23 March 2011

Open Letter to Rob Bell

by Frank Turk

Dear Rob –

First of all, I wanted to thank you for giving me something to do from my flight back from Europe last Friday as my choices were looking rather bleak. In-flight movies were lame (except for the re-run of the Dark Knight, which of course I cannot pass by), and thanks to your new publisher, I had the Kindle version of your new book to keep me occupied. I had 9 hours to go over your new book, and I wanted to send you a note about it.

Before I get to the single bite of meat and the one french fry I wanted to add to the total conversation about your new book and your take on what constitutes the Christian faith, there’s a video out there from your friend Doug Pagitt which I wanted to bring to your attention.

It's an interesting reproach, but it also gives an insight into the way Doug (and I think you personally) receives and responds to criticism.  One of the things I took away from your book is that you have a pretty wide net when it comes to the Gospel. Now by that I mean not that you take in all manner of things and call it the Gospel (which, maybe that’s true, but that’s for another day), but rather that you want the Gospel to cover everything that man does. In fact I think it’s totally fair to say that you think the Gospel does cover everything that man does, one way or another. You sum it up nicely when you say this in the Kindle version:

Right? In your view the unlimited love of the Father is for everyone and will be manifest for everyone because it’s His love, and not ours. Now, I bring that up in the context of your friend Doug to say this: you and Doug have this horrible problem when it comes to the kind of Christianity you think you are trying to explore and expand: you can’t live it.

See: if this is the kind of God there is, and the kind of Gospel there is, then your outburst in the promo video about whether we can know who is and is not in Hell (that is, your incredulity at someone who said that someone else is in Hell) which casts indignation and aspersions on that person is a contradiction of the Gospel you preach. If indeed the person who never hears the Gospel preached and who never knows for certain that Jesus is both Lord and Christ has nothing to fear from the Gospel, then I suggest to you that the person who thinks Hell is the place where people who reject Christ wind up also has nothing to fear from the Gospel – and your attitude toward him should be the same as your attitude toward others you perceive as unbelievers. And likewise, when Doug Pagitt get all frothy in the mouth because John Piper says you have exited orthodoxy with your promo video and your new book, why can’t he find the tentless love of God which he says works out for Buddhists and Muslims and atheists -- but for Dr. Piper? Why does he have to transgress the circles they both travel in to make a point of saying Dr. Piper is a very bad man?

The fun part would be to speculate on that – but that’s not why I’m writing. I leave it to you to speculate why the truth claims of some make you livid when you demand that truth claims should make no one angry or scared but only hopeful. That speculation would be profitable for you, I am absolutely certain.

Now, that said: your book.

Others have made much of it, so I’ll be brief. The only chapter worth going back to for me as I think about what I’d say in response to you, or (if we’re lucky) to open a discussion with you, is the chapter titled “Hell”. In it, you make three significant claims:

  1. The OT does not mention Hell at all
  2. There are only a handful of mentions of Hell in the NT (you say there are 12+2 mentions of Hell), and those are probably metaphors or object lessons and not references to a final, eternal place where God’s judgment is carried out.
  3. Our modern view of Hell is a superstitious one based on “devious” “pagan” notions meant to control people.

For #1, I can take it or leave it – that’s a pretty shallow reading of the OT if you ask me, but it’s not any more shallow than any other one-paragraph summary of any topic which may or may not be in the Hebrew Scripture. I think it’s close enough to being true, and common enough in all kinds of commentaries, to be your part of a longer hermeneutical discussion, and something a reasonable person can stipulate without an onset of theological madness.

For #3, it’s an unsupported statement – you toss it out there as if there is a legion of theological, anthropological, and historical work in this field which just makes this common knowledge. I think it’s not entirely kosher to do that, but it doesn’t make you a liar. Maybe you’re just writing devotional literature where the broad brush is just fine because you’re not trying to really convince anyone. Maybe you’re just trying to draw a dividing line between pre-modern worldviews from what you have today, which I guess is more enlightened than Shakespeare, Augustine, and Luther. Again – I can take it or leave it. I disagree, but it’s not worth the academic battle of attrition that would have to ensue to show you that this is a poorly-imagined statement.

What I want to get serious about is #2 – that Hell is only mentioned a few times, and probably not as a place, in contrast to the place where Abraham, Isaac and Jacob all dwell with God.

I think your assertion here tells us how you read the Bible. You say that the Bible only mentions Hell 14 times, but conspicuously-absent from your list are the passages where the end of those without faith and without Christ is discussed explicitly without saying, “and this, of course, is a place called ‘Hell’ which is a real place.”

For example, in Luke 6:46-49, Jesus himself says that those who come to him are like the man who builds his house on the Rock, which is therefore not washed away; there is another man who builds without a foundation, whose house falls immediately, and the ruin of his house is great. That has to be disturbing to you because it speaks to the fact that Jesus – in the great wisdom literature tradition – polarizes the issue of having faith in him. He is the one who makes out the proposition to be either/or, and that there are two groups of people in the ultimate tally. That theme comes up again and again in Jesus’ storytelling, but you don’t really go there to say that this is about how Jesus thinks about his Kingdom.  And it's funny that in your view, all the Kingdom talk of Jesus doesn't set up the contrast between what is in the Kingdom and what is outside the Kingdom.

