Rob Bell is the pastor of a “mega-church” (Mars Hill) meeting in a former shopping mall in Grandville, MI. On a given Sunday, Rob Bell draws almost as many people to his services as will attend all the thirty-one churches of the Protestant Reformed Churches on the same Lord’s Day. He is a popular preacher and speaker who has written best-selling books. He produces powerful, well-orchestrated videos that have been viewed by millions. He is hailed as a creative and innovative thinker. His latest book (Love Wins)¹ has brought him remarkable notoriety, leading to interviews on several television shows and national news magazines like Time. Thousands revere him as a preacher and a spiritual leader.
For all that, Rob Bell is a lying prophet. Rob Bell is a clever, entertaining false teacher, leading all who will follow him to the eternal hell that he denies exists.
Much controversy swirls around Bell’s teaching that God’s love will melt the hard hearts of all the people who will ever have lived, resulting eventually in everybody being in heaven, and no more hell. Does he teach that? He does. In fact, his heresies go far beyond that. But the significant thing about Bell that is so unnerving to the evangelical and Reformed church world is this: Rob Bell is a consistent heretic. That is to say, his conclusions are consistent with the body of his teaching. But the essence of his message is what most evangelical and Reformed churches are teaching.
The Heretical Method
Rob Bell uses the time-tested instrument of heretics, namely, questions, especially questions laced with taunting irony. By means of such questions, Bell effectively leads down the path of error in such a way that he cannot easily be pinned down and accused of teaching contrary to the Bible. Bell also cunningly mocks Reformed (i.e., biblical) teaching, making it appear to be absurd.
A second characteristic of a heretic is a wrong view and use of the Bible. For Bell, the Bible is a collection of stories that are important because they describe what is happening to us yet today. This is the view of the German higher critic Rudolf Bultmann that what is important is the story, whether the events of the story really happened or not.
Bell badly misuses Scripture. Rather than to draw his teaching out of the whole of Scripture, he starts with a preconceived notion and finds a few lines from the Bible that ostensibly support it. He improperly places verses from two different contexts together. He selects obscure texts, which he uses to confuse the issue at hand, and ignores texts that are clear and pertinent—which contradict his teaching. He paraphrases, quotes out of context, and wrongly applies texts. For one example, in support of his view that the kingdom of God will be on the earth, Bell perverts the Lord’s prayer into a petition that “God’s kingdom come, on earth as it is in heaven.”
Third, Rob Bell wants nothing of absolute truth. Churches that maintain certain truths and reject error have a form of Christianity that he mockingly labels “brickianity.” He rather describes proper theology in terms of a trampoline spring. Such “flexibility” in theology is beneficial to a heretic for he cannot be condemned for teaching contrary to “the truth.”
Fourth, Bell cleverly wraps his lies around a kernel of truth. With that small element of truth, heretics fool many who have a limited knowledge of the Bible. Besides, when heretics are challenged, they can always point to that kernel of truth and insist that they are maintaining the truth.
This is the methodology of heretics from Arius, to Pelagius, to Arminius. Peter informs us that these false teachers “privily bring in damnable heresies” (II Pet. 2:1).
Bell’s lack of regard for honesty and truth are quickly apparent in his latest book. In the introduction, he claims that a “staggering number of people have been taught that a select few Christians will (viii). Such misrepresentation/exaggeration, common in his work, is simply inexcusable.
But what does Rob Bell teach that is heretical? Books have been written outlining his errors. We will have to limit ourselves to a few areas.
Heaven on Earth
Central to all of Bell’s theology is his insistence that heaven is on this earth. His conception of heaven is that it is a state of being, not a place as such. When we live as God wants, he writes, “the life of heaven becomes more and more present in our lives. Heaven comes to earth.” He explains, “There is this place, this realm, heaven, where things are as God desires them to be. As we live his way, heaven comes here. To this place, this world, the one we’re living in” (Elvis, 147).²
Later he writes, “The goal isn’t escaping this world but making this world the kind of place God can come to” (Elvis, 150). And again, “We are not going somewhere else at the end of time, because this world is our home. And our home is good” (Elvis, 171).
In Love Wins, Bell concludes a description of life in “heaven” thus: “Life in the age to come. If this sounds like heaven on earth, that’s because it is. Literally” (33). He pokes fun of the notion of white-robed saints in heaven—”Can you play sports in a white robe? How could it be heaven without sports?” (Love, 24).
