Rob Bell goes after stumbling blocks

March 8, 2011

Rob Bell's new book, Love Wins: A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived, due out at the end of the month, is being promoted as "putting Hell on trial" and questioning the notion that a loving God could commit millions and billions of people to eternal torment. When the press release and accompanying video were released last week, the Christian blogosphere exploded, with conservative Christians of various stripes critiquing Bell and calling him all sorts of names, none more damning than "universalist."

This isn't a new topic in American Christianity, and it hasn't been limited to liberal circles. So it's disappointing (if unsurprising) to see Bell's critics greet his reconsideration of hell with shock and derision. (John Piper dismissed Bell with three words: "Farewell, Rob Bell.")

It's frustrating to see all this controversy over someone raising a question that's been around for ages. I'm glad, however, to see someone of Bell's stature take it up. As of this writing, Bell has received 338 comments on his Facebook post of this compelling video:


Unlike so many reflections on life after death, Bell ties our theological understanding of salvation and damnation to the very nature of God. Is God the one whose wrath Jesus saves us from? What sort of God are we worshiping, are we asked to put our trust in, if we must be saved from such wrath?

Of course, the depth and quality of Bell's argument remain to be seen--we will be able to gauge this when the book comes out. He's been criticized in the past for delivering old conservative evangelical theology in hip packaging.

But I'm hopeful. Bell seems to grasp that this issue is a serious problem for many outside the church--or lurking in the doorway. In the video, he identifies a central critique of Christians: that our faith is "an endless list of absurdities and inconsistencies." Bell strives to preach the gospel to the unchurched, and he may simply be heeding Paul's admonition to remove stumbling blocks to belief in Christ. The question this raises isn't an easy one--salvation is a key concept in Christianity--but it's a crucial one: which of the details are critical to orthodoxy, and which are mere stumbling blocks? What's necessary and what can be reinterpreted?

Paul tells us to "resolve" never to put a hindrance to the gospel before another person--and resolve is what it takes. Bell is putting his reputation on the line with this discussion; he's been lumped with Brian McLaren (I wish somebody would insult me like that!) as a false prophet who's decimated the gospel message. If he were a politician, we would say he is alienating his base.

But this is how reformation happens. Following the call to honest discernment means accepting some risks. I was proud recently when several retired United Methodist bishops published a letter calling United Methodists to get rid of language in its book of discipline that describes homosexuality as "incompatible with Christian life." Of course, retired bishops are in a secure place to say this; Bell has years left in his career.

But that career may be an increasingly blessed one if Bell's ministry continues to be shaped by pastoral and theological reflection--and if he keeps inviting others into conversation about the depths and breadths of Christian belief and practice.


March 15

FYI but the book drops next week, not the end of the month.

If only

If only Rob Bell was "raising a question", as you put it. Of course, he will be doing a lot more than that.
If he answers it in ways which contradict Scripture, what will you then say? That heresy can contribute to "reformation happen[ing]"?
Please! Reformation happens when God's Truth confronts false teaching. Not when we have a nice converstation and theological 'reflection'!

The latin translation of the

The latin translation of the word "heresy" is literally course of action, choice, or school of thought. The catholic church adopted the word, and then persecuted any of those deemed "heretics" to death by their judgement.

Isn't choice, school of thought, course of action supposed to be one of God's greatest gifts to us? Free will, the ability to ask questions, the ability to interpret?

So God gives us this powerful and amazing and gift of free will, and those who put themselves in what was then religious power persecuted them for using this gift years and years ago? What happened to God being the judge?

The book is wonderfully written, it addresses many questions the majority of Christians have at least once in their life and questions non-believers can now reevaluate. Not once does it mention the non-existence of hell.

And reformation is just the act of improving. It could be worldwide, it could be within a church, or it could be just one person. I, for one, pray for a reformation, even if it is just one person that this book touches. Who doesn't wish for improvement?

stumbling blocks

Nice to see Rob trying to drag his wing of the church kicking and screaming into the 1920's. Is this really an issue for a lot of folks??

Rob Bell

Mr. or Ms. Anonymous, don't you think your comment, "Is this really an issue for a lot of folks?", sounds a bit dismissive? It IS a big issue to many people and Rob needs to be taken seriously. And the 1920's remark? Please don't dismiss people because they may not run in your particular circles or hold your particular worldview.

Frustrated at this article being labeled as "Christian" thinking

Liberals, be they in politics or in "religious" Christianity are such sham artists. I am becoming more and more committed to argue and defend the authenticity of Scripture than ever before. What often passes as “Christianity” today sickens me.


“Is God the one whose wrath Jesus saves us from? What sort of God are we worshiping, are we asked to put our trust in, if we must be saved from such wrath?”

This is exactly the God we worship – and when we try to “rescue” Almighty God from being perfectly Holy and perfectly Just, all we do is make Him out to be a wimp.

“(Rob Bell has) been lumped with Brian McLaren (I wish somebody would insult me like that!)”

Seriously? you just lost credibility as a Bible Believing Christian.

“I was proud recently when several retired United Methodist bishops published a letter calling United Methodists to get rid of language in its book of discipline that describes homosexuality as "incompatible with Christian life." Of course, retired bishops are in a secure place to say this”

Again, Ugh! Let me state for the record all sin – ALL SIN – is incompatible with the Christian life” - I’d like to drop a colorful metaphor right now but I’m trying to live a compatible lifestyle.