And that’s an important matter: what is the Kingdom like, right? Turns out, if you ask Jesus, in Luke 19:11-27, he tells us the parable of the 10 Minas.  There are lots of conclusions to be drawn there, I think, but the first is that there are servants who the returning ruler will not receive – he will in fact punish them for being unfaithful. And I think you and I would identify those guys the same way: people who had the riches of Jesus who did not use them to bring great things back to Jesus. But the other is a stunning portrayal of what the Kingdom of God is like -- because after sorting out his own servants, the ruler then orders that all who opposed him from the far away country will be brought as a footstool under his feet. “Let them be slaughtered before me,” he says. That doesn’t sound very promising, does it? But "H-E-L-L" or "G-E-H-E-N-N-A" isn’t spelled out as a word there, so you have simply not included it. The same, I think, is true of Rev 20-21 where there is judgment and then some meet the same fate as Sin, Death and the Devil. The word “Hell” is missing, so these passages are missing from your system of references.

But even where Jesus does say “Hades”, in Luke 16, you don’t really tell the reader the right version of the story. The context of that story is the Pharisee’s love of money – not a socialist vision of the equality of man. And to that end, you dismiss or ignore that the man, there in agony in the afterlife, fears for his brothers and does not want them to suffer as he is suffering.  You make it out to be a story of a man who wants others to serve him -- a point not at all in the context of the Pharisee's error!

So how can we receive that? In the very best case, maybe you just haven’t read all the NT, and therefore you may simply not know the NT. That’s forgivable – but you are writing a book here, and the least an author can do is to actually know what his source material says before he refers to it. I think, however that you have read the NT, and this simply shows how you are willing to treat it as a text – which is, without respect.

You know: if I read your book and made a case against it which says you don’t really even show the hope of the Gospel when in fact you have specifically spent a chapter on it, that’s simply disrespectful.

But maybe it’s more than that: maybe this speaks to us of how you’re willing to reason about the Christian faith and its message. See: the problem with the Scripture is that it is not written by us for our purposes. It’s written by God for His purposes, and in that it’s going to make all of us uncomfortable.

Let me admit to you that God’s Law makes me uncomfortable – both in the OT and the NT interpretations of it. I know that I am not the person who can keep even some of the Law. If the measuring stick is Jesus’ retelling of the law in the Sermon on the Mount, my score is zero. I have never done anything right – even when it looks pretty good on the outside. If it were up to me, we ought to find a way to read the Law as maybe good advice. Then we could aspire to it rather than be condemned by it.

But that’s me – maybe you don’t have a problem with the Law. But clearly: you have a problem with the Gospel. That is: you have a problem with the need for it. As I read you, all your real-world examples are about how Hell is what other people do to us. I should believe in hell because there are children maimed in war; I should believe in hell because there are rape victims; I should believe in hell because those who commit suicide have families. That is: the hell I should believe in is the one other people inflict on me. That’s how I know there is a hell: bad people make innocent people suffer.

But then when you retell the Rich Man and Lazarus this gets utterly inverted. See: if your reading of what Hell is holds up, the Rich Man put Lazarus in Hell. That’s the definition you build from real life: Hell is the bad things others do to us. But when Jesus tells the story, the one who did bad things winds up in Hell. To your credit, you don’t actually try to make Jesus’ version of Hell into the Hell you have already explained to the reader. But what you do make of Jesus’ version of Hell is not any better – because now you try to make this into a tale where Jesus tells us that those who do harm to others, and think selfishly, make their own hell. Really? Someone knows this for sure?

Here's how you set up the reader for your answer:

Let me say it frankly: this characterization is a slander to those who hold to the traditional, majority-held view of Hell. For example, the Southern Baptist Convention, for all its flaws, teaches a literal hell and is also one of the largest international providers of humanitarian relief – so much so that the Red Cross relies on them as first responders. But to see traditional religious people this way means that you have to give them credit for thinking in categories that are larger than the ones, frankly, you play at for those who read your books and listen to your sermons. They see traditional people as evil haters, and therefore you have to see them that way.

This goes back to my preface about you and your enthusiasm for God’s grace. It’s crazy that you can extend a hopeful view of the final destination of Gandhi – who, in spite of the movies, was not a ruler with very modern ideas of how to rule India – but you make out the kid with the “turn or burn” t-shirt to be some kind of thug? Why is it that all manner of people with real sociological -- and indeed: moral -- faults can get a pass from you, but that people who hold to an older and more-robust view of the Bible and the Gospel than you do have to get cast as intellectual hicks and people prone to uncivil behavior?

