Exploring Love Wins 8

“There Are Rocks Everywhere” is the most controversial and important chapter in Rob Bell’s new book, Love Wins: A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived.  This chp is going to take some special grace if we want a good conversation. I am asking that you pause quietly and slow down enough to pray this prayer as the way to approach this entire series:

O Lord, you have taught us that without love whatever we do is worth nothing:
Send your Holy Spirit and pour into my heart your greatest gift,
which is love, the true bond of peace and of all virtue,
without which whoever lives is accounted dead before you.
Grant this for the sake of your only Son Jesus Christ,
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God,
now and for ever. Amen.

I want to sketch the substance of this chapter because it provides a sketch of how it is that God’s saving presence is made known to all people who have ever lived. Some people have profound religious experiences, seemingly out of nowhere, and some of them come to Christ as a result of those experiences. [Again, if you like this post or conversation, please Tweet this or FB share it. Thanks.]

This chapter is about the omnipresence of Christ, and by presence he means really present in an engaging and “God wants to save you” way.

What is your take on this chp? What are the implications of Christ’s omnipresence for world religions? For God’s mission to all people? Or backing up a paragraph: How does this kind of experience happen when it is not part of a church, or the gospel, or a preacher, or anything?

Bell finds a similar idea in the Rock that Moses tapped in Exodus 17 — and Paul tells us that the Rock was Christ. This is typology, not ontology. From this Bell asks how else Christ is present, and observes that early Christians believed Christ was present everywhere. Within proper limits, I agree: Christ is present everywhere. Christ is creator, Christ is life, where there is life Christ — the Life and Life giver — is present. This should not be denied by Christians with a robust view of Christ. John 1, Colossians 1, Hebrews 1 — Christ is Creator. All life is from God.

This fundamental conviction leads Rob to ask where Christ is also present. If Jesus is the Life and Life giver, Jesus is also “the ultimate exposing of what God has been up to all along” (148). A robust view of God’s mission in Christ will agree with this statement but it will want to ask, too, how distinctive the work in Christ is. What God did, is doing and will do is all summed up in Christ.

What Christ is doing, Rob says, is bringing unity to all things. Here he draws again on his universal reconciliation themes in the Bible — Colossians 1. Christ is the Life of all things and of everyone. John 12 where Jesus says he will draw “all people to myself.” And the “other sheep” of John 10.

Then Rob makes two major logical inferences: “As obvious as it is, then, Jesus is bigger than any one religion.” [He takes a cheap shot at our faith when he says “especially the one called ‘Christianity'” (150). Especially? How about “including”? Why take a dig at the Christian faith and not others?] Next move: “Jesus is supracultural. He is present within all cultures, and yet outside all cultures” (151). So, “we cannot claim him to be ours any more than anyone else’s” (152). There is so much possibly being said in this, and so little that is explicit, that I’m not sure what to say. But it sure sounds like a de-privileging of Israelite and Christian culture to me. It sounds like  minimizing of the truth of Christian orthodoxy. When he says “we” who is that? If that is the Christian cultures of this world, then I disagree with him significantly. We don’t own Christ and he speaks against our culture, but to say that our culture has no more claim than an explicitly anti- or non-Christian culture makes no sense to me.

He’s too harsh on the Christian claims (or Jewish claims in Romans 2) but he’s seeking to expand our sense of the omnipresence of Christ. Anyone who believes in omnipresence has got to admit an important point here. The issue is whether or not that presence is a loving presence, and more particulare, an “I’m here to save you” presence. The issue is whether this Rock is present in a saving way — revealing salvation in an exclusive sense.

Sometimes people who have never heard about Christ and then who hear about Christ say “That’s who we’ve been looking for. Or that’s who we’ve been worshiping. You gave us his name.” Missionaries know about these stories. I believe the missionaries are right and I believe those people were and are experiencing the true Christ. How common is this? It’s rare.

Next logical move: He is the Way, Truth and Life. “What [Jesus] doesn’t say is how, or when, or in what manner the mechanism functions that gets people to God through him. He doesn’t even state that those coming to the Father through him will even know that they are coming exclusively through him. He simply claims that whatever God is doing in the world to know and redeem and love and and restore the world is happening through him” (154).

He clarifies now in ordinary, if very simplistic, academic terms: Bell says he’s not a traditional exlcusivist, he’s not an inclusivist (here he’s talking more about pluralism), but an exclusivist on the other side of inclusivism. God saves only through Jesus, and God is saving all through Jesus … but this means who is “Jesus”? And he pushes against the narrow views to this expansive, omnipresent Jesus, and in this expansion one has to wonder if the content of the gospel is falling out. He’s got an expansive Christ, an omnipresent Christ, an anonymous Christ, and he’s got that Christ saving in all of history and across the whole world.

He brings up three (pastoral) points:

1. We are not to be surprised when people stumble on this mystery. [This omnipresent Rock.] “Sometimes they use his name; other times they don’t” (159). OK, but… I’ve got questions I’d like to raise, a lot of them in fact.
2. None of us have cornered the market on Jesus. Of course, we haven’t. But, I ask, do some have the truth of Christ more than others? Did Jesus? Did the apostles? Do the NT writings? Does the Church? More than Islam? Buddhism? Atheism?
3. It is our responsibility to be careful about making negative lasting judgments. “We can name Jesus, orient our lives around him… and at the same time respect the vast, expansive, generous mystery that he is” (160). What’s he affirming and what’s he really denying?

I question whether he has (speaking in terms of missiology) sufficiently affirmed the distinctiveness of Jesus in the apostolic gospel, or a little more broadly, in the Bible. I question whether he has affirmed the privilege of the biblical and Christian tradition. I question whether, pastorally, he has so maximized the presence of Christ that gospel preaching, evangelism and missionary work are no longer necessary. This is getting too close to some kind of religious pluralism or religious instrumentalism, or perhaps better, less than a robust affirmation of the necessity of faith in Christ. In the Rock chapter not only the atonement metaphors no longer are in play but neither is his dying-to-live idea.

I do think Bell has discovered some of the theological categories at work in what to think of the salvation of those who have not heard: once you admit the deity of Christ, once you admit that Jesus is the Creator and the life that sustains all of life, once you admit the omnipresence of Christ, and once you tie to these the universal dimensions of God’s mission and reconciling work and once you believe that God loves all and wants all to be saved … you’ve got the possibility that Christ really is at work everywhere and to everyone. There might be some that believe this omnipresent life/Christ is general revelation and not the saving manifestation of Christ, and that general revelation does not save. This deserves more attention in Bell’s discussion. But I have major questions about whether or not Bell is dispensing with the cross in favor of a gentle omnipresent Christ. The content of the Rock simply isn’t clear to me.

And the universal scope of God’s mission in Christ, when tied into the omnipresence of Christ, does not mean all are saved. What it means is that everyone hears or knows or somehow encounters the one true God who saves in Christ. What seems possible in an omnipresent Christ is some kind of “accessibilism” and a clear affirmation of everyone’s ultimate, final accountability before God.  Or what is at work perhaps is some kind of “a wideness in God’s mercy” or “God holds people accountable for the light they have received,” with the belief that the “light” is Christ at work. But anything that minimizes the content and cross of the apostolic gospel of Christ is not sufficient.

This chp is inadequate for me to deal with the questions its raises.

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  • Peter

    Rob Bell should be thankful for such a gracious and gentle commentary on his book. Thank you, Scot.

  • Isn’t it important to remember that Rob still believes in hell, that there will be people who go to hell. It’s not that people don’t go to hell, but that they can repent while there and choose to confess Jesus as Lord and Christ. It seems like Rob is trying to say: We worship a big Jesus, and although not many will confess him as Lord and Christ in this lifetime, because of His omnipresent work now, it increases the likelihood that they will in the next life while in hell. There are Rocks everywhere, even in hell?

  • Allen

    You said “This chp is inadequate for me to deal with the questions its raises.”…

    But didn’t Rob say it is a mystery? Isnt the chapter just asking questions about a loving God and other religions?

    For many the existence of so many religions in the world who claim THEY have the truth is enough of a reason to conclude that there is no God. Your own world-view is heavily influenced by where you are born. If you were born in Tibet you would most likely be Buddhist. If you were born in Pakistan you would most like be a Muslim. You would think YOU are right.

    Again I approach this with some humility. I am not the judge of a persons life or essence. I believe only God knows whats in a persons heart. I believe that when someone like the Dalai Lama (blessed are the peacemakers!) meets Jesus in whatever the afterlife will be – he will recognise Him as the embodiement of the compassion the Dalai Lama preached. Again that is my hope… I am not God so I don’t know for certain.

    I think Rob Bell was raising some good questions in this chapter and it is ok not to have the answers. It is also good to have humility and compassion when talking to our Buddhist, Jewish and Muslim brothers and sisters.

  • Albion

    I haven’t read the book. Like many others, I appreciate Scot’s posts on this, perhaps more than anything else he’s done on his blog.

    The more I read these posts, the more I get the sense that Rob uses theology primarily as a point of debarkation for an extensive foray into philosophizing about how things must be, given a few data points about God and Christ. The Bible recedes and the God-is-love meme, decoupled from the teachings of Jesus and the witness of the apostles, becomes the center of Rob’s theophilosophical musings. In the end, we can just slap a COEXIST bumper sticker on the book and be done with it. Because in the end, I just don’t see the point in following Jesus if Rob is right. Rob will appeal to folks like Allen, and no disrespect intended to Allen, but if he’s right and a Buddhist and a Muslim believer are my “brothers and sisters,” I might as well follow Seneca or Marcus Aurelius because the call of discipleship has just been thrown out the window. The resurrection of Jesus is another nice idea, belief in which means nothing determinative.

    Rob seems to be making Christianity into a philosophy that competes with other philosophies in the marketplace of ideas. That’s a deep collusion with the post-modern mush we’re now wading through and it isn’t faithful to the proclamation of the Kingdom.

    (BTW, The Elders of The Gospel Coalition (audio) have now weighed in. I get the feeling they didn’t like it.)

  • Wm

    Yes, a challenging chapter. I always look forward to reading your reviews. Unanswerable questions keep us humble. They keep God larger than man and always outside any sized box we’ve created. I think a dynamic Christian faith lives in the tension between belief that salvation is only through Christ, yet not necessarily by knowing ‘what’ he did to make that possible. It is kind of like flying in an airplane. I may get on board without knowing exactly how the plane stays in the air. Similarly, Christ speaks into the hearts of all mankind and some may respond with faith not knowing anything about Christianity. That doesn’t deny Christianity or its teachings, but assumes a God who is not dependent on the Christian religion in order to ‘work’ in the world. The ‘rocks’ cry out.

  • Scot McKnight


    Thanks for your sharp-edged comment. I have read this chp 4 times, and there’s more than one way to read it. I have no doubt that many will read this chp as a version of COEXIST. In other words, critics can easily say he’s colonized religious pluralism by his theory of the omnipresence of Christ — his terms are “rocks everywhere.”

  • At all points in history there have been multiple groups of people. Some worshiped one thing some another. In the biblical narrative we see God calling out an exclusive people to have fellowship with. He chose according to his plan without regard to the wishes of men, if he is worthy of our worship the wisdom of his choice must be granted. Time has passed population has increased as has the diversity of people groups. We live now so we look out at our world now and seek answers. The bible sets certain conditions on acceptable worship the questions raised here dealing with this ch. lead me to think those conditions and the bible itself must be rejected as a guide for acceptable worship to God. I get the sense from the way Bell frames his questions that I’m not allowed to use scripture to argue against his points. If my conclusions are right logic would say so what any opinion is valid believe anything it’ll be fine. Bell is dangerous rejecting the bible because I have it or the Jews have it is ridiculous. I think rather I must reject Bell and I’ll echo Piper in saying ” Goodbye Rob Bell”

  • Pete

    Have recently read Luther’s idea of a theologian of the cross and have been impacted by his rejection of speculative natural theology for salvific knowledge of God and the lofty epistemological value he places on the crucified Christ (1 Cor 1 etc). Not sure how Bell might respond to Luther, but it would be an interesting conversation to listen in on!

  • Scot, what do you make of Bell’s panentheism? Equating what appears to be “God” to an “energy in the world, a spark, an electricity that everything is plugged into” and an “energy, spark, and electricity that pulses through all of creation [and] sustains it, fuels it, and keeps it going”? (144-145) He then appears to believe this life-giving energy is “in Jesus.” Why would a pastor of a Christian church describe God and Jesus in this way? Does this disturb anyone else?

    Also was anyone else completely unsatisfied with how he described Jesus? This is how he describes Jesus: “In Jesus, [the first Christians] affirmed was that word, that divine life-giving energy that brought the universe into existence.” (146) “The insistence of the first Christians was that when you saw Jesus…you were seeing the divine in skin and bones, the word in flesh and bones.” (147) “Jesus for the first Christians was the ultimate exposing of what God has been up to all along.” (148) Is this the way *Scripture* describes Jesus? The first Christians *insisted*? Jesus is the divine in skin and bones? Jesus exposes what God has been up to? REALLY?!

    This chapter is by far the most disturbing in the book. It is a completely inadequate and confused Christology. Does he not use 1 Cor 10 *rhetorically* to argue that Jesus is in everything…in every religion? He says just that…”Jesus is bigger than any one religion” (150) which I think is a lame rhetorical device used by many like him—McLaren, Selmanovic—to side-step the exclusivity of the Christian faith…i.e. faith exclusively in Jesus Christ. The point has NEVER been Christianity over against, say, Islam…but Lord/Savior/God Jesus Christ over against god Muhammed. Unfortunately, Bell doesn’t seem to get this…

  • Kenton

    I don’t know how rhetorical your “Why ‘Especially’?” question was, but if the idea of the chapter (and sometimes I think we are all WAAAY overthinking this) was that if Jesus is revealed in a lot more places than our exclusivist faith has tradionally taught, then the irony is “especially” strong that the group that most wants to follow Jesus most strongly misses the point: that He’s bigger than one particular group can claim.

  • #6—”critics can easily say he’s colonized religious pluralism by his theory of the omnipresence of Christ ” You don’t believe this is what he’s doing here? Especially with his Huston Smith recommendation for “who and what God is”? Perhaps I’m misunderstanding you…

  • rjs

    jeremy bouma,

    I haven’t read Bell’s book, and I don’t intend to. And I’ve pretty much stayed out of this discussion. But your ridicule of Bell’s description of Jesus disturbs me. I’d add to Bell’s description as you relate it a picture of atonement, because this is incarnation and life, not crucifixion and resurrection, but other than that it seems to be powerfully accurate.

    One of the real problems in evangelical theology, it seems to me, is the failure to see this kind of high Christology.

  • Thank you Scot for your learned insight, I am finding your posts very helpful as I wrestle with these very challenging questions. Would it be fair to say that Bell is suggesting a fusion of Inclusivism and Divine Perseverance?

    Albion, probably helpful to start by reading the book, whether you agree or disagree, I dare say it would not be easy to accurately asses any writing based merely on the critique of it. Just suggesting…

  • Scot McKnight


    I’m attentive to panentheism and I wonder what lines in this chp you think say that? What I see is omnipresence as a life-giving power of all — the zoe of all of life is God/Christ. Panentheism says we are all “in God.”

    Do you not believe that all of life is sustained by the life of God?

    Wow, not sure what you are saying but his skin and bones is an expression for incarnation.

    I agree with you on the bigger than any one religion observation.

  • Linda

    “Love Wins” has shaken me to the core. I have had such respect for Rob, have bought and used everything he has ever published, and I want to believe what he’s saying. Everything. But I can’t. I keep trying. I’m still trying, but there are too many unanswered questions.

    Here’s a good take-away: He calls us all to stop playing the who’s-in-who-s-out game. I do believe, and always have, that there will be many surprises in eternity. We will be surprised by who is with Christ and who is not.

    I wonder how one of the three things that remain is hope, if at some point we no longer can engage it. And I wonder, too, about Rob’s point that God gets more glory from all people (at least most) spending eternity with Him than just a very small percentage of everyone who ever lived.

    It does seem that he is better at raising excellent questions than he is at giving satisfactory answers. But than I suppose that is the nature of questioning, isn’t it?

  • Scot McKnight

    Tarun, thanks. Not sure what you mean by divine perseverance. Do you mean that God “wants” all humans to respond to his grace?

  • Kenton

    WJSACSOHC? (Would Jesus Slap a Coexist Sticker on his car?) The way I read the story of the Good Samaritan, I believe the answer would be “yes”!

  • scotmcknight

    Kenton, would you agree that COEXIST is often a slogan for religious pluralism or nothing more than let’s get along with one another?

  • Kenton

    To the extent that the answer is “yes” than COEXIST falls way short of “love God, love neighbor” that Jesus calls us to before he tells the story of the Good Samaritan.

    But it’s a start.

    Wasn’t the choice of a Samaritan in the story scandalous and in large part because they got their religion wrong? Weren’t Samaritans downright despised? If so, COEXIST would be a great start, donchathink?

  • scotmcknight

    Albion’s point was not about love your neighbor but about religious pluralism.

  • Kenton

    Jesus’ point was about love your neighbor and religious plurality is irrelevant.

  • Brian

    I don’t have much to add the the current discussion and
    I will not be able to engage today as much as I could on Friday, but I do want to offer a brief comment on my take on this chapter. Scot has done a good job pointing out the questions this chapter raises and its nebulousness. Given the number of times the word “mystery” appears in this chapter, however, I think it’s fair to say that Bell is speculating in a hopeful manner.

    A quote to keep in mind from this chapter:

    “As soon as the door is open (to other religions) many Christians become very uneasy, saying that then Jesus doesn’t matter anymore, the cross is irrelevant, it doesn’t matter what you believe and so forth.

    Not true.
    Absolutely, unequivocally, unalterably not true.

    What Jesus does declare is that he alone is saving everybody. And then he leaves the door way, way open.”

    (A great example of Bell’s lack of precision in that second to last line… I think he means “Jesus is saving everyone who will ultimately be saved” but it could also be read in a universalistic sense, even though its clear in other parts of the book that he’s not a universalist.)

  • Allen

    re: #4

    I just want to address what you said about my comment.

    I never said I had all the answers. I do have questions about the world we live in… Rob Bell is also asking those questions.

    Yes, I believe my fellow human beings (Muslim, Athiest, Buddhist, Jewish etc) are my brothers and sisters. Like #17 I suggest some reading of the parable of the Good Samaritan.

    Do I believe EVERY religion is right? No – I do not. E.g. I do not feel it is neccessary to pray five times per day to God as in Islam. I do not believe there are requirments such as these as everything has been done in Christ. A the same time I do not judge..less I also be judged.

    One of my points was to remember that in many cases are religion is handed to us by our culture and where we have been born. I am not saying I have it all figured out. I am saying that believe in a loving forgiving God who is not going to “reject” folk who don’t practice Christianity in this life. That is my hope … I also hope when we speak to others of other faiths we listen with compassion and humility.

    I try and approach the multi faith question with Galations 5:22 in mind

    22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. 24 Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. 25 Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. 26 Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other

  • scotmcknight

    Kenton, you’ve changed the discussion to the parable. I agree the parable is about loving the neighbor, regardless of reiligion… but the issue in this post and thread is the term COEXIST by Albion and your response. He’s pushing against religious pluralism. That’s the discussion for today.

  • DRT

    OK, I agree that Rob does not give answers here, but to me that is a humble thing for him to do, and I am sure that many of you will see the exact opposite in that. He knows he does not have the answers, just an idea about the subject and questions. He is not telling propositional truths.

    I think this is a very good chapter and it makes Rob’s point quite well.

    Here is the way I look at it. How much of the mystery of Jesus and God do you think we actually know? And, do you believe that the Spirit is active in the world today? Seriously, do we really think the bible contains even remotely all there is to know about god?

    Also, I agree that the one comment is a cheap shot against Christianity, that was low hanging fruit since I really do believe that most of Christianity is exactly the people who most miss the message of Jesus. Not academics in general, but pew sitters.

    I have maintained that the religion with the best Christianity is Buddhism. I still believe that. But I do think Christianity stands a chance more and more.

    The over arching theme, to me, is the one Paul preached in Acts, Christianity can name the unknown god now, but they must follow him, not become exclusivist.

  • Kenton

    I’m just using the parable to push back. Clearly there is a disdain for COEXIST. I don’t understand it. I don’t think Jesus does either.

  • I agree with Bell’s emphasis on the universal reconciliation passages, but disagree with his apparent minimalization of the concept of election. It seems that by highlighting that God is moving in all the world, speaking in, to, and through “all” people and cultures, he’s minimizing the reality that God speaks and has spoken especially and particularly in, to, and through “some” people and “some” cultures, especially Israel and the Church.

    Yes it is important to recall that God does speak in and through people who are not typically understood as part of the community of faith. Balaam was a prophet of God though not an Israelite. Melchezedeck was a priest of God and Abraham tithed to him. Jesus mentioned having sheep not of this fold, and denounced the apostles for wanting to oppose someone else who was ministering in the name of Christ but who was not part of their group. And as you mentioned Scott, there are many stories of missionaries who encountered peoples who were following God, had a heart for God, and readily recieved the revelation of Christ because of being so prepared by God. And in the Arabic world today, untold hundreds, even thousands, are having visions and dreams of Christ and having faith in Jesus though they’ve never heard the Gospel from a single person!

    In an effort to be inclusive though, must we minimize the truth and reality of election? I don’t believe so. On the other hand though, sadly, election and calling has often been seen as a means of exclusion, instead of inclusion. But I believe scripture bears out that “some” are elected so that “all” might be blessed! Sovereign election is part of God’s sovereign plan to reconcile all of creation. Some are elected/chosen so that all might be blessed.

    Abraham was chosen so that through him all the nations of the world might be blessed. Jacob was chosen so that all might be blessed, including Esau. Israel was chosen so that all might be blessed. The Apostles were chosen as a foundation for the church so that all might be blessed. And Saul was sovereignly elected, made to suffer, so that Paul could write the NT so that all might be blessed.

    So though I agree with Bell’s emphasis on God’s plan for the reconciliation of all, it seems he’s missed the primary means of this reconciliation – the election of some, even the election of One, Jesus! It is not necessary to minimize the election of some so as to affirm the salvation of all; it’s only necessary to point out that repeated scriptural theme that the election of some is for the purpose of the reconciliation of all!

  • I’ve been nothing if not frustrated by this whole debate. I constantly see people accusing Bell of “throwing out the bible”. This seems a rather odd accusation given that:
    1. Bell clearly attempts to address many passages of scripture and bases some of his core assumptions in scripture
    2. “The Bible” contains a set of rather eclectic (even disjointed) views and pictures of what judgement, afterlife, hell etc are. Holding too fast to one “biblical” idea invariably involves the rejection and/or “re-conceptualising” of another “biblical” idea.

