject- it is pastoral and theologically sound.

  39. Louis Tullo March 7, 2011 at 4:38 pm #

    Thanks Joshua! The comment thread on this post is crazy so I guess that’s why I missed it.

  40. réinventer la vie March 7, 2011 at 5:12 pm #

    I look forward to reading the book. As far as I can tell, the biggest question raised that has been overlooked is not what scripture *says*, but how it is *interpreted* especially on the doctrine of hell.

    Rob Bell seems to be raising issue with the blind *assumptions* we bring to scripture. In other words, he might not be disagreeing with scriptural content at all, but on traditional interpretations, ones that might have their root in something other than scripture (ex. the historically recent beliefs of the rapture popularized by the Left Behind series). I don’t know what he’s saying for sure, but there’s lots of room for an honest dialogue of that kind without the added confusion of a loaded “universalist” label.

    I think it’s helpful and fair to understand what he’s saying before we form any opinions about it.

  41. Derek March 7, 2011 at 5:22 pm #

    Joshua Wooden,
    Dr. McKnight is typically quick to defend those of an emergent persuasion, including Tony Jones and Brian McLaren. While it should be acknowledged that he has finally and painfully admitted that McLaren has basically “jumped the shark”, I do not think it is unkind or unfair to note that he only did so when McLaren basically spat in the collective eyes of the evangelical community and really, professing Christians everywhere. I also cannot understand why he continues to fellowship so openly with Tony Jones, who has now endorsed the practice of homosexuality in the Church. Perhaps you know something about this situation since you know Dr. McKnight, but it is very troubling to me and many others who have respected his leadership over the years. And I would add that it does great harm to his credibility in the discussion on Rob Bell.

  42. Joshua Wooden March 7, 2011 at 6:03 pm #

    Derek, apart from your comment, Dr. McKnight’s opinion is one of the few fair-minded and balanced views I’ve seen in this controversy. He is not supportive of any person on this issue. He is not a universalist and actually notes in his first post that universalism is the single greatest problem facing the church today.

    What did you think of his actual post, regardless of his reputations or your opinions of him.

    Second, being reserved and giving people the benefit of a doubt is just McKnight’s s personality. He has a professorial temperament that predisposes him to only disagree if he is absolutely sure he understands what he is disagreeing with, which may explain why he took so long to say whatever it is he said to McClaren. And maybe such reserve is what we need- calling something false teaching is acceptable and right, but not if we don’t know what it is we’re saying is heresy. In studying church history I’ve become more and more disillusioned with how different groups have called each other heretic instead of listening to what they have to say. Martin Luther, and Calvin, and Zwingli were all called heretics by other groups- and they in turn called those other groups heretical. But who benefits? Who is really edified by this “draw the battle lines” rhetoric. We must admit, it does little to bring non-Christians into the fold, and it does little to reconcile people who believe in false teaching to God. We should say what we have to say in love, and with grace.

  43. Joe Blackmon March 7, 2011 at 9:58 pm #

    I am encouraged to see real Christians standing against the false gospel propigated by Rob Bell and those of his putrid theological ilk. He deserves no benefit of the doubt, no respect, and no “fair hearing”. Real Christians have heard plenty–and have rejected his false gospel.

  44. Ryan Healy March 7, 2011 at 10:14 pm #

    @Joe Blackmon – Comment #42

    Wow, Joe, say what you really think. 😉

    You’re quick with the ad hominem attacks…

  45. Joshua Wooden March 7, 2011 at 11:00 pm #

    @ Joe,

    That comment simply does not line up with what the Bible says (Mt. 20:1-16; Jn. 8:7; Lk. 10:27; Lk. 23:34; Col. 3:8; Col. 4:6; 1 Cor. 8:1; 1 Cor. 13; Gal. 5:22-23; Jm. 3:10).

    I only say that, because you seem quite interested in being faithful to what it says. You may think you are standing up for truth right now, but in reality you are sinning, and you should stop. Otherwise, it may be true that Rob Bell is guilty of false teaching, but it will also be true that you are guilty of hypocrisy.

    What do you think you are accomplishing by saying things like that?