I’m at my normal 3-page limit, so I’ll close with this: one of the reasons Jesus was so hard on the Pharisees is that they had a tradition which they thought was greater than Moses – greater than the Temple, greater than what God actually wants from men, which you have framed in your own Sunday talks as the “greater matters” of “justice and mercy”, the greatest commandments to love God above all and your neighbor as yourself. To that end, they taught all kinds of things, and behaved in all kinds of ways which made them blind to Jesus and to dismiss Jesus and ultimately to hate Jesus – to the point of plotting to kill him.

And in your view of your message, you are keyed on the question of the greater things so that we do not miss them. But the greatest thing was not the Law: it was Jesus himself. It was his work on our behalf. When Peter knew Jesus was the Christ, Jesus started to tell him that he didn’t come to reclaim the throne of David: Jesus said that he had to suffer and die, and be raised on the third day.

For your own good, please think about this. What you are teaching now is, in the best case, a Christian-flavored secular Judaism. That is: you make Jesus a good rabbi and not a great savior. Repent of it, Rob: repent because there’s no shame in turning away from even decades of wrong teaching to turning over a new leaf and teaching that Jesus saves sinner from their own sins and from God’s displeasure if they repent and believe. That is actually the message of the NT, and it ought to be your message if you’re really concerned with the real people you meet every day.

Think about it, and thanks for your time. As always, I’m available at frank@iturk.com if have any questions.


Jason Kanz said...

I appreciate you.

Jeph said...

I think this is so far the best among all the personal letters posted in this site. Good job there.

Tom Chantry said...

Just when you thought everything imaginable has been said on a subject...I mean, as James White suggested, when the folks who interview Rob Bell are themselves being interviewed you know the controversy has really jumped the shark...but just then...

This brought home the critical point that we have all heard time and again. It's true of political liberals: they natter on endlessly about tolerance while practicing the grossest intolerance of anyone in our political discourse. "Christians" should do better, but the theological left wing is no different. Conservative evangelicals are mean, intolerant, hateful, spiteful ogres, they say. We should love everyone, they insist, and to prove it they tell you that if you disagree with them about anything, you are an abhorrent abscess on the Body of Christ.

Esther said...

Thanks for a truly great one, Frank. Thank God for all those who have called Rob Bell to repentance. May God grant it to him.

FX Turk said...

Just to be clear, my point is not that Rob Bell ought to be "nicer". How self-ignorant would I have to be to try to float that one?

My point is that if the unbeliever -- Muslim, Buddhist, Atheist, Shinto, Janist, Hindu, etc. -- is just covered by grace and is therefore a person for whom the grace of God is sort of an invisible catch-all so that none may perish, then the fundie and the social conservative are also covered by this safety net. If we can't say that the Hindu totalitarian is destined for hell, how can we say that the person far closer to our own point of view is somehow in danger, or dangerous?

Plainly: Pagitt and Bell are willing to say that. It's very polemic, but it's not very consistent or compelling.

Thomas Louw said...

“Farewell Rob Bell”
I think it is very dangerous what Doug Pagitt does in his video blog.
Without much to work with, in that tweet John Piper could have had meant a million different things.

For all we know, that statement could have been loaded with all kinds of emotions caused by a holy indignation also seen when the Temple was cleaned out.

Frank I for one feel you have been to mild in this post. You came across very restrained. You kept your dogs on the leash this time.

“Now my dear Watson, the evidence is clear, Frank Turk did not write this.”

Robert said...

I guess my question would be why did Jesus have to die on the cross? What is it that Rob Bell thinks we are being saved from? I think he misses the entire point of the Gospel if he misses this. We are sinners facing the wrath of our Creator for our open, blatant rebellion against Him. and His wrath is not some fairy tale or metaphor for how we feel guilty or oppressed here on earth. I think you nailed it when you said that he shows no respect for the NT by going down this road in his description of hell. In fact, I'd say that he is showing blatant disrespect for Jesus in misrepresenting what He said. If he realized that, I hope it would put some fear into him...although I don't think there is much fear of the Lord in a man who would misrepresent the Bible in such a manner.

Thomas Louw said...

So the essence of the argument is that they cannot consistently apply their logic without running the danger of contradicting what they already said.

Is that not the classic way false teachings hang themselves?

Is that not one of the strongest reasons why the Christian faith stands out?

James Scott Bell said...

What Doug Pagitt does is, to put the kindest spin on it, ridiculous. From a single tweet he discerns this "dastardly" motive on the part of John Piper? Dastardly (which means "wicked" and/or "cruel").

Oh, what a generous orthodoxy this is.

Web cams are a dangerous toy for some people, who may be shooting themselves in the foot as they run their mouths to the public.

timb said...

just to play devil's advocate for a second: one could say 'yes we can be toughest on conservative evangelicals and not other religions, because Jesus was toughest on the religious Pharisees of his day.'

So if you redefine categories so that evangelicals have all the same structural weaknesses that the Pharissees did, and other religions for you fall into the same sort of sociological categories as alienated like tax collectors, prostitutes and Gentile women that Jesus accepted-- I could see how in their view they could make the critique stick.

