Rob Bell and C.S. Lewis (by Jeff Cook)

This post is by a friend of the Jesus Creed blog; Jeff’s got a strong point to make about Rob Bell’s new book and the seeming culture war at work in the responses. He isn’t suggesting that such a battle is all that is in play, and I’m asking us to give his post a very careful hearing and reading. I’m not enough of a CS Lewis expert to give a definitive answer, though I always have thought the end of The Last Battle went in a universalistic direction. Perhaps we can have some CS Lewis experts speak up today.

Rob Bell, CS Lewis, and the Real Argument at Hand

After a couple of weeks of dialogue it is clear to me that the primary issue in the debate over Love Wins: A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived is not about what Bell is saying, but how he says it.

I suspect many felt poked in the eye by the way Harper and Rob decided to market Love Wins. I suspect Bell intimidates some because he is part of a culture they do not understand and cannot control (that culture is urban, postmodern, and discovers the truth more naturally through questions, sarcasm, and intuition than through the systematic presentations of the top Christian publishing house).

And let’s not kid ourselves, I suspect the fire behind the debate is often about envy and resentment of a very talented man, about our own inability to get a hearing in the public square, and about the fear that new ways of talking about Jesus might trump what some have preached for decades.

These issues are big, but they are not only about doctrine. The issues at hand are about culture and control, about how the theology of emerging Christians will be defined, and about the continuing fight between postmodern and modern expressions of Christianity. This seems clear to me now, for I would like to defend the following claim:

There’s not one controversial idea in Love Wins that is not clearly voiced as a real possibility by the most popular evangelical writer of the last century, CS Lewis.

Lewis and Bell hint at a number of theological possibilities in their writings that cut against what we might call the majority opinion, including: the possibility that those in hell might journey toward the grace of God after death, the possibility that those who have not heard the name of Jesus might find salvation in and through the image of Christ in their own pagan stories and myths, the possibility that some will eventually receive God’s grace freely after death, the possibility that hell is about bigger things than God’s wrath, the insistence that the metaphors describing what Jesus’ cross accomplishes and how his work is applied to us are culturally subjective, and that some ancient pictures of the atonement may be too confusing to help us right here, right now. All of these lines of thought were in Lewis’s writings before they were in Love Wins.

Let’s look at one example. Though I [Jeff Cook] do not hold the following position (I’m an annihilationist regarding hell), consider how Lewis, like Bell, advances the possibility that those in hell might one day journey toward the grace of God after death. Lewis writes, “I would pay any price to be able to say ‘All will be saved’ but my reason retorts, ‘Without their will, or with it?’” Notice in this and other quotes like it, the salvation of a soul is not dependent on God’s will, but the will of the damned. In the same vein, he wrote, “I believe that if a million chances were likely to do good, they would be given” (The Problem of Pain, 110). This is a confession that God wants to save all and would provide such roads if God thought they’d work.

As such, Lewis’s leaves the gates of heaven wide open through the way he structures reality in The Great Divorce. He frequently insistented that Hell is locked from the inside, and continually insists that hell is self-chosen—all of these point to the possibility that one day some of the damned may choose to be restored, and that God may welcome them like a prodigal son through the saving work of Christ. In fact, both Bell and Lewis argue, “Humanity is already ‘saved’ in principle; we individuals have to appropriate that salvation” (Mere Christianity 156). As such, I see every reason to think that Rob has an identical ontology of hell to CS Lewis, Rob however has more faith in the ability of some to eventually repent, that is the only real difference between them—and it is a belief about people not about God and God’s desires.

So I ask, Is there one idea in Love Wins that is not already grounded in word or metaphor in the writings of evangelicalism’s best-selling author? If not, then certainly Lewis—a far more substantial and influential thinker than Rob to modern American Christianity—has been worthy of our fire for decades now.

But that’s just it. The debate over Love Wins is not actually a fight only about doctrine. It is about angst caused by different cultures and philosophical precommitments. It’s about language and how we articulate what is real. It’s about the acceptance or rejection of postmodern ways of expressing what is most vital to us. It is about two cultures crashing together like a cold and warm front and causing a storm. Sure Rob is throwing theological hand grenades in that trailer and on the back cover, but as he rightly says in the intro to Love Wins, he’s not claiming anything new. We would be wise to pursue the real dialogue—the more important dialogue—at hand in American Christianity. We need to openly converse about postmodernity and modernity, their effect on doctrine, and especially how Christians who assume very different epistemologies can actually champion each other instead of drawing pistols every time they disagree in this new century.

Jeff Cook is a professor of philosophy at the University of Northern Colorado and the author of Seven: the Deadly Sins and the Beatitudes. *

About Scot McKnight

Scot McKnight is a recognized authority on the New Testament, early Christianity, and the historical Jesus. McKnight, author of more than fifty books, is the Professor of New Testament at Northern Seminary in Lombard, IL.

  • Tom1st

    I just read The Great Divorce for the first time 2 months ago. When Bell’s book started being debated, I thought to myself, ‘Wait a second, he’s ripping off Lewis’s theology without Lewis’s story.’

    All that to say – I think this post is right on track. And your observations regarding control and culture are a much needed addition to this discussion…though, those who are actually fearful are probably not likely to hear what you’re saying. Nevertheless, I’m glad you have voiced these things. It’s helpful to those of us trying to work through this subject.

  • Christopher Benson

    Hello Jeff. We’re neighbors, so to speak. I also live in Colorado. What gives me pause is your emphatic claim that “the debate over LOVE WINS is not actually a fight about doctrine,” and then you enumerate what it’s about. First, who gets to say what any debate is “actually” about? Second, I’ve followed the debate here and elsewhere, and I think it’s only fair to acknowledge that doctrinal concerns are at work. If Bell is a universalist, he’s adopted a position that has been regarded as heretical in church history and lacks sufficient biblical warrant. In short, it seems you’re positing an either/or fallacy. The debate can be about all the things you say it is, and also about doctrine.

  • John C

    I agree that Bell’s positions are foreshadowed (perhaps even lifted from) Lewis, but I can see why the former has generated far more controversy than the latter. Despite what American evangelicals claim, Lewis was not a card-carrying Evangelical. He had little or no involvement in Britain’s evangelical subculture, and didn’t self-identify as a (conservative or liberal) Evangelical. He was an Anglican mere (Trinitarian) Christian. Bell, however, is an American evangelical insider – reared at Wheaton, trained at Fuller. So stricter standards are expected of him! And he didn’t write the Narnia books, which might have given him a free pass.

  • Joshua Wooden

    Christopher Benson made my comment for me. I think doctrine is certainly an issue here- if it isn’t, then we have to explain away Taylor, DeYoung, Mohler, et al. away on the grounds that they are wholly ignorant of the cultural wars and their influence on this debate, and I don’t think that they are. I think doctrine is the central issue here, but I think it would be foolish to overlook the factors enumerated on above.

    The discussion on liberal/conservative, orthodox/unorthodox has a great deal to do with Modernism and Post-modernism and the fact that conservative Evangelicals (the context in which I was born and raised) view post-modernism with hostility, as though modernism was infallible. Though conservative Evangelicalism is extremely critical of pop culture, it seems poorly equipped to actually engage it.

  • james petticrew

    I am no CS Lewis expert either but I do wonder if the description of him as a “popular evangelical writer” is accurate? To my knowledge Lewis never self-identified himself as an evangelical and during his life time. In fact many evangelicals here in the UK were his contemporaries were wary of him. It would perhaps me more accurate to describe him as the “most popular writer amongst evangelicals in the 20th century.”

    I am also no expert on Rob Bell and don’t know whether he has expressed any wish to be identified as evangelical either?

    I think the general point stands. Many of Bell’s critics have probably quoted Lewis with approval in the past while condemning Bell as a subversive threat to evangelical belief in the present when both writers are very close to each other in what they say. It would be gracious to give Bell the same respect we give Lewis even if our conclusions about some aspects of theology are different.

  • Watchman

    I hate to bring up the age old theological debate. But, Lewis was clearly Arminian in his theology which explains a lot about both Lewis’ and Bell’s theology. If you take ME (US and YOU) out of the equation, it paints God in a whole different light, namely His complete sovereignty both in the here and now and in the afterlife which none of this would be an issue.

  • james petticrew

    Watchman, may I respectfully ask that you read, Roger Olson’s Arminian Theology: Myths and Realities before making comments like that. I would also be interested if you can provide any direct quotes or statements by CS Lewis in which he describes himself as an Arminian? You may think that his theology has Arminian traits but that does not make him an Arminian or a representative of Armininian theology.

    As an evangelical Arminian I could equally say that Rob Bell’s theology has traits of the Reformed position as its essential deterministic. Both Calvinism and Universalism are both deterministic theologies in which, in my view, God’s Grace is undermined and so nullified. Both theological positions, predestination and universalism, portray a God who doesn’t by Grace offer choice to those He has created in His Image, either the choice to be embraced by His Grace or to resist His Grace.

    I have no wish to open the eternal debate about predestination just to point out that belief in double predestination does not solve the questions around this issue and indeed for many of us it raises more theological questions than provides answers. Also to make yet another appeal that Reformed people understand classic Arminianism before they make accusations about people being “Armininian”

  • Rick

    “I suspect the fire behind the debate is often about envy and resentment of a very talented man, about our own inability to get a hearing in the public square…”

    I found that to be an unnecessary comment, and one that tainted the rest of the post. I agree with Christopher and Joshua above: this is largely about doctrine.

    I also think they are not seeing Bell in the light of Lewis because they are seeing him more in the light of McLaren.

  • Randy Boswell

    Christopher, could you point us to when universalism was deemed heretical? Never happened. Common misconception. Well, except by the current doctrinal police who have assumed the role of council for all of evangelical Christianity. Further, have you ever read a well thought out universalism based on Scripture? One that actually does the text justice?

    The major, broad streams of Christian tradition, in my opinion, Arminianism and Calvinism, and the minority report of universalists throughout church history, all come to Scripture with a different hermeneutical framework. Each places primary weight on various texts within Scripture and then chooses to interpret those texts deemed difficult to their respective position through those primary texts. For example a Reformed thinker would focus on Romans 9-11 and Ephesians 2 as primary texts and interpret Hebrews 6 through that grid. We all do it, we all place primary weight on variegated texts and secondary weight on other texts. It is a simply fact of hermeneutics that we often fail to acknowledge.

    The relation to the current discussion is this: a universalistic hermeneutical framework functions no differently than the two major strands of Christian thought. They place primary weight on various texts and interpret the rest of Scripture through these texts. If, they can successfully fit the difficult texts into their framework with integrity, I think it is scriptural. And I feel as if certain versions of Christo-centric, crucio-centric universalism do just that.

  • Jason Lee

    this comes across to me as strongly relativizing: “the metaphors describing what Jesus’ cross accomplishes and how his work is applied to us are culturally subjective”

    where is it in lewis?

  • Michael Hochstetler

    Neither Bell nor Lewis should be evaluated simply in terms of what theological positions they advocated. The issue is more complex than that. It isn’t just a question of whether Bell teaches universalism or not; it’s partly a question of whether he is helping or hindering the Body of Christ in taking to heart the spirit and intent of what Our Lord taught. Different folks will answer that question in very different ways, but the point is that it isn’t enough just to line up Bell’s and Lewis’ respective “isms” for comparison.

  • Scot McKnight

    I need to step in to make a comment. Jeff Cook’s piece should have said “The debate over Love Wins is not actually a fight only about doctrine.” An editorial change to the post was not reflected in that sentence but it was reflected in an earlier statement.

    So, to be clear, Jeff is not saying this is “not about doctrine” but this is not “only” about doctrine. It was a slight overstatement on his part that has been corrected.

  • Scot McKnight


    Your opening is too strong. In 553 Origen’s form of universalism was condemned in the famous “Condemnations.” Whether or not contemporary evangelicalism accepts conciliar creeds is another matter altogether, but it can’t be denied that universalism was the subject of condemnation at 553. There is dispute about how those were applied, and why someone like Nyssa wasn’t implicated, but universalism was the subject of a condemnation.

    Here is the source and wording:

    Condemnations of Origen (CE 553)

    Canones IX contra Origenea. Text in E. Schwartz, ed., Acta Conciliorua Oecuaenicorua III:213f.1

    If anyone says or holds that the punishment of the demons and of impious human beings is temporary and will at some time cone to an end; or that there will be a restoration of demons or of impi¬ous human beings: let his be anathema.

    Anathema, then, against Origen (also called Ada¬ cantiua) because he set forth these views, together with his abominable and accursed teachings; and against any person who holds these views or defends then or dares to set then forth at any time in any respect.

  • Randy Boswell


    I agree wholeheartedly with you that Origen’s form of universalism was condemned as heresy. (Sorry for the strong opening!) Most of the sources, I’ve read that defend universalism agree with this fact, yet they also point out that it was Origen’s form of universalism that was condemned and not universalism per se. Tom Gregg’s “Barth, Origen and Universal Salvation” argues this point, as does Gregg’s essay (and various other essays) in “‘All Shall Be Well’: Explorations in Universal Salvation,” edited by Gregory MacDonald.

    Origen’s form of universalism included many problematic Platonic elements of thought and the above sources would argue that this is why his form of universal salvation was condemned. The pre-existence of souls and such were and are controversial and on my understanding of the controversy surrounding Origen, this is why his doctrine of universal salvation was condemned as heresy. It seems hard to disentangle his Platonic strands from his universalism cleanly and say that universalism as such, in every form, was condemned.

    Scot, are there any other places in Christian history that I’m missing where universalism is condemned as heresy?

  • briank

    Bell rips off CS lewis, CS Lewis rips off George MacDonald….
    Bell & MacDonald came out of “Church Culture” & were strongly opposed by the Calvinists. CS Lewis came out of Academia. Most of the Chruch was excited that they had a convert & they seemed to ignored the things they may have disagreed with. I think where Bell comes from is as important as the way he is expressing his beliefs. Some in “Church Culture” do not want to see the children grow up into “post-modern Christians”. Fear is what hurting dialog. peace.

  • A Kirk

    The bottomw line is, is Rob Bells claims Biblical? and they are NOT, this man Dr Michael Brown sums it up well here.

    The facts about heaven and hell are being taken and made into ambiguities.

    The Bible is the Bible, its truth is as true today as it ever was. The truth is not changed to fit into our culture, our culture should be changed according to the Bible.

  • Watchman


    Would not Arminian’s theological points refute those of Calvins? If so, since I am very well acquainted with Calvin’s five points, then I must be somewhat aware of Arminians’s. Although Lewis never claimed to be either Arminian or Calvinist, his books (The Great Divorce and Mere Christianity) very much allude to Arminian beliefs. After all, it was Lewis’ “choice” that obligated him to leave atheism and profess a belief in Christ.

    My point is that we wouldn’t be having this discussion if Bell and Lewis were not Arminian in their theology.

    And, I will indeed respectfully agree to read your recommended book. However, my “To Be Read” list is quite lengthy at this time and it may be years before I get to it.



  • Jeff Stewart

    C.S. Lewis is dead. Therefore he is afforded more respect since Rob Bell is living. Fact of life.

  • Scot McKnight


    I’m not yet persuaded it is so simple as Origenist NeoPlatonic universalism, and that alone, because the lines are about the restoration of all things and temporary punishment.

    Not the order: Anyone and only in the second paragraph is there something about Origen. The logic is clear: a general anathema followed by a particular instance, Origen.

    There didn’t need to be another anathema, or as you say any other places, against universalism; this was it.

    An eye-ball memory view: once 553 was uttered, universalism largely disappeared until the 19th Century, no?

  • Scot McKnight

    Watchman, let’s drop the Arminian-Calvinist debate. I see it as unhelpful. There is no doubt that Bell is strong on a libertarian free will commitment, but that does not lead to a theology of second chance. After all, one of the stronger (almost) universalists of the 20th Century was a Reformed thinker in Switzerland… and some of the stronger forms of universalism appear in Reformed clothing.

  • A Kirk

    I think to level this whole thing on if they are Arminian or Calvinist is a little wide of the point. We all have theological flaws, to think one is completely right and the other wrong would us very proud. We’re all fleshing out our theology as we grow in understanding, focusing more on how it is all fleshed out.

    At the end of the day we should be striving with deep sincerity to be more like Christ and seeking after the Fathers heart. He looks at our heart, and not all our books and deep thoughts. Theology is important, but not as important as fleshing out Christs commands, and seeking after Him above all else.

  • james petticrew

    Watchman … Lewis is very far from being an Arminian in several ways and I don’t want to hijack this posting. I would suggest reading this

    If Lewis does not identify himself as Arminian it is hardly fair to condemn Arminian theology using him as a representative. Wesley was clearly a self identifying Arminian, he published the Arminian Magazine, he therefore can be used as a representative of Arminian theology.

  • Randy Boswell


    From my perspective, I would call Bell a hopeful universalist, meaning that he hopes all will be saved without actually moving to the level of a deterministic schema. Bell simply says that all will have the chance to make a choice after this life has ended (thus, the comments painting him as Arminian, correctly or incorrectly), without saying they will actually make that choice or not. He leaves it open. A dogmatic universalist on the other hand would say that ALL will unequivocally be saved and this is a deterministic schema for sure. Think Barth (no matter what he says!) or P.T. Forsyth’s forms of universalism. This distinction is vitally important to the current debate and isn’t mentioned enough.

