What the Hell, Bell? A Response to Rob Bell’s “Love Wins”

Christian Pastor Rob Bell is raising hell these days with his latest book, Love Wins.  The controversy stems from the book’s claims about the fallacy of  the longstanding Christian teaching on hell: that it’s a real place of torment people go to if they don’t accept Jesus Christ.  Many are calling Bell a heretic, and many others are defending him, but what’s the real deal?  What is Bell really saying in this book, and should Christians be careful to watch out for his message?

I want to cover some of the credentials I have for responding to this particular book.  For one, I did actually read it.  I know this seems obvious, but I wanted to make that perfectly clear right out of the gate.  Also, I have read extensively from books covering Christian teachings and experiences.  These include a number of books by C.S. Lewis, Watchman Nee, A.W. Tozer, Billy Graham,Dietrich Bonhoeffer , and many others.  But what really makes me qualified to respond to this book is my active faith in Christ.  I take my faith seriously, and this has led me to read and study the scriptures both on my own and with others, and also to do what Jesus says.  What I’m saying is, it’s deeply personal.

Rob Bell is a big deal for the Christian community in America.  He writes very popular books and has a hugely popular video series called, NOOMA.  Bell has much influence, which is why it is wise to consider what he’s saying in his various messages.  For the most part, I am confident that Christians as a whole agree with Bell’s message about Jesus being the most important factor in anyone’s life.  If you investigate his teachings, you will find Jesus everywhere.  This is great, and may no one criticize him for it.

In Love Wins, Bell says a lot of good things.  He says, “I believe that Jesus’s story is first and foremost about the love of God for every single one of us” (4)  Certainly, who could dispute that the gospels are a radical illustration of God’s love for mankind?  He writes about how God is eager to bring us into His family and give us new life.  He identifies and criticizes overly religious Christians who attempt to do good and as a result believe themselves to be better than the rest.  He calls out Christians who are judgmental regarding homosexuals and members of other religions.  Bell focuses heavily on social justice, and identifies sex trafficking and the need for clean water in many places as a few issues that Christians should be passionate about.  This is all true and good for Bell to address.  I commend him for it.

Bell gets much right, but he gets some crucial things very wrong, which shows me why so many Christians, including the popular Christian Pastor John Piper, are opposed to his message.

The most striking aspect of Bell’s book, in my opinion, is that it completely lacks a critical piece of God.  What I am referring to is the third member of the trinity, the Holy Spirit.  Bell writes much about Jesus and God the Father, which is wonderful and good.  But it strikes me as odd that he would leave out one whom Jesus calls The Spirit of truth.

“I have much more to say to you, more than you can now bear.  But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all the truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come. He will glorify me because it is from me that he will receive what he will make known to you.  All that belongs to the Father is mine. That is why I said the Spirit will receive from me what he will make known to you.” John 16:12-15 (Emphasis added)

The Holy Spirit is a big deal.  Consider the first few chapters of the book of Acts.   Jesus told his followers to wait for the Holy Spirit to come soon after he ascended to heaven.  When the Holy Spirit came, Jesus’s followers were empowered to speak with authority about Jesus and the scriptures.  The Holy Spirit gave them the ability to speak to the hearts of the people and truly transform them.  The Holy Spirit gave them the power to heal the sick.  The Holy Spirit is the power of God that fills Christ’s followers for the purpose of saving those who are lost.  The Holy Spirit is a big deal, and Rob Bell doesn’t mention him.  Sadly, the Holy Spirit isn’t known by many Christians in America, and perhaps this is why we don’t see revival and the awesome power of God poured out.

The first few hundred years after Christ were difficult for Christians.  They were heavily persecuted.  Thousands upon thousands were murdered for their devotion to Christ.  Many endured unspeakable tortures in the name of remaining true to their faith.  Now, keeping that in mind, I want you to consider Bell’s painfully nuanced explanation of how everyone can be saved by Christ without needing to actually believe in him.

