Rob Bell's New Book— Love Wins

It seems that there are a ton of Christians out there in cyberspace who are prepared to judge Rob Bell before his book has even been published.  As I happen to have the same publisher as Rob now has (Harper),  I called them today and talked to my senior editor this afternoon.   They are tight lipped about the content of the book and the publicist will send me one at the appropriate juncture.  It will then be time to critically evaluate  Rob’s latest thoughts.

In this post,  I have a very different beef—– I must say I am hugely disappointed in people like John Piper and Mark Driscoll, who also haven’t read the book yet, and yet are prepared to condemn Rob— one even saying dismissively— ‘Farewell Rob Bell’.   Frankly this is all too typical of the hyper-Calvinistic wing of the Evangelical world.   Shoot first, ask questions later.   They’ve even given a Reformed Evangelical like Tom Wright this sort of treatment in some cases.

And what should be said to them is— shame on you for prejudging a brother in Christ.  Shame on you for being prepared to pontificate and judge before you have even read what the man has to say.   IS THIS THE SORT OF BEHAVIOR JESUS WOULD BE HAPPY ABOUT?   I think not.   And even it it turns out there are some unBiblical ideas or thoughts in Rob’s new book, shouldn’t the approach to the matter be to first ‘go to the brother’ and gently talk to him personally about these things before  twittering, tweeting, or blogging about the matter?     Yes indeed, that is what Jesus told us to do, frankly.   He also said,  “judge not, lest you be judged”, and what he seems to have meant by that is “don’t write someone off as hell bound, lest you be judged by the same standard’, which by the way, is exactly what Rob wants us to talk about.   How about extracting some of the logs in your own eye first, before trying to be the optician of Rob Bell?    In the meanwhile, as my granny would have said,  the ethics of some Evangelical commentators is not merely going to pot,  its  ‘going to hell in a handbasket’ :)

More later, when the book comes out.   In the meantime all fair minded Christians should hold their fire.

  • Josh R

    Are you going to give us a link to show us Driscoll criticism of the book that you alledge?
    I think you are wrong about that. The only comment I have seen from Driscoll is that he is concerned, but is withholding judgment until he reads it.
    If you have seen something different show us. Otherwise I think you owe Mark an apology.

  • Leanne

    I am not sure of any quotes from Driscoll other than some tweets such as:
    “If you’re new with us, we’re the Mars Hill that doesn’t think Jesus was a liar or confused.”

    He has a couple of these little biting remarks which seem to be tossed at the whole Rob Bell situation.

  • Josh R

    I think has been on the record for a long time about his opinion of Rob Bell. He has been very specific with is criticisms. A couple days ago, I posted a lecture he gave on the subject on my blog.
    But that isn’t what this is about. Ben is accusing him of slamming “Love Wins” without reading it. Something that Mark has gone out of his way not to do. In fact, Driscoll specifically declined comment.

  • steve hays

    ben witherington

    “For the record I have had private exchanges with John Piper, just so you will know.”

    Well, that’s rather evasive. The question at issue is whether you had a private exchange with Piper regarding his Bell tweet before you blasted him.

    Likewise, you pass over in silence whether you had a private exchange with Driscoll on the same issue.

    Not to mention your all-purpose McCarthyite smear about “this is all too typical of the hyper-Calvinistic wing of the Evangelical world.”

    And, of course, that tipped your hand. The reason you don’t seem to follow your own strictures is because you have one standard for “hyper-Calvinists” and another standard for your own kind. A bigot is blind to his own bigotry. It’s always the other guy who’s bigoted.

  • Shamgar

    The comment “If you’re new with us, we’re the Mars Hill that doesn’t think Jesus was a liar or confused” was posted by @fakedriscoll, an account that parodies Mark Driscoll. You should double check to make sure that the biting comments you’re thinking of were actually made by the real Mark Driscoll.

  • Jeff

    I’m not a hyper-calvinist nor a calvinist. Nor do I care to take sides in the Bell-Piper debate – whatever that means.