  • DRT

    Sherman, I hear and nearly agree with all you wrote in #27, but the issue I see is that people have so much pride and sin that as soon as the concept of election is brought up it leads to more sin than good.

  • scotmcknight


    It is one thing to say the Bible’s depiction of the final state (use the term you want) is not entirely clear, but what is said in the Bible is sometimes quite clear — and, for instance, Rob is entirely convinced “love wins” and of a universal reconciliation but where the Bible sometimes he speaks he doesn’t. But for him to say this is speculation — which I’ve heard several times — devalues both what the Bible has said and, ironically, what he is saying. Speak where the Bible speaks and speculate (and say so) where it doesn’t. You will have a hard time convincing me this entire book is nothing but speculation and he’s not sure what he thinks.

  • Albion

    Tarun: You are correct that I should the read the book to accurately assess it. But I don’t intend to. Too much other interesting stuff out there to read.

    I’m not going to read it because I think there’s a consensus that Rob is more interested in asking lots of questions and less interested in providing clear answers. I’ve been asking the some of the same questions for years, and I’m certain that coexist is not the answer. Not that Rob is saying it that starkly but at some point, you have to decide whether following Jesus involves a cost, even the cost of your life. From the posts and the comments, it seems the Jesus Rob is describing asks very little of you. This Jesus certainly doesn’t bid a man come and die. Rather, he seems to be saying: “Of course, go bury your father, you silly!”

    Kenton: The good samaritan is a parable of enemy love. It has nothing to do with an affirmation of the faith/faithlessness of the man in the ditch; in fact, quite the opposite.

  • #14 Scot—I’m not convinced he is expressing incarnation, here. As I’ve asked elsewhere, how is his description of Jesus the same as “Jesus is God?” How is what Bell says about Jesus any different than what Schleiermacher, Ritschl or Tillich has described Jesus? That’s my point, I guess.

    For me, saying that “The insistence of the first Christians was that when you saw Jesus—the first century Jewish rabbi who taught and healed and called disciples and challenged the authorities to the point of death—you were seeing the divine in skin and bones, the word in flesh and blood” is not the same thing as saying Jesus is God.

    First, the word “insist” seems to place him in Bultmann/Tillich target—Christ of fact and Christ of faith. Second, it seems clear that Jesus’ ethics—what he said and did—make him divine. The language Bell uses to describe Jesus does not come close to saying Jesus is ontologically God. Jesus is ethically God, which is very different. It’s also Protestant liberalism. Surprise surprise!

    Re: whether life is sustained by God…I have no beef with that statement. That’s Scripture. What isn’t Scripture is saying God is an energy that permeates all of life. So God is reduced now to a spark of electricity and energy that’s in everything? I could get that theology from the movie Avatar. I don’t expect that from a Christian pastor…With panentheism, no only is all in God, but God exists and permeate in every part of nature. Doesn’t this whole chapter advocate that perspective? Specifically pages 143-145? What does he mean that Jesus “is a sacred power present in every dimension of creation?” (158) If Bell is not a panentheists, then why would he use the language of one? (These aren’t questions for you Scot, but speaking-out-loud-rhetorical-ones)

  • Hi Scot,
    I believe in a nut shell Divine Perseverance suggests that; while Christians are charged with a responsibility to transmit the gospel, God’s purposes are not mearly limited to us, but the “Word will also be declared to those we can’t reach…even if it takes an eternity” (Gabriel Fackre – What About Those Who Have Never Heard p73). As I understand it, God can and will use any means He determines, general revelation, encounters of Christ with in other religions etc. I think it is quite distinct from universalism, yet frequently gets mistaken for universalism.

    On the COEXIST discussion, I think it’s all to often dismissed by Christian as Pluralism, yet in-fact is quite the opposite. Uncovering Christ, where-ever He is revealed requires one to first COEXIST with “others” outside of our religious boundaries. All to often, we miss/lose opportunities to uncover Christ in other cultural, and religious context, because we are so quick to convert or reject based on our cultural and colonial biases. I wonder if the missionary stories you have mentioned Scot, are rare, because it has been rare in Colonial missionary endeavors for us to seek to understand cultural and religious systems outside our own, favoring a condemn and convert approach to non colonial cultures and religions.

  • #26 Kenton—distane is a loaded, emotional word. The “concern” with COEXIST is it falsely insists that every single religion on the planet is equally valid. They aren’t. And to say Jesus Christ would say they are is nonsense.

    In 1 Cor 8:6 we see a clear articulation of Christological monotheism: “yet for us there is but one God, the Father, from whom all things came and for whom we live; and there is but one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom all things came and through whom we live.” Paul alludes to the Shema and equates Jesus with that one true God.

    Buddah is not God. Allah is not God. Jesus is. Furthermore, Jesus Christ is not in Buddhism. He is not in Islam. And the point really is not Christianity, but faith in Jesus Christ.

    Espousing COEXIST does not argue for this Scriptural and theological reality, which is why some of us here in regards to Bell’s book are…disdainful, to use your language.

  • BTW I do not mean to suggest that Christ is not at work in the lives of Buddhists or Muslims or at work in Islamic countries or Buddhist regions of the world. Not at all. THe mission of God is far bigger and wider and more vast than Western America!!

    What I mean to say is that to say there is a kernel of “the Christ” in every religion is odd. Would the Israelites suggest there was a kernel of YHWH in the pagan religions of Baal or Egypt? I hardly think so, so why would we suggest the same as followers of Christ?

    Again, I fully acknowledge the work of Christ in the lives of people living in a multiplicity of ways and locations around the world…but I don’t think that’s what’s being argued here…

    Hope that’s more clear than what I stated above!

  • Adam


    What I generally come away with from people who follow your thinking is:

    “No one comes to the Father except through Christ, but no one comes to Christ except through me.”

    I don’t think Rob is saying Allah is God. I think he is saying that there are paths to Christ that are not in our control. He is saying the Jesus is real and active in this world. He is saying that we don’t save ourselves and that only Jesus saves.

    He is pointing out that christians don’t find Jesus but that Jesus finds them. This whole salvation thing is completely one sided and that if Jesus chooses to show up in a manner that we are not familiar, it’s His choice to do that.

    Your way of thinking seems to put Christ in a box. The only way to Jesus is through the correctly approved calvinism, exclusivism, or whatever other -ism you want.

    When you boil that down it says “Christianity is the way to the Father” instead of “Jesus is the way to the Father”.

  • Jeremy,
    Why do we automatically assume that COEXIST means all religions are equally valid? It is simply (as Jurgen Moltmann suggests) recognizing the ‘Image of God’ in all people, Muslim, Buddhist, Christian and Atheist. Christians do not posses the exclusive rights to the Image of God, perhaps if we got back to COEXISTING with others and treated them with more dignity, respect and love regardless of religious affiliation, we may being to uncover the Way, Truth and Life where ever He may be found. It takes a generous, all embracing and self secure Christian faith to recognize this and still be ok… Something I am certain was not lost on Jesus’ and Paul’s ministry to those outside of the “Chosen People of God”. I fear that Christians are far too defensive and protective of their “chosen” status and would do well to note Jesus’ warning to the religious elite of Israel… lest we too miss the radical work of the Christ amongst us.

  • The lens that I see much of this through is one more of etymology related to identity. That is, certainly you, and hopefully many others, will agree that a person doesn’t have to believe in “Jesus” in order to “be saved” if we preface that conversation with the etymology of “Jesus”; For example, that wasn’t his name, as we all know. So – to be fair, in a very simplistic way we might say, we are believing in a person who we never met and calling him by a name that he never had. Again, I outwardly admit and observe the oversimplified necessity of this thought process, but for the sake of making a point…

    Isn’t this more about his identity – in the fullest sense of the word? And then, isn’t this really about a trust in the words that have been passed to us through the generations and by authors, shepherds, kings, histories? And really then, isn’t this about faith?

    Faith is the evidence of things not seen. Not seen now, and not seen then. This is why Abraham was “saved” on account of a promise, having never met, seen, or “known” Yeshua, or Jesus as we would call him.

    I mean, seriously, how do we engage that paradox/mystery without explaining it away by facts we think we know?

    So, though I do have some questions for Rob Bell in this chapter, I don’t mind the letting go, for lack of a better phrase, of the mystery surrounding “The name” – or at least, a strict adherence to the name “Jesus”. In fact, it seems we have made much of “The name” in our culture through songs, paintings, tattoos, etc. And, though I believe HE is happy at such strivings, it is, to be fair, not his name ;] But we would say, we *faith* (or believe, but I prefer, faith) we somewhat understand *who* he is.

  • Adam

    I think Justin @38 makes a good point.

  • Kenton

    Albion (#31)- It’s not the faith of the man in ditch (How did you think I was suggesting that???) It’s the faith of the Samaritan. Jesus could have told the story and had one of his own followers help the guy in the ditch. He didn’t. He picked a guy who had the wrong religious beliefs. That was huge back then, it should be huge for us. A parable about enemy love? Yes, but much more! It was an example of a person who had “eternal life”! In spite of his “beliefs”, he still “got it!”

    Jeremy (#34)- Nobody: Rob Bell, McLaren, Selmanovic, (me) is suggesting that “all religions are the same.” On the contrary we self-identify as Christians because we have best found in Jesus the “life of the ages”. We see danger in religions that teach “our way is better than your way”, and “you need to convert to my religion because I’m right and you’re wrong” and we don’t like it when our religion espouses that idea.

  • Kenton

    Adam @38 makes a good point that Justin @38 makes a good point. 🙂

  • Vida

    Bell himself said his questioning was sparked in response to a note someone wrote about Ghandi being in hell. Perhaps it is taking this kind of approach to get us to question the times we approach others judgmentally or with an “us vs. them” mentality. One thing that does come across unequivocally in the New Testament is how Jesus stepped over the “lines” of who was “in or out” including those others felt “clearly” didn’t deserve it.

    As for fears that this book and these ideas will somehow take away from the importance of following Christ- let’s remember, and trust in the Holy Spirit’s power to speak into someone’s heart and tranform them. As much as we keep forgetting, we’re just not that powerful.

  • Rick

    Kenton #40-

    “We see danger in religions that teach “our way is better than your way”, and “you need to convert to my religion because I’m right and you’re wrong” and we don’t like it when our religion espouses that idea.”

    Are you saying Christians should not evangelize at all, or are you talking about the approach one takes?

  • Luke Allison

    Here’s something that I don’t quite understand and I have yet to hear addressed.

    If indeed we all need to stop playing the “who’s in, who’s out game”, then isn’t ANY speculation of ANY sort off limits? Because it seems to me that the supporters of Rob are all playing the “Who’s in?” game, in opposition to what they perceive to be people playing the “who’s out?” game.

    But, then again, I don’t think this book is really about avoiding this game. This book is about asserting a particular viewpoint of ultimate realities. Because the fact of the matter is that anyone who claims “Gandhi will be accepted before the Father because of his good works and kind heart” is putting themselves in the seat of God in exactly the same fashion that a “turn or burn” preacher does. So YOU fully see the human heart on the level that God does? You can tell based on some good works where the trajectory of their heart has led them eternally?

    Tim Keller pointed out recently that, while Rob implies that all thoughtful people in the world will come to these questions eventually, what he should really say is “Some modern Western people have huge problems with this idea”.

    Are any of us questioning our cultural assumptions as pluralistic Westerners?

  • Kenton

    Certainly the approach one takes!

    Go into all the world! Teach people that God’s Kingdom is here! It’s not the rich, powerful, warmongers and corrupt that are blessed, it’s the poor, meek, peacekeepers and pure in heart that are blessed. Love God/Love neighbor! (That last part was essentially all that was commanded.) Soak ’em in it! That’s the Way – the only true life-giving way!

    (Needless to say I really get excited about that.)

  • Luke Allison

    Dr. McKnight,

    Am I totally crazy, or is the Good Samaritan parable about justice and “who is my neighbor/how can I be a neighbor”, not pluralism?

  • Kenton

    Whoops, that should be “peaceMAKErs”!

  • Rick

    Kenton #44-

    Are you including in that the importance of preaching about faith/trust in Jesus Christ?

  • Kenton

    That *IS* faith/trust in Jesus!!!

    (steady, Kenton, breathe, breathe)

  • Luke Allison

    “Go into all the world! Teach people that God’s Kingdom is here! It’s not the rich, powerful, warmongers and corrupt that are blessed, it’s the poor, meek, peacekeepers and pure in heart that are blessed. Love God/Love neighbor! (That last part was essentially all that was commanded.) Soak ‘em in it! That’s the Way – the only true life-giving way!”

    And so you’ve put your cards on the table for what you believe. I appreciate that. This is a very reductionistic viewpoint of what exactly the “gospel of the Kingdom” entails, however. Summing up what you’ve said, the “Way” of Jesus is primarily a system of moral and social improvement. Which would cause me to ask lots of questions. But I won’t.

    As a matter of fact, I’m very confused as to where this whole “bring heaven to earth” theology is even taught in Jesus’ ministry. That’s kind of a “non-negotiable” for Rob, but you have to create some exegetical gymnastics to get there.

    Don’t get me wrong! I understand that ultimately we end up here, in the New Heavens and the New Earth, but where are we ever told that our sort of “goal” is creating “heaven on earth”? This has become the standard theological stance of a certain movement of progressive evangelicals, but I don’t quite understand it. As a matter of fact, the Kingdom is almost always associated with passive verbs: enter, receive, etc. Where exactly are we told to “build”, “advance”, “expand”, etc.? These are bigger questions than Love Wins, but maybe not?

  • Luke Allison

    “That *IS* faith/trust in Jesus!!!”

    And THAT is a certain theological perspective.

  • Rick

    Kenton #48-

    No, that is about a Kingdom, and about practices. It is not about the King, nor about what He accomplished and does for us now.

  • Can we put to rest right now my belief in a perspective that “my religion is better than your religion and you must convert or else…” I have said nothing of the sort and in fact have said the opposite: the point isn’t Christianity as the religious human construct; the point is Jesus Christ.

    #40 Kenton—”we self-identify as Christians because we have best found in Jesus the ‘life of the ages’.” This is the entire problem: people who self-identify as Christian because they’ve found the best way to live in Jesus have done something with Jesus that neither the Scripture nor Christian faith does with Jesus.

    I don’t need Jesus simply because I need a better way of living: I need Jesus because I’m screwed in my sin! Am I trusting in Jesus because he has shown me a better way to live? Or because without faith in him and his work I am dead in my rebellion against God?

    For me the point isn’t at all Christianity. The point is Jesus Christ as exclusive Lord, God, Messiah.

    The problem I see with Bell’s, McLaren’s, and Selmanovic’s Jesus is that he doesn’t appear to be at all necessary. Why is their Jesus more unique than say Ghandi or Gautama Buddha? If finding the “life of the ages” is the point, haven’t they provided just as valid a way of living as Jesus?

  • scotmcknight

    Luke, the Good Samaritan parable is not about religious pluralism, but the use of a stereotype of the “wrong team” guy who is doing what is right in order to shae the “right team” into loving all neighbors, not just the “good” neighbors. There’s not a word in this parable that the Samaritan has eternal life. It answers “who is my neighbor?” not “how can I enter The Age to Come?”

  • scotmcknight

    Luke, you are right in the kingdom comment. The bring heaven to earth is possibly a good way of speaking about inaugurated eschatology, but the NT’s wider picture is that New Jerusalem, the New Heavens and New Earth, are here on earth and there’s continuity but there is also something entirely new about it too. There is a sounding-like old-fashioned postmillennialism, which derived from social darwinism and even social utopianism, in some of the chatter about kingdom today.

    More to say: Jesus, and following him as King, is inextricably interwoven in all kingdom language in the NT. Justice and kingdom are not the same; Jesus-following-justice and Jesus-community-justice are.

  • DRT

    I’ll jump on the 38 bandwagon, but say it differently, and somewhat in keeping with Bell.

    God is love and anywhere a religion believes in love they believe in Jesus. Do we need to say the name Jesus, Yeshua, do we need to read a particular book? Do we need to have a calvinist view, or Amish? We need to believe in Love and embrace where we find that.

    Luke Allison#43, is good too. We should be looking to see how we can include people, not exclude them. I am ready to claim lots of people “in Christ”. I think Jesus would too.

  • @54 Scot. I rarely think you miss the context – haha – but seriously, when you say “There’s not a word in this parable that the Samaritan has eternal life. It answers “who is my neighbor?” not “how can I enter The Age to Come?””

    Isn’t the whole context issued by the very question, “On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” ”

    I mean. Right? Haha. Love you, brother! And, appreciate this discussion – hoping for more incredible dialogue, challenge, and encouragement…

  • Luke Allison

    Dr. McKnight,

    Thanks, that’s what I was thinking. I’ve heard the significance of the Samaritan in the story be used for all kinds of speculation, but the standard interpretation is the most “radical” of all.

    So exegetical sloppiness has been pointed out by both you and Dr. Witherington, and yet it doesn’t seem to bother most young evangelicals I know (I’m 30, so I guess I resemble that remark). On the contrary, the thing that really bothers most of my friends who appreciate this book is the fact that anyone would question it. Because “obviously” Rob knows what he’s talking about. There’s more at play here than theological perspectives. If your teeth were cut on Rob’s style, hearing anyone question him could be similar to removing a “brick” in their “brickianity”, to loosely coin a phrase.

    Admitting that he’s just wrong about some stuff doesn’t seem to be an option, unfortunately.

  • DRT

    Jeremy#53 said “I don’t need Jesus simply because I need a better way of living: I need Jesus because I’m screwed in my sin! Am I trusting in Jesus because he has shown me a better way to live? Or because without faith in him and his work I am dead in my rebellion against God?”

    Jeremy, I think I see the difference in what I mean by that and what you mean by that. The better way of living that I have found in Jesus is the one of truth, life, less sin, peace with God, gratitude, everything that Jesus taught. Yes, one of the things is that he has forgiven me but the whole point is that I am now alive in God. You seem to want to concentrate on what you were, not on what you have become. I am concentrating on what I am now moving forward, not rejoicing in my no longer being what I was.

  • Kenton


    You’re not serious are you? Really???

    The whole story is set up with “What must I do to inherit Eternal Life” (v. 25) Hello! Jesus’ answer isn’t “accept the doctrine of atonement for your sins”, it’s “Go do something! Love God/Love Neighbor!” (v. 28) “Go do something” rears it head again in v. 37: “Go do like the guy who had the wrong religion.”

  • scotmcknight

    Justin, the parable, a fictional story that seeks here to deconstruct the scribe’s system, answers one question: who is my neighbor? It doesn’t answer the question, “Who is my neighbor to whom I can be neighborly so I can enter The Age to Come?” That’s the point I’m making. Jesus says not a word about the Samaritan’s relation to The Age to Come. You can infer that, but inferring from parables is a dodgy game.

  • Luke @50, you asked where “this whole ‘bring heaven to earth’ theology is even taught in Jesus’ ministry.” In short, Jesus instructed us to pray, “Thy kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven.” If our prayers are so focused, it seems our actions should follow. Jesus also preached, “Repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand (within reach).” Such a message implies that the reason we repent is so that we can now grasp, participate in the kingdom of heaven. And of course, Jesus says that we should seek first the kingdom of heaven. I understand the kingdom of heaven (God) as being the very real and very present rule of God. In and through our lives we are to seek the very present and very real rule and reign of God.

  • matt

    Kenton, Jeremy, Luke, Rick… I am rivited by the conversation! Please keep it up!

    I embrace the “bringing Heaven to Earth” N.T. Wright view only because it addresses my motivation for being a disciple of Jesus. We can actually participate in bringing glimpses of Heaven to Earth HERE and NOW, are you kidding me? I so want in on THAT!

    I earlier believed that my chief goal as a Christian was to not sin so that SOMEDAY I’ll be in Heaven.

    I mean, if I’m going to tell people about Christianity, which is the more compelling story?

  • Kaleb

    I think a better framing of this chapter could go like this.

    Evangelicalism has not adequately dealt with the BIGNESS of Jesus and his ability to save those that have not heard of Him or adequately know who Jesus is. This door has been locked tight. Churches even build up statements of beliefs around who is in and who is out. Jesus has been locked up in a box so those in the box are the only ones that can experience his ‘saving’ presence.

    Rob can be seen, depending on your current views, any where from pushing on this locked door to driving a semi-truck through it; which is why you get people applauding his efforts for more clarity and less rigidity to people saying ‘so long Rob Bell’.

    Regardless of Rob Bell’s views the church needs to deal with these issues and not lock the door so that you are ‘out’ or on the outs if you ask these forbidden questions. If we really embrace the saving power of Jesus then we will have to admit the purpose of His coming was not a new religious system. That is what the Israelites had- a great religious system they built up over time based on their Scripture. Jesus calls us to be salt and light through living out the Kingdom that is here, but not yet fully. Maybe Rob is opening the door where we do not have to sit and wonder what God is doing, but live into the truth that God has revealed to us. That is all God has ever called us to do and all that he can expect us to do!- To live up to the revelation he has given and do our best to love others and love God.

    And I do not believe Rob is attacking Christianity itself, but our current view of it, which is that we have all knowledge of God patented. While I agree the NT is very important and is God’s revealed word it does not mean our understanding of His word is near where it should be in regards to the kind of being in the world that should flow from that Scripture. It also means Christ is free to be present where ever he feels like it- which is everywhere because the Scriptures say, “16 For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. 17 He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18 And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. 19 For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, 20 and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.”

    Even before they know His name, like the Israelites.

  • Luke Allison

    “Luke Allison#43, is good too. We should be looking to see how we can include people, not exclude them. I am ready to claim lots of people “in Christ”. I think Jesus would too.”

    Normally I love being agreed with, so I should just shut up, probably, but that’s not really what I was trying to say.

    What I meant was that, if we’re going to play the “don’t exclude” card, but then say that we know for a fact so-and-so Buddhist/Hindu/atheist will be in heaven because of their works, we’re playing God just as effectively as if we said “they’re in hell”. Both are wrong.

    We don’t get to say “this person is in heaven” definitively. That’s judgment of a different stripe, but it’s still judgment. I’m confident my grandmother will be with Jesus, but only based on her own confidence of that fact!

    It’s incredibly haughty and self-serving to claim that Gandhi is in heaven because we saw some good acts of his. Do we know his heart? Do we know the hidden recesses of his being? Only God knows that.

    Had Dennis Rader (aka the BTK killer) died of a heart attack before his heinous crimes were revealed, every person who knew him would have assumed he was with Jesus, based on THEIR understanding of his heart.