    And Roger Olson’s book you mentioned is amazing. Cleared up so many misconceptions for me about the common picture of Arminian theology painted by Reformed evangelicals. In fact, it has made me come down hard on my Reformed sisters and brothers for their caricatures of Arminian theology. In my reading of Bell, he isn’t deterministic, but he doesn’t necessarily portray all the characteristics of Arminian theology either. I think his soteriology is weak. That is my bigger complaint about his book…

  • Rick


    Would you say that council also condemned annihilationism?

    In regards to the tough on Bell/easy on Lewis issue, Kevin DeYoung (one of the first critics to review the new book) had a critical post about Lewis just earlier this year.

  • Anthony

    I understand The Great Divorce to say that in eternity we will be locked in to the trajectory we freely choose in this life, even if free will is still present. Much like an addict is a person with the ability to choose, at some point they can’t do it on their own barring an intervention from God. And in hell, the addicts to sin and self will get no Divine intervention.
    As for the Last Battle, the most controversial aspect is the idea that pagan religions can lead to God if people respond to the best of their ability and knowledge to the revelation they have, even if it is incorrect. A just God (so the reasoning goes) can not hold people responsible for that which they do not know.

  • bill

    I am reading Bell’s book and find some agreement with Lewis. Nice post, Jeff.

  • Scot McKnight

    Rick, that’s trickier. I’d say No. The “temporary” issue at that time wasn’t annihilation but ending of punishment that resulted in reconciliation. Annihilation, in effect, isn’t a temporary punishment but an eternal one.

  • Pastor Matt

    I agree with the others who have commented that Lewis is not an evangelical. Indeed, long before this debate, John Piper, Kevin DeYoung and others have been quick to point out that while there is much to appreciate about Lewis, he was NOT an evangelical.

    Also, I think it is unhelpful to ascribe intentions to others whether they are fans of Bell’s work or not. I do not think that many of Bell’s most outspoken critics are jealous at all.

    I pastor a church in a college town and our average member is male (60%), approximately 24 and de-churched (i.e., raised in an evangelical church but left at 18 or before). Generally speaking, they are not reading Bell. Many of them had never heard of him until the controversy surrounding Love Wins.

    They do know Tim Keller (The Prodigal God book having truly struck a note) and listen to Mark Driscoll (for good or for ill) and, at the risk of looking like I’m sucking up, they know and appreciate Jesus Creed.

    This is anecdotal to be sure, but I don’t see jealousy as a factor. I do think it is about doctrine and many pastors do fear that their parishoners will abandon the doctrine of hell because of cultural pressure using Love Wins as an excuse because a local pastor always must labor an uphill battle against anything popular because, for many, if it is popular it must be right.

    I have read Love Wins and actually appreciate how Bell speaks…it is the substance that bothers me.

    Grace and peace,

  • Pedro

    James (comment 4), Rob said in his interview with Newsweek in New York that he considers himself “orthodox and evangelical to the bone.”

  • Taylor G

    Seems to me that CS Lewis would say something slightly universal, but then he would qualify it with a couple statements in the other direction offering the tension to the reader. Does Rob ever do this? (I haven’t got my copy of Love Wins yet, but it’s coming!)

  • jeff cook

    So it seems only a few are taking up my challenge. Again, friends, what is in Love Wins that you do not already see in Lewis?

    Comments 10 and 24–which I will respond to shortly–are the only ones targeting this debate. Hit me with something. Certainly the best selling Christian author of the last century is not in the same camp as Rob Bell….right?

    Much love – Jeff

  • jeff cook

    Check that – 29 as well.

  • Steve L.

    What does Love Wins have that can not be seen in Lewis? Does a brilliant marketing campaign count?

  • Josh T.

    I don’t know if the similarities between Bell and Lewis are so crystal clear. In reading several of the quotes from the new book and/or interviews with Bell, what I noticed immediately was a definite Lewis-derived influence on Bell’s thinking. However, something didn’t quite sit right with me in the way Rob is presenting his ideas vis-a-vis Lewis.

    Here’s my take, and I very well may be wrong (my impression may be way off base). When I hear Lewis speak of things in Mere Christianity, the Problem of Pain, The Great Divorce, etc., I hear speculations and dialogue with himself trying to make sense of difficult and troubling issues, without necessarily taking a hard-and-fast line (to me, he seems to be speculating within a certain level of agnosticism about the subject). Even in the Great Divorce, he says explicitly in the Preface, “I beg readers to remember that this is a fantasy… . …[the transmortal conditions] are not even a guess or speculation at what may actually await us.” In the Last Battle, there is only one person in the enemy’s camp that ends up saved, despite being on the opposing side. I don’t think I would call that Universalistic (nor second chance during hell).

    Then somehow we have Rob Bell’s work, and to me–again, I may be way off base here–it seems that Rob Bell, a supposedly evangelical pastor, seems to come off as more dogmatic about these difficult issues, despite being a more postmodern thinker/writer.

    Maybe I’m wrong about the dogmatism on this, but heck, the books is called Love Wins. I’m somewhat of an agnostic about these issues, myself, but I have doubts about second chances after death, though I’d be happy to be wrong.

  • Randy Boswell


    Went back to the sources and realized that the two anathemas you listed earlier are part of Justinian’s anathemas prior to the formal council and not actually a part of the council itself. They were actually only part of a local council.
    The link to them is here (along with the scholarly source used), listing them as Justinian’s anathemas:

    It is dispute is whether or not the actual fifteen anathemas against Origen were actually part of the council that took place in 553. Even if these anathemas are taken as part of the council, the form of universalism they do condemn is always and everywhere tied to Origen’s NeoPlatonic/Platonic outlook and never simply universalism as such. That is why, I would hold to the fact that universalism as such has never been condemned by a council, but only Origen’s form of universalism. This may explain why Nyssa wasn’t condemned; he held to a more orthodox protolgoy than Origen. See the following to substantiate the above:

    Schaff’s Take on the Appending of the Anathema’s Against Origen:

    Disputed Anathema’s from Council of Con. 553:
    (This source, from the actual council, does not include the above listed anathemas as they are Justinian’s and not the actual councils)

    Norman Tanner’s book “Decrees of the Ecumenical Councils” is also a source with this info.

    I hope I’m not coming across as argumentative, rather as one seeking the truth about this issue.. Maybe we can continue this discussion via e-mail or at my blog? I don’t want to hijack the conversation here, but I do want to work through this important issue. And by the way, I’m not even a universalist!

  • Bryan Buchleiter

    What bothers me most about this and most every debate I’ve seen on the Rob Bell windstorm is the glaring lack of scripture. This is not about what moderns, postmoderns, Armenians, Evangelicals, Bell, Lewis, Piper, me, you or Obama has to say about it (not that I’ve heard Obama weigh in, but you get the point.) It’s about what scripture (God’s revelation of Himself to us) has to say about who God is, his plan both physical and spiritual.

    I have nothing against Bell, but if what he is teaching dose not hold up to the whole of scripture – then it needs to be challenged – as does any teaching from any pulpit, blog or printing press the world over. I agree that this is a cultural battle – based on the fact that we as a cultural have largely neglected the basics of knowing our faith and understanding God as He reveals himself.

  • John

    I have read all of Lewis, and only “Love Wins” by Bell, so perhaps I am not qualified to comment. However, I see virtually no similarities between Lewis and Bell. The major difference, as I see it, lies in the fact that Lewis was a committed Anglican – a sacramental faith – trying to hash out what Christianity might mean in a way that both affirmed the church and the Church while demonstrating unending humanitarian compassion. Frankly, I see none of these attitudes in Bell. I cannot think that Lewis would ever call the traditional doctrine of hell “toxic”. And this is why I cannot take Bell seriously – he has the questions of a progressive, but the attitude of a fundamentalist.

  • Rick

    Scot #27-

    Good point. Thanks.

    In regards to the Bell/Lewis issue, let me just say that another reason I think Lewis is not coming up as much is that many think Lewis would not come to the same conclusions as Bell.

    Steve Lutz wrote:

    “Lewis’ words in the preface to The Great Divorce are as timely as ever. They seem to address the questions Bell and others are asking, but not in the affirmative.”

  • Bryan Buchleiter

    (see also comment #16)

  • PSF

    Great post, thanks Jeff. I had been pondering resonances with C.S. Lewis myself, particularly with regard to inclusivism (The Last Battle). Whether or not C.S. Lewis can properly be defined as an “evangelical” is moot (this depends on whether one is defining evangelical historically, typologically, geographically, etc.). Undeniably his impact on and renown among evangelicals is huge (many consider him to be one of the most, if not the most, important apologists of the 20th century). As to the Arminian comment, Lewis, as a creative and literary thinker, often defies neat categorization. For example, his journey to faith and conversion experience (in Surprised by Joy) seems to combine both Augustinian and Wesleyan apects (e.g., his longing after elusive joy, culminating in a specific conversion moment which he could no longer resist – “the most dejected convert in all England”).

    On another note, two other theologians should be mentioned. One is the Reformed theologian Karl Barth, who claimed not to endorse universalISM but rather “Jesus Christ, the reconciler of all.” Barth seems to say that love wins, better JESUS WINS, but this is not the same as liberal universalism.

    The other is Dietrich Bonhoeffer, especially in relation to Bell’s comments about Gandhi. Bonhoeffer planned on several occassions to go and study with Gandhi (his plans never materialized). He believed that Gandhi was practicing the teachings of Christ (esp. the Sermon on the Mount) more faithfully than many Western Christians were especially Bonhoeffer’s contemporaries in WWII Germany). He wondered if the influence of Westernized Christianity (“religiousness”) was coming to an end.

  • Rick

    Randy #35-

    Richard Bauckham would seem to agree with you in regards to the council, although the de facto impact was made:

    “Origen’s universalism was involved in the group of doctrines known as ‘Origenism’, about which there were long controversies in the East. A Council at Constantinople in 543 condemned a list of Origenist errors including Apokatastasis, but whether this condemnation was endorsed by the Fifth Ecumenical Council (553) seems in doubt. At any rate the condemnation of Origenism discredited universalism in the theological tradition of the East. In the West, not only Origen’s heretical reputation but also Augustine’s enormous influence ensured that the Augustinian version of the doctrine of hell prevailed almost without question for many centuries.”

  • T

    A few of my takes, in no particular order:

    - Jeff’s got a point about Lewis and Bell. The difference b/n them is small indeed, but the response by today’s church leaders is enormously different. I don’t think the difference of response can only be about doctrine. Lewis is standing too close to Bell doctrinally to avoid being hit by the bombs now being dropped on Bell for heresy.

    - I’ve not read Love Wins, nor do I currently plan to do so. I know that Jesus made real threats of real punishment, as do the other NT writers. These must be taken with total seriousness. Any teaching which seeks to turn these warnings into idle threats is a mistake. Just as God has relented in the past and been patient, he has also followed through with many a threat of judgment. I’d like Christians of all stripes to hold on to this, which is just part of holding to Jesus, IMO. That said, it is also a mistake to not realize that God can and has relented on prior promised punishments. It’s not heresy to say so; it’s just being biblically informed. It’s not wrong to hope (as David did and contra to what Jonah did) that God, based on his great mercy, would actually scale explicitly promised punishment back. But the hope should not turn into a hard prediction that would contradict the threats the NT gives. We need to pass on those threats with all seriousness, but it’s okay to hope in God’s mercy to do something less severe once again.

  • Dan Singleton

    An excellent article. My question about Bell is: does he even have a thesis? I don’t see how we are supposed to be led to truth if he is writing nothing but cryptic nonsense. The postmodern culture seems to me to be in fundamental conflict with the very concept of truth rather than just a different method of arriving at it.

  • Randy Boswell


    Thanks for the reply. De facto is different than condemnation as heresy though isn’t it? That’s all I’m saying. And Origen’s universalism is different than all universalisms…I would hardly say his version is the best I’ve read or close to it.

  • EricW

    @42. T:

    You can read the book in less than an hour. $22.99 for a small-sized book of 200 pages with large white spaces and large print that can be read in less than an hour is, IMO, way too much to pay. But because of these facts, you can easily read through it to know what it says without much time or effort on your part, and possibly even while standing on one leg. :)


  • Yendra

    Brilliant, Jeff. I read the Great Divorce years ago and I remember reading the arguements you now raise. I would suggest that it seems to be a fear-based dogmatic approach and an interactive diametric movement within the Christian community. There seems to be a growing divide.

    A thought: We live in a country with a dominant Christian viewpoint and a dominant world presence. Could our country’s slide from dominance politically and the resulting black and white terror doctrine be correlated to the increasingly rigid response (from some Christian groups) in the decline of Christianity’s dominance within our own country?

  • Mick

    I appreciate where #34 is coming from regarding Lewis. To state it more directly, Lewis may have had humble leanings about this subject but he never wrote a book specifically about it. I am sympathetic toward this view but do not believe it can be argued definitively from scripture any more than we can build doctrinal fortresses for double predestination, “old school” creationism or a play by play theology of the endtimes.

    All of these have their points and place in occasional pub conversations but they take away from the Gospel message regarding the life, death and resurrection of Jesus that the world needs to hear from us in word and deed.

  • EricW

    I meant to write “…while standing on one foot.”

  • T


    Hilarious! Okay, now I’m definitely not reading it–$22.99! And for 200 pages with lots of empty space! No way! I’m patient on these things, and movies for that matter. I see ‘em when they’re cold and dusty (instead of hot and shiny) and practically if not actually being given away.

    And I’m definitely not standing on one leg to read it! I just played tennis for the first time in 2 or 3 years last weekend. I’m now very aware of the state of my body’s disrepair. Which reminds me, I need to read a book about our resurrected bodies or something. Maybe Jeff’s chapter on sloth . . . ugh.

  • EricW

    @49. T.: I read it in less than an hour at our local B&N “library.” It’s not only overpriced for the amount of reading material you get and the (short) time it takes to read it, its substance isn’t worth that price, either, IMO. But in order to know what Bell actually says (versus only knowing what other people say he is saying) so as to be able to knowledgeably take part in this trendy but ephemeral conversation, reading it becomes a necessity.

    And, I read it while sitting down. :)

  • Jason Smith

    I am still amazed at how many people are willing to comment about Bell’s “convictions” having not read the book and just based on what they are seeing other people say about it. And, we MUST define Universalism. Everyone keeps calling him a Universalist. What Bell does in Love Wins is not Universalism. (Scot, I would also say Greg Boyd affirms the potential or possibility of a 2nd chance. You should look into it.)

    I am hoping Scot brings some sensibility to this.

    After reading Love Wins, I am unsure Bell has said much of anything about what he actually believes about the whole issue, except that he thinks one can be open to other options concerning hell. And that we have built doctrines on what should be left to speculation. And, to me, that seems to be exactly what CS Lewis did.

    I think what this post brings up is that people we, and the Gospel Coalition, hold in such high regard, such as CS Lewis, or whoever else, also questioned the traditional doctrine of “eternal conscious punishment.” Why is it so dangerous that Bell is doing it too? Because he says it is toxic? Or he does it in a hip video? Or he does it with HarperOne? Or that he is so popular? I don’t get this part of this whole thing.

  • EricW

    @51. Jason Smith:

    “After reading Love Wins, I am unsure Bell has said much of anything about what he actually believes about the whole issue,”

    That was my impression after reading the book, too. His critics seem to be connecting dots and making extrapolations beyond what Bell himself has actually said or written.

    “except that he thinks one can be open to other options concerning hell.”


  • Richard

    Someone help me recall in the “Is Lewis an evangelical?” question, how do we determine which tenets of evangelicalism does Lewis not hold to? Deyoung, Piper, Mohler, etc have a tendency to equate “evangelical” with “reformed/conservative/fundamentalist” (and no I’m not equating those three, just presenting them).

  • A Dirty Papist

    OK time to get a Catholic view on this stuff :)

    The doctrine of universal salvation (also known as Apokatastasis or Apocatastasis) has usually been considered through the centuries to be heterodox but has become orthodox. It was maintained by the Second Vatican Council and by Pope John Paul II and it is promoted in the new Catechism of the Catholic Church and in the post-Vatican II liturgy.

    Universal Salvation in the Early Church

    The Fathers of the Alexandrian Church maintained the doctrine of universal salvation in the second and third centuries and various of the Church Fathers followed them in the doctrine. The teaching of Plato who maintained reincarnation influenced them. It was a minority opinion.

    · Origen held a firm conviction that not a single rational being will be lost to the darkness of ignorance and sin. Even the most recalcitrant sinner, he argued, will eventually attain salvation. The fire of punishment is not an instrument of eternal torment, but of divine instruction and correction. Since the soul is essentially rational, it will eventually be convinced of the truth of the divine pedagogy. When this conviction arises, salvation and deification will follow. The word used to describe this universal salvation was Apokatastasis, ‘restoration of all things.’

    It was often thought that the Church condemned Origen of Alexandria for teaching the doctrine and it has usually been considered to be heterodox through the centuries.

    · It must be admitted that before the opening of the council [Constantinople II], which had been delayed by the resistance of the pope, the bishops already assembled at Constantinople had to consider, by order of the emperor, a form of Origenism that had practically nothing in common with Origen, but which was held, we know, by one of the Origenist parties in Palestine.

    The bishops certainly subscribed to the fifteen anathemas proposed by the emperor; and admitted Origenist, Theodore of Scythopolis, was forced to retract; but there is no proof that the approbation of the pope, who was at that time protesting against the convocation of the council, was asked.

