The Promised Response to Bell's Love Wins

Discussion of Bell’s Love Wins is now allowed here for those who can truthfully say they have read it.  If you post a comment about Bell’s book be sure to say whether you have read it.

I finally received my copy yesterday.  (Sometimes I think mail has to arrive in my city by Pony Express!)  I read it last evening and this morning. 

First, it is obvious to me that early critics of the book were wrong and they owe Bell an apology.  Nowhere in the book does Bell affirm universalism.  (Let’s not quibble about what “universalism” means; we all know what the critics meant–that Bell was saying everyone will eventually be saved, go to heaven, and leave hell empty. He nowhere says that.)

Bell does say it is okay to “long for” universal salvation.  So did Pope John Paul II!  I’m sure some critics who jumped the gun and attacked Bell for promoting universalism without reading the book will come back around and use that to support what they said.  But they are not the same.  To long for universal salvation is not to affirm it.

On page 114 Bell says “So will those who have said no to God’s love in this life continue to say no in the next?  Love demands freedom, and freedom provides that possibility.  People take that option now, and we can assume it will be taken in the future.”  And nowhere else in the book does he say that eventually everyone will say yes to God’s love.  His emphasis on freedom as necessary for love requires him not to say that.  Can he hope for it?  Who is to say he can’t?

The point is–universalism is the assertion that eventually all will be saved.  Nowhere does Bell assert that.

Bell continues in that chapter to say that hell is getting what we want.  This is simply another way of saying “Hell’s door is locked on the inside”–something I think C. S. Lewis said.  (Or it may be someone’s summary of Lewis’ The Great Divorce.)

Chapter 6 is about what is usually called inclusivism–that salvation through Jesus Christ is not limited to those who hear his name.  (I’ve discussed problems with restrictivism here before.)  I find nothing in that chapter that Billy Graham has not said.  (Go to and look up Graham’s responses to questions from Robert Schuler.)

While reading Love Wins I kept thinking “This sounds like C. S. Lewis!”  In his Acknowledgments Bell thanks someone for “suggesting when I was in high school that I read C. S. Lewis.”

One thing I disagree with in Love Wins (and I disagreed with it in The Shack) is Bell’s affirmation that God has already forgiven everyone through Jesus Christ.  I believe God has provided everything for forgiveness, but forgiveness depends on acceptance of God’s provision.  I don’t know how to reconcile universal forgiveness with Jesus’ statement that the Father will not forgive those who refuse to forgive.  Of course, if “forgive” means “forgive everyone of the guilt of original sin,” then I can accept universal forgiveness (which is how I and most Arminians interpret Romans 5).  But I don’t think that’s what Bell means.

Those who accused Bell of teaching universalism based on promotion of Love Wins jumped the gun and owe him an apology.  I won’t hold my breath.

Vilifying anyone based on what you think they are going to say is clear evidence of bad judgment; it breaks all the rules of civil discourse.  It is part of what I mean by “evangelicals behaving badly” and illustrates what I call the fundamentalist ethos.

Perhaps the time has come for moderate and progressive evangelicals to say “Farewell neo-fundamentalists.”  There’s no point in prolonging the long kiss goodbye.  We are two movements now–fundamentalists and neo-fundamentalists, on the one hand, and moderate to progressive evangelicals on the other hand.  This painful parting of the ways happened between the movement fundamentalists and the new evangelicals in the 1940s and 1950s.  It is happening again (among people who call themselves “evangelicals”) and the time has come to acknowledge it as, for all practical purposes, done.  It’s just a matter now of dividing the property.

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  • Gavin

    For whatever it’s worth, as a person firmly entrenched in the “new reformed” stream, and who benefits greatly from the ministries of Al Mohler, John Piper, et. al., I deny the labels “fundamentalist” and “neo-fundamentalist.” …Again, for whatever it’s worth. And here, probably little to nothing.

    • Roger

      I’m not as invested in the labels as in describing the habits they name.

    • Aaron

      Gavin, Hey if the shoe fits… but if not than relax :)

    • rick

      Gavin, taxonomies are useful to the degree that they allow us to find a common language to describe complex phenomena. While you might deny the “fundamentalist” label, there are many who wear it with pride (and a lot of them probably subscribe to David Cloud’s Fundamentalist Baptist Information Service newsletter and O Timothy magazine). So I’m not sure what you gain when you “deny the labels” while others are wearing them as badges – and affirming that some who want to wear the badge don’t deserve it. Once again, I refer you to David Cloud’s recent controversy with West Coast Bible College and Seminary over contemporary Christian music. Cloud would have no problem stating that they are no longer entitled to the fundamentalist label.

    • Zach

      It all depends on how you define “Fundamentalist”…
      I like to consider myself a fundamentalist- the Bible is the fundamental source of truth about God’s relationship with his creation…

      However, I often hear the term used in reference to the ultra-conservative, ‘old fashioned’ legalistic Christian sects. You can only listen to Christian worship music. Cannot watch any non-“Focus on the Family Movies”… Blah blah blah, etc…

      And more recently, it seems that if you claim to know the truth of scripture and aren’t afraid to call out heresy when you see it, you must be a (neo) fundamentalist… But let’s be honest here, we live in a “relativistic/ pluralistic” post-modern culture where it’s just not cool or kosher to make claims at what is THE truth… Opinions are cool though 😉

      I personally wouldn’t mind doing as Bell does in his book and just redefine the word so it would fit within my liking. That would make things a lot easier for me 😉 Define/own the terms and you win the war.

  • Paul Davis

    This is why I read your site, and have become a fan of your work. We need more charity in our faith, especially towards other we don’t agree with. And we need the basic moral character to say when something is wrong, and urge others to do the right thing.

    Too many have set themselves up as the arbiters of truth, this whole scenario that has played out around Mr. Bells work has been a disgusting display of what happens when are more interested in being right, than doing right.

    Keep up the good work, it matters, a lot.


    • Chris Phillips

      I completely agree with you Paul.

    • Zach

      As someone who benefited from the book though greatly disagreeing with the book… I want to echo Chris and agree with Paul. Maybe a too charitable review 😉 but charitable none the less…

  • Richard McArthur

    A view from the UK where Rob Bell is also widely read and where sadly we have the same tensions and arguments as in the States. I have read the book and I fully agree that Bell does not teach universalism. It seems lazy thinking to me that people continue to accuse him of doing so. I too have profound problems with the teaching and rhetoric of conservative evangelicals adamant about conscious eternal torment and a strict exclusivism. However I do still have two big problems with the book. First, he puts an enormous amount of weight on a very speculative position with a very tenuous biblical basis (at best) – that of prolonged post-mortem opportunity to say ‘yes’ to Jesus even if you’ve said ‘no’ all your life. It seems to me that all the problems that Bell raises with the traditional position are answered by the sort of conditional immortality/annihalationism taught by John Stott in ‘Essentials,’ and by the probably opportunity of those who’ve never heard of Jesus to repent and respond to as much of God as has been revealed to them (a position tentatively put forward by Stott in Essentials and proposed with more confidence and detail by Clark Pinnock). The second problem I had with the book was the very strong language used by Bell to criticise the traditional position. He really does go to town on this, even, it seems to me, lashing out at people who dare to quote the second half of John 3 v 16. I find myself caught in the middle between conservative evangelicals who use vitriolic language and progressives, like Bell, who also use vitriolic language. Please, please, can we all be more civil towards each other and each other’s views! Yes heresy is possible and needs to be named when it takes place, but we do need to be a lot more reasoned and reasonable on both sides of the debate. Also Roger – having read some of your books and greatly appreciated them, I’m very surprised that you’ve not challenged Rob Bell’s book on the same issues that I have above. Please can you clarify. Are you just so frustrated with the way he’s been unfairly treated that you haven’t wanted to add criticism, or do you genuinely think that his book is a useful addition to the debate about hell and those who’ve never heard?