    So what I’m saying is that we don’t get to preach people INTO heaven any more than we get to preach people OUT of heaven. The same rules must apply either way. Doesn’t matter what we’d want to happen.

    But I think that we’ve established that some our theological differences will keep us from seeing eye to eye on much.

  • Kenton

    (come on BP, lower… lower…)

    Luke (#50)- Is it any more “reductionistic” than the transactional nature we’ve made of the gospel? It’s essentially become a “sign at the bottom that shows you believe Jesus’ death atones for your sins, and God will give you heaven when you die.” People attack a “social gospel”. Well, the gospel *is* social. Personal too? Sure, but social also.

    Jeremy (#52)-

    Your sin problem sounds like it needs a hammer like Luther provided. The problem is that Luther’s hammer has become Maslow’s hammer (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Law_of_the_instrument) and now every problem looks like a nail.

    Scot (#61)-

    I’m stunned at your exegesis, but I guess we are at an impasse. I totally see the second question the teachers asks connected to his first.

  • #56 DRT—ahh I see! And my focus on what we need and who I was is only because I see an inadequate, Pelagian view of the human condition by Bell, McLaren et al…not to mention a disastrous Christology which bring my back to my point about who there Jesus is.

    My arguments for my need for Jesus should be read in light of Bell’s inadequate view on the nature of humanity and Jesus…rather than me channeling Jonathan Edwards 🙂

  • Kenneth McIntosh

    Unlike Scott, I was favorably impressed by this chapter. In fact, I thought it was the best part of the book. Pastorally, I’ve repeatedly faced questions by younger believers (some on their way out of believing) who feel that the Jesus of their Sunday School stories is disconnected from the God or “Spirit” they experience in nature and in mystical experiences. I think a greater emphasis on Biblical texts that point to Christ’ cosmic nature (The Logos, etc) can be useful apologetics. I had not thought before about the implications of Christ being Moses’ rock, and I have already found it to be a useful conversation point with seekers & strugglers.

  • DRT

    Luke#65, come on, I am trying to include you 🙂

  • Luke Allison

    “Luke#65, come on, I am trying to include you”

    Stop it!!!!! 🙂

  • scotmcknight

    Kenton, I would add though that Jesus deconstructs the scribe’s sense of the pure community. The Samaritan in Jesus’ teaching, say John 4 and Luke 9, is generally perceived by Jesus as kingdom people. The Samaritan is a stereotype in accordance with the scribe’s sense of the pure community — only Jews and probably only Jews of his kind of Torah observance. Jesus deconstructs that world view by showing that the Samaritan is the one who is really fulfilling the Jesus Creed and not the scribe. There is clearly, then, textual warrant for your view but I would not want to press it into service for religious pluralism. Here is a man, the Samaritan, in the wrong system who is doing what God wants. Take that, scribe. That’s how I would read it.

  • Rick

    Kenneth #68-

    “I was favorably impressed by this chapter…I think a greater emphasis on Biblical texts that point to Christ’ cosmic nature (The Logos, etc) can be useful apologetics. I had not thought before about the implications of Christ being Moses’ rock, and I have already found it to be a useful conversation point with seekers & strugglers.”

    But it (Bell’s use of 1 Cor 10) is out of context, as Scot hinted at.

    As Witherington writes about Bell’s use of that passage,

    “But when..the discussion leads to misinterpretation of Biblical texts, on issues as large as — ‘on what basis are people saved by Jesus’ then it is time to raise a red flag. And this chapter definitely raises a few flags…What the Exodus story does not suggest, and Paul does not say, is that we can then conclude that the ‘hidden’ Jesus is somehow present in all world religions, saving people through them all. Paul, frankly, would be appalled at this application of his use of Wisdom ideas in 1 Cor. 10, especially in light of his extensive polemics against pagan religions!”

    As Luke #58 pointed out earlier:
    “So exegetical sloppiness has been pointed out by both you and Dr. Witherington, and yet it doesn’t seem to bother most young evangelicals I know… On the contrary, the thing that really bothers most of my friends who appreciate this book is the fact that anyone would question it.”

  • Kenton

    Now we’re (almost) back on the same page! I don’t think the next thought should be “Careful, Kenton, or you’ll surely fall into the pit of religious pluralism” But I to ask, is it possible… could it be that I, Kenton, am one of the scribes? Well, I’ve certainly had to answer that one “yes” throughout my life. I don’t want to be one any more. I’d rather put a COEXIST sticker on my car.

  • Luke Allison

    Sherman wrote: “In short, Jesus instructed us to pray, “Thy kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven.”

    Yes, he did. Don’t forget the “your will be done” part in the Matthew version, though. I think that’s important. It keeps us from assuming that everything we enjoy doing is “Kingdom work”. Because that can be one of the real dangers of the “building heaven on earth” theological strain: we baptize everything we care about or value as being a part of “advancing” “God’s kingdom”.

    “Jesus also preached, “Repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand (within reach).” Such a message implies that the reason we repent is so that we can now grasp, participate in the kingdom of heaven. And of course, Jesus says that we should seek first the kingdom of heaven. I understand the kingdom of heaven (God) as being the very real and very present rule of God. In and through our lives we are to seek the very present and very real rule and reign of God.”

    So maybe the disagreements come with what exactly that “very present and very real rule and reign of God” looks like? Because I agree with you mostly….but I don’t see how this commands us to “build heaven on earth” in any sense. Promoting the rule and reign of God in our lives is a very different concept than the idea that we’re somehow “building, constructing, or advancing” the kingdom of God on earth. I would see the Lord’s Prayer as instructive on what to pray for God to do, not what to do ourselves.

  • #73 Kenton—you never answered my question in re: COEXIST and Jesus: “Why is Jesus more unique than say Ghandi or Gautama Buddha? If finding the “life of the ages” is the point, haven’t they provided just as valid a way of living as Jesus?”

  • PaulE

    DRT – You write, “God is love and anywhere a religion believes in love they believe in Jesus.” I’m wondering what does it mean to “believe in love”? And how would you relate that to, for instance, Luke 14:26, where Jesus says “If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters – yes, even their own life – such a person cannot be my disciple.”?

  • Kenton


    Six days early let me wish you Happy Resurrection Day! Christ is Risen, my friend! Christ is Risen!

    Jesus showed us that when you go around preaching Good news of the Kingdom of God, they crucify you. But crucifixion doesn’t have the last word. Resurrection does! I don’t know how Gandhi and Buddha faced their deaths, but I doubt they had the hope I expect to cling to when my time comes. In Adam we all die, but in Christ we all shall be made alive! Happy Resurrection Day, Jeremy!

  • Luke Allison

    “Jesus showed us that when you go around preaching Good news of the Kingdom of God, they crucify you.”

    Again, that’s a huge theological jump you’ve just made. You’re really quite dogmatic, I would think, for someone with a theoretical “Coexist” bumpersticker.

    This is theology. I’m sure you understand that. It is a very particular theological stance that is exclusive (particularly to those people who disagree with you!) and demands to be seen as “the right way”. See, we can’t get away from it no matter how hard we try.

    I don’t agree with this statement at all. Your blood pressure rises at my ignorance of the truth. How are we going to be “brothers”? That’s probably the best discussion that can come out of Love Wins.

  • PaulE, 76, your quotation of Luke 14:26 further reinforces my hunch that this whole debate circles around who is being more “biblical” when all the time the bible doesn’t present a consistent story on the issue. Matthew 7:21-23 and/or James 1:27 are the classic cases in point.

    Of course, both sides of the debate will subsequently accuse each other of “exegetical gymnastics” or “picking and choosing” for interpreting the verses the way they do.

  • Luke, #78,

    Is it possible perhaps to find a more seemly way of saying “you’re really quite dogmatic, I would think, for someone with a theoretical “Coexist” bumpersticker”

    Can I perhaps suggest “how does one square the theological certainty that your statement implies, whilst apparently holding to coexist”? The above formulation allows for the other protagonist to clarify and is less likely to be interpreted as a character attack.

  • Luke @74,

    I don’t understand your point or concern about how people’s tendency to “baptize everything we care about or value as being a part of ‘advancing’ ‘God’s kingdom’” in any way lessens the concept of praying and working to bring heaven to earth. Through submitting our lives to the will of God, we’ll be bringing the rule and reign of God to earth. His Will will be done on earth as it is in heaven.

    And I don’t see one “promoting the rule and reign of God in our lives” as “a very different concept than the idea that we’re somehow ‘building, constructing, or advancing’ the kingdom of God on earth.” What does the “very present and very real rule and reign of God” look like? It looks different in the lives of different people. For me it might be a ministry to the poor, the outcasts of our society. For you it is likely something completely different. For others it might simply be being a faithful wife to a reprobate husband, or a faithful husband to an adulterous wife.

    I’m reminded of the little boy whose father gave him a complex puzzle of the world. The father was amazed when the boy came back shortly with the puzzle completed and asked his son how he did it so quickly. The boy said that the world was too complex, but on the opposite side was a picture of a man and he was able to put that together quickly. The point of the story is that while the big picture might be too complex, too many possible problems to conquer, if we’ll focus on just doing our part, we can trust God to work out the big picture.

    I believe that the goal of the cross is the reconciliation of all creation, not just some, but all. And because of that goal of universal reconciliation, we have our particular ministries of reconciliation. Our election and calling is so that we can be a blessing to all, so that we can participate in bringing the New Jerusalem to earth! How that all works out, I don’t know and don’t know that we’re suppose to know! But I do believe that is the goal we as believers in Christ are to work towards, as God leads us individually by His Spirit!

  • #79 phil—are you suggesting we have no possible way of knowing when a conversation is Christian and when it is not? When an idea is a real Christian idea and when one is a fake one?

  • Jeremy #82,

    I’m suggesting that if a Christian conversation is simply a matter of arguing over who’s the more “biblical” then I’m not sure I want to be involved in christian conversations.

  • T

    I’ve not read the book. That said, this post raises many issues which are bigger than any book (especially this book? 😉 ), which are good to discuss.

    Most Christians will affirm, based on Jesus’ “to whom much is given, much is required” discourse and other passages that there is, in some meaningful sense, a sliding scale in matters of final judgment. We also think of things like ages of accountability, ability to understand (with the disabled), and similar things. The differing views on infant baptism and what it accomplishes make it clear that orthodox Christians can differ widely and passionately on the respective edges of our soteriology.

    It seems that Rob has asked the question on that edge, specifically: How much of/about Christ does one need to know or affirm before Christ will begin to save, and what is the essense of “knowing” Jesus anyway?

    For those are ready to throw Bell into the heretic camp for this book, I understand, but I want to say that I think, counter to a very significant swath of the scriptures, evangelical Christianity has tended to prioritize particular facts about Jesus over his character and conduct when it comes to explaining what it means to “know” him, especially what one needs to know/believe about him to enter the “saved” camp initially. The comments to this post, and even Scot’s post itself to a lesser extent, have born this out.

    I realize that our strong desire to deny any kind of “works” soteriology makes it almost inevitable to define “knowing” Christ in terms of certain factual checklists, but such is a (the?) flaw of evangelicalism that needs to be addressed in our time. Bell is giving his response to it and I agree it is lacking and even blind to important parts of the scriptures. But so is traditional evangelical soteriology on this question. We need a definition of “knowing” and “trusting” and “acknowledging” Christ, even initially, that is more holistic, more human, more public, more real, than the tracts we’ve produced. The issue is not so much whether Love wins, but how. I think it’s worth saying, as we consider Bell’s answer to the “how” question, that mainstream evangelicalism’s answer is the paradigmatic one whose cracks are getting worse. For my part, I think the answer to evangelicalism’s seemingly arbitrary test of “who has heard and confessed ‘X'” is a more holistic concept focused on the cruciform character/command/community of Christ. Kudos to Bell for reframing the soteriological debate around God’s central character of love rather than formulaic confessions of faith facts. In this way, I think he’s attempting to follow in the example of the apostle John. I just would have expected something more akin to the ideas of I John rather than what I’m hearing from this book. But then, evangelicalism doesn’t sound much like I John either.

  • Adam


    What are your thoughts on Ghandi? Here are some quotes from Ghandi himself.

    “I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.”

    “There is nothing that wastes the body like worry, and one who has any faith in God should be ashamed to worry about anything whatsoever”

    “God has no religion”

    These quotes suggest to me that Ghandi accepts Christ but rejects Christianity.

  • scotmcknight

    T, good pushback on evangelicalism but this chp is less about love others and much more about the ubiquitous presence of Christ. Any thoughts on that?

  • Robin


    You should read reviews of the recent Gandhi biography if you want a clearer picture of the man. I think he appreciated some of the teachings of Christ, but I do not think he ever saw himself as a sinner needing salvation.

    Some highlights regarding Gandhi

    He was incredible vain, he bought all of the copies of his first biography to send to people (and ensure a reprint)

    He was overly confident in what could be achieved through pacifism. He suggested that the property Jewish response to the Nazis was merely non-violent resistance, calling Hitler in a letter “My friend.”

    He was buddies with Mussolini

    He was undeniably a racist towards black in Africa. In a letter to the apartheid government in South Africa he didn’t object to apartheid, but that Indians were given societal prominence not much greater than the blacks “whose occupation is hunting and whose sole ambition is to collect a number of cattle to buy a wife, and then pass his life in indolence and ­nakedness”

    There is lots of other weird stuff, like forcing his teenage nieces to sleep with him in the nude.

    Overall, he doesn’t seem to have been that great of a person, and if his methods had not been adopted by King, we probably wouldn’t care much for him.


  • Kenton

    Thanks, phil (#80), you’ve clarified what Luke (#78) was asking for me. (And I’ve calmed down, my brothers. 🙂 )

    I guess I don’t really see how being confident in the life, death, resurrection and message of Jesus is mutually exclusive with co-existing. So Gandhi didn’t get all of it. I’m sure my theology is has holes in it, as does everyone else’s. (Which is why I spend time here when I should be working.) We do our best, we get a hearty dose of God’s grace, and Love wins.

  • John W Frye

    I suggest that all commenters on this particular thread (re)read Christopher Wright’s *The Mission of God.* Wright (not N.T.) provides an excellent grounding for God’s work in the world as revealed in Israel’s, Jesus’ and early church’s history as made known in the Scriptures. Wright’s work calls into question a number of novel ideas offered in this thread of comments. I will offer one: In both the Old Testament and the New, the Creator God made known as YHWH wants to be known by *that* Name. The reason Israel was called into being was to make known YHWH to the world and through that tiny nation bless all the nations of the earth. The New Testament unabashedly ascribes Jesus to be YHWH in the flesh. YHWH-God will now be known as Jesus the Christ and Paul unpacks that reality theologically and spreads the Name missionally. It is sheer fantasy that people in other religions are meeting Jesus the Rock except by another name. (I’m not ruling out sovereign (rare) instances of Jesus breaking in and revealing himself. He did that with Saul of Tarsus. That was exception to make possible the rule: we are to respond to the Name above all Names.) Unless we grasp that fierce particularity is not a “we’re better than others” idea, but the only hope for others, we are gutting the faith of the Old Testament and New Testament people of God. IMO Rob Bell wander off the orthodox map in this muddling chapter.

  • #88 Kenton—I don’t think anybody is saying we have a problem co-existing with other people. As Christians we are called to love both God and neighbor, including our Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu, etc. neighbor. That’s not the issue.

    The issue, is whether a pastor of a Christian church believes Jesus is in other religions, whether his inspiration and spirit and teachings can be embraced through other faiths and other faiths provide ultimate salvation and rescue. That’s seems to be the issue.

    The other issue I see has nothing to do with so-called air-theology, but whether beliefs matter at all and which beliefs are important…

  • Dennis J

    I find that the problem with many within emerging (emergent) faith is that the real concerns being addressed are eclipsed by the immaturity of those addressing them. Many are reactionary, a-historical, and take no account of established, long standing wisdom throughout the ages.
    The responses I have read on the book, through various blogs, suggest to me that Rob Bell appears (I stress appears) overtly discriminatory against people who are not privy to open ended questions. In his attempt to engage a certain group of people he has ostracized a greater portion of Christians, creating a huge disconnect in dialogue. (I have been listening to the above link of the gospel coalition.) If the book is supposed to serve the purpose of engaging contemplation within a certain demographic, he should at least provide some more concrete theology in public discussion. Otherwise, he is dismissed as subversive, untrustworthy, and potentially decieving.
    It is too bad, because recognizing Jesus as the omnipresent ‘life’ and ‘reality’ within all of creation is an important component to understanding our faith and the gospel.

  • PaulE

    Phil, 79 – I’m not quite sure what you’re getting at with the “biblical” thing. And I’m confused about the verses that you offered. Could you perhaps spell out the consequences I am supposed to grasp? Sorry if I am slow to grasp your point.

    When I read DRT’s comment, I immediately thought of Demas who deserted Paul because he “loved” (agape) the world. So it seemed obvious that “love” cannot be just arbitrarily aimed at anything. I asked the question I asked because I wanted to know if/how DRT would qualify his definition of “believe in love” in any way that made sense of this idea that love must be rightly oriented to be the kind of love that Jesus accepts.

  • Rick

    Kenton #88-

    “I guess I don’t really see how being confident in the life, death, resurrection and message of Jesus is mutually exclusive with co-existing. So Gandhi didn’t get all of it. I’m sure my theology is has holes in it, as does everyone else’s.”

    I am going to assume you do not mean to come across this way, but that statement seems to have somewhat of a casual attitude towards “the life, death, resurrection and message of Jesus”. That is more than just a “hole”.

    Do you think your theology has a hole as big as that one?

  • John W Frye

    Comment #89 should read “That was the exception…” and “wandered”

  • DRT

    PaulE#76 and Phil Style#80. Luke 14 26+ is simply saying that god’s way is above those of your family. You must chose god’s definitions of love, not theirs.

  • Luke Allison

    Phil style # 80 wrote:

    “Is it possible perhaps to find a more seemly way of saying “you’re really quite dogmatic, I would think, for someone with a theoretical “Coexist” bumpersticker”

    Interesting thought. I wasn’t intending to be unseemly. It’s interesting how the word “dogmatic” automatically takes on negative overtones.

    My point has often been in these discussions that all “sides” of the issue are making very concrete foundational statements that they take to be Truth. Because this is most likely true (why come on here at all, otherwise?) there are two common responses to the conundrum that is raised: 1. We can take the subjectivist route and say that nobody knows anything truly, particularly about the Bible, or we can 2. Argue strongly for our position. We can do this mindlessly, without acknowledging any weaknesses in our stance, or we can do it thoughtfully.

    So when I say that he’s being dogmatic, what I mean is “Of course you’re being dogmatic. We’re talking about dogma!”

    What I tend to see in these discussions, however, is lots of this kind of thing: Exhibit A: I’m so annoyed by dogmatic people. We need to be more like Jesus, who died for preaching that we should be tolerant and loving.
    Exhibit B: I’m so annoyed by dogmatic people. Don’t you know that all truths are God’s Truth, and that no one can really say what is True in the Scriptures?

    In both cases, what appears to be an “enlightened” statement of subjectivity is in reality a dogmatic statement of fact. AND THAT’S OKAY. It’s unavoidable, as a matter of fact. Nobody is above a conversation.

    Here’s what I’m annoyed with, primarily: Those who have no problem with Rob seem to hold the viewpoint that, potentially, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, and other forms of religious belief are legitimate paths to the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. They’re maybe even a little bit sexy, too.

    So Islam is perfectly acceptable, but neo-Reformed theology is a highway to a potentially non-existent state of corrective discipline done in love (hell). Polytheism is fine, but “repent and believe the Gospel” is dangerous. That’s my problem.

    If I could just hear one person who likes Rob’s teaching admit that he’s wrong about some stuff, I’d probably never post anything again. I seriously haven’t seen it yet. So I’ll probably keep posting. Too bad for your eyeballs.

  • I enjoy debate/discussion of Christ and the Gospel and our mission as Christians and followers of Christ. I must ask though how hostility between believers and how comments such as “farewell Rob Bell” preach the Gospel to an unbelieving world whatsoever. I am not claiming that we can not have disagreements but to go as far to somewhat excommunicate a fellow believer for raising questions goes against what the Bible says all together.

    1 Corinthians 1: 10-18
    10 I appeal to you, brothers and sisters,[a] in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another in what you say and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly united in mind and thought. 11 My brothers and sisters, some from Chloe’s household have informed me that there are quarrels among you. 12 What I mean is this: One of you says, “I follow Paul”; another, “I follow Apollos”; another, “I follow Cephas[b]”; still another, “I follow Christ.”
    13 Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Were you baptized in the name of Paul? 14 I thank God that I did not baptize any of you except Crispus and Gaius, 15 so no one can say that you were baptized in my name. 16 (Yes, I also baptized the household of Stephanas; beyond that, I don’t remember if I baptized anyone else.) 17 For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel—not with wisdom and eloquence, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power.

    We are not asked to follow Rob Bell. I believe Bell himself would find great distaste in anyone “following him”. Instead i believe Rob is simply posing questions in an effort for all, both believing and unbelieving, to seek these answers out for ourselves.

    So with that being said, Paul writes to the Phillipians to not hate against those preaching the name of Christ but to know regardless of their motive the name of Christ is being spread. I think a huge audience Rob was trying to reach was not believers in an effort to debate doctrine and theology but instead to appeal to unbelievers who may have had great distain for the appearance of absolute knowledge and the “no if, ands, or buts” many Christians give to the Gospel and the God they worship. Rob asks many questions but at the same time does not seem to attempt to affix a permanent answer for them. So if Rob’s motives are pure and he has reached unbelievers with the name of Christ, how can we rebuke a brother who is trying to know the same man we are?

    Philippians 1:14-18

    4 And because of my chains, most of the brothers and sisters have become confident in the Lord and dare all the more to proclaim the gospel without fear.

    15 It is true that some preach Christ out of envy and rivalry, but others out of goodwill. 16 The latter do so out of love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel. 17 The former preach Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely, supposing that they can stir up trouble for me while I am in chains. 18 But what does it matter? The important thing is that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ is preached. And because of this I rejoice. Yes, and I will continue to rejoice.

    In my belief that Rob has motives of first and foremost introducing Christ to this world i choose to rejoice in his efforts. I have written all this to say as Christians we do not have to agree on every little thing with one another but Christ and the Bible preach repetitively on unity. So as a unified body let us not cast one another from the Kingdom through messages such as, “Farewell Rob Bell” but instead let us rejoice in the efforts of all, through Christ, to bring a dying world to know its Savior.