You still would have to say in the end love wins for whomever you label as modern "Pharisees." -it just might not win as quickly.

But if you are running around trying to figure out who the Pharisees are and nail it to them that makes you guilty of doing the same things you accuse evangelicals of doing.

I'm not sure though that those who are so critical of evangelicals would want to say that evangelicals are "the person far closer to our own point of view." But this is naive about other religions: as if they are just all one big bastion of American mushy-gushy all-beliefs-are-basically-the-same religious tolerance.

I get Frank's critique, and I appreciate it, but I don't think saying "hey if they are consistent they should be treating us as just as nice as they treat other religions" is going to get much traction because it seems to me evangelicals are generally dismissed as Pharisees to whom Jesus was harshest.

Tom Chantry said...


Good observations. I think, though, that there is a subtle undertone to Frank's critique. Namely: Universalism = What Me Worry

If everyone is saved, then no one, neither Rob Bell nor Alexander the Coppersmith nor Gandhi nor Hitler nor even the "dastardly" John Piper can mess anything up. This system should produce nirvana on earth. No worries, no anger, no nasty podcasts - because the worst people in the world can't possibly pose a danger to themselves or anyone else.

It's odd, then, that the Emergents keep acting like their ultra-Fundie parents and calling their critics "dastardly."

Brad Williams said...

I have a very vivid memory of orange clad Hindus standing outside a seminary graduation which I had the privilege of attending. They were armed with what looked like quarterstaffs, and they were boarding the buses carrying pastors and families of the graduates to threaten them and beat them. I remember being two cars away from the chaos and thinking that if it weren't for the police, I would have gotten a beating that day.

Now, these orange clad zealots are somehow getting an out, whilst the brethren who believed in a "fundy" gospel, whose only earthly crimes were walking to a graduation/pastor's conference and taking care of "untouchables" in their distress, are somehow the modern-day Pharisees and objects of Pomo, American ire?

They may not wear orange, but they ought to know that they are lining up with the wrong fellows with their verbal quarterstaffs on this one.

DJP said...

Masterful, as usual. Really terrific, Frank.

Scot said...

Excellent once again.

I enjoyed how you connected Christ's polarizing statements of the wise and foolish builders (or the sheep and goats, take your pick) and connected it to wisdom literature. I never picked up on that.

Second, your review of Rob's book makes it seem like the book is just a really really long blog post. Instead of giving a fair treatment to a subject, a book just gives a polarizing paragraph to the subject and the reader just accepts the author's conclusion. This "scholarly" approach leaves a bad taste in my mouth as Rob is a gifted communicator and can persuade many he knows what he is talking about.

I may be wrong, and so feel free to delete this comment if it does misrepresent him.

Rhology said...

That 2nd screenshot of Love Wins makes my blood boil. What about the scads of ppl who do BOTH? Kiss off, Rob. You think you're high-minded, but you're just an ignorant American pretty boy with a narrow mind.

GW said...

I'm Rob Bell'ed out for now. Here is my concern, I was attending a church and I happened to see a Numbya (Nooma?) video they were showing my kids in the youth Sunday School. I had never heard of Rob Bell. I immediately got concerned and started looking for stuff about Rob Bell. Since this did not happen around the time of one of his book releases, there were not many people who would talk about Mr. Bell to me.

We need a steady drip drip drip of critique on this. I am afraid we will have this huge voluble fusillade now, but six months from now it will be off of the radar.

FX Turk said...

Tim B -

I anticipate that argument.

let's see if someone who says they believe it will foist it upon us.

dsj said...

Being involved in church plant with some known fans of his I've definitey been knee deep in following this whole saga, so this post comes as another helpful, unique take. Thank you!

You briefly mentioned this in the closing, but I really feel as though his take on Judiasm is really the driving force behind this. I've heard many of his supporters say how much they've learned from his take on what "Jesus was really saying".

I would greatly appreciate your take on this. Thanks!

Anonymous said...

Well said, Frank.

John Dunn said...

Bell dismisses the substitutionary atonement of the Cross as just another metaphor for "love". Wow, the Cross has no forensic value! Bell's reinterpretation and devaluation of sin as merely social injustice and inequality reveals a very shallow view of sin. His view of hell as merely self-imposed destruction because of our selfish actions, destroys the truth of the positive wrath of God revealed against sin. His idea of hell as not eternal, but as some sort of temporary "purgatory" from which all men will eventually be delivered, destroys the foundation of holy justice. Bell's belief that people may be saved after they die through their own meritorious "sufferings" destroys the very foundations of grace. All of this is unequivocally "another gospel". It is not the apostolic faith once delivered to the Saints. It is Liberal Theology repackaged for 21st century evangelicalism. And millions are being deceived.

Anonymous said...

Excellent, excellent, excellent!

Truth Unites... and Divides said...

In a way, I appreciate what Rob Bell has done.

