Bell Book The evangelical world was rocked a bit last week by a debate created by Rob Bell's forthcoming book, Love Wins (Harper/Collins, 2011). I read the posts attacking the book, written by Reformed writers who speak with deep certitude about everything they seem to talk about in opinion pieces. Some even went so far as to condemn Bell as a heretic. (Where have I heard this before?)

Into the fray came Mark Galli, senior managing editor of Christianity Today. Galli offers a reasoned, well-written critique of the whole debate, a well as a measured response to Rob Bell’s book. Galli actually read an advance copy and expresses some doubts about Bell’s real views on hell. (This leads me to think the critics should have read the book before they began their attacks. I will withhold judgment until I have read the book, something that just seems obvious to any honest expression of agreement or disagreement!) What Galli makes very clear is that believing in conscious, eternal torment for all who are condemned in the final judgment may still be the majority evangelical view but that does not make it the only evangelical view. And it clearly doesn’t make it the only view in the mainstream of the whole, historic Christian Church.

Scholars Richard Bauckham and Scot McKnight have both noted that the ground on this topic has been shifting for several decades. Galli writes: “The traditional view may well be grounded ever more deeply and solidly as a result of re-engaging this topic. Or it may be altered, as have many doctrines, by rigorous theological discussion. But we won't be able to discern where the Spirit is leading if we don't listen and respond respectfully to one another. God once used a donkey to make his will known, so surely he is able to speak through both traditionalists and gadflies.” Amen!

Galli Read Galli’s review carefully. It runs to five pages and is worth your time. Gather all the comments and interaction you can before you leap off the building and start attacking Rob Bell, a favorite target for the neo-Reformed truth squad. I make this statement with deep and sincere sadness since I am a Reformed minister. The truth is I often find myself standing outside the “young, restless and Reformed” movement. What I long for is more civility and real historical honesty. If you read the Mark Galli article, and I hope that you will, please take note of the conservative Reformed theologians and teachers who insisted that this doctrinal issue was still open for differing perspectives and thus it was not a test for confessional agreement in every case; e.g. John Stott and Roger Nicole, etc.

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  1. Tim March 7, 2011 at 5:39 am

    Sounds like the new adage should be, “Don’t judge a book by its video promo.”
    Thanks for the link to the CT article.

  2. HC March 7, 2011 at 6:58 am

    Quote>(This leads me to think the critics should have read the book before they began their attacks. I will withhold judgment until I have read the book, something that just seems obvious to any honest expression of agreement or disagreement!)

  3. Tom P. Warner March 7, 2011 at 7:54 am

    Thanks for your reasoned approach, John. I would encourage anyone who wants to reexaine the issue to read The Fire That Consumes by Edward Fudge. He presents a careful study of all the biblical material related to final punishment, and concludes that the finally unrepentant will experience the complete destruction of body and soul after whatever conscious suffering they deserve.
    A revised version is due out this summer with a forward by Richard Baumham. See for information.

  4. Brad Fallon March 7, 2011 at 11:12 pm

    Yes I think it would be fair enough to read the book before you give any comments. How can your comment be reliable and truthful if it is not base on something that you have read. Sometimes people act on a different note because they are narrow-minded and ignorant about a certain facts of life.

  5. Andrew March 9, 2011 at 1:13 am

    good article by mark. i expect to see NT Wright referenced along the way here – i dont think the words for hell are as interchangeable in the bible as we have been led to believe.

  6. Wes Wetherell March 12, 2011 at 11:04 am

    I’m wondering about your view on two things: First, do you see this as a concern particularly to the reformed community? Second, how ought one respond to this statement from Rob Bell (which, as it is included in the preface, ought be viewed as at least somewhat representative of his position): “A staggering number of people have been taught that a select few Christians will spend forever in a peaceful, joyous place called heaven, while the rest of humanity spends forever in torment and punishment in hell with no chance for anything better…. This is misguided and toxic and ultimately subverts the contagious spread of Jesus’ message of love, peace, forgiveness, and joy that our world desperately needs to hear.”

  7. Mike Clawson March 20, 2011 at 5:04 pm

    John – thank you once again for approaching a topic like this with rationality, generosity, and fairness. You give me hope brother!

  8. Ron Decker April 26, 2011 at 8:52 am

    As a Christian, I would ask to remind other Christians about the PHARISEE and the SADDUCEE, and remind us all that Jesus Christ “Hated” the “religiosity” of his day, and more than likely laughs at the “stupidity” of the quote/ unquote conservative and liberal inside war that has been perpetually losing ground for thousands of years.
    This really goes to prove the truth, that no matter how “intelligent” these people “think” they are; they are really doing nothing more than showing the rest of the world, whom they are trying to convert, that being smart, shows no signs of intelligence at all. Why, because if you honestly think about it… The Bible is really only a “limited” source of information about God, and His Son Jesus Christ.
    Human Nature, knows little to nothing, about God, and what only God has allowed us to try and understand about Him, is truly limited for our own sakes, and to be used as part of His judgement against us.
    Ever since going to a couple of Bible Schools, and years later, did I come to this truth about life.
    It’s not whether you are conservative or liberal (are you all blind because of your education?)
    Who the hell are any of you to think that you will EVER be able to figure God out, on the limited bit of information that He has given us?
    Personally, I can’t stand any of your actions of immaturity, you have been displaying to the world around you. I think you are all idiots.
    For Gods sake… Grow up, and get off yourselves. Because NONE of you are right.
    Let “GOD” be the judge of all, because you all are proving the fact that none of you can do the job properly. And, who are any of you to judge anyone? You’re all just a bunch of stupid humans (sinners)like the rest of us.
    My judgement will be bad enough, yet “I have no fear of what God will do with me.” Why? Because I trust His love will judge me with understanding of every single detail of my life; the reasons for why I made the choices I made.
    God doesn’t give a damn about who you are, and or how popular, or impressive you were to man-kind, or that you made a name for yourself, or whether you were conservative or liberal…
    Come on Hypocrites !!! Grow UP for once.

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