    It is easy to understand how this extra-conciliary sentence was mistaken at a later period for a decree of the actual ecumenical council.

    The following early Fathers of the Church are said to have taught that all will finally be saved.

    · Pantaenus; Clement of Alexandria; Origen; Athanasius; Didymus the Blind; Macarius of Egypt; Gregory Thaumaturgus; Ambrose; Ephraim; John Chrysostum; Gregory of Nyssa; Gregory of Nazianzus; Jerome of Bethlehem; Evagrius Ponticus; Titus of Bastra; Asterius of Amasea; Cyril; Methodius of Tyre; Pamphilius Eusibius; Hillary of Poitiers; Victorinus; Macrina the Younger; Dionysius the Areopagite; John Cassian; Maximus the Confessor; Proclus of Constantinople; Peter Chrysologus; Diodorus of Tarsus; Stephen bar Sudaili.

    There are various Bible passages that its advocates quote in support of it.

    · But, beloved, be not ignorant of this one thing, that one day is with the Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance. (2 St. Peter 3:8-9)

    Universal Salvation in the Modern Church

    The doctrine of universal salvation has become very popular in the modern Roman Catholic Church. St. Therese of the Child Jesus is said to have maintain it in the nineteenth Century when it was apparently still rare for anyone to do so. Pope John Paul made her a Doctor (a special teacher) of the Church and her little way spirituality of childlike trust in God has been heavily promoted amongst Catholics.

    · St. Therese wrote a Christmas play for her sisters, in which the Child Jesus insists, in correction of the Angel of Vengeance, that, “every soul will find forgiveness”. On the last day, the Child Jesus will remain “the God of love” who suffered to recompense all of the sins of the entire human race.

    Hans Urs von Balthasar argued in favour of the doctrine; he has been called Pope John Paul’s favourite theologian and he founded a theological journal with Ratzinger now Pope Benedict.

    · In his encyclical Redemptoris Missio, Pope John Paul II expresses forcefully the same position defended by Balthasar. If Christ desires the salvation of all and if there is a ‘real possibility of salvation in Christ for all humanity,’ hope for all is simply part of what it means to follow Christ.

    Karl Rahner also popularised the doctrine amongst Catholics.

    The Second Vatican Council maintained the doctrine that all will be saved in the Apokatastasis or Final Restoration of All Things. The following is taken from the constitution Gaudium et Spes (1:45, 2:57).

    · While helping the world and receiving many benefits from it, the Church has a single intention: that God’s kingdom may come, and that the salvation of the whole human race may come to pass. For every benefit which the People of God during its earthly pilgrimage can offer to the human family stems from the fact that the Church is ‘the universal sacrament of salvation’ simultaneously manifesting and actualising the mystery of God’s love.

    For God’s Word, by whom all things were made, was Himself made flesh so that as perfect man He might save all men and sum up all things in Himself. The Lord is the goal of human history, the focal point of the longings of history and of civilization, the center of the human race, the joy of every heart and the answer to all its yearnings. He it is Whom the Father raised from the dead, lifted on high and stationed at His right hand, making Him judge of the living and the dead. Enlivened and united in His Spirit, we journey toward the consummation of human history, one which fully accords with the counsel of God’s love: ‘To reestablish all things in Christ, both those in the heavens and those on the earth’ (Eph. 1:10).

    … Moreover, by the impulse of grace, he is disposed to acknowledge the Word of God, Who before He became flesh in order to save all and to sum up all in Himself was already ‘in the world’ as ‘the true light which enlightens every man’ (John 1:9-10).”

    Pope John Paul II often gave us to hope that all will be saved and taught the doctrine of universal salvation. The following are but three examples of many compiled.

    · Eternal damnation remains a possibility, but we are not granted, without special divine revelation, the knowledge of whether or which human beings are effectively involved in it. (General Audience of July 28, 1999)

    · Christ, Redeemer of man, now for ever ‘clad in a robe dipped in blood’ (Apoc, 19,13), the everlasting, invincible guarantee of universal salvation. (Message of John Paul II to the Abbess General of the Order of the Most Holy Saviour of St Bridget)

    · If the Holy Spirit, the Paraclete, is to convince the world precisely of this ‘judgment,’ undoubtedly he does so to continue Christ’s work aimed at universal salvation. We can therefore conclude that in bearing witness to Christ, the Paraclete is an assiduous (though invisible) advocate and defender of the work of salvation, and of all those engaged in this work. He is also the guarantor of the definitive triumph over sin and over the world subjected to sin, in order to free it from sin and introduce it into the way of salvation. (General Audience of May 24, 1989)

    The new, post-Vatican II Catechism of the Catholic Church also gives us to hope that all will be saved.

    · 1058 The Church prays that no one should be lost: ‘Lord, let me never be parted from you.’ If it is true that no one can save himself, it is also true that God ‘desires all men to be saved’ (1 Tim 2:4), and that for him ‘all things are possible’ (Mt 19:26).

    · 1821 We can therefore hope in the glory of heaven promised by God to those who love him and do his will. In every circumstance, each one of us should hope, with the grace of God, to persevere ‘to the end’ and to obtain the joy of heaven, as God’s eternal reward for the good works accomplished with the grace of Christ. In hope, the Church prays for ‘all men to be saved.’

    The new Roman Missal and Divine Office do too.

    · Remember our brothers and sisters who have gone to their rest in the hope of rising again; bring them and all the departed into the light of your presence. Have mercy on us all. (Eucharistic Prayer II)

    · Almighty God, we recall how you sent your angel to the centurion Cornelius to show him the way of salvation. Open our hearts to work more zealously for the salvation of the world, so that your Church may bring us and all men into your presence. (Divine Office, Tuesdays, Afternoon Prayer)

    Cardinal Cormac Murphy O’Connor, the head of the Catholic Church in England and Wales, recently expressed his hope that all will be saved in an interview with a Catholic newspaper.

    · We’re not bound to believe that anybody’s there (in hell), let’s face it… I cannot think of heaven without thinking of being in communion with all the saints and with all the people I’ve loved on this earth… I hope I will be surprised in heaven, I think I will be.

  • Susan

    Common sense tells me that God offers the gift of Christ’s forgiveness after death, to those who would choose Christ. If one cannot choose Christ after death, then Abraham, Moses, and all the Old Testament prophets are not in heaven. But if we allow the Old Testament people of faith that opportunity, then why not those who lived on earth and never heard the Gospel, or those who heard it twisted into something false?

  • Robert A

    I don’t understand why evangelicals think so highly of Lewis to begin with. He was a thorough-going Anglican. Read “Mere Christianity” and the last third of the book (or so) is a primer on Anglican/Catholic theology.

    Now, as for the post I found these two paragraphs both incredulous and foolish to have written:
    “I suspect many felt poked in the eye by the way Harper and Rob decided to market Love Wins. I suspect Bell intimidates some because he is part of a culture they do not understand and cannot control (that culture is urban, postmodern, and discovers the truth more naturally through questions, sarcasm, and intuition than through the systematic presentations of the top Christian publishing house).

    And let’s not kid ourselves, I suspect the fire behind the debate is often about envy and resentment of a very talented man, about our own inability to get a hearing in the public square, and about the fear that new ways of talking about Jesus might trump what some have preached for decades.”

    Really? You think we are being disagreeable because we “envy” Rob Bell? Because we can’t understand him? Because can’t control him? Because we don’t have his talents?


    Maybe you should reconsider these two paragraphs. My, and a number of other theologians, particular critiques of Pastor Bell’s book are that it is a divergence from biblical theology and a lackluster approach to the exegetical and historical task of theology.

    I don’t see envy in their critiques. I see a concern for the theological core of Christianity. One which Pastor Bell seems ready to be dismissive of without being willing to subject himself to the actual biblical text.

    We fully understand Pastor Bell. He isn’t hidden behind some noumena in the phenomena. His deconstruction isn’t very thorough or coherent. And honestly I think his “postmodernism” smells way too much like a hypermodernistic reply to Cartesian Modernism trumpetted by Schleiermacher, Bultman, and Ritschl. Just because one asks a lot of questions doesn’t mean they have embraced a Foucaultian or Derridaian view of theology.

    I am deeply, deeply troubled by these two paragraphs.

  • T


    I like your B&N library approach! And I am trying to be very hesitant in any conclusions about Bell since I’ve only read quotes and commentary (and the statement from Mars Hill). That’s why I’m couching my comments, for the most part in terms of “teachings that say this or that” because I don’t know exactly what Bell has taught in this book (and how that may differ from the Mars Hill statement).

    I know that Scot has said that this is the issue of our time, and he is probably right in many respects. I’m just turned off by the whole “Swell over Bell.” I think it is more helpful to talk about ideas (and whether certain ones are helpful, the extent they are biblically justified and/or certain, etc.) than about whether Bell or any particular guy is an evangelical or even orthodox. The heat on this discussion is up so high, it’s hard to talk about it intelligently with anyone, and personal condemnations of Bell are all mixed together with condemnations of universalism, which are swirling around with conflations of ECT with the biblical warnings, which all have a whole bunch of flag-waving mixed in. It’s a big, nasty mess.

    All of this leads me to agree with Jeff’s central thesis that the heat is about more than just doctrine. Scot’s series on the Eastern Orthodox take hell, for instance, is about history and doctrine. That’s a better venue if we actually want to discuss whether, for instance, a typical, evangelical hardline requirement of ECT in statements of faith is really justified or needs careful, biblical, historical and even humble and calm reflection and adjustment. But the Bell Swell isn’t calm. So many lines have been drawn in the sand it’s hard to stand anywhere, let alone ask anyone to move, without unintentionally declaring war. So, I might actually buy the book on Eastern Orthodoxy’s take on hell and interact with it (privately and with others) for years. As for Bell’s, we’ll see. Just discussing these issues in the same sentence as Bell takes the calm right out of it.

  • JoeyS

    Robert A, last night I read poetry to 3 math teachers. They didn’t get it. It was good poetry too – Rilke. I wonder if you’re approaching Bell like a math teacher approaches poetry….

  • David

    Just read an interesting article on this topic. It is a blog on a Mennonite website that makes the argument that we do a dis-service to Bell’s work when we treat it like a theological treatise rather than a work of art. An artist being someone who sees the world differently and provokes questions and conversation. Take a read.

  • Jeremy

    Who pays cover price for books? Amazon has it for $11.99 ($10.99/Kindle).

    I own it, but haven’t had a chance to read it yet. I will note that after extensive reading of Lewis, the argument that TGD was intended to be pure fiction seems to be taking Lewis’ disclaimer too much at face value. The weight of much of his writing in various places tends to make a lie of that. My guess is that disclaimer was intended to minimize protestations and give him freedom to explore the topic without a firestorm. Lewis very much leaves the door open in everything he writes and admits himself to be deeply influenced by George McDonald who was very clearly had universalist leanings.

    It seems from the little I’ve read that Bell is rehashing these ideas from a postmodern perspective. As pomo is anathema to just about anyone of reformed leanings or over the age of 40, it’s hardly surprising we’re seeing a different reaction. Lewis was a modernist through and through. Bell, on the other hand, has no problem with conflicting ideas held in tension.

  • Mark Mathewson

    Like Josh T (#34) and John (#37) I’m not convinced that Lewis is as close to Bell as everyone seems to be making him out to be. After reading ‘Love Wins’ and then re-reading Lewis’ chapter on hell in ‘The Problem of Pain’ I see many significant differences. While I understand all the nuances that can be made here, Lewis does answer the objection against the “apparent disproportion between eternal damnation and transitory sin.” He answers the objection that “death ought not to be final, that there ought to be a second chance.” He suggests that hell is “banishment from humanity” and that “what is cast (or casts itself) into hell is not a man,” but an “ex-man” or “damned ghost” (N. T. Wright appears to have the same, though more developed, view in ‘Suprised by Hope’). None of that (as well as several other things) sounds Bell-like to me.

  • michael

    Jeff Cook: I’d be interested in seeing your analysis of how Lewis and Bell differ from Eastern Orthodox positions on hell.

  • Justin

    @RandyBoswell (23) – Thanks for that recap, From my years of following, reading, and hearing Rob/Mars – I would say that will probably be the accurate parsing as per the Book and the cards he chooses to play (or not to play, in typical Rob Bell fashion, haha).

    Personally, I have officially landed on the category of: Hopeful.

    Haha. It’s not the most theological word in the dictionary, but it definitely has a home in the cannon, the church, and the heart of GOD…apparently ;]

    I write about it in my blog post, “If I Wrote A #ROBBELL #LOVEWINS Book”

  • JoeyS

    @61 Mark Mathewson,

    That is an important distinction – Bell seems to move away from Lewis’ take that we become less than human.

    But, I think they are still pretty close overall. As Jeremy mentioned in 60, part of the discrepancy is a different mode of understanding the world. Lewis was not as comfortable with tension as Bell so some folks read Lewis and are comfortable and then read Bell and are uncomfortable. Lewis protected himself in the Great Divorce by issuing one line urging folks to take his works as a dream rather than as theology but any person over the age of 11 can see through that smoke. Lewis was toying with some ideas that he knew others would be uncomfortable with and I’m thankful that he did.

  • Kenneth McIntosh

    I wholeheartedly agree with Jeff Cook’s initial points: this is not just about doctrine, and Lewis was generally welcomed by evangelicals while Bell is castigated. I’m old enough and I’ve been in US Christian circles long enough to clearly remember the difference. Today’s evangelicals are much more boundaried on matters theological than they were in the past. I’ve said repeatedly that if Lewis’ writings were published today he’d get a chilly reception in the same Christian circles that gave him a warm audience at the time of publication.

  • Dave Wilson


    Does the average Christian read anything by Lewis other than the Narnia books? Rarely do I encounter anyone with a copy of Mere Christianity or The Great Divorce.

    Do you think his alleged universalism is expressed in his fictional works?

    I know he was a big fan of George MacDonald, as am I. Typically, I skip over the Scot’s theological asides, in which he seems to be reacting (or over-reacting) to a dour form of Calvinism that he encountered in the churches of his day.


  • PSF

    Jeff (#66): not universalism, but certainly inclusivism in The Last Battle.

  • Holly Ordway

    I’m surprised that anyone would draw a connection between Bell’s theology of hell, and Lewis’. The only similarity is that they’re asking questions. Lewis actually answers those questions — affirming the reality and permanence of Hell. Throughout Lewis’ writing he is very clear on the reality of choice: God gives us the option to choose Him or reject Him, a choice that only has meaning if He allows us to reject Him and allows it to be a real choice. Our life is a series of second chances… but all life ends and our choices are made permanent.

    I would say that Lewis deeply regrets that some will choose Hell — and so should we all! But that very regret would be totally unnecessary if all would end up in heaven anyway.

    To say that all who are in Hell choose it is to say that Hell is the natural condition of rejecting God (and because God is the source of all good, Hell will naturally be a place of great torment). Where Bell goes wrong and Lewis gets it right, is on the permanence of choice.

    Bell, as far as I can tell, sees choice as perpetually open. But Lewis recognizes that in order to be meaningful, choices must be permanent. The implications are profound; part of our current cultural problem, for instance, is that the choice to enter into a marriage is seen as endlessly subject to revision based on one’s feelings. The commitment is not real if it can be ended at a whim. Even more so with one’s commitment to Christ!

    The story of The Great Divorce is a profound illustration that yes, some souls will choose to reject God — and also that the paths they took in life, the day by day choices, were part of what brought them to the place where it was easier, or harder, to accept God. Far from being a mushy universalism, Lewis’ theology is a robust affirmation that our choices matter, that God gives us the opportunity and the means to accept Him, and also gives us the true freedom to reject Him — and that our choices are meaningful because they are permanent.

  • Percival

    Differences between Lewis and Bell? Bell puts forth the principle that, “God gets what He wants.”

    I could be wrong, but I don’t think Lewis ever suggested anything like this.

  • Colleen

    I haven’t read Bell, but a large part of why this discussion gets so obnoxious is the quickness with which people who agree with Bell are ready to say “See? You guys are just sadists who want everyone else to burn in Hell!”

    See, for instance, Slacktivist. (Props to the people here, who have been much more courteous.) I don’t know whether Bell himself is like that, but his title doesn’t leave me optimistic.

  • E.G.

    At the back of the book, Bell recommends “The Great Divorce” for further reading. So, it’s not surprising that there is some substantial correlation in ideas.

    (He also recommends Keller’s “Prodigal God”)

    Jeff #66 – Yes, I read it back in college. That is quite a couple of decades ago. It has influenced my thinking ever since. Probably in the top ten most personally important books that I’ve ever read.

    I agree that this is also largely about a culture war. And the irony is that for all of the yelling coming mainly from the “restless Reformed” camp, the main effect was to sell a lot of books.

    I definitely do not belong to that group, having more anabaptist/Wesleyan leanings myself. But it seems that that group has perhaps begun to learn something from this episode. If so, the grain that might start the pearl may be found in this post linked today by Tim Challies:

    In any case, the *entire* sad episode should be a learning experience for all evangelical Christians. It made us look like complete idiots.

  • Dana Ames

    in your intro you said you thought TLB went in “a universalistic direction”. I think that’s a bit overgeneralized and not up to your usual careful presentation. I think Lewis nuanced it the same way he did in TGD. Yes, the “righteous” Calormen follower of Tash was accepted; yet, the dwarves left in the stable were still “for the dwarves”. And above all, Aslan makes it clear that he is the only one who has the right to judge.

    nice analysis. Thanks to you & Scot for putting it up.

