Wednesday, April 20, 2011

LOVE WINS: Rob Bell Doesn’t.

Over the last month there has been quite a response to Rob Bell’s new book “Love Wins.”  Some seem upset, others wonder what the big deal is anyway?  I’d previously read Bell’s book “Velvet Elvis” (and some of “God wants to save Christians”) and appreciated some of the things he had to say, so I was looking forward to reading this one and hearing his side of the conversation.  I affirm the need for dialogue and know that God’s a big God and he doesn’t mind questions being asked.  So I ordered the book and jumped right in.

Boy.  Was I disappointed.

Rather than a well researched, carefully thought out look at “Heaven, Hell and the fate of every person who ever lived,” I found an emotionally charged book with cynical caricatures of Christianity, glaring omissions, out-of-context passages and really lousy scholarship.


While I agree with much of what he wrote about heaven and appreciate some of his insights on hell I was overall really disappointed.  Now I don’t have anything personal against Rob Bell, but I love Jesus and his words, and I hate to see them twisted, omitted and distorted.  I also believe that those in positions of leadership like his have a higher level of responsibility.

And since Rob Bell invites us to ask questions – I will; and since we’re encouraged to join the conversation – I’ll do just that.  And by the way, please understand that when I say “Love Wins: Rob Bell doesn’t” I’m not referring to his salvation!  I’m just saying his book is definitely not a winner!

While there’s a lot in the book I disagree with - I don’t have time to discuss it all - what I’ll do is just highlight a few of the main issues (which are: unsubstantiated claims, flippant treatment of Jesus’ words, twisted Scripture, and glaring omissions of Scripture). 
I’ll conclude with a few reasons why these issues are so important and worth taking a stand on.  And then in another post I’ll take the time to look at what Scripture actually says about hell and why it matters in the first place.  This blog is a little long (sorry!), but I encourage you to read it all.  You can also download this as a pdf here.

1.  Unsubstantiated claims
The first thing that I found unfortunate were his many unsubstantiated claims.  Bell opens with a series of rapid-fire, emotionally charged questions and accusations (see chapter one)...leaving the reader with barely room to breathe, much less actually try to answer them. 

He opens the book stating “there are a growing number of us who have become acutely aware that Jesus’s story has been hijacked by a number of other stories, stories Jesus isn’t interested in telling…”  But the question is, HOW has Jesus’ story been hijacked, and WHO hijacked it?  Is every reader supposed to invent his own answer to that?  Bell doesn’t provide any answer…he just states it and hopes you’ll accept it.   And who are this “growing number” that have sudden insight into this hijacking of Jesus? 

He states that there are “untold numbers” of Christians who have said what he’s about to say an “untold number” of times (see preface, page “x”).  But he doesn’t say who…you’re just supposed to agree.  He eventually does list a few names on page 108, but half of the list are people who wrote against such views as his!  

As Kevin DeYoung states,
Bell also mentions Jerome, Basil, and Augustine because they claimed many people in their day believed in the ultimate reconciliation of all people to God (107). But listing all the heavyweights who took time to refute the position you are now espousing is not a point in your favor. Most egregiously, Bell calls on Martin Luther in support of post-mortem salvation (106). But as Carl Trueman has pointed out, anyone familiar with Luther’s credal statements and overall writing, not to mention the actual quotation in question, will quickly see that Luther is not on Bell’s side.
You can find his whole (lengthy!) article here.

DeYoung goes on to quote renowned theologian Richard Bauckham:
Until the nineteenth century almost all Christian theologians taught the reality of eternal torment in hell. Here and there, outside the theological mainstream, were some who believed that the wicked would be finally annihilated. . . . Even fewer were the advocates of universal salvation, though these few included some major theologians of the early church. Eternal punishment was firmly asserted in official creeds and confessions of the churches. It must have seemed as indispensable a part of the universal Christian belief as the doctrines of the Trinity and the incarnation. (“Universalism: A Historical Survey,” Themelios 4.2 [September 1978]: 47–54)