    But, in terms of this blog, Ben, I think you should respond to Steve Hays last post – which raises legitimate points of concern. You did make strong accusations against Piper and Driscoll in the blog with respect to personal contact – but when questioned your responses did obfuscate the whole matter.

    Did you contact Driscoll before writing about him in this post? If not, the blog itself is inconsistent and you should have the humility to just say so.

    I personally don’t like visceral attacks. Certainly those levied against N.T. Wright were over the top at times.

    There are two big flaws in the evangelical world in the U.S.:

    1) A general lack of humility and willingness to admit that one made a mistake or was wrong to accuse prematurely, etc. Why is it so few preachers are willing to do this? To think that we don’t make such errors in judgment or simply unthinking pride is ridiculous. Humility is simply missing.

    2) The sense that doctrine has already long been “known” and so there is no need to investigate free and openly any more. This results in an “attack dog” mentality, rather than a spirit of Acts 17:11. It’s one thing to say that God’s Word is Truth and infallible. But, my (or whoever’s) conclusions are not infallible.

  • FDR

    Ben you calling out Piper.. etc. before you go them is like Furtick doing a video on Haters. and in the video he is hating on Haters. Lol .. funny how you take the judge not lest you be judge verse and apply it to this.. Love your blog by the way and your movie reviews. GO HEELS!!!

  • Josh R

    I am going to repeat myself until somebody listens.

    Mark Driscoll declined comment on Bell’s book.
    Mark Driscoll declined comment on Bell’s book.
    Mark Driscoll declined comment on Bell’s book.
    Mark Driscoll declined comment on Bell’s book.

    Pick on Piper all you want. But to drag Driscoll into it is a lie.

    It isn’t a real mystery what Bell’s book says. Bell put out a promo for it. Bell has years of sermons online. It is no mystery. If Piper is ready to write him off, Piper is ready to write him off.

    Besides, Piper is not leading this charge. If you want to have civil discourse, the person you need to talk to is Justin Taylor. Piper just agreed with his post, which was pretty darn honest, and pretty issue oriented.

    Anyway, unless I am proven wrong. Ben Witherington is doing exactly what he accuses people of doing. He is slamming Mark Driscoll for a tweet, a blog, or a facebook status that nobody has ever read. (Because Mark didn’t ever write it)

    If somebody posts an idea to a public forum, It is teaching that is out in public, and ought to be addressed publicly.

  • ben witherington

    Sorry Josh. You have ignored Driscoll’s twitter feed.


  • Richard

    Josh R

    Driscoll weighed in when he re-tweeted Taylor’s link.

  • ben witherington

    Steve you have not been paying attention for long enough. If you would bother to go to my blog archives on Beliefnet and look up the various blog posts of mine which deal substantively with Piper and his way out of line criticisms of Tom Wright, you would know that I am being very mildly critical of him here compared to what could be said. McCarthyism has to do with communism, so I plead totally innocent, and no I am not smearing anyone. The facts are the facts. The man deserves a reality check from time to time, and perhaps that’s true of most of us. Arrogance and ignorance, especially arrogance about dogma is a dog that will not hunt and remain Christian.



  • Leanne

    My bad. Sorry I thought I had checked that out and obviously was wrong about the tweets.

  • aaron

    Regardless of any bad blood generated I think it is great that the doctrine of Hell is being discussed. It seems that most American churches consider this doctrine to be the black sheep to be well hidden from the public, or at least thoroughly ignored. The fact however, is that if we do not know what fate awaits our unsaved friends and family there will not be sufficient impetus to offer them Christ.

    I would be very interested in hearing some of your critique on the annihilationist position.



  • Josh R

    No, People retweet interesting topics all of the time.

    Driscoll went out of his way to specifically decline comment on his facebook feed. That is the only comment he has made on the topic. He is not going to comment until he reads the book.

  • Josh R

    Which tweet? The one with the Question mark in it? That is Irony for you if I have ever heard it…

  • Josh R

    Here is ALL that I have seen Driscoll say on the matter:

    “For those wanting my take on Rob Bell & his new book I won’t make a personal statement until I’ve read the book. I’m praying for the best & fearing the worst as I know a bit from behind the scenes”

    Driscoll links to a lot of interesting topics on his twitter and facebook feed, I think it is clear that he does not endorse those ideas. Particularly when he goes out of his way to say so, you ought to give him the benefit of the doubt.

