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Rob Bell--Love Wins


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#1 Tyler

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Posted 26 February 2011 - 03:55 PM

Rob Bell: Universalist?

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.



#2 CrimsonLine

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Posted 26 February 2011 - 06:02 PM

I would certainly agree that eternal life begins now, and I cling to the fact that love will win in the end. But every day, I meet people who consciously reject the love of God, and true love is never forced. It sounds like Bell doesn't want a God who would send someone to Hell - and so in exchange he has created a God who forces everyone to love Him.

That's not an improvement.

Edited by CrimsonLine, 26 February 2011 - 06:03 PM.


#3 Persona

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Posted 26 February 2011 - 07:28 PM

Well, Crims, "He has created." So have I, so have you, so have the hundreds of denominations out there. We hope for a Truth but there are hundreds of versions of it available on any given Sunday.

He's not a Universalist. As a guy who attends his church every week, I can say that. I would say that he's hopeful that God is a Universalist, and I'd say he fights for good, and for heaven to the end. He leans hard on the side of grace, because he's seen so many of us who need it. It's easier to preach hellfire and condemnation than it is to hope for the good in all, God included. It's easier to be judgmental. That's why I just about left this thing called Christianity. At Mars Hill, I've learned that trusting in God means trusting in the good of all, God included. Doesn't mean I understand everything about him, doesn't mean I understand anything at all. Certainly doesn't mean I need bullet point sermons on heaven and hell. Rob would leave the bullet points out and live to love in the process, and THAT is an improvement on everything I've seen in the church in the 40 years I've lived.

I cannot wait for this book. Talk on the inside is that he's left Zondervan and found a new distributor. I hope it is a secular distributor. Rob's teaching needs to be heard outside the church. People inside are too judgmental and "knowledgeable" for him.

#4 J.A.A. Purves

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Posted 27 February 2011 - 12:42 PM

Admittedly, there's a difference between being a saying that all people go to Heaven (heretical) and saying that God does not necessarily sentence anyone to hell (actually Biblical). The Great Divorce sort of supports the understanding of both the existence of hell and the fact of why people go to hell not exactly being God's forcing them there. Of course, C.S. Lewis also made it clear that The Great Divorce was merely fiction.

However, from what I've read of Rob Bell, he has an unfortunate tendency to equate doctrine and the authority of Scripture with the judgmentalism within Christianity that he is so against. His efforts to ditch the one seems to include ditching the others, and that is dangerous. Doctrine and the authority of Scripture don't just matter, they are vital to the very existence of Christianity. And, while it is possible to live a purely unloving & ineffective life by focusing solely upon the intellectual pursuit of distinguishing doctrines in Scripture, that doesn't mean you just throw it out. Following Scripture correctly leads you to Jesus and, therefore, acting like Jesus.

I still have hope for Bell, mostly because he seems like a man who is interested in following Christ. I worry about him when he says his theology is influenced by falsehood like this. Hopefully, he just doesn't continue to make the same arguments for ditching doctrine and orthodoxy in this new book of his.

#5 Ryan H.

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Posted 27 February 2011 - 12:44 PM

It's easier to preach hellfire and condemnation than it is to hope for the good in all, God included. It's easier to be judgmental.

It's certainly easy to be judgmental and harsh and cold. But it's also easy to try and remove the sting from Christianity, to produce a Christianity that doesn't serve an affront to individuals. Both instincts are at large in the American church today.

As to Bell's new book, all I've heard about it is a bunch of rants from some of my more conservative acquaintances about how this really runs off the rails, etc. I know enough to not trust what I've heard about Bell's new book from those who already regard him as a heretic and are looking for ammo to take him down a peg. A quote from the book in question does seem to speak pretty strongly against the notion that Bell is somehow an absolute universalist (I've not read the book myself, but I got this quote from someone who had):

"In speaking of the expansive, extraordinary, infinite love of God there is always the danger of neglecting the very real consequences of God's love. Namely God's desire and intention to see things become everything they were intended to be. For this to unfold, God must say about a number of acts and to those who would continue to do them 'Not here you won't.'