I was also saddened by his repeated claim that people who care about an eternal heaven and an eternal hell don’t care about helping people in this life.  He states, “Often the people most concerned about others going to hell when they die seem less concerned with the hells on earth right now…” (p 78.  See also p 45).  As one who belongs to an evangelical tradition that is very concerned with eternal realities and is also very concerned with relieving human suffering I find those statements astounding!  While he gets annoyed at those in chapter one that judge others, he seems to have no problem pointing the finger in judgment as well!  The churches and ministries we’ve worked with (both in North America and around the world as missionaries) not only preach a Biblical Gospel, but also feed the hungry, house the homeless, take care of the leper, orphan and widow; provide schooling for those in poverty…and the list could go on.  While there are certainly times in church history where what he has said is true, it’s incredibly rash to make such judgmental blanket statements!

His main claim (one we’ll look at in more detail below) is that hell isn’t the place of “eternal punishment” that Jesus seems to mention in Scripture.  Instead it’s something like a purgatorial rehab center.  You’re in for a while, you see the light, then you step over into heaven.

He also reinterprets straight-forward stories Jesus tells of Lazarus and the rich man (see p 74,75) stating that “no wonder Abraham says there’s a chasm that can’t be crossed.  The chasm is the rich man’s heart!”  Sounds good, but in context that’s not what Jesus was saying.  And in the story of the Prodigal son (see pages 165 and following) he concludes that “Hell is being at the party” that the Father throws (page 169).  Again, not at all what Jesus said.

And so it leads me to ask, “Who is hijacking the stories of Jesus now?”

2. Flippant treatment of eternal things
Bell highlights the fact that the main Greek word for hell is “Gehenna” – a literal area of town outside the city where people threw their garbage.  It was an incredibly horrible place, where not only garbage, but human and animal corpses were thrown to be burnt and/or eaten by scavenging animals.  It was there that Manasseh sacrificed his children in the fire (2 Chron 33:6 – The Greek “Gehenna” is the equivalent of the Hebrew “Valley of Ben Hinnom”).  And Jeremiah called it the "valley of slaughter" (see Jer 7:32,33).  It was a place of filth, of death – you could smell it, hear it, sense it…and you did all you could to avoid it. 

But Bell flippantly concludes: “So the next time someone asks you if you believe in an actual hell, you can always say, “Yes, I do believe that my garbage goes somewhere…” (p68).

Excuse me?  I know he’s just trying to be witty, but you can’t shove truth aside so easily!

Consider this: A friend of mine told me she’d been raped and that it was a hellish experience.  Should I have turned to her, shrugged and said, “Oh really?  Well, I’ve had some pretty trashy days too!”  That would have been inexcusable.  But this is how easily Bell casts aside Jesus’ words regarding the horrific place we call hell.

What Jesus is getting at when he uses Gehenna is that it’s the worst thing imaginable.  How does God describe things that are beyond human grasp?  He uses shared experiences of something in this life to give a picture of something far greater.  He calls himself a “Door” – not that he’s a piece of wood, but because He’s the one that protects and keeps evil away.  It’s an image people can grasp, but the reality is He’s far greater than a door.  He calls himself a “vine” not because he’s a little twig, but to show that in a far greater way He gives us life.  He calls himself “bread” not because he’s a little piece of food, but to show that in a far greater way He gives strength and life.  He uses the image of Gehenna to give a small picture of the far greater reality of the horrors of hell: it’s the worst thing imaginable.  That’s the point of Gehenna.

3. Omitting important verses.
What’s puzzling to me is how Bell in his very quick skim of verses relating to hell omits some very important and relevant ones.  On page 83 and following he states he’ll look at passages that talk of hell but without mentioning it specifically. He then picks and chooses a few passages that on the surface seem to prove his point about hell being a sort of “rehab” in the afterlife. 

If you were to ask me what Old Testament Scriptures speak of eternal punishment the two that immediately come to mind are Isaiah 66:24 and Daniel 12:2.  Why these?  Because Isaiah 66:24 is the only Old Testament passage Jesus quotes regarding hell.  So I’d say it’s pretty relevant!  But Bell omits it.  And Daniel 12:2 serves as a backdrop for Revelation chapters 20-22 where the apostle John speaks of the end of all things, including eternal judgment.  They are some of the only Old Testament passages that speak clearly of the end of time.

