I’ve liked some of Rob Bell’s content for a while. Sure, there have been times when I hesitated (like some of the opening sections of “The Gods Aren’t Angry” tour) but normally Rob winsomely invites you into an expansive view of God and makes you cry and then you forget what the fuss was all about.
I’m more acquainted with his video work than his written work, but given how conversational his writing is, there cannot be that much difference so I feel I can still post my reaction to the reactions. I was on vacation when I saw the first murmurs on Twitter about Love Wins, the new release that Zondervan wouldn’t put their name on, instead allowing HarperOne to snatch up the publishing rights for what is sure to be a massively successful book in terms of sales. I saw the concerns, I saw the hesitations about using the term “universalist”, and I waited.
Now the reviews are rolling in and the quotes from the text being published and as the evidence mounts pre-release, it seems that I find myself in stark disagreement with Rob Bell on some important points of doctrine. Better men and women than I are already carefully tackling these issues (for example, go here) and exegeting the Scriptures, so I don’t want to repeat things that are already better constructed.
I do want to post some thoughts on the firestorm itself though. There are some who would call it unfair to label Rob Bell, or to even accuse him of anything like heresy. I would put forward that, so far, most of what I’ve read from Tim Challies, The Gospel Coalition and others has not been school yard name calling but a serious consideration of the idea posited and a firm rebuke in points of disagreement. The question of the nature of the atonement and the reality or not of eternal judgment is not one to be taken lightly. If Bell is wrong, it’s very important to make that case. Besides which, by being a) a teacher and b) a very public figure, he comes under greater and more severe scrutiny than the rest of us who botch things up ourselves once in a while (or every day we breathe) but have a much narrower avenue of influence.
Alongside that, I see great positive potential from the debates over universalism/election/salvation/damnation etc. I see throughout history that, when doctrine has come under fire, when the church is forced to cogently express what is believed by the Scriptures we hold to, then the church often experiences both persecution and growth!
If the quotes I have read so far are not entirely decontextualized or refuted elsewhere by Rob Bell, then I can say that I disagree on Scriptural grounds about the nature of judgment, the opportunity of salvation after death and the conclusion that if there is eternal judgment then God is not loving or great. And if Rob Bell is incorrect in his teaching and leads people astray, I fear a stricter judgment for him as the Scriptures state (James 3:1).
I’m looking for comment from Brad Hawkes since I know he too has enjoyed Rob’s work previously and I’m open to kind discussion here!