Monday, March 7, 2011

Rob Bell's New Book: Don't Call It Universalism

This whole Rob Bell thing has been a brain puzzler.  That guy, he's a slippery one, for sure. But for those of you who have maybe been out of the country or perhaps fasting from social media over the last few weeks, this is what has been going on inside of evangelicalism...

Rob Bell, a leader in the postmodern emergent church movement and "a rock star in the church world," recently released a video discussing his upcoming new book "Love Wins."  This video has gotten everybody all a-lather (and a-twitter), over what appears to be an apologetics defense for Universalism.  So Christian bloggers, pastors and leaders immediately started getting out there, calling this out, and naming by name what they think this is: Universalism.

But here's the deal: yes, Rob Bell IS a Universalist - only not in the classic sense. What I mean by that is I think Bell believes - à la The Shack - in Universal Reconciliation. The difference is subtle, but, once this book is actually released, the difference is going to be enough for Bell (and all of his supporters) to slam those who are calling him out on Universalism for being alarmists and haters. And why? Because Universal Reconciliationists often use Christian terminology and claim to hold to certain Christian concepts. Like I said, the difference is subtle.

So what I suspect is that, in this new book, Bell will affirm that.....
- Absolutely, Jesus had to suffer and die on the cross.  (When what he really believes about the cross, if he is a Universal Reconciliationist, is that for us to think that this implies exclusiveness is narrow-minded because everybody gets there in the end anyway.) 
- Absolutely, there is a hell. (When what he really believes about hell - again, if he is a Universal Reconciliationst - is that there is some kind of purgatorial, burning-off-of-sins form of hell, but after that - of course - everybody gets to heaven).
So I have a suggestion about how to approach the Rob Bell thing so that maybe - just maybe - we evangelicals have at least a shot at being heard on this.  We need to call this what it is - Universal Reconciliation - and we need to know the difference between this and Universalism, so that when the verbal body slams start coming as soon as the book is released (March 15), we won't have egg on our faces and look foolish when Bell and his peeps start mocking us for saying he's denying hell and Jesus and the cross.

So let's look at Universalism, that is to say, the straight up, New Age, Oprah kind of Universalism that most people have at least some understanding of:
UNIVERSALISM: ALL paths leads to God.  You can be a Muslim, Buddhist, Christian, Hindu, Jew, whatever, and you get to God through your own path, whatever that looks like according to your faith tradition. Absolutely no Jesus necessary. (Please note that this is the main point that distinguishes Universalism from Universal Reconciliation)
In the strictest sense of Universalism, neither the cross nor any form of hell are affirmed.

And now Universal Reconciliation:
UNIVERSAL RECONCILIATION (also called CHRISTIAN UNIVERSALISM): ALL people are ultimately saved through Christ. They may not have a complete understanding of who Christ is, but in some way, the suffering and crucifixion of Jesus Christ constitutes the mechanism that provides redemption for all humanity and makes atonement for all sins.  A limited form of hell is sometimes held to, but not always.
As Todd Friel of Wretched Radio/TV recently pointed out on a great video clip, Rob Bell should have never become a problem, not if our pastors and leaders had been willing to do the hard thing, and step up and name names and call out false teachers before they - and their heresies - became full-blown.  But most of them didn't, sad to say, and the result of this has been that false teachers like Rob Bell, a postmodern hipster who has always made it his goal to be culturally relevant and thus appeal to the youth, has captured an entire generation of young people with his damnable heresies. Brothers and sisters, and especially, Christian parents: Let's please try to get ahead of this one so that we will be equipped and ready to answer back to Bell's lies.
"And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire." Rev. 20:15

 Additional Resources 

Jesus Gave Us Almost All We Know About The Doctrine of Hell

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Ad for the John MacArthur Study Bible. (Possibly the funniest thing I've ever seen.)

Get one today.  I absolutely looooove mine!!