  • Kenton

    Jeremy (#90) Fair enough. My best material to that point was stuff about the Good Samaritan in this thread. You’ve got great company (including Scot) on the other side there, but I’m still staying over here.

    Rick (#93)- Thanks for assuming the best. To clarify: the story of Jesus is not a hole in my theology. I have confidence (lit. “with faith”) I got that part right. I’m sure I have other parts wrong and when I meet Jesus face-to-face, I hope to get those parts straightened out. Likewise I think when Gandhi meets Jesus and calls him “Brahma!” that Jesus will straighten him out. (“Yeah, you know most people are calling me ‘Jesus’ but… it’s not my real name.”) (See DRT’s comment #56) 🙂

  • Adam

    Robin @87

    I do not know much about Ghandi, I slightly remember something about the racism thing now that you mention it. But the real crux is your statement:

    “but I do not think he ever saw himself as a sinner needing salvation.”

    There’s your thoughts and my thoughts, but we can’t really know. All the examples you listed afterwards have all been committed by christians too.

    How do we know that “christians” believe themselves as sinners needing salvation when their actions are the same as non-christians? How do we know that a non-christian like Ghandi is condemned when he publicly affirms Jesus and God?

    As others are saying, this discussion is one about “Who’s in and who’s out”. I think Rob Bell is putting out the idea that the only person who knows that is Jesus and Jesus is free to surprise us all.

    The critics of this idea, to me, appear to be putting themselves in Jesus’ place because they want the ability to say who is in and who is out.

  • Kenton

    Luke (#96)- I got one for you!

    Rob is wrong in Love Wins in his telling about James and John wanting to be on his right and left. Rob says their motive is altruistic about serving in the Kingdom the way Jesus envisioned. I completely disagree. They had the “let’s turn the tables on the Roman occupiers” mentality and wanted to lord it over them.

    Rest of the book lines up, though.

  • Luke Allison

    Sherman #81

    You wrote a lot, which I tend to do myself, but it will be hard to respond to all of it at this moment.

    I have a problem with the phrase: “Praying and working to bring heaven to earth.” This is a theological construct, not necessarily an obvious teaching in Scripture. It has become standard language, probably because of NT Wright’s popular level stuff. I have nothing but respect for the man (The Resurrection of the Son of God and Bauckham’s Jesus and the Eyewitnesses are books I recommend to everyone I meet), but I have to disagree somewhat on the simplicity of this kind of theology. There’s nothing simple about the Kingdom teachings in the Scriptures. I believe the “build heaven on earth” theology is coming from a place in humanity that desires easy answers (what must I do?) rather than complicated ones.

    I work with the poor and underprivileged myself, as well as the elderly and the sick. That’s part of the “non-negotiable” of being yoked to Jesus in discipleship. But I’m not convinced that doing the seemingly insignificant work of wiping up a sick person’s feces is “bringing heaven to earth”, since there won’t be any sick people in the New Heavens and the New Earth. It’s potentially showing people a picture of what Jesus is like, but heaven is a lot better than that. If I don’t work to at least show them that something better than this life is coming, I’ve failed, in my opinion.

    I have a feeling you and I disagree on pretty much every major point of theology (I looked at your blog).

    So this may be a moot conversation. I have a feeling I’m not convincing you of anything, and you’re not convincing me. But, I love you and will remember to pray for your work today.

  • #98 Adam—”I think Rob Bell is putting out the idea that the only person who knows [who is in and out] is Jesus and Jesus is free to surprise us all.”

    If thats the case then I think Bell needs to read Paul and meditate on his central theological theme: “in Christ.” He seemed to think one actually could know who was in Christ and who was outside of Christ…

  • Luke Allison

    “Luke (#96)- I got one for you!”

    You were trying to get rid of me too easily. I’m like a zombie. So you really don’t have any regard for Dr. Witherington or Dr. McKnight’s critiques of Rob’s exegesis? Rob is seriously that good? Like….his understanding of John 10:16 is spot on? His use of John 3:16 is totally fine (minus the next verse which contradicts the entire point of the book)? Or is “I’m a poet” a genuinely legitimate way to say whatever you want?

    Tim Keller recently wondered who the audience of Love Wins was supposed to be. Keller used the term “campaign brochure” to describe the tone of the book. It’s almost like it’s written to fire up those people who already agree with him. I know it’s not intended to convince anyone who disagrees with him, since constructing a straw man of the opposing view is the last thing you want to do when conversing with those who hold it!

    My parents were Word of Faith charismatics with dispensationalist leadings and a heavy emphasis on Jewish Roots (Bivin, Blizzard, Dwight Pryor, etc). They were conservative to the bone. They also ran a huge food shelf out of their church and ministered to countless people in the mobil home park we lived in. They fit no caricatures. I’m bothered by the caricatures of traditional believers that I see thrown around so carelessly.

  • Adam

    Jeremy @102

    I think your use of Paul’s “in Christ” statements goes too far.

    Romans 2:16 This will take place on the day when God judges people’s secrets through Jesus Christ, as my gospel declares.

    This verse is specifically rooted in a conversation about people who have not yet heard the gospel. The “people’s secrets” can not be known by us or by Paul and only by God.

    I do not think Paul claims to know which of them is in Christ and which is not.

  • Kaleb

    Jeremy #98,

    If we have to be ‘in Christ’ like you and Paul suggest what does it take to be in Christ? Do you have to say a prayer? Have a particular religous experience? Give birth to a Child?-after all Paul says that women would be saved through Child birth. Or maybe it is a spouse that will santicify thier spouse their belief? Paul says all of these things. Will being in Christ be something that God does or that we do? Last time I checked that if you have to do something to get it, it is no longer a free gift because it is contigent on something we do-which is how you earn something. The work on the Cross has already been done! I believe Mr. Bell has a higher Christology than you on this one.

  • bill crawford

    Just wanted to thank Luke Allison for his contributions today. I hope he continues to visit and comment.

  • Luke Allison

    “If thats the case then I think Bell needs to read Paul and meditate on his central theological theme: “in Christ.” He seemed to think one actually could know who was in Christ and who was outside of Christ…”

    True, but ultimately we don’t have any say on the matter. I’ve argued earlier in this blog (mere hours ago) that we need to be careful of saying anyone is “in Hell”, BUT we need to be equally careful of claiming the knowledge that someone is in the presence of the Father as well. Both are making judgments far too lofty for our fallen brain to understand.

    As to who is “currently” in Christ, I agree that there are some good ways of understanding this Biblically, while recognizing that babies act like babies sometimes.

    Honestly, though, I think the big huge separating distinction between one strain in this conversation and the other is our understanding of sin. What is it Biblically? Is our definition a reaction to “toxic” teaching when we were younger? Is it a traditional moralistic cultural approach? Or have we studied the Bible for our definition? It would be hard to avoid the topic of idolatry, (and the demonic strongholds associated with it) defilement, and curses if we do so. And yet, this book, and generally this conversation, doesn’t seem to bring this stuff up. Murder? Of course. Improper Creation Care? Sure. Rape? Duh. Oppression? Most definitely.
    What I haven’t heard anyone deal with is whether people who don’t do these things also are in need of a Savior.
    That’s the big difference between, say, your strain, and others.

  • Kenton

    Enormous regard, just disagreement. Bell’s interpretation of John 10:16 works for me. I will admit that when I read him bring up John 3 I knew that was leaving him a little too vulnerable and I wish he would have deconstructed the whole episode, frankly. I think if he had elaborated on it, I would have said “yes” wholeheartedly. (But that’s purely speculative, sure.)

  • Adam

    Luke @107

    I want to echo the question you didn’t quite ask in this statement.

    “What I haven’t heard anyone deal with is whether people who don’t do these things also are in need of a Savior.”

    I think that is a very good discussion topic to get people to weigh in on. I’m going to misuse the word sin for a moment but it’s to make a point.

    I believe that humans who are completely sinless still need Jesus as their savior. I believe there is something about Jesus as the Son of Man that goes beyond the forgiveness of sins.

  • #105 Kaleb—what has always been the condition for being in the people of God? Paul says it in Rom 4: “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteous.” Faith/belief has always been the condition. And Bell’s questions distract from that condition. Likewise the assertion that repenting, confessing, and believing negates the gift nature of Jesus is nonsense. Repent and confess and believe are NT concepts that mark one as “in Christ.” This does not mean deeds are also not required. James makes that plain in Jm 2—a faith without deeds is fake faith. Bell’s assertion that Christ’s work is simply true for everyone—meaning its a state that is true for all regardless of repentance and confession and belief, not simply available—is biblically and theologically incorrect, not to mention pastorally reckless.

  • Luke Allison


    “Bell’s interpretation of John 10:16 works for me.”

    Why? How? There has to be some framework for measuring how we interpret a verse. What Rob has done with this verse is the very thing that he frequently accuses others of doing: not giving any regard to context or authorial intent. A basic hermeneutics class would refute Rob on this one. He’s human. It’s possible. He’s sexy as crap, I’ll give him that, but he’s really not right on that verse in the context of Johannine writing. And that’s okay! That’s why older, respected scholars call younger teachers out on things. Not to be mean, but for the sake of correction, which should be something we lap up like honey, or wine, or nectar, or water.

    I have a friend who is 27, and is responding to this debate in a similar fashion to you: works for me. Seems good to me. But who cares what seems? What IS?

  • Luke @ 101,

    I disagree with “I have a feeling you and I disagree on pretty much every major point of theology (I looked at your blog).”

    I believe it’s likely that we have very much in common. We both believe in and follow Jesus, whom we believe is Emmanuel, born of the virgin Mary, died for our sins, and rose from the dead, the Apostle’s Creed, etc. I believe the Bible is the inspired word of God, as you do I assume. We have much in common and I appreciate your prayers for me.

    And we agree that we all need a Savior, that we all sin and fall short of the glory of God. I don’t know if you believe whether the Atonement is limited in either scope or effect, but I don’t limit the atonement but rather believe it fully accomplishes the salvation of all whom Jesus died for, and I believe He died for everyone.

    Well, we could get into all we disagree on, but such would certainly be beyond the scope of this thread. I’ve enjoyed our brief interaction. May God bless you and yours wonderfully this Ressurection season!

    your brother in Christ,

  • Adam

    Jeremy @110

    So, what do you say to a christian who fails the test of James 2? If their faith is dead because they have no actions are they condemned or is there “faith” enough?

    Then we have Romans 2 where Paul says that a person’s actions confirm their knowledge of the truth and their actions defend them (and accuse them) on judgement day (regardless of whether they’ve heard the gospel)

  • Albion

    The critics of this idea, to me, appear to be putting themselves in Jesus’ place because they want the ability to say who is in and who is out.

    Two things are being confused in this discussion. First, there’s the issue of who is in, who is out–the universalism question. The second seems to be the means by which one “gets in.” Is that means Jesus as he is revealed in Scripture and testified to by the Church across time or is it Jesus as revealed in some other form that Scripture says nothing about?

    There seems to be a fair number of folk on this thread who would say that Jesus is in Buddha and Allah and Nobody (for the atheist I suppose) and all of these religious folk are IN if they–what, live a certain way? So when Paul says he has been crucified in Christ, and that it is no longer he who lives but Christ who lives in him, the important point is not that he knows this Christ but that he knows the love of this Christ, even if he might not know the name of Christ or even his story. Something like that. Rob’s Jesus is no longer revealed as a particular man, in a particular part of the world as part of a particular story that He sends people into the world to embody and tell. This Jesus is everywhere, even if Scripture says nothing about it. That may be comfort to people who don’t like exclusivism, but there’s no story to back it up. It’s an extra-biblical soteriology that’s unsettling to those who think there’s decisive about this story’s particularity.

    I still have no idea what it might mean to follow Jesus–and at what cost– if the sum of Jesus’s teaching is reduced to a love ethic disconnected from the concrete reality of Christ’s life, death and resurrection. Rob’s Jesus is less historically rooted, more of a cipher to be used, ironically, to circumvent the particularity of Jesus’s teaching about himself, the reign of God and life in the Kingdom. Jesus is now everywhere, working in everything, to bring people to himself. Sure, he uses his “disciples,” but his disciples can be anything. Anywhere. A strange, unrecognizable Christ, this Buddha.

    There is also a heavy strain of individualism Rob’s discussion. Of what use is the church now that Jesus’s body, the body of Christ, his visible body on earth, can live in a Buddhist temple or pray towards Mecca?

  • DRT

    FWIW, this thread has highlighted to me that there is some big disconnect between the way I think and those who think that Bell does not emphasize the sin thing enough. I honestly do not understand those who are saying that we should talk about sin more, and I will think about it.

  • PaulE

    Adam #109 – I think you’re on to something. It made me think of Noah, “a righteous man, blameless among the people of his time”, who though he walked faithfully with God, still needed the ark to save him from the deluge. And it reminded me of Zephaniah 2:3, where the humble of the land, who do what the LORD commands, are exhorted to seek the LORD – to seek righteousness – so that “perhaps” they will be sheltered from the coming wrath of God which he has declared over “all mankind on the face of the earth”.

  • Adam

    @Albion 114

    Do you suggest it is impossible for people to experience Jesus if they don’t have access to a bible? Is the bible the only means in which Jesus communicates with the world?

  • T

    Scot (86),

    My own take is that I think Bell seems to understate at least the potential (if not the reality) for Christian communities to be the presence of God in a way that is, for lack of a better word, superior to the presence of God in creation generally. The incarnation didn’t stop with Jesus. And just as God was more truly and fully “present” through Jesus than through creation, or even through the prior law and prophets, so too God is at least intending to be through the Church. (“As the Father sent me . . .”) Even though, yes, the Holy Spirit is present and active among all people and even all heaven and earth (and Bell is right to emphasize this more), but there is a very real and unique dimension to the Spirit’s presence within the Church.

    BUT (and this is a big ‘but’), the response to Bell, even in the post and comments, doesn’t seem to be in those terms, but rather, in “who’s got better facts?” terms: “It sounds like minimizing of the truth of Christian orthodoxy.” and “do some have the truth of Christ more than others?” Again, I agree with your concerns here, but I’m concerned that when we evangelicals start assuming we are among those who have “the truth of Christ more than others” that we’re thinking more in terms of facts and not enough in terms of cruciform love. The entire NT (and some important passages in the OT) give good reason to question that–hard.

    You know better than most that the questions Bell raises in this book are the questions being put to the Church by the younger generations in the West. I just can’t shake the way I think 1st John would rub both Bell and his critics the wrong way on these questions but give the next generation answers they can affirm. Yes, Love Wins–so you better get on board with Love. Love also has a name and a Son and a Spirit and a people, but knowing those things won’t help if you don’t get on board with love.

    In a nutshell, I would say that Bell does undervalue the unique presence of God in the Church, but I would also say to evangelicals that love of all (cruciform love at that) is the truest mark, the acid test, of the presence and truth of Christ in the world, not affirmation of the right facts about Jesus, even the facts of knowing his name and calling him “Lord.” We can’t talk about “knowing” God or Christ and only talk about facts and not our lifestyle, whether in or out of the Church. Don’t get me wrong, ignorance of the facts isn’t good (how can we love and not grow in knowledge?). I just think this discussion needs a much more holistic and, ironically, biblically informed framework. I hope I’m making sense. It’s tax day. Kinda crazy here.

  • TJJ

    Another great posting by Scot. Much appreciated! Worth the cost of the blog….if there were a cost.

    This chapter…..well, this whole book, maybe was written/published prematurely. Seems to contain many thoughts, questions, speculations, discussion starters, etc., but not much that is all that well reasoned/thought out in terms of scripture and theology, life experience, etc.

    The term half-baked comes to mind.

    That is all well in good in some contexts (I remember discussions like this back in seminary days, late at night, over pizza), but as a mass market book, and/or a preaching/teaching series to a congregation? Given the warning to teachers in the NT, I really question that, and can only say that I myself, would be up at night, unable to sleep, concerned I might be leading some who read the book astray, whether by misleading speculation, or by misunderstanding of what was meant/intended.

    It is one thing to share speculative thoughts about health care, or a bad stock tip, but teaching about the most important and most lasting issues of life, that may then in turn be passed on and taught to other, family, friends, etc.

    Where is the sense of accountability on Bells’ part as a pastor/teacher of a church congragation, to say nothing of the wider audience from the book, etc.

  • Richard

    @ 89 John Frye

    I echo your endorsement of Mission of God but I don’t think Wright would back the way you’re representing the exclusivity of “this name.” Remember that there were many names for Yahweh in the OT, but they all pointed to Yahweh. Wright is more concerned with THIS God (ironic that we use that generic word) than how the name is spelled because names were about character. What is THIS God like? There’s no magic in knowing the name of this God, it’s in knowing Yahweh.

    Personally, I think everyone on this thread should go pick up a copy of Athanasius’ “On the Incarnation” (one of CS Lewis’ favorites), read it, and then reread this chapter by Bell. IMHO, those of us in modern evangelicalism have lost a sense of the cosmic Christ and the implications of a “gospel that has been proclaimed to every creature under heaven.”

  • Richard

    @ 96 Luke Allison

    You said, “Here’s what I’m annoyed with, primarily: Those who have no problem with Rob seem to hold the viewpoint that, potentially, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, and other forms of religious belief are legitimate paths to the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. They’re maybe even a little bit sexy, too.

    So Islam is perfectly acceptable, but neo-Reformed theology is a highway to a potentially non-existent state of corrective discipline done in love (hell). Polytheism is fine, but “repent and believe the Gospel” is dangerous. That’s my problem.

    If I could just hear one person who likes Rob’s teaching admit that he’s wrong about some stuff, I’d probably never post anything again. I seriously haven’t seen it yet. So I’ll probably keep posting. Too bad for your eyeballs.”

    If Bell actually said these things we’d have a problem with it. But the closest Bell comes to saying these things is when his critics put those words in his mouth. Find some quotes, with context, that show Bell saying that and I’d be first to disagree with it. No pluralist talks about Jesus the way that Bell does.

  • DRT

    T#118 said in his last paragraph

    In a nutshell, I would say that Bell does undervalue the unique presence of God in the Church, but I would also say to evangelicals that love of all (cruciform love at that) is the truest mark, the acid test, of the presence and truth of Christ in the world, not affirmation of the right facts about Jesus, even the facts of knowing his name and calling him “Lord.” We can’t talk about “knowing” God or Christ and only talk about facts and not our lifestyle, whether in or out of the Church. Don’t get me wrong, ignorance of the facts isn’t good (how can we love and not grow in knowledge?). I just think this discussion needs a much more holistic and, ironically, biblically informed framework. I hope I’m making sense.

    This is good T, and you are making great sense to me.

    First, while I agree with you that *the book* does not talk much nor concentrate on the “unique presence of god in the church”, my bet is that Bell believes it. This is a great illustration of the problem that people are having with the book. Bell is evangelizing to people who have been burnt by a toxic (christian) church. These are people who already know that the bible thumpers think everyone is a sinner and there are detailed theological rules.

    But the biggest question people who have been burnt by the church have is: But do you really get that love is the most important thing. Not the rules, not the prayers, not the name Jesus, not any of that. I speak about this from personal experience. I was burnt by churches that put their earthly interpretations, egos, rules and interpretations ahead of trying to live a Jesusy life and that drove me from the church. The only place I felt like they got the love thing was Buddhism, and that got it better than Christianity.

    The issue is that there is a hierarchy in Jesus teachings and the highest of the high ( the most high, if you will), is loving god and loving others. Churches and people who do not have that as the highest standard are toxic and I want no part of them.

    If you want someone to join your church after they have been burnt, you have to show them that you know that Love wins.

  • Robin

    Richard (121),

    Bell may not say those things directly, but a plurality of the people on this discussion thread that support him are saying things that sound very much like those words to those of us who have exclusivist ears.

  • Kenton

    Luke (#111)-

    And if “older, respected scholars” had called out Martin Luther, what then? I get that they’re (usually) “not trying to be mean”, but that doesn’t imply that every word that proceeds from their keyboard is “sweet honey that we should lap up” either. The guild of “older respected scholars” are entrenched in a paradigm and that paradigm that is self-enforced by membership in the guild. If I hadn’t read the New Testament, I might (“might”) have thought that that was something new. It isn’t. All that happened is we moved the circle of the sheep pen from “Jews” to “Christians.” Well, there are still sheep that aren’t in the newer pen either. And it takes someone outside of the guild of “older, respected scholars” to get it.

  • Thanks for this ongoing & thoughtful review, Scot. Although I’ve not read Bell’s book, I appreciate how you’re reflecting on the positives without minimizing the weaknesses. I haven’t read all the (120 now!) comments, but as I did meet Jesus through a non-Christian’s mockery of a distant Christian, so I agree with with your agreement with Bell’s sense of the omnipresence of Christ. However, follow through is necessary. As you noted, But I have major questions about whether or not Bell is dispensing with the cross in favor of a gentle omnipresent Christ. The content of the Rock simply isn’t clear to me. We may meet Jesus and not pick up our crosses to follow Him to his cross, through our own crosses, and into resurrection life. Meeting him isn’t enough. The rock will & should both break us and cause us to stumble, too, so that we die-to-live.

  • Richard

    “He’s got an expansive Christ, an omnipresent Christ, an anonymous Christ, and he’s got that Christ saving in all of history and across the whole world”

    This is exactly the sort of statement that led to many Fundamentalist (descriptor not pejorative) Christians renouncing Billy Graham for “abandoning the Gospel” when he announced on the Hour of Power that there was a wideness to God’s mercy:

    “Well, Christianity and being a true believer—you know, I think there’s the Body of Christ. This comes from all the Christian groups around the world, outside the Christian groups. I think everybody that loves Christ, or knows Christ, whether they’re conscious of it or not, they’re members of the Body of Christ. And I don’t think that we’re going to see a great sweeping revival, that will turn the whole world to Christ at any time. I think James answered that, the Apostle James in the first council in Jerusalem, when he said that God’s purpose for this age is to call out a people for His name. And that’s what God is doing today, He’s calling people out of the world for His name, whether they come from the Muslim world, or the Buddhist world, or the Christian world or the non-believing world, they are members of the Body of Christ because they’ve been called by God. They may not even know the name of Jesus but they know in their hearts that they need something that they don’t have, and they turn to the only light that they have, and I think that they are saved, and that they’re going to be with us in heaven.”

