Christian author's book on hell-is-empty and everyone-gets-saved universalism sparks charges of heresy
Skip to first unread message
Pastor Dale Morgan
Mar 1, 2011, 10:48:40 AM3/1/11
Reply to author
Sign in to reply to author
Sign in to forward
You do not have permission to delete messages in this group
Report message as abuse
Sign in to report message as abuse
Show original message
Either email addresses are anonymous for this group or you need the view member email addresses permission to view the original message
Times and The Great Falling Away
Christian author's book on hell-is-empty and
everyone-gets-saved universalism sparks charges of heresy
By Eric Marrapodi, CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor
Rob Bell, a pastor and author who has achieved rock star status in
the Christian world, is preaching a false gospel, his critics say.
And some of those critics are Christian rock stars in their own
The pastor of Mars Hill Bible Church in Grand Rapids, Michigan,
Bell has authored a book called Love Wins: A Book About Heaven,
Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived, which ignited a
firestorm of controversy over the weekend, weeks before it arrives
On Saturday, in a blog post on the popular Christian website The
Gospel Coalition, Justin Taylor blasted Bell's new book, out March
29, for teaching "false doctrine":
I’m glad that Rob Bell has the integrity to be lay his cards
on the table about universalism. It seems that this is not just
optimism about the fate of those who haven’t heard the Good News,
but (as it seems from below) full-blown
Universalism, in its broadest terms, preaches that everyone goes
to heaven and that there is no hell. Critics say it represents a
break from traditional Christianity, which they say holds that
heaven and hell are very real places. In most Christian circles,
universalism is a dirty word.
Taylor's post was quickly tweeted by several prominent pastors
connected to the Gospel Coalition, a coalition of theologically
conservative evangelical churches, and a full-blown theological
controversy was on. By Monday, Taylor's response post had racked
up a quarter million hits.
Other bloggers, meanwhile, are calling Bell an outright heretic.
Bell is not the first prominent Christian pastor to be recently
accused of wading into theologically troubled waters. Bishop
Carlton Pearson, once a mentee of famed Pentecostal televangelist
Oral Roberts, has been run out of two churches and branded a
heretic for preaching what he says is a gospel of inclusion with
broad universalist themes.
Last year, Brian McLaren – a popular Christian author and a former
pastor - was accused of breaking with Christian orthodoxy and
delving headlong into universalism in his book A New Kind of
But it's rare that theological arguments become top ten trending
topics on Twitter, as Rob Bell did on Saturday.
“To be honest, it was a pretty rough weekend,” Taylor said in a
phone interview. The 34-year-old heads the editorial content for
Crossway, a Christian publishing company in Wheaton, Illinois.
Taylor he says his blog expresses his personal opinion not the
opinion of the coalition.
"We’re talking about the big things here, things that have been
historically defined as orthodox, " he said. "I have a high degree
of confidence in what God is saying and what we can understand."
Though many things that separate Catholics, Protestants, and
Orthodox Christians, “this isn’t one of them," Taylor said. "We’ve
historically agreed on many things, the person of Christ, heaven
and hell. This isn’t a peripheral academic debate. What Rob Bell
is talking about gets to the heart of Christianity.”
Taylor has not read Bell's forthcoming book in its entirety. His
blog post was in response to the description released by Bell
publisher HarperOne and a promotional video that features Bell.
"Rob Bell hasn’t sinned against me personally,” Taylor said, which
is why he did not go to Bell before making his comments public.
Instead, Taylor said, Bell's book represents a clear example of
In the promotional video Bell refers to the nonviolent Indian
independence leader Mahatma Gandhi, a Hindu, and asks, "Gandhi's
in hell? He is?"
"And someone knows this for sure?" Bell continues. "Will billions
and billions of people burn forever in hell? And if that's the
case how do you become one of the few? "
The video follows a trend in Bell's career as a pastor: he has
long asked tough theological questions and challenged traditional
answers. The short promotional video raises lots of questions
without offering definitive answers.
"What we believe about heaven and hell is incredibly important
because it exposes what we believe about who God likes," Bell says
in it. " The good news is that love wins."
Those lines raised eyebrows for Taylor and others. "It is not
preaching the gospel as found in the New Testament," Taylor said.
"The New Testament is pretty clear if someone preaches a false
gospel… that we are to reject that and have nothing to do with
For all his hipster leanings - including black rimmed glasses -
Bell has a traditional pedigree. He went to Wheaton College, the
Harvard of Christian schools, and later graduated from Fuller
Theological Seminary with a Master of Divinity.
But the Mars Hill Bible Church, which Bell founded, is not
attached to any denomination. Were it attached to one - the
Presbyterian or Catholic church, say - his book and video could
raise eyebrows in the hierarchy and might lead to a church trial
that could result in Bell's expulsion.
"A larger denomination would take his credentials and
excommunicate him like they did to me,” Bishop Pearson told CNN.
By Sunday evening, Pearson was getting sent articles about the
Bell flap. He said it reminded him of his days as a charismatic
leader of a big church in the largest Pentecostal denomination.
His questioning of hell from the pulpit led to his ouster.
"What happened to me is happening to Rob Bell," Pearson said. "If
you denounce hell, it's like you are denouncing God. You’re going
to be called a heretic."
“I thought my people loved me and would walk through the valley of
the shadow of death with me, but they didn’t,” Pearson said.
Bell's church did not respond to requests for an interview. His
Twitter feed has been silent since he posted about writing a piece
for CNN's Belief Blog a few weeks ago. His publicist at HarperOne
said he would not be doing publicity until his book hits shelves.