So let’s look at Mark 9:42-48 where Jesus quotes the Isaiah 66 passage:
"And if anyone causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to be thrown into the sea with a large millstone tied around his neck.
 If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life maimed than with two hands to go into hell, where the fire never goes out. And if your foot causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life crippled than to have two feet and be thrown into hell. And if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into hell [Gehenna], where "'their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched.' {Isaiah 66:24}

Notice the last line.  Jesus uses the Isaiah 66 passage to refer to Hell as a place of eternal punishment (note that their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched).  Jesus wants the disciples to know that their idea of hell (Gehenna) isn’t just about a garbage dump, it’s about something far greater…and he uses this Isaiah passage to get that message across.  If you read the Isaiah passage in context (66:22-24) you’ll see that it speaks of the end of this age as we know it, the time of the “New heaven and new earth” (66:22).  Parallel to that time is this eternal punishment.  Rather than skipping over this verse, Jesus intentionally uses it to show both the horror of hell as well as its continuing character.

But, that doesn’t seem to fit Rob Bell’s idea, so he omits it.

Daniel 12 also speaks of God’s day of judgment, saying, “everyone whose name is found written in the book will be delivered.  Multitudes who sleep in the dust of the earth will awake: some to everlasting life, others to shame and everlasting contempt.”  The apostle John alludes to this in Revelation 20:11-15.  Note that the Daniel passage speaks of “everlasting life” and “everlasting contempt.”  If Bell is right and hell is just a short stint in rehab then was Daniel confused?  Why does he speak of this everlasting contempt? 

Again, it doesn’t fit Rob Bells point of view – so he just skips it.  Pretends it isn’t there.

These aren’t the only areas where Bell conveniently skips a passage on judgment.  I find it interesting how he quotes passage after passage from the Prophets about restoration (see pages 85-87), but says not a word when those same prophets speak of judgment.

A good example of this is his Isaiah 59 quote where he’s trying to show that “God gets what God wants.”  Rob quotes Isaiah saying, “Surely the arm of the Lord is not too short to save, nor his ear too dull to hear?” (see p 101).  The strange thing is Rob stops right there.  He doesn’t even tell you the exact verse he’s quoting.  It’s actually Isaiah 59:1-2 which in context says, “Surely the arm of the Lord is not too short to save, nor his ear too dull to hear.  But your iniquities have separated you from your God; your sins have hidden his face from you…”
God can save, God can hear…the problem is our sins have caused a separation.  That’s what Isaiah says.  But Rob only quotes the first part.  I guess the second half doesn’t fit his theology.

He quotes John 3:16 in the opening, highlighting the love of God (page vii) but omits verses 18 and 36 of John 3 that speak of judgment.  (Note especially John 3:36 – “whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God’s wrath remains on him.”  It doesn’t say they’ll eventually see life…but that they will not see life.  The New Testament always speaks of judgment in a final sense).
I don’t have time to get into it here, but he also totally ignores what Paul, Peter, Jude, Luke and John state about hell and judgment!  We’ll look at these in a later post when we look at what Scripture actually does say about hell and judgment – and why it matters in the first place.
I could go on, but as this is getting long I’ll move to another big problem that I see in this book.

4. Really lousy scholarship and exegesis
What really surprised me was how Bell totally misinterpreted the Matthew 25 passage on the sheep and the goats.  On page 31 in his talk about heaven Rob Bell mentions how the word “age” in the term “age to come” is “aion” in Greek.  The word “aion,” he rightly concludes, can mean either “age” or “period of time”…it doesn’t necessarily mean “forever.”  So far so good.
The problem arises when he later picks it up in reference to hell on page 91.  Bell states, “The goats are sent, in the Greek language, to an aion of kolazo.  Aion, we know, has several meanings.  One is ‘age’ or ‘period of time’…Depending on how you translate aion and kolazo, then, the phrase can mean ‘a period of pruning’…”

That sounds good.  Except, the problem is, that’s NOT what the Greek says.