    • Roger

      To be perfectly open and honest (which you have asked for) I do not think the book is a useful addition to the debate EXCEPT insofar as it stimulates readers to go further and read Lewis and Wright and other, more original and somewhat scholarly treatments of the subjects. I like Rob Bell and respect him and think he is sincere and trying to help young Christians struggling out of fundamentalism. But the book didn’t contribute anything to my thinking. (But I find it difficult to find books that do. I hesitate to say that because I know how it sounds. But after nearly 40 years of studying theology I find most books I read are re-hashes of older books. I almost always find myself saying to myself “Oh, Karl Barth said that” or “Niebuhr said as much” or “that’s exactly the position espoused by Tillich” or whatever.

      • Richard (not MacArthur)

        I have read the book and I would affirm that Bell didn’t say anything I haven’t read elsewhere. But I would also suggest that you and I and others “in the church” are not the primary audience he’s writing for. Bell has never promoted his books like this before in the secular market and he has a true heart for the lost and helping them encounter the Christ they hoped existed because the version they’d heard of they wanted no part of. I personally think his hope was that the majority of the people propelling him to #4 on Amazon would be people that currently want nothing to do with the church. He’s writing for those who have left the church or never given church the time of day.

        • Roger

          Agreed. And I hope those who read Bell’s book will read further–e.g., C. S. Lewis and N. T. Wright.

          • Ben

            What’s concerning to me is not that people ask questions and wrestle over the issues of hell but that they would come in Jesus name and contradict Jesus on it. When Jesus says, “only those who do the will of My Father will enter the Kingdom of heaven” and “unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees you will not enter the Kingdom of heaven” I don’t know what there is to wrestle over? Why don’t we just say what Jesus said? I think He’s the greatest scholar. To assert post-mortem opportunity when the Bible doesn’t give one shred of evidence for it sets up for being a stumbling block to people. The last thing people need in their “suppressing” of the truth is the idea put in their head that they’ll have another opportunity after death. It’s like people who teach the rapture the way the “Left Behind” series does. I’ve heard two people close to me who know the truth and aren’t walking in it assert that if they’re left behind they’ll be used of God during that time.

  • Michael Thompson

    1. I’ve read it before making any assertions in either direction regarding it.

    2. Your review is thoughtful and accurate. He does make use of CSL, but also resurrection and restoration arguments from NT Wright, and even makes points which Christian philosopher William Hasker made in ‘The Triumph of God over Evil.’ Theologically, his discussions of freedom and consequence are not out of line with many prominent biblical theologians (Fretheim and Goldingay immediately come to mind).

    3. I suppose my biggest frustrations with the book are those places where he leaves questions instead of more concrete answers. But perhaps this is because I am not fully immersed into postmodern theological inquiry; that is to say, I am not yet entirely comfortable with some of these philosophical maneuvers.

    4. What is more disappointing than the hype of the evangelical slam-culture is that many will miss out on the emphases on divine love, hope and forgiveness. This is especially the case by examining a chapter on heaven, a chapter on hell, then missing the remainder of the book (which constructs context), thereby misplacing the forest in sight of the tree bark.

    5. When the hyper-critics pass their judgment on Bell’s theology presented here, I would be interested to know how they would respond to the questions he raises about salvation, the unevangelized, and those who experience hell on earth. If this is such an important issue, then certainly they have their systems ready to present. (It doesn’t do to fire shots from the shadows and not emerge onto the field.)

  • BOB

    Does Rob Bell give an answer to the question is Gandhi in hell?

    • Roger

      Did you read the book? :)

  • Robert Fairbanks

    Thanks Roger. I appreciate your thoughts. I have not read the book yet…maybe won’t. I did not like the manipulative way he and his publisher promoted the book. A tongue in cheek blog I wrote during the middle of firestorm:

    That being said, for us to actually do theology in the “eye gadget” epoch we are in, we must apply a gracious form of civil discourse. I think you have achieved that.


  • Derek

    I did not read the book yet – but I do have a question – can you please provide specific quotes where Bell was accused of being a universalist? I don’t think it is fair to imply that all of Bell’s critics have applied the “universalist” label, either before or after the book came out. His critics are not a monolith. Also, I am not convinced that it was wrong for Justin Taylor (for instance) to ASK if Bell’s book was universalist. It was a reasonable question and concern if you took Bell’s video and publisher’s summary at face value.

    • Roger

      What does “Farewell Rob Bell” mean if not an accusation of heresy?

      • Derek

        That’s the only quote? A twitter post from Piper that doesn’t say anything about universalism?
        You said “Those who accused Bell of teaching universalism based on promotion of Love Wins jumped the gun and owe him an apology. ” Who specifically are you referring to here?
        My own opinion is that Rob Bell’s supporters are being awfully thin skinned. I think the criticism has been reasonable. Don’t take our word for it – read Mark Galli’s fine and very balanced review and you cannot conclude that Bell’s critics have no good reason to ask about the universalist elements/leanings in the book.
        If certain critics need to repent, I think we need to be more specific than to lay out a blanket critique.

        • Roger

          Who’s laid out a blanket critique? I have restricted my criticism to those who jumped the gun to criticize a book they hadn’t yet read and to those who continue to call Bell a universalist. Other criticism is fine so long as it is based on a fair reading of what the book actually says. Did you miss my criticism of the book? Apparently so.

          • Derek

            Your critique of Bell was very slight and the major portion of your critique was addressed to Bell’s critics! And yet, you can’t come up with any quotes beyond Piper’s tweet that demonstrate sinful behavior that needs to be repented of.
            On this very same point, I noticed that you were silent about Richard McArthur’s (a couple posts above) concern when he said “The second problem I had with the book was the very strong language used by Bell to criticise the traditional position. He really does go to town on this, even, it seems to me, lashing out at people who dare to quote the second half of John 3 v 16.“. Maybe Bell himself is a fundamentalist by “ethos” too. Or maybe there are two sets of standards?

          • Roger

            I took it that Bell was describing folk religion, not serious theology.

    • Richard (not MacArthur)

      But Taylor and the others, even after the book came out, have continued to misrepresent Bell. Take for instance the parody, “Justice Wins,” which acts as if Bell has no concern for justice. Russel Moore stating that Bell denies the existence of hell. Trevin Wax comparing “universalism” as an infection and the Reformed as a fever to eliminate the infection, all while writing under the assumption Bell is a universalist. Deyoung, in his assessment posted at 12:01 on March 14th cite Bauckham’s survey of universalism and asks why Bell doesn’t affirm Arius if he’s in Origen’s camp. Feel free to hunt down the quotes yourself.

      • Roger

        Origen an Arian? Wow. Did DeYoung really say that? If so, he knows nothing about Origen. Sure, Arius claimed Origen as support, but he was dead wrong. Anyone who has read De Principii knows Origen believed in the eternity of the Son.

        • Peter G.

          No he didn’t. Read DeYoung’s review.

  • William Birch

    I read and reviewed Love Wins, and came to a quite different conclusion. For example, while I admit that Rob Bell is not in the Universalist camp which suggests that hell will be emptied, he does hold to another form of Universalism — a “hopeful” universalism (right or wrong). I find it hard to be a hopeful Universalist because of Scripture (Matt. 7:21-23; Rev. 20:11-15), since I do not believe that postmortem: “On page 114 Bell says, ‘So will those who have said no to God’s love in this life continue to say no in the next?'” Who says that there will be an opportunity to “say no” to God’s love in the next life? I don’t see that in Scripture. What I do see is that today is the day of salvation (2 Cor. 6:2).

    If Bell means that God has forgiven everyone of sin in the manner in which you think he means (and I would agree with your assessment), then I fail to see how everyone will not be saved. Is not forgiveness of sin what every sinner needs? If that has already happened, then I’m a bit confused as to how anyone goes to hell. However, Bell admits that some do go to hell. This makes his theology one hard to track, for it is terribly inconsistent.