John Ortberg Quotes Thomas Merton

Posted by Christine Pack

John Ortberg, Menlo Park Presbyterian senior pastor and co-creator of Monvee with Dallas Willard, recently tweeted this quote from Thomas Merton:
"No 1 wants 2 b thot of as a beginner. But in prayer, no 1 will ever b anything else. - Thomas Merton"
Who exactly was Thomas Merton? Why is this problematic?  For starters, Merton was a Roman Catholic monk who once compared mystical meditation to the same powerful experience generated by mind-altering drugs.  Merton also rather infamously stated that he saw "no contradiction between Buddhism and Christianity" and said that he intended to become as good a Buddhist as he could.

So my question is this: Why are so many of today's Protestant pastors and leaders (like John Ortberg) thinking that they can learn anything of spiritual growth from Roman Catholics? Roman Catholicism is an apostate, works-based religion. And it used to be that Protestants knew this.  After all, what about that little thing called "the Reformation, during which a long and bloody battle was fought to reclaim the biblical doctrine of justification by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone? A doctrine, incidentally, which is denied by the Roman Catholic church?

Monvee, the program co-created by Dallas Willard and John Ortberg, markets itself as a way for Christians to draw closer to God through something called "Spiritual Formation." But Spiritual Formation, for those who don't know, is comprised of centuries old Roman Catholic practices which are the main avenue by which mysticism is coming into today's churches.  Today's Christians who are enamoured by this Christian sounding practice try to make the distinction that there is a difference between "bad" mysticism and "good" mysticism.  Obviously, to those pleading this case, "bad" mysticism would be occultic, and eastern in origin.  But "good" mysticism, so the reasoning goes, would be a type of mysticism that is Christian, biblical, and necessary for spiritual development.  

But the "Christian" mysticism taught in Spiritual Formation courses - and recently mass-merchandised by John Ortberg in Monvee - is not Christian, and is in fact identical to classic occultic meditation practices taught in Hinduism, Buddhism, wicca, paganism, etc.  The technique is always the same: corraling one's thoughts through the use of some device (mantra, breathing, etc.), entering into an altered state of consciousness, then "listening" to God.  This is not Christian.  This is what pagans do. And wiccans. And Buddhists. And Hindus.  And just like with crack, a Monvee user will have to come back over and over again, trying to find that elusive high, trying to get another spiritual charge.  Christians "listen" to God through the study of scripture, not through using a mantra meditation to enter into an altered state of consciousness so they can get a little spiritual "bump" from God.

Instead of actually drawing a person closer to God, these occultic practices generate a "counterfeit Holy Spirit experience" which feels very real, very profound, and very spiritual.  Actually, when people engage in these practices, what they're experiencing is real and is spiritual...only, it is not from God.
"And no wonder, for even Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light." (2 Cor 11:14). 
Let me close by urging anyone reading to beware of Spiritual Formation - and please warn your brothers and sisters in Christ. We "listen" to God not by powering down and getting a spiritual "hit" from God, but by reading and studying the Bible - Sola Scriptura.  And also understand that Spiritual Formation is taught under many different names. Here are some of the most well known:
Lectio Divina 
Contemplative Prayer 
Contemplative Spirituality 
Ancient Future 
Spiritual Disciplines 
Centering Prayer 
Jesus Prayer

photo credit: Jesus In Love via photopin cc

 Additional Resources 

Monvee: Mysticism For The Masses

What is Mysticism?

The Reformation: Post Tenebras Lux

Posted by Christine Pack

Post Tenebras Lux - this was the Latin phrase that became the rallying cry of the Reformation. Its meaning:
"After the Darkness, Light"

The Middle Ages were a dark period of time, filled with despair and disease. It was a time when an illness could ravage an entire village in a week’s time, and almost a third of all children born would die before reaching the age of five. In this bleak world, there was only one thing the people could look to for comfort: the Church, with its promise of heaven. But the “Church” that the people looked to for hope and consolation was not the true Church, but instead had become a sly counterfeit that required the people to purchase, and work, their way into heaven. This apostate, counterfeit "Church" was the Roman Catholic Church. The Catholic Church, while having an appearance of being Christian, was instead a powerful political and military institution based in Rome that had grown steadily in wealth and power, and now controlled every facet of life.

Jesus Christ had lived and ministered several centuries before, bringing the gospel message of reconciliation with a holy God through repentance and faith in his atoning sacrifice alone. But this message was no longer being taught or preached. Instead, this message had been added to and perverted by the Roman Catholic Church: it was now a complex system of works through which adherents were meant to "earn" their way into heaven through their own efforts.

