Monday, February 28, 2011

Blog previews of Rob Bell's new Book: Love Wins

I think "we're facing a classic storm-in-a-teacup-scenario."  Rob Bell of Mars Hill church, once the nice ('nicer' than Driscoll anyway, of a different Mars Hill) young face of the now defunct Emerging Church movement and now a mega-church leader in his own right is about to release a book about universalism: Love Wins.

Based on a few pre-released chapters, a promotional video and the publisher's blurb blogger Justin Taylor sounds the alarm.  "Don't be so suspicious and judgmental" clammers some in the blogeshphere.  The storm in the tea-cup has been partly created by John Piper's breathless condemnation of Bell on Twitter, hardly the location for in-depth analysis or calm reaction.   However Justin is a careful blogger, a real American-evangelical-standout and if you read his article carefully you notice he gives his suspicions but reserves his judgment for the full release later in March.

[Update] Then again come March, I suspect Trevin Wax who blogs at Kingdom People may be right:
Until the book comes out, I don’t think we can accurately label Rob a “universalist.” Based on Rob’s tendency to ask edgy questions and then pull back, I expect that somewhere in the book, Rob will affirm that people who don’t want to be part of God’s kingdom won’t be forced to. In the end, Rob will land somewhere between optimistic inclusivism (most everyone will be saved) and universalism (all will be saved).
This is probably accurate because Bell is often frustratingly fuzzy, Gandalf would not have been impressed!


Alex Smith said...

Love the image, although I think this will be more than a storm in a tea cup. I think, like Packer & Parry, that this may well be the next big thing for Christianity to work through.

I thought Piper's tweet was very unloving and it's made me loose a lot of respect for him.

Justin's "this video from Bell himself shows that he is moving farther and farther away from anything resembling biblical Christianity" is fairly strong for a review of a 3m promo video, that asked more questions than it answered. He should have had the guts to leave his original post, which said "this video seems to...". Furthermore, as you know, I think Evangelical Universalism is biblical.

Anyway, I can't wait to read the book and really hope he's an Evangelical Universalist :)

Alex Smith said...

I found someone who has actually read the book and quotes it:

John Dekker said...

I've been wary of Rob Bell for quite a while, ever since I read on his church's website that

Since story is central to our belief about God, our words about God—our theology—exists in the form of a narrative ... You won't find isolated text references or a list of specific propositions in it, because ultimately neither of those things best reflects what we believe about God.

I have no problems with JT's post. Bell is responsible for what is on the blurb, not the publisher. And I notice that the blogger who has read the book says "the author does go in the direction that this well known preacher claims."

And if Bell is orthodox in his thinking, but being provocative in order to sell books, that probably makes things even worse...

Alex Smith said...

Bell may well still be orthodox, because universalism CAN be orthodox. In fact it can even be Evangelical :)

Universalism doesn't have to equate to pluralism or liberalism.

Alex Smith said...

Oh and I love the narrative on his website, very accessible for lay people.

Alex Smith said...

Robin Parry (aka Gregory MacDonald) has kindly allowed me to post the PowerPoint presentation he gave at the Conference on Evangelicalism and Universalism at Spurgeon's College (London) in February 2011. The conference was booked out, with 86 people attending.

Luke Isham said...


I'm not sure how representative or mainstream Bell is, the two Mars Hill's represent diverging streams of American evangelism. As for Piper's comment it did seem presumptuous.

About Justin, I'm not sure what you mean "having had the guts to leave the original post"? I think he genuinely felt he jumped the gun and is waiting to have his suspicions about Bell confirmed.

Alex Smith said...

As I understand it, Justin originally said, "this video from Bell himself seems to show that he is moving farther and farther away from anything resembling biblical Christianity" to the more harsh, "this video from Bell himself shows that he is moving farther and farther away from anything resembling biblical Christianity" i.e. he originally was giving some benefit of the doubt, but after being pressured by commenters made the statement stronger.

Luke Isham said...

Ah yes, point number two of Justin's modified post:

2) I updated a couple of things on the original post. First, I deleted “seems to” with regard to Bell’s moving farther away from biblical Christianity. Second, I changed “unambiguous about his universalism” to “lay his cards on the table about universalism.” Third, I deleted the 2 Cor. 11:14-15 reference at the end. I do think it’s important to recognize the biblical theme that false teachers look like cuddly sheep and like angels of light. But let’s wait for the book so we can see all his cards laid out on the table.

I've never seen a comment thread so long, it'll be interesting to see what Bell actually writes, either way he's sold a lot of copies from the publicity.

John Dekker said...

What makes you say it's orthodox, Alex?

The Athanasian Creed says "Whosoever will be saved, before all things it is necessary that he hold the Catholic Faith." That clearly teaches that not everyone is saved. And it makes this explicit at the end when it says "And they that have done good shall go into life everlasting; and they that have done evil, into everlasting fire."

But maybe we first need to clear up what we mean by "orthodox". Or "evangelical", for that matter.

Alex Smith said...