    I think you’re right about the polarizing of today’s “evangelicals,” and that Bell’s latest book has scratched the line in the theological sand. We all have chosen on which side of that line we are willing to stand. I am not on Bell’s side of that line, so I’m labeled “neo-fundamentalist.” Labels aside, I am where I am because of my convictions. And I acknowledge the same for those who are not on “my side” of that line.

    God bless.

    • Roger

      Notice that my description of neo-fundamentalism focused on behaviors, not doctrines. One can believe all the same doctrines as neo-fundamentalists but not be one. I know strict inerrantists who regard non-inerrantists who believe in the inspiration and authority of the Bible as fellow evangelicals and never caricature their view of Scripture as denying the Bible’s inspiration or authority. They’re not neo-fundamentalists, then. As for Bell, he apparently believes God has already forgiven everyone but also gives everyone the right to refuse forgiveness. Hell is for those who refuse God’s forgiveness. Barth seemed to hint at something like that. (Although I happen to think Barth was a universalist.) As for post-mortem opportunity. Bell claims Luther espoused that in a letter. I haven’t read that letter, but I don’t think Bell would make it up.

      • Chris Phillips

        Hi Roger. Your response to William is helping me to see what you are getting at with neo-fundamentalism. I think you are talking about ethos. If that is the case, then I was once there. But lately, brothers like you and Scot McKnight have helped me. I graduated from a seminary that I believe you would consider to be neo-fundamentalist. When I left that particular place I shared and reflected the seminary’s ethos. Hopefully I am changing. I still have convictions of course. But I am learning how to be more reasonable, understanding, and loving when engaging with others who might disagree with where I stand on certain issues. It’s learning how to better converse with folks to the glory of Christ. I disagree with your Arminian theology, but I do appreciate how you handled the Bell controversy. That was instructive for me; especially as a pastor. Thank you.

      • Mark Foster

        I find your final comment on Luther surprising. As an historical theologian of some repute do you really think Luther believed in post-mortem opportunity? I don’t think Bell deliberately set out to deceive his readers but his use of the Luther quote is a clear example of taking material out of context and handling texts in an inaccurate way. The problem I then have as a reader is if he has misrepresented Luther in such a bad way how can I trust him not to do the same with the biblical texts?

        • Roger

          How do you know Luther didn’t believe in post-morten opportunity–at least when he wrote that letter?

          • A.M. Mallett

            I had to search the net for this and I do not have the primary resource to verify this. However, here is the actual context of Martin Luther’s statement. It does not support Bell’s contention.

            If God were to save anyone without faith, he would be acting contrary to his own words and would give himself the lie; yes, he would deny himself. And that is impossible for, as St. Paul declares, God cannot deny himself [II Tim. 2:13]. It is as impossible for God to save without faith as it is impossible for divine truth to lie. That is clear, obvious, and easily understood, no matter how reluctant the old wineskin is to hold this wine–yes, is unable to hold and contain it.

            It would be quite a different question whether God can impart faith to some in the hour of death or after death so that these people could be saved through faith. Who would doubt God’s ability to do that? No one, however, can prove that he does do this. For all that we read is that he has already raised people from the dead and thus granted them faith. But whether he gives faith or not, it is impossible for anyone to be saved without faith. Otherwise every sermon, the gospel, and faith would be vain, false, and deceptive, since the entire gospel makes faith necessary. (Works, 43, ed. and trans. G. Wienke and H. T. Lehmann [Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1968], 53-54; WA 10.ii, 324.25-325.11)

          • Roger

            Great! Thanks. That’s very helpful. I now think Carl Trueman’s paraphrase was a little off. Luther seems to leave the door open to it. All he says is no one can prove God does it. He doesn’t say God doesn’t do it.

          • Greg Milford

            Carl Trueman, from a historian’s perspective argues that Bell’s use of Luther’s quote should have been caught by editors as a misuse of the quote. Here is a quote from the link below:

            “In this letter, Luther is answering the question, raised by von Rechenberg, as to whether any can be saved without faith. Luther’s answer is a clear ‘no.’ In fact, the letter is specifically aimed at refuting any notion that anyone can be saved by anything other than faith as Luther defines it. In this particular passage, Luther is raising, in a rhetorical flourish, a kind of question which was typical of the late medieval theological tradition in which he was schooled. It concerns the range of God’s possible action (technically, his absolute power/potentia absoluta). He asks if God could give somebody faith after death and justify them on that basis. Yes, he replies, he could do so; but there is absolutely no evidence that he does do so. It is akin to asking ‘Could God have made the earth without a moon?’ The answer is ‘Yes, there is no logical contradiction in that claim; but he did not do so.’ ”


          • Roger

            Is that a direct quote from the Luther letter or a paraphrase? I would like to see the Luther letter itself (not a paraphrase). I’m not doubting Carl Trueman; I’m just doing the scholarly thing–asking for the verbatim.

          • Mark Foster

            Basis exegesis. Bell is quoting Luther from a letter he wrote to Hans von Rechenberg in 1552. When you place the phrase Bell highlights in the context of the sentence and paragraph from which it is taken it is clear Luther does not believe in post-mortem opportunity. For Bell to misrepresent Luther in such a way places a serious question mark against his ability to handle texts properly – which is is an obvious problem for somebody who is questioning the traditional understanding of certain biblical texts.

            On another note I do want to thank you for the way you interact with those who make comments. I always find your blog stimulating and challenging and part of that is the time you take to respond to comments. I think all readers of your blog should be grateful for your time in doing this as it adds so much to the value of the discussion.

        • Scott Arnold

          Here is the quote from Martin Luther in his letter to Hans von Rechenberg:

          ‘…we have formidable passages of Scripture [to the effect] that God cannot and will not save anyone without faith. Mark 16[:16] says, “He who does not believe will be lost.” Also Hebrews 11[:6], “Without faith it is impossible to please God.” Also John 3[:5], “Whoever is not born of water and the Spirit cannot enter the kingdom of God.” Also John 3[:18], “He who does not believe is condemned already.” If God were to save anyone without faith, he would be acting contrary to his own words and would give himself the lie; yes, he would deny himself. And that is impossible for, as St. Paul declares, God cannot deny himself [II Tim. 2:13]. It is as impossible for God to save without faith as it is impossible for divine truth to lie. That is clear, obvious, and easily understood… It would be quite a different question whether God can impart faith to some in the hour of death or after death so that these people could be saved through faith. Who would doubt God’s ability to do that? No one, however, can prove that he does do this.’ (Martin Luther, Letter to Hans von Rechenberg [1522], Luther’s Works, Vol. 43 [Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1968], pp. 53-54)

          Found here:

          Not a ringing endorsement of universalism or post-mortem repentance, but it seems Luther was willing to admit the possibility.

          I have not read the Bell book.

        • Andrew

          “The problem I then have as a reader is if he has misrepresented Luther in such a bad way how can I trust him not to do the same with the biblical texts?”

          Simple, you read the texts yourself.

  • Chris Phillips

    I don’t understand the “parting of the ways” when the two groups you refer to are movements. I may not understand evangelicalism, but it seems to be a hodge podge. When Piper said, “Farewell Rob Bell” I am not sure what he meant by that. I don’t believe Bell considers himself to be a conservative evangelical but maybe Piper did at one point. But how can you dismiss someone from a movement? And where does the authority come from to do that? You spoke of that in one of your recent blogs. There is no authoritative structure to evangelicalism (whether progressive/moderate or neo-fundamentalist). Therefore, I don’t understand the “parting of the ways”? If it’s just a movement then why not just keep moving or simply being. Do we need to draw the line in the sand when evangelicalism seems to be a disorderly mass of Protestants? I hear people speaking in their blogs about a rift that will soon take place among evangelicals. But I’m confused. How can there be a major rift in something that does not have recognized established leaders and a core body of teaching that unites all evangelicals? Can you please help me make sense out of this?