What he's done is to increase the clarity of the polarity between Biblically faithful followers of Christ and theological liberals. Theological liberals being mainline LibProts, liberal Emergers, and Liberal Evangelicals.

This is a helpful distinction. And some might say that this is a helpful separation.

Of course, if Rob Bell were to repent as Frank Turk has called him to do, then there would be reconciliation instead of separation and/or distinction.

But given all that you know of Rob Bell (and Doug Pagitt) what are the chances that they would repent of their pharasaic pride and their false teaching? Slim and none, and more likely none.

Hence, separation. And a clear and good and helpful separation.

Thank you Rob Bell for separation instead of a false fuzzy unity.

semijohn said...

Tim B., Jesus had a view that some people were actually bad and that Pharisees would not get into heaven ("You will not enter in, and you hinder others from entering in"). It does not seem that Rob Bell has this book. And it doesn't matter whether the "criticism" has traction, as long as its true, which I agree with Frank on. Of course you may mean something more than just being persuasive by traction. In that case, if traction relates to being actually true, I would disagree with you and say that Frank's criticism is valid or true. Back on persuasive, my experience is that the Pyro guys try to be persuasive in the way that the Bible is, otherwise they could be far more persuasive in the short term if they'd just jettison some of the clear teachings of the Bible or pursue a non-Biblical methodology.

Now back to what I was originally posting. I actually was posting this yesterday on another forum (which Pyro readers should be familiar with) but never actually finally posted it. It used to be said that hippies were people who loved everyone except their parents. That is how Rob Bell types and emergent types are: they "love" everyone (or think everyone has a valid viewpoint) except conservative evangelicals.

timb said...


I agree that the only way you can really critique Pharisees if eternal issues matter, otherwise why not let them eat, drink and be merry for tomorrow we're restored. There is little convincing impulse to be nice now if in the end at best we get a slap on the wrist.

I agree that Frank's post speaks the truth. That wasn't really what I meant by "traction." Ideally truth should stick to us and change us when we hear it, that's part of being repentant. We should always accept true criticism, no matter who you are.

By "traction" I just meant something like "would persuasively cause them to rethink their response" to the 'fundies'. I think they would dismiss the criticism based on other assumptions and presuppositions.

I agree Universalism = No Me Worry. But then we are dastardly and fear mongering to operate with eternal distinctions and consequences (oh, and we're Platonic too).

I hope this meta livens up, I'm interested to see your tack to such a response. I've been thinking through it in my own mind.

Thanks all.

D. C. said...

Simply masterful....I think you hit the nail on the head...polemic are easy if you are not expected to be consistent.

Sir Brass said...

If I read that quote about "unfairness" it seems Rob Bell is demanding that we practice "justice" (whatever that actually means to him) while utterly denying that God be just.

The beauty of the cross is that in offering Himself as a propitiation, Christ satisfies the holiness of God, the justice of God, the love of God, the mercy of God, and the wrath of God. ALL of it, there. And Rob Bell just goes and tramples that beautiful, awful, terrible, wonderful act underneath his trite little socialist agenda in an utter denial of God's justice.

Truth Unites... and Divides said...

"That is how Rob Bell types and emergent types are: they "love" everyone (or think everyone has a valid viewpoint) except conservative evangelicals."

As a conservative evangelical, not being loved by Rob Bell types and emergent types makes me want to cry.

Robert said...


That is just how love wins, I guess...Buddhists, Muslims, and atheists can feel warm and cozy, while us mean old conservative evangelicals feel like crying. :*(

Solameanie said...

It would be really nice if Emergent-types such as Rob Bell would think and reason as well as they emote. But of course, these days emoting passes for reason and truth. I feel strongly, therefore it is.

Solameanie said...

Looks like Brian McLaren is getting into the act.

Warning to McLaren - don't take on Al Mohler. You'll lose. Badly.

Cathy M. said...

I don't understand how someone can claim they stand for social justice while acquitting every fiend that ever escaped the long arm of the law through his concept of hell.

Let's see how this works... Stalin causes the death of ~80 million or so, dies shaking his fist at God, and... gets pardoned! Holiness and justice are clearly incomprehensible to Bell.

Greg Smith said...

I think that all the attention this book is garnering is ensuring that more people will be reading a book that is nothing but heresy when set beside the Bible. May the masses not flock to this book simply because of the media frenzy.

semijohn said...

"I think they would dismiss the criticism based on other assumptions and presuppositions."

I'd have a hard time disagreeing with you on that one. Of course, I'd be hard pressed to find a more persuasive way to go about it, though.

Emergent types are like Jerry Lewis to conservative evangelicals Dean Martin. If they didn't have us to kick around and play the "straight many", they would lose all relevance they still have.

Truth Unites... and Divides said...

"I feel strongly, therefore it is."

Someone should tweet that.

Solameanie, dat's a good one.

Michael W. Brewer Jr. said...

Well said.

Hope Mr. Bell comes to one day read this letter, and read it with open eyes. I pray personally that one day he will come to read the Scriptures instead of just play with them.



