Bell Gets Rung Early

From The Gospel Coalition’s “Rob Bell: Universalist?” by Justin Taylor to John Piper’s tweet “Farewell to Rob Bell,” there is much accusation taking place toward his upcoming book Love Wins.  The critics are sharpening their pitchforks in preparation for attack on the Bell-enstein monster Love Wins while the fact remains: it’s not out yet. All speculations and critiques are completely unfounded until March 31, 2011 when the book is scheduled for release. We have been given very little thus far save a video teaser on and a short excerpt from Harper Collins regarding the upcoming book which is the source of all the controversy.

“Fans flock to his Facebook page, his NOOMA videos have been viewed by millions, and his Sunday sermons are attended by 10,000 parishioners—with a downloadable podcast reaching 50,000 more. An electrifying, unconventional pastor whom Time magazine calls “a singular rock star in the church world,” Rob Bell is the most vibrant, central religious leader of the millennial generation. Now, in Love Wins: Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived, 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. With searing insight, Bell puts hell on trial, and his message is decidedly optimistic—eternal life doesn’t start when we die; it starts right now. And ultimately, Love Wins.”

The particular part about how Bell “argues that a loving God would never sentence human soul eternal suffering” is the part that really started the evangelical blogs and tweets of fire. However, what if Bell raises that idea and then brings up the fact that God is not only a “loving God”? We don’t know yet because the book isn’t out. Holster your pitchforks!

The preemptive strike from the Love Wins opposition is absurd but equally absurd are the arguments against Piper and Co.  Many have quoted scripture out context to say it’s wrong for Christian leadership to critique or publicly debate perspectives. They range from “its wrong for Christians to label anyone” to “Jesus wouldn’t be that mean” and (my favorite) “the bible explicitly says you are not to correct anyone publicly”. The problem with your average Christian who puts it upon themselves to crusade for ultimate Christian ethic is that they’ve read too much Relevant and very little scripture. Their perspective is full of holes but certainly isn’t Holy.

Here is why public correction is Biblical and okay with Jesus:

(1) People often quote Matthew 18:15, but false teaching, inaccurate teaching, or whatever you want to call it, hardly can be considered as sinning against a brother. If I steal your car and then realize it was wrong, I have an obligation to go to you in private and make the matter right. If I read a scripture like Romans 8:1 and argue that no one will be condemned to Hell because “there is now no condemnation,” I am in dire need of correction on this issue. Perhaps that is the danger Bell finds himself in at present, but it’s only a “perhaps” at this point. Also, you can’t get around the fact that Jesus regularly corrected the false religious perspectives of his day openly and publicly; read Matthew to see this happen over and over again.

(2) In Galatians Paul corrected Peter to his face but this was in a public setting “before all to see” in chapter 2 verses 11-14. Also, no evidence exists in Paul’s epistles to Timothy to suggest that he ever personally met with Hymenaeus, Alexander, Philetus, Jannes, Jambres, or Demas to correct their false teaching. (1 Tim. 1:20, 2 Tim. 3:8, 2 Tim. 3:17, 2 Tim. 4:20)

(3) Church history validates this position. From Ignatius of Antioch (who was a student of the apostle John) to Augustine the early church fathers wrote volumes upon volumes of treatises to correct false teachings, bad doctrine, or “pagan” behavior within the church. They were far more straightforward than Piper on Bell or Driscoll on Osteen. Against Marcion, Against Praxeas, Against the Valentinians, are but a few of Tertullian’s works but this tradition is carried on by the majority of the church fathers. They debated though words written and read by men. Even Luther nailing his 95 thesis to Wittenberg door in Germany was a challenge to a papacy far across Europe in Rome. Luther’s method was a common way for starting a debate and because of that debate we aren’t speaking Latin.

If Rob Bell does say anything that goes against the truth claims of Jesus then correction will be merited. But, as of now, all the aforementioned critics are chasing ghosts on the issue. We don’t factually know his claims or if any of those claims are contrary to scripture. All critiques are thus far without credibility. Piper and others need to be quick to listen and slow to speak regarding this matter. Unfortunately, for the leaders of these protestant personality cults, shutting up long enough to hear someone out is not exactly their forte. They are quick to condemn and slow to read.