    • Roger

      Movements can go in two different directions. Notice what has happened in the charismatic movement which was during the 1960s and into the 1970s relatively cohesive (though never monolithic). Now there are two or more charismatic movements. Those in the prosperity gospel movement have little to do with those in the mainline church movement and vice versa. The dynamics of movements is complicated, but one thing is certain–a movement cannot have boundaries.

  • John

    Roger – wouldn’t a ‘painful parting of the ways’ damage both sides? Cut adrift from their conservative brethren, wouldn’t post-conservatives be more likely to drift towards liberal Protestantism? And wouldn’t conservative evangelicals be more likely to drift further into hardline, narrow-minded sectarianism? To put it more positively, isn’t there something healthy about staying together in movements that bridge these divides?

    • Roger

      Ah, there’s the problem. I have called repeatedly for dialogue between postconservatives/reformists and conservatives/neo-fundamentalists. There was that opportunity at the Pilgrims on the Sawdust Trail conference at Beeson Divinity School some years ago and I went there hoping to experience it. I didn’t. I was instead publicly insulted by one of the main speakers who, when I challenged his characterization of open theism as “just process theology” told me to sit down. He didn’t even attempt to answer me or engage me in conversation.

  • Jennifer


    I have read the book; finished it last night. It was a very easy read. The main point of the books seems to be to challenge the “Sinners in the hands of an angry God” mindset.
    As far as universal forgiveness; I don’t see the problem, with saying that God has forgiven everyone’s sins already. Saying this does not mean that everything is forgiven. I mean, you cannot receive absolution without doing your part. That is,
    God forgives you (done),
    you forgive those who have offended you (?),
    and you forgive yourself(?).

  • Aaron

    Dr. Olson – Thanks for your, as always, thoughtful response. I was wondering if you had read the now infamous article that Kevin Deyoung wrote against Love wins?
    And if so out of his 7 points where do agree or disagree? That might be a fun post some day! Anyway thanks for the help in guiding the rust of us through this mess.

    • Roger

      I think I’ll pass on that. I have too much to read already! I’m ready to move on from this to other important issues. Frankly, I don’t think Love Wins is worth all the fuss.

  • Peter G.

    Was this a review of Bell or of his critics?

    • Roger


  • MC

    I really appreciate your thoughtfulness on this. To be up front I have a mostly negative perspective on the book, which I ‘m sad about.
    I read most of the book stopping at page 115. Given what you’ve said I probably should finish it. A little background first. I like Rob; I think he is good at giving us a needed balance and perspective, particularly from the relational side. This issue has been important to me as my daughter loves him. He helped her to see the beauty of the faith. What frustrated me from the beginning was the rush to judgment on a book not yet out and the unnecessary statements (whether true or not) like saying the book is equivalent to a theological striptease act. Is that really necessary! I don’t understand why good men feel the sledge hammer approach is the best way to communicate. To me the only thing this accomplishes is to stir up those who already agree making them angrier and to turn off those who may need to hear it and can’t because of their rough treatment. Anyway, this ends up creating an even bigger split than before. This reminds me of the Russell Moore Letter written last year about the Glenn Beck Rally. I mostly agreed with what Moore said, but I had to force myself to, as his letter was so obnoxious and unnecessarily preachy. My first inclination was to agree with the Beckys just so I didn’t have to agree with Moore.
    I wanted the critics to be wrong, because it seems that all they can do is be critical. Sadly, I feel they are mostly right about Love Wins. Not that there aren’t good thinks in the book, there are. I guess need to finish, but I’m not sure he is definitive enough to ultimately know where he stands. I think a little more ambiguity from the neo-funds and a lot more humility on the subject in general is warranted, but Love Wins seems to help the disease a lot more than the cure.
    You may be technically right in your statement of his Universalism; the problem is that the mass of people don’t look at things with the eye of a theologian or philosopher. I guess a lot of theologians don’t either. The four big issues I have with his book are:

    1. He painted the traditional view of hell in such an ugly and graphic way that some people may not be able to get past those images. Rob said several times something to the effect; some person lives for only 2 decades and the dies without saying the right words and suffers for eternity. It sound so unfair and yet this is a caricature presented like this. He seems to find the worst way it can be viewed and by implication the Church with it. While I agree that the conservatives seem to go out of their way to make this doctrine as ugly and as hard as possible by reading things in that are not clear in scripture; such as what will happen to those who never heard or having any opinion on where the Gandhi’s of this world are.
    2. I am willing to concede that Rob may never have given a conclusive opinion on universalism, but the sheer weight of his argument points towards universalism or at least a view that is so far from the mainstream that the hyper orthodox and the average Joe on the pew won’t recognize it as being the stream at all. Bell would have been better trying to show us our attitudes reflecting stinginess and our disgust at anything pagan in declaring who’s in or out of heaven then trying to upend what seems like a settled doctrine
    3. I feel Rob ended up doing theology which is not his strong point. He does the poetic, angst ridden, perspective giving commentary, and he does it well. And it is needed. I do have some sympathy for his critics though, and while I don’t think (I hope) Rob is not a wolf in sheep’s clothing, but if he is a sheep who inadvertently appears in wolf’s clothing, can you blame people for being worried, especially given his audience. What did he think was going to happen? This seemed to be the wrong venue for this kind of discussion – the public square – again, the world can see how divided we are. Let the theologians and philosophers in their precision tease it out. To the conservatives this is like shooting a missile over their country. To him it is fireworks; to them it’s a nuke. Rob is very relational, loving, a great communicator and a great diplomatic personality, yet in this case he seemed to lose all sense of his strengths and instead declared war. One of the things that really saddens me is that of all the good he has wrought, he has probably destroyed it all with this book. Those that most need to hear what he is saying now can never hear him.
    4. It seems that if there is any doubt on a subject like hell, we should defer to a worst case scenario and not give people false hope if there might not be any. If Rob is right, then ultimately I doubt it will make much difference in the end since love always wins, but if he is wrong, the damage, the damage.
    I agree the doctrine police are too quick to scream heretic and while in this case, I think Rob has the larger share of blame for this eruption. (Do we still need the word heretic – can’t un-biblical work?) I get the sense that the Rob Bells of this world are the creation of a brittle and rigid fundamentalism.

    • Roger

      I tend to agree with that last suggestion, anyway.

      • Dean

        My problem with agreeing with the last point is that it paints the darkest possible characterization of God. This is what Rob pushed back against, and in my Arminian opininon, rightly so. What about the damage of a vindictive, angry God who is mostly concerned with punishing people who displease Him? My take is that sin has an inevitable harvest and God often permits that to take its course consistent with the created order. But even in the harshest of winter, there is a hope and trust that spring will come. This too is fully within the order of creation.

  • Chris


    I have read the book and I liked Bell before this one. You are right that Bell did not blatantly state he is a universalist. My question is, how does a book like this build up the body of Christ and draw unbelievers to Him? It seems you are saying he is hoping for universal salvation. Ok, I’ll give you that. But how does this book edify? How is it helpful? That’s the problem I have with it. I don’t see how this book will build up the body. I see it bringing confusion and non-biblical ideas into the minds of many. He seemed to reallty stretch scripture in some places. His Sodom & Gomorrah example was terrible and very much reading into the text what one wants to see. An honest question, where is the possibility of post-mortem conversion mentioned in Scripture? It’s a nice idea but…what if one takes it to heart and Bell is wrong? That’s a gamble.

    I don’t see how this book will reap fruit in the life of anyone. If anything, I see it having the potential to make grace cheap in the minds of those who read it, and also, although unintentionally, decrease a passion and believe in the importance and necessity of conversion. If that’s what has been the orthodox view, I’d rather take orthodoxy’s word, than the opinion of one man. What if he’s wrong? Again, that’s a big gamble.

    • Roger

      I think it is a corrective to an overly narrow and harsh fundamentalism. Like all correctives, it is probably somewhat extreme.

