Al Mohler stirs the Rob Bell pot some more

Al Mohler stirs the Rob Bell pot some more September 12, 2011

The current issue of Southern Seminary Magazine (Summer, 2011) contains an article by SBTS president (and self-appointed guardian of evangelical orthodoxy) Al Mohler entitled “Why So Serious? Taking the Gospel Seriously Demands Taking Hell Seriously” (pp. 26-30).  If you want to read it (to check my response here) I’m sure you can find it online somewhere.  I have a hard copy.

In my opinion, this article by Mohler, where he takes on a variety of alleged evangelical defections from historic Christian orthodoxy (“confessional evangelicalism”), is an excellent illustration of why I say there are now two evangelicalisms  There I do not find any echo of the broad, generous orthodoxy (a phrase not coined by Brian McLaren but by Hans Frei and used frequently by evangelical theologian Donald Bloesch) of the evangelicalism in which I was raised.  Instead, I hear loud echoes of the fundamentalism that harassed mainstream evangelicals during the emergence of the latter movement post-WW2.

Toward the article’s end Mohler says “Thus, when we have a conversation like this, we are really saying to the world and to the larger community of Christians that if anything we have said or affirmed is in any way sub-biblical, aberrant or can be improved in how we are saying it, we hope people will love us enough to tell us.” (p. 30)

So, Mohler invites correction.  This post is intended to speak truth with love and take him up on his invitation.

Near the article’s beginning Mohler writes “Actually, arguments for universalism and the denial of hell such as those made in Bell’s Love Wins–are anything but new.” (p. 28)  Throughout the article Mohler simply assumes that everyone knows that Bell embraced universalism and denied hell in Love Wins.  Really?  He cites no quotations or page numbers from the book to support that claim.  The claim is certainly (at least) controversial; if he wants people to believe with him that Bell denies hell and embraces universalism he needs to cite page numbers or offer quotations.

Mohler did this to me once.  So I know this it (i.e., misrepresenting others’ views) happens.  I believe it happens in the article in question here.  But let me offer my own experience as an example.  In a book published by Crossway entitled A Confessing Theology for Postmodern Times Mohler wrote of me that “Olson seems to agree with postliberals that the biblical narrative is ‘history-like’ rather than history” (pp. 143-144).  He cited as justification for that claim my article “Back to the Bible (Almost): Why Yale Postliberal Theologians Deserve an Evangelical Hearing” (Christianity Today, May 20, 1996).

In fact, one strongly made point of my article about postliberal theology is its ambiguity about the historicity of the Bible.  I related a story there about leaving a church because the pastor revealed that he did not think it mattered whether biblical stories had any historical basis.  (The pastor said he thought all that matters is the transforming power of the stories.)  My article made abundantly clear that I think postliberals need to come clean more clearly about the historicity of, for example, the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Mohler’s published claim about me was wholly unjustified by anything I had written in that article or elsewhere.

So I wrote him a letter pointing out his error.  He wrote back apologizing but half defending his claim based on my alleged postmodern proclivities.  I accepted his apology, but wrote to the book’s publisher about the matter as Mohler’s misrepresentation of my views could damage institutions where I taught then and teach now.  The publisher withdrew the book from publication.  I was satisfied.  However, I’m sure some damage was already done (in people’s perceptions of my theology).

Sometime later, Mohler’s colleague Russell Moore wrote a piece for the Baptist Press (disseminated to many Southern Baptist-related state newspapers) where he wrote about me that “Olson, who calls himself ‘open to open theism,’ denies he is an open theist, but calls the new view more biblical than the traditional orthodox view of God as all-knowing, all-powerful and unchanging.” (“Cooperative Baptists, Texas partners ponder whether God knows the future,” July, 2002)

Nowhere have I ever said or written the statement attributed to me by Moore in that article.  It totally misrepresents my view.  If I thought that, then I would be an open theist.  When I e-mailed Moore about it and asked for his citation of a source (in my writing or speaking) he responded by claiming it was justified by something I wrote in a review of Greg Boyd’s book The God of the Possible at  What he said I wrote that justified his statement was that the view of God presented in God of the Possible is more biblical than the caricatures of it often presented by open theism’s critics.  Huh?

