27 June 2011

Unsportsmanlike Conduct?

Did we really blow the Rob Bell situation?
by Phil Johnson

ast week on Tim Challies' podcast, the guest was Kenneth J. Stewart, author of IVP's Ten Myths About Calvinism: Recovering the Breadth of the Reformed Tradition. Among other things, he claimed that the "uncoordinated . . . response of the conservative Reformed world" to Rob Bell's Love Wins constituted "a display of our disunity. . . a display of our failure to coordinate."

In Professor Stewart's words:
What I think our constituency was guilty of in that case is overkill. There might have been select spokesmen put forward from within our constituency, and they would be told to go to it. But we had too many people on the attack; too many people going for the jugular, and our movement displayed its unlovely side.

Challies' co-host, David Murray, quickly agreed, suggesting that once Challies and Kevin DeYoung had posted their reviews of the book, "all that needed to be said had been said."
Murray: "Tim, what do you think?"

Challies: "Yeah, I would tend to agree. . . . there was a little too much being said."

Professor Stewart then elaborated:
What does [our use of new media] display? What it can display is that we are ungracious. That we pile on. I like to think of what happened to Rob Bell in football terms. When the whistle is blown there's not to be any more tackling.

I had a few thoughts in response to this exchange:
  • Of course I disagree strongly with Professor Stewart. In the first place, the response to Bell's book was hardly "a display of our disunity." The reviews of that book from the conservative and Reformed districts of the blogosphere reflected the strongest evangelical consensus I've seen since the International Council on Biblical Inerrancy disbanded. The only significant dissenting opinions were early complaints that Justin Taylor had jumped the gun, the critics were being too harsh, and other similar shopworn scoldings, mostly from Bell's own fan-base, erstwhile Emergents, and other espousers of postmodern values.
  • It's hard to get evangelicals exercised about any point of doctrine nowadays. To scold them for supposedly overreacting at the rankness of Bell's damnable heresy strikes me as counterproductive—dangerously so.
  • The notion that the Reformed blogosphere should be regulated like an episcopal body, so that certain designated spokespersons would be appointed by an oligarchy, a college of cardinals, a blog-Pope (or whatever) and "told to go to it"—with the rest of us being instructed to shut up—is a Really Bad Idea.
  • Perhaps the main deficiency in the Reformed blogosphere's response to Bell's universalism is the speed with which the scandal blew over. The whole matter is already being treated as yesterday's news, as if the danger were past. Let's not forget that Arianism made most of its gains in the two or three decades after Arius's theology was categorically condemned by the Nicene council. There were many in those days who accused Athanasius of "overkill" because of his polemical persistence against Arius. (In fact, just about everyone complained that Athanasius was too relentless in his condemnation of Arius.) They were dead wrong.
  • In my estimation, one of the most troubling characteristics of the neo-Reformed is the way so many work so hard to cultivate a culture of artificial collegiality, courting the world's admiration and the academy's esteem. Let's not encourage them in that. We need to be more concerned about declaring the truth and refuting worldly wisdom. Time Magazine's judgment about whether we are open-minded enough, diverse enough, or winsome enough is not a good barometer of how we're doing in the realm of apologetics.
  • I also disagree with the insinuation that the early critiques of Bell were sufficient and the later ones superfluous. Justin's initial post hit in February before anyone else's. Judging from the sheer volume of comments, that was actually the post that seemed to stir the most ire. John MacArthur didn't touch the subject until more than a month later, but he wrote an extended series of posts that added up to one of the more complete analyses of Bell's error. The discussion in the combox at GTY's blog proves that "all that need[s] to be said" in response to Bell's book has not been said even yet. (I'd hate to think someone thinks MacArthur should have held his peace just because a couple of well-known bloggers had already written fifteen paragraphs or so).
  • The hell debate has been brewing among evangelicals at least since Edward Fudge wrote The Fire that Consumes in 1982. It's not going away soon.
  • The debate Rob Bell has provoked is not a game or a merely academic discussion. No whistle has blown; the down is not over. Bell has not retracted or recanted so much as a single sentence. His book is still selling briskly. If there ever is a time when "piling on" is appropriate, it's when Christ's teaching is being attacked so wolfishly. The suggestion that it's unsportsmanlike for too many people to comment is like saying David "displayed his unlovely side" when he whacked Goliath's head off. After all, he had already rendered Goliath unconscious! Was it "fair play" to go for the jugular (literally) while the giant was thus incapacitated?
  • Controversy, though always unpleasant, is sometimes necessary, and it can even be good and beneficial. The idea that controversy is always evil is a falsehood that is as full of mischief as any heresy.
In short, the suggestion that the Reformed blogosphere's response to Bell's awful screed was an "overreaction" is the wrong message to be sending evangelicals, who already have an unhealthy obsession with what the secular world thinks of them, an exaggerated estimate of the importance of academic respectability, a postmodernized concept of "cordiality," an irrational fear of speaking the truth plainly, and an unholy timidity when it comes to taking unpopular stands against politically correct but erroneous beliefs.

What do you think?

Phil's signature

PS (and a word about Tim Challies):
  • Yes, I did write Tim Challies privately and express all of these concerns before blogging about my disagreement with his podcast.
  • Our "disagreement" is not as wide as some might think. Tim is frequently embarrassed by the half-cocked fusillades that regularly spew forth from certain self-styled "discernment" bloggers. He wrote an excellent book on true discernment, which I fully endorse. I share his horror over so many self-styled "discernment ministries" that are neither truly discerning nor edifying to anyone. The horror is doubled when people who are put off by such side-shows refer to them as the "truly Reformed" (though many—most?—of them are not Reformed at all).
  • Still, I think a centralized committee directing the Reformed blogosphere is not going to alleviate that problem at all. (I'm not sure there is any easy answer to that problem in a free country with easy Internet access.)
  • I did not say (and certainly did not try to imply) that Tim Challies belongs in the category of "'neo-reformed' compromisers." Tim's podcast partner, David Murray, took my comments that way and thinks most of our commenters did too. I don't believe objective readers could possibly think that's what I was saying, but I'm happy to disavow the idea for the record.
  • From my point of view, Tim is sometimes squeamish about plain-speaking when he shouldn't be. No doubt from Tim's point of view, contributors at TeamPyro are too edgy at times. For the most part, however, we get along just fine. I certainly appreciate the role Tim has had in the blogosphere. He was blogging for many years before I started, and like most evangelical and Reformed bloggers, I have long regarded him as something of a role model.
  • Lastly, this is not the first time I have blogged about Tim's uneasiness with the role of the perennial critic. See this post from a couple of years ago.
  • Just one other thing: There's a parallel discussion going on at another blog,and Professor Stewart has weighed in over there. His comments are worth reading.


thomas4881 said...