Love demands freedom. We are free to resist, reject, and rebel against God's ways for us. We can have all the hell we want."



#6 Andy Whitman

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Posted 27 February 2011 - 12:54 PM

It's easier to preach hellfire and condemnation than it is to hope for the good in all, God included. It's easier to be judgmental.

It's certainly easy to be judgmental and harsh and cold. But it's also easy to try and remove the sting from Christianity, to produce a Christianity that doesn't serve an affront to individuals. Both instincts are at large in the American church today.

As to Bell's new book, all I've heard about it is a bunch of rants from some of my more conservative acquaintances about how this really runs off the rails, etc. I know enough to not trust what I've heard about Bell's new book from those who already regard him as a heretic and are looking for ammo to take him down a peg. A quote from the book in question does seem to speak pretty strongly against the notion that Bell is somehow an absolute universalist (I've not read the book myself, but I got this quote from someone who had):

"In speaking of the expansive, extraordinary, infinite love of God there is always the danger of neglecting the very real consequences of God's love. Namely God's desire and intention to see things become everything they were intended to be. For this to unfold, God must say about a number of acts and to those who would continue to do them 'Not here you won't.'

Love demands freedom. We are free to resist, reject, and rebel against God's ways for us. We can have all the hell we want."

Yes, this is hardly universalism. It might be helpful if people read the book before denouncing someone as a heretic. It might even be the Christian thing to do.

Edited by Andy Whitman, 27 February 2011 - 12:54 PM.


#7 Overstreet

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Posted 27 February 2011 - 01:05 PM

This is a subject I've been wrestling regularly for the past few years.

In a recent Facebook debate on the subject - the typical "How can God be loving if hell exists?" argument - I started to respond with a short note. But once I started writing I ended up saying a whole lot more than I'd anticipated, which helped me understand where I was at that moment in the debate. I'm still wrestling, but here's the amateur sermon I wrote, and it sounds like it's in the neighborhood of what Rob Bell wrote. For whatever that's worth:


A few thoughts, with this disclaimer: "Like all true believers, I am truly skeptical of all that I have said." (Thank you, Over the Rhine.)

These things are great mysteries, and I'm fumbling for words to wrestle with them.

Timothy Grant [posted a comment in response to previous comments from some of my friends, saying: "I firmly believe that if more believers acted like the vast majority of Jeffrey's friends, Christianity would be far more enticing to those with no system of belief."

Thanks for saying such a nice thing about my friends.

If more people behaved like some of my delightful friends, hey, sure, the world might be a lot more fun.

But it wouldn't make the measure of Christ's available grace any greater than it is: Because that grace is already immeasurably great. And its greatness is precisely this: That we cannot do anything to earn it with good behavior. So the likability of my friends should have nothing to do with what people think of the Gospel, because the Gospel makes no claims about its affect on our "likability." Some of the saints were downright intolerable in person, I have no doubt.

Ah, but that is the scandal of Christianity: It is about grace being offered to messed-up, cantankerous, sinful people who are not necessarily attractive in appearance or behavior. If we could see a list of names who are singing God's praises right now in the great beyond, there would be a riot. Deep down, we're all the Prodigal Son's Older Brother furious about the scandal of how God rejoices when those who choose hell finally give in and come home for an undeserved feast. Deep down, many of us still think salvation is about our own righteousness. But it isn't.

If the attraction of Christianity was based on the likability of its adherents, then the attention would shift from Christ to his followers. What makes Christ attractive to me is that he offers grace to people who I find difficult to like. He loves those I find unlovable. He even descended into hell. So where can we go to escape his offer, or cut ourselves off from his grace? All that remains is for us to accept his love. And when we really do, his love will begin to transform us.

Hell is the house we build for ourselves to wall out Jesus and his invitations. And even then, he shows up in the house, inviting. We can still choose to stay there.

