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Rob Bell And A Difficult Doctrine

There has been a lot of talk lately in the news about the reality of Hell. This is because of a new book by Rob Bell and his subsequent appearances on several media outlets.  In his new book he calls into question the Biblical doctrine of Hell. Watch the promo trailer for “Love Wins” below.

His interview appearances have done nothing to dispel the idea put forth in his book that we’ve gotten it wrong on Hell all these years.

To be honest, I have been amazed at Rob Bell’s gifts of writing and speaking for some time now.  He is an amazing communicator!

However, he’s dead wrong about hell.

For whatever reason, over time he has moved increasingly toward a position of uncertainty on several areas of doctrine. To quote an article in Christianity Today in 2004 on Rob and Kristen Bell,

In fact, as the Bells describe it, after launching Mars Hill in 1999, they found themselves increasingly uncomfortable with church. “Life in the church had become so small,” Kristen says. “It had worked for me for a long time. Then it stopped working.” The Bells started questioning their assumptions about the Bible itself—”discovering the Bible as a human product,” as Rob puts it, rather than the product of divine fiat. “The Bible is still in the center for us,” Rob says, “but it’s a different kind of center. We want to embrace mystery, rather than conquer it.”

“I grew up thinking that we’ve figured out the Bible,” Kristen says, “that we knew what it means. Now I have no idea what most of it means. And yet I feel like life is big again—like life used to be black and white, and now it’s in color.”

I’ll be the first to admit that the Bible is full of mystery and hard to understand at times.  But much of the Bible is crystal clear.  And Hell is one of those places.

Bell’s new book muddies the water on the subject of Hell. According to some theologians, in his book he stops just short of being a Universalist (someone who believes everyone will ultimately go to heaven and no one will go to Hell), while others say he now has embraced Universalism.

And that is the point – he dangerously sounds a note of uncertainty on a very clear teaching in scripture.  Again, if there is one thing the Bible doesn’t mince words on, it is the subject of Hell.  Jesus Himself talks about it in very specific terms.

No doubt it is a difficult doctrine.  I’d rather we not have to talk about it. But we have no choice because God makes it so plain in His Word.

And in the end, God has the final say.

8 Comments

  1. Lori Thomas

    I’ve always appreciated your committment to sound doctrine. Doctrine does matter and your blog articulates one of the greatest reasons why!

  2. Daryl

    David, I was wondering if you have you read the book?

  3. Tracy

    David, I wish that you hadn’t posted the trailer. In a small way it feels like it gives him some validity to sell his book. I do agree with the rest of your post.

  4. I have not yet watched the piece on rob bell or seen the new book you mention but I do have to say that I can relate to the quote you gave of the bells. I grew up in a very legalistic denomination where the bible was black and white and the was no mystery. I have read the bible through hundreds of times. Have studied under the most prestiglus professors in seminary, yet am also finding that there is more mystery in the word of God than black and white. I dont believe this is by chance or bad doctrine, in fact I believe this IS doctrine. If God would even use the word doctrine to describe himself. The mystery of meaning and God is what keeps us desiring more. I want more of my father today than I ever have. And the more I know him the less I understand of him which radically grows my faith! I would be very careful to say that there are very clead doctrines in the written word and that we should hang on to them. In fact jesus gave those very clear doctrines when asked specifically what they are: love God with all of your heart, soul and mind and love your neighbor as yourself. I believe there is a time and place of discipline and ‘weeping and grinding of teeth.’ But jesus does also say ‘i will draw ALL men unto me.’ And the spirit does say ‘God is not slow in keeping his promise,as some count slacking, instead he desires all to come to relationship with him.’ Hmmmmm dont think about that to quickly because it might become doctrine. Dont think about it too slowly because it might drive you insane. Let it be what it is: mystery. I wont be surprised if hell is eternal. I also wont be surprised if it is a time that jesus draws all men unto himself. All I know is ill be in the presence of Abba. And thats home.

  5. David (Author)

    I have Daryl.

  6. None of the Bible is crystal clear, David. Pastor Bell says something in that trailer that should have been layered over every frame of that video…when he speaks of someone being “that sure” about Gandhi’s eventual fate, he expresses what many of us do indeed find lacking in the Church: acceptance of more than one idea. I could never send a child of mine into a fiery pit, no matter how insolent he/she may be. Could you? Yet we so easily accept the notion that a loving God could do this. Why do we cling to this idea that the path to heaven, and away from hell, is so pedantic?

    I visited your church yesterday evening, drawn by a very provocative sermon title. I admit that I went in hoping to hear a sermon more along the lines of Neal Donald Walsh, or even Rob Bell. So that’s on me. I liked the pastor, I just left thinking there was so much there to work with. There was a time, not that long ago, that a series of sermons like “Lies The Church Believes” would have branded you a heretic. More than one idea, David.

  7. I like where you’re going with that thought, Mack.

  8. BJ

    There is a balance here that you guys may be forgetting. God is love, most definitely he loves everyone and desires all men to come into knowledge of God. The problem is God’s holiness and utter disgust of sin. We forget that God is a Holy God free of all blemish and hates sin with such intensity that hell is the only place for sinner to go, that is what we all deserve because we have all “sinned and fallen short of the glory of God” (Rom 3:23). It is a nice idea for hell to be temporary but there is no Biblical evidence for it. This is not an issue of culture but of the Bible. Rob Bell had no evidence to claim the “gehenna” was anything less than eternal. The term that means eternal is aionios. This same term is applied within the same context as heaven. Logically if the term meant eternal in once case in the same context it must mean the same in the other. So either both are eternal or they are both not. Yes God is drawing all men unto himself, that was and is the role of Christ, to open the path to God. But God loves us enough to let us make up our own mind. God never forces us to love him instead waits patiently allowing us to make our own choices which lead to hell. The primary problem behind the majority of mans considerations of hell is that God never sends people to hell, mans choices demand that he be send there. Consequences are part of life and the consequences for sin are death and eternal damnation, God’s justice and holiness demand the existence and eternal nature of sin because if sinners are not punished eternally God is not in complete control. I hope that makes sense, if not email me

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