Matthew 11:25 At that time Jesus said, “I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children.

Ben said...

I nominate Phil for blog-Pope. Do I hear a second?

Shamgar said...

Agreed. What is it with people and their insistance on heirarchies and committees? Odd that we don't see anyone criticizing the NT writers for "piling on" the judaizers, or the gnostics.

Your point regarding the display of unity is spot on. Why would anyone think that a couple of supposedly annointed spokespeople represent even a fraction of the evangelical community? The outcry of tens or hundreds of voices all uniquely putting forth the same central message on the other hand sends a clear message.

You know, it strikes me as singularly arrogant to think you can say all that needs to be said in response to false teaching when we're still dealing with many of the same errors that the biblical writers did.

Randall van der Sterren said...

In a small way, I sympathize with people sick of hearing about Rob Bell. He's the sort of short-lived Evangelical superstar who writes a controversial book with bad ideas, which we all debate until we are sick of them. Does anyone remember Rick Joyner, David Fuller, C. Peter Wagner, John Milbank, or Zane Hodges?

Phil Johnson said...


I hear you, and I think Tim Challies had something similar in mind. Unless I'm mistaken, Tim thinks the sheer number of so many conservative bloggers critiquing Bell's book actually spurred sales of the book. There's no doubt that's true to a degree. And there's no doubt that it's tedious to have to listen to critiques of religious screwballs like those you named. I certainoy sympathize with those who are weary of the fight.

But my point is that the battle against falsehood is necessary. As Shamgar pointed out, the fact that the same errors stay alive for centuries is proof enough that we need to be disciplined and persistent in our battle against the father of lies. The odiousness of the fight is not a good reason to walk away from the battle.

William Dicks said...

Phil, I also listened to the interview with Prof Stewart by Tim and I feel like you do.

One of the reasons the Reformation happened was because of an overreaching authority by one man (Pope), of whom many were miscreants.

One of the reasons why the Reformed conversation is working is exactly because everyone has a voice and a conscience. There is no "one" person who decides for all.

Of course, if Stewart is to be believed, who will be chosen for the job of spokesperson, and from which denomination will he be chosen? Who will vet that person?

In my opinion, as little as it may be, Stewart does perhaps not understand the damage that heresy brings. It literally is a matter of eternal life or eternal death!

There is no cut-off time for standing against heresy, no end whistle! The game ends at judgement day!

Truth must be preached, and vigorously so!

Unknown said...

Well said, and I agree. Many already act like there is an "upper crust" of bloggers that everyone else should just bow to no matter what they say. I guess now some are just pushing to make that "office" official. When we determine who is worthy to be heard by how many hits they get on a blog, one of the only things separating us from the seeker-movement is the debate of urls v. concert stages.

The Bible Christian said...


You took the words right out of my mouth... also when Jude writes in Jude 3 Beloved, while I was making every effort to write you about our common salvation, I felt the necessity to write to you appealing that you contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all handed down to the saints.

What does it mean?

Phil this needed to be said Thank You

Unknown said...

Intended or unintended, the net effect of the "piling on" complaint is that Bell's heresy isn't as bad as it is. I recall the vociferous reaction to the shortest of Rob Bell critiques from John Piper: Goodbye Rob Bell. It would seem some can't bring themselves to verbalize that Bell has left the building. And it would seem some are loathe to attach the "H" word to Bell's false teaching. Is this an intramural error (akin to the credo- and paedo-baptist debate) over which we strongly disagree or has Bell joined the ranks of the Arius's of Christian history? I might be wrong, but I have a hard time believing anyone would throw a yellow flag at the Reformed response who also believes Bell's false teaching fails the test of orthodoxy on a grand scale.

Pastor Howard Brown said...

The campfire is out when there ceases to be flame, smoke and heat. Rob Bell is continuing to advance his heresy copy by copy sold. The restaining and dismissal of firefighters is premature. We do not need to withdraw and elect a committee of firefighters elite. We need a community of firefighters. Sadly, there are rebellious men empty talkers and decievers who must be silenced. Local pastors in Paul's day were required be able to refute those who contradict and guard (as a standing order) what had been entusted. Titus was not encouraged to post a link to Paul's blog and 'nuff said'. Thank-you, Phil.

Anonymous said...

Because most evangelicals today are Biblically ignorant and do not pay attention to much... I think it is paramount that when something like Rob Bell comes along that MANY voices are raised. If only a few people spoke out it would a) never be taken seriously and b) most people would never hear them. Most evangelical sheep would just walk into a Christian bookstore and see the book is a best seller and buy it.

Now granted, those types of Christians are responsible before God to be discerning, but the fact is most are not.

So sound the alarm loud and clear!!

FX Turk said...

I received Dr. Stewart's book from IVP, and I have refrained from reviewing it out of a sense of collegiality.


FX Turk said...

There's some delicious irony here for those who like that sort of thing.

[1] I explicitly agree with Phil in this case even though I still think that the number of so-called "apologetics" web sites could be slashed by half without even scratching the surface of the problem of unaccountable people saying things which are, at best, not productive.

[2] I wonder where Challies would be today if, in 2003, someone had already picked the Reformed spokesmen and a young fellow with a budding internet web design business who was also just another handle in the #prosapologian channel found himself subject to the presbyterian lock-out he is here endorsing or perhaps even now trying to invent?