  46. Mark March 7, 2011 at 11:15 pm #

    IF Rob Bell is vindicated and he does not teach universalism, my only concern is that he may be espousing a type of easy-believism that is common among contemporary evangelicals (especially the emergent/emerging folks).

  47. GiG March 8, 2011 at 8:22 am #

    A guess…75% of Americans believe they are going to Heaven for being “good people” without submitting to Jesus…

    …these folks will buy the Bell book in droves.

  48. Ryan Healy March 8, 2011 at 11:53 am #

    @r̩inventer la vie РGreat comment.

    The idea of the rapture and the futurist view of Revelation (i.e., The Unveiling of Jesus Christ) is only about 140 years old. It was largely popularized by C.I. Scofield, a man who claimed he was a doctor even though he never attended college.

    This is what much of modern dispensationalism is based on.

  49. Christiane March 8, 2011 at 12:39 pm #

    Might be nice to gather together all pre-judgments of Bell’s pre-book publicity, and THEN,

    for those that have the courage,
    read the book,

    and compare pre-comments to thoughts after reading.

    I know some are choosing not to read the book, but I think it might be a good exercise in the difficult process of self-examination as to whether one’s actual experience with the book reveals confirmation of what was ‘suspected’ or reveals a very human tendency to (excuse the pun) judge a book by its cover. 🙂

  50. Derek March 8, 2011 at 1:12 pm #

    Joshua Wooden,
    If all I read was McKnight’s blog post, I would assume that Justin Taylor and Piper and Mohler had declared Bell a universalist. Scot McKnight is exaggerating when he implies that Burk, Taylor and others are “absolutely certain [Bell] is for universalism”. That isn’t a fair characterization. Maybe Justin shouldn’t have put the term universalist in the title of his blog post that set this firestorm off, but it was a title with a question mark and he said several times that he doesn’t know if Bell is a universalist. So McKnight likes to give a pass to friends like Tony Jones, who two years ago, made an unambiguous statement about the acceptability of practicing homosexuality in the Church, but he exaggerates and mischaracterizes the views of others? How is this charitable?

    Evangelicals have tended to shy away from the topic of hell for many years now. It is not a familiar or comfortable topic. Mohler, Burk, Mohler and others have many people coming to their sites and blogs because Christians and non-Christians alike are interested in this topic and someone needs to present some of the best scholarship that has been produced on this topic. If McKnight would read these posts, he would see that there is no triumphalism. If anyone seems reactionary here, McKnight does to me. That’s my honest take. I have read and appreciated many things Dr. McKnight has said over the years, but I do not think that this blog entry is helpful. He has simply not extended the benefit of the doubt that you said he is so anxious to provide others with (post #43).

  51. Joe Blackmon March 8, 2011 at 1:22 pm #


    The fact is, you support Bell and what he believes because you reject the gospel as found in scripture.

    Bell believes that those who are “good people” but come from a different religion will go to heaven without having ever heard of or called on Christ–so do you.

    Bell believes the Bible is just a book written by men and is not inerrant–so do you.

    Of course, Christians reject both of those stances because they are obviously contradicted by scripture.

    Funny how you’ll chime in on this post but you were pretty silent on the post about the Afghan man who was going to be killed for becoming a Christian but was released.

    Pretty telling to what you really believe, L’s.

  52. Derek March 8, 2011 at 1:28 pm #

    There have to be at least 100 theologians, some dead and some alive, who are more qualified scholars than Rob Bell on this topic. Sorry, but someone is going to have to convince me that I should read his book ahead of theirs.

    I’d also like to see you admit that you make pre-judgments before reading specific books too. With all the good books out there, you need at least several really good reasons to choose one book over the hundreds of other possibilities.

  53. Thomas Newell March 8, 2011 at 2:00 pm #


    Derek does have a point. Have you read John Calvin’s famous Institutes of Christian Religion? Even if you haven’t I am sure you might have some opinion about it right?

  54. Joe Blackmon March 8, 2011 at 2:01 pm #

    Furthermore, L’s, why would anyone look to what some man has said about hell when God has already spoken on the subject in His inerrant word?