    And thanks to the other commenters reminding us that Lewis was Anglican – “not particularly ‘low’ or particularly ‘high’. Thank God for all the Anglican thinkers who have helped our understanding and devotion.

    Jason Smith @51, yup.

    Others who are afraid that Bell’s words will cause believers to give up the “traditional” notion of hell as eternal conscious torment: many have already done so.

    I think Scot is right about the significance of this issue.


  • E.G.

    I’d also note that, on a surface reading at least, Lewis’ Hell seems to be *ever growing* (as people move away from God and from each other, unable to maintain any relationships); *ever shrinking* in an almost annihilationist/conditionalist manner; and still providing residents with some *ongoing* free choice.

    It is quite complex, and it’s hard to ram it into one solitary theological position.

    It is inclusivist, almost universalist, eternal, and annihilationist (or, actually, conditionalist).

  • EricW

    Does the average Christian read anything by Lewis other than the Narnia books? Rarely do I encounter anyone with a copy of Mere Christianity or The Great Divorce.

    I’ve tried reading THE ABOLITION OF MAN. :D

  • Chris Canuel

    From my reading of Bell…he seems to put forward the idea, not so much that God gets what He wants, but that God gives people what they want. If they want Hell, he gives it to them. If they want Heaven, he gives it to them. Love wins in the fact that in God loving us, he gives us exactly what we want. I certainly disagree with his view of love…but this seems to be the dominant view in this book.(Though I’m only about 2/3 of the way done.) It also seems to me that Bell is saying that he does believe that people will reject God and His offer of Heaven…Yet he thinks that we should hold out hope, and leave open the possibility that people will choose Heaven. I strongly disagree with him…but this seems to be what He is saying in my reading thus far. I don’t know that the Universalist label is really accurate in regards to Bell. Perhaps ‘Hopeful Universalist’ would fit better. Either way, I wonder which Bible he’s reading to arrive and these conclusions. Perhaps his sentimentality has overrun his Hermeneutics. Dangerous.

  • Joshua Wooden


    Last chapter of “The Last Battle”- Chronicles of Narnia. :)

    Interesting point about MacDonald reacting to Calvinism. Actually, there may be a parallel between MacDonald’s context and our own. With the Gospel Coalition (which is, I think, entirely Reformed), I think there may be a similar reaction to Calvinism in our own day. Thoughts?

  • Ruth

    I think it is silly to think that this debate doesn’t have something to do with postmodernism as Jeff suggests – Rob would never have written this book if he weren’t coming from a more postmodern perspective. He’s not trying to convince us to accept a proposition as much as inviting us to re-imagine our conceptions of eternity. It’s about asking the right questions rather than getting the right answers.

    I’d like to draw a comparison with the series on this blog on Volf’s book on Allah. Commenters on those threads have repeatedly insisted that the Christian view of God is unique because we believe God is Love, God is incarnated, and God is triune. If our beliefs about what make our God our God is partially dependent on His being loving and merciful, then why is it heresy to hope that God’s love will win in the end? In the title “Love Wins” Rob is referencing a way of living, of thinking, of doing theology that he’s been preaching at Mars Hill for years. If you’re ever in Grand Rapids, check out the parking lot at the old mall where Mars Hill meets – there’s a LOVE WINS bumpersticker on just about every car.

  • Percival

    Chris #75
    See Ch. 4- Does God get what God wants?

  • Jeff Cook

    I’ll hit the first 30+ shortly.

    (36) Bryan – I invite you to look at the book. The whole thing is scripture; the question at issue seems to be interpretation.

    (37) John – On Toxicity of some Christian beliefs. “The moment heaven ceases to mean union with God and Hell separation from him, the belief in either is a mischievous superstition.” Reflections on the Psalms. (Sounds like calling some beliefs toxic to me).

    (38) Rick. Give a specific. What does Bell say that Lewis has not?

    (40) True – the “whether Lewis is an evangelical” is moot. The question is why evangelicals have not kicked Lewis off the bus if such is an appropriate response for Rob. And it seems to me Jesus wins is synonymous with Love wins.

    (43) Hey Dan. The question is how do you talk about Jesus as Lord in a culture that presupposes subjectivity. Bell is simply a master on this front, and should be commended for his skill.

    (46) Yendra. I agree with the growing divide. What does the conversation look like between us? Will it all degenerate to calling the other heretic?

    (49) T. The chapter on Sloth is one of my favs. 

    (51) Jason. Yup. It seems the lack of reading the book yet holding definitive opinions about it is wide spread. Pitty.

    (52). Eric. It seems to me he is arguing for a biblically based agnosticism about whozin and whozout. Do we have a refutation? I thought his material on people falling into the kingdom in all kinds of ways was quite compelling.

    (54). I really hope you composed that today.

    (56) Robert. Note the word “Often”. If it applies to you own it. If not, move on friend. I’d love for you to answer the question I asked though.

    (60) Jeremy. Well said, friend.

    (61) Mark. Finally! Someone with an argument from Lewis. Now – notice my claim. My claim is not that Lewis rejects explicitly what we see in Love Wins. Rather, my claim is that Lewis affirms everything in Love Wins at some point. It seems to me, Lewis is not a systematic theologian. He is more like an artist. To answer my question one will have to show a point that Bell advocates that Lewis does not. Also, The Problem of Pain comes early in Lewis’s career and one might argue that refines or even rejects such views later on in his life. Thank you for your comment, Mark.

    (62). Michael. My favorite description of hell by Lewis, “Hell is where being fades into non-entity” (but of course I like that. I’m an annihilationist.)

    (66) Dave. Christianity Today had Mere Christianity as the best book of the century. That should give us pause on these fronts. On universalism – give me the quote from Love Wins. I don’t think that we should consider Bell a Universalist. He rejects that term.

    (68) Holly. Excellent phrasing of your points. Bell affirms the reality and permanence of hell. Show me a quote from the book you find suspect. Bell too affirms the choice of individuals. Bell thinks some will not choose the life of heaven (and is not a universalist of that sort).

    On hell as perpetually open: See my argument in the post. Where do you disagree. I cited Lewis on a few fronts here.

    (69) Percival. You don’t think Lewis believes God is ultimately in control?

    (70) Give me a quote Colleen otherwise its just speculation, ya?

    (73) Dana. Well put.

  • Chris Canuel

    Percival #78

    The Last few lines of Chapter 4…

    “That’s how love works. It can’t be forced, manipulated, or coerced. It always leaves room for the other to decide. God says yes, we can have what we want, because love wins.”

    Actually pages 116-119 are helpful in seeing Bell through to his conclusion in this Chapter. He mentions previously several points of view, that he says have been historically held…one of course being that eventually given enough time, everyone will turn to God…However, he stops short of agreeing with this. Instead he simply states, some questions are best left in tact. Ultimately, he says it isn’t about having the right answers, but about asking the right questions. This gives us a window I believe into the heart,mind and Theology of Mr. Bell. As does his previous statements about the importance of telling the ‘best story possible’. He forgets that we aren’t just telling stories…We are telling or are charged to tell the truths of God’s Word…And the full counsel of God…Not just the most attractive, or appealing. Bell is more concerned with stimulating the imagination as has been previously stated, than actually stating facts…

  • PSF

    Jeff: (on your comment on #40): I agree with you re. Lewis. I was pointing out, in light of other comments (e.g., was Lewis really an evangelical) that the parallel still applies (i.e., evangelicals certainly embraced Lewis).

    On whether “love” = “Jesus”, I would say there is an important distinction. Love is an abstract concept, Jesus is God personal and incarnate. We can say that Jesus is love, but not that love is Jesus equivocally. (This falls prey to a Feuerbachean critique). I think that Barth would firmly uphold this point. So, “love” wins but more importantly Jesus wins.

  • randomlychad

    I tried to think of a cogent comment that wasn’t already addressed herein, but was unable.

    That said, in my estimation, in the past few weeks the entire blogosphere has seemingly gone to Bell in a hand basket! ;-)

    That humorous statement aside, I think it best–whether we agree, or disagree, with Bell–to remember Lewis’s words (I’m paraphrasing) about a fellow parishioner: that he was someone whose shoelaces he (Lewis) was unworthy to untie. I say this because I see a decided lack of humility in this discourse–especially in American Evangelicalism. It seems we’ve forgotten that we weren’t converted to the Evangelical church, but to Christ. I say pray for Rob Bell, and those whom his book impacts, but leave it to God to decide, in the end, just who’s wheat, and who’s a tare.

  • James (the lesser)

    A practical question, if I may…
    I’ve read Lewis a few times. I liked MacDonald’s Lilith.
    It has been 35 years since I read The Imitation of Christ. Will I benefit more from rereading that or should I shell out for Bell’s tome?

  • Perry

    Very interesting post Jeff. If I’m not mistaken, Lewis was also at odds with many evangelicals in his nod to evolution toward the end of Mere Christianity. His readership and brilliant writings, however, do not elevate him to the status of authoritative Scripture.

    I just had a couple question/observations: First, in reference to hell being self-chosen, I have a difficult time envisioning anyone needing any greater amount of time than a few milliseconds, to choose to be extracted from a pit of flaming sulfur, regardless of how disinclined they may be to bow the knee to Jesus. Second, is Satan (along with all the demons) afforded the same choice in hell, and if not, does love still win? Third, It says in Genesis that God shut the door of the ark. After the rains began, and people started drowning, I’m sure many desperately desired to enter the ark, and yet there is no indication of any “second chance” from God. Does this contradict the biblically unsupported concept of God’s perpetual open door policy? Finally, do you think that Jesus’ and Paul’s original audiences would have come to the conclusion of annihilation based on their teachings? Thanks Jeff!

  • JoeyS

    @ Perry,

    Interesting reference to Noah. Of course its resolution was that God set his bow (a tool of violence) down and made a covenant to never again destroy “all flesh” so I wonder how that fits into this discussion.

  • scotmcknight

    And, to respond to both JoeyS and Perry, when Jesus “went” after his death (1 Peter 3:18-25) he preached to the spirits in prison who were disobedient in the days of Noah. Don’t get me wrong. I’m neither a universalist nor a second chance guy, but that text happens to be one the universalist and the second chance does use.

  • Aaron

    The thing that is most disturbing to me about the entire debate over this book, is just how vigorous and combative some of the rhetoric has been against Bell – the implication is that it isn’t acceptable to ask questions. More or less, this says to me that we think our theology (or part of it) has reached perfection, and is no longer open to correction or improvement. This seems like a problematic position.

    It becomes doubly problematic if we lampoon Bell for his questioning while forgiving it in others. This is simple inconsistency. If we reject Bell, we must likewise reject others that share his views. As far as the afterlife goes, the only substantive difference I see between Bell and Lewis is that Bell made an edgy video and wrote a book that focuses on this subject in its entirety, while Lewis tended to slip his ideas in between other, more palatable claims.

    And, finally – I have to wonder: who cares if Bell IS a universalist? He isn’t, but shouldn’t we be able to have intelligent discourse and respect for one another, even if our opinions differ on some matters?

    Well said, Jeff, and this is clearly a worthwhile discussion to have.

  • Jeff Cook

    (81) PSF. I agree.

    (83) James. Buy both.

    (84) Perry. Good questions, though I am not defending Lewis/Bell’s position—just saying they are very similiar.

    And yes I believe strongly that Paul and Jesus both saw hell as Annihilation (of the many examples: John 3:16, Matt 10:28, 2 Cor. 2:15–16, Phil 3:18-19).

    See Greg Boyd’s excellent article on Annihilationism here:

  • Edwin

    In response to the original question, I think that the differences between Lewis and Bell are indeed differences of tone and nuance. One important such nuance is Lewis’s greater willingness to accept the likelihood that some people would finally choose to shut themselves off from God. However, in the Great Divorce the character MacDonald, when challenged by Lewis with his earthly belief in universalism, affirms the _possibility_ of universal salvation. It’s true that Lewis insisted that TGD is not about the details of the afterlife, but it clearly is a serious theological treatment of the question of how one accepts or rejects grace, and I take the affirmation of hopeful universalism by “MacDonald” to represent Lewis’s own position. In short, I think that Lewis’s position is more substantive and more rigorously argued than Bell’s, but that nothing Bell says contradicts anything Lewis says.

  • Scott Wildey

    First, I do believe that all sides in the debate have the best intentions and love Jesus.

    With this being said, this post affirms my thoughts on the issue. I’ve recently read Lewis’ “The Great Divorce, Boyd’s “Is God to Blame?’, and “Love Wins”. I’m currently reading Wright’s “Surprised by Hope”, and have heard Keller’s presentation of “The Prodigal God.” Bell says nothing new. But, he has some very innovate pastoral questions that we pastors are facing. I remember a seminary professor once saying that the most dangerous position in theology is answering the questions that people aren’t asking, and not listening to the ones they are. To me, this typifies my experience of the debate. And, I do wonder if people actually care about the questions younger generations are having. I also worry that those with only answers to give, and have no more questions, have actually given up on the dynamic relationship that God offers us (Cf. Roger Olson, and Scot McKnight).

    Finally, I think it a bit ironic that on the Resurgence website there is a C.S. Lewis quote (at least there was a few days ago). Yes, truth is truth (I’m not suggesting an ad hominem), but it is interesting. How can you blast Bell and not Lewis? How can you afford Lewis the common courtesy of the dialogue and not Bell?

    At the very least, a favorite axiom I’ve heard: To truly know the conversation, you could spot the truth in the other’s err, and the err in your own truth.

    What chills me most is that I’ve never heard a celebrity scholar, theologian, writer come out and say, “I was wrong about that.” I think Keller (Counterfeit gods) is right, when one becomes a celebrity, their motives and capacities are almost instantly compromised (true for all sides of the discussion). The position becomes the protected idol over even truth.

    Hoping love wins in the discussion.

  • Chris

    You make a great point here, the only thing I would say is that in The Great Divorce Lewis also seems to say that there will be a point at which a final decission must be made. He references the “coming night” and that “no one wants to be caught outside” when that happens.

  • Steven

    Regarding the comparison between Bell and Lewis… One aspect of this question which is missing is the fact that Lewis was hugely influenced by Dante, even in his ideas about Hell (the quotes provided by Mark, #61, are very Dantesque). So it’s worth asking to what extent Bell and Dante are similar… Any thoughts?

    Disclaimer: I have not yet read Bell’s book.

  • Phil A

    As I read Love Wins the parallels to Lewis were clear. One of the differences in response is the difference in presentation. Lewis was not confrontational, distorting the position of the traditional position with caricatures as I felt Bell was.

  • Perry

    Jeff, thanks for your reply and link. That’s the most intelligent case I’ve ever read on annihilation. Still, the Old Testament writers’ theological understanding of the afterlife was but a shadow of what we possess in the New. And the dual, bodily resurrection of both the saved and lost seems to argue for the mutual, eternal nature of both. But the greatest apologetic I see for eternal suffering is rooted in my understanding of the nature of sin, and its just recompense. Because sin is a form of treason against an infinitely holy and worthy God, then it is an offense of infinite magnitude, thus requiring an infinite payment. If sin’s punishment is finite, then it follows that God’s glory is also finite, since that is what was sinned against (Romans 1:23 and 3:23).

  • Paul

    “the insistence that the metaphors describing what Jesus’ cross accomplishes and how his work is applied to us are culturally subjective,” is the kind of thought that seems to cut at the heart of Christianity if propitiation is indeed at the heart of the cross. Postmodernism is fun playing with but it will eventually sink back into a modernistic nature because, postmodern is not founded in reality. But, there are some great things to glean in seeing how culture is thinking and trying to reshape old markers.

  • Ben Wheaton

    I read Bell’s book yesterday (in about an hour–talk about fluff), and I have to say that I burned with unquenchable wrath at one point: his comparison of Dante with Thomas Kinkade. Growl. But the rest just made me sad and bored me.

    But enough of that. To engage with Jeff’s post, I think there are three points about Lewis’ views on Hell that differ from Bell significantly. Firstly, and Jeff mentioned this, Lewis was more pessimistic about human nature than Bell is. I don’t think this is a small point of difference, either. Listen to this quote from “That Hideous Strength:”

    [Wither of NICE is trying to escape the final disaster]
    “All their [i.e. NICE's] polity was based on the belief that Tellus was blockaded, beyond the reach of such assistance [i.e. the gods'] and left (as far as that went) to their mercy and his. Therefore he knew that everything was lost. It is incredible how little this knowledge moved him. It could not, because he had long ceased to believe in knowledge itself. What had been in his far-off youth a mere aesthetic repugnance to realities that were crude or vulgar, had deepened and darkened, year after year, into a fixed refusal of everything that was in any degree other than himself…The indicative mood now corresponded to no thought that his mind could entertain. He had willed with his whole heart that there should be no reality and no truth, and now even the imminence of his own ruin could not wake him. The last scene of “Dr. Faustus” where the man raves and implores on the edge of Hell is, perhaps, stage fire. The last moments before damnation are not often so dramatic. Often the man knows with perfect clarity that some still possible action of his own will could yet save him. But he cannot make this knowledge real to himself. Some tiny habitual sensuality, some resentment too trivial to waste on a blue-bottle, the indulgence of some fatal lethargy, seems to him more important than the choice between total joy and total destruction. With eyes wide open, seeing the endless terror that is just about to begin and yet (for the moment) unable to feel terrified, he watches passively, not moving a finger for his own rescue, while the last links with joy and reason are severed, and drowsily sees the trap close upon his soul. So full of sleep are they at the time when they leave the right way.”