First, there is exclusivity.  Jesus is the only way. Everybody who doesn’t believe in him and follow him in the precise way  is defined by the group doing the defining isn’t saved, redeemed, going to heaven…There is that kind of exclusion.  You’re either in, or you’re going to hell.  Then there is inclusivity.  The kind that is open to all religions, the kind that trusts that good people will get in, that there is only one mountain, but it has many paths…And then there is an exclusivity on the other side of inclusivity.  This kind insists that Jesus is the way, but holds tightly to the assumption that the all-embracing, saving love of this particular Jesus the Christ will include all sorts of unexpected people from across the cultural spectrum.  As soon as the door is open to Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists…many Christians necome very uneasy, saying that then Jesus doesn’t matter anymore, the cross is irrelevant, it doesn’t matter what you believe… Not true…What Jesus does is declare that he, and he alone is saving everybody (77-78 Emphasis added)

Who would go to their death for that belief?  If everyone is going to be saved inevitably, what was wrong with all of those Christians yesterday and today who refuse to deny their lord, even at the hands of tyrants?  What’s at stake, and where is the sacrifice?  Would the same Jesus who tells us to pick up our cross and follow him then turn around and say that we don’t need to actually believe in him to find redemption with God?  Is this an intellectually and spiritually fulfilling image of God?

The final thing I want to mention is that Bell, like Brian McLaren and many others in the Emergent Church movement are pretty much declaring that Christians have gotten it wrong for 2000 years, and now they have it figured out.  All that stuff about sin bringing about God’s wrath and judgment, and the need for Christ’s death on the cross to make a way for those who believe in Him, and only Him, to be saved from eternal separation from the Almighty is outdated and misleading.  There really isn’t an ultimate consequence to rejecting God’s only Son.  All we need do is talk about it.  Ask questions with no answers.   Treat faith like one of many possible life choices.  Stand firm on no absolute truth.

I don’t want hell to exist.  Believe me.  But any honest Christian, or even a faithless scholar studying the bible would tell you that hell is spoken about rather clearly.  It’s not something that you can just choose to ignore.  All of this business about God’s wrath, though it isn’t particularly popular these days, is just as true now as it was when it was first written.  All of this business about Jesus coming to save us, and giving us His life is also just as true.

Jesus Christ is a real person, and not just a name or a figure.  When you accept him, you accept him.  You don’t accept a concept of him.  You are made new by believing in a real God.  And there are real consequences for accepting or rejecting him.


Eternity is Set

He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end.   Ecclesiastes 3:11

When a life ends, you can’t help but wonder where it went and what it means.  Is death the end all?  Do we live for a moment and then go back to the nothingness that we were during the first half of eternity?  Or, do we live on somehow?  Do we exist in a real way in a real place forever?

Today was my grandmother’s funeral.  During this time, I reflected on the time that we shared, but also the time that I never knew.  She was a member of a family of 18 brothers and sisters.  Each of them had their own life, and each of them shaped my grandmother into the woman that I knew.  There was a time that she was young, living with all of her siblings, completely unaware that she would marry my grandfather and have a son and that that son would have a son named David.  There was a time that she was my age now. There was a time that she felt as I did and as you do.  She lived her life.

It’s hard to imagine life after death, but I think it’s even harder to imagine that a life as substantial, valuable, and meaningful as this one ceases to be just because we stop breathing.  Does life come from air, or even from water?  Does it come from our flesh, or even the complex systems that move and sustain us?

Are we an accident of too much time and space?

Our hearts are set on eternity, not just because we need to convince ourselves that death isn’t the inevitable blackness that awaits us all.  Our hearts are set on eternity because it will take all of it to give the now, meaning.

We will laugh today and cry tomorrow, but what does it matter beyond our dull senses and imperfect memories if it ends in meaningless annihilation?  To say that we die  into nothing in one breath, and that my life matters right now in another, is incredible nonsense.  Either it matters now and forever, or we lie to ourselves moment to moment and work real hard to convince our children that the lie is real.

So is eternity a lie, or is it truth?

What does your heart tell you?

If He Didn’t Rise

Tomorrow is Easter.  Easter is the day that Christians remember the resurrection of Jesus Christ.  I’m still not sure where the bunny and the eggs fit in.  I guess it’s for the kids.  Rising from the dead isn’t as marketable to children as bunnies and eggs.  But what is the whole business of resurrection?  Why does it matter?  And what does it mean to you, me, and the world if it’s just a myth?

For starters, if Jesus didn’t come back to life the whole Christian religion is complete bull.  Catholics, protestants, Baptists, it doesn’t matter; you’re wasting your time and your life if Jesus didn’t rise.