[3] Letting someone who is in IVP's roster of diverse opinions tell the Reformed blogosphere about unity is, in itself, it's own acquired taste. When IVP can decide whether it wants to publish books by folks like Jim Belcher or folks endorsed by Phillis Tickle and Brian McLaren, we can start a serious discussion about how unity ought to work.

Others may find some other tasty morsels in the mix. Enjoy.

Robert Warren said...

You're spot on.

Speaking of Arius, I rather like it that Nicholas of Myra, in a not so jolly mood, dope-slapped Arius in to next Thursday at the Council of Nicea. ;)

Levity aside, I think the problem is that some Reformed folks get a liitle too concarned about how their non-Reformed perceive them, over against their concern for the truth.

John N said...

Phil, though I am neither Reformed nor a regular reader of your blog, I agree with you 100%.

I’m kinda getting over hearing all these protestations against critiquing Bell. He knew full well what he was getting into and what to expect after dropping his bomb, as did his publishers and public relations advisors. As already mentioned, they are cashing in on the free publicity.

Let’s put this in perspective. The reaction was commensurate to the subject. Sure, there are toxic and trashy bloggers around but most of the critiques I’ve read are fair game. If Bell had written a book about his view on the rapture or women in ministry, we could say that we flogged this horse to death. But he chose to present a highly antithetical view on one of the most foundational doctrines of historical Christianity. It’s like he poked us all in the eye or stuck his tongue out at us. His views are an affront to the Christian faith for which martyrs have shed their blood.

Furthermore, Bell is highly popular and exerts enormous influence on unsuspecting and discernment challenged Christians. He doesn’t exactly fly under the radar, when he speaks many pay him attention.

The deeper and more sinister implications of Bell’s thesis is that if he’s right then the gospel becomes irrelevant and much of a non-event. Christ died for nothing and the work of the cross is neutralized. We might as well eat, drink and party hard.

And somehow in view of all this we are meant to just sweep it under the carpet because Challies and DeYoung have spoken? Give us a break!

Canyon Shearer, DMin said...

1. Good Post.

2. I second Ben's nomination (I was going to post almost exactly the post he posted). All in favor?

3. That squirrel is beating up a girl.

4. "He who hath once smitten a serpent, if he follow not on his blow until he be slain, may repent that ever he began the quarrel. And so will he who undertakes to deal with sin, and pursues it not constantly to death. Sin will after a while revive, and the man must die. It is a great and fatal mistake if we suppose this work will admit of any remissness or intermission." - John Owen

5. But with an overflowing flood
he will make a complete end of the adversaries, and will pursue his enemies into darkness. - Nahum 1:8

DJP said...

Phil — a terrific post, nicely adorned thus far with some really excellent comments.

Irony: another oft-heard complaint is the lack of unity among professed believers. Yet now, when our community responds to a heretical book with one voice from many corners, we hear the complaint of overkill and pile-on. Which is it — should we be united, or not?

The Bible Christian's citation of Jude is apposite. Jude addresses himself to Christians at large, not to the elders. He writes to urge them all to contend earnestly for the faith. When a body doesn't muster all its resources to fight off infection, that's a bad sign.

I just can't beat the impression that this is all fueled by the thought that heresy isn't actually all that bad; certainly not as bad, anyway, as being unseemly, unnuanced, uncollegial, and offensive to the world. The world does, after all, really hate to see Christians devoted heart and soul to God's truth.

Is that a bad thing?

Final thought: picture Todd Friel interviewing Phil and saying "You know, Phil, after you and Tim Challies wrote on {Heresy X}, I think it would have been better if everyone else had just shut up and let you be the spokesmen."

Phil's response would be...?

Robert said...

Thank you for keeping this in focus, Phil. It is sad to me that Murray and Challies would make such an arrogant claim as to think that once their guys made statements, the rest of us should just keep our mouths closed. Do they understand that not everybody knows who Challies and DeYoung are? They are a very small fraction of the blogosphere and surely they didn't cover every angle of the problems with Bell's teachings.

That said, I am thankful for the efforts of all of the people who have addressed the problems with Bell's teachings. That includes the Pyros, MacArthur, Piper, Taylor, Challies, DeYoung, and a host of others on blogs, TV, and radio. I'm thankful that my pastor has spoken about it during a couple of sermons and Bible studies. I am glad he didn't just refer us to two blog posts and tell us to stick to that.

The other concern I have is that once we stop "piling on" in our defense of the truth against false teaching, we open up the doors for all kinds of stuff to sneak in. People can be made to be sypathetic with certain ideas if there is not a strong defense. Look at how the church has fallen in its stance on issues like abortion, homosexuality, and gender equality. This is because people became sympathetic with the world instead of standing for the truth...and on what I would consider important, but smaller issues than the doctrine of hell. If we don't keep attacking this heresy, I fear for the outcome.

Robert said...


I think Phil's first response would be where is the real Todd Friel because he certainly doesn't shy away from piliing on. 8o)

wv: extra

I'll take extra samplings of blog posts takign on Bell's heresies.

Bill R. said...

No I don't think the reformed community was too harsh...

“For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places. ” (Ephesians 6:12, NASB95)

“This command I entrust to you, Timothy, my son, in accordance with the prophecies previously made concerning you, that by them you fight the good fight, keeping faith and a good conscience, which some have rejected and suffered shipwreck in regard to their faith. ” (1 Timothy 1:18–19, NASB95)

Edward Fudge said...

After 29 years, a new revised, update and enlarged 3rd edition of THE FIRE THAT CONSUMES is now out and available wherever books are sold.

A major addition in this new edition is its running interaction throughout with 17 traditionalist authors of 12 books written since the first edition of TFTC in 1982.

Published by Wipf and Stock www.wipfandstock.com under their academic books label of Cascade Books, this third edition has a new foreword by Richard Bauckham, Professor Emeritus of New Testament Studies at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland, now at Cambridge University, U.K.

Anonymous said...