Although Bell distinguishes between this life and the next, he never tells us how we will get to the next. Somehow all will be there. For some, it will be heaven. For others, it will be a hell.
Eventually, all will be saved, though it may take some time in “the next” life. For God, according to Bell, will give people what they want. If they “want isolation, despair and the right to be [their] own god, God graciously grants…that option” (Love, 117). Yet, Bell assures us that part of the Christian tradition maintains that “the love of God will melt every hard heart, and even the most ‘depraved sinners’ will eventually give up their resistance and turn to God” (Love, 107). So, go ahead and believe that.
An End to Hell
Rob Bell rejects the biblical teaching on hell as aplace, as an eternal destiny, and as apunishment from a righteous and holy God. Hell is a condition of life. There are “all kinds of hells” right now (Love, 79). “Poverty, injustice, suffering—they are all hells on earth” (Elvis, 148). In the next life, hell will be “the very real consequences we experience when we reject the good and true and beautiful life that God has for us” and “the evil…when we fail to live in God’s world God’s way” (Love, 93). But that is our choice, and Bell gives assurance that if we choose to live in God’s world in God’s way, we will leave hell behind, and enjoy life in heaven. Hell is not forever. It lasts as long as we choose it.
As bad as they are, Bell’s heresies go much deeper than erroneous teachings on heaven and hell. It reinterprets the cross as some kind of universal reconciliation of all things and all people to God. That reconciliation is not, emphatically not, based on a substitutionary atonement, nor some satisfaction of God’s justice. The cross is simply a testimony that, contrary to all the frightening things happening around us, “the universe is on our side” (Love, 137). The death and resurrection of Jesus is nothing new; it is a part of all religions going way back. “But the first Christians believed that this idea had been lived out in a new and unique way in Jesus’ death and resurrection” (Elvis, 140). This doctrine destroys salvation in the cross of Christ.
But Bell’s heresies go deeper, to the very being of God. Bell starts with “God is love” and “God is loving” and ends with “Love is what God is” (Love, 197). That is an unclear statement, open to interpretation. It could be a reemphasis of the biblical statement, God is love. However, it could also be understood to mean: “Love is God.” Or more properly, “Love is god.”
In support of that latter interpretation, consider Bell’s story of how he was asked to make a wedding ceremony “profound and deep and spiritual” without talking about Jesus or God or the Bible. Bell relates how he led this unbelieving couple to talk of a “force” that brought them together, which force might be the same that holds the whole world together. The couple “said they would call that glue, that force, God” (Elvis, 77).
Thus, according to Bell, God is a force. The “God” of Bell is love. That would explain why, even though Bell speaks of Jesus as the divine in human flesh, he more often describes Him as a “life force” (Elvis, 92), as the energy in the world, and the sacred power present in every dimension of creation (Love, 158).
To be perfectly plain, for Bell it is not necessary that Jesus be the incarnate Son of God. Already six years ago, Bell asked (Elvis, p. 26):
What if tomorrow someone digs up definitive proof that Jesus had a real, earthly, biological father…, and archeologists…find [his] tomb and do DNA samples and prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that the virgin birth was just a bit of mythologizing the Gospel writers threw in…?
Obviously, that is a denial of the deity of the Lord Jesus Christ. If Jesus had an earthly father, He is not God. If He is not God, there is no salvation and no Christianity.
A Better Story
Bell claims that his gospel is a better story than that which the church has proclaimed from the time of Jesus to the present. Bell’s “better story” goes something like this: God is love. In his love, he sent Jesus to die on the cross to show us that he is for us, not against us. The gospel is a story of love and renewal. Jesus’ death and renewal is important because we also experience death and resurrection. The earth is eternal. God (who is love) is seeking a people to care for the earth and to love each other. That is what God wants. If you take care of the creation, and live in love, you bring heaven to earth. If you violate the creation and live in hatred, you bring hell to earth. You choose—heaven or hell. Love lets you choose. But eventually, love wins.
As heretical as all that is, it is consistent with itself. Thus Bell creates great difficulty for many. For, though the great majority of churches today affirm much of Bell’s gospel, they are not able to stomach the conclusion. They are inconsistent in their heresies.
… to be continued.
¹ Rob Bell, Love Wins: A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived. New York: Harper One, 2010.
² Rob Bell, Velvet Elvis: Repainting the Christian Faith. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2005.