As Rome grew in power and influence, severe persecution of true Christians by the Roman Catholic Church had forced Christians to go underground. By God’s providence, God’s Word, the Bible, had survived this persecution, but was now kept locked in monasteries, where only the most educated priests had access to its life-giving message.

During this period of time, from the 4th century and into the 16th century, the Roman Catholic Church had grown to have a stranglehold over all of Europe. Those courageous enough to refuse to bend to Rome’s authority were cruelly persecuted, often to the point of death. Under the iron fist of Rome, the people were purposefully kept ignorant, enslaved to superstition and tradition. This was when the particularly wicked tradition of “Papal Indulgences” was born, a practice in which monks encouraged people to "buy salvation," both for themselves and for loved ones who had already died. Dying people were also convinced to deed their land and other assets to abbeys and monasteries, in order to “atone” for their earthly sins, and ensure an entrance into heaven. Not coincidentally, it was during this time that the Roman Catholic Church grew wealthy beyond imagining.

It was into this dark, despairing time that God started a revolution. It started quietly at first, with the providential invention, of all things, of the printing press. In Germany during the 1400s, a man named Johannes Gutenberg invented what came to be known as the printing press, a device which greatly increased the speed at which books could be printed…and produced them in prices that people could afford. Note the lines upon which freshly printed pages have been hung so that the ink will dry without being smudged. This may appear to be a laborious and time-consuming process to modern eyes, but up until the invention of the Gutenberg press, all books had to be hand-lettered, a process that could take many months just to produce one single book. Thus, all books, including the Bible, were very expensive, and only the wealthy, privileged and political/religious elite had access to them.

Courageous early reformers – called “Protest-ants” because they were protesting against the oppression Rome - paid with their life’s blood for the crime of translating the Bible into other languages. Other reformers spent their lives smuggling and distributing these Bibles all over Europe. People could now read for themselves what God’s Word said. The “light” was beginning to dawn all over Europe.

Through the providential invention of the printing press, and with the courageous actions of the reformers who translated the Bible into the languages of the people, the Roman Catholic Church was beginning to lose its control over the will of the people. The common people no longer had to rely upon monks and priests to “explain” the way of salvation to them. They could now read for themselves.

Some of the best known figures of the Reformation:

John Wycliffe (1320-1384) was best known for working with a colleague to translate the Bible into English. He also stated that the monks had no power to forgive sins, and that to claim such was fraudulent and unbiblical. "Who can forgive sins?" Wycliffe taught: "God alone!"

John Huss (1369-1415) translated Wycliffe’s works into Czech, and also exposed superstitions, fraudulent "miracles" and papal indulgences. He paid for his “crimes” against Rome by being burned at the stake.

Martin Luther (1483-1546) Perhaps the best known of the Reformers, Luther was a German monk who yearned for peace with God….he found it in studying the book of Romans, which he realized taught that man is justified by faith in Christ alone, and not through works. After realizing that the Roman Catholic Church was keeping the people enslaved through emphasizing good works as efficacious for salvation, as well as teaching superstitions and tradition, he wrote a famous document entitled the 95 Theses, and on October 31, 1517, nailed this document to a church door in Wittenberg, Germany. This action became known as the spark that lit the fuse that ignited the Reformation.

Martin Luther particularly despised the selling of what were known as "Indulgences." The Catholic priests of that time invented a little rhyme, well-known even to Catholics today, to encourage the sale of Indulgences:
"When a coin in the coffer rings, a soul from Purgatory springs." 
Indulgences were a man-made tradition, found nowhere in Scripture, which were claimed to reduce one's time in "Purgatory," something that also does not exist and was also a man-made teaching. The Catholic church had grown very wealthy through scaremongering people, who had no access to God's word, into paying into this system of Indulgences.