I'm glad you asked :D

There's a lot that can be said on the topic, but let's start with the Athanasian Creed (which coincidently I was looking at recently, as Richard Abanes raised it).

You're welcome to join in the more thorough discussion of it ( but I'll try to condense it here.

Like any creed, it's uninspired. Furthermore, looking at what has to say, this creed doesn't look that good e.g. it probably wasn't even written by Athanasius:
1. The creed originally was most likely written in Latin, while Athanasius composed in Greek.

2. Neither Athanasius nor his contemporaries ever mention the Creed.

3. It is not mentioned in any records of the ecumenical councils.

4. It appears to address theological concerns that developed after Athanasius died (including the filioque).

5. The creed has never gained much acceptance among Eastern Christians.

Anyway, leaving that aside, just because someone goes into God's everlasting fire, doesn't mean God can't take them back out of it again. Augustine certainly saw this as a possibility (Augustine's City of God, book 11, chapter 24), and so did many theologians up until Calvin. (Note: the fire could continue burning forever without anyone in it)

That's just the first 2 points. Now to condense the few pages of reasons Jason wrote (Luke will appreciate that!)...

Luke Isham said...

While I'd have to check the historical veracity of each of those criticisms, I'd be surprised to find a Western church that didn't recognize it as part of their definition of orthodoxy, for example it's part of the Anglican prayer book.

But John's question is a good one, what do you mean by "orthodox", Alex? (I mean that genuinely I don't have a secret definition up my sleeve, but wonder how you are defining it?)

Alex Smith said...

Neither of us "hold the Catholic Faith" as we aren't Roman Catholics, but we could ignore that, or consider it as catholic/universal faith, or consider that the Protestants are the true continuation of the Church.

Jason says, "the structure of the AthCreed is pretty clear: there's the catholic trinitarian faith statement, divided into two portions; and a wrapping statement including a brief bridging element.

The trinitarian faith statement is what the wrapper calls "the catholic faith". The wrapper is not itself "the catholic faith"; which is good because the wrapper is pretty explicitly gnostic in theology! ("Whosoever will be saved, before all things it is necessary for him to hold the Catholic faith. Which faith, except everyone do keep it whole and undefiled, without doubt he shall perish everlastingly ... He therefore that will be saved must thus think of the Trinity. Furthermore, it is necessary to everlasting salvation that he also believes rightly the Incarnation of the Lord Jesus Christ ... This is the Catholic Faith, except which a man believes rightly, he cannot be saved.")

As can be seen above, the wrapper is quite distinct from the content of the Creed itself. Anyone who agreed with the Protestant Reformation thrust against the notion of salvation by works, ought to be able to see huge problems with the wrapper, especially the first sentence."

Alex Smith said...

Sorry Luke, I didn't see you post whilst I was writing mine :)

Ok, I'm happy to move on from the "Athanasian Creed", and try to define orthodoxy and show why I see EU as part of it.

Robin addresses this topic in both his books, which is were I'll source most of my material, as I haven't been to bible college like you two.

Alex Smith said...

Ok, I've started a discussion called What is the definition of Orthodoxy?

In the introduction to 'All Shall Be Well', Robin wrote, "As the declarations of early ecumenical councils were taken as binding by both eastern and western churches, they set the standard for orthodoxy in all mainstream Christian churches—Orthodox, Roman Catholic, and Protestant."

I assume the "declarations of early ecumenical councils" are the councils up to the Second Council of Nicea?

Alex Smith said...

Luke (& anyone else who's interested), what do you think of How to Discuss Rob Bell without Killing Each Other?

Luke Isham said...

Hey Alex,

I was more interested in your definition of "orthodoxy"!

(Regarding Jason's criticisms of the Athanasian Creed, I think he introduces a false division in the content in order to make the concluding statement more favorable to Universalism.)

Generally (Theopedia is more helpful at this point) the first four creeds and the first seven councils are taken as the starting point of traditional catholic (universal) Christianity.

Alex Smith said...

Sorry to disappoint. If I pulled a definition off the top of my head it would've been something like: "Something that is Christocentric, Bible based, Trinitarian, and ideally not ruled out by the early church in their creeds & councils."

Robin's statement sounds right to me, and it lines up with what I've read elsewhere. The Theopedia sounds good too, but unfortunately I'm ignorant of all the content of the creeds & councils.

(That was only the beginning of Jason's argument...)

John Dekker said...

From the forum:

"Well, first I assume he's a Roman Catholic."

This happens all the time...

But this is *before* there's "Roman Catholicism", so I would argue I *am* holding the "catholic faith".

"the wrapper is pretty explicitly gnostic in theology"

I thought I saw a proof by assertion there. In any case, I don't see the wrapper as being merely rhetorical promotional commentary, but part of the Creed itself - even if it is later, it has always been accepted as part of the Creed. Even if "the wrapper has not been agreed to in an ecumenical council", it has still been received by the churches.

Alex Smith said...