If he died and stayed dead, all of those people who followed him closely while he was alive must have either been completely delusional or partners in a massive conspiracy.  Although, I don’t know what they had to gain from being crucified upside down, boiled in oil, skinned to death, and fed to lions.  If he didn’t rise, those first followers were simply mad.

If Jesus Christ did not come out of that tomb, he isn’t the savior of mankind.  If the man couldn’t even save himself, how can he save us?  He made some pretty lofty promises during his time here (“Everyone who lives in me and believes in me will never die.” John 11:26    “Whoever believe in him [Jesus] will not die but have eternal life.” John 3:16  ” And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”  Matthew 28:20)  so if he’s dead I don’t see how he can fulfill those.

If he didn’t rise, death is more powerful than life.  Death comes to us all, and we make flowery claims about loving forever and such, but it’s all just talk if Jesus is still dead.  If you’re dead, you can’t love.  You can’t give it or receive it.  Even if you write something nice and someone finds it a million years later, who cares?  You’re dead, and it doesn’t make a difference to you.  If someone as incredible as Jesus can’t overcome death, what chance do any of us have?

Finally, if Jesus didn’t rise, my prayers are now falling on deaf ears.  My cries are just dull echoes in an endless void.  My heart longs for a God that doesn’t exist.  I seek a truth that isn’t true.  I devote my thoughts, cares, and passion to meaningless dust.  The story of my life is based on a lie.  My sense of purpose is senseless.  And my hope for today, tomorrow, and eternity is groundless.

So tomorrow, if you find yourself in church and you see people singing and lifting their hands to God,  think about the resurrection.  If it’s true, you’re a fool for not joining in.  If it’s false, we’re all fools.  We’re all damned fools.

What kind of fool are you?

The Last Will and Testament of John Cadbury

The Last Will


Testament of

John Cadbury

March 10, 1889

I, Sir John Cadbury, with sound mind and able pen will now reveal my wishes and bestowals for my family, my business, and mankind.  Let it be known throughout all of England, and to the four corners of the world, that I lived a full and rich life.  Also, let it be known that I loved chocolate.  It is very good.  Very, very, very good indeed…

First, to my wife, Candia Barrow Cadbury, I leave the quilt that she knit for me.  And that is all. She once suggested that we shrink the Cadbury Creme Egg to save a few pounds.  What a wretch.

Second, to my son, Richard Cadbury, I leave co-ownership to my thriving business, and the key to my candy safe.  You may eat the five-pound custom made Cadbury Creme Egg, but please share it with someone special.

Third, to my other son, George Cadbury, I leave co-ownership to my thriving business, and the key to my money safe.  Half of the coins are chocolate, but I’m sure you won’t mind.

Fourth, to the people of the world, I leave a vision and a promise…

Before I became a candy maker, I had an awesome dream.  A giant bird made out of solid gold flew over the countryside dropping giant chocolate eggs whenever it flapped its wings.  All of the people gathered around the eggs to see what strange things had fallen from the heavens.  Soon they were holding hands and dancing in harmony.  Amidst the celebration, a terrible witch began to spread a cursed rumor: giant chocolate eggs should not be eaten because they are poisonous.  In no time at all, the people became divided.

There were those who stood by the giant eggs, and those who wished to bash them to tiny pieces.  Well, the people fought for many days, and they may have fought forever if not for the second stage of the witch’s plan.  Disguised as a businessman with a large white H on his jacket, the witch tricked the people into believing that the eggs belonged to her.  The witch even made the people carry all of the eggs to her castle.  There, she used her magic to shrink the eggs until they were almost too tiny to see.  Once she had all of her tiny eggs, she charged all the people a fortune to have just one of those minuscule eggs.  The people had forgotten the days of the giant eggs, and they had forgotten that the eggs truly belonged to all.  Only one man held firm to the truth.  And that man fought the witch by reminding the people of the giant eggs of old.  Unfortunately, by then, no one cared to listen.  Desperate, for a taste of even a tiny egg, the man stood in line with all of the others, defeated.

I share this dream and vision with you all in the hopes that you will never fall victim to any “witch” that may come to steal my product.  I do not know what the H on the witch’s shirt means, but perhaps it stands for my evil competitor, Milton Hershey.

  The fiend only cares about making a profit, and he will steal your money if he has to!  Do not let him, or any other profiteering villain fool you into buying a shriveled candy at exorbitant prices.