    And there’s that other muddled theologian, John Wesley on “Living Without God”:

    “Perhaps there may be some well-meaning persons who carry this farther still; who aver, that whatever change is wrought in men, whether in their hearts or lives, yet if they have not clear views of those capital doctrines, the fall of man, justification by faith, and of the atonement made by the death of Christ, and of his righteousness transferred to them, they can have no benefit from his death. I dare in no wise affirm this. Indeed I do not believe it. I believe the merciful God regards the lives and tempers of men more than their ideas. I believe he respects the goodness of the heart rather than the clearness of the head; and that if the heart of a man be filled (by the grace of God, and the power of his Spirit) with the humble, gentle, patient love of God and man, God will not cast him into everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels because his ideas are not clear, or because his conceptions are confused. Without holiness, I own, ‘no man shall see the Lord;; but I dare not add, ‘or clear ideas.’”

    What Rob Bell is serving up isn’t new, but it’s hardly “liberalism.”

  • Kaleb

    Jeremy #110,

    So we have to ‘believe God’ or have belief. What kind of belief. How can those believe that have never heard and is it a belief of what has been revealed to each of us then? If so and Jesus is in other cultures present at the Bible states can people respond to have belief/faith in Jesus without it being the way that we would like? Could someone have faith/belief enough to be saved without explicitly knowing Jesus and his work that the Bible clearly states was for every person? I am not devaluing Christ in the conversation, I am just saying that maybe His work is bigger and better and more mysterious then the way we talk about it every day. As a Christian it does not devalue the urgency to share this Christ with others; actually I think it ignites it. Because if Jesus and his kingdom is really good news, then he is good news for everyone. When we believe we trust in the Word God already spoke to us; which is forgiveness and peace through Jesus’ reconciliation of ALL things on the Cross.

    The questions are not distracting. They are valid and the fact that people are saying they are distracting makes me believe all the more that they are the right ones. People do not want to deal with the answers. Trusting Jesus and what he has already done is the message. People that have not heard it can not be wiped away because they matter to God. The people that have been severely hurt in unspeakable ways matter. They may be rejecting Jesus, but their lives may speak that they have accepted the true Jesus. As you said faith without works is dead. I think this gives more value to the Cross because it is played out in all sorts of ways that can not be explained. Is there room for any mystery Jeremy? I sure hope so!

  • Kaleb

    Richard #126,

    Love it! Thanks for the good company of Graham and Wesley!

  • I would also suggest that if the assent to some propositional beliefs about jesus is the only way to be saved then those among us with learning difficulties and/or severe cognitive disabilities are surely to be pitied both now and forever.

  • Luke Allison


    “No pluralist talks about Jesus the way that Bell does.”

    That’s because I don’t think he’s a pluralist. He’s a Christian who thinks exclusivity in its purest sense doesn’t represent the Love of Christ. Just like most of my friends close to my age.

    My post mentioned that I was talking primarily about people defending Rob on this blog. There seem to be quite a few people on the blog (and in my personal life) who want to believe that all religious systems are right in some sense. Even if they worship the wrong deity and hold the wrong worldview, God’s grace is not so fickle that He’d overlook their actions.

    I hold to a more conservative form of inclusivism myself (don’t underestimate God’s creativity in getting the word of the Gospel into your heart), so I’m not attacking Rob’s theology here.

    I’m trying to get to the heart of this debate. Here’s what I’ve identified in my friends: The spirit of the age (Oprah, Lady GaGa, pretty much every song about “faith”) has declared that all roads lead to “God” in some regard. Most people really want to believe this. It’s very easy. It requires no effort, and creates no conflicts, except perhaps with radical atheists, and no one likes them anyway.
    Most, if not all, of my friends who really have enjoyed Love Wins want to sort of embrace the faith of their family minus the unpleasant bits, and also embrace the attractive notions of pop culture. I find it telling that Love Wins doesn’t rub them the wrong way at any point. It basically asserts what they already believe. Whether or not Rob means for this to happen this is the effect it is having. A lack of clarity leads to more confusion than you started with.

    Now, I also find it telling that people like you (and I really really respect your comments on this blog) read Rob and, based on prior knowledge of his writing, sermons, and videos, are able to articulate what exactly he’s saying. It’s almost like we’ve needed these discussions for clarity.
    As a matter of fact, I’ve even heard somebody say: “You need to listen to the audio version of the book to understand his tone here.” That doesn’t say much for clarity.

    I believe we need clarity in this world.

  • Richard


    And thus the dilemma of trying to communicate via electronic message boards. There are plenty of times when I read something online that sounds incredibly hateful and destructive written by someone who had no intention of sounding that way.

    I’m okay with people saying, “it sounds like this to me.” I have a problem with people asserting, “this is what he’s saying” when he has often denied the very thing they’re accusing him of OR he says the exact thing someone else they accept already said (i.e his handling of hell being very similar to Tim Keller’s in Reason for God as discussed here: http://tinyurl.com/Keller-and-Bell-on-Hell).

  • DRT

    Luke#96 said

    Those who have no problem with Rob seem to hold the viewpoint that, potentially, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, and other forms of religious belief are legitimate paths to the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. They’re maybe even a little bit sexy, too.

    So Islam is perfectly acceptable, but neo-Reformed theology is a highway to a potentially non-existent state of corrective discipline done in love (hell). Polytheism is fine, but “repent and believe the Gospel” is dangerous. That’s my problem.

    And Robin said:

    Bell may not say those things directly, but a plurality of the people on this discussion thread that support him are saying things that sound very much like those words to those of us who have exclusivist ears.

    OK, lets break this down. Bell does say that there is only one mountain but multiple paths up the mountain. Rob does not advocate following those other paths up the mountain because we know that Jesus is the right path. Having said that, he asserts that there are manifestations of Jesus in all of those religions.

    Islam is not perfectly acceptable, Rob thinks we should become Christians.

    And Rob never addresses neo-reformed theology, but it does not take a deity to realize that when he talks about toxic things quaking he also knows what looks like a duck.

  • Robin

    Oh yeah! You look like a duck 🙂

  • Richard

    @ 130

    Luke, good clarifications. I think you’re tapping on some macro-communication issues in our society in general. I agree with your assessment of how many hold to an ala carte approach to theology (cafeteria or buffet theology) and I’m continually amazed at the cognitive dissonance on display when some people share their thoughts on just about anything (i.e. “illegal immigrants steal our jobs” AND “they’re freeloaders” in back to back sentences) and I think that plays into this. We’re so used to choosing based on our preferences that critical thinking often gets supplanted – I wish this were unique to people who read and affirm Rob Bell but unfortunately it is not.

    My only pushback would be that the clarity isn’t just on the side of the writer/speaker, it’s also on the side of the listeners. I’m continually dismayed by the apparent lack of reading and comprehension skills I witness on a regular basis – and not just with Bell but even when I’ve seen folks blast Scot here for something that he never said and then they’re convinced it’s because he wasn’t clear. A little humility and a lot of testing of assumptions can go a long way.

    That said, I still think the crowd here at Jesus Creed does a much better job of seeking to understand each other than most forums – especially considering the range of views and backgrounds represented here.

  • John W Frye

    “Hear, O Israel, the LORD our God is one (or God alone).”
    “You are to have no other gods before me.” Israel’s call to love and serve (worship) YHWH with all the directives given by God through Moses was so that Israel could be a light to the nations and through whom the nations could enter into the blessings of God. God was fiercely particular. He did not choose the Hittites or the Jebusites on which to attach his name. A particular God did a particular thing (the exodus) and formed a particular people *for the sake of* the whole world. If what Rob Bell teaches is true, then we’d get some hint in the Old Testament that YHWH was known, not by that Name but as Ba’al or Molech and Ra’ and Enlil, etc. Find me the Scripture for it. We come the New Testament and if N.T. Wright is on to something, Jesus is all that Israel was not and died, was buried and was resurrected in order to continue making YHWH known now through his son Jesus the Messiah and the new Israel, the new humanity. There is no way the biblical story endorses the pluralism of Rob Bell’s chapter or of the hopes of many commenting here. It is not sustainable that *Jesus* is bubbling up to people through Buddha and Mohammed and Kali and Vishnu. Too many converts to Christ exist who came out of those religions who plainly tell us that they were not in the kingdom of God while in those religions. I know we want love to win everybody everywhere. I’m not arguing for correct doctrinal affirmations (as a head thing), but I am affirming that the Spirit who is at work in the whole world is working in view of an actual YHWH-initiated atonement accomplished at the cross through Jesus the Messiah and his resurrection. God wants (commands) that recognition to be made both in time and in eternity. It is not the gospel to suggest that everyone is already saved by however religious path they take and they just don’t know it was Jesus who did it yet. I have space for a wideness in God’s mercy for those who can’t hear and respond. The fact that many have not heard is not just God’s problem; it’s the church’s, too. All of us want to be surprised in eternity and God certainly can surprise us, but to suggest that pluralism if not universalism is in the Bible but just mysteriously so is IMO totally unfounded. It is “mystery” is a lame punt on a topic like this.

  • Luke Allison


    This is very very good.

    My generation has a strange fascination with sexy Eastern religions. The fascination often is derived from Western syncretistic versions of the religion, rather than the orthodox beliefs themselves.

    There would be very few Muslims who have come into the Covenant Community of God who would assert that they would have been just fine doing good stuff as a Muslim. As a matter of fact, a lot of the former Muslims I’ve read about or talked to myself would indicate that a rather distressing spiritual reality exists within Islam itself. Some might even use the term “demonic”. But we’re far too rational for that, right? 🙂

    The one Biblical “motif” that is finally starting to get addressed by various and sundry authors (but probably not enough) is that of “sin-as-idolatry”. Our willingness to take God seriously on the topic of false religions should inform our understanding of their potentially salvific value. Likewise, all the American false “religions”, including that of Cultural Christianity need to be addressed under this motif as well. Anything we put at the center of our being is our god. Doesn’t matter what it is.

    While I don’t think that Rob is a pluralist like John Hick is a pluralist, I think he’s intentionally unclear to a maddening extent. I work with youth as a vocation. They need clarity. I’m a young evangelical who was brought back into the “fold” by very clear preaching (the Spirit’s work in such). We already have some things where mystery is the answer, but saving faith in Christ should not be one of them.

    Maybe this discussion needs to shift into what exactly is meant by “saving faith”.

  • DRT

    Luke#136, says “While I don’t think that Rob is a pluralist like John Hick is a pluralist, I think he’s intentionally unclear to a maddening extent. I work with youth as a vocation. They need clarity. I’m a young evangelical who was brought back into the “fold” by very clear preaching (the Spirit’s work in such). We already have some things where mystery is the answer, but saving faith in Christ should not be one of them.”

    Luke, use the force Luke (i have been dying to say that all day). You have to let go, use your feelings, reach out.

    Seriously, there are huge variations in people and the way the learn and the way they are reached by a religious message. Claiming that you have legalistic propositional truths is the most sure way to get me to stay away from you because it is quite arrogant for anyone to think they understand God and that their interpretation of what evidence we have is the sole correct one.

    You also have to realize that “youth” does not need clarity, just some people. If you are sensing type of person and a judging decision maker then you may be OK with what you are saying. But I sure as heck am not and neither are my children (well, 2 of 3 are not, the last one you would stand a chance with).

    Why can’t we realize that there are different paths up the Christian mountain too? Rob’s path really works for me and for many I know. It may get to the same point as what you say, but it will go there in a different way.

  • DRT

    …I meant “If you are A sensing type of person” I mean this in the sense (haha) of MBPTI

  • Kaleb

    John W Frye #135,

    “It is “mystery” is a lame punt on a topic like this.”

    I am sorry to say I think your comment is a lame punt to avoid things that you do not know and things that bother you. You want God all figured out just like your theology.

    Systematic theology has taken away all mystery, right, and your modernistic approach of reason has given way to no mystery in the divine and how Jesus works in and through the world. I think this approach to the Bible is the thing being pushed against most. Not that they are bad, but when we have God all figured out is God still God? And if Jesus didn’t forgive the whole world what is all this other talk in the Bible about Christ died for all… and to save the whole world… and to reconcile all things… I suppose you can find a way to say these verses do not mean what they say? Not that we do not have to respond to this grace, it is just that you seem to have it all figured out by the tone of your comments.

  • paul johnston

    Fascinating forum and discussion, Thank you, Scott. Thank you all.

    With regard to context I find Mr. Bell’s book most disappointing. I was drawn to buy the book simply by the audacity of it’s claims regarding the implications for every person ever born. To my dismay, while the subject(s) are addressed, the persistent use of a defaming caricature of a Christian perspective with which Mr. Bell clearly disagrees, seems completely unnecessary.

    If Mr. Bell is interested in a parochial confrontation with other members of the evangelical community whose message he wishes to challenge, let him tell another story. To conflate those issues with the more important message concerning heaven, hell and the future of mankind…well it seems to render the title of the book to the realm of the ironic.

    With regard to content, I shall, like Mr. Bell take the artistic approach. I shall speak in broad brush strokes. Maybe I’m right, maybe I’m wrong the important thing is my vision; is my work. My work is not intended to be definitive or necessarily instructive. It is simply meant to provoke. For good or for bad, it is up to you what you do with it.

    Heaven: Here, there, everywhere. You want it, you got it. You decide.

    Hell: Here, there, everywhere. You want it you got it. You decide.

    Love: Moderns have it. Traditionalists don’t. While he’s pretty explicit that there ain’t no ticket in, this is your ticket in. Artists have a sense of humour. Ask us, will tell you.

    Judgement: God will affirm your choice…unless it isn’t His. You decide….or not.

    Sin: Pretty much “Brandon Flowers” and the “Killers” on this one. “We got soul but we ain’t no soldiers”…” “over and in, last call for sin”…I’ve always assumed that the Killers were pointing out the irony and inconsistency of such a philosophy. I’m not sure Mr. Bell intends his response to be read in the same way.

    “What do we do now, Norton!!!” : 2 parts Karl Marx, 1 part Al Gore and a whole bunch of Jesusyness. Try painting that picture!!!

  • #139 Kaleb—I think you’ve misunderstood John’s comment, Kaleb. I know John, and what you’ve said is not him.

    I’ll speak for myself…but I am not asking for an air-tight systematic theology. I see you live in GR, and a big part of the problem in our area is we’ve confused what is essential from what is inessential. All Christian ideas have been thrown into the pot: worship, baptism, Jesus’ deity, work on sunday, jesus’ resurrection, the gender of pastoral leadership. So when people in our area reject the pot, they think they have to throw out everything in it…beets, potatoes, carrots, beef, broth and all. That’s created a mess in GRap me thinks, to the point we cant even name the essentials.

    Not to mention the hyper-Calvinist answers to many of our generations questions (I’m taking a guess you’re a 20/30 something?) are incredibly lacking. The fire that recently took the life of the pastor is explained as a literal act of God; Jesus died not for the world, but for the select few…even before creation; the only way to talk about atonement is in penal substitutionary ways and if you don’t then you’re not a Christian; and on and on.

    I say this to say what many of us are asking in our area, especially of pastors, is is there anything we even need to believe to be Christian. Can we not NAME somethings as necessary beliefs? One of which, as John has pointed out, is the necessity for exclusive believe in Jesus Christ.

    I think that’s what John was getting at…that’s what I’ve been trying to get at. And yes, I think the “mystery card” is lame. No offense 🙂 What that card seems to do is suggest we can’t say anything positive about the Scripture or Christian faith, which I think has created our evangelical mess!

  • Luke Allison

    “Claiming that you have legalistic propositional truths is the most sure way to get me to stay away from you because it is quite arrogant for anyone to think they understand God and that their interpretation of what evidence we have is the sole correct one.”

    I appreciate your gentle tone, and you are consistently this way. I am feeling hate in my heart towards the Star Wars reference however. Childhood wounds. Damn you!

    Seriously, though, I disagree fundamentally with the statement I’ve quoted above. I haven’t always disagreed with it, but I do now. Believe it or not, I actually believe that God’s self-revelation means we can say certain things about God without a shadow of a doubt. We do it constantly. You do it constantly too. You say God is love. Who says? What if God is pudding? How do we know that He’s not pudding? The Scripture has to count for something more than a few somewhat open-handed opinions. You probably agree with that.

    As far as your children are concerned, I have seen students you would never guess respond to the notion that God’s wrath has been satisfied in the Cross of Christ, after a contextual and relevant unpacking of what that means. I don’t know if we can always fall back on the “different theology for different minds” defense. We probably disagree on that.

    There was a time when I was a pretty huge fan of Rob. He used to be more clear. Now, he seems to revel in his lack of clarity. I’m not so arrogant as to expel him from the “circle” of Christianity in my mind, but I probably am not going to go to him for much of anything resource-wise.

    This is going to turn into an epistemological debate. I fear I may become a casualty soon.

  • #141—Holy cow paul johnson you nailed it!! Brilliant 🙂

  • Richard

    @ 135

    Not sure if you’re responding to my comment but to clarify just in case:

    I wasn’t referring to “Ba’al or Molech and Ra’,” I was referring to “El-Shaddai, Jehovah Jireh, El Elyon, El Olam, Qanna,” and the many other names of God rooted in a individual’s experience of God. The same God, the one true God, the I AM (Ehyeh asher ehyeh) ultimately revealed in Jesus of Nazareth but known by many different names. In a cruder fashion, potatO or patatA is still an edible root but carrot is a different vegetable all together.

  • John W Frye

    Kaleb (#139),
    Thanks for the firm push back. I think if God has revealed himself in creation, Scriptures, Jesus Christ and human conscience, and if we are commanded to love God with all our mind, then of course we can engage these revelatory means and figure some, maybe a lot of things out, not totally, but with some degree of understanding. God is God and we will be infinitely probing his majestic and mysterious Being. I am *not* a systematic theologian because I think systematics horribly atomize the Story way too much. I am find with mystery when mystery is encountered, but calling Rob Bell’s thinking a tap into the mystery is unwarranted, and inane. I am not enamored with modernism and the kind of hermeneutics practiced by the church grounded in Enlightenment categories. We have a
    Bible and it does not say what Rob Bell is wanting to say. That’s all. I don’t know what you mean by the “tone of my comments.” Maybe because you disagree with me you project a tone. I don’t like the tone of your comments. How does that feel? So, where that sort of writing get us? You cannot make the Romans 5 text and the Colossians 1 text make it mean what you *hope* it means either. We cannot make up ways we *think* or hope God is at work in the world and conclude our thinking and hoping are from the Bible. I know Rob, I’ve attended MHBC, I’ve read Rob’s books. But in this chapter of LW, Rob is slouching toward pluralism. I think it is sad.

  • John W Frye

    Richard (#144),
    No, I didn’t have your comment in mind.

  • paul johnston

    But seriously…I do think Mr. Bell highlights the legitimate concern regarding the sometimes vast gulf between orthodoxy and orthopraxy. He asks good questions, that deserve answer. My opinion though is that he is not yet mature enough in his own faith to provide the answers to the questions he asks.

    Luke Allison if you would write a detailed rebuttal to “Love Wins” I would read it in a heartbeat.

  • Albion

    Adam @ 117

    No and no.

  • Richard @ 126,

    Thanks for sharing Billy Graham’s and John Wesley’s comments concerning the breath of God working in the world.

  • Richard

    @ 140

    The irony (intentionally or tragically) of caricaturing Bell (and others) while you complain of caricaturing by Bell and others is duly noted.

    Does it make a difference that the caricature of “Jesus saving us from the Father” was acknowledged by Russell Moore as being a real problem in our culture and churches that needs addressed? He shared a disturbing anecdote during the panel discussion of Love Wins at SBTS. He heard a youth pastor once describe the gospel as, “you know how you get mad at your friend and punch your locker, it’s like that. God gets mad at us because of our sin but instead of punching us, he punches Jesus.”

    Is it possible that the caricature isn’t meant to deal with any particular school of theology or pastor but is instead meant to deal with an unofficial teaching that has taken root in the hearts and minds of many even though most theologians and pastors would say, “That’s not what I meant”?

  • Wow. For the record, I haven’t read the book. But I think I get the general idea from reading probably the length of the book in reviews and debates, from both sides and from those who have read it and those who haven’t.

    Also, for the record, I disagree wholeheartedly with Bell, and with anyone who uses the “mystery” cop-out to sow seeds of doubt on who God is (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) and the truth of the Gospel of the Kingdom. Rob Bell is not “wise” in leaving us a bunch of questions. Since when did casting doubt on the truth become more “credible” than taking a stand on the truth? There are stern warnings for men who preach another gospel and who lead little ones astray.

    Why do I say that Rob Bell is preaching another gospel? Simple. The true gospel IS exclusive. Why? Because all men have sinned and fallen short of God’s glory, and there is only one sacrifice for sin. Rob’s statements preach a gospel of good works, NOT the Kingdom of God. This is just a by-product of our man-centered gospel rather than the God-centered Gospel that Jesus proclaimed and lived. In God’s kingdom, there’s just one King: Jesus. Those who live their life according to Mohammed’s teachings, worship the gods of Hinduism, or seek the god within themselves, no matter how GOOD they appear, will NOT inherit eternal life. That means Hell, the second death. Jesus was the ONLY begotten of the Father, the exact representation of His being. NO other man can claim this, and those who follow another ARE DECEIVED. This is the Gospel of the Kingdom that Jesus preached and lived, and we are called to obey and imitate Him.

    Rob’s statements about Jesus leaving the door “way, way open” (and in fact his very premise of the book: “will only a select few go to heaven?”) are in DIRECT contradiction to Jesus’ command that we must enter through the NARROW gate, and that only a FEW will find it (Matt 7:13-14).

    That seems pretty straightforward and obvious to me. Either you believe the words of Jesus and the truth of the gospel, or you believe Rob’s statements. There are many questions in this book, but this is one of those rare times when you get a glimpse into what Rob really believes, a direct statement about his doctrine, and it is anti-Christ.

    I don’t personally subscribe to either Mars Hill (Grand Rapids or Seattle), but I tend to agree with Driscoll more. His statement in response to Bell that I think very adequately describes the problem with “Love Wins”: “God is love, but love IS NOT GOD.”

  • Richard

    @ 151 Derek Clair

    “For the record, I haven’t read the book”


    “this is one of those rare times when you get a glimpse into what Rob really believes, a direct statement about his doctrine, and its anti-Christ”


    If you want a direct statement about his beliefs, why don’t you go here: http://marshill.org/pdf/LoveWinsFAQs.pdf

  • John W Frye

    OK, I’ll write it. With all due respect for Billy Graham, I believe that his comment that they don’t even know his name [Jesus] is lamentable. I think it casts a long and wrong shadow over his admirable crusade and preaching ministry.

    As for Wesley’s comment, I am wondering if he simply meant that faith in Jesus Christ saves, learning and regurgitating correct doctrines don’t. A simple man or a child can believe savingly. I get nothing in his comments that leads me to think he’s saying something similar to Billy Graham’s comment.