I hate wimpy dieties. They go

I hate wimpy dieties.

They go around loving people who take advantage of them.

They say things like" my power is made perfect in weakness."

They get nailed to a cross...

Wait a second...

You must be really fearful

You must be really fearful for what would happen if you screwed up.... that because this says that and thats how someone told me it was interpreted means I have to act this way and not allow anyone else in because if I let this in and it's not what I was supposed to do, well now I burn in hell. That must be really horrible...

rob bell

I find it refreshing to hear and study questions that I have been thinking about for years.The conversation has started! Peace,Dig

Seventh-day Adventists have

Seventh-day Adventists have long believed (150 years) that hellfire will destroy the wicked--and not keep them burning forever. Many would be quite puzzled with this controversy.

Rob Bell

I am from the old school I guess some of you may say, and I am not a liberal thinking Christian as some may be called. I do think talking about these things are not something to run from. As I have read some of the comments, it is obvious that people are coming to grips with what they believe. What I don't understand sometimes is why we as Christians become very hostile towards each other when there is a different point of interpatation of God and His Word. I would say the early church was filled with questions and debate, thats how they grew. Now with that said, I do think we need to be very careful that when we are developing our thoughts on God or His word that we don't change Him for something other than who He says He is and what His word really says. Rob Bell believes somethings I just don't see in the Bible, but here is the most important thing, He accepted Jesus Christ as his Lord and savior and I believe he loves his Lord. As a Pastor, debate is around me all the time, sometimes I take it up and times I don't. I don't need to defend God to anyone or change God for anyone, but I do need to know that I accepted Jesus and He brings with Him to some an offensive message of Salvation because it requires me to change from who I was to who He sees me to be. Just because I don't believe some of the thoughts Rob Bells has, it doesn't mean I DON'T OR CAN'T learn something from him. God allows Rob Bell the audiance he has and by the sounds of it He is also allowing it to grow. I may worry about that sometimes, but maybe I NEED TO WORRY ABOUT WHAT I AM TEACHING PEOPLE GOD HAS ALLOWED ME TO PASTOR and let God worry about what other pastors are saying about Him. I am learning more and more these days that when I HEAR statements that differ from what I believe, I pause and ask God, 'hey you want me to correct them Lord?' But more times then not I get a reply back with God saying, "no thanks I got it, I will handle it the same way I handle it when you get off track about who I am and what you think My word says. If you disagree with someone and you think they are going to destroy the Christain Church because of it or mislead many down the path to Hell, I really encourage anyone to ask God the question, what are you going to do about it and I think you may be surprised at what His answer will be.

So he's raising an issue that

So he's raising an issue that has been raised before and is not saying anything which hasn't been said before one way or another...what is that good for?

At the end of the day we have to trust God to be absolutely just in all his judgements although we cannot fathom and possibly understand from our human point of view - he will know how to deal with every human being in perfect accord with his infinite goodness and justice.

Author: >> I was proud

Author: >> I was proud recently when several retired United Methodist bishops published a letter calling United Methodists to get rid of language in its book of discipline that describes homosexuality as "incompatible with Christian life."

Of course, to "call" for "getting rid" of the language describing homosexuality as "incompatible with the Christian life," you simultaneously have to "get rid" of numerous passages and whole narratives in the Bible that unambiguously and universally condemn homosexuality as a grievous sin that is an "abomination" and "will not inherit the kingdom of Heaven." Those clergy who seek to set aside the Biblical condemnations for homosexuality (or any sin) are, in truth, only condemning those in that lifestyle.

The Episcopal "church" is already apostate, and many Methodists are on the same path. Christians must express love toward homosexuals and show them the Scriptural result of living that lifestyle. But to be "proud" of any clergy who tells a sinner that his sin is NOT sin, is not to love that person, but to condemn him to an eternity separated from God. Those clergy, are but doormen for the "wide gate that leads to destruction."

Get a Life

You're a homophobe.  There are tons of passages in the bible that you don't adhere to.

what the hxxx

I got his book as kindle e-book, yet to be read. Anyway, this is my thought on what the h.e.l.l. is, which is a nonbiblical word, used to translated several words in the Bible. A hell is not a place or a condition one goes or get snatched into after death (depending on how one has been or what one has been doing, did this or didn't that, etc.), but it IS the present reality one is in.

(you is a rhetoric you, including me, us, etc., not particularily the readers of this comment ) Are you afraid (of power-to-be)? Afraid to be loved? Afraid to love? Are you angry? Are you complaining? Are you keeping  hurting/harming? Do you hate? Do you curse with f-words, s-words, g-words? Are you addicted/enslaved to pleasure, prosperity, purpose & plan games, possession, pride, position, or, ultimately, to power? - Then you ARE in hell here and now. Don't look for in the future after death. Whether one believes life to continue or not, in one way or another (whether it's re-incarnation, soul-immortality, resurrection), the simple fact is, when you are in hell now, that means you have chosen to continue to be in hell even after death. Get over with it now, otherwise get stuck with it, dragging others down into your hellish condition/world.