During his lifetime, Luther was hard-pressed from all sides to recant his view of salvation by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone (Eph 2:8-9), but he would not. It was at the Diet of Worms (a council drawn up to exert pressure upon Luther to recant) that he gave what came to be one of his best known dissertations in opposition to the Roman Catholic Church, as well as a concise defense of the Protestant faith. Excerpt below:
"Unless I am convinced by the testimony of the Scriptures or by clear reason (for I do not trust either in the Pope or in councils alone, since it is well known that they have often erred and contradicted themselves), I am bound by the Scriptures I have quoted and my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and will not recant anything, since it is neither safe nor right to go against conscience. May God help me. Amen"
Although many of the Reformers paid for their "crimes" against Rome with their lives, God providentially provided protection for Martin Luther, who spent 10 years translating the New Testament into German. Luther married a former nun who had also renounced her ties to Rome, and the couple had five children. Martin Luther is credited with founding the Lutheran church.

Ulrich Zwingli (1484-1531) Zwingli brought the Protestant Reformation to Switzerland, and engaged in what came to be known as the Marburg Colloquy, in which he and Martin Luther disputed various theological points. These theological distinctives, while within orthodoxy, were enough to keep the two Reformers from reaching agreement on these issues, although they did still affirm each other as brothers in the faith, and the Reformation continued.

William Tyndale (1494-1536) Tyndale was an English scholar who is known for his translation work. Tyndale authored the first English translation of the Bible that came directly from the Hebrew and Greek texts. Tyndale was burned at the stake in 1536. His crimes: translating the Bible, smuggling copies of the Bible into England in bales of cotton.

Thomas Cranmer (1489-1556) was known as the "reluctant reformer" because he believed in reform, but wanted to see reforms from within the Catholic Church. For a season he seemed to capitulate to the demands of Rome, but in the end, he publicly broke all ties to the Roman Catholic system and went to his death (he was burned at the stake) as a Protestant martyr. When Cranmer was taken to the stake upon which he was to be burned, the hand he had used to communicate his ties to Rome was the first thing he plunged into the flame, stating: "As my hand offended, writing contrary to my heart, my hand shall first be punished."

John Calvin (1509-1564) Originally trained as a lawyer, Frenchman John Calvin eventually became a key figure in the Reformation after breaking with Rome. His teaching earned him an exile in Switzerland of three years, after which he published The Institutes of Christian Religion. Calvin was a prolific writer, and during his lifetime he authored commentaries on almost every book of the Bible. His writings are credited with being foundational to the formation of the Presbyterian church.

John Knox (1514-1572) Known as the "Thundering Scot" because of his fiery preaching, John Knox led the Protestant Reformation in his homeland of Scotland, and was known for his courage. As a result of his preaching, Knox endured imprisonment in 1547 for two years as a galley slave. This grueling punishment was the cause of enduring health problems that plagued him for the rest of his life. Knox's boldness and unwavering devotion to the cause of the Reformation brought him head to head with Mary Queen of Scots who had re-established Roman Catholicism in Scotland at one point during several turbulent years of the Reformation. Known for her charm, Mary Queen of Scots was unable to work her wiles on the steadfast Scotsman with whom she had many contentious meetings. Upon his gravestone were carved the words: "Here lies one who never feared any flesh."

The Latin phrase “Post Tenebras Lux” (After Darkness, Light), then, was used to sum up what had happened during the Reformation: Truth, in the form of God’s Word, was being widely read by the common people. And into this dark world of pagan superstition, mysticism and religious tradition, people were understanding for themselves the way to salvation, which was through faith in Christ.

But if Post Tenebras Lux was the rallying cry of the Reformation, it was the Five Solas that came to stand for the core theological beliefs of the Reformers:
Sola Fide 
Sola Scriptura 
Sola Gratia 
Solus Christus 
Soli Deo Gloria
In our next article, we'll go into the Five Solas and discuss specifically how the Solas challenged and corrected the false theology of the Roman Catholic church which had taught salvation through one’s own merit, mystical practices and the sacraments. Below is a snippet of one of my favorite Reformation movies, "Luther," which stars Joseph Fiennes. You can order the entire movie here at Amazon

 Additional Resources 

Christianity vs. Roman Catholicism - A Side-By-Side Chart of the Beliefs (Sola Sisters)

The Reformation (a short paper written by my oldest son)

After The Darkness, Light (a short paper written by my youngest son)

Preparing for Eternity (former Roman Catholic Mike Gendron)

Proclaiming The Gospel (former Roman Catholic Mike Gendron)