  • Daniel Eichelberger

    Dr. Olson,

    Is all of this Rob Bell talk and how people have responded a good and biblical reason to say “goodbye” to one another? Really.

    I simply think that people who may or may not have overreacted is no good reason to say “goodbye” to them. From Paul’s words in Ephesians, I think Paul would disagree with such a quick dismissal: “with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.”

    Then again, I could be misreading what you mean. I might not have the full context.

    I’m open to listening, bearing with one another in humility.



    • Roger

      If anything, this is just the straw that breaks the camel’s back. As I’ve said before here, I’ve personally been treated by some of the same people the same way. I don’t think its deniable that there is a self-appointed cabal of heresy-hunting conservative evangelicals (neo-fundamentalists) out there doing their best to defame fellow evangelicals they disagree with by labeling them liberal or accusing them of holding beliefs they don’t. I have said many times I’m not an open theist and yet some of them keep accusing me of it. It’s the same thing they have done to Bell–accusing him of holding a belief he doesn’t because they think that’s where he’s going. So I’m saying goodbye to them after a very long time of trying to teach out to them. I’ve written some of them letters and e-mails asking for dialogue and I’ve been rebuffed. Apparently they don’t want that. To be frank, some of them have used underhanded and unethical methods to harm me professionally. I’ve stated that here before. And others have been treated similarly by them. So, there comes a point where trust is gone and there’s no point in keeping on trying. You just have to say goodbye and go your separate ways. I think they did that to me and other postconservatives a long time ago. I know Stan Grenz felt the same way. Our very last e-mail was about exactly this subject. I had sent an e-mail to someone who publicly attacked us unfairly suggesting we talk it over and try to work it out amicably. The person did not respond. Stan was coming to the point of giving up after trying very hard for years to build bridges with them. As I said, there comes a point when you recognize THEY don’t want to be part of the same movement; THEY’VE already declared you (me) an outsider. I was invited to deliver a plenary address to the ETS several years ago by its president. Certain members of the executive committee called on him to rescind the invitation. I know because he included me in his list of recipients of the e-mail notifying them of his invitation and my acceptance. All of them responded by pressing “reply to all” not noticing I was in the list of e-mail recipients! So I got to read their slanderous e-mails about me. I tried to engage some of them in dialogue, but they simply dropped me from the list and cut off all conversation with me. You seem to assume I’m the one saying goodbye first. No, they’ve said it first by their actions. And not only to me. They’ve treated many other evangelicals they label dangerous the same way.

  • Penny Murray

    Roger, I really appreciate your review. And I too am not going to hold my breath.
    I’ve been feeling the split coming too and it breaks my heart. I have no idea where post-conservative is suppose to go. I feel lost.
    Robert, I don’t think you’d feel the video was manipulative if you read the book. The video script was almost word for word one of the chapters.

  • Tom

    Thanks again, Roger, for sharing your thoughts. I too began the book last night and finished it today, and I agree completely that to label Bell a universalist is to fail to understand what he wrote. And yet I keep bumping into folks that insist he’s a universalists–folks who have both read and not read his book. It’s amazing and quite discouraging to me. Anyway, I do think Bell is skilled at asking questions that most folks are too afraid or unwilling to ask. In this sense, his book is worth reading to generate further discussion about important topics.

    And yes, with the passing of each day it’s becoming more and more apparent to me that there are two major and different streams in contemporary evangelicalism. It’s time we all recognize this and learn how to properly relate to each other for the good of the evangelical church.

  • terry timm

    I have read the book and I appreciate your willingness to dive into this important topic in a thoughtful, evenhanded fashion. I have been astonished by some of the broad brush, unsophisticated “throw Rob under the bus” statements that have been made by people who should know better. This complex subject matter cannot and should not be simplified. The pastor of one of the largest churches in our region posted this statement on his blog:

    “At the end of the book one is left with the clear impression that atonement – that is being made one with God through Jesus Christ (necessitated by the holiness of God), is not the only way that one enters into an eternal existence in the presence of God (heaven). This is the troubling conclusion of the book and in my view the most difficult hurdle for the proponents of the book to overcome. ”

    I think this is one of the most important statements that reflects Bell’s strong view of the work of Christ:

    “John remembers Jesus saying, ‘I am the Way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me’ (John 14:6). This is as wide and expansive claim as a person can make. What he doesn’t say is how, 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 restore the world is happening through him.”(154)

    While I certainly disagree with some of the points made in this book, I do think Rob is pretty clear about one thing: if anything happens to anyone (Christian, Jew , Muslim or anyone else…) in this life and the life to come, it happens because of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection.

    I have been posting some thoughts on my site as well.

    Stay connected…


    • Roger

      The pastor you quote clearly didn’t read the entire book carefully. You obviously caught that. Good for you.

    • John Meunier


      Some people would make a different move than Bell makes on that text from John. They would agree that Jesus does not sketch out a mechanism for how one comes to him, but instead of them concluding that there are many different ways or that it can’t be known, they would search for other parts of Scripture to get some indication of what that way might be.

      If you do that you can certainly find places in the NT that help answer that question. It is not necessarily an easy question to sort out or one on which we will agree, but it does seem like the NT provides materials to help solve what Bell seems content to leave as a riddle.

      • terry timm

        Well stated John and I do agree with you that other NT writers provide insights and images into the mechanism of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection. My sense is that while these images provide insight, no single image captures the totality of the redemptive work of Jesus and in fact, all of them together will pale in comparison to the glory of what Jesus has done to accomplish the work of redemption.

        Stay connected…


  • JR Woodward


    I’ve done a full review of Rob Bell’s book here and fully agree with you that he is no universalist. Thanks for your thoughts here. Here is my 6-part review:

  • JP

    I’ve read the book.

    Which is why your review seems shockingly “incomplete” (to put it nicely) to distance Bell from any claim of universalism and yet not include the following quote from Bell:

    “At the heart of this perspective is the belief that, given enough time, everybody will turn to God and find themselves in the joy and peace of God’s presence. The love of God will melt every hard heart, and even the most ‘depraved sinners’ will eventually give up their resistance and turn to God.” (Love Wins, p.107)

    That is what we call “universalism.” Yes, Bell may contradict himself at the one other point in the book that you do cite (p. 114), where he wants to emphasize love’s necessity for freedom. But that’s not what he says here (p 107), and what he says here is what the whole burden of the book is arguing for (hence the title, “Love Wins”): “everybody WILL turn to God…the love of God WILL melt every hard heart.” Doesn’t exactly sound like libertarian freedom to me! Now I do think he is making two contradictory claims (in both affirming libertarian freewill and yet claiming that God WILL save everyone eventually, postmortem-ly), but in any case one of them IS the claim of universalism. He just doesn’t want to explicitly identify himself as such (even though he spends 200 pages arguing for it, without using the word) because he still wants to be thought of as within the evangelical fold. And as we all know, evangelicals don’t believe in “universalism,” do they?

    • Roger

      This perfectly illustrates a common error among those who don’t really know how to read a book. The quote you provide from page 107 does not express Bell’s own view; he is there explaining a different perspective which he does not endorse. Read more carefully.

      • Kevin Angel

        Dr. Olson,

        I think this also illustrates the outcry of many who jumped to conclusions about Bell’s book before they read it. Just as you have said this is a, “common error among those who don’t really know how to read a book;” I’m wondering if the outcry of of leaders is in part a fear of people not knowing what they’ve read. I agreed with your initial review of his book. Bell doesn’t advocate for universalism, but if the “masses” mis-read his book many could very well walk away believing that is what he said. Would this book be better served in academia rather than the “church” at large?

    • Keith Noren


      I agree wholehartedly with you after reading the book, that universalism is the primary thread in the book with some others points thrown in like inclusivism in Chapter 1 and 6 and the centrality of God being love in Chapter 7.

      Bell does give himself an “out” however on page 115 when he says these matters “Will everyone be saved or will some perish apart from God forever because of their choices.