So shall we sin, then, since his grace is irrepressible? Hey, you try it, and let's see how that works out for you.

Hell is the misery we get when we ask for it.

Hell is the falling down, the attacks by predators, the fear, the loneliness that comes from seeing the light and choosing to walk in the opposite direction into the dark.

Hell is what Adam and Eve tasted when they tasted the fruit that had been forbidden. Immediately, they were insecure. Ashamed. Afraid.

But God found them. And the judgments that had been promised them (that they would die on that very day) were lightened. They were offered grace. Hardship, yes. Suffering, yes. But grace and ultimately redemption.

We can become so lost that we can't find our way back. Even so, he'll find us there.

We can look at a kingdom of glory and choose to walk away and build a creaky little shack in the dark, where there is only sadness and self-loathing and emptiness. Still, there's a knock at the door. Because he descends into hell to find us.

We are made in his image. His spirit resides within us, groaning. So if we're ever in hell, he's there with us, suffering, urging us to surrender.

And isn't that the glory of love? If the beloved *cannot* choose to walk away and reject the glory of union, then there is no way to know the joy of two parties willfully embracing one another.

But I have difficulty believing that there is anything like eternal damnation unless there are souls that persistently *choose* it, no matter how far Christ goes to invite them out of it. I don't think you'll find anyone in hell saying, "I keep on asking God to help me and he won't." You'll only find those who go on saying, "I have seen the Lord and I still choose this."

But if Christ asked God to forgive his enemies even as he was killed by them, then I believe that grace trumps all. Is God going to answer Jesus and say, "No. I don't forgive your enemies. I'm locking them up for eternity and they don't get a second chance?"

Scripture tells us that every knee shall bow, every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord. EVERY knee, EVERY tongue.

And "whosoever believeth in him" shall. not. perish. (John 3:16)

The writers of scripture used the most frightening poetry available to them to describe what life is like when one turns away from God. So we get pictures of fire, of gnashing teeth, or a devouring misery. And which of us hasn't felt some of that misery? We invite it when we turn our eyes away from the light.

But the gates of hell shall not prevail against the church. Notice: The *gates* will not prevail. That means they'll come down. They're permeable. Even on the other side of them, you'll find Christ can find you there.

I'm writing this with broken words, from a broken understanding, in a broken world, hoping that some glimmer of truth comes through the cracks. May God grant me insight if I am wrong, as I so often am.

But whatever the case, I take steps toward hell every day in my foolishness. He always welcomes me back, accepts my repentance, blots out my sins, grants me what I don't deserve. So I trust him. I trust him completely, even in matters of heaven and hell.



#8 Ryan H.

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Posted 27 February 2011 - 01:28 PM

Suffice to say, the Christianity I believe in is not as pleasant as the Christianity that you fellas espouse. While Hell is the outcome of sinful nature, I do think scripture paints it as a kind of sentence, a repudiation, a willful divorce on God's part. But that's me, a mean ol' Calvinist.

Jeffrey, you point to Christ forgiving his enemies on the cross as kind of "definitive." I think that image is beautiful, a Christ desperate to suspend the wrath of God for commiting what surely must be the ultimate sin: deicide. But I must hold that image in tension with the picture of Christ as righteous judge, the executor of God's wrath, in Revelation, a book wherein the community of Christ anticipates and yearns for judgment. This picture of Christ as Future Judge is not just to be found in Revelation, either, since it has its roots in the words of Christ as recorded by the Gospels, who had some pretty mean, and pretty scary, things to say, and I don't think they can all be neatly brushed aside as Christ simply addressing the severity of sin and its inherent self-destructive nature.

#9 Overstreet

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Posted 27 February 2011 - 01:38 PM

Thus, my admission that I am still "wrestling."

And yet, the "full armor" of God subverts typical warmaking imagery. The sword is the Spirit. And what do we know about the Spirit. The breastplate is righteousness.