  • Ben Wheaton

    The second point is Lewis’ view of human degeneration into sub-humans in hell. Behold a quote from “Perelandra:”

    [Ransom is pondering the possessed Weston's mumbling]
    “Ransom never could make up his mind whether it was a trick or whether a decaying psychic energy that had once been Weston were indeed fitfully and miserably alive within the body that sat there beside him. He discovered that any hatred he had once felt for the Professor was dead. He found it natural to pray fervently for his soul. Yet what he felt for Weston was not exactly pity. Up to that moment, whenever he had thought of Hell, he had pictured the lost souls as being still human; now, as the frightful abyss which parts ghosthood from manhood yawned before him, pity was almost swallowed up in horror – in the unconquerable revulsion of the life within him from positive and self-consuming Death. If the remains of Weston were, at such moments, speaking through the lips of the Un-man, then Weston was not now a man at all. The forces which had begun, perhaps years ago, to eat away his humanity had now completed their work. The intoxicated will which had been slowly poisoning the intelligence and the affections had now at last poisoned itself and the whole psychic organism had fallen to pieces. Only a ghost was left – an everlasting unrest, a crumbling, a ruin, an odour of decay.
    “And this,” thought Ransom, “might be my destination; or hers.”

  • paul johnston

    From the outside looking in. AKA I got no dog in this fight.

    Just finished reading Mr.Bell’s book. For the most part I found it hopeful and inspiring. A lovely place to begin a conversation from, so to speak. To his critics I would say this.(1)He makes a rather compelling case that God’s intention is Universalism. It is both scripturally sound and dare I suggest it, supposedly consistent with some kind of Christian tradition I’m told may or may not have existed prior to some (but not all) expressions of evangelicalism that exist in certain parts of the United States…whew, take a deep breath…:)

    (2)From a moral perspective he posits/implies/wonders why a God that is all good, all loving and all merciful would demand and execute an eternal punishment without hope of amelioration or respite. If this kind of punishment is the truth this speaks to what the rational human mind would refer to as revenge, not justice. While this line of thought may be deeply offensive to some, the only important question is whether or not God would be offended. Let us parse the book of Job together then, perhaps that might be instructive.

    (3) His use of the prodigal son parable to highlight the sad state of cultural affairs between conflicting camps within the evangelical community…brilliant!!

    To his supporters I say this (1) While Mr.Bell asks insightful questions he offers at best, ill defined and somewhat ambiguous answers. His vision is particularly lacking with regard to what it would look like “on the ground”. Mr Bell thinks it is important to remind us that he is neither an exegete or a theologian; he is a pastor. I don’t know about you but I always thought that pastors were “on the ground” guys.

    (2)The “culture war” fallout is unfortunate but make no mistake, Mr. Bell throws the first punches. From his advance video trailer through to each significant claim of his book, Mr. Bell finds it necessary to skew a grossly caricatured orthodox perspective in order to make his points. Is that really necessary? In this regard, he renders the title of the book to the realm of the ironic. Stop conflating issues, Mr. Bell. If you want to “rag on” over your cultural version of “separated brethren” go ahead. If you would rather consider the widest possible view of God’s love that considers a re-evalution of universalism, more the better. You need not do both at the same time.

    (3) See the above #3….

  • Ben Wheaton

    The third point at which Lewis differs from Bell (at least from Bell in “Love Wins”-I should have made that point at the beginning), is in his connection of Hell with Satan. Lo! A quote from “Perelandra:”

    [Ransom is making sure "Weston" is really dead.]
    “Even then he continued to sit on its body. He did not know whether in the last few hours the spirit that had really spoken to him in the last few hours was really Weston’s or whether he had been the victim of a ruse. Indeed, it made little difference. There was, no doubt, a confusion of persons in damnation: what Pantheists falsely hoped of Heaven bad men really received in Hell. They were melted down into their Master, as a lead soldier slips down and loses his shape in the ladle held over the gas ring. The question whether Satan, or one whom Satan has digested, is acting on any given occasion, has in the long run no clear significance.”

    This view is of course predominant in “The Screwtape Letters” as well, and marvelously used in the essay “Screwtape Proposes a Toast.”

    “But now for the pleasantest part of my duty. It falls to my lot to propose on behalf of the guests the health of Principal Slubgob and the Tempters’ Training College. Fill your glasses. What is this I see? What is this delicious bouquet I inhale? Can it be? Mr. Principal, I unsay all my hard words about the dinner. I see, and smell, that even under wartime conditions the College cellar still has a few dozen of sound old vintage PHARISEE.”

  • Jeff Cook

    (96, 97, 99) Ben. Great thoughts. I will respond tonight when I have time. Cheers.

  • Percival

    Scott #90,

    you said: I remember a seminary professor once saying that the most dangerous position in theology is answering the questions that people aren’t asking, and not listening to the ones they are.

    I love that bit of wisdom from your professor. I love it even more that you remembered it as a something key to remember!

  • Chris Canuel

    Interesting, and relevant I think to this post. In the section entitled ‘Further Reading’ at the end of the book…Bell recommends Lewis’ ‘The Great Divorce’ for further reading on Hell. Telling?

  • Steve Gerich

    I think the quote by Lewis in “Mere Christianity” sounds alot like Bell. In the chapter “The Practical Conclusion” Lewis wrote “Here is another thing that used to puzzle me. Is it not frightfully unfair that this new life should be confined to people who have heard of Christ and been able to believe in Him? But the truth is God has not told us what His arrangements about the other people are. We do know that no man can be saved except through Christ; we do not know that only those who know him can be saved through him.”

  • John

    #103, I think the difference is that Lewis is not talking about universal salvation, but rather the salvation of people who have never even heard of Christ. Lewis’s point is that we don’t know what God will do with them. Scripture tends to put forward implications: if you believe in Christ, then you shall be saved. Lewis is pointing out that you cannot logically infer from that implication that if you do not believe in Christ, then you definitely shall not be saved.

    It is pretty clear to me that Lewis believes in Hell and that people go there permanently–he is not a universalist (see comments #96,97,99 for great examples of this in his work.) The Great Divorce, I would suggest, is yet another example. In the Great Divorce the characters visiting Heaven from Hell are so consumed by themselves that they cannot really see anything outside themselves. Similarly the dwarves at the end of The Last Battle who are sitting around grumbling (and also clearly completely self consumed)–if I recall correctly they are sitting around with their eyes tight shut complaining about how dark it is, even though they are in the midst of Aslan’s country and it is not dark but beautiful. Lucy asks Aslan something about why he doesn’t tell them to open their eyes and look around and Aslan replies that they wouldn’t listen to him if he did.

  • John

    Jeff, regarding: “that is the only real difference between them—and it is a belief about people not about God and God’s desires”

    I am no theologian, so forgive my ignorance, but how is this not true of all the main positions on Heaven and Hell? In 1 Timothy chapter 2 it says that God desires all people to be saved. Does any Christian believe that God desires differently (except maybe Calvinist predestination)?

  • Dennis

    @98 Paul

    yours is the first post i have read that has addressed the following concern “We need to openly converse about postmodernity and modernity, their effect on doctrine, and especially how Christians who assume very different epistemologies can actually champion each other instead of drawing pistols every time they disagree in this new century.”
    (you are also the first person to actually make me want to read Love Wins)
    I have read all of Lewis’s nonfiction books, as well as Velvet Elvis. And, I listened to some of Bell’s teachings online. From that perspective it does seem to me that people unfamiliar with the style and intent of Bell’s approach would consider it flippant, or at least lacking in directness. (is it that way for Love Wins too?)
    And, too all the responses of those who go on about the importance of doctrine: Yes!, it is about doctrine. However, the question being posed is why Bell’s doctrine specifically and not Lewis, who clearly favours speculative propositions.

  • Edwin

    Ben, thanks for your examples of differences between Bell and Lewis. The first one is well taken but hard to pin down–Bell clearly thinks that the kind of choice for damnation Lewis describes is possible, and Lewis explicitly rejects total depravity. So I’m not sure how to calibrate just how much more “pessimistic” Lewis’s view of human nature is than Bell’s. I don’t think we can articulate a substantive, doctrinal difference here, but there’s certainly a difference in tone.

    The second point is dubious, because Bell explicitly allows for the “degenerate into subhumans” view as one possibility. It clearly isn’t the one he would most like to be true, but he doesn’t rule it out. So again, this is more of a difference of tone and emphasis.

    The third one is the most substantive. I would like to hear Bell articulate what he believes about Satan. Lewis did say that he didn’t think belief in the existence Satan was an essential of the Faith, but he clearly thought it pretty important. I find this to be a particularly important issue given Bell’s fuzziness on atonement theology. I strongly favor the patristic views of the atonement which emphasized the role of Satan, and I think that the lack of a concept of Satan in Bell’s theology (as expressed in the book–he doesn’t deny Satan’s existence) is one of his biggest weaknesses.

  • Loren Miler

    Would those who hold a doctrine of accountability ( i.e. a 2 month old child dies and goes to heaven) be considered universalist in a way?

  • Pedro

    Paul #98 Re: “on the ground”

    I’ve read all of Bell’s books (several times) and listened to a few hundred of his sermons. I’ve also spent a lot of time listening to and reading Piper, Driscoll, etc. (my jobs allow me to listen to podcasts). Here’s my perception & comparison, for what it’s worth, particularly regarding their different approaches to God, by way of a silly story:

    It’s like a bunch of people walking down the sidewalk. John might look up in a tree and see God, climb the tree, eat the fruit, observe the passers-by “on the ground,” then climb down and tell everybody about the God, holy and separate, up in the tree.

    While in the tree John may have noticed Rob among the passers-by, serving as a tour guide. “Do you see that rock? That’s actually Christ. Do you see that bush? Look closer, do you see it? It’s on fire.”

    Of course illustrations break down eventually, and I could say much more about this one, but it’s the best way I could put it for now. Bell does care about doctrine, but I suppose he is more concerned with asking questions, as you pointed out, so that people will open their eyes a little wider to the Christ in the common.

  • Ana Mullan

    Thank you Jeff. As somebody who lives in Europe, I don’t know all the ins and outs of the American Evangelical world, but I feel that in this particular case, there are more gracious ways to disagree with Rob Bell. And I believe that we can disagree in a lot of things and still respect each other as human beings.

  • justin347

    (77) Ruth writes, “If our beliefs about what make our God our God is partially dependent on His being loving and merciful, then why is it heresy to hope that God’s love will win in the end?”


    (108) Loren writes, “Would those who hold a doctrine of accountability ( i.e. a 2 month old child dies and goes to heaven) be considered universalist in a way?”

    This seems to be the dirty secret of a lot of Western-American Evangelicals/Local Churches, doesn’t it? Oh, but this is…different, they’ll say.

    Again, I believe Love Hopes All Things. I hope.

  • paul johnston

    Dennis @ 106. You are quite correct in your criticism, I am not engaging directly with the post. While I have read most of Mr. Lewis’s major works, it was a long time ago. As well this is my first experience with the work of Mr. Bell. I am a committed RC and only became aware of Mr. Bell recently due to the intense media attention surrounding this book. I really don’t feel qualified to compare and contrast.

    I suspect the kind of reader who is looking for detailed exegesis and a nuanced, dare I say mostly academic deconstruction of the subject of universalism, will be disappointed by this book. Those like myself however who are looking for an accessible blend of apologetic and inspiration are likely to find it much to their liking. Generally speaking then, Mr. Bell’s work has that ability to take complex ideas and render them in simple language so as to make them accessible to the many, very much like I remember the work of Mr. Lewis doing. My memory is of the opinion though, that Mr. Lewis was much more rigorous in his conclusions, than is Mr.Bell. I think it is fair for Mr. Bell’s critics to make effort to pin him down on just what conclusions he is drawing. Maybe a better way of putting it would be to ask him what kind of response is he advocating for us going forward. From only one read of his book I must admit that I am not sure myself.

    Maybe Mr. Bell isn’t of a nature to offer complete answers. That is ok with me, to be honest neither am I. What he does do, in my opinion, is ask some pointed and necessary questions. A significant contribution in of itself.

  • Syler Thomas

    (108) is exactly right, affirmed by (111). Hilariously parodied by the book “Right Behind.” When the pretend-rapture comes, the girl at the birthday party who just turned 12 isn’t raptured while her 11 year old friends are.

    The very squishy, not-really-Biblical doctrine of “age of accountability” comes from the same pastoral heart as the universalist: it wouldn’t be fair for God to condemn someone who is too young to understand. But there is no similar heart (from the exclusivist) for a 20 year old who may or may not have heard the message of Jesus. This is the Achilles heel of the exclusivist position: if there are exceptions for some, might there be others as well?

  • paul johnston

    Pedro @ 109. Yes, your analogy resonates with me. If Mr. Bell is true to this work he is definitely a person of sincere heart and committed faith. I’ll take that in a pastor any day of the week.

  • Rick

    Ruth #77 and Justin347 #111-

    “If our beliefs about what make our God our God is partially dependent on His being loving and merciful, then why is it heresy to hope that God’s love will win in the end?”

    No, as long as we also are taking in account our dependancy on Him also being holy and just. We need to consider His full revelation.

  • Syler Thomas

    In fact, here’s Kevin DeYoung espousing this exception in his critique of Mere Christianity referenced above:

    Further, [evangelicals] believe that conscious faith in Jesus Christ is necessary for salvation (assuming we are talking about sentient beings; all Christians allow that infants and the mentally disabled may be in a different category).

    “May be in a different category.” Why? Because our own human hearts cry out that it would be unfair for God to punish someone without the mental capacity to understand. DeYoung wants exceptions for infants and the mentally disabled, and Bell for other categories. Both desires come from the same place: a hope for God’s mercy and fairness.

    (Apologies, Jeff, for posting off-topic!)

  • Edwin

    Apart from the “age of accountability” issue, there’s also the problem of the Old Testament. Sure, you can make the argument that faith in God’s covenant promises constitutes faith in Christ, but clearly people in the OT did not explicitly believe in Jesus of Nazareth. And the farther back you go in the OT, the vaguer revelation is and thus the closer an “OT believer” becomes to a recipient of general revelation. Did Enoch and Noah really believe anything that a Jew or Muslim or Sikh (sticking to clearly monotheistic non-Christian traditions) doesn’t believe today?

  • Jeremy

    Loren (108) – There are a terrifying number of people in Reformed and Fundamentalist camps that believe in the doctrine of infant damnation. It is the logical outcome of a hardline stance on salvation through confession of Christ alone. Not a big enough number to paint them all with the same brush, but a large enough number to make me very, very sad.

    Here I think Rob is on to something (not new), which is, as Syler notes, if there are exceptions in the categories of children and the mentally disabled, then it only makes sense that those categories are arbitrarily limiting. Mental capacity isn’t what “does the work,” but rather an inability to comprehend the truth. In that light, I would consider it extremely possible that the categories of people that could effectively avoid such a requirement are much more numerous.

  • rjs

    Syler (#113),

    Which makes infant baptism as covenant entrance and important part of belief for some who hold an exclusivist position. Rather than age of accountability we have membership in the elected covenant community.

  • justin347

    (115) @Rick referenced and wrote, “Ruth #77 and Justin347 #111-

    “If our beliefs about what make our God our God is partially dependent on His being loving and merciful, then why is it heresy to hope that God’s love will win in the end?”

    No, as long as we also are taking in account our dependancy on Him also being holy and just. We need to consider His full revelation.”

    I think there are two keys which are, quite explicitly, inescapable:

    1) “partially dependent” – this completely leaves room, and even demands a place for, a full and rich understanding of justice, sovereignty, holiness, and all the mysteries therein.

    2) “hope” – is it wrong, or even heretical, to hope to this end?

  • Scott Wildey

    Hi Paul, #95

    I think you make a good point. It’s been said Postmodernism is simply modernism turned against itself.

    However, I think the real question is there something “Meta-modern”? That is, as the Enlightenment the apex of human thought and flourishing (of which Modernism came out of)? Isn’t modernism (Positivism) a grid that will also have its limits?

    That’s why I think Lewis was so genius. Keep in mind he wrote all his works at the height of Modernism in Europe. Amazing!

  • Rick

    Justin347 #120-

    In regards to 1), I don’t disagree but what we do have revealed from Him (sufficient, yet not exhaustive) must be taken into consideration. The same is true for the “loving and merciful” aspects.

    In regards to 2), I was using “heresy” because Ruth had brought it up. I don’t think it is necessarily heretical to “hope” as long as we do not allow that hope to adjust our beliefs from the historic orthodox faith. If people “hope” God did not become man because that would offend those people, so they therefore adjust their view of Jesus, then that would be heretical.

    Is it wrong? That is a good question. Is it ever wrong to hope against what God has revealed about His ways? If the issue is unclear, then probably not. However, if the issue is clear, then that may be a different answer.

  • Dave Wilson

    Saw this quote on the Gospel-Driven church blog:

    In the long run the answer to all those who object to the doctrine of hell is itself a question: “What are you asking God to do?” To wipe out their past sins and, at all costs, to give them a fresh start, smoothing every difficulty and offering every miraculous help? But He has done so, on Calvary.

    – C.S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain

  • Jeff Cook

    All, again the question is where are the distinctions between Lewis and Bell, and secondarily, the dialogue between postmodernity and modernity. I will limit my comments to these.

