Let me begin by saying I really do like Rob Bell. The Lord has used him to both teach and challenge me in my pursuit of Jesus. And although I have been unsuccessful in my attempts to contact him personally about his new book I still hope that he and I can have a conversation.
I hardly ever do a post like this; however, due to the questions I have received about his new book and the concerns I have for it…and after lots of prayer and talking with others I feel like I should share my thoughts.
I first saw Rob speak at Catalyst in 2003 where he did a talk that profoundly impacted me entitled, “Grabbing the Tassels.” In Early 2005 I again saw him speak at the C3 Conference at Fellowship Church where he did a talk entitled, “Covered in the Dust of Your Rabbi” that absolutely rocked my world and challenged me to want to become more like Christ.
I had the opportunity to speak to him at that conference and mentioned to him that I would love to come to Grand Rapids and spend some time with him…and he asked me, “when are you coming?” I gave him my cell number and he said he would call and we would set something up.
He called and in April of 2005 my wife and I flew to Grand Rapids for the weekend. He met us at the airport, carried Lucretia’s luggage for her and drove us to his home…insisting that we stay with him and his family rather than getting a hotel.
Before we move on I want everyone to understand something…Rob Bell is a human being…he has a heart, a soul…and has feelings just like the rest of us. I am quite sure he has read the Internet recently that has, for the most part, been on an extreme attack against him personally. (And…keep in mind that his wife and children have probably read those things as well. One of the unfortunate aspects of the Internet is that it has caused people to become concepts and personalities rather than real people and critics forget that!)
I saw Rob that weekend as a husband, a father and as a pastor. We shared meals together, had conversations in his living room. I attended his church and watched him teach on how to confront someone that had sinned against you the way Jesus taught in Matthew 18…and it was one of the best sermons on that passage I have ever heard.
We were able to ask each other some questions and, needless to say, the Lord used the experience to stretch me. I left that weekend in Grand Rapids knowing that Rob and I probably didn’t agree on everything theologically; however, I could still love and appreciate the guy. I saw him in environments that haters have never seen him in…and I believe in my heart that the guy really does love Jesus and is trying his best to follow him.
Now…please understand that out of this experience Rob and I didn’t become best friends and agree to exchange Christmas cards every year. In fact, I’ve only chatted with him twice since that weekend.
So…before I move on let me say once again that I know, love and appreciate Rob Bell.
Love Wins has caused quite a stir. And, for the record I have read it from cover to cover. (I honestly think it is a bit ridiculous for people to begin to share their opinions on things they haven’t actually read for themselves. AND PLEASE don’t hand me the LAME excuse that you aren’t going to “waste your money on that book” when everyone knows its true that all of us have “wasted money” on other things!) And, I have also read reviews, both positive and negative, and seen Rob in television interviews as well both explaining and defending his work.
Some people on the Internet have gotten quite cruel…and, unfortunately, the attacks against him have gotten quite personal, which is unfortunate for the church as we, once again, proves to the world that we are the only “army” on the planet that seems to take delight in shooting our wounded!
However, some people have gone to the opposite extreme and said that they refuse to speak out against Rob and what he is teaching in this book because he is such a good guy.
Here is my issue with the whole thing. Rob Bell denies the existence of hell…which is a grave theological error–period. (OK…he is now saying he believes in hell, but after reading the book it is clear that he believes in his view of hell…which is not in agreement with the totality of the Scriptures.) Yes, he did use Scripture in the book; however, I feel that his use of the Bible was, in most cases, taken way out of context to try to prove something he desperately wants to be true rather than matching up with the totality of God’s Word.
One of the things that Christians have got to get past is that we cannot disagree with someone! We live in a nation that exalts the “value” of tolerance…which is, in some cases, quite unfortunate.
Disagreement where we speak the truth in love is both godly and necessary for us to sharpen one another. But…the way those disagreements take place is what matters! We cannot (and should not) listen to everyone who has a website and an opinion…but we must be willing to engage in “iron sharpening iron” dialogue with people who genuinely love Jesus and have a heart for His church and a mutual love and respect for each other.
There were times that the Apostle Paul even called people out BY NAME for being wrong (see I Timothy 1:18-20, keeping in mind that he did so under the direct instruction of The Holy Spirit!) However, please notice that Paul called them out one time and then moved on…he did not establish a “ministry” that attacked and ripped people apart…his instructions and actions were quite opposite (see Titus 3:10).
I do think it is essential to weigh in on this issue because of the influence Rob has. Because, if a younger generation of church leaders buy into the belief that there is no hell (a place of eternal suffering and torment for those who reject Jesus) then the theological tsunami that hits the next generation of church leaders could be devastating. The theological error must be called out and corrected. There is an eternal heaven…and there is an eternal hell…and people really do spend eternity in one place or another. (Mark Driscoll recently preached one of the best messages on the subject of hell that I’ve ever heard…I highly recommend you listen to it, here is a link.)
But…I also believe that the viciousness of the attacks needs to stop. (AND…I also think it is quite sad that so many “Christians” seem to be so excited about the existence of hell when, in actuality, it should break our hearts that people are going to actually spend eternity there! If some of the people I have seen on the net that say they believe in hell would actually get out and reach the world with the same passion they have been attacking Rob with I think the entire world could be converted by this time tomorrow!!!)
However, let me say once again, to deny that hell is not a literal place of eternal suffering and torment is wrong…and I can say that even if Rob is a nice guy.
Jesus said that the world would be able to tell we are His followers by the love we have for one another (John 13:34-35). Love means we speak truth (Proverbs 27:5), wounds from a friend can be trusted (Proverbs 27:6) and the attitude in which we speak to each other matters (Ephesians 4:29-32!) So…let me say this clearly say this once again…I really do love Rob Bell and yet I really believe that on this particular issue he is wrong.
I don’t know if this post actually helped anyone…but it assisted me in processing my ideas about the issue. I will not be posting a complete review of the book because I wanted to hit what I thought about it and move on. As I stated earlier I would love to personally sit down with Rob and ask him some questions about the book. I don’t think that will happen as I am quite sure he has way more important things to do other than meet with me. But…I do hope that he has godly influences in his life who love Jesus and love him that will step in and help him what he has gotten wrong.
I will conclude by saying that love does win! Jesus Christ poured out His life for us on a cross so that we could be forgiven of our sins and spend eternity with Him (and heaven is an eternal place!) He doesn’t turn anyone away who comes to Him and is patient and kind with us as He pursues our hearts. He loved me before I ever loved Him! He redeemed me and is constantly refining me to become more like Him…and, in the end His love for me and the work He did for me makes me a winner…love does win!!!