    Oh, wait, I forgot. To you, the bible is just a book of fairy tales written by men. My bad.

  55. Louis Tullo March 8, 2011 at 2:11 pm #

    “Why would anyone look to what some man has said about hell when God has already spoken on the subject in His inerrant word?”


  56. Joe Blackmon March 8, 2011 at 2:12 pm #


    HOLLA!!! LOL

  57. Kamilla March 8, 2011 at 2:14 pm #

    This is weird – my second comment has disappeared but I’m nw signed up to received email notification of future responses.

    And now it doesn’t matter because Derek has already made my point.

  58. Louis Tullo March 8, 2011 at 2:26 pm #

    Glad to support the excellent point you made Joe!

    What I’ve realized by watching the debates on this issue and commenting here and there is how much people seem to want to derive their knowledge and wisdom about Christianity from texts other than Scripture. I am tremendously grateful to many theologians for expounding on Biblical texts in a way that displays their richness, but even the greatest academics and preachers take a step back to make sure the Gospel comes before them and is not an afterthought in their teaching.

  59. Derek March 8, 2011 at 2:29 pm #

    The Bible is without doubt our source of truth on this topic. However, the Bible does leave a lot of questions unanswered and there are good and trustworthy theologians who disagree on some key issues with regard to hell. For instance, do we know what the age of accountability is? The Bible doesn’t really give us much to go on there.

    I’ve done very little reading about hell, but I’ve read Alcorn’s recent book about heaven and there are a number of unanswered questions on that topic as well. So there is a need for careful scholarship and debate.

    Joe, I would encourage you to consider the following Scripture:
    the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful. Opponents must be gently instructed, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth, and that they will come to their senses and escape from the trap of the devil, who has taken them captive to do his will.
    II Timothy 2:24-26

  60. Joe Blackmon March 8, 2011 at 5:57 pm #


    Thanks. I’ll take that under advisement. You probably don’t know it, but L’s has (on more than one blog for years) demonstrated that she is not just a non-believer but that she is openly, viciously antagonistic to the gospel. She hates it. She hates people who preach it. The difference between her and me is that she coats her venom with sugar whereas I just tell it like it is.

  61. Joshua Wooden March 8, 2011 at 9:25 pm #


    Thank you for your response.

    First, I do not think McKnight gives anyone a “free pass,” but I do think he gives people the benefit of a doubt.

    Second, McKnight’s horror was over the blogosphere as a whole; not Justin Taylor, et al. He does think that Taylor jumped the gun (a lot of people do), but his frustration was more-or-less because of comments that resemble Joe Blackmon’s (above), rather than the blogs themselves.

    Third, as far as McKnight being “reactionary”- I think if we’re all honest, we could conclude that everyone is reacting in this discussion. Everyone is reacting to the video and publisher’s blurb. The question, then, isn’t who is reacting, but who is doing so in a way that is intelligent, wise and ultimately God-honoring, and neighbor-loving?

    I found his post to be rather reasonable and fair-minded- he outlined categories of universalism, inclusivism, and the traditional view. I think that was both mature and responsible in a discussion that for many people, exists without guidelines.

    I agree with you when you say that discussion of hell and judgement (though I don’t think that you used the word “judgement”, but I am) are topics that I have not heard very much growing up. I think that we should have this discussion, and that is why I think, even if I disagree with Bell’s conclusion, that his book is ultimately a gift. It provides a useful medium for us to have a discussion on an issue that many churches have been hitherto largely silent on. However, most of the response has been directed at Rob Bell, those who associate with Rob Bell, and Bell’s opponents, rather than discussing the actual issue- which is universalism. People would rather accuse Bell of heresy then discuss hell and judgement in a way that moves beyond people’s stereotypes towards a fresh perspective on an old discussion- that is what good theology does, ultimately. And that is what I believe McKnight is really getting at.

  62. Joshua Wooden March 8, 2011 at 9:38 pm #

    @ Joe,

    When you say, “why would anyone look to what some man has said about hell when God has already spoken on the subject in His inerrant word?”