Luther said...

Very well said Mr. Turk.

If there is no Hell or eternal separation from God, who is the giver of all good things, then why the contrast between the faithful and the unfaithful? Why the hyperbole when Jesus describes Hell if not to give the sense of dread that awaits some in Eternity?

The emergents hate conservative, orthodox, and reformed christians....well that is good because they first hated HIM

Unknown said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Luther said...

This very much passes the definition of philosophy. Theology meanwhile would include philosophical concepts as it is the study of God and all He includes: wisdom epistemology, and the study of a sphere of activity

c : a discipline comprising as its core logic, aesthetics, ethics, metaphysics, and epistemology
2a : pursuit of wisdom b : a search for a general understanding of values and reality by chiefly speculative rather than observational means c : an analysis of the grounds of and concepts expressing fundamental beliefs
3a : a system of philosophical concepts b : a theory underlying or regarding a sphere of activity or thought
4a : the most basic beliefs, concepts, and attitudes of an individual or group

David Rudd said...


you are one of the few reviewers to really address the "hell on earth" issue. this isn't a new thing for Rob. it's present in Velvet Elvis and it's been a MAJOR part of his teaching for years (i wouldn't expect those outside of West Michigan to be aware of that).

I'm glad to pointed out the parable of Lazarus and the rich man because i think there is something to that, but by greatest problem is that his view of "hell on earth" is that"

the "innocents" are the ones suffering in hell.

does anyone really buy that the billionaires who are profiting from exploiting other humans are living in hell right now? really?

their yacht is hell?
their million-dollar third vacation home is hell?
their private jet is hell?

how foolish to think that hell is something one human can impose on another.

i appreciate your tone, here. that's all i have to say about that.

MJ said...

You brilliantly touched on the two issues that have stuck in my craw since these people emerged on the scene (pun intended). First, how dare they extend their generous orthodoxy to every lowlife on the planet yet treat anyone attempting to be theologically sound with such disdain and, dare I say, hatred? Secondly, they stun me with their belief that they invented charitable giving and concern for the poor and downtrodden? I'm not a spring chicken and I can tell you that my beloved 'fundie' parents spent their adult lives giving to and caring for anyone needful who crossed their paths.

I thank you for your thoughtful and respectful post. Not sure I'd have been as kind. But having said that, I do pray for Bell and his likeminded buddies. Not only for their own eternal souls but for the young souls they are leading down the garden path.

My word verification is "bilygoot" which, I felt, was noteworthy.

Unknown said...

True: the old "toleration for me, not for thee".
Greg: As far as calling more attention to Bell's book: it will get plenty of positive attention via media and the grapevine: let's be fair and balanced and not be afraid to call a spade a garden tool.
Well done, Centurion.

Rachael Starke said...


I want so much to love this post, but I just can't. You've misrepresented Pagitt horribly. Given the forum you have here, in doing so you've done a tremendous disservice to him, Bell, and the earth.

Pagitt did technically use the word "dastardly" in his carefully researched and exegeted rebuke of Piper's three-word Tweet. But let's not forget that that word has been used in many different context by many different people groups and cultures to mean vastly different things. (Dudley DoRight comes to mind.) Calling the actions of a fellow pastor "dastardly" would hardly receive shelter under the "WINNING" umbrella of love he and Bell wield on everyone's behalf.

It's obvious that you're just bringing your usual neo(lithic)-Reformed, electrical pamphlet-waving perspective to this serious issue. You're just pouring methane on to the hell on earth Bell is working so hard to snuff out.

Caleb Kolstad said...

I hope Piper may have indirectly meant what Doug P suggests. Logical consistency is a good trait.

Good post here

Alan E. Kurschner said...

Rob Bell commits the common “word-concept” fallacy in respect to singling out the word "hell."

The word-concept fallacy is the assumption that studying a word (or phrase) means having studied the entire biblical concept.

This is also called the "concordance" method of interpretation. One should not simply open up a concordance and finger down the page looking for usages of a single word and stop there. It can be a beginning point for study, but word (or concept) studies should not end there. There is an important difference between studying a biblical concept and studying the range of meanings of a single word.

For example, if we want to learn what the Bible teaches about the concept of love, it would be a mistake to restrict our study to only the single word agape because there are many terms that describe different aspects of love. We need to take Scripture in a normal, natural, contextual sense and recognize synonyms and other similar phrases that describe a concept rather than collapsing an entire concept into one word.

Moisés Silva gives this additional example: “A very important passage on the subject of hypocrisy is Isaiah 1:10–15, but the student suckled at the concordance would never find [the word “hypocrisy”]; instead, he would come to an unrefined understanding of the topic.” Biblical Words and Their Meaning: An Introduction to Lexical Semantics, rev. ed. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1994), 27. See also D.A. Carson, “Word-Study Fallacies,” in Exegetical Fallacies, 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1996), 27–64.

The Squirrel said...