God unleashed some scary judgment on the world in the Great Flood too. But if Jesus witnesses to souls in hell, then that wasn't the last chance for them either.

Edited by Overstreet, 27 February 2011 - 01:42 PM.


#10 Ryan H.

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Posted 27 February 2011 - 02:06 PM

And yet, the "full armor" of God subverts typical warmaking imagery. The sword is the Spirit. And what do we know about the Spirit. The breastplate is righteousness.

Biblical authors may use similar imagery to different ends. The "full armor" of God bit from Paul is not a comment on the imagery one finds in, say, Revelation.

But if Jesus witnesses to souls in hell, then that wasn't the last chance for them either.

Perhaps. But that whole idea is at the center of a debate; the scriptural passage that would suggest such an event is murky and difficult to interpret. And even if we do conclude that Christ witnesses in Hell to human souls imprisoned there (and, presumably, the Hell in question wouldn't be the place of final judgment, which is a significant distinction), the purpose of said witnessing is not entirely clear.

#11 Peter T Chattaway

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Posted 27 February 2011 - 04:15 PM

Overstreet wrote:
: The sword is the Spirit. And what do we know about the Spirit.

Um, the Spirit kills people for lying to him...? (See Acts 5:1-11.)

: But if Jesus witnesses to souls in hell, then that wasn't the last chance for them either.

Well, there's hell, and then there's hell. She'ol, Hades, and similar words are used in the Bible to describe the place where the souls of the dead await judgment. But Revelation tells us that everyone -- everyone -- will be resurrected on the day of judgment, and that some people will be banished to the lake of fire (or some such metaphor) while the others will not. So the "hell" that Jesus visited during his time in the grave was not the same "hell" that awaits the eternally condemned, or at least not necessarily.

Side note: I attended Great Vespers for the first time in AGES last night, and quite a bit of the hymnography was devoted to the day of judgment and people being divided into two groups, one of which is sent to the place of fire and worms, the other of which is welcomed into "the bridal chamber". That was an... interesting juxtaposition of images.

And it's interesting, too, because you DO find a few saints here and there, within Orthodoxy, who do subscribe to a basically univeralist point of view, believing that the love of God is ultimately irresistible and that, given eternity, it is only a matter of time before everyone is ultimately redeemed by God's love. It's a minority view, but it does exist.

So, if you wanted to, you could argue that there is a tension or a "wrestling" within Orthodoxy on this point, too.

Ryan H. wrote:
: Biblical authors may use similar imagery to different ends. The "full armor" of God bit from Paul is not a comment on the imagery one finds in, say, Revelation.

Yeah, context is important, there.

#12 Persona

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Posted 27 February 2011 - 05:46 PM

And I think it is context and language translations that bug Rob the most when dealing with many subjects in Christianity, and one of those subjects is hell.

Well, there's hell, and then there's hell. She'ol, Hades, and similar words are used in the Bible to describe the place where the souls of the dead await judgment.

Getting back to the book, I think, from years of hearing Rob on Sundays, that we will be hearing about quite a few of these words, particularly the one that describes a burning trash dump outside of Jeruselem.

Yes, this is hardly universalism. It might be helpful if people read the book before denouncing someone as a heretic. It might even be the Christian thing to do.

What's really funny is that the book isn't even out yet.

Edited by Persona, 27 February 2011 - 06:08 PM.


#13 Overstreet

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Posted 27 February 2011 - 05:57 PM

I am grateful that I don't have to figure out the exact answer to this question. I need only determine if I'm going to hail Christ as Lord, and live in such a way as to give a testimony of that, or if I'm going to turn away.

The idea of God allowing people who are made in his image to suffer in torment for eternity even if they have the capacity to regret their decision and ask for his mercy... that's not something I can currently reconcile with other things that are said about God's love. Perhaps I will understand it better in time. The various and strange descriptions in the highly metaphoric language of prophecy and poetry give me a sense that turning away from God will lead to misery, no doubt about that. And whatever the nature of hell might really be, I am compelled to embrace the Great Commission regardless, to seek to draw others away from the misery of separation from God.