Look at those two statements carefully and compare them.  I wrote that open theism, as presented in God of the Possible, is more biblical than the caricatures of open theism often presented by its critics.  I did NOT say it is more biblical than the traditional view of God.

I asked Moore to retract what he wrote and he refused.

So, when I read Mohler’s article about Bell’s book in Southern Seminary Magazine, I’m not especially surprised to read misrepresentation of Bell’s theology in that book.  I  have read the book twice and still have not found any statement of Bell’s own belief (as opposed to statements about others’ beliefs) that clearly embraces universalism or clearly denies hell.

Later in Mohler’s article he writes “With Love Wins, Bell moves solidly within the world of Protestant Liberalism.  His message is a form of liberalism arriving late on the scene.” (p. 28)  Later in the article, Mohler quotes C. S. Lewis approvingly (p. 29)–as if Lewis was orthodox by Mohler’s standards.  In fact, however, anyone who has read The Great Divorce knows that Bell’s view of hell and Lewis’ are very similar if not identical (viz., that hell’s door is locked on the inside).

I can say with confidence that nothing Bell has published or said yet (that I am aware of) puts him “solidly” within the world of Protestant Liberalism.  Such a claim smacks of fundamentalism–where everyone but they are liberals.

Elsewhere in the article Mohler decries “evangelicals promoting and teaching concepts such as unversalism, inclusivism, postmortem evangelism, conditional immortality and annihilationism.” (p. 28)  It would be helpful if he named some names.  Which evangelicals promote or teach universalism?  None that are influential.  What does Mohler have to say about Billy Graham who clearly and unequivocally embraced inclusivism?  (I have provided the proof of that here before and it’s easy to find on the internet.)  What does he have to say about the fact that when the National Association of Evangelicals formed in 1941/1942 a denomination that explicitly teaches annihilationism was a founding member of the organization (the Advent Christian Church) and is still a member in good standing of the NAE?  What does he have to say about John Stott embracing annihilationism?  Are all these examples of evangelical accommodation to modernity as he suggests?  I don’t think so.

Toward the end of his article Mohler writes about how God’s love must be interpreted as compatible with retributive justice.  He accuses some evangelicals of teaching an unscriptural , sentimental notion of God’s love.  Really?  Who?  And what does he have to say about his own high Calvinist version of God’s love that is compatible with God predestining individuals to eternal suffering and then rendering it certain that they will sin and thereby “deserve” hell?  As John Wesley (probably not a good evangelical by Mohler’s judgment) said “Such a ‘love’ makes the blood run cold.”

This kind of diatribe against fellow evangelicals is uncharitable at best.  Lacking documentation and citations to support such controversial claims makes it also, in my opinion, unscholarly.

Mohler calls his article a “conversation.”  That’s a misnomer.  There’s nothing in it that invites dialogue except that one statement about being open to correction.  I am not certain how seriously that is meant.  In my opinion, Mohler owes Bell an apology.  The article is more like a diatribe than a conversation–at least not with Bell.  It’s only part of a conversation that goes on among like-minded “confessional evangelicals” that seem better to deserve the appellation “neo-fundamentalists” in my estimation.

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  • Mike Reid
  • Brian

    Prevenient grace is the idea that Jesus’ death on the cross puts everybody at a neutral state. Therefore, people can have the choice to choose Jesus as Lord and Savior? I’m not saying that prevenient grace is where the individual saves themselves, but prevenient grace has Christ doing away or replacing Adam’s work of sin right? Please let me know if I’m misinformed. Also, if prevenient grace is true, then is inclusivism acceptable to a lot (or some) of Arminians? If the answer is yes, how do we view the role of other religions?

    • rogereolson

      In brief, prevenient grace is the work of the Holy Spirit through the Word of God overcoming the bondage of the will so that the sinner can make a choice to accept God’s grace. But it is resistible.