    That just begs the question. The Bible does not present to us a systematic theology on the subject. There are verses that seem to go in the direction of what has become the traditional view, and other verses that go in the direction of universalism. All of these need to be taken into account by anyone who says that they are trying to be faithful to the Bible.

    Also, because the Bible does not present a systematic, coherent argument, people will always turn to Biblical scholars, theologians, and pastors (like Rob Bell) to explain what it says. In the end, the Bible says a lot of things that don’t make sense to people who haven’t spent anywhere from 4-12 years studying it, and therefore, they rely on their expertise.

    Even people who have read the Bible from cover-to-cover are confronted by verses, passages and even entire books that don’t make sense in and of themselves, and need to have things explained to them by other men (I know this because I have read the Bible from cover-to-cover and this is certainly true of me). That is why Luther and Calvin both wrote Catechisms- so people would understand basic theological concepts to aid them in interpreting what the Bible says. If all people needed was the Bible, then why would anybody ever need to write a commentary on what it says?

  63. Joe Blackmon March 8, 2011 at 10:00 pm #

    Wow, Josh. You sure set me straight there, buddy. I mean, if some people this “this” and other people think “that” then, of course, we can’t come to a conclusion on what is true. Man, how could I have been wrong for all these years. Thank you.


  64. Ryan K. March 8, 2011 at 10:26 pm #

    This is an interesting read from CNN providing more info on the whole situation. It also confirms what I previously mentioned here; Zondervan was unwilling to publish the book due to it’s content not fitting their mission.

  65. Joshua Wooden March 8, 2011 at 10:53 pm #

    @ Joe,

    I think there is a misunderstanding here. I did not in any way suggest that. Could you point out where in my post you think I indicated that?

    But I see your point and you are right- simply because the Bible says things that are confusing to people does not make Biblical interpretation a subjective venture. However, that was not my point. My point was to say that the Bible does in fact say many things that don’t make sense, and as long as it does, we will always have to turn to other men who have studied it more in-depth to help us understand what it says- that’s why we have pastors, theologians, etc.
    To reiterate, I do not believe that it is impossible to come to a final, correct conclusion, and that because both sides of a given argument are well-supported then they must both somehow be right. That point should be obvious by the fact that I have a position on the current discussion and I think that people who disagree with me are ultimately wrong (which I have affirmed in former posts).

    To add to that original point, I think that it is beneficial to Christians to realize that things are always more complicated than they seem, because this leads to humility as we seek after God and the good news that is revealed to us through His Word. Otherwise, we may come to believe that some people are haters of the gospel simply because they disagree with us, and not because they actually are.

    Finally, I do not think that you are wrong in your conclusions (in fact, I think that we are in agreement on the original issue this blog highlights. However, you are totally wrong in how you’ve acted on this blog. You have been rude and arrogant, and that is behavior unbefitting the character of one who proclaims to be a Christian. Your last point is a case in point- do you think God condones how you are acting towards your brothers and sisters in Christ? Do you think the Bible condones how you are acting? I know that it is difficult to be civil and courteous on a blog when you can’t see and don’t know the people to whom you are responding, but really, what do you really think you are accomplishing? You are not only not convincing me that you are anymore correct, but you are entrenching others further into their beliefs because the beliefs you hold (however correct they may be) are held with such smugness. As I have already pointed out (as well as Derek, too, for that matter), that behavior simply does not line up with what the Bible says. If you claim to be faithful to what the Bible says, then you need to stop acting as you are. If you don’t, then I don’t see how you are any better than anybody whom you accuse of heresy.

  66. Christiane March 9, 2011 at 12:52 am #

    Just a thought: I haven’t read Bell’s books, but I remember another situation where a man’s book raised a huge brouhaha and many, many comments that were negative . . .
    and a lot of comments came from people who had never read the book, refused to read the book, etc, etc.

    So, is this a pattern?

    I’m not sure two cases make a ‘pattern’, but I have always thought it best to examine for myself, before judging whether ‘I’ agreed or disagreed with someone’s writings.

    For me, it is healthy to do my own thinking, after I read for myself.
    What others choose to do is for them to decide. But I would far rather read the comments of those who had at least seen what it is they are commenting on.