Testimony of Richard Bennett (former Roman Catholic priest Richard Bennett)

Berean Beacon (website of former Roman Catholic priest Richard Bennett)

Catholics, Physical Suffering and Doctrines of Demons (Sola Sisters)

Biblically Explaining The Heresy of Catholicism (Dr. John MacArthur, GTY)

Redeemer's Tim Keller Recommends Ignatius of Loyola? (Sola Sisters)

Far From Rome Near To God (Amazon)

The Myth of Mother Teresa (Challies)

Mother Teresa, A Lost Soul (Berean Beacon)

Mother Teresa in Her Own Words (Sola Sisters)

CNN Reports That Mother Teresa Underwent Exorcism (CNN Archives)

BBC Reports About Exorcism Performed on Mother Teresa (BBC Archives)

Friday, March 4, 2011

What Is Mysticism?

Posted by Christine Pack
Mysticism \ˈmis-tə-ˌsi-zəm\ - the pursuit of communion with, identity with, or conscious awareness of God through direct experience, intuition, instinct or insight.
Gary Gilley, pastor of Southern View Chapel in Springfield, Illinois, in his very excellent series on mysticism, has written extensively about what exactly mysticism is, and why it must be rejected by those who hold to an orthodox view of Christianity (Mysticism - Part 1, Mysticism - Part 2, Mysticism - Part 3).

I'm writing this article as a former mystic, who was deeply, deeply deceived by mysticism for a number of years before God graciously opened my eyes and drew me out of it.  What I can attest to is that practitioners of mystical practices will generally end up having a panentheistic worldview (the belief that God is "in" all things), as opposed to the Christian worldview, which is that God created all things perfectly good, but that Adam and Eve's sin in the Garden of Eden separated man from God, and created a chasm that could not be crossed. But mystics of all religions claim to be able to cross this "divide" between God and man. In my own experiences with mysticism, the Christian worldview was seen as quaint, old-fashioned, and not a very "evolved" belief.  This is because, in the panentheistic worldview, if God is already "in" all things, then no separation exists between God and man, and thus the Christian worldview is rejected.

So practically speaking, we're going to look at how mysticism functions, and why it is so powerfully, and spiritually, deceptive. For starters, how does one enter into a mystical state? Well, there are many different techniques for this. One of the most widely used practices is mantra meditation. This is done by using a repetitive device (repeating a word, focusing on breathing, singing or speaking a phrase over and over) until the mind is emptied and "parked." The mind is not driving, it's not in reverse, it's idling. It's parked. There are other ways, of course, such as staring at a candle or an image, drumming, whirling, dancing and taking mind-altering drugs. But for our purposes here, we're going to be looking mainly at mantra meditation, as this is what is flowing, virtually unchecked, into once-solid churches.

Once a person has used the technique to "park" the brain, he or she is still awake and somewhat aware but his or her God-given boundaries are down. So what happens to a person in this state? Mantra meditation is so very seductive because it generates a very powerful, seemingly supernatural experience that can make one feel as if they are actually encountering "God." The first meditation I ever did at age 20 left me utterly convinced that I had experienced the presence of God. In hindsight, I believe that this encounter truly was supernatural. The Bible tells us that Satan himself can masquerade as an angel of light (2 Cor 11:14). So I ask you: would Satan be so bold as to actually pretend to be God? Of course he would. He's no gentleman. It's not like he would say to himself, "Well, that would be deceitful, I can't do that!" More like this: "That's deceitful - fantastic!! I wonder how many times I can fool people into thinking they're encountering God before somebody starts to catch on?" And Satan was more than happy to give me an "experience" if it would turn me away from the one true God.

Something else happened during my first meditation that I didn’t realize until years later. I came out of that FIRST meditation session I ever had with an altered worldview. Now think about that. In the space of 20 minutes (because that's all the time it takes to do a meditation), my worldview shifted dramatically. Prior to this meditation experience, as a "spiritual seeker,"as far as I was concerned all spiritual choices were still on the table for me: Christianity, Buddhism, Hinduism, paganism, gnosticism, etc. But after I had come out of that first meditation, the Christianity of the Bible was no longer a valid spiritual path for me. Why? Because Christianity is the only religion with such unbending and exclusive truth claims. ("I am the Way, the Truth, and the comes to the Father but through Me." - John 14:6, my emphasis) And meditation counters this claim by generating an experience in which a person feels a profound sense of interconnectedness and oneness with "all" that feels completely counter to the exclusive truth claims of Christianity. It feels like you have just had an encounter with God, that you have been in the presence of the Divine...only, you haven't.