Edited by Overstreet, 27 February 2011 - 05:57 PM.


#14 Tyler

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Posted 27 February 2011 - 06:13 PM

To make sure I'm tracking with the discussion, is the "Jesus descended into hell" passage that's been mentioned this one?

Ephesians 4:7-10

7 But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it. 8 This is why it[a] says: “When he ascended on high,
he took many captives
and gave gifts to his people.”[b]



9 (What does “he ascended” mean except that he also descended to the lower, earthly regions[c]? 10 He who descended is the very one who ascended higher than all the heavens, in order to fill the whole universe.)



#15 Gavin Breeden

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Posted 27 February 2011 - 06:47 PM

No, it's actually this one:

1 Peter 3:18-22:


For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit, in which he went and proclaimed to the spirits in prison, because they formerly did not obey, when God's patience waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were brought safely through water. Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers having been subjected to him.




I wrote a paper on this passage in seminary. It's not overstating things to say it is one of the most debated passages in the entire Bible. Lots of different interpretations and several of them are quite plausible. Some say it means Christ descended into hell to preach to spirits there. But when did this occur? What was the result? These and other questions are difficult to answer. Others say that it means Christ spoke through Noah to the people of his day and they are referred to as the "the spirits [who are now] in prison." Other than this passage and the Apostles' Creed, there are no mentions of Christ descending into hell that I'm aware of. The Apostles' Creed mention is also much debated.

Edited by Gavin Breeden, 27 February 2011 - 06:48 PM.


#16 Cunningham

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Posted 27 February 2011 - 06:52 PM

Last year I read an excellent book on this. It's perhaps the most winsomely, fairly, and lovingly argued treatise I've ever read on the tension between the natural desire to explain hell away and the scriptural evidence that it exists.

Sinners in the Hands of a Good God

#17 Tyler

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Posted 27 February 2011 - 07:04 PM

No, it's actually this one:

1 Peter 3:18-22:


For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit, in which he went and proclaimed to the spirits in prison, because they formerly did not obey, when God's patience waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were brought safely through water. Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers having been subjected to him.




I wrote a paper on this passage in seminary. It's not overstating things to say it is one of the most debated passages in the entire Bible. Lots of different interpretations and several of them are quite plausible. Some say it means Christ descended into hell to preach to spirits there. But when did this occur? What was the result? These and other questions are difficult to answer. Others say that it means Christ spoke through Noah to the people of his day and they are referred to as the "the spirits [who are now] in prison." Other than this passage and the Apostles' Creed, there are no mentions of Christ descending into hell that I'm aware of. The Apostles' Creed mention is also much debated.


Ok, thanks. I've heard that one too, but I couldn't remember where it was located.

#18 CrimsonLine

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Posted 27 February 2011 - 08:21 PM

Yes, this is hardly universalism. It might be helpful if people read the book before denouncing someone as a heretic. It might even be the Christian thing to do.

What's really funny is that the book isn't even out yet.


Fair enough, but I'm responding to Rob Bell's own words in his promo video for the book, and to his publisher's blurb, and not just to some blogger's reactions...

#19 Persona

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Posted 27 February 2011 - 11:38 PM


Yes, this is hardly universalism. It might be helpful if people read the book before denouncing someone as a heretic. It might even be the Christian thing to do.

What's really funny is that the book isn't even out yet.


Fair enough, but I'm responding to Rob Bell's own words in his promo video for the book, and to his publisher's blurb, and not just to some blogger's reactions...

My words were general and not aimed at you. I think Andy's probably were too...

#20 J.A.A. Purves

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Posted 27 February 2011 - 11:46 PM

What's really funny is that the book isn't even out yet.

What would also be funny would be to ask Rob Bell what he thinks about Hell House.