Matthew Baker is just playing his music in the sun. To contact Matt directly write him at

  • dustin risner

    Well thought-out and very timely. Good use of scripture and church history. Loved the article Bakey. However, I felt like the emphasis on correction could have 'corrected' the assuming and ill-natured behavior of many mainstream pastors at a more balanced level. What does this sort of behavior by religious leaders mean for the Church's witness? How does a leaders presumption on Bell's decline affect a congregation? I am glad you are presenting 'correction' as an early church precedent – this needs to be emphasized – but let's not overlook the wrong that assumptions can make – especially among leaders.

  • Isaiah Beiser

    Great stuff

  • The Sandstorm

    This post has done my heart some good.

  • Jare Bear

    It makes sense to hate on a book called "Love Wins."

    • http://thissitedotcom The Shadow

      good show

      • Dusty Kat

        Hey Shadow (Banksy) you need a gravatar.

      • http://thissitedotcom The Shadow

        you need a schmavatar

  • harvey mitchell, jr.

    Thanks for your exposition. I think you made a bold statement in the end about leaders or so called leaders being quick to pass judgement. I use to hear people say all kinds of things in regards to Rob Bell and others. But when I actually read Rob Bell and those others i found them to be more right on then what the so called out spoken leaders were teaching.

  • Jared

    After reading the posts that this article is a response to, I get the general sense that Bell's haters want him so badly to mess up–to be a Universalist. Regardless, his work needs to be dealt with in its entirety and not by a teaser video or chapter or two from the book.

    My assumption is that Rob's conclusion in Love Wins isn't that Hell is empty, but rather that God doesn't send sinners there; the sinners reject Him and in so doing condemn themselves.

    • nickole huffman

      Thank you!

  • http://thissitedotcom The Shadow

    You are assuming that all of the critics have not read the book in its entirety. The release of a book is like the release of a movie many times. The "critics" watch the movie before it's 'release' in its entirety because there are special screenings for them. Likewise for this book, you should consider the book has been given out to select individuals or organizations to review before its release to the public. You, as well as I, are undoubtedly part of the public. Don't condemn the critics with faulty assumptions; you will have to wait for the book yourself until you can pull out your "proverbial pitchfork" for Bell and the critics. Jesus FTW.

    • Jared

      Thanks for the comment Shadow. I believe Matt is primarily responding to these two particular articles:

      You'll notice they said they have only seen the promo vid and read a couple chapters of the book. They try to justify their critique. Do you think it's warranted?

      • http://thissitedotcom The Shadow

        good show. thanks for the links. (confession=i actually just watched the teaser video myself–this is after my above posts–though a friend had mentioned it to me a couple days ago.)

    • Matty B

      Shadow, thanks for your thoughts.

      The aforementioned critics Piper/Taylor admit they haven't read the book. They are not on the apparent advance reader list. No assumption is being made. I did my homework, sir.

      As you accuse me of assumption you then dive into the deep end of assumption. "The Shadow" can assume but alas, I cannot…but wait…I didn't. :)

      The author of the Harper Collins blurb is nothing more than a teaser or to use your film analogy a "preview". And a preview, as you know, is of what is to come not what already is. You know as well as I that trailers are meant to arouse interest not serve as a sufficient review, critique, or summary.

      I didn't condemn the preemptive critics I critiqued and corrected such a perspective via the epistle of James Chapter 1 verse 19. "Be quick to listen, slow to speak"

      Thanks for the dialogue.

      • Jared

        Taylor has said he's read a few of the chapters. Somehow he came across them from a friend or something.

      • http://thissitedotcom The Shadow

        see above reply to jareBear – also, then be more clear in your article about your "homework" – the specific critics you correct – which you may have mentioned – but offer links to their critiques as Jared did for me – and as well state more clearly your knowledge of the fact that those you correct have in fact admitted to not having read the whole book – :) ..then you don't leave me the potential to assume you are assuming… tread in that=(reference to your "deep end"–also, that's what she said?). my apologies for the assumption.