  • JoeyS

    I may never be found defending Driscoll again, but in this case he has held his tongue rather well. A few months ago I saw a public confession he made where he repented for speaking about public figures inappropriately in the past. I was actually quite moved by it. Don’t tell anyone ;)

  • Brad

    Hi Ben,

    While I appreciated the overall sentiment, I think you jumped the gun too when you essentially condemned John Piper as a hyper-calvinist for his rather unfortunate knee-jerk Twitter reaction…just saying.


  • Josh R

    My tweet from the day all this started brewing:

    “Looks like Rob Bell finally climbed far enough under the bus that the reformed folks feel comfortable hitting the accelerator. Thump Thump”!/jreighley/status/41660965736943616

    So I don’t really even disagree with your premise. I do think Rob Bell is responsible somewhat — He put out the video, intending to get this reaction, so that his book would sell.

    I just disagree with your hypocrisy. Thump Thump. Your foot is on the accelerator. It was Justin Taylor that climbed under your bus, but you are running over The whole YRR camp. Piper speaks for Piper.

  • graham veale

    A few thoughts on the “Piper/Driscoll” crowd

    1) I’m broadly supportive of “The Gospel Coalition”, and I don’t think that it’s helpful to define it in terms of Piper and Driscoll. Carson and Keller would both tend to be more nuanced, and less doctrinaire, in their Calvinism.

    2) To put it crudely, I do think that there is a “split” of sorts in the works (broadly down emergent/traditional evangelical lines. I imagine that this will be over the interpretation of significant doctrines, like the atonement, and morality, for example homosexuality.) And I think that this sense of an approaching split leads to a sense of panic among traditional evangelical writers.

    3) I think that the more “emergent” evangelicals have a purchasing power than exceeds their numbers, so I think that the moral panic that they cause conservative evangelical writers is unwarranted. We cannot judge their influence by counting the number of books that they publish and sell.

    4) I think that “The Gospel Coalition” is partly an attempt to ‘shore up the dam’ against emergent tendencies in evangelicalism. Now I can sign up to the TGC confession wholeheartedly. But I wonder if it couldn’t have been a little broader in outlook. There are many evangelicals that are not Reformed, or Complementarian, who are also quite conservative.

    5) I’m glad the Dr Witherington produced a commentary on Romans. It gave me a perspective on Romans 9 that went beyond standard Calvinist reading, and that was more persuasive. I’m glad that William Lane Craig has produced so much work on Middle Knowledge. It has enriched my understanding of providence and free will, and again, provided something more compelling than standard Calvinist accounts.
    Now I am, broadly speaking, still Calvinist. BW3′s reading of Romans 9, and Middle Knowledge, are both consistent with Calvinism – (perhaps not the confessional kind, though). The exchange of ideas is a good thing. So if we do have to set boundaries on evangelicalism, we need to be very careful to draw large boundaries. We should not just link arms with “evangelicals like me”.
    A consensus on which beliefs are necessary to understand what it means to need Jesus as Saviour and Lord (including what is necessary to live a Holy life) would be a good place to start. A consensus on the responsible interpretation of Scripture would be a good place to end.

    Graham Veale

  • graham veale

    Dr Witherington

    I am sympathetic to what you have written above, and I concur that some writers and preachers say unhelpful things for shock value. (To put my cards on the table, I think that Driscoll could learn from Job’s comforters. He should keep silent for a seven days and nights before speaking.)

    However, I wonder if you aren’t applying the standards of the academic world to the pastoral world. Yes, you cannot critique a book that you have not read. Yes, some of the statements about Mr Bell’s book are over the top. However, I do think that a pastoral warning of “reader beware” would be appropriate, even before the book hits the presses, given Mr Bell’s past “form”.

    G Veale

    PS; surely it can’t be right that I can seek your advice, or Alex Pruss’s advice, or Tim McGrew’s or Vic Repperts very easily…

    but to hear from other writers I need to go through an agent/publisher!!!! Something is wrong with that picture!

