Bell is pastor of a large church in Grand Rapids, Michigan. He is the author of several books, has a popular podcast, and has released a series of teaching videos under the name NOOMA ("a series of short films that explore our world from a perspective of Jesus"). I have used these videos and some of Bell's messages as material for sharing the gospel with young people. I have always found his teaching to an awesome example of using real world examples that people can follow to illustrate the truths of the gospel. I believe the ability to take mundane observations and see Scriptural truth in them is a gift - one I have seen many times in Bell's teaching.
So Rob Bell has announced the upcoming publication of a new book called Love Wins. Here is the promotional video for it:
LOVE WINS. from Rob Bell on Vimeo.
By now some of you know that the announcement has blown up the internet. Tweets from well known pastors such as John Piper and Rick Warrren. An incredible hit rate for a blog post from Justin Taylor (the Gospel Coalition). And a backlash from many saying, "Hey, just minute! Let's wait to see the book."
Yes, let's wait. It's not fair to jump to conclusions based on promotional material and a short video. I believe we can do the cause of Christ real damage by eating our own before we really know what he's saying.
And yes, I acknowledge there's alot in the video that concerns me - but it may just be the hook to get us to read. What concerns me? Well, it seems to imply that we should subject God to our standards of what's just and fair. "How could that God ever be good? How could that God ever be trusted? And how could that ever be good news?" There is an implication that an eternal hell is contrary to the concept of a good God and that the author is prepared to reject it. But he does end by saying we'll learn what the Bible says about God and eternity, so yeah - maybe that's the hook. I hope so.
I hope so because the good news is clearly intended to be responded to. The Scripture is full of references to consequences for rejecting God, and the consequences are severe. Jesus came and provided a way back to God a great cost. Grace is costly and requires a response. All God wants is for us to begin a relationship with him. But we must do that - we must receive the gift in order to have it.
Hell is a tough concept; none of us want to believe it, because it is very unpleasant. But C.S. Lewis summed up why its necessity is logical better than anyone I've ever read:
In the long run, objectors to the doctrine of hell must answer this question: What are you asking God to do? To wipe out their past sins, and at all costs to give them a fresh start, smoothing every difficulty, and offering every miraculous help? But he has done so – in the life and death of his Son. To forgive them? They will not be forgiven. To leave them alone? Alas, that is what he does. (The Problem of Pain, C.S. Lewis)In other words, hell is simply separation from God - exactly what many of us have chosen and are choosing. It just lasts forever.
Is Bell's coming book going to teach universal salvation regardless of choices? It's too early to say and I will not pass judgment until I know for sure. But I know this: the answer will be important. No matter how much I think of the work he's done, his words as a minister of the gospel must be held to the authority of Scripture. Jesus said, "I am the way, the truth, and the life; no one come to the Father except by me." (John 14:6) I didn't say it, he did. And either he's right or he's wrong - it can't be both.
There is a difference between discernment and judgment. God asks..no...demands that we show discernment in teaching of the Word. He demands that we not pass judgment on our brothers and sisters. The former is important because truth is important and teaching sound doctrine is critical to salvation. The latter is important because of the command to love one another. May God grant us all the wisdom to discern the truth. And to love the messenger regardless. I'm praying for Rob Bell. Please pray for me.