  • Matty B

    Here is the real problem. In the Evangelical world, when someone says something unbiblical, writes something ridiculous, or teaches "heresy" by what are they held in account in the present? For the Holy Romans, the Pope flicks a switch and presto chango aborition is murder.

    He actually does have a switch. Its much like Connans' Chuck Norris switch but you won't see any roundhouses from law and order(Chucks legs).

    • http://thissitedotcom The Shadow

      "aborition" – the ghost of an aborted fetus. –as defined by the wholesome & credible ''

      (unrelated-i had a fascinating intellectual conversation with my doctor friend about abortion, personhood, fertilization, birth control, the morning after pill, etc. – it was interesting.)

  • Josh

    Great post sir. Spot on.

    • Matty B

      Thanks Josh :)

  • Brawner

    Love your article Baker. Very well written. Very engaging… What carries your point more heavily for me is the scriptural examples. For me church history in general is more shoddy. Others may disagree with me, but thats me.

    My biggest question with Bell is what are his afterlife beliefs. He makes the point that over the last 100 years church culture has been preoccupied with going to heaven, when his interpretation of scripture is we are suppose to be bringing heaven to earth. These mindsets change how we live drastically, from the proverbial escape to the identity as God's agents of grace and change.

    But again kudos on a great article.

    • Matty B

      Church history often gets forgotten in the search for a Christian ethic but the early church fathers were, in many cases, the students of the disciples who were disciples of Jesus. This isn't an argument for apostolic succession but rather to say there is much value in how they understood the practice of the faith as presented to them by those who were witness to the risen Lord. These guys would have heard eye-witness accounts of who Jesus was, what he said, and how the faith was intended to be practiced.

    • Dusty Kat

      Brawn in 60 seconds – What do you mean that church history is shoddy? Did church history begin at Azusa street? just kidding :)

  • Dan

    The critics are not against what has not been published but what has already been said and circulated in the public domain. Whether or not the Love Wins book expounds universalism or not, the Love Wins video clearly does – irrespective of whether or not it is stated rhetorically.

    • Matthew Baker

      What has been said are merely questions. Do questions merit such hostility? Certainly not. Jesus was not always hostile at the Pharisees when they asked questons and their intentions were far more malicious in intent than Bell. The Love Wins video at best asks the question.

  • Matty B

    Ben Witherington, one of the world's leading evangelical scholars, is Amos Professor of New Testament at Asbury Theological Seminary. He is the author of over 40 books and is a frequent commentator on radio and television programs.

    His article was released March 2nd at and draws the same conclusions as myself in Ben does use Matthew 18 out of context but does draw the same conclusions.

  • Jessi K

    Matthew -

    Please understand that I wholeheartedly agree with your exegesis and from which you draw your conclusions. I agree that the critics who haven't read the books can't know what Rob Bell has to say until, well, he's "said" it (ie the release of the book). But I would like to point out that their concern is not unfounded. Often Bell does swing to a more liberal understanding than, say, your average Christian mega-pastor. And I wish I could at the present moment remember the book in which he wrote that the Christian faith is like a trampoline – take out some springs and it still bounces. I'm not going to throw out the baby with the bathwater (horrible cliche) but there are absolute tenets of the Christian faith that can't be removed and we still bounce – taking just one: Christ's work on the Cross for the reconciliation of mankind to a loving and RIGHTEOUS God who doesn't tolerate sin, even in the beings He loves.

    I'll wait for the book to come out and to read it for myself before I decided whether Rob Bell and I are in agreement. But Rob Bell may have set the precedent in some people's mind (even mine) to head toward disagreement.

  • Matty B

    Totally reasonable Jessie K.

    Bell is pretty "emerging". I thought portions of Velvet Elvis were problematic i.e the section on that discussed the virgin birth not happening would we still trust Jesus. The thing is if Jesus wasn't born of a virgin he isn't the messiah. The OT tells us the messiah will be born of a virgin and Matthew shows how this came to happen. So the virgin birth is not some silly Christian tradition…its biblical truth. The virgin birth isn't some capricious promise of God that he didn't expect to fulfill.