    (96) Ben. The book is a lot of things. Fluff is not one of them. The arguments are there and needing refutation (if you are able). On the quote. Yup. In fact, it is arguable that Lewis really is an Annhilationist at heart and comes across at such points, and this would be a distinction between he and Bell. Though not the ones Bell’s critics are raising.

    (97) Yup. Same as my comments for (96).

    (98) Paul. Your claim here is important and worth thinking about (so I’m reposting it in order to comment), “The “culture war” fallout is unfortunate but make no mistake, Mr. Bell throws the first punches. From his advance video trailer through to each significant claim of his book, Mr. Bell finds it necessary to skew a grossly caricatured orthodox perspective in order to make his points. Is that really necessary? In this regard, he renders the title of the book to the realm of the ironic. Stop conflating issues, Mr. Bell. If you want to “rag on” over your cultural version of “separated brethren” go ahead. If you would rather consider the widest possible view of God’s love that considers a re-evalution of universalism, more the better. You need not do both at the same time.”
    1. Not sure his portrait is as skewed as you suggest. I think this is what I have heard from certain camps.
    2. On Love Wins, this does need to be not merely the target but the means. Yes, yes.
    Good post.

    (99) Not sure Bell needs to give (or should be critiqued for not) giving a full demonlogy in his book. I bet you he has one. It may be a distinction, but maybe not.

    (101) Agreed.

    (104) John. It still seems to me that Bell has not endorsed Universalism as a definate, so saying this is the distinction between the two is false. Good post though!

    (105) John. I think some would say that Jesus judges and either sends to or annihilates some in Hell. That is his choice not theirs.

    (106) Dennis. Thanks. It seems to me its about more than doctrine, ie how we communicate and our presuppositions. Cheers.

    (107). Edwin. See my thoughts above.

  • Jeff Cook

    Comments on 1-35

    (2) Chris. Sorry for the delay. Yours is a great post. I get to give my opinion about what the debate is really about, and make a case for claim I suppose. Doctrine concerns are at work for sure, but kicking Rob off the bus and letting Lewis still drive (as it were) seems totally hypocritical to me.

    (3) John C. Not sure if it matters if Lewis saw him as an evangelical; Evangelicals have embraced him as their most important thinker.

    (4) Joshua. See (2) above.

    (5) James. See (3) above.

    (8) Rick. It’s a very necessary comment if other’s sins are hurting a brother of mine. Don’t you think?

    (10) James. This was an important question. Sorry for the delay. Lewis goes into this in Mere Christianity 182 among others. He writes, “….You may say that we are washed in the blood of the lamb. You may say that Christ has defeated death. They are all true. If any of them do not appeal to you, leave it alone and get on with the formula that does. And whatever you do, do not start quarrelling with other people because they use a different formula than yours.”

    (11) Michael. I agree. That is in fact the point of my post (not sure that was clear). So, Well said.

    (16) A Kirk. Nope. My claim is that some Christians are being hypocrites, and that is an issue as well.

    (24, 28) Rick and Pastor Matt. This is important. It seems that DeYoung is one of the few. Lewis remains a titan in evangelical circles.

    (30) Taylor. He does. Bell poses his own universalistic tendencies in questions not as claims. And that is important.

  • Rick

    Jeff Cook #124-

    “(104) John. It still seems to me that Bell has not endorsed Universalism as a definate, so saying this is the distinction between the two is false.”

    Is sound like you are somewhat unsure, and is that not largely the problem with much of this situation? So many people, critics and allies of Bell, seem unsure about where he actually stands. I have not read Bell’s book, but from the various review I am seeing, that is a common element.

    Therefore, it would then seem hard to adequately compare and contrast Bell and Lewis.

  • Rick

    Jeff #125-

    “It’s a very necessary comment if other’s sins are hurting a brother of mine. Don’t you think?”

    But you are assuming their motives. Do you have proof that envy and resentment are their motives?

  • paul johnston

    Hey Jeff @ 124. Reasonable push back, sir. I guess what I found so disappointing about Mr. Bell’s promotional video and book is that they both start with asking the ” is Gandhi in hell?” question. So far so good. But I audibly groaned when during the discourse he felt it necessary to characterize those with whom he would disagree as the type of people who post notes that say, “Reality check! Gandhi’s in hell!”. Even if such a circumstance did occur is it really necessary to the conversation about the expansiveness of God’s love? I can’t help but think that Mr. Bell begins his presentation by deliberately picking a fight.

    There is, for me at least, enough worthy subject matter presented by Mr. Bell for us discuss civilly, agreeing or disagreeing, without the provocation. Worse still I wonder if the provocation is deliberate, specifically in order to sell more books. Shame on him if that’s why he writes it. Shame on us if that’s why we buy it.

  • Jorge L

    Dirty Papist,

    You are wrong, as I have pointed out on previous threads. John Paul explicitly rejected apocatastasis, rejecting by name von Balthasar (whom he otherwise admired), Bulgakov and Origen. He based his position totally on the Bible: Jesus’s explicit words about eternal fire. You’ll find the text in Crossing the Threshold of Hope.

    You do a disservice to the Catholic faith by representing present Catholic doctrine as universalist.

    It is not.


    It teaches what Justin Martyr and Clement of Alexandria and the other Fathers taught: there is salvation for those who authentically live out Truth by the light of natural knowledge of truth poured into the human heart. This is exactly the same as Lewis’s position–the Emeth character in The Last Battle.

    Please do not continue to make the claim that the Catholic Church today teaches universalism.

  • Jeff Cook

    (127) Rick. I think it is the motives of some, and I do have proof. I am envious in these ways (so at least it applies to someone). But I bet I’m not alone.

    (128) Paul. I think you are correct here that he is poking some folks (and say so in the original post). Its still a good worthy book with lots to be celebrated. Cheers.

  • Scott Wildey

    To Christopher #2, Pastor Matt #28, et al.,

    It’s totally fair to bring doctrine into the discussion, because the conversation would make no sense without it.

    With that being said, I’m not sure it goes without saying that when we do talk about “Doctrine” we are also concurrently talking about our own experiences, wounds, family of origin, church of origin, preferences, prejudices—that shape our doctrine. These truths for all of us are subjective.

    As an example, in “The Blue Parakeet”, McKnight talks about the Doctrine of the Holy Spirit—specifically tongues. Though the merits of objective truth can be discussed on that issue, it’s been his experience (and mine) that people’s conviction and belief is more shaped by how they grew up (or church experience) regarding tongues. Our vernacular theology shapes our cognitive one, as much as it does the other way around.

  • Munky

    I believe it is an oversimplification to lump Bell and Lewis together. Bell seems to be arguing a definite chance of salvation after death. The theological community is reacting so strongly because it gives people a false hope that there are no concequences for their present actions. Now, Lewis indeed seems to believe God’s love and ‘romancing’ would continue after life however he states many many times that, contrary to strict Calvinist teaching, God cannot force anyone to be saved. He makes the point that the “ultimate act of self surrender” (salvation) cannot be forced and if it is not done by a soul willingly it simply will not happen. On top of that, he believed that how we live this life has a tremendous impact on what we become. His distinction is between a heavenly creature or a more hellish creature for whom heaven would actually be hell. So while God’s wooing will continue as it is his nature and his will is that all be saved, the damned are rebels to the end who will not repent and bow and have made themselves into a creature that most likely will not. The guy quotes Lewis’ line, “I believe that if a million chances were likely to do good, they would be given,” but he definitely took it out of context. It reads a bit different in the full setting…

    [… Some Hell critics say] death ought not to be final, that there ought to be a second chance. I believe that if a million chances were likely to do good, they would be given. But a master often knows, when boys and parents do not, that it is really useless to send a boy in for a certain examination again. Finality must come some time, and it does not require a very robust faith to believe that omniscience knows when.

  • MatthewS

    B.B. King plays notes on guitar and sings notes with his voice but it’s these things along with his ethos that moves you when you hear him. When a young hipster with no wrinkles on his face at open mic night tries to imitate him, he might play or sing some of the same notes but he’s not going to accomplish the same thing – his song just ain’t going to move you the same.

    Is Bell playing some of the same notes as Lewis? Perhaps. But is he accomplishing the same thing?

  • Clifford

    Wow – you all are way smarter than me. I have no idea what some of you are even talking about. This is oming from a simple layman who is part of the culture you all claim to be trying to reach. I understand the good news to be that Christ died once, for all, forever to settle the very issues you seem to be debating. Heaven or hell, wherever, whatever and whenever they turn out to be are a lock because Jesus has settled the issue. This may be way too simple for you theologians, but neither one is anything to worry about – the destination is utterly secured. Meanwhile, how about if we enjoy the journey. This may also sound too simplistic, but it seems that if we want to approrpriate everything that Jesus intends to give, we just need to grow in our relationship with, well, Jesus! There is a real possibility that he know more than Rob Bell, C.S Lewis or any of the rest of us.

  • Ben Wheaton


    I do think that “Love Wins” is fluff; the number of exegetical errors in the book and its sloppy and sentimental way of arguing make me dislike it.

    With regards to my third point (about Bell and Satan), I do think it matters what Lewis thought in this regard. This is because in addition to his passive view of hell (we form our own hells) he also had an active view of it; namely, it was the abode of demons who tormented the damned. This was what I was referring to when I was contrasting Bell’s view and Lewis’ view. With Bell, Hell’s torment is (if it is, in fact, eternal) caused by ourselves alone. With Lewis, demons are an outside torment.

  • Jeremy

    Ben, where does Lewis ever express a Hell with demonic tormentors? While Lewis was influenced by Dante, I have yet to read anything by him that expressed any sort of agreement with him regarding its physical nature.

  • Colleen

    Jeff: I gave you an entire post, but here’s a soundbite:

    Underlying this pretense about the supposed “biblical” basis for altering Paul’s gospel to include eternal torment in Hell is something even stranger. The odder, larger question is why the members of Team Hell so very much want this imagined eternal torment to be true…

    It’s tempting to speculate that this belief has less to do with a desire to uphold biblical truth than it does with a desire for control. The doctrine of Hell, after all, may be biblically indefensible, but it’s a terribly useful thing for keeping one’s followers in line. But such speculation would of course be irresponsible. I can’t know the contents of anyone else’s thoughts any more than they can know the contents of Rob Bell’s book before they’ve read it.

    Just because I can’t think of a decent or commendable reason someone would plausibly get angry over the thought of love winning doesn’t mean that their motives are necessarily bad.

    And this from another Patheos blog.

  • Chris

    My impression is that there are not a lot of pastors out there preaching about hell, certainly not as much as the record indicates Jesus did. Will Bell’s book be a blessing simply because it will motivate more men of God to preach about hell?

  • Ben Wheaton


    What I was referring to was Lewis’ suggestion that demons (or Satan) “consume” the damned souls in Hell; the quote I gave from Perelandra made this point.

    And Dante did not believe that Hell was under the earth like he portrayed it in his poem; it is, after all, an allegory. But a place? Probably. And I think that a good case can be made from Scripture that this is in fact the case.

  • Jeremy

    Colleen, what exactly are you driving at? It sounds as if you’re trying to blame “Team Bell” for the tone of the conversation, but I’m not sure that’s going to survive examination. Pulling a couple of blogs doesn’t move your original point beyond speculation. If I remember correctly, the opening salvo from DeYoung (which was later edited) outright accused Bell of being a servant of Satan or at least came very near it. Now, one could argue that Bell’s teaser was needlessly antagonistic, and that post for sure is unabashedly pejorative, but that hardly makes a case for a “large part” of the discussion’s obnoxiousness.

  • Jeremy

    Ben: It’s hard to say what Dante really believed. He was a poet and Inferno was as much political hatchet job as moral play.

    Also, the view expressed in the Great Divorce is significantly different, and it was written a couple of years later. None of his later writing repeat such a statement, so I’m left to wonder if that was early influence by Dante that wore off as time went on.

    Also, not sure how that ties in to Bell. He seems to think Hell is a place too.

  • Ben Wheaton


    You clearly have no understanding of Dante if you think that the Divine Comedy was a “political hatchet job.”

    The view expressed in the Great Divorce does contain elements of this demonic nature of hell; I believe that I gave a quote from the Great Divorce last week that speaks of “They” whom the residents of hell fear when the night finally comes.

    You are correct that this does not relate to Bell, but we were discussing Lewis and his views.

  • Travis Keller

    It is most interesting to me that people don’t really think. Most already have their minds made up. They either like Bell or don’t and their comments about Love Wins is determined as such. Or at the very least, one’s opinion is highly formed in the same capacity of partisan politics. “I’m on this side so…” Nothing much new is said. Rob is just a good target because he is communicating in a manner that connects. He is an innovative teacher as was Lewis.

  • nathan

    It’s clear to me that the cultural overlay on this discussion is incredibly important. Especially with regard to control, etc.

    It has been burgeoning for years with many other voices. A whole slate of voices have appeared on the scene in the last 10-15 years and they didn’t go to the oracles and self-appointed gatekeepers or come through the expected channels.

    It’s been very interesting how a whole group of people have created bully pulpits to be a de facto magisterium.

    But it all this sturm und drang is ultimately pointless simply because these different gatekeeper voices really only speak to their networks and don’t actually speak for the wide and free ranging reality that is evangelicalism.

  • Jeff Cook

    (132) Munky. Nothing in your post contradicts my claim that Love Wins expresses nothing that has not been floated as a possibility by Lewis.

    In response to the claim that my use of the Problem of Pain was out of context: my citation is of course part of a bigger argument. But notice, Lewis is advancing the idea that God *wants* to save all and *would* do whatever he could to see them freely choose his grace. In this quote (though it is arguable that he changes his mind later) he argues that God knows the counterfactual reality that no one would choose grace after death if given a second chance, and so second chances are unnecessary.

    On one front this is by no means clear. Lewis doesn’t *know* this, it is a guess.

    But more importantly, it isn’t relevant to the point at hand in this post. The quote is apt, for Lewis does believe God *would* give the chance if he thought it would be effective. That’s the real point at issue, and it’s the point that Bell is getting drilled on.


  • Simon

    I have read this post in the same manner I read Love Wins – with an open mind. I have worked my way through many of the comments and am struck by the futility of this whole situation.

    It is not what these men say about themselves that matters. We cannot place any weight on whether Bell or Lewis described themselves as evangelical or not.

    The truth boils down to one thing do they or do they not teach what God tells us in the Bible? I can describe myself as a Christian all I want but if I do not believe in certain fundamental things then describing myself as a follower of Christ means nothing.

    What I read in Love Wins is not Biblical. I cannot comment on CS Lewis because I am not read in that area. For instance on page 98 Bell asks will all people be saved or will God not get what He wants? Why is this put as an “either or” in order to justify everyone coming to acceptance of Christ even if it is after they die. Sin was not what God wanted but it happened.

    Further on Bell advocates the cessation of the use of the term “the blood of Christ” because it is now meaningless. I am sorry but the shed blood of the Lord Jesus is a fundamental part of the doctrine of salvation. Just take 1 Peter 1:18-21 and you will see what I mean here. Stop talking about the blood of Jesus Christ and where does it leave us?

    When all is said and done I think we need to get back to the Bible to solve this matter. Bell and Lewis are simply humans like the rest of us. Yes they have a following that means they can influence people but in the end they are no better than us. We can all read the Bible and seek God’s revelation there.

    My view is that however you want to describe it Love Wins is a book that contains false teaching and I am concerned that souls will be lost by reading it and thinking everything is ok as it is.

  • Matt

    Good post. Maybe it’s too late to weigh in, but I’ll try. I love CS Lewis and enjoy Rob Bell to an extent but with healthy skepticism. I don’t buy into everything either one says. To answer your question Jeff, you’re probably right that CS Lewis hints at, suggests or uses metaphor that implies the ideas presented in Love Wins. My take one why the are received and treated differently (which may or may not have already been said since I didn’t analyze all 146 posts) is:
    1. Lewis positions himself as an apologist for the Christian faith which puts him in good graces given his background as atheist scholar, etc. So even though he suggests controversial ideas, he is appreciated for his voice as an apologist so his other ideas are seen as creative ideas that we consider but don’t necessarily buy into since he insists he’s not a clergy or theologian. The same is accounted for with Lee Strobel who challenged on a popular level the literal ideas of fire in hell and pointed out they are figurative, etc. in the Case for Faith chapter on hell which raised eyebrows at least in my church. But he’s accepted because of his background and work as an apologist of the faith. Bell on the other hand is a pastor and theologian and has never positioned himself in the apologist realm. He is viewed as a person who questions most theological doctrines evangelicals hold dear to while at the same time not really trying to defend any one in a clear fashion. This is seen, right or wrong, as potentially dangerous and misleading.
    2. I don’t think style or popularity is threatening to anyone as you suggest. Christianity has proven over and over they will promote, put on a pedestal and sell anything that a popular speaker/author puts out there as long as they agree with their doctrine. Thus, I think it IS a doctrine issue in people’s minds, even though others feel it shouldn’t be…and maybe it shouldn’t be. Maybe he’s such a great communicator that everyone else is confused.
    3. Even though they promote similar ideas, they seem to promote them in different ways. Lewis insisted over and over that we better decide now about Jesus because eternity is a long time and he employs the “negative motivation” approach with such titles as “divorce” and so on. Sort of like modern evangelical presentations starting with “you’re going to hell as a sinner so accept Jesus.” Bell is saying this is a huge turnoff, you need to selling Jesus love not scaring people with hell. And besides, he says, hell may not be quite what everyone is saying it is. Lewis may have said the same sort of things about hell, but he still used God’s wrath for eternity as a motivator. As pomo has told us, HOW you present info can change what the info is you’re presenting. Bell can’t be shocked that people are receiving his teaching the way that they are. He’s too smart.

