Christianity,  News

NY Times on Rob Bell Dust-up

The “Old Gray Lady” has a report on the controversy surrounding Rob Bell’s forthcoming book. Justin Taylor, Scot McKnight, John Piper, and Albert Mohler are quoted in the article. Erik Eckholm writes the story and has also had an opportunity to read the book. Eckholm says that Bell seems to be advocating universalism while not using the term. He writes,

“Judging from an advance copy, the 200-page book is unlikely to assuage Mr. Bell’s critics. In an elliptical style, he throws out probing questions about traditional biblical interpretations, mixing real-life stories with scripture.

“Much of the book is a sometimes obscure discussion of the meaning of heaven and hell that tears away at the standard ideas. In his version, heaven is something that begins here on earth, in a life of goodness, and hell seems more a condition than an eternal fate…

“While sliding close to what critics consider the heresy of ‘universalism’ — that all humans will eventually be saved — he never uses the term.”

It appears that Justin Taylor’s initial take on the book may be vindicated when it is released on March 15. I will have more to say about it then.


  • Ryan K.

    Have to say this is a great article by the NYT. Very informative and I think it covered the story quite well.

    Filled with good bits of news including the fact that Harper has moved the date up due to this whole incident it seems.

    To bad that Bell has gone silent and they could not get at least a quote from him.

  • Christiane

    I’m going to read Bell’s book, just to see what all the hullabaloo is about. I want to consider all the advance-notice criticisms while examining the content OF THE ENTIRE BOOK, as is fair I think.
    Perhaps the ‘advance critics’ will have been more beneficial to the book sales than they might have foreseen. That happens, sometimes.

    If Bell’s questions have touched exposed nerves among a changing evangelical world, then I want to know what nerves ARE exposed, and why.

  • Derek

    If a person has a terminal illness, and in the name of compassion, we tell the person that they are not dying and furthermore, we fail to treat the illness, then we are failing to live up to our duty. If we are a medical professional, it is called malpractice and is considered reckless disregard and endangerment of the patient.

    We’re dealing with the same thing here. That is why people are concerned. The stakes couldn’t get bigger, especially because we have been given a sure and steady Foundation, Christ. There are no remedies for our terminal spiritual sickness outside of the Gospel.

  • Christiane

    Derek, have you read the book?

    I haven’t read it.
    I will make up my mind after I have read the book.

    And yes, while reading it (the whole content), I will examine the questions and the ‘answers’ non-readers have already provided (thank-you, Denny Burk).
    I particularly am interested to see if the ‘advance-critics’ presented their case accurately, or if they jumped the gun and have accused Bell unfairly in assuming what the context of the book might contain.

  • Derek


    This might surprise you, but I have listened to Bell’s sermons and videos for several years now and agree with much of what he says. I’ve even defended him on occasion. The Nooma films are well done and for the most part, recommendable.

    The summary of the book (provided by the publisher and marketing campaign) and the video are troubling. I agree that we should reserve final judgement until the book comes out. But I have heard from two sources – both favorable to Bell – that the book will by controversial and that it has been accurately described in the publisher’s book summary.

  • Ali

    I’ve never read a Bell book, but if Greg Boyd’s blog post is anything to go by, I’m not sure reading the book will leave anyone the wiser.

  • Christiane

    Derek, I look forward to a good ‘controversy’, but I prefer dialogue, so I can ask and try to understand the ‘other’s point of view.

    If Bell is writing this book to get people discussing certain issues . . . . I think that is great.
    People get a bit stale and smug when they are not questioned or challenged in their thinking now and then.
    Controversy keep’s ’em on their toes.

  • Sandgroper

    Emerging heresy from the emerging church. Why is anyone surprised? And look who is coming to their rescue. The Campolo brigade – see link What is disappointing is how this has even got into the mainstream press. How pathetic. I had better dust off my Koran instead.

  • Charlie

    “But we have renounced disgraceful, underhanded ways. We refuse to practice cunning or to tamper with God’s word, but by the open statement of the truth we would commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God.” (2 Corinthians 4:2)

    If Bell stays evasive in the book when it comes to important aspects of his view of the gospel is enough to confirm that his ministry has nothing to do with true gospel ministry.

    Because we will not need him to say anything, The fruit of his actions will declare his true allegiance.

  • Ryan K.


    The funny thing is you are swinging at imaginary opponents here.

    I have not heard anyone say that Bell’s book should not be read or evaluated based on what all of it has to say.

    These so-called “advanced critics” have only pointed out the obvious; what was said in the trailer for the book was troubling, and seems to indicate theological beliefs that are unorthodox. You don’t need to read the book to make a comment on the trailer.

    Not to mention, some of the people you seem to be taking umbrage with have read some of the book.

    Honestly though I doubt the release and reading of the book will actually bring any closure to this debate. My guess is that Bell will continue with his evasive double-speak that is just ambiguous enough that all of his supporters will still be able to lull themselves into believing he not saying anything heretical.

    In which case I think Bell should will carry the weight of causing great division among Christians simply because he loves to asks questions without answering them, and askew clarity in favor of mystery. Bottom line is that pastors, Bible teachers, and for that matter any follower of Christ has an obligations born out of love to speak loving truth clearly. This is what I see as Bell’s biggest error in this whole fiasco.