I'm with DJP on this one. It's ironic to see someone remarking about a unified response over a matter of serious doctrine and calling it a display of disunity.

Bell needs to hear the church corporate (dare I say catholic) on this matter. When Bell puts his heresy out for the world to read (and buy) he should expect a wide ranging response. Any believer who recognizes his error should respond and call him to correction and repentance.

I do agree with Prof. Stewart if he's calling for civility of discussion over matters of interpretation. Let's have some good fun dialogue in these areas. BUT, Bell is espousing HERESY, not a difference in application. Seems like I remember a "don't bid him Godspeed" idea somewhere in Scripture regarding this very idea of false teaching...

Andrew Perriman said...

Phil, I have to say, I agree with you on this. The suggestion that the Reformed response to Bell’s book should have been regulated is ludicrous.

But I still find it disappointing that the Reformed “constituency” (isn’t that a rather political term?) seems generally so reluctant to consider the possibility that Jesus’ language of gehenna (which does not mean "hell") should be interpreted—for good exegetical and historical reasons—as a reference to the horrors of an impending judgment on Israel rather than to conscious post-mortem punishment. The debate that Fudge and others have sponsored is not a frivolous one and cannot be brushed aside as easily as Love Wins.

If Jeremiah could warn that so many would die from famine, disease and the sword during the siege of Jerusalem by the Chaldeans that the dead would have to be thrown over the walls of the city into the valley of gehenna, and Josephus describes how exactly this happened during the Roman siege of the city, we surely have to ask whether Jesus meant the imagery to be taken in the same way. That is a matter of fidelity to scripture and to the teaching of Jesus.

If Isaiah pictured the corpses of the Jews who had rebelled against YHWH lying outside the city consumed by worms and an unquenchable fire, surely we have to ask whether Jesus did not have a similar situation in mind—the horror of God’s judgment against his rebellious people. It seems to me that the Reformed “constituency” is far too careless—I’m looking at John Macarthur’s “Bell’s Inferno” post—about throwing Bible verses out as though they unquestionably support the traditional view.

Of course, these are just the particularly visible and contentious tip of a massive hermeneutical iceberg. I think it would do us all good if some of the energy spent on slamming Bell were invested in a constructive discussion of the texts.

Anonymous said...

I come from a slightly different place...about 6 miles from Mars Hill and I have friends who (used to) attend Rob Bell's church.

I pointed them at all of these reviews and one of my closest friends said, "if the books says what all these people are saying it says...I'm going to need to leave my church."

and she did. She had two "love wins" bumper stickers on her car that Bell handed out years ago.

they are now gone.

Love wins, but it's not Bell's version of "love" - it's the version of those who speak out in truth and love.

Robbie said...

The wolf is in the sheepfold and the alarm was sounded. I suppose the sheep are safe now? Yea, right. Keep the rascal in in your sights!

dwitzke said...

Wow. Excellent post, Phil! I can add no real substance to all the comments already expressed. They were all great. I do have one more observation to add. It sounds like Stewart's idea is that we should leave it to the academics and "important guys" to handle heretics. Last I checked, that is the responsibility of every single Christian, and especially of the elders of each church, not primarily the academics. Since when is defending against heresy about "displaying unity"? Defending against heresy is always about fighting to maintain the true unity that the Spirit has given us (Ephesians 4.3), which is primarily found in doctrinal purity and application!

Anonymous said...

Phil (and Frank and Dan) - spot on and exactly right. It needed to be said and you all said it well. Thank you for speaking the truth in love - love for God, truth, the church, and others.

- pastorway

Steve Drake said...

Any parallels to the 'piling on' of the Biologos folks? I think we need a few hundred more 'unsportsmanlike conduct' fouls thrown at us for driving that heresy back to the gates of Hell where it came from.

Nash Equilibrium said...

"...so many work so hard to cultivate a culture of artificial collegiality, courting the world's admiration and the academy's esteem.

I think a lot of Christians haven't yet figured out that the time when a Biblically-based Christian will be "respected" in any way by the popular culture, is now past. Apparently, David Murray et. al. are among them.

I suggest we assign David Murray and others who are still taking comfort in this illusion of respect, to speak on a secular college campus about the first Chapter of Romans and how it relates to the issue of gay "marriage." Assuming they do this with a Biblical stance, that assignment should permanently disabuse them of this notion that a Christian will be respected if they take a Biblical stand, no matter how lovingly delivered the message is.

James Scott Bell said...

Stewart referred to "our movement." If that's what you think you are, then some regs will be called for. That's why the emergent "movement" fell apart. They could criticize but couldn't actualize. When it came time to try to find central tenets and leadership, it imploded.

That's why the "Reformed" presence can't be overseen in the way Prof. Stewart hopes. If there were going to be a de facto "Pope" it would be John Piper, but he got shredded recently from within the camp. It'll never work as a true movement.

The "Reformed" presence on the Internet is more like a spread out collection of Teutonic tribes around 400 A.D.

donsands said...

Yep. I agree that Tim and Kenneth made a bad call here. They need to review their call as good refs would do, and reverse it.

There were a lot of people who took up for Bell as well, weren't there? Too many of them for sure.

Have a terrific day in our Lord's joy!
Jesus said, "...your heart shall rejoice, and your joy no man takes from you. ...ask and you shall receive, that your joy may be full....For the Father Himself loves you, because you have loved Me, and have believed I came from God." John 16

Ben said...

Hey everybody, my apologies, but I'd like to withdraw my nomination of Phil for blog-Pope, if I might.

Silly me, I had temporarily forgotten that Congregationalism Is From Satan.

Solameanie said...

In looking at the multiple-volume set of writings from the early church fathers including Athanasius, I have to wonder if all the pen to ink back then would have been considered "piling on?"

Maybe so. I for one, am glad Athanasius didn't allow himself to be silenced.

Mary Elizabeth Tyler said...

People like Rob Bell and his purely wishful thinking, multiply like cancer, as sure as cells divide.