    I think those are the reasons why they are treated differently.

  • Robbie Castleman

    Ralph Wood, Lewis scholar at Baylor, has pointed out that Lewis responded to the questions about “Tash” in The Last Battle as referring to Roman Catholics, others who profess Christ within different communions. It’s wise, I think, to let Lewis first be heard within his context historically and not, even unknowingly, make him a voice for a distant argument.

  • Sola Ratione

    If you’re interested in a non-Christian perspective on Rob Bell’s work, see this site:

  • Kelly Jhnston

    Wow,as I sat down to finish my teching for tomorrow, I fell upon this discussion. It seems (to me) to be disconnected from the reality of talking to people who yearn for more than life as it is today. I know that you all are well read, well educated (more than me!)and are committed to the deep ideas you ponder and discuss. Yet for it’s worth to me, and my major thought/ reaction from reading this blog this: I wish one of you would attend our community and use all this mental energy and passion to get involved on a intimate level with some peoole I know who need loved and disipled. Then they could find Jesus, live a life wholly devoted to Him and the rest would be mute.

  • john

    All the comparison between Lewis and Bell. Who cares? What matters is the truth. I can’t seem to find in the Bible where those in Hell will get a second chance. Please show me. If it’s not there then it is false doctrine.

  • Wendy McCaig

    I am with Kelly #150 on this one. I think perhaps the modern / post modern divide is also evidenced by those who will and will not engage in this debate. I don’t know Kelly but as I have read various threads on this conversation, it appears to me that more post-modern folks see it all as a “mute” point and the real issue as “how we are live like Jesus” and less about “what we believe about God.” Just an observation regarding the author’s comment about this being a modern/postmodern collision. I really don’t find many post-modern folks who want to get into John’s (#151) kind of debate over whose exegetical work is stronger. I really don’t know how you can have the kind of modern/post modern conversations called for when we simply do not speak the same language. I do however think the author is correct in saying that this is the issue underneath this debate.

  • scotmcknight

    But Wendy, I’d like you to consider this. I get the postmodern thing, but Rob Bell has written a book that is about theology not about praxis. Had he said, “Hell/heaven/etc don’t matter, what does matter is how we live, and then tell stories about living.” That’s praxis vs. theology. Rob wrote about the theology of heaven and hell, so it’s unfair for critics to respond “Who cares? What matters is how we live. And I’m with Rob Bell.” I’ve yet to see anyone pull the postmodern or “it’s about praxis” who doesn’t agree with Rob. That strikes me as profoundly odd — let’s call it what it is: irony. Because the real irony here is that “it’s all about praxis and not theology” is a theology.

  • Brent

    I’m torn. I’m told I have to read Rob Bell’s book to avoid having any opinion on him and that he’s being misrepresented by his critics. Yet, I was told the same thing about Brian McLaren’s books, and so I shelled out 50 bucks, read them, and they were everything his critics said they were (and ridiculous to boot). 50 bucks down the drain. He wasn’t misrepresented in any substantial way. Now the same things are being said about Rob Bell by the same cast of characters that tried to exhonerate McLaren.

    And then there’s this –

    “I suspect many felt poked in the eye by the way Harper and Rob decided to market Love Wins. I suspect Bell intimidates some because he is part of a culture they do not understand and cannot control (that culture is urban, postmodern, and discovers the truth more naturally through questions, sarcasm, and intuition than through the systematic presentations of the top Christian publishing house).

    And let’s not kid ourselves, I suspect the fire behind the debate is often about envy and resentment of a very talented man, about our own inability to get a hearing in the public square, and about the fear that new ways of talking about Jesus might trump what some have preached for decades.”

    This is just childish. And silly. Mark Discoll (While acknowledging he’s not a perfect person) gets a hearing in this urban, postmodern culture just fine. Draws just as well as Bell does.

  • Jeff Cook

    (131) Scott. Well put. Much more to be said here about how our background influences our hermeneutic.

    (133) Matthew. What’s your point here? It feels like you are just saying Lewis has more skills than Bell and as such comes off ad homonym.

    (135) Ben. It is appropriate and good for Christians who are great communicators to write books to a mainstream audience. If that equates to fluff so be it. Go read your journal articles and find God there. Why judge Rob’s style?

    (143) Travis. Agreed.

    (147) Matt. On envy. I just want to put forward that I think it is an issue here for some. Not all, but some.

    (148) Robbie. What of my points made in the post? I don’t reference the Last Battle.

    (151) John. What matters is that critics may be publically hypocritical and not self-reflective. Niether is good for our Church.

    (150, 152) Wendy and Kelly. Let me speak about postmodernity and theology. In my mind truth certainly does matter, exegesis matters, consistency matters, what you believe, do and affirm matters and I hold to a more pragmatic theory of truth. Here’s the thing, I just don’t take a step suggesting MY exegesis, MY experience of God and his world, MY moral intuitions are some how objective. These obviously requires more thought, but I would highly suggest that those commenting on this blog read Bell’s book. The whole thing is exegesis – perhaps to a default.

    (153) Scot. I agree. It does seem to me there is a worthy presentation that can be made by those who presuppose subjectivity when speaking about knowledge of God. I do not think those who say “all we can do is embrace Praxis” have thought through what theology in a postmodern context can be. There are brilliant, beautiful, creative, Christ affirming places to go here that don’t reduce to the irrelevance of creed or dogma.

    (154) Brent. It’s not childish. It’s an observation which I feel holds. Now, to your credit you do try and refuted it by suggesting Mark Driscoll gets a hearing by postmodern audiences. How would you define postmodern here? If you mean ‘young-folk.’ Sure. If you mean people who presuppose subjectivity. Nope.

  • paul johnston

    How can postmodern subjectivity (relativism?) be anything other than anti ethical to the Christian message?

    …”We are building a dictatorship of relativism that does not recognize anything as definitive and whose ultimate standard consists solely of one’s own ego and desires”…

    Benedict XVI

  • Aaron J. Kunce

    Lewis’ writing was far more nuanced than Cook is indicating when he says things like Bell and Lewis are ‘identical’, etc. It is not just the way Bell is saying it… it is the content. And while there may be similarities… this is an apples to oranges comparison. I’ve read everything Lewis wrote and everything Bell has written. I just don’t think Cook is accurate here. Love Jeff Cook. But this is just off. Blessings, Aaron J. Kunce

  • Brent

    “Brent. It’s not childish. It’s an observation which I feel holds. Now, to your credit you do try and refuted it by suggesting Mark Driscoll gets a hearing by postmodern audiences. How would you define postmodern here? If you mean ‘young-folk.’ Sure. If you mean people who presuppose subjectivity. Nope.”

    Oh, please, Jeff, it’s an attempt to poison the well by impuning the motives of the people who dare to criticize Rob Bell.

    “If you mean ‘young-folk.’ Sure. If you mean people who presuppose subjectivity. Nope.”

    (Smile). I guess all the people who come to Christ through his church are really just former moderns. In urban Seattle. Yeah, right. Did it ever occur to you that involved in their conversion is also a conversion from postmodern thought, which is, as John Mark Reynolds has said, is “paganism for silly people?”

  • Andie

    WOW! I’ve been reading Rob Bell’s new book, and since I respect Scot’s opinion a lot, I thought I would come by and see if he was discussing it. I’ve really been enjoying the book because it is pretty straight forward and addressing some issues I’ve been struggling with for quite a while. As I was scanning through all the comments, I’m remembering why I don’t come over here very often anymore. Way too academic for my needs. Blessings all and may the grace of the Lord Jesus be with you!

  • Jeff Cook

    (158) Brent. I like this comment. Lots to play with here. So let’s relook at the claim under contention. I wrote, “I suspect the fire behind the debate is often about envy and resentment of a very talented man.”

    In this quote I am suggesting that there is *atleast one* instances of criticism of Bell’s book derived from envy and resentment. I think this claim is true (and I bet you do too). If it is true, it is not logically fallacious to use it for it would prove my primary claim in the post: that the debate over Love Wins is not just about doctrine. As such the envy claim is not poisoning the well. If true, it is a proof of my thesis.

    On the second comment, I think your claim that there may be some conversions from postmodern to modern presuppositions is a good one. However, I would be very surprised if this is common. I know far too many folks who are predisposed to subjectivity who, when hearing Driscoll, are immediately turned off. That’s not a knock on him; I would simply wager that that is not the audience he is most effective with. I get the sense he is doing good work, especially with immature males who need someone to father them a bit.

    On the Reynold’s quote. I would like you to prove this. I don’t see the connection. I see no reason to think that someone can’t have a postmodern epistemology and love and follow Jesus. On the face of it, the claim seems philosophically naive (and an actual example of a logical fallacy – this time an ad homonym). It seems to me that thinkers like William James and Ludwig Wittgenstein are not “silly people.”

    You seem like a better thinker than this. I would invite you to look again at their arguments and reassess whether the quote used is apt.

    Enjoyable thoughts and exchange Brent (and I hope you agree).

  • Jeff Cook

    (156) Paul. Epistemologies that assume subjectivity are simply acknowledging that we cannot escape the unique perspective we as individuals have. Everything you and I believe is filtered through us, our history, language, categories, intuitions, etc. That’s not a bad thing it seems to me. I can affirm both that Jesus is Lord, and I can affirm that my experience of the world is different than yours–that we may start the search for knowledge with fundamentally different presuppositions that lead us in fundamentally different directions cognitively. I am fine with someone becoming and remaining a Christian while holding such views.

  • Edwin


    I agree with a lot of what you have said, but I think your speculations about the motives of Bell’s opponents have been very unfortunate and have made it harder for folks to hear your legitimate points. I don’t think we are justified in that kind of speculation, any more than Bell’s opponents are justified in saying that his book is just marketing. As Lewis frequently pointed out, you don’t get to explain why people are wrong until you have proven that they are wrong. Speculating about their motives is irrelevant to the truth question.

    To the point about style–I think it’s a valid point to a degree. In fact, I said this to a reporter this afternoon–that Lewis said many of the same things but in a different way and with a greater emphasis on sin, etc. However, if we are talking about _heresy_, then I think it’s not enough to say that Bell has a different tone or emphasis. The claim being made by many is that Bell has substantively denied orthodox Christianity. Folks saying that need to have the courage and honesty to say that Lewis did as well. (Piper in fact addressed this issue long before the present controversy–Piper is nothing if not honest and consistent. He does make a case for why he treats Lewis differently than the “emergents,” but he admits that Lewis’s orthodoxy is highly defective in his view.)

    If the claim is simply that Bell hasn’t affirmed certain orthodox teachings with sufficient clarity, I would agree. If the claim is that he is dealing with very serious issues without the due gravitas, I would be somewhat inclined to agree. (He’s no George MacDonald or Karl Barth–or even C. S. Lewis!) But when we start using the word heresy, we need to be talking about something clearly incompatible with the central truths of the Faith. And I don’t think that applies to Bell.

    And I’d like to hear where Ralph Wood gets this idea that Lewis was talking about Catholics in the Last Battle. I’d like to see the context of what Lewis affirmed. I seriously doubt that it was meant as restrictively as the poster is implying. I don’t think Lewis himself saw Roman Catholics as equivalent to Calormenes, though if he was thinking of something like an Inquisitor who persecuted Protestants in good faith I can see him making the analogy.

  • Jeff Cook

    (162) Edwin. There is wisdom in your words, but notice, if there is envy at the root it is worth exposing, and I think there is. Here is quick proof. If someone said I was envious of Charlie Sheen or Lady Gaga, and that led me to my present course of behavior, I would laugh at them. It is when my envy is actually *real* that I get defensive, and that has been a common response above.

    I say my words about envy, the most prominent sin among pastors in my view, as a word of warning for self reflection. If it does not apply, then be blessed, laugh at me, and move on.

    “Heresy” seems to me an easy term thrown out when one doesn’t want to defend the beauty and attractiveness of their own position.

    Let those with ears hear.

    Peace, brother.

  • Jeff Lintz

    Jeff, Thank you for the post. After having read it, I am one step closer to reading Love Wins and maybe learn something useful. I am not familiar with Bell but I am with Lewis. I will certainly read the book with the Lewis comparison in mind. What intrigues me most about your propositions is the conflict you see between modernist and postmodernist discourse in the Church. It seems to me the conflict arises out of the Body-Mind problem in philosophy; rationalism/existentialism; objective truth/subjective perception (personnaly, I’m trying to converge Anselm with substantial reality. I’ll let you know when I do it). I’ve read a little Wittgenstein (I know, very dangerous) and believe such discusions tend toward the ineffable or what Paul might call seeing “through a glass darkly”. A believer might hope for a “theory of all things”; a spiritual M theory, if you will. Of course, the nature of Christ Jesus revealed in scripture and illuminated by the Holy Spirit would be the ticket to eliviate some of the vagueness of knowing. But here’s the crux of the matter: how do we know if the origin of the “illumination” comes from the Holy Spirit or our own imaginations? Talk about a reason for humility. What can be done? Until I can see with certainty, I will continue to follow John’s directive to “love one another.” It brings me the most peace.

  • Jeff Cook

    I ended my last post (163) poorly. My apologies.

    (164) Jeff. Excellent post. Love the end, and no matter what our epistemology, “Love never fails.” That’s a good place to be.

  • Matt

    Jeff, consider yourself laughed at. LOL.

  • paul johnston

    Jeff, is 2+2 still 4,irrespective of subjective experiences?

  • Jeff Cook

    (167) Paul. I consider mathematical truths, necessary truths. But that is a theory that could be wrong. That is it could be the case that mathematical truths are contigent. Postmodernity in my mind says simply that. All statements of fact are theory dependent. See Thomas Kuhn. The structure of scientific revolutions. Whachathink ?

  • Jeff Cook

    (166) Matt. Much love!

  • Matt

    You too Jeff. I really do mean it in fun. You have a good point about envy in ministry being a big problem.

  • Matt Lundquist

    In my Master’s Thesis at Denver Seminary (1985) “The Apologetic of C.S. Lewis as an Art and a Science” I discussed 3 well-documented influences on Lewis: Rationalism, Romanticism, and Nostalgia for the Medieval Worldview. Of these, Rob Bell seems to share only the tendency towards Romanticism. Lewis prophetically spoke against the Modernism of his day as well as anticipating the dangers of Post-modernism. His clear commitment to Platonism and Realism in Ontology and Language respectively identified him as a pre-modern and, by his own admission, a “dinosaur.” To compare him with Rob Bell is Apples and Oranges. It is not doctrinal correctness that commends CSL to Evangelicals, but his clarity and succincness in communicating the orthodox “faith once delivered to all the saints.” He takes no issue with the Apostle’s Creed and believes that words really mean something. He believes that signs can be accurately read and that symbols “participate in the reality of the things symbolized.” Rob Bell resonates with Post-Moderns by speaking their language. The real question is whether this language and the cultural worldview it has emerged from is capable of comprehending and incarnating the Truth of the “Word made Flesh” or whether PM requires rescue and transformation in order to “come to the knowledge of the Truth.”

  • Jeff Cook

    (171) Matt. I’m not sure if you are disagreeing with my contention. The issue in the public square today regarding Bell is “doctrinal correctness”. My contention is that the debate is actually about how truths are communicated, and the continuing discussion about postmodern and modern epistemological approaches. It seems you affirm all of that and fall on the side of modernity. That’s just fine. Let’s now have that discussion–because it is the most important conversation for American Christianity in the years to come to have. Otherwise we will continue to talk past each other calling one another heretic.

  • Matt Lundquist

    Jeff, Although I find fault with much of the PM epistemological approach I’m not sure I fall on the side of modernity. Lewis talks about an ancient “unity of meaning” prior to the time when language was divided into figurative and literal (or metaphors into tenor and vehicle). If this is a Modern split then we need to get behind it. Lewis’ assertion that in Christianity “Myth became Fact” doesn’t reject the category of historicity or call it irrelevant. Rather, his openness and acceptance of other myths and traditions is predicated on the claim that only in Christ have these events “actually happened.” I think that Bell’s method has affected the message and compromised it.

  • Jeff Cook

    (173) Matt. I think that’s a worthwhiled distinction between the two, for sure. It is exactly what I was suggesting. The conversation is about the presuppositions at work and how truths are articulated. That is the real issue. But of course, no one is saying that these things are the issue. That is not where the fire is coming from concenring Bell’s work. The issues being objected to by Christianity Today and others have been about universalism, how we speak about hell and the cross, etc. — all topics Lewis hit prior to Bell.

    The real issues at hand are meta-theology not theology.

    Good stuff, Matt.

  • Brent

    “In this quote I am suggesting that there is *atleast one* instances of criticism of Bell’s book derived from envy and resentment. I think this claim is true (and I bet you do too). If it is true, it is not logically fallacious to use it for it would prove my primary claim in the post: that the debate over Love Wins is not just about doctrine. As such the envy claim is not poisoning the well. If true, it is a proof of my thesis.”