  67. Joe Blackmon March 9, 2011 at 1:43 pm #


    The only “pattern” to be seen is the fact that you support people who preach a false gospel and attach, viciously, anyone who stands for the gospel taught in the Bible. If you’re looking for someone who has read the book, . Of course, let me guess–he’s just a fear mongerin’, hate mongerin’ fundy?

    Be peaceful, L’s. (snicker)

  68. Joe Blackmon March 9, 2011 at 1:44 pm #

    Sorry, the above comment should have the hyperlink with the words “look no further”. My sarcastic remark to L’s should not be the hyperlink.

  69. Angela March 14, 2011 at 10:16 am #

    Rob is a thought provoking teacher and writer. This book, like the rest of his books stirs up debate and creates discussion. Beautiful!

    Maybe we could all have a real discussion about the book AFTER you have read it? Coming from someone who HAS read it. I love it!

  70. Joe Blackmon March 14, 2011 at 11:50 am #

    Rob Bell is a false teacher who preaches a false gospel that will damn people to an eternal, conscious punishment in hell regardless of whether he wants to deny the existance of hell or not.

    Again, no Christians support him or endorse his book as worth reading. No one has to read the book to know what he teaches is false doctrine because people who have read the book have reviewed it. There is not one of the quotes in the reviews that is even slightly Christian in ANY context.

    So, Angela, your endorsement aside, real Christians are going to continue to call Bell what he is…a false teacher.

  71. Angela March 14, 2011 at 11:55 am #

    That’s odd. I was in a room with over 2,000 REAL Christians and God last night all supporting and lifting Bell up.

    My heart breaks for you and the anger that drives you to hate and judge.

  72. Ryan Healy March 14, 2011 at 7:53 pm #

    Angela – I commend you for speaking up.

    Joe – Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.

    To all – God’s grace and mercy is much greater than anything we ever imagined.

    Will there still be judgment? Absolutely. Will all eventually bow their knee to Jesus? Yes. Will God save all? Absolutely.

    And then the glory of God will cover the earth as the water covers the sea.

    This is what the Bible teaches.

    God has stated His will and He is mighty to accomplish it. Not even man’s will can get in the way. We serve an awesome God whose love knows no bounds.

    P.S. The church is going to be rocked by Bell’s book. The truth fears nothing. This is why orthodox Christians are lashing out in fear. Their doctrine can’t stand up to the truth. Watch the days of ahead. Christians are about to wake up…

  73. Joe Blackmon March 14, 2011 at 8:35 pm #


    Yes, out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. Correct. Great observation.

    Which is the exact point that I was making. Christians do not embrace heresy. Rob Bell’s book is heresy. Therefore, anyone who supports Bell or commends his book as good is proving by their speech that there is not love of the truth in their herat.

    Thank you for making my point. 🙂

  74. Angela March 14, 2011 at 9:01 pm #

    Well written Ryan. Rob himself said he doesn’t read the attacks on him. He acknowledged that he can’t respond to all of them and that most of the attacks come from people who aren’t willing to learn and discuss. Some closed minded and afraid people are sadly not worth wasting the time as they aren’t willing to listen and re-examine themselves and their beliefs.

  75. Derek March 14, 2011 at 11:41 pm #

    I was glad to see Mark Galli of Christianity Today call him out on this by writing:

    He [Bell] says this theme has a “long tradition” and “an untold number” of devout Christians have believed it. Well, only a tiny minority of Christians have espoused it in 20 centuries. The church has consistently rejected it because the arguments for it have never been compelling. Bell doesn’t wrestle with counter-arguments, other than to suggest that to believe in eternal judgment is to believe that history is tragic and that God doesn’t get his way

    .I’m glad for what Galli wrote here, because Bell often likes to use straw man arguments by mischaracterizing other Believers and then he complains that he’s being picked on by mean boys when they critique what he said.
    He likes to challenge conventional ways of thinking, which is fine, if only he would a) provide accurate descriptions of his opponents’ views and
    b) be open to actually getting down to brass tacks and actual dialogue, i.e. defending the orthodoxy shifting positions he’s taking.


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