      Those are questions, or more accurately, tensions we are free to leave fully intact. We don’t need to to resolve them or answer them because we can’t, and so we simply respect them, creating space for the freedom that love requires”.

      And Bell has used that “out” since publication of Love Wins.

      Personally I find it nigh on impossible to worship a God who would send anyone into a conscious eternal torment (infinite penalty) for any amount of sin (finite deeds). Let alone the great contradiction of God being love and the popular portrait of hell. That’s why I favor universalism and/or annihilationism (and I don’t care which one) as a practical theology.

  • tim ellison

    Roger, thanks so much for your blog and point of view. I enjoy reading and re-reading your posts. With regards to the parting of ways: I parted ways years ago as I could never get past “their” penal substitution view…it is such a slam to the character of the God revealed in the Christian bible.

    • Derek

      Tim, I’m confused – I thought Roger and others have said that varying perspectives on the atonement are not something that we should divide over?

  • James Moon

    What he does advocate is an afterlife choice for heaven after one rejects Him in this life. Would this be considered orthodox?

    And isn’t segregating out who you view as fundamentalists the same things as them segregating out people who they think are false teachers?

    • Roger

      Of course not. There’s a difference between being a false teacher and just behaving a certain way. Fundamentalism has never been about false teaching; it’s about a certain approach to theology and to treating other Christians.

      • James Moon

        So, I’m still curious as to whether post-mortem opportunity for salvation can be justified using scripture. What do you think?

        • rogereolson

          I don’t know anyone who claims it can be justified by proof texts of scripture, but its defenders say it is simply a valid deduction from God’s love and the fact that not everyone has an opportunity to know his love for them in this life.

  • James Moon

    I don’t understand why penal substitution is seen as a slam on the character of God. It’s beautiful to my eyes.

    • Penny Murray

      You might enjoy reading “Recovering the Scandal of The Cross” for a fantastic discussion of atonement and how the Bible and church history has had many different images of atonement. It argues for a broader understanding of atonement and also has some discussion on Penal Substitution.

      • Roger

        Ah, there’s a new version coming out from IVP soon! Watch for it.

    • Steve


      Pierced for Our Transgressions, as well as John Stott’s The Cross of Christ, both argue biblically for a penal-substitutionary atonement, while at the same time showing that this is the biblical basis for other “theories” of the atonement. You should check them out if you haven’t already.

  • Charles Kinnaird

    I have not read Rob Bell’s book, but I resonated with your statement, “Bell does say it is okay to ‘long for’ universal salvation. So did Pope John Paul II!” Since I have become Catholic, I have benefitted from the spiritual practice of praying the rosary. On of the prayers in the rosary, states,” O my Jesus, forgive us our sins, save us from the fires of Hell. Lead all souls to Heaven, especially those who have most need of Thy mercy.” I find that pray to be a wonderfully uplifting longing for universal salvation!

  • Carson T. Clark

    Dr. Olson, In response to this Rob Bell controversy, popular blogger wrote a post entitled “The Future of Evangelicalism: A Twenty-Something’s Perspective” that I thought might be up your alley. Here’s the link: I then wrote a post entitled “A Cordial Response to Rachel Evans’ Post ‘The Future of Evangelicalism'” in which I reference you a few times. If you’re interested:

    • Penny Murray

      Carson, I’d love to hear Roger chime in on your critique. As I read your post, especially since you kept mentioning him, I wondered what Roger’s perspective would be since he said in this specific blog post:

      Perhaps the time has come for moderate and progressive evangelicals to say “Farewell neo-fundamentalists.” There’s no point in prolonging the long kiss goodbye. We are two movements now–fundamentalists and neo-fundamentalists, on the one hand, and moderate to progressive evangelicals on the other hand.

      Seems to me he and Rachel on on the same page.

  • The Seeking Disciple

    Jesus said few would enter heaven (Matthew 7:13-14) and that salvation comes only by personal faith in Him and His gospel (John 14:6; Romans 10:14-17). This should be enough to shut the door on Bell and his inclusive teachings.

  • ScottL

    Derek –

    You asked: can you please provide specific quotes where Bell was accused of being a universalist?

    I think the two main people to accused Rob Bell of universalism have been Justin Taylor and Kevin DeYoung.

    I think Bell would probably be more classified as an evangelical inclusivist or universal reconciliationist. After reading the book, I don’t agree with some things he has said. But there are some things I appreciate, i.e., discussing the reality that heaven can be/is now, as well as hell. I also like some of the questions he asks and passages he emphasise. Normally, others get emphasised on judgment and wrath, but Bell has emphasised a lot of passages glossed over at times.

  • Ryan

    I have read the book.

    With all due respect you are being a bit reductionstic Dr. Olsen. Just because he does not utter the exact sentences you put forth does not mean he is not advocating universalism. The Bible does not have an explicit Trinity verse, but that does not mean it is not clearly taught in the Bible.

    I don’t have my copy of the book near right now but Bell does mention that he can’t imagine someone forever into eternity resisting God’s love, and that eventually “Love Wins.”

    Reading the book carefully I found it clear that he is teaching that eventually love wins throughout eternity.

    • Roger

      Instead of paraphrasing what you think he said, go get the book and quote him. I did provide a quote from the book that contradicts universalism–which is the belief (assertion, not hope) in universal reconciliation.

  • Keith Noren

    This article was posted on another blog (Baptist Life) and I replied there, but thought I would repeat here as well.

    My reply:
    While not jumping to 100% assertion in Universalism, Bell certainly makes strong arguments for Universalism particularly in Chapter 4 (Does God Get What He Wants?).

    Once more Olson is picking out a counterargument that Bell brings up not Bell’s main line of thinking in Olson’s only quote of Bell he gives:
    [quote=”Olson quoting Bell”]“So will those who have said no to God’s love in this life continue to say no in the next? Love demands freedom, and freedom provides that possibility. People take that option now, and we can assume it will be taken in the future.”[/quote]

    Look carefully at the context of when Bell brings up ‘love necessitating freedom’ arguments at 2 places in Chapter 4:
    (1) at bottom of page 103, starting with “Now some specific responses” and ends with “And so on”. Middle of page 104) and
    (2) the quote Olson extracts on Page 114 starting with “Have you ever been in …”
    and ending on page 115 at free to come and go.

    They are both given in the sense of a counterargument which Bell then refutes to some degree.

    True (as I pointed out previously) Bell backpedals a bit on page 115 when he says.
    [quote]Those are the questions, or more accurately, those are the tensions we are free to leave intact [/quote]

    But everywhere else he is pointing towards a universalism with many scriptural references, and not giving arguments for a judgment based salvation (which are also prevalent in the bible).

    I cannot fault the conservative commentators for saying Bell is teaching universalism in this book, because that is the main thrust of chapter 1,2,3,4 (albeit the slight backpedal into the “tension” argument). I do fault them for not considering Bell’s arguments and treating Universalism as if it has cotties.

    Yes I know Bell himself has since denied he was a Universalist. But that came after the guns were already aimed and discharged at him.

    I also recognize Dr. Olson’s general theological acumen. But I also have seen him back down from controversial teachings he has delivered. Dr. Olson had come to my church circa 2003 and taught Open Theism – he clearly was arguing for it enthusiastically. I got the duty to drive him back to the airport and he told me he was “99% sure” in Open Theism. Then I see a more recent book by him (Arminian Theology, 2006) where on page 197-199 he points out serious flaws in Open Theism. But he is certainly allowed to change his mind, theology is tricky. Orthopraxy is what Jesus called for, not orthodoxy.

    It is a crying shame that sharp teachers/theologians have to guard their public theological statements so closely to remain in the “in-crowd” whatever that in-crowd might be and that we have “teachers of the law” like Mohler who are quick to pass judgment publically and loudly. Freedom of religion is far more curtailed in America today by “the church” than any state entity.