  • Luke Allison

    Richard wrote:

    “Does it make a difference that the caricature of “Jesus saving us from the Father” was acknowledged by Russell Moore as being a real problem in our culture and churches that needs addressed? He shared a disturbing anecdote during the panel discussion of Love Wins at SBTS. He heard a youth pastor once describe the gospel as, “you know how you get mad at your friend and punch your locker, it’s like that. God gets mad at us because of our sin but instead of punching us, he punches Jesus.”

    Yeah, totally. I listened to that panel too.
    But the wrath of God is still somehow involved in Jesus’ death. I grew up hearing a version that was completely different: “Jesus died sacrificially for us.” That was it. Nothing deeper. Heard it every week of my life for years before I realized that there were deeper thoughts about it. Of course, I could have read the Bible, but young people generally don’t do that. Which is part of the problem I have with this book. Tons of young Christians I know don’t ever crack open the Bible. I mean NEVER. But something like Love Wins comes along and they say “Yes, that sounds right.” And that’s that.

    Now I’m not implying that anyone who reads Scripture will disagree with Love Wins, but I think a lot of the non-critical thoughts about the book may stem from a lack of Biblical literacy. Not in every case. Hear me!!

    I know many people who talk about God a lot, but never read the Scriptures. This is a problem. A very basic problem, but don’t let the mistake of assuming that young evangelicals are steeped in Biblical thought. I’m just going to say it: My young peeps need to step up and start studying the freakin’ thing, instead of criticizing it. That way we’ll be equipped to deal with bad theology from every side.

    This is going to sound judgmental no matter how anyone reads it.

  • Dana Ames

    on this thread you are the man 🙂

    I second the suggestion about reading Athanasius’ “On the Incarnation.”


  • DRT

    Derek Clair#151 and John Frye#153,

    I am having a senior moment right now, but I think it is Rob Bell that says in this book something to the effect of “isn’t believing in Jesus something you do, a work?”

  • scotmcknight

    Discernment is fine and good but avoid the anti-Christ stuff thanks.

  • Luke Allison

    Sorry about the snarky comment that you removed! I need to stop drinking so much during the day….:)

  • Wow, really surprised at all the hullabaloo over this title.

    Have you read any of Bell’s previous books? I’ve only read Jesus Wants to Save Christians, and do not see anything radically different from in there.

    Within hours, hundreds of comments, mostly to nitpick and ironically feed right into brushing up against the “Love Wins” theme.

    Maybe because I’m well acquainted with most of what’s referenced in “Further reading” section (except for the Robert Capon book which should be waiting on my door step when I return home). While I’m not in 100% lock step agreement with Bell, I am impressed with the imprint of N.T. Wright and Richard Rohr…

    Extremely /puzzled over the lambasting, for what seems slight differences in scripture interpretation and focus on grace/love over invoking special verbal sequence to unlock gift of God…

  • DRT

    Luke#137, I will try to avoid the SW references, but I had to do it, young skywal….

  • DRT

    …oh, and Luke, you do realize that it is fair game on this chapter since Rob uses it as part of his exegesis….

  • Luke Allison

    I’m going to go into convulsions soon, DRT. Your fault.

  • Alastair

    Luke, thanks. It’s so easy to want to analyze and
    Pick things apart, when I have not spent enough time just with the bible.

  • What is wrong with the term “anti-Christ?” It is used in scripture to describe a deceptive spirit, and that’s what I’m talking about. I am not saying anyone is “the man of lawlessness.”

    Either way, Bell is essentially stating that Jesus had it wrong.

  • I appreciate the way you’re working through this, Scot. Your approach I think could be helpful to Rob Bell. No attack mode, you simply are working through honestly and graciously with what he has written. I am tired and distressed over so much I see in regard to this book. Your approach is the one needed. Thanks!

  • Kenton

    Observation about the quotes from the Rev. Billy G and John Wesley: Both of those were taken from later in their lifetimes. Would they have owned those statements in their youth? Maybe they traded in some of their ideas of exclusivism as they became sages. Hmmm… I’m wondering if’n there might be a lesson there?…

  • Kaleb

    John W. Frye #145, and Jeremy

    John said,”

    ‘ You cannot make the Romans 5 text and the Colossians 1 text make it mean what you *hope* it means either. We cannot make up ways we *think* or hope God is at work in the world and conclude our thinking and hoping are from the Bible’

    I don’t think you can just play the ‘they don’t mean that’ card when it comes to all the ways the Bible uses universal themes of salvation. There are too many to discount that way. I am not a universalist, but I do believe that these verses are just as valid as the narrow way verses.

    You also said Rob is slouching towards pluralism. So if a 20 year old Muslim, who has never heard of Jesus being savior, is devout in his faith and does the best to live an honest life; will he be going to Hell? How is it pluralism to leave plenty of room for God’s grace to those that respond to the light given to them. Is God really going to judge them for not accepting the Jesus they never knew??? Is God going to judge all of us primarily on our geographical local and whether the Gospel was preached there in a way that was sufficient to understand the faith. No one will be saved without Jesus, which I fully affirm. So will Jesus save them? and if so is Jesus a pluralist too? I would really like to know because no answer has been sufficient to helping process these questions. How can God judge people for stuff they don’t know. If that is the case maybe you will be judged on the account of not knowing something too or maybe me too. I don’t think that is the God we worship because he is just and GOOD.

  • @Kaleb 167

    That is a tough question, because it seeks to understand the sovereignty of God. God’s sovereignty is a true mystery, one that we cannot really know, precisely because we are not God and we do not know men’s hearts or experiences. However, we have to be careful when we ask these questions, not because it’s not ok to ask questions, but because in our asking, we need to make sure we don’t make God in our image. In our asking, we cannot let something we don’t understand cause us to doubt who God has revealed Himself to be. We can’t change the truth because of our inability to fully understand God’s sovereignty. Our call is to believe and obey the truth and let God sort out the things that are too lofty for us to understand.

  • paul johnston

    Hi Richard (#150) The irony was intentional and not without tragedy, point taken. Think of it as a Stephen Colbert exercise in truthiness. 🙂

    I have never thought of Jesus as saving us from the wrath of the Father but rather as saving us from the consequences of our own actions.(read sin)

    My real criticism of Mr. Bell, with regards to content, is that I find him very difficult to nail down. I find this work confusing and ambiguous theologically but at the same time engaging and inspiring. This is a book of positivism and hope, but to my ears, it cherry picks the good stuff (grace and forgiveness) and minimizes the bad stuff (accountability and judgment).I honestly think that Scot and others are right to “test it’s spirit”. I share Jeremy’s concern that the particularities of Jesus and what that means for our salvation, both here and now and in the future, are significantly minimized in this work. I’m not so much inspired by my reading of “Love Wins” to engage with Spirit, Word and Church as I am inspired to embrace liberation theology and it’s appropriate political expressions.

    In any case, as I said in an earlier post, I think this is a book with some great questions. In my opinion though, the corresponding great answers will have to come from somewhere else.

  • paul johnston

    Kaleb, however it works out I remain certain that God will not hold us accountable for what we couldn’t know. As for what we didn’t know, that depends. Some ignorance is willful. Your’s, mine, everyone’s.

  • I’m generally sympathetic with Bell’s ideas (both before and after this Chapter), but this Chapter strikes me as the one where the ice gets the thinnest, and for a lot of the same reasons given by Scot.

    Bell gets my attention on page 155. He says, in response to anticipated criticism that the cross is no longer relevant, that such criticism is “Absolutely, unequivocally, unalterably not true.” I think he believes that to be the case, but the discussion that follows doesn’t help me see why.

    Scot – if you read this – I’m wondering, do you think the problem can be shored up by affirming that revelation of the Christ is most perfectly found in Jesus? In other words, the Christ can be present in other religions and cultures as Bell points out, but as Christians we affirm that the purest revelation is Jesus – as we say – “revealed in scripture and in the breaking of bread.” This brings the importance of the announcement of the gospel back to the forefront, and – in fact – evangelism then begins to sound very much like Paul on Mars Hill.

    This seems to come into tension with Bell’s complaint that we can’t claim “ownership” of the Christ, but I think most of that tension could be resolved with a little more elaboration on why “ownership” claims are problematic.

    [Note: Haven’t read any of the other comments today.]

  • JST

    You know, I just have to interject that even the very phrase “love wins” is refreshing. I spent most of my life believing that Christianity was about hate, based on the faith and actions of the Christians around me. Sure, they called it ‘love’.

    Consider that the Bible is a stumbling blick and the justification for a lot of evil, and gonfrom there.

  • JST

    Sorry about the typos–on an iPhone you can’t see what you’re typing after a certain point.

  • Kaleb

    Derek Clair #168,

    While I agree with you about mystery, I think many people who hold a strict exclusivist just don’t want to come out and say that the 20 year old Muslim is going to hell in their view because he did not ‘accept Jesus’ with words. It is surprising you say “In our asking, we cannot let something we don’t understand cause us to doubt who God has revealed Himself to be.” It seems like you are admitting some sort of contradiction between the God who reveals Himself and the God who would be merciful to those in other religions that have never had a chance to know Him. I am not saying all paths are equal. No one will be saved outside the work of Christ, if they are saved it will be from Christ. That is why this question is so telling because people can not just come out and say it. I will start- I don’t think God, based on God’s revelation in Scripture, will judge someone on the basis of something they never knew. God is GOOD! His mercy is greater than ours. And just because a Muslim never knew the name of Jesus does not mean God will not give salvation to them, which will come from Jesus’ work. If that is pluralism, which I do not think it is, as some suggest I guess I will own that title with Christian subtle pride because I believe that is closer to the heart of God than telling people they will be judged on something they don’t know. Jesus is bigger than the Christian religion because so many Christians Jesus is so small in scope.

  • scotmcknight

    Matt, I can’t find biblical reason to think “Christ” is present in other religions. Yes, dimensions of truth in all religions and philosophies, and God is present everywhere etc, but the claim that Christ is present in other religions is too much religious instrumentalism to me. I would also say the word “revelation” only applies to Scripture and to the acts of God in history, like Exodus and the Cross and Resurrection and Pentecost.

  • John W Frye

    Kaleb (#167),
    You may not like this thought, either. If I understand the Apostle Paul’s (therefore, the Jewish-Christian’s) view of sin, then I can say that God does not judge us based on the knowledge we have or lack of it, but on the actual sins we commit. The judgment is not based on not hearing about Jesus, but a human record of sins. God has provided only one way out of that judgment through Jesus his Son. That is not to shrink the cosmic scope redemption down to sin management, but it is to acknowledge a vital aspect of that cosmic redemption. One of the very important aspects of Jesus’ redemptive work–dealing with the sin issue–is the very thing Rob Bell ignores as Scot pointed out in the previous post. A moral influence view of the cross while commendable is totally deficient in dealing with sin.

  • Kaleb


    Do you think Jesus will save people outside our faith when they have responded to whatever light given to them?

  • Kaleb

    John W Frye 176,

    So you do not think that the forgiveness Jesus gives will be imparted to them based on their response to the revelation given??? Which would atone for their sins through his sacrifice.

  • Kaleb

    John Frye,

    Also Jesus seems to walk around the entire Gospel telling people that their sins are forgiven- think the adulteres woman about to get stoned or the many others… He just forgave them… I wonder if he forgot to read Paul’s letters? And I am pretty sure Jesus was the first Jewish Christian.

  • My problem with Rob Bell’s book at this point is that he seems to want to suggest teaching in areas which are not revealed in scripture. And he seems to pay no attention to areas which are revealed at times. And I am one trying to put the best case construction on all he says.

    But in doing so, I still find him falling short. I don’t know how one can say what he says throughout the book and hold to a view of scripture which sees it as revelation toward the goal of the kingdom through Jesus. It seems to me the story he wants to insist that scripture tells is a stretch from the one it actually tells.

  • DRT

    While I agree with Scot, I can’t help but think that all the quotes about saving all, reconcile all, for all etc mean that there is opportunity, in all.

  • John W Frye

    Kaleb (#178-9),
    Whenever Jesus said, “Your sins be forgiven,” he was seeing the nails being driven into his body. Let’s not get flippant about the cross of Christ and Paul’s unpacking its redemptive meaning. Calling Jesus the first Jewish Christian is like me calling you an American American or a Swedish Swede. Jesus wasn’t a Christian, he was “the Christ.”

    The Bible does say somewhere that the wages of sin is death. It doesn’t say that the wages of not believing the gospel is death. Sins are a real issue with God and announcing forgiveness in Christ alone is the gospel Story. Has God clearly said, “The gospel is my act of applying the gospel everyone because as Adam all died so in Christ all shall be made alive.” No. Paul, well-qualified in the Story of Israel picks up that Story and sees it coming to fulfillment only in Jesus Christ. The missional announcement made by that Messiah was for his followers to into all the world and make disciples. There is a necessary act of faith by humans to enter into the redemptive Story. I don’t even know why I have to type this. Anyone in the world can read it for themselves. It is public knowledge revealed in the Bible and available to all. The church’s mission to that word out there. Yes, we leave space for God to do his mysterious things, but we don’t engage the world by mystery, but by clear command from a King.

  • John W Frye

    Kaleb, I had a number of typos in comment #182, but I think you can figure it out. Sorry.

  • DRT

    John W Frye#183, My oldest son ran a blog when he was in 6th to 8th grade and part of the rules of the blog were:”If you repeatedly do not use good spelling or grammar then you will be banned”. It was strictly enforced 🙂

    In the end he has lived up to his billing by getting a nearly perfect score on his english SAT….. 🙂

  • Kaleb

    John Frye,

    I think you misread me to think I was being flippant; perhaps you read into that. I was saying matter of factly that Jesus was the First Christian because you had pointed out that Paul and all Jewish Christians in the previous post. I was emphasizing the one they were talking about said those words who was the truth and the light. Please don’t call me or my words flippant.

    You claim when Christ said your sins are forgiven to the adulteres women ‘he saw the nails being driven into his hand’. So that means all sins have been forgiven by God then to by the nails of Jesus being driven into his hands? If it was true of an adulteres women why is not true of others today. That God forgave everyone already and we choose whether to live into that story or continue to pursue our own! Sin has been dealt with just like you said by the nails in the hand of the Christ who forgave all. People are judged for not accepting the forgiveness Christ has already gave, by choosing their own story and saying implicitly they do not trust God but themselves. I think we are in agreement on that.

  • John W Frye

    Kaleb (#185),
    Is this flippant? “I wonder if he [Jesus] forgot to read Paul’s letters?” If it’s not, then I apologize. I do get mixed up sometimes whether Jesus preceded Paul or followed him.

    Is this a sin? “People are judged for not accepting the forgiveness Christ has already gave, by choosing their own story and saying implicitly they do not trust God but themselves.” Is choosing my own story and not trusting God by myself a sin? Did Jesus die for that sin, too? Then I guess universalism wins the day. All things included all people have been reconciled to God through Christ. Love wins! All are indeed saved whether they ever hear of Jesus or not. A-MAZ-ING. Too bad it’s not true.

  • Luke Allison

    Brothers. I really think we need to start unpacking the texts in question. That’s the source. Let’s drink from it.

  • DRT

    John W Frye#186, That is uncalled for. You are mocking the message of god being love, and that is a far cry from doubting he saves all. Perhaps we are naive, like children, but that is OK, nothing wrong with that. If you feel that we may cause some to be too nice, then there are plenty out there with a counter argument. I don’t think Christianity is in any jeopardy of being too nice to people.

  • DRT

    Luke#187, I hear you, let’s unpack the text, but many of the arguments I make and I think Bell makes are by summing the texts as a single concept then applying that. So, your comment is almost like “read the whole bible then tell me your characterization of god the redeemer”, to me. To me, those with ears to hear will see the preponderance of the evidence, the flim of the flam, the sauce that spices the recipe, or something like that.

  • John W Frye

    What is uncalled for is a sloppy presentation of weighty ideas by Rob Bell in his latest book. I repeat: Can’t Rob Bell write one clear sentence on the atonement and forsake creating theology by the misuse of the Bible? Please don’t tell me what I am doing. I am not mocking the God of love. I am simply writing about what shape that love has taken. I am sick of the holier than thou views here that the sloppy Christ of Rob Bell is somehow superior to the Christ as viewed by others who don’t agree with Rob Bell’s “nice” Christ. No where have I called anyone here children or naive.

  • Kaleb

    John Frye,

    Once again I am sorry this is frustrating to you that others have this view. I was pointing out the contradictions in that argument. I never said all will be saved, like you infer. By saying I wonder if Jesus forgot to read Pauls letter I was trying to voice the difference that I see when Jesus walks around saying that your sins are forgiven to people that never asked for it like the adulteres woman about to be stoned. She didn’t ask for Jesus just gave it to her. A gift from God the forgiveness we all desparetely need. I hardly think this is flippant to question this. In your earlier post you say “There is a necessary act of faith by humans to enter into the redemptive Story.” Jesus seems to defy this rule. I am simply saying I wonder if he continues to do that. I am sorry that this feels as though I am belittling the divine or His Word, I am just asking questions about things that don’t seem to fit with the world view I grew up with. Jesus forgives in advance in the story! I am certain that woman must have responded to such an unmerrited underserved grace that could only be offered from the God-Man Jesus Christ. This is a little different than the portrayal you had been illistrating in the past few post. Peace be with you brother Frye! We are still brothers in Christ even if we disagree on some issues. I honestly am trying to find a better way of holding my faith and fitting the whole story together. Thanks for being a part of that through your pushbacks. We need each other in that way.

  • Kaleb

    Clarification- By Jesus defing this rule I mean that he gives forgiveness with unmerrited mercy. That it is already given like the woman to be stoned. This will always make a huge change in an individual once they realize it and live into the reality that has always been there.

  • DRT

    John W Frye#190, I agree that you have not called anyone here children or naive. What I am saying in that comment is that your arguments for not-sloppy logic smacks of that accusation and I take exception to that. Perhaps I am wrong, but I believe what you are saying is that the standard of participation is a micro-view of the bible instead of broad over-arching themes. I believe that the broad overarching theme can easily be interpreted as one of love wins…..and wins…..and there is nothing wrong with that. It is the story, as so many put it.

    What I do believe you have done is that you treated your adversary (whoever that is) in your rhetoric of #186 as unworthy of your direct interaction, instead mocking the question.

    I still contend, the story says love wins.

  • DRT

    ..and I have to say, that the overarching story is not a matter of factual analysis that can be proved. Far too many contradictions and gestures toward the whole for us to conclude anything for sure. But, my belief is that when Jesus says things like those that have ears should hear, well, then he is pointing toward the integration of the themes of God. Yes, it is certainly much like an ink blot test, absolutely, and no doubt my ink blots have confessionals and daisies and not fire or justice in them. But that is OK. What I would like for those who have what I would call a more pessimistic view of the arch of theology in the bible to say is that it is not only permissible, but great to have that sort of view of life, god and the cosmos. But what I hear is that that type of view is somehow damaging to people. As much as I contemplate that I seriously cannot figure out how that could possibly be true, but I do see how folks can think that you must threaten with punishment to get good. I just don’t think that is the eternal truth of the universe.

  • John W Frye

    DRT (#193),
    Then we have to agree to disagree on the overarching Story. I contend that the overarching themes of the Bible are clearly built on the revealed micro-stories (or as Scot calls them the “wiki-stories). My reference to Christopher Wright’s book *The Mission of God* is an excellent survey of the grand themes of the Bible. My final comment on this thread is: I do not see the grand Story of the Bible carrying any form of pluralism or universalism. I do not see Jesus as the Rock in the Rob Bell version. God bless you!

  • Kaleb

    I am sorry that you still think Love wins = universalism. Rob has always contended that love gives the freedom to choose. And we can choose Heaven or Hell. Asking what God will do with those in other cultures that respond to the light given is hardly pluralism and that Christ covers anyone in Heaven.

  • DRT

    Bless you too John Frye. I too don’t think the grand story of the Bible is pluralism or universalism. But, I do see Jesus as the Rock in the Rob Bell version. Perhaps in the life to come when we know ….we will see….I am certain that we are closer to the same than either of us think, we are both seeking Jesus.

  • DRT

    Kaleb, I think that I get the LW does not equal universalism and this seems to me to be an issue avoidance. If part of my dogma is universalism = bad and someone is saying things that invite exploration of the concept then that person = bad. But, as you know and I know, flirting with the exploration and boundaries is not the same as affirming it.

  • CO Fines

    Jeremy#141~ Sir, I too live in the combat zone, tho on the periphery, down at the southern end of Dutcher country. Your remark on “hyper-Calvinists” leads me to believe we might possibly be able to share a beverage of choice without ending up on You Tube and national TV. I will admit I’ve been biting my tongue over some of your remarks.

    You observe, “I say this to say what many of us are asking in our area, especially of pastors, is is there anything we even need to believe to be Christian. Can we not NAME somethings as necessary beliefs?”

    Didn’t have to bite my tongue on that one, tho I doubt if we would come up with corresponding lists. This may be both the central debate in these threads and the reason why they bring out such extraordinary response. I can’t remember anything like it since the “Charismatic” debate back in the 70’s.

    This thread is not the place to hash out exactly what essential beliefs are and what are not. But I think that Bell may have opened the door to that one and it is long overdue.

    Almost all of the argument here is within the Protestant perspective and in my view that is where the argument goes awry. We are still holding on to positions that are five hundred years out of date. The Holy Spirit of God has since moved on more times than Moses and the Children of Israel out in the wilderness and young people are fast catching on. Even a few old timers.

    There are a number of beliefs that are true in one sense or another. They are not all equal. If dumped into a pyramid and shaken, what would rise to the top? I would suggest “GOD IS”. Or “I AM” if you prefer. That would be the belief that would allow the sharing of a beverage of choice with most of these “pluralistic” folks under discussion. Who knows what might come from such a meeting? Possibly even a move onto “GOD IS LOVE”. Yeah, that’s a stretch, especially as Bell points out, with Christians. Oh dear, another cheap shot.

    Anything here so far that Jesus would bust an aneurysm over? I think not, but obviously others differ. The world picture is entirely different between those whose pyramid apex contains “GOD IS LOVE” and those who would bitterly defend to the death “GOD IS SOVEREIGN”. Both are true. Which best reflects the message that Jesus lived and died to bring to us?

    Bell and I seem to be on the same side in this matter, as his book title suggests. I believe we are joined with a growing number of younger people who are alienated from the message that many Christians have promoted in the past and continue to do so, as demonstrated in this thread and others.