Thanks for taking the time to read the full thing, saves me condensing and reposting it here :)

I agree John, that's why I said, "consider it as catholic/universal faith, or consider that the Protestants are the true continuation of the Church".

What about the issues that it's uninspired, probably wasn't written by Athanasius, and has never gained much acceptance among Eastern Christians (i.e. are Eastern Christians not Orthodox)?

Andrew Bowles said...

'Gandalf would not have been impressed!'

Do not meddle in the affairs of John Piper, for he is not subtle, and quick to anger.

Andrew Bowles said...

'...and quick to Twitter' would have been funnier.

Luke Isham said...

*chuckle*, did you want me to edit it?

No-one's saying the creed is or should be inspired. Church tradition, the core of which we call orthodoxy, has a beginning: the first few creeds and early councils. (You can't escape church tradition, you either reject it for some sort of individualism like some fundies in America do, or invent your own like the Mormons.)

Stephen Brown said...

“Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it."

Now I'm pretty certain that Jesus didn't think Universalism was compatible with his gospel. Then again, I could be a 'narrow-minded' on this...gee I hope so!

I'd be sad if Bell went down the broad 'universal' road.

Stephen Brown said...

'Farewell, Rob Bell." That's actually a very polite salutation Andrew. No slander, no anger, just a good-bye. Can I ask what is wrong with that?

Yet, you seem to feel free to accuse by 'clever' insulation that John is 'angry' and 'not subtle'. How so?

Do you know John Piper? Have you spoken to him on this matter? Do you know his motives and emotions?

Farewell Andrew

P.S. Please Luke, don't laugh, it only encourages them.

Alex Smith said...

We have discussed these verses on my forum a few times (e.g. Basically, the narrow gate implies Jesus will always be the only way. Most people don't pass through it in this lifetime and therefore end up in hell. Fortunately the narrow gate isn't ever closed and eventually all those in hell will pass through it.

Alex Smith said...

"Farewell" is what you'd say at a funeral. It implies that you won't see the person anymore, which wasn't fair given Piper hadn't even discussed the matter with Rob yet (or read the book). I believe Piper may have even apologised later for being too dismissive?

Melissa said...

Now I'm sure Piper doesn't think Bell is dead!

But if Bell has (and I hope he hasn't) embraced Universalism then he most certainly is dead to the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ.

If Piper apologised, then that's his decision based upon his own conscience. What I don't like seeing is little people slandering giants like Piper without knowing his mind or motives.

If you're so keen on giving Bell the benefit of the doubt, please extend that same benefit to John.

We need to have some respect for both men.

Melissa said...

Alex, interesting take on that passage.

So in the end it doesn't really matter which gate you go through then?

Jesus, you really are a funny guy getting all worked up over nothing!

Andrew Bowles said...

Hello Stephen.

I seem to get into trouble with references to Gandalf here, though I blame Luke for bringing it up. :)

I think there does seem to be a consensus that John Piper was intemperate in using Twitter that way (even Luke, who admires Piper a lot more than I do, called it a 'breathless condemnation' in this post). To compare him to Gandalf was just an amusing image to me, as it suggests the stern older man who doesn't suffer nonsense and speaks hard words ('fool of a Took!') but has a good heart. I do think that Piper was lacking subtlety in this instance, and was indeed too quick to express himself on Twitter in a way that has obviously been read by people who follow him as expressing displeasure towards Rob Bell. We can say a lot with a few words, can't we?

Peace, please. A Middle Earth joke is not worth hard words between believers. If it causes offence, take it down.

Luke Isham said...

OK, moderating hat on.


"Woah there, nelly", I like a good debate as much as the next man, but please don't drive Andrew away.

Everyone, ,

Attack the argument, don't hold back. But we're all real people here, except for Shyborg, whose a cybernetic being, so please be gentle with each other on a personal level.

Moderating hat off.


Melissa's raised an interesting point. Even post-mortum [sp?] salvation (itself a tricky area given the fuzzy zone of death, and what happens exactly and for how long as you die), would posit that it's salvation on the way to that door, not backtracking to it later.


Piper having a Gandalf moment, I'm cool with that.

Alex Smith said...

I agree Melissa, which is why I think he apologised for being too harsh. I totally agree that we shouldn’t slander Piper. I wasn’t, and as far as I can tell likening him to Gandalf in jest, is partially a compliment, as Gandalf had many Christlike qualities in Tolkien’s world.

I have found many things Piper has said over the years helpful, and I imagine I will in the future :)

Why is universalsim (let’s assume he’s going for the Evangelical variety, like myself) dead to the gospel? E.g. “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” makes no mention of death as the deadline for belief. In fact up until Calvin, death wasn’t seen as the definite deadline.

Jesus stressed that if you don’t take the narrow gate, you will suffer incredible pain and suffering, so yes it does matter which gate you go through.

Sorry Luke, what does [sp?] mean? Jesus is the door. Salvation is only through Him. When and where are secondary.

John Dekker said...

Alex, "[sp?]" means Luke wasn't sure of the spelling. Don't give him a hard time, or I'll report you to the DNA.