    But Olson and Bonney are just giving their positions without loud denounciations. That is fine by me and makes for interesting blogging. And I appreciate DR. Olson’s view that “Longing that all might be saved” is fine and well.

    Added for this audience: I’m a panmillenialist in that I believe in my heart that all will “pan” out in the end though I’m under no allusion to know exactly how given the biblical message is inconclusive/contradictory at spots and I have recieved no clear Word from the Lord.

    But I do believe: Love will Win.

    • Roger

      What church was that–where I allegedly taught open theism and said I was 99% sure of it? I have never been 99% sure of it and I know I have never taught it enthusiastically. You’re exaggerating. I have never been an open theist although I have always said I’m “open to open theism” by which I mean (as I have explained before) that I consider it an evangelical option. That it is an evangelical option is what I am enthusiastically promoting (and have for a long time without change). I think you’re reading Bell’s (and perhaps my) mind. If Bell says he’s not a universalist, why question that? If I say I’ve never been an open theist, why are you questioning that? I don’t appreciate you or anyone else putting words in my mouth. Please don’t.

      • Keith Noren

        The church was Weatherly Heights Baptist Church in Huntsville Alabama. Howard Williams invited you.

        You did say those words to me (99% sure) on the way to the airport after your weekend synposium and that is what I assumed until I read what you said in Arminian Theology. I told Howard about that apparent change in your mind and he said I must have misunderstood you.

        Now if you say you never was 99% sure of OT, I’ll take your word for it. Also I have said you certainly have a right to change you mind. I do not intend to trap you in your words once said – we all often mispeak especially if we are trying to please a hearer (and I was probably trying to get your concurrence with my pet theory – OT). But if I have embarrased you I am very sorry. But I did not make that up.

        As for Bell, the definitive word is also what he says about himself and I know he has said (post-book) that he is not a universalist. But I’ll tell you straight up, that is not how he comes across to me and several of my friends who have read the book. If you have a chance, read those two instances given above that give the ‘love necessitates freedom and freedom means some with not choose to hear the call of God’ argument. They are both counterarguments and not his final word to my understanding. Check it out pages 103-104 starting with “Now on to some specific responses” , and pages 114-115 starting with “Have you ever…”. Midway on Page 115 he says these matters “are tensions we are free to leave fully intact” because we can’t answer them. And I pointed out that backpedaling. But it seems to me that his lines that say “God wants all to be saved” (1 Timothy 2:4) and his implied ‘that God gets what he wants’ , imply universalism. That seems to me to be his strongest and most repetitively given arguments. You as a seasoned theologian certainly have the right to disagree and as layman I barely have that right. But I suspect we both what Rob Bell in our camp and that colors our interpretation of his writings.

        I have read several of your books (some of The Story of Christian Theology, most The Mosiac of Christian Belief, most of God in Dispute – I have the bad habit of reading only the most apparently interesting parts). I have, but have not read Armiminain Theology (other than to look up what it says about Open Theism). I will do so in fairly short order.

        I am an enthusiastic supporter of Open Theism. But as always, I say my stance is somewhat pragmatic (not absloute) given that the mind of God is really beyond our abilities to comprehend. I also like universalism and/or annihilationism for the pragmatic value that I don’t have to picture God as being party to conscious eternal torment. All of these views (Open Theism, Universalism and to a lesser extent Annihilationism) have some biblical support (as to other contrary views, eg Calvinism, Arminianism, hell). I feel free to be pragmatic in theological matters because ultimately it’s not our theology but something more akin to orthopraxy that matters. So whatever leads me to worship God and follow the example of Jesus and the guidance of the Spirit, is what I’m after.


        • Roger

          I know that I have said occasionally that THERE ARE DAYS when I’m almost convinced of the truth of open theism. And then I always add THERE ARE OTHER DAYS when I’m not nearly so convinced of it. I think it’s a shame that people think I or anyone has to take a firm stand and stay there. I’ve always said it’s a process and may take a very long time to come to a conclusion and even then I reserve the right to change my mind.

          • Keith Noren


            Certainty is all things is not always a virtue.

  • Debbie

    Thank you for writing the review. I found your approach to be gracious, a virtue frequently absent from the overall discussion in the blogosphere. I also read the book in its entirety and found some of the criticism to be inaccurate and over-exaggerated. With that being said I felt there were many holes in Rev. Bell’s understanding of death as a consequence of sin. This has a tremendous impact on one’s interpretation of hell, not to mention a dampening effect on elements of the cross and blood of Jesus. I wrote my own thoughts down in a blog and welcome any discussion.

  • Mark

    You wrote:
    “Perhaps the time has come for moderate and progressive evangelicals to say “Farewell neo-fundamentalists.” There’s no point in prolonging the long kiss goodbye. We are two movements now–fundamentalists and neo-fundamentalists, on the one hand, and moderate to progressive evangelicals on the other hand. This painful parting of the ways happened between the movement fundamentalists and the new evangelicals in the 1940s and 1950s. It is happening again (among people who call themselves “evangelicals”) and the time has come to acknowledge it as, for all practical purposes, done. It’s just a matter now of dividing the property.”

    Overall I found your response to Bell informative and helpful, but I was pained on reading your closing comments that suggested a divorce was in order. I, for one, am not ready for this divorce. I understand the great tensions which currently exist across the spectrum of evangelicalism, but I do believe that it would be a mistake to succumb to them. Division has long been the bane of Protestantism, and perhaps especially of evangelicals. It may be true that some of the so-called “neo-fundamentalists” are not interested in any authentic interaction, but certainly there are many that are. I am broadly Reformed, and have great respect for many views of Piper and others, but that does not mean that I endorse all attitudes from this camp toward others, or that I am not interested in engaging those evangelicals who view things differently, among whom I would certainly include you. I know that the very personal nature of some of these negative interactions must make it very compelling to separate, but I would urge you not to endorse such a position. Even if for your own sanity and well-being you cut off interaction with those whom you have found it impossible to deal with (something I can entirely understand on a personal level and would not oppose), for the sake of the church I would not seek to drive the wedge even deeper by encouraging such an approach generally. More division is not what is needed. I don’t want to take sides for or against those whom I consider brothers and sisters in Christ, even if it hurts to be in the same room with some of them.

    • Roger

      As I thought I made clear, the division is already de facto the case and was made by the neo-fundamentalists who have vilified leading postconservative evangelicals and refused overtures to dialogue and attempts to make peace.

      • Mark

        It may de facto be the case for the relationship of postconservative evangelicals to Albert Mohler or John Piper, but that does not make it the case for the many others that wish to maintain unity amidst some diversity, who see brethren on both sides of the imagined fence that crosses a territory in which both ‘sides’ are members of the same family of Christ. There are certainly more than two sides anyway. I’m just asking, respectfully, that you keep your door open. I wouldn’t want to lose you, or John Franke, or any number of others as dialogue partners.

        • Roger

          My door will always remain open to those of good will. I only close it on those who have demonstrated their ill will toward those who disagree with them.

  • Stephen John MARCH

    I have NOT read Bell’s book, (although I will in the next few days as I am writing a Master’s paper on pluralism). I just wanted to affirm Peter Meiderlin’s (AKA Rupertus Meldinius) famous maxim from 1627 in the hight of the 30 years’ war, when Protestants and Catholics were massacring each other for love of Christ.
    In essentials unity,
    In non-essentials liberty,
    In all things charity.
    It made sense 300 years ago and makes sense now. Sadly he was ignored then, perhaps he will be ignored now. But he’s the guy I want to associate with.

  • Steve

    I have read the book.

    I have also noticed that many of Rob’s critics have not critiqued his motives, which seems to be a large part of the discussion on this blog. Rather, they have critiqued his exegesis, misuse of original languages, his approach to biblical theology, and understanding of church history. Where are the biblical/exegetical/historical defenses of Rob Bell’s use of Scripture, original languages, history, etc…? I’d love to read them.


  • Bart Breen

    I’ve read the book and my review is up on my blogsite.