    I certainly don’t take everything Bell says as Gospel, so to speak. Some of his historical and etymological and exegetical explanations leave me saying, “Hmmmm.” I suspect mine would do the same for him. Bell and I are two different snowflakes. So, Jeremy, are you and I. In fact, there are something like six and a half billion of us snowflakes, all allegedly different. I think Jesus would point out that most of us have six sides, just like him. Of course there is always the oddball.

  • CO Fines

    Scot, sir, may I ask a question you might be most qualified to answer of all those here? When is the last time you remember such a furor? What was it about?

    Obviously we don’t have the perspective of time on this. Rob Bell may turn out to be the counterpart of Charlie Sheen, here today and gone tomorrow. At the same time it wouldn’t surprise me if Charlie Sheen and Rob Bell could sit down over coffee or Tiger Blood and have an intelligent conversation, quite possibly to the benefit of both.

    Rob Bell could be a flash in the pan. I don’t think so. Do you have a historical perspective on this uproar?

  • I get the impression here from this post that missionaries are necessary for “salvation”… As if the other works of missions aren’t equally important. I have this discussion all the time as an apologist and I ask people that if they were a native and only turned to the God of Creation (and if that were sufficient for salvation) would they want someone to bring the Bible to them anyway. I get a unanimous “yes.” What is missions, at minimum, is to answer this question… I think evangelicals in general (my own tradition) has limited the motivation of missions to getting people “saved.”

    I also get the impression that one must know the content of the cross to be saved. If so, why does Paul appeal to both Abraham and Moses in Romans as models of grace? These lacked the content of the cross… but trusted in the God of Israel. Because I do not see Christianity apart from the Jews and do not see the NT as a replacement of the OT, I see this kind of option. The pagan nations even in the OT were turning in repentance to this God. Was all this merely a temporal bodily salvation for all these folks?

    I didn’t think Bell stripped the gospel of content nor did I see pluralism in this chapter. I saw considerations for people to turn to Christ under other pretexts. Perhaps something more like the Tash/Aslan example in Lewis’ “The Last Battle.” I did not appreciate Bell’s jabs, but considering that most of his audience are jaded against Christianity, those jabs set readers at ease… a wink toward the crowd saying, “I’m aware of all the abuses we’ve done in the name of God… and God is bigger than what we’ve put in the box.” I see it as strategy, not theology. I, at least, wasn’t offended by it. Maybe because my audiences are often more bent against Christians than anyone else.

  • scotmcknight

    Kaleb, on the light-for-judgment question. The Bible doesn’t speak to how God judges those who have not heard, and there are only occasional glimpses of those sorts of questions. God is good, God is fair, God is loving, and God wants all to turn to him. God will judge in a way that is just and in accordance with God’s standards … so I do think God will judge people on what they have perceived of the truth of God. My own view is accessibilism of some sort.

  • This chapter is not only inadequate in answering the questions it raises; it also gives an inadequate Gospel. The gospel that Rob Bell outlines in this book is inconsistent with the Gospel of Christ given in the Bible.

  • when we make the assumption that billions of people have never heard the gospel it is just that–an assumption. while i do not have any idea how many really hear the gospel i do know that God is a supernatural God who is not limited by the methods of western christians to reach the world. after all “many are called” we read in the gospels.

    i find it really encouraging to read the wonderful testimonies of people in the muslim faith who have found the messiah largely involving divine encounters: dreams & visions of isa al masih (aka jesus, the man in white) there are more testimonies of muslims encountering jesus and becoming his followers at answering islam. because we follow a God who is not only just but also merciful i can’t imagine that God would send people who have never heard the gospel to eternal separation from him. the question ‘how could a loving God send billions who have never heard of him to hell’ seems to be a product of modern western culture rather than a truly biblical worldview that includes an understanding and embrace of the supernatural. additionally, there is a verse i’ve always wondered about that i’d love to hear some exegesis on sometime:

    This is the gospel that you heard and that has been proclaimed to every creature under heaven, and of which I, Paul, have become a servant. Colossians 1:23

  • JoanieD

    Scot mentioned accessibilism in one of his posts so I did a search on what that means. Looks like a good article in the URL above on accessibilism and inclusivism. I had never heard those terms before spending time on religious blogs, but a blog owner told me that I was likely an “inclusivist” and I think he is correct. I believe we are saved only by Jesus, but I think that Jesus saves people even outside official Christianity. People who know that that they need God and that seek to know God will find God. And when they find God, they will have found Jesus. These words don’t fully describe the reality, of course. It’s not that Jesus is lost and that he has to be found. WE are lost and when we turn in faith, we find outselves in the presence of a loving God.

  • Rick


    “And when they find God, they will have found Jesus.”

    But will they ever find God? In other words, if they are truly seeking, and do not have the full revelation of Jesus/Trinity, would they not have a sense of not being satisfied and would want to continue to seek?

    I am not saying God does not use that earnest seeking, but I do wonder if such people can be satisfied in their current religious systems.

  • Kaleb and DRT (#196-197),
    You are correct and I agree with you that Rob Bell does not support universalism. He gives room for libertarian freedom to resist God’s love. He could be a hopeful universalist at best. I was thinking in bigger terms of the an evangelical drift. I’ve enjoyed the conversation and thank Scot for giving us all a safe and open place to virtually talk.

  • I find it fascinating the insistence of some to pit one writer against another as if any one scholar has it all completely worked out in an unquestionable neat package. I for one have found much value in the writings of McKnight, Keller and Bell (et al) as I stumble forward in my understanding of the beautiful mystery of Christ.

    I applaud and thank each of these writers and the many others that are brave enough to put their thoughts and insights on the line for the benefit of us all.. But the childish name calling and anathematizing of one over the other, really helps no-one.

    Healthy robust discussion and debate I gladly welcome, but this “I’m for Keller” “I’m against Bell” approach smacks of Corinthians all over again… Lest I go on too much I will say “I am for #97” (Tongue in cheek intended)

    Thank you again Scot for the humility and generosity you have shown throughout your critique of Bell’s work.

  • Adam

    This question is directed mostly at the critics of Rob’s book but anyone can answer.

    What does it mean to you that Jesus saves people outside the boundaries of christianity?

  • Rick

    Adam #209-

    Good question.

    1st, if Jesus is doing the saving is it really “outside the boundaries of Christianity”?

    But more to your question, I think a lot of it (especially seen with the Bell controversy) is how one comes to that conclusion. People are wondering: Is something(s) important being removed or diminished to reach that view?

  • Simply put, this has to be one of the most joyously haunting verses – due largely to the fact of the surrounding context and the choice of words in the verse itself.

    1 Corinthians 15.22 (after Paul records, what we could say is the only “full/defined” “gospel”, he presents this near the end):

    For just as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all will be made alive.

    And my question is, how does that interact with statements much like this, Scot, when you write,

    “…The issue is whether or not that presence is a loving presence, and more particular, an “I’m here to save you” presence. The issue is whether this Rock is present in a saving way — revealing salvation in an exclusive sense.”

    Which, I understand what you’re getting at – but what in the world do we do with that verse, ya know?

    We would agree that Paul is not referring to “all” in the sense of, “only those who accept Christ in this life…” so to speak – we can’t because we know that “all” in the previous phrase is referring to all of humanity – death has come to all, all will be made alive.

    On an unrelated note, except probably not, I am enjoying these conversations in light of Pasach/Passover and it means so much to have this virtual community of people who are trying their best to follow Yeshua – thanks again, Scot (and all others)!

  • Richard

    The crux of it:

    “Did Jesus die for that sin, too? Then I guess universalism wins the day. All things included all people have been reconciled to God through Christ. Love wins! All are indeed saved whether they ever hear of Jesus or not. A-MAZ-ING. Too bad it’s not true.”

    Do we believe in universal atonement (even if it isn’t received) or do we believe in limited atonement (even if we’re not Reformed)?

    I read it as, “Behold the lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world,” not “Behold the lamb of God who takes away the sins of some people.” Sin, from God’s end has been dealt with – whether we receive his salvation or not.

  • @212, Richard.

    Indeed, the verse would be “Behold, the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” Singular there, and also, Cosmos is the chosen word by the author. Pretty cool. Anyways. Onward ;]

  • “Did Jesus die for that sin, too? Then I guess universalism wins the day. All things included all people have been reconciled to God through Christ. Love wins! All are indeed saved whether they ever hear of Jesus or not. A-MAZ-ING. Too bad it’s not true.”

    The problem with the above statement is that scripture affirms that ultimately every person will hear of Jesus. In fact, Paul quotes Isaiah twice when he says that every knee shall bow (an act of worship) and every tongue shall confess (joyfully proclaim one’s allegiance to) that Jesus is Lord!

    A central question for me on the topic of universalism is, is the Atonement Limited? Calvinists (Augustinianists) believe it is limited in Scope, believing that Jesus did not die for all humanity because God does not love all humanity. Arminianists believe the Atonement is Limited in Effect/Power, believing tht the Atonement doesn’t actually save anyone, it only makes salvation available for some of humanity; what ultimately saves a person is their own choice in accepting the free gift of salvation. So Jesus died for everyone, but Jesus’ death doesn’t really fully save anyone. God loves all humanity, but is powerless to save all humanity, and instead only makes salvation available to some of humanity who are not messed up so much that they cannot choose to be saved.

    To me the scriptural weakness in the Calvinist’s argument is the belief that God doesn’t love all humanity. Scripture repeatedly affirms that God loves all humanity; we’re all created in His image. And the scriptural weakness of Arminianism is their affirmation of human autonomy. We are not born free, we are born slaves of unrighteousness, oppressed by evil, seperated from God, and ignorant of the love of God for us. We need saving from not only this present evil age, but from ourselves, our own fleshly selfish nature. Slaves do not have free will and we are born slaves in Adam. We need saving, not just thrown a life-line.

    For me, when Jesus says that no man can come to the Father except he be drawn, and also says that if He is lifted up (crucified) He will draw (drag like in a net) all of humanity to Himself, it gives me great hope, yes even faith, that Jesus wills to save all humanity and will ultimately accomplish that will!

    And from personal experience, I didn’t have sense enough to realize I even needed saving. Didn’t know I didn’t have a real relationship with God for I was in serious bondage to a form of “Christian” legalism. Salvation was all about some day making it into heaven and there was no present reality of a relationship with God. But Jesus broke through the deception I was caught in, revealed His love for me and my need of Him, to which I couldn’t help but say thank you! I was a dead man raised to life, a slave set free! Dead men have no “choice” but to be dead, needing ressurection power to raise them to life.

    So Richard, to answer your question, “Do we believe in universal atonement…? I do believe in universal atonement, that Jesus died for everyone and that ultimately everyone will be drawn to Him through the power of that atonement. I believe that we were all consigned over to sin (through no choice of our own) so that God might have mercy on us all. Will all ultimately choose God? Yes, I believe that ultimately every knee shall bow in worship to the Lamb that was slain and joyfully proclaim our undying devotion to the one who has saved us from this present evil age in which we were born through no choice of our own.

  • Luke Allison


    “Sin, from God’s end has been dealt with – whether we receive his salvation or not.”

    Yes, amen, hallelujah, amen again, glory be, glad tidings, verily, truly truly, and YAY!

    I agree 100 percent with you.

  • @214, Sherman. Wow. Several years of study – college, post-college, and the like – and I must say, that is one of the clearest, succinct “summaries” I have read regarding the Calvin V Armenian -and related topics of Salvation/Reconciliation.

    Thanks for that.

  • Albion

    <emand every tongue shall confess (joyfully proclaim one’s allegiance to)

    You might be reading too much into that word “confess.” It’s also possible to read that confession, when standing face-to-face with the Lord, to mean “You ARE Lord. And I’m in a world of trouble.” Sheep, goats.

  • Rick

    Sherman #214:

    “To me the scriptural weakness in the Calvinist’s argument is the belief that God doesn’t love all humanity.”

    That is not necessarily correct.

    Michael Patton writes about that in a post he did about a year ago, Some Misconceptions About Calvinism:

    “Calvinism is not system of theology that denies God’s universal love. While there are some Calvinists who do deny God’s universal love for all man, this is certainly not a necessary or a central tenet of Calvinism. Calvinists do, however, believe that God has a particular type of love for the elect (an “electing love”), but most also believe that God loves all people (John 3:16). It is a mystery to Calvinist as to why he does not elect everyone.”

  • Wes

    Richard (#212) The atonement certainly will be limited to those who names are in the book of life. I wonder what a universalist does with Revelation 20:15.

  • @219, Wes. Haha. The same thing a non-universalist does with 1 Corinthians 15.22? ;]

    Either way it makes for a great punch line – so there was this Universalist and this Non-Universalist sitting in a bar, one of them opens up to “input your book and chapter of choice…” Haha.

    @217, Albion. Also, I thought much of the Scriptural community had become aware of the textual differences between sheep/kids, not sheep/goats…? It’s more of a maturity/immaturity idea rather than good/bad; or am I way off base here?

    I always understood Sheep/Goats to both be valuable to the shepherd.

    Just a thought.

  • Luke Allison

    Justin #220,

    Have you ever read 1 Corinthians 15:23? Just wondering.

  • Luke Allison

    Not meant to sound snarky. “Just wondering” is a genuine wonder, not a sarcastic wonder. Genuine doesn’t come across on blog comments.

  • Albion @ 217,

    Maybe so, but maybe not. Bowing in worship and joyfully problaiming one’s allegiance to the Lord seems to me to fit well the literary context of the passages that affirm the ultimate victory of Christ over everything. And I don’t think that bowing on the outside but standing on the inside is acceptable in the presence of the Lord. Nor do I see God making people bow on the outside though they are standing on the inside. I believe that those who bow before the Lord do so because they/we come to realize that He truly is Lord of all creation. And btw, Strong’s Lexicon defines confess as, ” 1 to confess. 2 to profess. 2a acknowledge openly and joyfully. 2b to one’s honour: to celebrate, give praise to. 2c to profess that one will do something, to promise, agree, engage.”

    The context of the passages imply that such actions are meant in honor of the Lord because He so humbled Himself!

  • Kaleb

    Richard #214,

    Thanks you for helping to make my prior post replying to John Frye more clear. I never knew it was so controversial to think that Jesus died for the whole world and all of humanity. To say anything less seems to diminish the scope of the Cross. Jesus died for every person, everywhere, every time. We choose to that story and live into by faith in the Son of God, which lets us live out the Kingdom here and now and its completion in the future. Those that have not heard this truly good news about ending the curse of sin will be only responsible for what light they are exposed to and God will know fully how to judge that. He is good, and his love has been made known to all humanity; not just the elect. God is soo loving and it compells us to become the thing we thought we could never be. This is great news!

  • Rick @ 218,

    “A rose by any other name…” If God chooses to not save some people then He doesn’t love them, assuming He has the power to do so. If you have two children, both are dying in a fire, you choose to save one and not the other, do you love the one you chose not to save? I don’t think so, unless that is you redefine love to mean something other than what it commonly means, and some other way than it is defined in scripture (1 Cor. 13).

    I agree that God not loving all humanity is not a central tenant of Calvinism, but it is a natural deduction. If God is Sovereign and God does not choose to save all humanity, the God does not love all humanity. In like manner this is why Calvinists believe the Atonement is Limited in Scope. If the Atonement effects the salvation of all whom Jesus died for, and if all are not saved, then Jesus could not have died for all, but only those He chose to save.

  • Luke Allison


    “If God is Sovereign and God does not choose to save all humanity, the God does not love all humanity.”

    If we really want to carry this over into a Calvinism vs. everyone else debate…..

    Couldn’t we say that a God who ultimately knows the future, including every future choice every human being will make, also therefore knows who will ultimately reject Him and who will ultimately respond to Him positively?
    That said, if He did know those things (which of us can fathom His knowledge truly?) couldn’t He know exactly who the Atonement was saving when it occurred? Just as the atonement covered all those who died without Christ in the Old Testament, yet “lived in the promise”, so too the Atonement covers all who ever will live with Christ.

    Simply put: the Atonement saves everyone who will be saved, and doesn’t save those who will not be saved.

    Although, I’ve always been turned off by these kinds of debates in general, since the Scriptures affirm both absolute responsibility and absolute foreknowledge/predetermination. What are any of us going to do with that tension? Why, form factions and create systems of thought, that’s what!

    Also ironic is how many of the people disdaining “Western, Platonic” systems of thought tend to lean toward an “either/or” distinction when it comes to God’s will and man’s freedom. Isn’t the Eastern way truly “both/and”? If that is true, then Luther was far more Eastern than Rob Bell. Think on that for a moment.

  • Wes @ 219,

    Note that what is written in the book of Life in Rev. 20:15 is explained in 20:12, ” the dead were judged according to their works, by the things which were written in the books.” The good works that we do are written in the book of life, the evil we do is not. The evil is burnt up. This is similar to Paul speaking of our works being like precious metals, wood, hay, and stubble. The wood, hay, and stubble is burnt up; and even the gold is refined by fire.

    Also, as a side note, because of the extremely metaphorical nature of Revelation and how it has been so widely interpreted throughout history in the church, I tend to not build systematic theology on such metaphorical language, but lean more heavily upon the more didactic biblical literature. In other words, I tend to not interpret the rest of scripture through the lense of Revelation, but interpret Revelation through what I see in the rest of scripture.

  • @221, Luke Allison


  • Luke Allison

    #228, Justin,

    Do you see anything in that verse that undermines the concept of universal salvation? Or at least clarifies who Paul is talking about when he says “all”?

  • Luke @226,

    Calvinism (Augustinianism) vs. Arminianism is a classic debate that has tremendous ramifications as to how one understands God and salvation. It’s amazing to me that though they agree on every aspect of salvation, the one thing they seem to agree on is the damnation of others. But anyhow..

    Many years ago in seminary I came to accept both/and, recognizing that scripture affirms both the Sovereignty of God and God’s love of all humanity, and yet also assuming that scripture affirms that some are certainly lost. Over the last few years though I’ve been studying scripture concerning the punishment of sin, Sheol, Hades, Gehenna, judgment, etc. And I’ve come to believe that the punishment of sin is remedial in nature, for our good, to deliver us all from evil, not retributive and vindictive. And thus I can accept in faith that 1) God is Sovereign, 2) God loves all humanity, and 3) God saves all humanity, because 4) God judges all humanity and punishes evil as needed to allign with points 1-3. And as you know, there are many scriptures that in there literary context affirm each of the 4 points. Calvinism affirms 1 & 4, but minimizes or denies 2 & 3, because they believe judgment and punishment to be retributive and endless. Arminianism affirms 2 & 4, but minimizes or denis 1 & 3 because they believe judgment to be retributive and endless. Chrisitan Universalists affirm 1, 2, 3 & 4, because we believe judgment and punishment of sin to be remedial, part of God’s plan of reconciliation.

  • Luke Allison


    “Chrisitan Universalists affirm 1, 2, 3 & 4, because we believe judgment and punishment of sin to be remedial, part of God’s plan of reconciliation”

    I understand the position of Christian Universalism, since I’ve flirted with it in the past.

    My objections to the traditional view on Hell, however, were almost solely based on my own moral and emotional feelings rather than any extensive study of the Scriptures. That’s me. Obviously that’s not everyone’s experience.

    D.A. Carson (the much maligned) has written extensively on the variegated nature of the use of the word “love” in the New Testament in his books “The Difficult Doctrine of the Love of God” and “Love in Hard Places”. Both of those were extremely helpful to me in parsing out my cultural understanding of what it means to love, and the Biblical use of the word.

    I appreciate your viewpoint, don’t exclude you over it, and believe that you have come to it after much poring over the Scriptures. I don’t agree with it, however.

    Looking at other cultures and their acceptance of retributive judgment (have you read Miroslav Volff on this?) but their rejection of radical forgiveness and grace, I’ve come to a different understanding from you. Since the modern Western world has no problem with radical forgiveness (in theory, anyway), and certainly loves grace (in theory as well), but rejects the notion of retributive judgment, I think we have to assume that part of our objection to a punitive eternal judgment is cultural as well.

    Plainly put: I can afford to hate retributive judgment because I have no reason personally to long for it. I have been forgiven, God’s grace has poured out on me, I have been set free from pornography and sexual addictions of all kinds, as well as turned outward from myself to love and bless the world around me.

    I think other cultures have good reason to long for retributive judgment (like the Psalmist of old), and I believe I am being somewhat culturally myeopic to tell them they’re wrong or barbaric for that. Even if it’s very difficult for me to understand exactly why retributive judgment is better than remedial judgment based on my cultural experience, I believe I still must submit to the Scriptures’ testimony and trust I’ll see more clearly in the future. So I’m not rejoicing in the idea of Hell. I may rejoice in God’s perfect justice (which should not be separated from His love), but certainly not in the damnation of others, however self-imposed it may be.

  • That’s interesting Luke and thanks for sharing. I’ve never had an emotional problem with the concept of retributive punishment, Hell. I’ve always just accepted it in “faith” because that’s what I was taught, that’s what everyone I knew believed, and that’s what I saw in scripture. But as I shared, my beliefs have changed based on my study of scripture, in spite of my culture and in spite of it being a tremendous cost for me.

  • T

    Rick (218),

    I’ve not thought much about Calvinism in some time, and was inclined to blow off Sherman’s comment as silly. But your (MP’s) explanation practically made the point for him. If grace is irresistable, if the ball is fully in God’s court, how can God love a person whom he does not choose? Isn’t it more consistent to say “Jacob I have loved, but I have hated Esau” within such a paradigm?

    I have two young daughters. If my choice alone made the difference b/n life and death, let alone eternal life and death, can it be said that I loved the daughter I did not choose, assuming I elected not to choose one for life?

  • Albion @ 217,

    Concerning the sheep and goats simile of Mt. 25, note that the word translated sheep is probaton and actually means any small 4-legged animal, as in sheep, goats, or cattle. The word translated goats is eriphos and actually means kids, as in baby goats. So it would better be interpreted, I believe, as the separation of the kids from the flock. Why do shepherds separate out the kids from the flock? The kids are certainly valuable members, actually the future, of the flock. They are separated out for training, chastizement, to teach them how to be functioning members of the flock. Goats are more independant than sheep and thus require more training.

    This understanding of the simile goes along with who is separated in the judgment warned of in the passage. It is the separation of socially mature people vs. socially immature people. Mature people see and meet the needs of others because they are mature. Immature selfish people do not even see the needs of others because they are so wrapped up in themselves. The passage is meant to encourage people to grow up, to become socially mature, naturally seeing and meeting the needs of others because of having a character filled with love. And it warns that punishment will come your way if you don’t, punishment from God even in the age to come.

  • Randall

    Sherman, as always you’re posts bless my heart. This whole retributive/ remedial punishment thing has given me fits throughout my life as I vacillate from one rail to the other in my understanding of what God’s dealing with rebellion looks like. The conversation Luke and Sherman is having sounds like my conversation with myself on my drive home.