Rachael Starke is brilliant. Simply brilliant.


DJP said...

Well, duh.

Hideous-Rex said...

Hey Frank,
I am afraid I have to agree with Rachel. I know the world looks a little wonky right now, but Rob, Rachel, Dougie and I we had it under control and were that close to putting it all right again.
And then YOU came along with your little blog post and did a "tremendous disservice to the earth!" Thanks a lot man, now we have to go back to the drawing board and start all over again.
Sincerely (or maybe not),
H. Rex

The Seeking Disciple said...

Great post.

Tom Chantry said...

My Word. Turk is now Khan Noonian Singh. I love it.

Mike said...

I don't get what the problem is with Love Wins?

If I apply the pomo emerg* hermeneutic when interpreting Rob's writings, I invariably find that his beliefs are entirely orthodox!

In this case he clearing intends to convey that hell is a real place where unbelievers shall spend eternity. Simple.

Alan E. Kurschner said...

Doug Pagitt is too impressed with his mind reading.

Mark B. Hanson said...

The old joke was that you could tell the difference between an evangelical and a fundamentalist by asking them whether there were flames in Hell.

The evangelical would hem and haw: "Well, what it's really trying to say is that it's bad." The fundamentalist would say, "Yes! Hot ones!"

Bell and company would seem to say, "Hell? What's that?" And then mutter, "Probably some Platonic concept..."

Darlene said...

A very compassionate plea and one that I hope Rob Bell considers. Even though I'm not a Calvinist, I can appreciate the concern you have in regards to Bell's influence on the general populace-an influence that is misguiding and beguiling.

Darlene said...

Another thing. I think if we examine ourselves closely and with honesty, we will discover that a Pharisee lurks beneath the surface in all of us. Sometimes we have the wisdom from above to perceive and pummel it before it gets the best of us and is unleashed onto others. Other times we are not so discerning and that menace rears its ugly head and succeeds in its intentions.

FX Turk said...

Alan Kurschner:


Now what do you think of the NEW Calvinist Gadfly?

John N said...

Eugene Peterson’s comments that
“there’s very little Christ, very little Jesus, in these people who are fighting Rob Bell” are just as judgmental as the people’s he is referring to. The fact that he endorsed the book may be purely coincidental :) I say consider Rob Bell privileged because if he lived in the 15th century or so, his fate as a heretic would have been far grimmer than the pain inflicted from blogpost critiques. I am by no means wishing harm on the guy, but just saying that in times past he would have a lot more than ‘harsh critics’ to worry about.

Having reached the saturation point of all things Rob Bell in cyberspace, I can’t help wondering how profoundly disturbing his post-mortem forgiveness thesis is. It defies even the common sense of justice in unregenerate men, let alone biblically minded Christians. Our justice system here is notoriously lenient on sentencing heinous crime. Some of our most classic news footage is the enraged relatives of victims decrying the lenient sentencing of convicted criminals because they don’t believe that the sentence reflects the gravity of the crime. The cliché of ‘justice has not been served’ is heard all the time.

If you follow Bell’s logic through, you’d have to accept that the Hitlers of the world and the Pol Pots, pedophiles, rapists and serial killers will get slapped around a little but eventually get a big hug and a boarding pass from God on the other side. Is this not profoundly disturbing?

Theological simpletons like me always understood that God’s wrath and eternal punishment provides the background for the good news. It is the very reason we can call it good news, otherwise the message of Christ’s forgiveness is just news. If you take hell out of the equation you cut the nerve of the gospel.

As a closing note, one may be tempted to postulate that it is ‘pride’ to defy the understanding of the historical church on a fundamental doctrine as this. Were all these Christians on whose shoulders we stand, just deceived idiots and it took a post modern hipster to enlighten the masses of our generation?

Since I am not a blogger or author and don’t have people following me on twitter, I am comfortable to say that the questioning of established truths is reminiscent of the Luciferian methodology deployed in Eden “did God really say that…?”

Not Ashamed said...

Great letter. I have been anxiously awaiting the reviews to hit the blogs to which now there is no short supply (Kevein DeYoung did a 20 page released the 14th, a MUST read http://thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/kevindeyoung/ )

Rob Bell should take a long hard look at all the "intellectual hicks" who have biblically dismantled his alter of self and humanism and used the wood to feed the fires of Ghenna before he too follows suit.

2nd Peter 2:1-3
1 But there were also false prophets among the people, even as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Lord who bought them, and bring on themselves swift destruction. 2 And many will follow their destructive ways, because of whom the way of truth will be blasphemed. 3 By covetousness they will exploit you with deceptive words; for a long time their judgment has not been idle, and their destruction does[a] not slumber.

I too pray God grants him repentence as well as the minions who follow him.

Now pass the tators!

JohnS said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
JohnS said...

The one Bible passage that popped into my head when reading your post was Matthew 12:30-32. It is obvious that Jesus wasn't mincing words here. Mr. Bell could stand to read the NT again.