  • ben witherington

    Graham you have made lots of helpful comments on this thread, and I will need to ponder the issue of whether I am applying academic standards of fair play to pastors. Alas, however Piper is no mere pastor. He himself is an academic, and should be held responsible for things he says in public, for example his truly sad remarks about those killed in the bridge collapse in the city where he ministers—- Minneapolis, remarks which I found just appalling but perfectly consistent with a ‘God wills everything ultimately’ point of view.


  • graham veale

    Dr Witherington

    Thank you for the very kind comments

    “Piper is no mere pastor. He himself is an academic”

    That’s a good point; I’d forgotten about that.

    And I also have very little time for the “macho” Calvinism that prides itself on shocking outsiders, and avoids nuance and qualification as a sign of weakness. And I think that Dr Piper plays that tune too often.
    I suppose I should be clear that I’m not a “confessional Calvinist”. (I think most of the Reformed Confessions would tie me to a denial of indeterministic Free Will. )

    Graham Veale

  • graham veale

    (I should also make it clear that I am in awe of Reformed Scholars like Bruce Waltke and Paul Helm.)

  • Pennoyer

    Dr. Witherington:

    I think it would be good to mention you have edited your original post somewhat. Specifically the reference to Driscoll has been toned down. Maybe there were other changes.

    You have been very supportive and defensive of Bell over the years as concerns have been raised regarding his theology. But blending your face with Bell’s on the post graphic?

  • Nick S.

    Quick question Ben,

    Did you contact John Piper or Mark Driscoll before slamming them (and their ‘fan boys’)?

    Seriously doubt it.

  • graham veale

    But he read there comments in context…he didn’t comment on what they might say about this book. Dr Witherington commented on what they had said.

  • graham veale

    Sorry – “their comments”

  • Matthew Baker

    Hey good point. Matthew 18 is taken out of context in your article but that’s ok. Ben, you draw the same conclusions as this article at

  • Shamgar

    Has Piper made any extensive comment about Rob Bell’s new book? The most I’m aware he said was “Farewell, Rob Bell” while linking to Justin Taylor’s blog, which is frankly ambiguous beyond an expression of disapproval. Driscoll has publicly refused to comment on Rob Bell’s new book until he’s read it, and the most you’ll find in his twitter feed is “Rob Bell – Universalist?” as he also linked to Justin Taylor’s blog, which in context is only a descriptor of that link. Beyond that, both men have made various tweets regarding universalism and hell in general, but they have not been specifically towards Rob Bell but only putting up more information about the broader universalism debate. If you want to view this as driven by some ulterior motive, then that should be substantiated. Simply attaching a pejorative like “hyper-calvinist” won’t cut it.

    To further the point, both of these men were directing attention to Justin Taylor’s blog that started this whole teapot tempest. In that blog post, Taylor critiques what Rob Bell has said in his promotional video, not what he might have said in his book.

    Unless I’m missing a comment that no one has yet to quote or link to, Dr. Witherington is lambasting people for accusations they haven’t made. Nor has he addressed the Justin Taylor blog post that is the actual criticism regarding Rob Bell, nor has he addressed others such as Kevin DeYoung who publicly answered these sorts of complaints before Dr. Witherington even made them.

    So I have to ask, who was the one working off of a “shoot first, ask questions later” model here?

  • Ken Miller

    Jesus came and challenged everything. The cross changes the way people view God and changes the way that people see God viewing them.

    The church has always progressed through people challenging the status quo. Martin Luther was one who revolutionised Christian and church thinking.

    I am looking forward to reading this book because Rob Bell is a revolutionary. We have nothing to fear from anything that Rob will write in his book. I am sure that what is written will challenge our assumptions and prejudices. If our faith is strong it will strengthen it, but at worst it can only get us thinking.

    Through it all however, God will still be God. The cross will still stand and love will win.

  • Ralph

    Who is making the accusations?… or what are you blogging on? I think think that the video deserves criticism before hunderds of thousand eat this all up!