    Since I believe the scripture reveals a history of moral development in Israel’s understanding of God I think letting Jesus in the Gospels illuminate some of what seemed to be taught in the Old Testament conditions some of my reading of the retributive aspects of many accounts. King David prayed for his enemies ruination, Jesus says pray for their good.

    I finally had to give up reading the Bible as a flat book where things are as clear at the start as they become through history.

    Retributive justice has a place as long as it has reconciliation, when possible, in view. But, that is what I generally think of as seeking peace.

    Anyway, Luke and Sherman, I owe you much as I can see my thoughts woven into your exchanges and peering in helps to clarify my thinking, not that it’s apt to show in anything I write.

  • T

    I meant to say, “Can I say with a straight face (and have anyone believe) that I ‘loved’ the daughter that I simply elected not to choose to allow to live?” That doesn’t seem as much like “mysterious” love as the most serious kind of disdain. To call it love (again, in a universe of ‘irresistable grace’ is beyond odd).

  • Luke Allison

    T #236. “I meant to say, “Can I say with a straight face (and have anyone believe) that I ‘loved’ the daughter that I simply elected not to choose to allow to live?” That doesn’t seem as much like “mysterious” love as the most serious kind of disdain. To call it love (again, in a universe of ‘irresistable grace’ is beyond odd.”

    The problem with these kind of arguments is that they assume two ideas that aren’t easily affirmed by Scripture: 1. Every person is God’s “child” without a doubt
    2. Every person is a victim and deserves to be rescued

    The Augustinian understanding has always been that God doesn’t have to choose anybody. Many Christians affirm this verbally while denying it in their heart. According to what I can see in Scripture, the fact that anybody has ever been chosen is a testament to Grace.
    We speak of our amazement at His grace often, but turn around and speak as if it’s something we all have earned and or deserve. “God will forgive. It is His job.”

    I’m not an apologist for Calvinism (I find much merit in their thinkers, much more than most progressives will allow, I think. Pat pat on my own back) but I think it’s only fair to defend some of its rationale. I don’t like the idea of being rejected by a certain camp for not swallowing a theological system (Farewell, Luke Allison!) but I wish more of my Progressive brothers would give Calvinism as much grace as they give Liberal Thought.

  • Adam


    What do you do with the idea that some people can meet Jesus face-to-face and still say “I hate you”?

    George MacDonald believed as you do and went so far as to say Satan himself would one day be redeemed, but I don’t think many people actually go there. Not even Rob Bell believes that.

    So, do you believe that humans have the freedom to completely reject Christ even after the full revelation of who he is?

  • Luke Allison


    I’m a bit confused with your exegesis of Matthew 25:31-46. Isn’t a God who casts people into “the eternal fire prepared for the Devil and his angels” because they’re “socially immature” MORE cruel than one who does so based on surrendering one’s life over to Him?

    In verse 40, the word for “brothers” is “adelphos”. In the Gospel according to Matthew, Jesus uses this word almost exclusively to refer to His disciples.

    The plain meaning of the parable, then, is that members of Christ’s “family” who don’t take care of other members of the “family” who are in need are not part of the “family” at all.

    I believe that your interpretation is too metaphorical, and reads too much of the “heaven here and now” theology into the text. This would be a disagreement between you and I. GASP! 🙂

    While the parable is clearly using metaphor, the language is stark and extremely referential. We can’t take it literally, but we can’t read too much into it either. It also strongly resembles much of the language used in Revelation referring to the Book of Life. I don’t use Revelation to build systematic theology either, but I also believe the Spirit has provided a remarkable amount of coherent thought in the Scriptures. We shouldn’t ignore such similarities.

  • Napman

    Sherman #214

    Not really with you on Arminianism. Wesley believed that the truth of Scripture was within a hair’s breadth of Calvinism. One notable feature you have missed is the notion of prevenient grace, the grace that God favors us with that restores our freedom to accept what he has done for us in faith. Salvation is not a lifeline thrown to us to which we respond in our natural capacities. The holy redemption Christ has won for us is received by grace through faith. The Arminian says that this grace is prevenient, restoring our capacity to respond to God in Christ.

  • T

    Luke (237),

    I wasn’t trying to confuse the issue by the familial ties. I would ask the same question of two ‘people’ instead of two daughters. And I agree that no one deserves rescue or mercy (by definition). But to say that salvation is always a matter of irresistible grace towards those chosen by God, AND to say that God ‘loves’ those he elects not to choose is a hard, hard sell. I’m not saying anyone deserves to be chosen; I’m saying the combo of ‘unchosen’ and ‘loved’ especially when the stakes are so high are contradictory.

  • Alastair

    as far as some Calvinist ponderings, I have found Daniel Gracely’s thoughts on Calvinism helpful and interesting. (he used to be a Calvinist)

    his website is http://www.xcalvinist.com/

    I found his commentary on the potter and the pot interesting. I have not often heard it discussed in light of Jeremiah’s use of it. (I think it says of the pot, that it formed itself, but that God can reform it?)

  • Alastair

    I dont mean to just plug something to… push ideas. I like interacting with you all on here, and enjoy your thoughts. I hope it was ok that i shared that link.

  • Luke Allison

    T # 241
    “I’m not saying anyone deserves to be chosen; I’m saying the combo of ‘unchosen’ and ‘loved’ especially when the stakes are so high are contradictory.”

    That’s a perfectly valid criticism, and one that folks have been arguing about for a very long time.

    I will say that one of the reasons why I hold to an exceptionally high view of God’s Sovereignty (nearly Calvinist in its scope) is because it makes these kinds of debates seem slightly less appealing. For God to know everything and be working all things according to the council of His will, I no longer need to worry about what is “love” and what is “just” and what is “fair”, because I know that He’s working that stuff out. That’s where I tend to play the “mystery card” more than in other areas. Sometimes it can be a cop out, but sometimes it’s positively necessary. For cases where the Scripture affirms both stances, how can we say either/or?

    As to love: Love is very complex in the Scriptures….far more than we’re making it out to be in this debate. I think that our cultural understandings of love are interfering with our theology a little bit. But that’s my opinion.

  • nathan

    Well…after 241 comments…

    I’ve never considered a mystical view of Christ (i.e. in him we live and move and have our being) in relation to world religions.

    I’ve always seen the “permeating presence of God in all things” in terms of the mystical ancient christian view of Creation that Robert Webber did a great job reminding evangelicals about. (Somehow God is mediated to us in the creation while never being subsumed by it or identified with it. It’s not a “new age” construct or “The Force”.)

    I’ve seen the permeating/sustaining presence of God (as gift) only in doxological terms…

    so I’ll be chewing on this…

  • Luke Allison

    Alastair # 243,

    I’ve seen Gracely’s stuff before. A pretty single-minded fellow.

    The one thing that has never quite convinced me about the “corporate” interpretation of Romans 9 (admittedly that aspect is in there, but it doesn’t cancel out the individualistic aspect) is that Verse 19 essentially shows the most common argument or “complaint” against individual election. If Paul isn’t talking about specific individualistic notions of election, why does he present the potential argument against it?

    I had a very intelligent professor of the Arminian persuasion use the Jeremiah “potter and clay” verses to attempt something similar. It was very good, but not quite enough to completely sell me, based on Verse 19 alone.

    Anyway. I’m not a Calvinist, damn it.

  • Alastair

    Luke, glad you have seen Dan’s stuff. I’m not sure ‘what I am’, but I have seen enough holes poked in Calvinism to have a bit of peace. ( and holes can be poked into other views of course…) I think I may go read Romans again.

    As far as historically, wasn’t the church in Rome an interesting place for Paul to write because of the Jewish believers contrasted with the gentile believers? Israel was God’s chosen people, and now the door was open for Gentiles to join his chosen people without becoming Jews? Anyway, I’m not all sure of my statements, but enjoy hearing back. I’ll need to read a bit more. I think ‘evil’ in general is a huge issue for me, with man and God’s responsibility, and I listened to Bruce Little recently on the matter. I think I found the audio on bethinking.org. Have you ever heard his presentation on evil and suffering?

  • Alastair

    These stinking comments could fill a book. Haha.

  • Luke Allison


    The “permeable border” covenantal view is what my professor called it. It’s a pretty standard interpretation, and a very contextually compelling one. Considering the fact that the “nation” of Israel always had a permeable border (and for that matter, the first Hebrew was a Gentile, right?), Paul is explaining God’s heart. But I just can’t get past some of Paul’s individualistic language, and his answering of perceived objections.

    I’ll have to listen to Little’s talk. I’ve heard other stuff on that site, but not that particular lecture.

  • Good morning Adam @ 238,

    I believe that we all are created for relationship with God and that once we are delivered from the deception that plagues our souls, we’ll all love God. Right now many people are trapped in darkness, but when the lights come on and we see who Jesus really is and see ourselves for who we really are (delivered from self-deception) we’ll humbly, thankfully, and joyfully bow our knees in worship and proclaim our allegiance to the one true God!

    I don’t know about you, but I’ve experienced, tasted the judgment of the Lord – and it burnt the hell out of me! No joke! God revealed to me just a portion of the ugliness, the pollution of my soul; I wept and gnashed my teeth for weeks. I realized that everything about me was polluted by my selfish nature and everything that came from me, even my love for God and others, was a polluted river filled with toxic waste! It was a terrible, but good for me, revelation. And thus it’s easy for me to understand “eternal chastizement” in terms of remedial punishment. At one point in that season of my life, I was studying the parable of the talents, and the Lord interupted my reading when I came to the judgment of the wicked and slothful servant saying, “That’s the way you are.” It was stated as a matter-of-fact and as chastizement, meant to change me. And it did. The Lord showed me just how lazy and selfish I had been all my life, and showed me how that my twisted thinking regarding Him, myself, and others had paralized me with fear.

    This was just one encounter, and I had a few encounters with the Lord as judge over a few years. When I say it burnt the hell out of me, I mean it. So when I speak of the judgment and grace of the Lord, it’s not just theory for me, its reality, something I’ve experienced. And yes, my experience does affect my understanding of scripture.

    Concerning human freedom, I believe such is very limited. We did not choose to be physically born. I don’t believe we even choose to be born of the Spirit; rather, being born of the Spirit is something God does in us. We did not choose to be born slaves of unrighteousness. In fact, scripture notes that God chose to consign us all over to disobedience so that He could have mercy on us all. I did not choose my physical, mental, or emotional attributes. I did not choose what time, culture, or family to be born into. Concerning the scope of our lives it’s likely we choose less than 1/10th of 1%. So to believe that our endless destiny is dependant upon that fraction of a percentage just doesn’t make much sense to me. So can people ultimately reject God? Can gravity forever be denied? I don’t believe that the human will is that strong. In fact, I believe will-power is a fruit of the Spirit. Without the Spirit, our “will-power” is nothing!

    Concerning Satan ultimately being reconciled to God, I believe “it” will be. It’s a created being and Col. 1:20 and other passages indicate to me that all created beings that now see themselves as enemies of God will be reconciled to God. Satan didn’t catch God by surprise, but was part of His plan that in all things He might have preeminence!

    But, I could be wrong! And thus my faith is in the Lord to teach and guide us, even me.

  • Good morning Luke @ 239,

    Your comment is interesting, on one hand you think my interpretation is too metaphorical, on the other hand you say we can’t take the passage literally either.

    I believe that the language of judgment and punishment of sins is often hyperbole, overstatement for the purpose of making a point. With children parents often use such language to strongly and forcefully encourage a change of behavior in their children. The four parables in Mt. 24:45 – 25:46 are meant to be a warning for believers. The parable of the faithful and evil managers (24:45-51) metaphorically warns of the responsibilities of leadership. The parable of the 5 wise and 5 foolish virgins (25:1-13) warns of the tragedy of missed opportunities. The parable of the talents (25:14-30) warns of the tradgedy of a waisted life due to lazyness (selfishness) and fear (twisted thinking). And the warning of judgment to come with the simile of the shepherd separating out the kids from the flock warns specifically about how we treat others, and particularly whether or not we see and meet the needs of others around us.

    It’s funny, on one hand these passages are traditionally appealed to as a litteral warning of doom, endless torture for some of humanity; but then turn right around and say that the issues being dealt with – leadership responsibility, missed opportunities, misuse of money, and not seeing or meeting the needs of others – should not be taken literally, that judgment really only comes down to whether or not one has faith in the Lord. That judgment isn’t based on works, but on faith. So literal warning on one hand, but not literal on the other!

    I believe that we all shall be judged. We shall all face the unshaded truth concerning our lives, what could have been if we had been selfless and wise, and what was due to our selfishness, lazyness, ignorance, fear, and wickedness. This encouter with truth will burn the hell out of us, deliver us from the most deceptive of all deceptions – self-deception! There will be plenty of weeping and gnashing of teeth, but I also believe that the Lord will dry every tear, and we’ll be embraced by His love and forgiveness for us. For there to be true reconciliation, there must be a reconning with the evil that we’ve done! Let us not be fooled, what a person sows, so shall he reap – whether he’s a believer or not. It’s like gravity; what goes up, will come down!

  • Adam

    Sherman @250,

    With regards to your story, you don’t feel like you are able to choose differently in your response?

    You say God revealed something to you about yourself. You have since then made a response. Are you saying it is impossible for you to choose otherwise?

    I don’t agree with that idea based on my own experience of life. I think it is part of being the image of God that allows us choice. I think humans are more than animals and actually do have power to choose their own destruction. Oddly enough, that ability to choose our own destruction could be seen as a grace instead of a punishment.

  • Adam, I believe in human autonomy, free-will, but limited, very limited, free-will. And I believe that we are accountable for the choices we make, and some of the pain and destruction that we experience in this life and any remedial punishment there might be in the age to come are the results of our bad choices – what I call Reality Discipline. In the long run though I believe that God uses all these things, even our bad choices and resulting reality discipline (this life and the life to come), as a means of growing us up in Him, bringing out the image in which we were created – His image.

    Judgment, I believe, is meant to free us from evil, not lock us into evil, remedial not retributive. Can a man ultimately resist the will of God? I don’t believe so. For a season yes, but not for eternity. Ultimately God’s will will stand, I believe.

  • Jeff Bethke

    great article! I especially loved your prayer at the beginning. Must do and discuss with grace, grace, and more grace. But in a way that is also bold. check out this video, its a remake of the original video Bell did to start the whole controversy. Its titled JESUS WINS instead of LOVE WINS.

  • DRT

    Not sure if you all have seen Tom Wright’s video, it is relevant.

    The word hell has had a checkered career in the history of the church. And it wasnt hugely important in the early days. It was important, but not nearly as important as it became in the middle ages. And the in the middle ages, you get this polarization of heaven over here and hell over there, and you have to go to one place or the other eventually. So you have the Sistine Chapel, with that great thing behind the altar. This enormous great judgment seat, with the souls going off into these different directions. Very interestingly, I was sitting in the Sistine chapel just a few weeks ago. I was sitting for a service, and I was sitting next to a Greek Orthodox…who said to me, looking at the pictures of Jesus on one wall. He said, these I can understand. The pictures of Moses on the other wall, he said, those I can understand. Then he pointed at the end wall of judgment, and said, that I cannot understand. Thats how you in the west have talked about judgment and heaven and hell. He said, we have never done it that way before, because the bible doesnt do it that way. I thought, whoops. I think hes right actually. And whether youre Catholic or Protestant, that scenario which is etched into the consciousness of Western Christianity really has to be shaken about a bit. Because if heaven and earth are to join together. Its not a matter of leaving earth and going to heaven. Its heaven and earth joined together. And hell is what happens when human beings say, the God in whose image they were made, we dont want to worship you. We dont want our human life to be shaped by you. We dont want, who we are as humans to be transformed by the love of Jesus dying and rising for us. We dont want any of that. We want to stay as we are and do our own thing. And if you do that, what youre saying is, you want to stop being image bearing human being within this good world that God has made. And you are colluding with your own progressive dehumanization. And that is such a shocking and horrible thing, that its not surprising that the biblical writers and others have used very vivid and terrifying language about it. But, people have picked that up and said, this is a literal description of reality. Somewhere down there, there is a lake of fire, and its got worms in it and its got serpents and demons and there coming to get you. But I think actually, the reality is more sober and sad than that, which is this progressive shrinking of human life. And that happens during this life, but it seems to be that if someone resolutely says to God, Im not going to worship you…its not just Ill not come to church. Its a matter of deep down somewhere, there is a rejection of the good creator God, then that it the choice humans make. In other words, I think the human choices in this life really matter. Were not just playing a game of chess, where tomorrow morning God will put the pieces back on the board and say, Ok that was just a game. Now were doing something different. The choices we make here really do matter. Theres part of me that would love to be a universalist, and say, itll be alright. Everyone will get there in the end. I actually…the choices you make in the present are more important than that.”

  • I like how you ask great questions, Scot. Some good conversation here, but once again, I wonder how complicated all this needs to get. Jesus as teacher and the Son of God seems to keep everything pretty simple; Paul and subsequent “Christianity” complicated everything a bunch. Get back to being a “Christ follower” (Jesus Creed/ One.Life), love Rob Bell and seek peace. Blessed Holy Triduum to all.

  • Timothy

    The reading for tonight, Wednesday of Holy Week, was from John 13, Judas’ betrayal of our Lord.

    It is easy to fool ourselves into believing that the action of Judas was unique and unusual and sinful in a manner more sinister than ours. Yet, when I read church history, I see that God’s people have betrayed Christ again and again. We are truly in captivity to sin and need liberation.

    Thanks be to God, Jesus was faithful to us, even to the point of death upon the cross! May Christ’s faithfulness transform us into being faithful followers. Amen.

  • Luke Allison


    I concur with everything Wright says. But I also think that we can’t completely separate God from Hell. It’s a prepared place. He prepared it for the devil and His angels. Wright seems to completely take God out of the equation altogether, but I don’t know if I’m comfortable doing that.

    As D.A. Carson has said, There is always “grace to run toward, and a judgment to flee” in the Scriptures.

    So all you’re saying is that you don’t like the traditional Dante, Milton, and Far Side views of Hell? I can get on board with that.

    You should have just said that in the first place! Would have saved us 300 comments. Maybe not…..

  • Luke Allison


    “Jesus as teacher and the Son of God seems to keep everything pretty simple; Paul and subsequent “Christianity” complicated everything a bunch. Get back to being a “Christ follower”

    That I can’t get on board with. That’s the reason why I tend to hang out with Reformed types more than Progressives. Too bad!

  • DRT

    Luke, in one of the bible readings I attend (I never thought my wife would be jealous of Jesus…) I proclaimed my disbelief in hell, then said, well, at least the traditional belief in hell.

    I get great joy about speculating and arguing this stuff, and appreciate that some choose to interact with me, that is great. At the end of most studies we all say, “well none of this really matters as long as you are loving god and others” and that’s the way I view it.

    It is similar to the way the current Dali Lama talks about the afterlife. He says that that is one area that the Buddha never discussed and said that we should not discuss. It is like a man getting shot by a poisoned arrow, but before he accepts treatment he first asks, who shot the arrow? Where did it come from? Was it long or short? Was the shaft wood or bamboo? What tribe was the shooter from? What was his family like? Instead, we should deal with the fact that we have been shot with a poison arrow, and in the end I think that is what Rob Bell is after in this book.

    God bless.

  • DRT

    I forgot to finish the train of thought.

    The Dalia Lama said that despite the Buddha being specific in his teaching that we should not speculate about that too much, the state after death is perhaps the most discussed thing in the Buddhist community.

    Sounds like us.

  • Adam

    Luke, I’m not sure how to handle your abandonment of Gary Larson and the Farside view. I mean, it’s Farside! This is important!

  • Barry

    (@166 and above) while this may be a day late and a dollar short… after Jesus, Kenton, you’re my hero.

  • Barry

    at least for today 🙂

  • Luke @259, just a thought here, but it is much easier for us to discuss, disagree, etc. than to take the necessary actions to Love one another. We sit at our computers and toss ideas back and forth and sometimes get pretty rigid in our views. The hallmark of Christ’s followers is Love…in action…Jesus said it would be visible…not gushy feelings. Adults love to put up barriers such as creating clubs, making rules and regulations that exclude others, debating stuff till we drop dead, standing on the street corner blasting trumpets about our holiness…but little children don’t worry about those things or the color of anyone’s skin, or which church they go to, etc. they have the beautiful,ability to love each other in an innocent way that I think Jesus calls us to…and it’s the one thing He told us to do, over and over and over. I believe that when we can find peace in this, peace in Him, then we can let go of a ton of stuff and go forth to Love…and trust. Blessings.

  • Luke Allison

    Cathy: “I believe that when we can find peace in this, peace in Him, then we can let go of a ton of stuff and go forth to Love…and trust. Blessings”

    I agree with you. But remember, this is a discussion of a book that asserts a pretty clear theological perspective which is decidedly different (antithetical?) to other theological perspectives. Just because it’s done in the name of love and/or poetry doesn’t mean it’s not stating a message. If we’re talking about God, we’re doing theology. It just might be really bad theology. So I don’t think it’s fair to come into a book discussion and pull the old “If you were really Jesus’ disciples, you’d be ending poverty instead of writing these comments.” I had a day off on Monday so I posted a lot. I started ending poverty again on Tuesday. Throw me a bone here! 🙂

    Anyway, I’m not saying you’re saying that.

    But I’m also trying to figure out where some of the fundamental differences lie in this discussion. I like to get to the roots of things. Rather than saying: “You hate God!” or “You don’t take sin seriously enough!” or “You follow Paul instead of Jesus!”, I want to know why we say the things we say.

    There are a few definitive differences between the commenters on here (myself included) that cause differences on every subsequent level. One of them is the view of an authoritative Scripture. Both hold to that concept verbally, but what they mean is two vastly different things. I for one find pitting Jesus’ words against Paul’s silly, since men wrote down Jesus’ words just as much as Paul’s scribes wrote down his words. Jesus didn’t write the Gospel accounts. Or did He? In the mystery of “god-breathed” Scripture, (which is vastly unique from all other religions’ views of revelation), isn’t Jesus sort of the author of it all?

    I’m going to hold to the “Scripture as cohesive story” view. God inspired it, and it will all make perfect sense once I know fully instead of in part. This helps me to then submit to the parts that I have trouble with rather than applying my altogether worthless judgments (I used to be a porn addict and a sexual deviant…what the heck do I know about morality?) to a book that is supra-cultural.

    Goodness. I really didn’t want to write on this any more. Why’d you have to be so dang good, Cathy?