Rob Bell

Whatever one wishes to say about Rob Bell, he’s a marketing genius [Frankie V. tips hat to Robbie B]. Last year, Bell wrote a monster best-seller on the subject of hell called Love Wins. He set it off with a masterful “bait-and-hook” video trailer. The bait was taken, and the book caught fire . . . both kinds!

I have gone on record saying that if you’re a Christian author and you want to sell a non-fiction bestseller, you’d be wise to write on one of three topics: (1) Hell (2) Heaven (3) Christians are Too Lukewarm – They Aren’t Doing Enough to Preach the Gospel, To Make Disciples, To Make the World a Better Place – So They Need to Get Off Their Lazy Duffs and Get to Work (that title is a tad long, but you get the idea).

Write a book on those topics and you’ll have a very good chance at hitting the NY Times Bestseller List.

I’m being cereal. Dead cereal.

Anyways . . . since the release of Rob Bell’s book on hell, many have asked me what I thought about the controversial volume. (I’m always surprised by questions like that since [cough] hell isn’t one of my passions or specialties.)

My Take

In a blog post I published last year, I humored my friends and summed up my feelings on the question of hell and the controversy surrounding Rob Bell’s book. Here’s what I wrote:

At the moment, countless evangelicals are immersed in a debate about the existence and nature of hell. Does it exist? If so, what is it like? How long will it last? And who will go there . . . and why?

A fair segment of the younger people who are engaged in this debate assume that this dialogue is new. But many of them aren’t aware that the debate is ancient (centuries old), and it resurfaces on the mainstream Christian landscape every now and then. The 90s was one such time. The book Four Views on Hell originally came out in 1992 when four scholars intelligently and graciously debated one another on their diverging views of hell. (If you are interested in this subject, I’d recommend this book.) I’d also suggest Leonard Sweet’s podcast episode on the subject.

In the midst of the recent blood-up-to-the-horse’s-bit online war that’s been raging over this issue, I’ve been asked numerous times to share my view on hell. So here it is (the following statements were Tweets of mine, hence their brevity.)

The greatest Christian minds differ on the NATURE, PURPOSE and SUBJECTS of hell (subjects = who exactly will go there). But whatever we can say about it, the NT is clear on two points:

1) it exists, and 2) it’s undesirable.

Jesus Christ wins because He was willing to lose ultimately for our sake. What a Lord! #Winning

I am not a universalist.

The task of those who preach: To unveil the stunning greatness of Christ. If people see His beauty, He is irresistible.

“Jesus is not one of many ways to approach God, nor is He the best of several ways; He is the only way.” ~ A. W. Tozer

If there’s life on other planets & they need a Redeemer, Jesus of Nazareth is it.

Some people will pass out after they see who makes it in the end. Angels will be running around all over heaven with smelling salts to wake them up (Luke 13:28, example).

“A God without wrath brought men without sin into a kingdom without judgment through the ministrations of a Christ without a cross.” ~ H. Richard Niebuhr, summarizing the gospel of liberal theology.

Here’s my concluding statement on hell: When I’m finished exploring and declaring the unsearchable riches of Jesus Christ with my brothers and sisters, I’ll get around to dissecting the anatomy of hell.

‘Nuff said.

Incidentally, a few people wrote me flaming emails condemning me for not condemning Rob Bell’s book – a book I never read. A few others flamed me for not defending Bell’s book – a book I never read.

Sorry, but I don’t review books I’ve never read. And neither should you. Afterall, it’s been reported that I’m the author of “the most dangerous book people have never read.

N.T. Wright’s Take

Two months after I published my post, N.T. Wright weighed-in on the debate. You’ll see that Wright makes many of the same points:

My usual counter question is: “Why are Americans so fixated on hell?” Far more Americans ask me about hell than ever happens in my own country. And I really want to know, why is it that the most prosperous affluent nation on earth is really determined to be sure that they know precisely who is going to be frying in hell and what the temperature will be and so on.

There’s something quite disturbing about that actually, especially when your nation and mine has done quite a lot in the last decade or two to drop bombs on people elsewhere and to make a lot of other people’s lives hell. So I think there are some quite serious issues about why people want to ask that question.

