Rob Bell, the pastor of Mars Hill “Church” in Grand Rapids, Michigan, is preparing to release a new book entitled “Love Wins.” I have long been convinced this man is a false teacher, and a dangerous one at that. And the promotions I’ve seen for his new book just accumulates more evidence in support of that conclusion. Consider his promotional video.
Bell describes an art show at his church where someone submitted a piece of art containing a quote from Gandhi. According to Bell, someone else attached a note to the piece which read, “Reality check: He’s in hell.”
Bell responds with a series of questions that appear to be rhetorical and leading. He does not answer them — but Scripture does.
Bell: “Gandhi’s in hell? He is? And someone knows this for sure?”
Well, we know this for sure: All men are sinners and are deserving of God’s wrath.
- “For we have already charged that all, both Jews and Greeks, are under sin, as it is written: ‘None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.’” — Romans 3:9-12
- “…for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,” — Romans 3:23
We know that salvation from God’s wrath is available only in the person of Jesus Christ.
- “And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.” — Acts 4:12
- “Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.” — John 3:18
Here is what we know of Gandhi: He is included in the statements about all men being sinners. He deserves God’s wrath just as much as anyone else. What we do not know for certain is whether or not he ever repented of his sin, believed the Gospel and turned to Christ in faith for the salvation of his sins. However, I know of no evidence in his writings or teachings to indicate that he ever did. If he did not, then he is, in fact, in hell. This we can know on the authority of Scripture.
Bell: Will only a few select people make it to heaven? And will billions and billions of people burn forever in hell?
Yes. When Jesus spoke of salvation in Matthew he said this…
“Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.” — Matthew 7:13-14
Bell: And if that’s the case, how do you become one of the few? Is it what you believe? Or what you say? Or what you do? Or who you know? Or something that happens in your heart? Or do you need to be initiated? Or baptized? Or take a class? Or be converted? Or born again? How does one become one of these few?
The Bible is not unclear on these things…
- “But what does it say? ‘The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart’ (that is, the word of faith that we proclaim); because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved.” — Romans 10:8-10
- “Jesus answered him, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.’ Nicodemus said to him, ‘How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?’ Jesus answered, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.’” — John 3:3-8
Bell: Because millions and millions of people were taught that 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. And so what gets subtly caught and taught is that Jesus rescues you from God.
That is the primary message of the Gospel — it is what we call the substitutionary atonement and it is the Gospel. And if the idea of Jesus rescuing us from the wrath of God has only been a subtle message then shame on us. We need to shout that warning to the world — Scripture does…
- “But because of your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed.” — Romans 2:5
- “…but for those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, there will be wrath and fury.” — Romans 2:8
- “Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God.” — Romans 5:9
- “Then the kings of the earth and the great ones and the generals and the rich and the powerful, and everyone, slave and free, hid themselves in the caves and among the rocks of the mountains, calling to the mountains and rocks, “Fall on us and hide us from the face of him who is seated on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb, for the great day of their wrath has come, and who can stand?” — Revelation 6:15-17
Bell: How could that God ever be good? How could that God ever be trusted?
I submit to you the better question: How could a God who overlooks sin ever be considered Holy or just? If some criminal burst into your home and murdered your family before your eyes you would want justice. Suppose that murderer were caught and brought before a judge who said, “I’m a very loving judge. You can go free.” You would be outraged — not only at the crime itself, but at the judge, too.
We need to understand that before God we are all much worse than the murderer described in the scenario above. We are wicked and vile and deserve every ounce of God’s wrath. Bell’s implication is that there is something in us God needs to respect. That is just plain wrong.
Bell: And how could that ever be good news?
The bad news I’ve just described is what makes the good news so good. Knowing our true standing before a Holy God, knowing how much we deserve His wrath and His justice is precisely what makes His grace and mercy so great. The good news is that God, Himself, has become the justifier of sinful men.
Bell: This is why lots of people want nothing to do with the Christian faith, because they see it as an endless list of inconsistencies and absurdities. And they say, “why would I ever want to be a part of that?”
No, lots of people want nothing to do with the Christian faith because it is foolishness to unregenerate men.
- “The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.” — 1 Corinthians 2:14
- “So the Jews gathered around him and said to him, ‘How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Christ, tell us plainly.’ Jesus answered them, ‘I told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in my Father’s name bear witness about me, but you do not believe because you are not part of my flock. My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.’” — John 10:24-27 (emphasis mine)
Now, before the Bell defenders come out of the woodwork allow me to preemptively address their objections.
Objection 1: Bell didn’t actually deny hell or actually affirm universalism.
Answer: No he didn’t. What he did was ask a lot of leading and open questions — but instead of directing people’s attention to the concrete answers provided in Scripture, rather than affirming the reason behind Christ’s sacrifice, Bell allows people to draw their own conclusions. That is a remarkably dangerous thing to do. In fact, the earliest example of this sort of question can be found in Scripture. God was quite clear in his instructions to Adam and Eve in the garden. And then there was a question…
“Now the serpent was more crafty than any other beast of the field that the LORD God had made. He said to the woman, ‘Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?” — Genesis 3:1
Anyone want to defend the serpent in this? Hey, he didn’t actually tell Eve that it was okay, all he did was ask a question. He just started a conversation. The nature of some questions is inherently deceptive. Asking deceptive and leading questions where God has already provided answers is a slippery thing to do. We don’t get to make the Gospel what we want it to be. God has already defined it and it is written down.
Objection 2: The book hasn’t been released yet. You don’t know what it says. All this video is is a promotional tool to get people to read it.
Answer: I have not read the book. But the Gospel is not marketing material. It is not some teaser to be used to sell books. It is the very word of God and it is the means through which God calls sinful men to Himself.
“For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.” — Romans 1:16
The correct answers to these questions lead to life — the wrong ones to death. If Bell is eventually going to give the correct answers he is wrong to dangle them in front of a dying world so that he may earn revenue from their purchase.
“You received without paying; give without pay.” — Matthew 10:8
Bell: What we believe about heaven and hell is incredibly important because it exposes what we believe about who god is and what God is like.
On this we agree. The converse is also true. What we believe about God exposes what we believe about heaven and hell. And, based on the teachings and writings of Bell so far — which advocate a god that bears little resemblance to the God of Scripture — I suspect he will advocate a “salvation” that bears little resemblance to the Gospel.
We’ll have to wait and see.