"Whose mouths must be stopped, who subvert whole houses, teaching things which they ought not, for filthy lucre's sake (Titus 1:11)."

Does this ring a bell? If I were a rich man....

healtheland said...

My only problem with the Rob Bell response is that Bell is getting singled out because of his being emergent. There are lots of prominent Christians (current and past) with views that are just as troubling, if not more so, who never get scrutinized or rejected simply because they aren't in this postmodern scene. This is probably the best argument of both the Rob Bell defenders, including not a few who were doing so primarily because Bell was being attacked by Calvinists and took an "the enemy of my enemy is my friend" posture. The best example of this is C.S. Lewis, who possessed many heterodox beliefs, including but not limited to pluralism (or is it inclusivism ... it doesn't really matter) and no one talks about it. But there are far many more prominent evangelicals who have embraced inclusivism, open theism, "theistic evolution", "the new perspective on Paul", rejecters of a literal hell etc. who didn't get anywhere near the grief that Bell gets.

Nash Equilibrium said...

Maybe that's because they didn't have the cool factor and therefore didn't lead as many people down the wrong path, as Bell is?

healtheland said...


"Maybe that's because they didn't have the cool factor and therefore didn't lead as many people down the wrong path, as Bell is?"

That is most certainly not the case. Please recall that C.S. Lewis is my most prominent example. Even before he surged in popularity due to the movie adaptations of the (VERY theologically problematic) "Narnia" books, his apologetics and other writings have been standards in evangelical seminaries for decades.

But Lewis is just one. There are many others, and the people who criticized Rob Bell because he isn't "respected enough" know who they are.

Nash Equilibrium said...

Health: Your last sentence grammatically makes no sense, so I don't really know what you are saying, there. I'm not sure who is saying that Rob Bell isn't respected enough.

As far as C.S. Lewis is concerned, fair enough. The main difference I see between him and Bell is that CSL was defined by his Christianity but had some bad theology, and Rob Bell is defined by his bad theology, and has some "christianity" - maybe.

Aaron Snell said...


"The "Reformed" presence on the Internet is more like a spread out collection of Teutonic tribes around 400 A.D."

You have your moments. Not many of them, but you do have them :)

Mary Elizabeth Tyler said...


I had made a similar comment somewhere concerning C.S. Lewis. Men like John Piper give men of Lewis’ intellectual caliber a pass, because he, like many others, hold the wisdom of men in high esteem. Which is not a good thing to do, BTW. Lewis was tragically anything but orthodox. But if you possess a genius for poetry and prose and have a penchant for story telling, the sky is the limit for fictionalizing truth.

What could be a better pulpit given to one, for the sole purpose to deceive and paint falsehoods to look and smell like roses?

Eric said...


Very well said on all points.

I benefited from reading a diverse set of critiques of Bell's ideas (note to Perriman and healtheland: Bell's ideas were attacked (slammed), not Bell himself, with very few exceptions). God grants wisdom to many people and provides the church with a breadth of wisdom and experience that is not always captured by a few, no matter their level of wisdom.

Proverbs 11:14: "Where there is no counsel, the people fall; But in the multitude of counselors there is safety."

Proverbs 15:22: "Without counsel, plans go awry, But in the multitude of counselors they are established."

Proverbs 24:6: "For by wise counsel you will wage your own war, And in a multitude of counselors there is safety."

These passages would seem to support the idea that we do well to gather wisdom from a broad array of advisers. The comment box at this and other blogs can operate in a similar fashion. Often times I will benefit not only from the original blog entry but also from the wealth of wisdom that can at times be displayed in the comment section.

I'm surprised that Challies agreed. I wonder if he would have the willingness to read, consider, and react to this excellent post.

Phil Johnson said...

Johnny Dialectic: "The "Reformed" presence on the Internet is more like a spread out collection of Teutonic tribes around 400 A.D."

You're just a bitter Arminian. :-)

Actually, there's too much truth in that assessment to dismiss it altogether, and I think a sense of concern over the immaturity and frequent improprieties that we often see among the Barbarian hordes of Internet Calvinists was surely in Tim Challies' mind whilst he was nodding and agreeing with his guest. But I think what Professor Stewart was actually saying was something totally different and eminently cringeworthy.

But in all this, let's be sure to give Challies credit. He's a measured, thoughtful critic of many of the evils that have eaten away at evangelical conviction, and I'm glad for his voice. I have great respect and affection for him.

I just wish he had pushed back against this guest.

Mary Elizabeth Tyler said...

"But in all this, let's be sure to give Challies credit. He's a measured, thoughtful critic of many of the evils that have eaten away at evangelical conviction, and I'm glad for his voice. I have great respect and affection for him."

So very true!

John said...

I 'spose if Rob Bell folded up that tent of his and went away after Justin and Challies (or whoever now is the holder of the title "Authorized Version" of the blogosphere), then perhaps they might have had a teeny-weeny, tiny little point.

But, last I checked, Rob Bell is still out there, still saying what he said (as he has FOR YEARS in case anyone has been paying attention) and still being listened to. In light of that, why should those who oppose his false teaching "shut up"?

Every time I see stuff like this, I can only think that the culture that has shoved tolerance down our throats for many years is winning everywhere.

Truth Unites... and Divides said...

"Unsportsmanlike Conduct?"

One's Christian conduct is supposed to be gentle, respectful, and loving, i.e., sportsmanlike when expressing disagreement with the doctrinal teaching of another.

Nash Equilibrium said...

TUAD: On a scale of 1 to 10 with 10 being most sportsmanlike, what does the book of Jude score on the Sportsmanlike scale you described with regard to how it treated false teachers?

Charlene said...

Very well said Mr. Johnson--I couldn't agree more. David and Goliath are a very good example of how to defeat the enemy. You know the job is done when you hold the enemy's head in your hands! If someone poured some poison into a well of drinking water, I wouldn't think it safe to drink from after a couple of short attempts at clean-up. Rob Bell and many others have poured the poison out there and it is slowly spreading whether we can see it our not. The symptoms of their poisoning are still popping up everywhere. The fight against false teaching can never get old. Our pastor was just saying this weekend that every epistle written, was written to address some kind of false teaching. In which case I guess Paul, John, Jude, and Peter would be guilty of "piling on", "beating a dead horse", etc.

semijohn said...