    But what you said was “I suspect the fire behind the debate is OFTEN about envy and resentment of a very talented man”. Why do you think this? You seem to be assuming a whole lot here. Frankly, I can speak for myself and the pastors I’m close to (some who are in my family) who don’t think Rob Bell is within the pale. They don’t care about being popular, or how many people will listen to them. Mature adults don’t care about that stuff. They’re not in it for themselves. They want people to come to Christ. They care about the *content* of the message. What you’re projecting onto them is fleshly, sinful desires. Unless I see a real reason to think that that’s what people like Piper, DeYoung, and Moehler are about, why should I think it’s true?

    As far as Driscoll, sure, that will happen. But Bell, I’m sure, doesn’t connect with most postmodern unchurched person he meets either. They may be more likely to say “that’s nice”, but that doesn’t mean they give him a real hearing.

    Postmodernism did have some insightful critiques of modernism, but its lead to things like an elite culture that is hostile towards Christianity for being intolerant, sexist, homophobic, etc., but looks the other way at Islamic culture which is all these things to the ninth power, because of an overarching narrative that views Muslims as victims. And this has inroads to the man on the street, especially the young. It can’t even recogize its own inconsistencies. It isn’t another method of discovering truth, it deconstructs and reinterprets based on what’s needed to promote current objectives. As such, it’s something get people to snap out of. I realize there may be nuances of postmodernism that can lead in a different direction, but this is it’s main strain.

  • Brent

    But let’s talk about the C.S. Lewis-Rob Bell equivication. In the preface to The Great Divorce, Lewis says on the belief that we are never faced with a final either of decision – “This belief I take to be a disastrous error.” In other words, there is a point where things are final. And also, one other commentor has noted that Lewis reminds the reader that his state of affairs in the afterlife is not what he is saying is actually true – it’s part of the story, the goal of which is to present a moral.

    And the moral involves, as I understand it, the idea that those who choose hell continue to do so in the afterlife, that heaven would be unbearable for them. So in reality, isn’t this actually an apology for a much more traditional view than Bell has, that hell is actually just and fair, and those who don’t choose it now aren’t going to be inclined to after death?

    Lewis also says nothing disparaging about the traditional view, never says it’s toxic, or that those who hold it aren’t good at art or don’t throw very good parties, etc.

    In sum, Lewis is in actuality largely defending the view that Rob Bell doesn’t like.

  • Jeff Cook

    (175, 176) Brent

    On the first post, i am envious of bell’s success. I am one critiquing and so atleast I am in the club I am critiquing. The word often implies more than I wish to convey. Your right there. I do suspect envy. That’s importAnt to say in mind.

    On the second post, everything here either reinforces my claim. It is how things are being said not what. Or you need to read bell’s book and note that he also holds the view you are attributing to Lewis.

    Cheers friend!

  • Edwin


    Lewis never defends the view that eternal punishment will be imposed retributively upon people who might have repented had they gotten more chances. That’s the view Bell doesn’t like. Lewis clearly repudiates that view. Where Lewis and Bell differ is that Lewis is much more open to the possibility that people may come relatively “soon” (by Bell’s standards) to a point of finality where no further chances will do them any good. Lewis suggests in places that this might happen even before death (the “unforgiveable sin”), and at times seems to suggest that death “freezes” the choice (someone earlier cited Lewis’s description of the death of one of the villains in Hideous Strength, which uses that language in a fictional context). In TGD Lewis uses the supposition of postmortem opportunity to make the argument that _when_ the point of finality arrives isn’t as important as the fact that it _will_ arrive and the choices we make matter eternally. As Bell himself notes, Lewis suggests at times that enough wrong choices will make a person into an “ex-human” no longer capable of choosing good (as you see in the “Dwarf and Tragedian” in TGD). Bell leaves this open as a possibility, but obviously would prefer to believe that this won’t happen. Similarly, Lewis explicitly leaves universal salvation open as a possibility in TGD, but doesn’t seem too optimistic about it. So there are certainly differences of tone and emphasis, and these are important. But Lewis is not defending the view Bell is attacking. Lewis does in fact criticize such views at times, though again that wasn’t his main emphasis.

  • Jeff

    I felt like the first post was mostly ad hominem.

    Sure there are people who respond to Bell out of Jealousy. But, that’s the case in every single issue ever debated. Okay, lets’ just move on.

    That doesn’t get at the real issues.

    And, the debate is about modernism v postmodernism for many. True again. But that’s just two flawed extremes. There is an approach to Christianity that is not merely modernistic nor purely postmodern. I think Richard Bauckham, in attaching Christianity to the cross, expounds this better than any in Art of Reading Scripture – The Bible as Story.

    Postmodernism’s value is its critique on modernism and its story telling features. But, ultimately fails when it doesn’t embrace the metanarrative of the cross. Bell is quintessentially postmodern in approach and I think that drives his perspective too strongly.

    He tends to be non-comprehensive and non-methodical in his analysis of Biblical texts (skipping many; not recognizing strong tensions; and then offering snippets of texts out of context). Were he to be more comprehensive, it would cramp his postmodern style. It would be more boring. That would ruin his whole method, I understand. But, I want to say, too bad. Do the hard work. If you don’t want it in the main story, have an equally long appendix where you deal with all the issues.

    I am reminded of N.T. Wright’s books like The Challenge of Jesus. He has all his points there buttressed by massive research in his other books.

    One also has to wonder – is Bell desirous of engagement with someone like a Ben Witherington? Or is he just out there throwing stuff at the wall to see if it sticks.

    Ironically, I’m not predisposed to be against Bell’s conclusions. I have no ax to grind. I don’t presently agree but the more troubling aspect is not Bell’s conclusions. They are his approach to Biblical subjects. If you start down the road of employing one or twenty passages. Then, you need to use the whole canon in your analysis and conclusions; as well as getting at the contexts more carefully in the ones you do use. He doesn’t do that.

    But, above all, I found this post much too ad hominem.

  • Kevin Wayne

    When Calvinists start taking Romans 11 as seriously as they do Romans 9, Calvinism will cease to exist.

  • Mick Wolfe

    Admittedly I have not read all the posts above, neither have I read Rob Bell. My overwhelming concern is not essentially the cultural or philosophical opinions of Bell or Lewis. The challenge we face is engaging in good, solid Biblical hermeneutics, working to arrive at a Biblical perspective, wrestling with this challenge in the Christian community and proclaiming a compelling picture of God and His kingdom with the intention of convicting sinners of sin, leading to repentance. So much of this controversy can easily become a distraction to the task at hand. I am not suggesting that we do ot prepare to engage the culture for the purpose stated above but we must be careful that we are prearing to transform te world, not have the world transform us. As I study current trends in the postmodern impact upon Christianity, I think we are naively and foolishly becoming tasteless salt. I would suggest that the long-term results of the current culture wars that have gripped the Christian community will prove to be unproductive if not counter-productive. I am amazed, as I study Scripture, that there ARE principles present that address all of this stuff if we only make sure we have eyes to see by keeping our eyes on the one who sees. As much as I like the contributions of certain people, they are not the Supreme One. We also must recall the Biblical warning about false prophets, people who offer something attractive enough to lure people away from the real task at hand, advancing the kingdom of God!!

  • Brian Lee

    Bell does complete a trajectory begun by Lewis, but I would say he has gone farther in his negative statements about the cross. I’ve written both on Bell and on Lewis’s teaching on hell, in particular, at the following places (Lewis piece is behind firewall).

    Is Rob Bell’s “Love Wins” a Clanging Gong?

    Lewis’s Reflections on Hell (unfortunately behind firewall)

  • Chris

    Thanks for these thoughts. I included this article on my post about “Love Wins”. Interesting thoughts!

  • Lynn

    This is a thread from the Facebook team managing Alister McGrath’s page on the subject on 25 march:’

    Thanks so much for your question, and for passing along this link. While Alister is quite busy at the moment, we’re happy to point out a couple things that might be helpful to you as you consider the parallels being drawn between C ….S. Lewis’ theology and the ideas expressed by Rob Bell in his most recent book, “Love Wins.”

    One of the key arguments being made in light of Bell’s latest work is that he is proposing Universalist ideas, wherein, ultimately, all souls will be saved by God’s love. If that is the core argument against Bell, it is then necessary to compare this statement to Lewis’ own writing on this subject.

    The author of the blog you linked to had this to say: “…Lewis’s [sic] leaves the gates of heaven wide open through the way he structures reality in The Great Divorce. He frequently insistented [sic] that Hell is locked from the inside, and continually insists that hell is self-chosen—all of these point to the possibility that one day some of the damned may choose to be restored, and that God may welcome them like a prodigal son through the saving work of Christ.”

    Indeed, Lewis does appear to believe that our choices play a pivotal role in our eternal destiny, as he writes in The Great Divorce, “There are two kinds of people: those who say to God, ‘Thy will be done,’ and those to whom God says, ‘Thy will be done.’ All that are in Hell choose it.” However, this does not imply, as the author of this blog has wrongly assumed, that Lewis believes this decision can be made after this life has passed, when this author writes: “All of these point to the possibility that one day some of the damned may choose to be restored…”

    This belief that the damned have the opportunity to choose to accept God’s saving grace offered in the gift of His Son Jesus Christ after this life has passed is not at all what Lewis believed. We can see this point clearly in Lewis’ work, Mere Christianity, when he writes: “[When God appears without disguise] It will be too late then to choose your side. There is no use saying you choose to lie down when it has become impossible to stand up. That will not be the time for choosing; it will be the time when we discover which side we really have chosen, whether we realised it before or not. Now, today, this moment, is our chance to choose the right side. God is holding back to give us that chance. It will not last for ever. We must take it or leave it.”

    Lewis’ words appear quite clear on this point: it is imperative to accept God’s gift of salvation now, for there will come a time when it will simply be too late. In this way, it is hard, if not impossible, to see how Lewis might have believed that all souls would ultimately spend eternity in God’s presence, as Rob Bell is being accused of positing in his latest book, “Love Wins.”

  • Jeff Cook

    (184) Lynn. Thank you for forwarding the comment. Here’s my best attempt at arguing against the point made:

    My claim is not that Lewis at specific points renounces certain theological claims, for if we hold him to that standard, he, like most of us who are writers, will turn up contradictions at various points.

    My claim is that Second chances after death are clearly in his work. Portions left unquoted by the critique above were:

    “Lewis wrote, “I believe that if a million chances were likely to do good, they would be given” (The Problem of Pain, 110). This is a confession that God wants to save all and would provide such roads if God thought they’d work … In fact, both Bell and Lewis argue, “Humanity is already ‘saved’ in principle; we individuals have to appropriate that salvation” (Mere Christianity 156). As such, I see every reason to think that Rob has an identical ontology of hell to CS Lewis, Rob however has more faith in the ability of some to eventually repent, that is the only real difference between them—and it is a belief about people not about God and God’s desires.”

    This gives us strong reasons for thinking that Lewis believed in second chances *if* they would bring salvation. Again the question then becomes, not “what will God do?” but , “what will the damned do if given the chance to enter God’s kingdom beyond death?” It seems that the door is open in Lewis’s writing, just as it is in Bell’s, and that is my contention.

    (Again – I am an annihilationist and think death is final for those not united to Christ and his resurrection, so this is an academic point for me. I think, you should fear death for it is a robber that steals all meaning and value from life now, and only because of the resurrection is there a reason to hope for any kind of afterlife. JC)

  • Patrick

    I love the discussion points and the topic. It will never get old to me. I love seeing how different people throughout the ages come to the same conclusion within the framework of the scripture that has been given them to understand. Having been raised evangelical myself, I have had to basically unlearn a lot in the last few years regarding the topic at hand. I am amazed to see how many people on the same paths of conclusion without the knowledge of others influence regarding the topic of “eternal destination.” I have always wondered why Jesus would continue to beckon beyond the grave if there was no hope for them outside the gate to get in after death. The possibilities of much more than we currently know and have been taught helps answer that question for me.

  • Keith

    Just one correction to those saying things to the effect that Bell “rips off” C.S. Lewis: Bell begins the book by stating very clearly that none of the ideas he articulates originate with him, but have been argued and discussed for centuries. He closes the book by suggesting C.S. Lewis’ “The Great Divorce” for further reading. He is hardly ripping off Lewis.

  • Joy

    Just finished Love Wins, googled to see if this comparison was going. I’ve read Problem of Pain, a Grief Observed, The Last Battle and the great Divorce. All carry some of the theory. Rob Bell is very close to Lewis. Lewis is close to George MacDonald.

    Lewis described the Calvinist/Armianism problem in Mere Christianity – he was neither/nor but had a different take slightly closer to Armianism.

  • Christopher Hathaway


    I also found your characticutre of Bell’s opponents’ motivations unhelpful and unwarranted. While I understand you may feel there was truth in your assertion you have recognized that there was little evidence to back it up, and merely to make the assertion clouds the waters. Your attempts to gracefully extract yourself from the foolishness of that claim would be better served by simply confessing that it was a foolish thing to say, and move on. We all are sinners, and Envy is around each of our hearts, but it does no good to make that point in an argument about particular people.

    You provoke a good discussion, but it should be remembered that no good discussions come by directly accusing the motivations of those you wish to engage in the conversation. This is a facet of late modernism that post modernism has maintained. It plays into a form of pride masked in false piety.

    But what I would find interesting, as you are an annihilationist, and I am one too, is what you make of the resurrection of the damned. To what are they resurrected. and FOR what? I ask, not because I have no idea, but because I have never heard a good answer from an annihilationist perspective and am trying to find my own way of understanding it and am curious if your responce is similar to mine. It is interesting that the term apokatastasis is used for Universalism. I had not come accross that before. But Apokatastasis is a big concept for me, as it is used by Irenaeus to mean Recapitulation, and I see the Last Day as being a grand Recaping of Time from the moment of Creation until the end of that period of Time. The damned will be “summed up”, as it were, and dealt with.

    There are many issues that come into play in the subject of hell. Does it endure forever or are the damend destroyed? Will all be saved eventually or will some be lost forever? Also, does the soul really exist outside the body, and what kind of existence might that be? I do not think it would be a surprise to suggest that certain Christian thoughts on the soul after death have been influenced by ideas about a naturally immortal soul, ideas much more harmonious with Greek philosophy than with the entirety of Scripture. And I think much of Scripture than seems to speak of an naturally immortal soul is being read that way through the prism of Neoplatonism.

  • RiRL

    I am not any kind of expert on CS Lewis, and this post it quite late, but from my understanding one of the major themes in the Great Divorce is about the type of person that can choose either Heaven or Hell.

    In one passage, a character called “the big man” (of course, he’s visiting from Hell) is implored by Len (who turns out to have been a murder now) to “accept the bleeding charity.”

    The “Big man” doesn’t want this charity: the irony is that the merciful sacrifice (charity) of Christ’s blood is exactly what the Big Man needs to accept to get into heaven and not his good works. He eventually chooses damnation over heaven.

    In another passage, I can quote a specific place, Lewis mentions that if a man required thousands of chances before he could accept God, then he’d no doubt have it. However, says Lewis, that perhaps there comes a point where things become settled, and no additional chances could make any difference.

  • Rob Stroud

    Several observations about the energetic discussion transpiring here:

    (1) Lewis, as a sacramental Christian (of the Anglican variety), doesn’t belong in either Calvinist or Arminian camps. As an evangelical Lutheran pastor I also find that theological conversation to be something peripheral to my own church’s theological emphases. (I know that may be difficult for some on the frontlines of this particular debate to understand, but trust me, you have many brothers and sisters in Christ who don’t see that dichotomy the way that either side in that never-ending debate do.)
    (2) The notion that Lewis only merits more respect than Bell because he is deceased is (pardon me) laughable.
    (3) I agree with those who have said the Love Wins “issue” truly is primarily about doctrine. That’s the reason I personally haven’t invested the time in reading his work—because of the reviews I’ve read highlight his universalism. (I’m not lazy; I’m an avid reader of theology . . . but I don’t waste too much time trying to digest heretical doctrine.)
    (4) There, I said it. Yes, I too (along with the Church Catholic) regard universalism as an errant teaching. Condemnation of Origen’s universalism has already been cited. Also, whether they use them in worship or not, most Christian theological traditions have affirmed the ecumenical creeds. In the Nicene Creed (Niceno-Constantinopolitan Creed finalized in A.D. 381) Christ’s judgment of “the living and the dead” has always been understood as the separation of the sheep and goats, who are headed to very different destinations. One reason there is not a huge record of the condemnation of universalism in historical literature is due to the fact it was clearly so far from the orthodox teaching that they didn’t need to waste the effort.
    (5) As I understand Bell’s position, he advocates that universalism is biblically correct. Lewis, on the other hand, never presented the theme as his “belief.” The works from which this notion is drawn (e.g. The Great Divorce and The Last Battle) are fantasy. For Lewis, salvation of those who (in this life) rejected Christ is a sentimental matter . . . in the sense that it is something we might, as compassionate reflections of our Creator, desire. However, one of Lewis’ obvious reasons for writing the former title was to explain precisely how hell could exist, despite God’s love for his creation.
    (6) Finally, Lewis constantly qualified his religious writings with the caveat that he was not a theologian (or pastor). And he never wavered from professing the orthodox (i.e. creedal) faith. Bell, on the other hand, is a pastor, and apparently relishes his role as a nouveau theologian.

    Have enjoyed reading the various comments, but I consider what I have heard regarding Bell’s universalist teachings to be damaging to the Christian Church. There is a world of difference between hoping all will be saved and believing (and teaching) that they will.