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Rob Bell’s talking points

After my meta angle, let me change gears and start thinking about Love Wins from a more doctrinal point of view. (And no, the book still won’t be released for a month!)

A Gospel Coalition guy has produced another reaction to the promotional video. Well, Rob Bell is undoubtedly trying to get us questioning our religious assumptions. But when Kevin DeYoung claims, “the force of these sentences is to undermine — nay, to ridicule — the reality of eternal conscious punishment, the wrath of the God, and penal substitutionary atonement”, I just don’t see it. Is this a really just a matter of orthodoxy versus heresy, truth versus error?


The video’s talking points

Here’s a few comments on how I responded to the video.

Will only a few select people make it to heaven? And will billions and billions of people burn forever in hell?

  • Some of us end up sounding like the JWs: only 144,000 will really make it! Yet we’re told that there will be multitudes in heaven. While I wouldn’t say Gandhi was a Christian, I don’t believe it could ever be my place to state that he is in hell.

The primary message, the center of the gospel of Jesus, is that God is going to send you to hell unless you believe in Jesus.

  • No, I wouldn’t call that primary, or the centre. It’s well worth questioning the Christianities that assume it is.

And so what gets subtly sort of caught and taught is that Jesus rescues you from God. But would kind of God is that, that we would need to be rescued from this God? How could that God ever be good? How could that God ever be trusted? And how could that ever be good news?

  • Good question.

What you discover in the Bible is so surprising, unexpected, beautiful, that whatever we have been told and been taught, the good news is actually better than that, better than we could ever imagine.

  • Absolutely! And this is the point at which we need to weigh up Love Wins, as this guy is already doing very well. If love wins, what do we mean by ‘love’ and ‘winning’?

There is a range of Christian viewpoints on these matters. I’d probably summarise my own stance as salvation in Christ and agnosticism regarding those who haven’t heard the gospel. This is the view expressed by Alister McGrath in the Counterpoints book, Four Views on Salvation in a Pluralistic World. It’s not universalism, yet it’s not particularism. Perhaps it’s heading in the direction of inclusivism, but it’s not inclusivism either. Is it the best stance? Well, that’s up for discussion. My point is that we’re talking about a spectrum of understandings rather than a simple, cut and dried dichotomy between truth and heresy.

There’s more to be said about Love Wins, but this is an area for cheerful, fraternal conversation between Christians. After all, we count among our numbers Gregory of Nyssa, John Stott, and CS Lewis, don’t we? Let’s not kill off legitimate talking points just because they don’t suit us.

And what do you think?

Categories: Tanzanian culture Written by Arthur

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Arthur Davis

Arthur Davis is an Aussie living in Tanzania, writing at

10 replies

  1. For the record, dear readers, this is a point of contention between my dear husband and I. Like him, I reckon Rob Bell deserves more of a chance and more generosity from evangelicals than he’s getting. But I’m a little more pessimistic on the fate of the unevangelised. I wouldn’t ever state that Gandhi was in hell either – but I wouldn’t hold my breath that he was in heaven and I don’t believe in purgatory.

  2. Good posts. After this weeks assaults I had nearly forgotten that bloggers can write reasonably about this topic.

  3. I like your words Arthur…!

    I think Bell is brilliant, pointed, brave, following the rabbit where it leads him. His questions are so pointed and I think that, as judged by the severity of the responses he is getting, they are well needed to shakeup the religious… :P

    Have you seen the following posts? I think you’ll find them interesting…

    The Epistemology of Team Hell –

    Team Hell Gets Loud –

  4. I think we need to remember that the idea of a ‘heaven’ or ‘hell’ to which one departs upon death is not a particularly Biblical idea. We repose in ‘the grave’ until the resurrection to judgement or to life, and hopefully until then we are in some way ‘with Christ’ as Paul hoped. Ghandi is certainly not in hell. He’s just dead.

  5. Scot McKnight sums it up superbly:

    Friends, this is an old discussion, and there are some great studies out there. Rob Bell is almost certainly not adding something new, but he’s pushing the door open and saying, “Folks, this vast and massive room of universalism and what’s awaiting us when we die are things we must take much more seriously. The next generation of Christians are pressing upon this door and we better stop and listen and think it through one more time.”

    My contention is this: the approach to this generation is not to denounce their questions, which often enough are rooted in a heightened sensitivity to divine justice and compassion, but to probe their questions from the inside and to probe thoughtful and biblically-[responsible] resolutions. We need to show that their questions about justice and God’s gracious love are not bad questions but good questions that deserve to be explored.

  6. At some level I kind of think if there’s no Hell there’s no point doing this whole ministry thing (unless you just want to encourage people to live “resurrected lives”).

  7. Yeah, but for Bell, from what I can tell, people don’t end up in hell, they just go there for a spell.

    It’s much the same thing as being a universalist. Universalism by any other name (and this is all playing into his hands, the reformed evangelical mob who would have ignored this book are now all going to buy it).

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