  • Lisa Ralston

    Ironically, Rob Bell is a reactionary himself. The people who are drawn to him are often sheltered, mostly white upper class kids (his church is in Grand Rapids, where Calvin College is) who like to spend a lot of time complaining about what is wrong with Christians and Christianity.

    Bell’s messages and videos are sophisticated and not preachy in the traditional manner, but there is a dogmatism in his messages that is cloaked behind sarcasm and “questions” that are not really questions, but thinly veiled anger and critique.

    Maybe some of Bell’s critiques of the evangelical church are valid and if they were totally off base, I suppose Bell wouldn’t have the large audience he does have. But the spirit of it and the self-righteousness of it all is very off putting and does not reflect well on Bell and his ministry. Furthermore, when this tone characterizes a person’s ministry, it is hard to shift gears to a simple and clear presentation of the Gospel.

  • Derek

    You asked why Bell’s video and the book promotional language touched a nerve and I simply answered. Others have given their answers. I thought you were asking an honest question and I gave you an answer. That is dialogue.

    Also, it is people who are favorable to Bell who are saying that the book will cause controversy and it is now obvious that the publisher (and probably the author too) deliberately stirred up controversy in order to sell more books. What better way to stir up controversy that to challenge 2,000 years of Protestant and Catholic orthodoxy? So it seems wrong and unfair to blame the controversy on those who are reacting to this very deliberate media campaign and book promotion.

  • Christiane

    I will evaluate the book AFTER I have read it.

    I realize that is not a popular idea, but there it is. Fire away.
    ‘Out takes’ and ‘trailers’ for movies are often designed to heighten interest so that that people will want to know more. But the entire film, or book, or documentary often shows a different perspective.

    I would be interested in reading evaluations of the book once people have had an opportunity to read it.
    But, like the ‘out-takes’ were designed to stimulate interest, I think the ‘advance-critics’ agenda may have been to warn or caution potential readers, like a ‘heads-up’or ‘WARNING: INCOMING’.
    For me, that approach was intriguing.

    Maybe we can exchange ideas again after we have read his book? Hope so.

  • Derek

    I’m not planning on reading the book. You may wonder why? Aside from the manipulative marketing efforts that have been employed to sell this book, I point out something I haven’t heard anyone discuss yet – what is it that qualifies Rob Bell to correct the traditional Christian and Biblical understanding of hell? Is he an academic? No, he is not. He is a skilled and persuasive speaker. Theologians and scholars from all over the spectrum have debated this subject for 2,000 years. I’m going on a limb and going to say that Bell is not going to break any ground that hundreds of scholars more qualified than he haven’t already. I’ll read their writings, including a real scholar like N.T. Wright’s controversial views on hell long before I will read Rob Bell’s.

  • Jim W

    Why does everyone keep calling Bell a great communicator, a skilled and/or persuasive speaker? When no one can nail down where he stands on a subject, when everyone can come to a different conclusion about his beliefs, that seems to me that he is a master manipulator-NOT a master communicator. As Apprising Ministries latest writings display, even someone like Greg Boyd doesn’t understand Bell.

  • Derek

    Jim W,
    Have you listened to him in long format, more than just snippets? It can be maddening to listen to Bell because you can’t pin him down on critical things, including the Gospel, which he was famously asked to explain in Christianity Today a few years ago. But I have to say that he is very skilled and persuasive when he’s talking about what he wants to talk about. I do agree that he is manipulative, though. The two things are not mutually exclusive, in fact they often go together as I believe it does in Bell’s case.

  • Christiane

    Derek, I’m not into pre-judging and am sorry that we can’t dialogue about ‘the book’, but I respect your own choice not to read it.

    I look forward to what Denny Burk has to say after the book comes out.

  • Derek

    We all make pre-judgements, whether well-informed or not, when it comes to deciding what books we will read. I’ve given Rob Bell a fair hearing over the past several years and if it turns out that he has uncovered some important truths or angles that other scholars have missed, I would be willing to read it.

  • Jim W

    Derek, I have listened to a couple of his sermons and a couple of NOOMA videos. I stand by what I say. If even Greg Boyd, who has read Bell’s latest book can’t figure out where he (Bell) stands, then he is not a master communicator, he is a master manipulator. And if Bell has somehow figured something out that the greatest minds of the past 2000 years haven’t, then he deserves the title of prophet. Somehow, I doubt it.

  • Ryan K.

    Christiane why are you ignoring the fact that many of the critics are not pre-judging like I said before, but are judging based on Bell’s own words in the video he released.

    Once again, the content of the trailer was troubling in its own right, and one does not have to read the book before raising objections to the trailer than has been put out about the book.

    Honestly you can ignore what Bell seems to be leading toward, but this is the same song and dance we had when McLaren’s heretical coming out party was about to take place with the release of his last book.

  • Derek

    Jim W, I think we’re saying pretty much the same thing. What makes Bell effective as a manipulator is that he is smart, persuasive and he is a gifted communicator.

    By the way, I also think he speaks in code that his audience interprets without any problem, kind of like a skilled politician can ask for a bribe without ever spelling it out. A perfect example is that his followers keep saying “he’s just asking questions” when they know perfectly well that his questions are rhetorical and not actual questions. It takes a certain amount of skill to do this effectively, though I agree 100% with Charlie in post #9 that it is inappropriate for a pastor to communicate this way.

Comment here. Please use FIRST and LAST name.