30 He who is not with Me is against Me, and he who does not gather with Me scatters abroad.
31 “Therefore I say to you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven men, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven men. 32 Anyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man, it will be forgiven him; but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit, it will not be forgiven him, either in this age or in the age to come.

donsands said...

"If indeed the person who never hears the Gospel preached and who never knows for certain that Jesus is both Lord and Christ has nothing to fear from the Gospel, then I suggest to you that the person who thinks Hell is the place where people who reject Christ wind up also has nothing to fear from the Gospel – and your attitude toward him should be the same as your attitude toward others you perceive as unbelievers." -Cent

Excellent point. Of course Pagitt will say your point is wrong for such and such, for he always has a way to say such and such about the truth.
These guys never admit they could be wrong, for they are not taking the Holy Writ in its simplest and purest context. And they do not care a hoot about Church histroy, unless it fits within their thoughts.
Some terrific comments here as well.

Like Sundance said to Butch:

"You just keep thinking Butch, that's what you're good at."

"You just keep writing these letters Cent, that's what your excellent at."

Lee Shelton said...

Great job! Definitely the best open letter so far.

Bverysharp said...

Open Letter to sum up Rob Bell's theology:


Frank you could have saved some time and snoozed on the plane.

Unknown Poster said...

I haven't yet seen anyone point out the ultimate Bell hypocrisy:

He makes his living from tithes and offerings by preaching things that don't need to be heard to people that don't need to hear them because they will ultimately be saved from sinfulness they really don't possess by a Savior they didn't even need when they were alive who died for no reason because he planned to save them regardless anyway, then writes a
book explaining it all to people that don't even need to understand it because (again) they're going to get saved anyway.

Nice hustle, Mr. Bell.

Anonymous said...

Excellent job Frank.

A heretic by any other name is still a heretic.

It's time for the people of God to rally to the blood stained banner of the gospel of the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and stand firm on Substitution, Sacrifice and Satisfaction.

What Rob Bell has done is no less than blasphemy. To deny Hell and to suggest universalism tantamount to explicitly stating that the death of the Son of God was unnecessary and that Jesus Christ died in vain.

May our sovereign Lord have mercy on Rob Bell and grant him faith and repentance.

Jacob said...

@Rachael Starke:
"Given the forum you have here, in doing so you've done a tremendous disservice to him, Bell, and the earth."

That's the part where I choked on my breakfast.

Well done.

trogdor said...

I don't get the animosity towards Pagitt for his possible compliment to Piper. It is entirely possible that Piper was not merely pronouncing that Bell is way unorthodox, but also warning others that his false teaching will lead them to ruin as well. Does anyone have a problem if that's what Piper was saying? That's what pastors are supposed to do - guard their flocks against wolves and warn them against impending danger. So Pagitt would be correct to claim that Piper is being very "pastorly" - and we could only hope that other pastors follow such an example.

That's assuming I'm hearing him correctly, of course. And if I'm not, I'll just take him to mean whatever I want, because I'm epistemically humble enough to not assume that there's only one meaning to what he said.

DJP said...

Pretty sure parts of it were Platonic.

Or, you know, something.

Otternam said...

Doug, Mr. Obvious called and told me that John Piper meant exactly what you think he said even though you don't have the testosterone to express that point. For that Doug, you get a big DUH, LOSING.

shauna said...

Good letter! Thanks for pointing these things out.

Written by a friend of Rob Bell's (& parts of an interview) in his defense. Think of TULIP and then read on for the irony of the word heretic as he describes (also note: hell can't really exist for Bell because he thinks even after we die we will have the eternal? ability to choose God):

While "heretic" is not a label that Bell revels in, it's not one that is altogether wrong, either.
The word's roots are in the Greek word 'hairetikos,' which means `able to choose,"' Bell explained.
Having been created by God with free will, we are all able to choose and make decisions for ourselves, including whether to accept the love of Jesus Christ and walk in the light of that love.
Essentially, we're all heretics because we all have the ability to choose.

God put Bell here to tell people -- by any and all means necessary -- how much God loves them. And that there is nothing they can do to make God love them more or less. That is the "Good News" of Jesus. For too many people, though, what they've been told is the good news is actually an ugly truth. They hear that God is full of grace and unconditional love, a God of endless second chances, infinitely patient. But then they hear that God's grace, love and patience expires at death. "Too late," they're told. "You had your chance." That schizophrenic idea of God is simply untenable, Bell says."It's psychologically unbearable. No psyche can handle that," he said. "It's devastating."It's also toxic and a lie. The Good News, Bell insists, is better than that."If we have the freedom to choose these things now, that Jesus came to offer us and show us, then I assume that when you die, you can continue to choose these realities because love cannot co-opt the human heart's ability to decide," Bell said

Link to full article: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/cathleen- ... 35606.html

Nate Archer said...

I don't even want to concede to Bell the title of his book. What Bell describes as "love" is a distortion of man. A more accurate title for Bell's book would be Sentimentality Wins.