    I think you need to reevaluate your own criticism. What in the world does “love will win” all convey theologically in orthodox terms?

  • graham veale


    I don’t read “Farewell, Rob Bell” as ambiguous! Driscoll’s comment is ambiguous, and positively restrained by Driscoll’s standards. (As it happens, I’ve much more time for Piper’s writings and sermons than Driscoll’s).
    Kevin de Young’s blog post was fair, as I have come to expect from de Young, and it came closer to the “pastoral warning” that I think is warranted. I’ve only read three of de Young’s books (Why We Love the Church, Why We’re Not Emergent, and Just Do Something) and a few of his posts; but I get the impression that de Young generally gives sound and wise pastoral advice. I think he and Keller embody what is good about The Gospel Coalition.

    I think that some of the “shoot first, ask questions later” comments just come with the nature of blogging and tweeting.

    I would rather evangelicals read Bell than Spong or Peter Rollins. We might even learn something from his critique; it’s odd not to learn anything from a critique of your beliefs. And evangelicals read Chesterton and Lewis with benefit, even though both writers promoted doctrines that are beyond the pale for evangelicalism. Richard Swinburne would be a contemporary writer adored by many evangelical apologists, who (at times) seems to endorse “works righteousness”.

    At the same time, I wouldn’t want evangelicals, especially evangelical students, believing that Bell is describing what Evangelicalism could be or should be. And this is the balancing act that we need to perform. We need to give Bell’s books a fair hearing, and not allow his “rethink” of the Gospel to have too much influence.


    PS I prefer the pejorative “macho-calvinism” to “hyper-calvinism” as Hyper-Calvinism also refers to a position that Piper rejects, and has written against.

  • graham veale


    Give a blogger a break, would’ya? Comments go out thick and fast, and I wish I could reword many a comment I’ve posted!


  • Pennoyer


    I understand. My point (#74) is that Ben has made some changes that make some of the COMMENTS seem uncalled for and over-the-top. Sure, make the changes but note them.

  • graham veale

    Oh, right. Thanks Pennoyer. I’ll take my foot of my mouth now (-;

  • Josh R

    Macho doesn’t match John Piper’s physique or demenor. I found BW3′s comment about the bridge incident interesting and went back and listened to Piper’s comments on the matter.

    I don’t see a problem with his comments, but that is another topic.

  • Patty D.

    Was Jesus being “unchristlike” when He threw out the money changers and overturned their tables without first approaching each one individually to discuss the matter? Was He being “unchristlike” when He publicly called the Pharisees hypocrites and went on to excoriate them without first talking to them privately? Matthew 18 prescribes actions for when a brother sins against you personally. I think people have a right to be upset when someone appears to be calling into question –or casting aspersions on — the clear teaching of our Lord.

  • graham veale


    I was thinking more about his comments on Romans 9, or his review of Packer’s “Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God”, than about his comments about the bridge collapse. As it happens, I do think that -

    “Maybe he let it fall because he wanted all the people of Minneapolis to fear him.” “Yes, Talitha,” I said, “I am sure that is one of the reasons God let the bridge fall.”

    -wasn’t helpful. He does tend to state his more controversial beliefs very directly, and it’s this “suck it up” attitude that I dub ‘macho’. ( I’ve heard Reformed preachers say far, far worse though!)
    Piper has said a lot of helpful things, and wise things and good things. He is an important figure in Evangelicalism. For example, he has helped to build a bridge between the Pentecostal and Reformed traditions, and between the Baptist and Reformed traditions. But he should never be above criticism. While I would never go so far as to say that he has an unBiblical view of God, I do think that his views on Providence and Election could use a lot of nuancing and enriching.


  • Andy

    Mr. Witherington appears to look down on people for questioning the theology of “love wins” based upon limited pre-released material. He names Mark Driscoll as guilty. Ironically, I have not been able to find any evidence that Driscoll has commented on this publication or the pre-release material as of present. Perhaps I am missing something, but I kindly suggest that you either back up your attack on Driscoll or risk appearing a bit hypocritical. Also the word hyper-calvinist appears to be used as a lazy smear; in other words what differentiates sincere reformed theology from this “hyper-calvinism that your appear to despise so much? What in their belief system causes your to label them as the latter?