Ben, its a shame that you withdrew your nomination of Phil for blog-Pope. I was going to 2nd and then nominate Frank Turk for blog-Cardinal Richlieu(sp?). :)

Not so concerned whether sales of Bell's book jumped up in itself. More concerned about who was buying. If conservative evangelicals were buying the book and then changing their views on hell, that would be regrettable. But if emergent types, more traditional theological liberals, and secular types/journalists were buying it, while I might regret the fattening of Bell (and his publisher's pocketbook), that's not really a big concern.

One thing though. Now I do remember the whole DaVinci Code controversy, and it seemed like every evangelical group and their brother were publishing a book debunking the DaVinci code. Certainly responses were necessary and maybe all those books played a good role. But I almost suspected that Dan Brown and evangelical leaders had gotten together and participated in a "golden handshake" that he would write something outlandish and they would all write books debunking it and they all would greatly profit from it. Of course, that possible criticism doesn't apply to blogs in the same way. (although if I see "The World Tilting Gospel" on national bestseller lists, I might wonder, lol!)

Mary Elizabeth Tyler said...

TUAD, we absolutely are to love our enemies. This, I am sure, means our "personal" enemies that come against us in our every day lives.

But is there a sense in which Scripture portrays a sort of "public enemy number one?" Like Satan! False teachers! Of course there is.

And wouldn't all false teachers fall under this umbrella? And shouldn't we proclaim them as wolves and vipers? I think so. A united front against falsehoods is how the body of Christ protects itself. And if we cannot call public enemy number one by a specific name, then our swords are rendered ineffective, and we are only toying with shadows.

It is always from within the church that truth is maligned. Very few personal enemies have the power to subvert truth, at least not in any real meaningful way. It is better to call false teachers as we see them, because weaker Christians, who lack discernment, need real specific language to wake them up out of their dreamy sleep.

Aaron said...

"what does the book of Jude score on the Sportsmanlike scale you described with regard to how it treated false teachers?

Which books in the New Testament don't have a inflammatory thing to say about false teachers? The prophets of the OT weren't representative of our modern sensibilities of fair play either.

Does anybody read any of the Puritan writings? Or even political commentary from American history? This sense of gentle refrain is very modern in origin.

Rachael Starke said...

"I certainly sympathize with those who are weary of the fight." I do too. But I was reminded of Al Mohler's recent exhortations to the church on the fight against gay marriage - our weariness is evidence of our fallenness. But until Jesus comes back and settles things for good, some fights are still worth having.

I also agree with your charitable interpretation of dear brother Challies' intent.

Bless his heart, the man's Canadian. The only thing those guys get really exorcised over is hockey.

Tommy said...

I’m going to go ahead and say thank you for this post first. I’m a young guy, still being weaned from my not-Reformed background. My generation, I think, are the worst of this debacle. It was us that decided we could write a 5-minute blurb on our little blogs about how atrocious Rob Bell is, and that I think is what people remember most. Little Reformers who genuinely should have held their tongues, not because it’s already been said, but how thoughtless those barbs were. These same people, when provoked, are the ones who instantly throw out grace when it comes to how they relate to others, and turned the forums into a “screw you”-fest. I admit I even fell into the trap of “enough is enough”, because I saw how ugly we could get. I’m blessed to read this post, because it makes me see that there is tongue binding that needs to be made, but only for those who are not spiritually mature to carry the conversation. If that’s not the case, and you feel led to express your Biblical hatred for heresy, then bring the multitudes to denounce this mockery of the Word.

And as for people worrying about Rob Bell’s free publicity, I’m not concerned. The people that are swayed by his Scripture-less arguments and emotions-trumping-logic and man’s responsibility have already condemned themselves to living a lie. Whether it be Rob Bell’s lie or their own, it doesn’t make a difference when standing before the Throne. We’ve already been condemned as man, and it’s by God’s grace alone that eyes are opened. If you’re worried that the next blog post will deter man from truth, then you might have a very low view of what God’s capabilities are.

healtheland said...

Mary Elizabeth Tyler:

You made excellent comments and I thank you for them.


I was trying to say that the people applying a different standard to Bell than they were to other "more respectable" figures in Christianity cannot claim not to know that a host of others are just as problematic as Bell is. So, it makes it seem as if the real issue with Bell isn't his heterodoxy, but rather his "not being in the club."

Make no mistake: I fully agree with contending against false teachers and beliefs. My problem is giving some such people better treatment than others.

David Sheldon said...

It is posts like this that keep us coming back to Pyro. You are on target across the board.
Phil - Looking forward to hearing you this September at the Psalm 119 Conference: Discernment 2011 in Apple Creek, Ohio
David Sheldon
Mansfield, OH

Sharon said...

@Rachael: But until Jesus comes back and settles things for good, some fights are still worth having.

So profound. Mind if I borrow this?

A Musician by Grace

John said...

Wouldn't one speaker at that discernment conference be sufficient?

trogdor said...

Not only do I disagree about the response to Bell being overkill, I don't think it was nearly strong enough. What was so striking to me about MacArthur's outstanding series was that he actually called Bell a wolf - as far as I can remember, it's the only prominent response which has done so.

I haven't read them all, but those I have read all seem to stop short of this, treating Bell as a Christian pastor with some theological errors. Even DeYoung's outstanding review - and I love Kevin DeYoung - takes Bell to task for promoting a different Christianity using shady/deceitful exegesis, with a false Christ, a different gospel, and a different God, yet at the end refers to Bell as a 'pastor who wants to care for people' in his flock and elsewhere. How much worse does it have to get before DeYoung will openly call him a non-Christian false teacher?

Cathy M. said...

I listened to most of that interview as well. Couldn't agree with you more. This is kinda why we all blog, right? I still want to read his book though... unless it's already been said before somewhere.