    I appreciate your comments Dr. Olson. Sadly, I concur with you as well, that waiting for an apology or acknowledgement of the slander that’s been done to Bell is not likely to come.

    One of the observations I picked up on in my reading and noted in my review was the presence of a Christus Victor view of the atonement to the exclusion or at least the eclipsing of Penal Substitutionary Atonement. I’m a little surprised (but not all that much) that those wishing to take Bell to task don’t focus on that and provide some substance to their critiques instead of just parroting the “universalist” charge.

    If anything else, what this has shown me is that those in the neo-fundamentalist (I’ve always thought neo-Puritan might be more accurate) know how to wield a label. Looking at the “reviews” being put up at Amazon on the book it remarkable how many 1 – 3 sentence “reviews” are being put up that simple assert the charge of universalism with absolutely no actual reference to the book. It’s been declared from the “popes” of their institution that this is what the book is and that’s apparently good enough for them.

    Thanks for your review and your thoughts on this current illustrative incident. I’m convinced you’re right in many regards that the time has come for many of us, after being told repeatedly that we’re not welcome, not loved and not wanted, to consider that they may just be speaking their truth clearly in that regard.


  • T.C. R

    Thanks for this. I’ve both read and reviewed Rob Bell’s Love Wins. And I’m somewhat pleased that Prof. Olson, you and I have generally some of the same conclusions.

    My review here

  • Emily

    Roger, thank you so much for this fair and honest assessment of Bell’s work. I, too, am grieved at the loss of civil discourse, the speed at which people jump on a bandwagon of undeserved vitriol and the incorrect labeling of a man who does truly intend on sharing God’s love. This is not to say that I am in absolute and full agreement with Bell, but I think his book does incredible things to advance the idea that God truly is love and wants nothing more than to invite us to experience that love and to share it with others.

    I would have liked to have seen him touch a bit more on the nature of sin and how it grieves the father and distances us from him, but he certainly alluded to that more than once. I firmly believe that most who “reviewed” his book must have stopped after his chapter on hell. The end of the book, in no way, affirms universalism and I can only attribute these negative reviews to incomplete readings.

    Thank you for your post. I hope many, many people read it.

  • Mike

    After reading “Love Wins” I’m its clear to me that Rob Bell is a Universalist. That seems to be up for debate. However, consider what he says on page 155: “What Jesus does is declare that he, and he alone, is saving everybody”. So Bell’s a Universalist, don’t hate me for pointing out the obvious. It doesn’t make him the Devil or me either for reveling that that the King has no cloths. I do not subscribe to his understanding/application of scripture because its not accurate to the original text nor context. And he overgeneralizes (or misrepresents) history by taking quotes out of context, Luther’s quote on pg 108 is just one example. Lastly, Bell fails to wrestle with the doctrine of election as do most Armenians. But like it or not Rom 5,8,9 and Eph 1 & 2 are in there. He does seem to get irresistible grace albeit applying it post-mortum is without foundation. So I think post-monderns who are more concerned about how they feel than they are with the substance of truth will love this book.

    • Roger

      You’re not reading carefully or else you don’t know what universalism is. Bell says (paraphrasing) God saves everybody through Jesus Christ but people have the right and freedom to reject that and some do and go to hell by their own choice. That’s not universalism.

  • Andy Sheufelt

    I don’t believe one can be a progressive and be a Christian. Woodrow Wilson and George Bernard Shaw said some incredibly horrific things and they were progressives. Finally, your using of the term “fundamentalist” comes across to me as deragatory. Your response to the first person who replied speaks volumes. Progressives label people and then say labels aren’t important. Labels are important. Imagine if all of the canned foods in the supermarket were devoid of labels? Again, progressive and evangelical to me can’t be but in the same sentence. It is like saying someone is a “communist Christian”. Can’t happen.

    • Roger

      Okay. I’m sure glad that’s just your opinion and have no authority to enforce it! To me, the best evangelical is a progressive evangelical. But you and I may be talking about different meanings of the word “progressive.” You didn’t define it, so I really have no idea what you mean. And from what hat did you pull Wilson and Shaw? Did you know William Jennings Bryan, a great fundamentalist and statesman, was also a progressive? Yes, he was. He was considered very progressive politically even if not theologically. I assume you were speaking politically because you mentioned Wilson. Bryan served as Wilson’s Secretary of State until Wilson took American into WW1. Bryan was against war.

      • JL

        I know this article is long old, but I felt the need to respond to your foolishness. You assert that those who claim that Rob Bell asserts Universalism owe him and apology and then belittle them. Here is your failure, you misunderstand those who claim Rob Bell asserts Universalism, it is almost as Rob Bell said in Love Wins (Pg 73) “Some agony needs agonizing language.” Perhaps to a person such as yourself, the word should be “presents” rather than “asserts”? Quotes Origen in the book, and later on states: “There will be endless opportunities in an endless amount of time for people to say yes to God…even the most ‘depraved sinners’ will eventually give up their resistance and turn to God” (Love Wins, pg 106-107). Such a statement contradicts this passage: “13And the sea gave up the dead which were in it; and death and hell delivered up the dead which were in them: and they were judged every man according to their works. 14And death and hell were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death. 15And whosoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire.” (Revelation 20:13-15, KJV) If you are willing to accept that death will be eternally bound and that no more shall it plague mankind, then one must be willing to accept that some will be damned for all eternity. Rob Bell also makes a statement which displays great shallowness, in an attempt to ready the reader for that statement above he says, “Will all people be saved, or will God not get what God wants? Does this magnificent, mighty, marvelous God fail in the end?” (Love Wins, pg 98). Why is it that we pray, “Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name, thy Kingdom come, on EARTH AS IT IS IN HEAVEN.” God has a will, his heavenly will, his divine and irrefutable mandate. But God also has a plan that encompasses and accounts for human freedom and frailty. Did God desire for Lucifer to fall? For Adam to Fall? For Hitler to massacre millions of innocents? For those personal Hells to afflict those mentioned in Love Wins? I have no desire to go over the entirety of this book and it’s fallicies, one could argue that Bell never explicitly asserts Universalism as a point of fact. However, his words bring the thought so close that some souls cry out in agony and in their agony they use agonizing language. If you truly want an unbiased and fair take on Love Wins, read Erasing Hell by Francis Chan (if you haven’t already). I apologize for the bluntness of this post and I ask that you forgive my harsh words, however; there is nothing I hate more than one who desires the cessation of debate and discussion. Let a man speak in his passion, let his strong stance be conveyed in his words, do not balk or feel indimated by those who misunderstand or do not hold back. Rather, delight in the critisizm of one’s work, so that it may be tempered and grow stronger. You could argue and prance around with the “definitions” you used in your initial post, but you demanded that those “bad evangelicals” owe Bell an apology, while you strutt around and in posts ask for clarification of definitions, if a proper response cannot be made without unscrupulous clarification, did you ever consider that the source was not well clarified enough? Bell’s book is very vague so you have no right to blame those who truly believe in the realness of the Hell that Jesus taught and was understood at the time (Bell was way off with his research on that, if you care to disagree, read Erasing Hell and then come before me). Again, apologies for my harshness and longevity, but I have a passion for these things and I ask that you forgive those who have a similar passion, we do not desire division, but debate. What is civility if not an obstacle to truth 😉 ?

        • rogereolson

          Apparently you have trouble reading a simple book like Bell’s. On pages 106-107 he is discussing various views of the afterlife, judgment and hell; he is not there expressing his own. The section you refer to begins (on page 106) with “And then there are others who ask….” There is no indication there or in that context that this is his own view and elsewhere in the book (as has been made clear here earlier) that he does believe in hell and that God will not force people into salvation/heaven. Actually, I don’t find any clear clue in Love Wins exactly what Bell believes about the possibility of universal salvation. But after the book was published he publicly denied being a universalist. Several people here posted links to that talk at his church.