  • Matthew

    What does Piper and Driscoll’s calvinism have to do with Rob Bell new book?

    Nothing. Their views on soteriology do not apply to Bell’s book on eschatology.

    This is unwarranted name-calling.

    Here’s the facts about Driscoll’s comments: (nothing critical about Bell)

    1.) Mark Driscoll Facebook
    “For those wanting my take on Rob Bell & his new book I won’t make a personal statement until I’ve read the book. I’m praying for the best & fearing the worst as I know a bit from behind the scenes”

    2.) Driscoll’s facebook:
    “Even if u dislike a book, u have to admire the work it takes to write one. Ask yourself “How many thousands of hours went into that?”Most folks can’t even regularly update their Facebook wall”

    3) Driscoll’s twitter feed:
    “Rob Bell: Universalist? – Justin Taylor
    —-He FORWARDED a friend’s blog, that is all. I do this for my friends all the time, even if I don’t agree with them.

  • Josh R

    Matthew, I just love the fact that there is a ? in Justin Taylor’s title. It is so Ironic. That question mark was put there by Rob Bell when he posted the video.

    Rob Bell can ask provocative questions about weather God is evil, and that is kosher, but if anyone asks if Rob Bell is deceived and deceiving, they must be evil hyper-calvinists.

    Seems to me that Bell’s strongest defense (For the video) is that he is just asking questions. He is just trying to start a conversation.. It worked. People oughta be happy for him that his ploy worked. It is evil to set a conversation trap, then villianize the folks who have the gall to converse with you.

    Rob Bell to his credit remains silent.

  • Josh R

    It seems like if Bell remains silent, perhaps his fan club ought to as well — They haven’t read the book yet either…

  • graham veale

    Guys – you’re sure you’re not being a wee bit sensitive about this?
    I can cheerfully call myself a Calvinist, and I can fully understand why some of Piper’s comments could seem a bit irritating to those outside the Reformed camp. They irritate me at times, and I’m in it!
    Which is fine by my book. With a character like Piper you take the rough with the smooth. He’s going to deal out hard knocks, and he’s going to take them.


    Driscoll — very different story. Shock jock, not worth bothering with. Can’t even see why BW3 would take him under his notice, whatever he did or didn’t say.

  • graham veale

    BTW I thought long and hard before including that last statement. I just think the less attention we give Driscoll, the more likely he is to behave himself.

  • Josh R

    My nose is bent out of joint because BW3 lied about Driscoll, while pretending to be on the high road.

    Piper is fair game as far as I am concerned.

    Perhaps it was a mistake on Ben’s part. I feel the right thing to do is to point out hypocrisy when I see it.

  • user

    He chose to put it out there the way he did, and it is very unbiblical. Many will only watch the video and think “yes! I’m going to heaven!” and never read the book regardless if he says so in his book. We are told to properly judge and to watch out for false teachers. This idea of not judging is man-made and a misinterpretation of Scripture.

  • user

    re not Christ like: I think you need to go back and read the Gospels friends. Christ told those who were leading others in false teachings very clearly what he thought of them. He was bold. He was not quiet and careful, he loudly proclaimed that they were false teachers and why.

  • user

    No one has said they hoped people would go to hell.
    Ironically enough, those turning their nose up at others w/ whose theology they don’t agree are judging them. Go figure.
    GOD says that many will be in Hell and that many who even call on His name He does not know. God does. It’s not some man-made notion thought up on a whim.

  • youwanttositonyourhands?

    “I think we would maker a bigger difference for the kingdom is we would just start telling the world about Christ and quit fussing over the unknown of a book. The people that need Jesus don’t even know who Rob Bell is nor do they care.”

    The reaction isn’t about the unknown of a book. It’s about a video that tells unbelievers that they don’t need Jesus to be saved. So, I’d say that the outrage is indeed over lost souls. Lost souls who are being told that they are saved. That’s worth getting passionate about. Pretending heresy isn’t so doesn’t glorify God. Nor does it save the lost to let them believe it.