    The issue is not whether we agree with Bell or anyone for that matter.

    The issue that matters and the question we should be asking is does scripture agree?

    • Linda "Mom&quot

      …and do WE agree with scripture?!!

      • Matthew Baker

        Yes…we do, mom.

  • Jessi K

    Well put, Matt. Thank you.

  • Nik White

    Nice man. I've been quietly sitting in the shadows (no pun intended to you Mr. or Mrs. The Shadow) watching this whole thing unfold. Interesting time ahead for the church. I don't know all the details and I'm not going to act like I do. I hope that Bell maintains an Orthodox and true Scriptural view of this subject. I've always appreciated his candor and ability to get people to ask questions and think for themselves. He has obviously already done that with this new book. A couple things have stood out to me about the response to his book. First, I'm surprised (not really, I guess but more disappointed) with how quick people have been to burn him at the stake. I feel like a lot of people are worried about winning the debate over whether he is a universalist or not instead of being heart broken of what it would mean if he is one and how that would be an obvious change in belief for Bell and what that will mean for the American church. I will say, that out of just the preview alone it has stirred people to begin to think about what they really believe and hopefully it will do something more important and that is stir people to search out what the Scriptures really say about the subject. It has already got people talking and discussing the issue and to me that is genius. Second, if the book comes out and Bell isn't a universalist, how many of these people will have the humility to admit they were wrong and ask for forgiveness? We love to correct publicly but we don't like to be corrected publicly. A lot of people are going to have some explaining to do. But, and again, if they are right will they dance in victory at the witch they just caught or will their hearts break with grief, leading to prayer, grace, and most of all love? Guess we'll have to watch and see…. Love the site guys! Sandstorm, you still have that rash?

  • Apollojetick

    Great stuff, Matty B! I love your thoughts on the reaction of mainstream pastors…can I bring up something about the topic of the book?

    My wife and I have had some VERY interesting discussions on the afterlife (sometimes she thinks I'm a heretic) since we got married a few months ago. I can say that I am nowhere near what mainstream evangelical Xtians portray themselves as. I am not sure what Love Wins will be entirely about (I am reading The Next Christians by Gabe Lyons right now) but I am hoping SOMEONE will talk about how we have, to some degree, placed ourselves as vocal judges here on earth. We feel free enough to vocalize who we think will and will not make it, when in the end it's God "who will judge the secrets of men through Christ Jesus." (Romans 2:16) God…NOT US! I think we should all just stop judging so much (something very hard to admit/change/do, granted) and just move on with living a life Christ desires us to and draw other men to Him that way…because it's not about rules, it truly is about Love. Just my thoughts, as simple as they are…keep up the great work and I will be reading all you guy's stuff!


  • Matty B

    Just an update for everyone. According the NY times the book is now going to be released on March 15. Read the article here.

  • Malee

    Refreshing. Great article.

    Everyone seems so eager to write him off. It's almost this knee-jerk reaction to ease our anxiety. The way he pokes, prods and challenges traditionally held thought makes many Christians uncomfortable and defensive. Like Jesus did.

    Maybe he's just thinking a few steps ahead and leaking just enough of a preview to 'seem' controversial. Good way to make us anticipate his book.

    I'm hoping he has not gone off the deep end but will refrain my opinion till I can get his book.

    "The one who states his case first seems right, until the other comes and examines him." Prov 18:17

  • Malee

    His topic seems George MacDonald-esque.

    Didn't Mac believe hell was only the ultimate/final purification by fire?

  • Matthew Baker

    Here is a review of a guy claiming to have read the book. He also has several quotes from the book itself. Check it out for some follow up to this story.

  • Andy H

    simple idea (albeit, usually enlightening truth) + showmanship + 1-2 sentence paragraphs + tricky terminology + ///(50 Post-modern variety backslashes) +

    (white space)

    (one random sentence)

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    (white space)


    (white space)

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    (white space)

    A Rob Bell book

    • Matthew Baker

      Andy I just saw your comment…hilarious.