Pichura said...

I have no comment: I have been forbidden to speak by the Blogger Pope : )

Mary Elizabeth Tyler said...

You’re right, Trogdor.

Think back to the signing of the Manhattan Declaration (I am not taking this off topic, because Phil's name will at least be included here.) Whew! Safe, I hope.

I can only think of a few people who spoke out on this matter. They were, John MacArthur, Alistair Beggs, James White, Michael Horton, R.C. Sproul, Dan Phillips and Phil Johnson.

It's always the same ole retort from the happy-go-lucky crowd, "We don't know the heart only God does." Which is very true. But why bother mentioning false teachers and the caution to beware of them, and why bother being discerning if we can never positively identify them? (Sounds like a line up.) We CAN know them by their fruits and the doctrine they espouse.

Tom Chantry said...

Well, if we're nominating Phil as blog-pope and Frank as blog-cardinal, that only leaves blog-Tetzel for Dan. Think he'll give me an indulgence if I buy a copy of his book?

Pam said...

"But why bother mentioning false teachers and the caution to beware of them, and why bother being discerning if we can never positively identify them?"

Great point. Sir Aaron and Tom Chantry, thanks. Good points, too, and made me smile, as usual.
Phil's "tone" is kind and loving, but honest and true, pointing to the Truth. Thank you very much.

Aaron Snell said...

Mary Elizabeth Tyler and healtheland,

"Men like John Piper give men of Lewis’ intellectual caliber a pass, because he, like many others, hold the wisdom of men in high esteem."

I don't think this is true. Here is Piper in his own words carefully weighing the worth and pitfalls of Lewis

Mike Riccardi said...

Rob Bell is a heretical false teacher? Really? And someone knows this for sure?


David Murray said...

Phil's made some good points there. I agree, on reflection I was too quick to jump in and say Tim and Kevin's extensive (18 pages not 15 paras) reviews were enough.

I agree that everyone is entitled to express their opinion without alleged blog-popes excommunicating them.

I agree, it's so helpful to read the carefully considered views of John Macarthur. I especially agree on the need for book-length responses, which are now appearing

However, I believe one of Dr Stewart's points was that we need to try and find the sweet spot between under-reaction and over-reaction. Under-reaction lets false teachers off the hook; over-reaction creates sympathy for the "martyr" and boosts his book sales.

We will all find that sweet spot in different places, but should not some prayerful attempt be made to find it?

I wonder if Phil might review his own post and consider if he has not slightly over-reacted to a couple of minutes of comment on a podcast. It seems quite a stretch from what was said to put the three of us in the category of "neo-reformed" compromizers who only care about academic prestige, who have no desire to defend the truth, who think all controversy is evil, who show an irrational fear of speaking the truth plainly, and an unholy timidity when it comes to taking unpopular stands against politically correct but erroneous beliefs.

It's enough to make you sympathize with Rob Bell (Scottish joke!).

Truth Unites... and Divides said...

David Murray: "It seems quite a stretch from what was said to put the three of us in the category of "neo-reformed" compromizers who only care about academic prestige, who have no desire to defend the truth, who think all controversy is evil, who show an irrational fear of speaking the truth plainly, and an unholy timidity when it comes to taking unpopular stands against politically correct but erroneous beliefs.

Would this "quite a stretch" be considered unsportsmanlike conduct?

Mary Elizabeth Tyler said...

Dear Aaron:

I am so glad you mentioned this video. This is the exact same video I posted a while back on another forum.

And many on the forum took note that while JP is careful in his denouncement of CS, *he still* finds ample room for giving him equal praise, and almost glowingly ends up calling him a Christian.

I love John Piper dearly as a brother in Christ, but here are John's own words, which are not couched in vague terms, but pretty specific.

"So, in spite of all Lewis’s flaws, the most fundamental reason why he has been so influential in my life, and so awakening to my own soul, is that **he remained anchored as a Christian** in the unfathomable rock-solid objectivity of God and his Truth and his gospel as infinitely Beautiful and infinitely Desirable and, therefore, as the unshakeable ground of unutterable and exalted Joy."

Phil Johnson said...

Rachel White reposted part of this post here, and a pretty good conversation ensued. Professor Stewart himself weighed in over there. His response is worth reading.


David Murray: "It seems quite a stretch from what was said to put the three of us in the category of "neo-reformed" compromizers who only care about academic prestige. . ."

It indeed would have been quite a stretch if I had done that. I didn't (your use of quotation marks notwithstanding) and wouldn't. I simply said you sent the wrong message to evangelicals who are mired in that kind of man-pleasing mindset.

David Murray said...

Thanks for the clarification, Phil. I appreciate that. Sorry if I mis-read you. Looks like most of your commenters did too.

Do my previous "confessions" not merit any absolution?

John Warren said...

This Universalist thinks Phil's original post is right. This topic is important enough to fight really hard over.

I just can't wait until you damnationists stop slandering God with your horrible, unbiblical idea.

Phil Johnson said...

David Murray: "Sorry if I mis-read you. Looks like most of your commenters did too."

See the PS I added to the main post above. I think you are mis-reading our commenters. Most of us disagree with the comments you made in response to Professor Stewart. That doesn't mean we think of you as a typical evanjellyfish who cares not for doctrinal precision and cannot tolerate any controversy whatsoever. We know better than that. Most of us have been reading Challies for years.

David Murray: "Do my previous 'confessions' not merit any absolution?"

No need to absolve from a charge I never made anyway. I appreciate your gracious response, though.

James Scott Bell said...

Phil, I appreciate the fair minded comment (all "bitterness" aside!) I do agree with your assessments here.

Anonymous said...

I found the charge of piling up and overkill in regards to rob bell, uniwse to say the least. If there is a wolf in the camp and he's terrorizing the sheep, you don't offer to reason with him, or figure out which areas you can compromise in, or treat him gently, or give him a stern warning. No- you scream "WOLF" and then you shoot him. Giving the wolf a figurative slap on the nose [in the form of 2 blog posts from challies and taylor] won't do it. But if the wolf and his pack figure out that every time they step foot in the camp, that they get shot- i think that will be a profound lesson for them.