In Matthew 25:46 the Greek is actually “aionios kolasis” NOT “aion kolazo.”  Now I know that most of us don’t know Greek so it’s easy to overlook a few letters and think “big deal!”  But, I can tell you it actually makes a HUGE difference.  What Bell has done has substituted the root words for the words themselves.  But you just can’t do that…not in Greek, not in any language! 

But Bell does.  Twice.

Let me give a few examples to show the error here.  In Greek the word Christ is “Christos” and the word Christian is “Christianos.”  Christos is the root word and differs from Christianos by only 3 letters.  Big deal, right? 

If I came to you and said I was a Christian, you probably wouldn’t have much of a problem with that.  However, if I came to you and said I was Christ…you may be tempted to lock me up in a padded room!  There’s a big difference between the word itself (Christian) and its root (Christ).

Let’s illustrate that now with two words: My brother-in-law is a police officer and a Christian.  A “Christian Officer.”  Now suppose I take the root words of that title (Christ, Office) and string them together, I could make up some pretty wacky theology.  Such as: Since the term Christian Officer is really made up of “office” and “Christ” we can say that the only job Jesus actually approves of is being a policeman, since it is, after all, the “Office of Christ”.  Lame logic.  You can’t switch root words for actual words.

The bottom line is you can’t just replace Greek words when you want the Scriptures to say something else!  Even if it’s a ‘related’ or ‘root’ word.  Again, the actual Greek is “aionios kolasis” which means “eternal punishment”…you can check it for yourself here.  In fact the word “aionios” is used 68 times in the New Testament and it always means “eternal,” never a “period of time”…you can check it out here.  Every translation I checked translates it as “eternal” or “everlasting”…because that’s just what the Scripture says. 

One should also note that this is the main word used for “eternal life.”  A question to ask Bell is “if aionios really means ‘period of time’ – then what happens to eternal life?”  Will we experience eternal life just for a season?  Then what?  Do we vanish?  You can’t arbitrarily switch the meanings of words.  If “eternal” really means “period of time” then eternal life needs to be translated as just a short period of time as well.  On top of this, it is the same word used of God in Romans 16:26 – so if Bell is right then God is only a temporal god.  Not only so but our redemption is temporal (Heb 9:12) and the Spirit (Heb 9:14) will be around just temporarily.  All these instances use the same word. 

The truth is that Matthew 25 uses “aionios” and EVERY use of “aionios” is translated “eternal.”  That’s just what it means!  You can’t hide the fact that Jesus taught about eternal punishment. 

He did.  Numerous times.  
The question is, what will our response be to this truth?

Why does all this matter?

Why have I spent the time to give this critique of Bell’s book?  First of all, because as I said earlier, I love Jesus, his words and I hate to see them twisted.  But also because Bell is a well-known speaker, a fantastic communicator and a leader that many look up to.  As such there are a lot of people who will just swallow what he has to say without checking it out for themselves.  In his book not only does he present a twisted caricature of Christianity but also sets the following example:
1. Bell’s theology teaches we can omit chunks of the Bible we don’t like.
2. Bell’s theology teaches us to reinterpret clear teachings of Jesus.
3. Bell’s theology allows us to twist/replace Scripture with whatever suits our taste.
4. Bell’s theology teaches us to be flippant with eternal things.
5. Bell’s theology teaches us we don’t need to be so concerned about those that reject Jesus.

There are other issues at stake here as well…for a few of them check out the article mentioned earlier or Randy Alcorn's comments here.

 “Love Wins” makes me ask the question – which Jesus should I believe?  
The Rob Bell one-sided, censored Jesus?  The Jesus that doesn’t talk about judgment, repentance, condemnation and only focuses on the love of God?  

Or do I believe the Jesus of Scripture? 

The fact of the matter is that Jesus is God: He knows better than anyone else whether hell exists or not.  He not only speaks of God’s love, he speaks of those that will be separated from God’s love.  He speaks of forgiveness, as well as judgment; hope as well as hell.  The reason Jesus speaks more about hell than about almost any other topic is because of love.  He knows hell is real, and he doesn't want anyone to end up there.