Having said that, I am not a universalist. I’ve never been universalist. Someone quoted a theologian saying, “I’m not a universalist, but maybe God is.” That’s kind of a neat way of saying, “Ok, there’s stuff in Scripture which is a little puzzling about this, and we can’t be absolutely sure all down the line.”

But it seems to me that the New Testament is very clear that there are people who do reject God and reject what would have been His best will for them, and God honors that decision. How that works and how you then deal with the questions which result I have written about at some length.

I don’t think myself that Rob Bell has quite taken the same line that I did in Surprised by Hope. I haven’t actually had the conversation with Rob since his book was published. So, one of these days, we will and we’ll have that one out.

I do think it’s good to stir things up because so many people, as I say, particularly in American culture, really want to know the last fine-tuned details of hell. And it seems to be part of their faith, often a central part of their faith, that a certain number of people are simply going to go to hell and we know who these people are.

I think Rob is saying, “Hey wait a minute. Start reading the Bible differently. God is not a horrible ogre who is just determined to fry as many people as He can forever. God is actually incredibly generous and gracious and wonderful and loving and caring. And if you paint a picture of God which is other than that, then you’re producing a monster and that has long-lasting effects in Christian lives and in the church.”

Rob Bell Meets Jon Zens

I don’t know Rob Bell and vice versa. I’ve never read any of his books, and I doubt he’s read any of mine. However, my esteemed friend and colleague Jon Zens has just released a unique response to Rob Bell’s book which he curiously titled Christ Minimized.

I read the prepublication manuscript because Jon asked me to (very nicely with cherries on top). Three observations on Zen’s new book:

  1. Anything Zens writes is worth reading. Even if you disagree with him, you’ll have quite a task on your hands providing cogent answers as to why you disagree. Jon Zens is an incisive and compelling writer. For that reason, a few of his titles made my Best 100 Christian Books Ever Written list.
  2. If you believe Rob Bell’s book is “gospel” or you are convinced it’s Grade-A certified heresy, Zens’ book will throw light on the subject.
  3. Not a few Christian authors have jumped on the Rob Bell bandwagon, publishing their own titles in response to “Love Wins.” (I’ve not read those books either, by the way.) Zens, who I understand has read these other volumes, tells me that his response explores the subject from a different mountain.

That said, I commend to you Jon Zens’ newest release: Christ Minimized: A Response to Rob Bell’s LOVE WINS.

My overall statement on the book: Whether you agree or disagree with everything Jon says, his new book is an important contribution to the discussion. In addition, Jon is one of the most assessable authors I know. So you can dialogue with him directly about his book and tell him exactly where he is in error. Right Jon?, (Cough). ;-)

I hope Jon’s book sells as many copies as Love Wins has. You can aid that hope by clicking the “Tweet,” Facebook (“Like/Share”), and “StumbleUpon” buttons below. And of course, by buying a copy or two for your ole’ bad self. ;-)

Recommended Books on the Subject:

Christ Minimized: A Response to Rob Bell’s LOVE WINS in paperback

Christ Minimized: A Response to Rob Bell’s LOVE WINS in Kindle

Four Views on Hell

Four Views on Salvation in a Pluralistic World

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About Frank Viola

See my About page. Disclosure of Material Connection: Some of the links in the post above may be "affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.” Google+

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  • Jackson

    I’d like to believe that God really is love and that love never fails.

  • Patrick

    I remember when “Love Wins” came out, heck, even before it came out. Everyone was up in arms one way or ther other. I made the mistake of posting an article on Facebook by the dean Fuller Theological Seminary (who didn’t find Bell to be a heretic). I received messages from several of my friends who were appalled that I would post anything favoring Bell’s book. While I did find myself disagreeing with some of the book, it amazed me how quickly people labelled me in the universalist camp (I’m not; I actually share Wright’s views). What I learned from that whole mess was 1) Be considerate of what I post on Facebook, and 2) Don’t react so quickly to a book that’s not even published yet.

    Good stuff, Frank!

  • Greg

    I really enjoyed Christ Minimized. It presented some things I had never thought about before. Still chewing on some of the bits from it. :-)