Mike Erich the Mad Theologian said...

I am forced to agree that the overall tendency of the current evangelical church is to avoid dealing with heresy rather then confronting it. While it is possible to go overboard there is a far greater danger in ignoring false teaching until it has chance to take a deeper root than it would have otherwise. Your example of Athanasius is well taken. Athanasius would not have had to stand against the world if the church would have listened to him in the first place.

Cindy Stokes said...

I have a blog where some of the things I post, especially some of my early posts, are merely a regurgitation of what I hear on Chris Rosebrough's show. So why do I post such blogs? Because I have friends for whom I fear for their souls and they would never listen to FFTF but they do read my blog. In the same vein, I do not read Tim Challies Blog very often. I'm a homeschooling mom who can handle keeping up with only one podcast. I'm glad that Chris didn't think he was being redundant in any way to educate his listeners thoroughly regarding this matter.

Cathy said...

Isn't it the main point of the Emergent movement to say that our view of God and salvation needs to be big enough to include all differences- to be open to alternative theories and interpretations. You know- no need to get worked up over doctrinal differences, because we're just having a conversation. The Emergent types treat the people who hold fast to sola scriptura like they are being hysterical, irrational, legalistic, and Pharisaical. And so finally- finally when there is a long overdue push-back against Rob Bell's blatant heresy- guess what brush we get painted with. But this time it's not just the Emergents doing the painting...
To me, this just shows that the Emergent movement has made significant ground in changing the way even good, solid, discerning Christians think it is acceptable to "fight" heresy.
I appreciate your response to this Phil.

Henry said...

This is a superb piece. I listened to the podcast and thought much the same and was vexed by Tim and David being so quick to agree with Ken Stewart.

So thankyou for being willing to say some stout words.

One other thing, watch out for Ken Stewart's itching to give ground to the egalitarians.

Henry said...

This is such a brilliant post! I had to say so again!

Solameanie said...

Two further comments. I find any linkage between Dan Phillips and Tetzel horrifying, coins springing out of coffers not withstanding.

Second, I note that Phil corresponded with Tim Challies privately. But a key question remains unanswered for those of us concerned about tone and all connected with it, and I am concerned at its omission.

Did you also have coffee?

Robert Kunda said...

Well said. I don't have much else to add.

Adam Omelianchuk said...



Nash Equilibrium said...

The "weigh-in" by Dr. Stewart on the weswhite blog was definitely worth reading. I think a lot of the responses to him were very valid, too.

Much of Dr. S.'s writing there gave me the impression he has a serious "leave the heresy-hunting to us celebrities and professionals" attitude, as though there are Christian "authorities" who would appoint a few legitimate false-teacher-opposers, or at least, it seems that's the kind of world he'd like to see.

No doubt he would claim that not to be true (and he did claim that), but at some point a person has to own what they are writing.

Just reading the exchange over there makes me glad that I live in a world where we are free to ignore Blog Popes just as much as we are free to ignore RCC Popes. I prefer a rapid-response environment where anyone who reads a false teaching can oppose it out of the gate, instead of waiting for some chin-scratching blog bureaucrats to pronounce a time, place, persons, and "tone" of their choosing to oppose it.

dwitzke said...

John: I just can't wait until you damnationists stop slandering God with your horrible, unbiblical idea.

John, we will indeed no longer need to teach that idea . . . at the point when Christ has completed His judgment–at the Great White Throne (Revelation 20)–of those who rejected it now.

donsands said...

I'm glad I came back here just to read Meanie's comment. (Nice smile on my face, or NSMF)

Anonymous said...

Can there be too much exposing of false teaching...? I think not.

I will tell you what there is too much of in our time. There is too much of the notion that if we all just stop exposing falsehood and heresies, things will turn into flowers and bunnies.

Garbage! The "why can't we all just get along" stuff results in erroneous teaching running rampant. It is always those who hold to sound doctrine that are expected to be quiet.

I'm sure the enemy would love for there to only be a few bloggers allowed to offer commentary. Then the enemy could focus more easily upon them while the rest of us twiddle our thumbs.

We already have a state-run media. Blogging is all about freedom of expression.

Staci Eastin said...

Rachael says: Bless his heart, the man's Canadian. The only thing those guys get really exorcised over is hockey.

The thing is, Tim's a baseball fan. :)

Dan McGhee said...

www.spurgeon.org/downgrd.htm - While brushing up my knowledge of the later years of Spurgeon's life I was once again reminded of the need for plain, simple, straight-forward, truth-telling in this day. We are in a battle for truth and the enemy uses to his advantage timidity on the part of God's servants. None of us ought to be rude or pugnacious in how we communicate, but let's forcefully object to those who say that plain-spoken truthfulness unChristlike and hurtful to the advance of the Gospel. It is not hurtful in the least, and I would contend that it is, in fact, necessary for the preservation of the true Gospel.

Bryce said...

As a young reformed Baptist Church planter working to reach the poor an elderly in my city, as well as just as a shepherd, if a wolf comes into my fold, I'm gonna kill it. And if other shepherds help me kill it, great. Sheep are afraid of wolves and rely on the shepherd to keep them alive. The wolf comes to kill and devour; that it's wearing a slick outfit an hipster glasses quoting the Mishna make no difference: it still wants to destroy.

Anonymous said...

I have nothing against Challies and DeYoung (greatly appreciate what they do and what they said re: Bell & hell) but why should what they say be the be-all-end-all in the Bell debacle? And in a real sense it remains a debacle because there are still people in evangelicalism defending his statements. In a certain sense, the "piling on" needs to continue--because so many don't seem to be getting the message. We minister in the direct vicinity of Bell's former pastorate--every month I meet people who have been misled by his teachings--it ain't purty...Many things he taught contribute to a "gospel" which doesn't save. But, maybe I shouldn't pile on them--because the important thing is how we appear to them, not their final destination.