Love doesn't ignore the truth.  It doesn't white-wash it or sweet-talk it away. 

There is a story at play that is deeper, more real, more intense than Rob Bell can imagine.  Love does win...but not in the way Bell presents it.

The uncensored Jesus makes this clear.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Reasons why I don’t use soap: 

  1. Because I was forced to use soap in childhood
  2. Those who use soap are hypocrites, they think they’re cleaner than everyone else.
  3. Because nobody taught me how to use soap in my childhood
  4. I only use soap for special holidays – Christmas and Easter
  5. None of my friends use soap.
  6. I’ll begin to use soap when I get old and dirty
  7. I just don’t have time for using soap
  8. Soap manufacturers are just out to make money.
  9. I’m clean enough without using soap.
  10. All the wars in the world are because of soap.
  11. Science proved long ago that no soap, even the most perfect kind, gets rid of every molecule of dirt. So washing is not rational and soap only serves as “opium for the dirty.” 
  12. Compared to other people, I'm not that dirty.
  13. It’s not right to teach children to use soap from childhood. When they grow up they can decide for themselves whether they want to use soap.
  14. I’ll only wash with soap when I fully understand it from a scientific point of view.
  15. I was turned off of soap by those selling it on TV.
  16. I tried to wash once, but then I got dirty again.
  17. I don’t believe dirt really exists.
  18. I don’t believe soap really exists.
  19. Soap is only for old people who have nothing else to do.
  20. Soap is just a crutch. 
We found and translated the above from a Russian website and added a few more of our own as well :)   

Saturday, April 2, 2011


A while ago I was reading the dialogue between Pharaoh and Moses over letting "My people go." As I read I began to see how it parallels the way the devil often tempts us to compromise total obedience to God. Check out Exodus 7-11.
The first compromise Pharaoh suggested, was for Israel just worship God near Egypt ("Don't go too far away!" Ex 8:28). When that didn't work he suggested, "Ok, you can worship - but not as families!" (Ex 10:10,11). But that wasn't good enough for God. Pharaoh tried another tactic..."ok, you can go...but leave your goods, the stuff you own, with us in Egypt" (10:24). But Moses wasn't taken in. Finally, after the Plague of the firstborn & the entire land of Egypt was devastated they were allowed to leave.

In the same way, when God gives us a dream and we attempt to head out to the Promised Land the devil tempts us in similar fashion. "You wanna worship God, eh? Go ahead...but don't be too different than the rest of us. Don't get too radical or do anything too drastic...just stay nearby, so you can return with ease and settle back into "normal" life again..." That liar will try to keep us as close to the world as possible, he'll want us to compromise and think, "well, after all, I am worshipping God, aren't I? I know I'm not totally sold out, but that doesn't matter does it?"

If that doesn't stop us he'll try his next tactic, "Ok, go ahead and be a worshipper of God...but just don't let it spread to those around you. Keep it private and personal...don't let your family know about it (they may think you're weird anyway!)" And we'll begin to separate our lives into a few areas: Here's my God part (that's on Sunday) and here's the rest of it. I'm already sacrificing on Sunday...what more could God want?

But the radical ones won't be taken in by that scheme. So that ol' serpent will hiss another line at you, "Okay, be a can even let your family in on this too...but leave your goods, your wealth in my care. Don't be too radical now, you've given God your life and him your earthly goods is WAY too much!" Even the devil knows the truth of Jesus' words "where your treasure is, there your heart will be also!" But the God-fearers, those whose hearts have been won by the Almighty, they won't let the devil take care of their resources! Like Moses, they know that their wealth is to be a "sacrifice" and that they'll use these gifts of God to "worship the Lord" (see 10:25,26).

And so the Moses-like, the Radical ones, turn away from Egypt and give their all to the King of Kings. Like Elisha, they burn the ties with their old life (1 Kings 19:21), like the disciples they forsake their old life for the glory of being in Jesus' presence (Mt 4:18-22). They don't worship half-heartedly, in the world and hidden away, with their treasures secure in satan's grasp. They give their all, they sacrifice, take up their cross and see the wonders of an obedient life!