People of the world, the Cadbury Creme Egg is meant to be 39 grams.  It shall be no more and no less.  Accept no alternatives.  As long as a Cadbury is in charge of production, you will get the candy that you deserve.

John Cadbury

Thinking Like a Feminist: Yes, You Read That Correctly

Certain words are inflammatory.  I seem to remember writing a post about this a few months back.   Words like abortion, liberal, conservative, gay, lesbian, Christian, Muslim, etc have the potential to really get the blood going.  Another example would be the word, feminist.  Some people hear this and they get excited about female empowerment and gender based justice, and others become irritated at the thought of Joy Behar and Rachel Maddow going off on a sarcastic tangent.  Certainly, we all have a gut reaction to the word.

I have used the title, Thinking Like a Feminist, but I’m sure I’m not using the word exactly as it is meant to be used. (Notice that I used the word used three times in that sentence.  This breaks one of my “unwritten” rules on sentence structure.)  For my purposes today I am using it with the meaning, women’s advocate.  So, my title is really, Thinking Like a Women’s Advocate.  Very good.

I recently saw the film, Limitless, with Bradley Cooper.  The premise is that he’s a struggling loser of a writer who gets access to a drug that makes him a zillion times smarter.  In a few short days he finishes an incredible book and finds that he can convince any woman to have sex with him.  Then he… oh, wait a second.  What did I just type?  Let’s see here, “he can convince any woman to have sex with him.”  Hmm, what’s that about?

This character learns that with all of his new-found confidence and smarts he can charm women into sleeping with him.  It’s actually a little like what Bill Murray did in Groundhog Day when he learned all about Nancy in order to eventually sleep with her.  But Groundhog Day revolves around a solid love for the female lead, so I don’t think it can be condemned on this front.

In one scene Cooper’s character seduces his angry landlord’s wife.  She goes from hating him to lusting after him in about five minutes.  I found this, and similar occurrences in the film to be troubling.  What does this say about men and women?  What does this say about women?  I don’t think it’s good.

Showing a male lead easily seducing women by charming them is not new to Hollywood.  Just about every Bond film has him charming the pants off of women in order to engage in shallow sex.  How many times have you seen a male character use manipulation in order to sleep with a female character?  Too many, I assure you.  When someone is “The Man” they can disarm any woman.  Women are helpless to resist.  What’s wrong with this?

Do you remember the Garden of Eden?  Remember when the serpent manipulated the woman (some would say charmed) into disobeying God by eating the fruit?  How is this any different?  You have the strong, charming, confident character exercising his dominance over a “weaker” creature.  Just as Eve appeared helpless to resist the clever devil, women on screen cannot seem to resist confident clever men.  This exercise in dominance should infuriate anyone who claims to love women.  It implies that women are the objects of male pleasure, and also that they lack moral fortitude and value as individuals.

I want to see women respected and valued in art and in life.  When a man dominates a woman by cleverness and superior will,  true lovers of women should be stirred to anger and action.  If this makes me a feminist, well, I guess it is so.  I’m just as surprised as you.

Charlie Sheen is Winning: No, Really

Ask Charlie Sheen and he will tell you that he is a winner.  If you challenge him on this point he will call you a loser and assure you that he is “winning”.  Is this man crazy?  Or, is he actually winning?

The truth is that Charlie Sheen is a winner.  He has tons of money, fame, power, and sex.  He had a tremendously popular sitcom that made him millions on top of his millions.  He was the star of that sitcom, and it is nothing without him.  Most people know his name, and he is currently at the center of the pop-culture universe.

Charlie Sheen knows what he wants and he gets it.  He is a winner.  By his definition, he is winning.  He has all of the things that the world tells you to want.  He has them, and he isn’t ashamed.  He has all of the things that you’re supposed to have and he is right when he says that you are a loser for not having them.  Charlie Sheen is the master of his own universe.  The world revolves around him and that is exactly what he wants.  Charlie Sheen is winning.

No, you say.  You say that he is troubled and delusional.  You say that he is burnt out from years of drug use.  So?  Even if that’s the case, he is still winning.  He believes that he is winning, and isn’t that enough?  If what’s true for me isn’t true for you, and if truth is a relative subjective thing, who are you to judge Charlie Sheen?  To him, he is winning.  You are a loser.

Charlie Sheen is winning because that’s the truth he believes.  There is no greater truth that reveals him to be delusional.

Who are you to say otherwise?