Now. Let's look at the logical conclusions that practicing mystics MUST come to if they are staying true to their belief system: If I can experience God through meditation, if I can "cross the divide" through my own efforts, then the Cross of Calvary has no meaning. And Jesus was a liar when He said that He was the only way to God.  And the Bible was wrong where it says that without Christ we are dead in our sins and trespasses (no "divine inner spark" already living within each person). But it is here that a "Christian mystic" would attempt to use Genesis 1:26 as a proof text for "proving" that man is a being who contains within a divine inner spark.  Panentheists and mystics believe and teach that the 'divine inner spark bearer' (man) has "forgotten" about this divine inner spark and simply must awaken to this knowledge. And the tool used by man (the 'divine inner spark bearer') is meditation, which is used to help re-awaken man to this "knowledge" of "inner divinity.
"But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed." (Galatians 1:8)
These panentheist beliefs fly in the face of the clear teaching of Scripture, which is that, since the Fall, our nature is now corrupt.  We do not need to awaken to our inner divinity (i.e., how 'good' we already are). Instead, we must awaken to the fact that we are wretched, depraved sinners, dead in our sins, without hope or merit, and we are rightfully under God's wrath for our rebellion against him. In this state, there is nothing we can do in our own strength or flesh to bridge this divide that exists between God and man. We need a Mediator. We need a Savior. And that Savior is Jesus Christ, who makes atonement for all sinners who repent of their sins and place their faith in his atoning death. It is then  - and only then- that access to God granted. These are some of the beliefs that comprise the historic, orthodox Christian faith, and they are completely contrary to the worldview of panentheism/mysticism, which teaches nothing of sin, nothing of God's righteous wrath against sinners, and nothing of our need for a Savior.

Unfortunately, many Christians today are very innocent and naive about what mysticism is, its core theology, and the dangers of the occultic realm (which is precisely where mantra meditation leads), because they have not been warned about it by their pastors and they have had no direct personal experience with it (and in this postmodern age, direct personal experience seems to trump everything). Yet, instead of (1) following the clear mandate of scripture on this and (2) listening to those of us who have had direct personal experience with the occult and who attempt to warn about how dangerous it is, many Christians today blindly follow their leaders into any and every new teaching (Contemplative Prayer, Lectio Divina, Monvee, breath prayers, Jesus prayer, etc.). And those who sound the alarm are labeled as narrow-minded, intolerant, Pharisaical, and judgmental....not by the world, but by their fellow Christians!

Also, among professing Christians there is almost an attitude of, "Hey, I can't be deceived, I'm a Christian!" As if somehow just being a Christian renders one "deceit proof." But if this were true, then Jesus would not have given warning after warning for us to vigilantly guard against false teachers and false doctrine, and to take care that no one deceive us.  As a former mystic, I would caution anyone who would listen: promoters of Christian mysticism today say "Embrace the silence!" and will tell you that "the silence" is how you "hear from God." But the Bible says, test the spirits and flee from deception (I John 4:1), hold fast to what is true (1 Thess. 5:21), don't assume immunity from deception (Matthew 24), and that we "hear from God" by studying his Word (Heb 1:1-2).

photo credit: Joshua Berman via photopin cc

 Additional Resources 

Mysticism: Who Needs Crack?

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Review of "Love Wins" - Rob Bell's New Book - Part 1

from The Tenth Leper blog

Love Wins is my first foray into the writings of Rob Bell.  Yeah, I’ve been aware of him for years, and based on numerous quotes and such that I’ve read/heard of his in that period of time I’ve always been a bit cautious of the dude.  For some reason though I’ve always felt that I would have to read one of his books for myself before seriously engaging one of his followers.  Turns out, Love Wins, perhaps his most controversial book to date (based solely upon a promotional video on it), is that book.

