Love Wins: Rob Bell, John Piper, and Upset Christian People

Piper-bell Over the weekend, quite a squabble started over Rob Bell’s forthcoming book, Love Wins—an ironic title considering the tone of those on both sides of the squabble. John Piper, Mark Driscoll, Josh Harris and others implied or stated directly through their tweets that Rob Bell had jumped the theological shark this time…that he had become a universalist. At issue was a video promoting the book. Piper’s tweet was based on one from Justin Taylor…which also linked to the video. I have embedded the video at the bottom of the post (best viewed full-screen).

The essence of the critiques levied against Piper and friends was a perceived judgment of Bell’s beliefs and perhaps even salvation (perceived universalism) based their perception of a book they supposedly hadn’t even read yet—and a man they did not know (supposedly). I found the criticisms against Piper and friends at least as ruthless as those they issued. I’ve watched with great interest some of the traffic back and forth…and marveled at the judgmentalism on both sides.

Here are some observations in fairness to Piper and friends:

  • Piper, Driscoll, and others do know Rob Bell quite well. Those familiar with the history of the Emergent Church movement know this. They certainly know him and his teachings better than virtually anyone in the twittersphere. 
  • From their writings, you can tell both follow Rob Bell’s teachings and perceive a slalom in his orthodoxy. What I’m saying is these guys don’t freak out ignorantly. They aren’t making a rash judgment based on one video. John Piper certainly has his faults, but he isn’t poorly read or uninformed. 
  • My guess is they have read the book—or at least significant parts of it. I’m guessing here, but often pre-release copies are given to “heavyweights” out there. 
  • Universalism is heresy. If in fact Bell is a universalist (though as of now I don’t buy that at all), condemning it as heresy is absolutely right. I am troubled by those who are either too uncomfortable with the idea of hell to think anyone will go there or believe all nice, socially active people will go to heaven. The Bible’s teachings are relatively clear on the subject. Jesus is Lord and the only way for anyone to come to the Father. Those for whom Christ is Lord go to heaven, those who deny Him go to hell. People can disagree with the Bible’s position on the subject of heaven and hell, but not so much with whether or not that’s what the Bible says. It’s not fundamentalist or simplistic to believe that. It’s been the nearly unanimous understanding of the Church and it’s theologians for 2000 years. Even atheists don’t generally challenge what the Bible says about heaven and hell. They just don’t believe there is such a thing.  
  • Bell’s video is clearly made to provoke. So, if it brings him some heat…we shouldn’t feel too bad for him. I know he’s trying to sell books…but the video is designed to portray at least a feaux-universalism. I just don’t think that’s a good idea for a Christian leader. If the video is a publicity stunt, shame on Rob Bell. If it’s not…well…

 Having said that:

  • If Rob Bell’s critics haven’t yet read the book, they should reserve comment until they have.
  • I’m not sure social media is the place to air such critiques. It would seem more productive for all involved to have spirited debate in another forum.
  • Rob Bell is a very good thinker and one of the most gifted communicators the Church has seen in a generation. We should seriously consider what he’s saying and examine it honestly before dismissing it.
  • Piper’s tweet, “Farewell, Rob Bell,” is over the line. One has to interpret a bit, but it seems to me a judgment of Bell’s salvation, standing a Christian and the cutting off of personal relationship. It’s certainly too much for a social media outlet.
  • I agree with Scot McKnight’s analysis, “Justin (Taylor) may be right about what Rob believes, but if he is wrong then he owes Rob Bell a huge apology. I want to wait to see what Rob Bell says, read it for myself, and see what I think of it. Rob is tapping into what I think is the biggest issue facing evangelicalism today, and this fury shows that it just might be that big of an issue…Frankly, John Piper’s flippant dismissal of Rob Bell is unworthy of someone of Piper’s stature. The way to disagree with someone of Rob Bell’s influence is not a tweet of dismissal but a private letter or a phone call. Flippancy should have no part in judging a Christian leader’s theology, character or status.”
  • I’m amazed at the number of pastors that are offering some support for the heaven and hell position Bell conveys on the video–regardless of his actual views. That’s the subject for another post.

So here’s what I plan to do.

  • Read the book.
  • Give Rob Bell the benefit of the doubt…tie goes to Rob.
  • Whether or not this book is theologically off the cliff, I will continue to preach what I believe the Scriptures teach—that Jesus is Lord and the only name given among men by which we must (or can) be saved. He is the Way, the Truth and the Life. No one comes to the Father except through Him. We don’t work our way to heaven. It’s faith in Him. Alone.
  • If Love Wins is biblically truthful on the issue of heaven and hell, lots of apologies need to be issued toward Rob Bell by Piper and friends.
  • But, I hope Rob Bell will be more careful in the future with how he presents himself and his ideas. Presenting oneself as at least a feaux-universalist for publicity isn’t cool…if in fact that’s what’s happened. I’m going to assume that’s not what happened.
  • Love needs to guide our discussions of everything from truth to ways we communicate truth.

That’s my take. What’s yours? Why are heaven and hell such volatile topics when they are discussed today? Do we need to reexamine the church’s historical position on the subject?

Dr. Tim Spivey is Lead Planter of New Vintage Church in San Diego, California. He is the author of numerous articles and one book, "Jesus: The Powerful Servant." A sought after speaker for events, Tim also serves as Adjunct Professor of Religion at Pepperdine University. Tim serves as a church consultant, and his writings are featured on ChurchLeaders.com, Church Executive magazine, Faith Village, Sermon Central, and Giving Rocket.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.