Just in case you’re an irrelevant Christian who listens to Nickelback instead of Mumford and Sons,  has a burden to reach Latin America instead of Africa or Europe, and who has held out on signing up for a Twitter or Facebook account, Christians are in an uproar.  Rob Bell released a promotional video last weekend for his upcoming book Love Wins: A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived.  The video seems to strongly suggest that Rob Bell is promoting a Universalist theology. A lot of people are freaking out about it because Bell has a pretty large following.  But many preachers are wise enough to say that while the video strongly suggests a denial of the biblical understanding of Hell, we should reserve judgment until the book is actually released.

A month or so ago I got my hands on an advance-reader copy of the book and decided to take it, knowing that if ever I was going to read a book by the guy, why not his newest one which talks about hell and which I got for free?  It’s been on my bookcase since then, and after watching his promo video for the book on Saturday, I pulled it off the shelf and started it.  I finished it in two sittings, which is pretty impressive for the slow reader I am.

Very impressive.

Of course it helps when
Bell is the sort of writer that takes
great liberties with
page margins.

Great. Liberties.


Thick-rimmed glasses.

So for people curious about the book (and more than anything to process the book myself), I’ll be analyzing his book in different posts over the next several days.  My initial assessment of the book is this: I think my conviction that I should read Rob Bell before I ever publish an opinion on Rob Bell was extremely well-founded.  That’s because Bell doesn’t strike me as the guy who would ever denounce orthodox Christian beliefs outright.  He strikes me as a guy who would denounce them by retaining Christian terms and redefining them, seeking in the process to show how this new definition of such a familiar term as “hell” isn’t new at all.  Rather, the term as he uses it is how it was originally understood by the writers of the New Testament and their audiences, and we are the ones who have made it to mean something it was never meant to mean.  That’s why I’m glad I sat down to read this book for myself, because Bell doesn’t really seek to say “This isn’t in the Bible” as much as he does “That’s not actually what the Bible is saying here.”  “Do I believe in a literal hell?” he asks.  “Of course.” (p.72)  So it’s perhaps not the best route to rebuke Bell’s argument by pointing to places in Scripture that talk about Hell as a real place.  Nor is it as simple as quoting Matthew 25:46 which says that those who do evil go off to “eternal punishment.”  He’s ready for that.  Invoking the original language of the New Testament, he’ll argue his case that the punishment referred to here (better translated, he believes, as “correction”, or “pruning”, or “trimming”) doesn’t last forever in the way we understand the term “forever”.  If I were to rebuke his thoughts on Hell by pointing to Matthew 25:46, it would be clear to anyone who has read Love Wins that I had not.

The definition of “eternal” in Matthew 25:46 (which I’ll devote a whole entry to) is probably the most blunt thing I remember reading in Love Wins.  As I said, he doesn’t ever say “Hell isn’t real.”  He just challenges what we mean by it.  He’s too smart to be overly blunt throughout most of the book.  But he makes no apology for his declaration that while Hell is a real place, and people will go there, it’s not forever.  Ultimately, God’s love will prevail for every person and they will be restored.  So I would say that what the recently-released promo video for Love Wins suggests, the book confirms.

A couple final comments.  My goal is to be as fair to Rob Bell as I can. There’s a difference between going on a witch-hunt and calling someone a false prophet.   Witch-hunts are void of facts and are based on hysteria.  I want to understand Bell on his own terms and evaluate the strength of his arguments according to Scripture.  If I find him preaching something contrary to what’s in Scripture, I’ll call him out.  I’ll quote Bell extensively and to the best of my ability seek to ensure that nothing I quote would be out-of-context, which leads to my second comment: All page numbers and quotations are based off an advance-reader, uncorrected proof copy of his book.  The page numbers and the words themselves may or may not correspond exactly to the final edition of the book which will be released on March 29.  I’ll try to check on that when it is released.

With that said, I am in full agreement with Rob Bell that LOVE WINS.  But as the entries which follow will show, I disagree with his definition of “love” and “wins”.

See also:

Review of "Love Wins" - Rob Bell's New Book - Part 2

Heads Up, Christian Parents: Rob Bell Is Teaching Your Kids Universalism