  • Thanks, as usual, Dr. Olson, for another excellent article. I finished Bell’s book and still can’t figure out what book the early reviewers read to come to the conclusions they did. I may or may not be emblematic of my generation, (I’ll have to do some surveying), but I stopped listening or caring about anything Mohler said some time ago. I just don’t think he holds the same sway with people outside of his generation. In fact, these days the only times I hear his name are when someone on Twitter is rolling their eyes at something he’s said. I hope that’s even more widespread than I think it is.

  • I found this post about Al Mohler and his recent article fascinating. As described in your post, Mohler is behaving like a committed postmodernist. If I understand the major points of postmodern thought — and I may not have it straight — narrative is king and each of us is busy selling our own narrative in order to achieve power over others. Under that postmodern model, it is not necessary to have any facts or proof; all you need to do is assert your own beliefs as if they were facts beyond dispute. In Mohler-world the things he claims about you or Rob Bell are a good as gold.

    By requesting footnotes, page numbers and verifiable quotations of what you (or Bell) actually said, you are trying to escape from Mohler-world and get back to solid ground where facts may be verified in reality by several observers. Mohler is bound to resist that because he is only king of Mohler-world, though it seems he is trying to take more power over evangelicals in the real world. Maybe he can do that by saying (implicitly) that others are not as pure as he is in defending the gospel.

    In my view, twisting the facts is contrary to what Jesus taught. If Mohler wishes to continue his pogrom against Rob Bell and other evangelicals who don’t want to live in Mohler-world and acknowledge him as their king, then he should demonstrate his scholarship. Mere claims presented as undisputed facts are unworthy of allegiance.


    • rogereolson

      I tend to agree with all that you say. The problem is that Mohler-world is growing exponentially. Look at the acclaim (with some criticism) he received in Christianity Today as “the Reformer.” Reformer of what? And why is it that the loudest people who scare people the most (into thinking liberalism is lurking around every corner) get so much attention? Why do people believe Al and people like him have so much credibility? I like your turning-of-the-tables approach, but not all postmoderns are that extreme. Like evangelicalism, I think there are two postmodernisms: extreme pragmatism (Rorty) and non-foundationalism (McIntyre).

      • C. Ehrlich

        I wonder why Mohler’s influence doesn’t do more to disturb even the people who tend to agree with Mohler’s general views. The Israelites have their Moses, the Catholics have their Pope, and the Baptists have their Mohler. Presumably there are sociological reasons for this sort of pattern; I’d just like to understand them better.

        • rogereolson

          Ouch! As Baptist I reject those comparisons! Baptists have nothing even resembling a pope. The only authority Mohler or any other Baptist has is given by people who believe in his credibility. He has no authority or power to impose anything on anyone outside SBTS.

          • I thought this was telling of Mohler’s possible motivation (from the article)…

            Rob Bell is a different story, however. He has a tremendous influence, especially with younger evangelicals, which is why we must talk about this. We must talk about this because we are very concerned about the loss of the Gospel – not just getting a doctrine wrong, but the loss of the Gospel itself.

            Sure, there’s no “Baptist Pope.” But, Mohler continually fashions himself as the magisterium for evangelicals. He doesn’t intend to let anyone like Bell encroach upon his self-perceived authoritative theological turf. This isn’t about theology for Mohler: it’s about influence.

          • Nick

            Lay people confess/pray through the priest.
            The priest goes through the Bishop.
            The Bishop goes through the Cardinal.
            The Cardinal goes to the Pope.
            And the Pope goes straight to God.

            Does that make the Pope a Baptist? 🙂

          • rogereolson

            Ah! Wonderful. Benedict XVI a Baptist. Who will tell him? 🙂

      • Thanks for the help on postmodernism. My friend and pastor Bruce B. Miller has told me that the milder forms have a useful critique of modernism.

        As to Mohler’s popularity, he fits nicely into the appalling trend toward predicting terrible things to come which can be delayed if you send money to their cause or vocally support it. That political fear-mongering is going on 24/7 on cable channels, and many evangelicals have fallen for it hook, line and sinker. People like Mohler adapt the approach to rally conservative Christians to their banner, or so it appears to me.

        I’m sure Mohler stands against some things that deserve opposition, but — as you have pointed out — he and his clones also try to stamp out any further legitimate development of theology. The seem to believe that every good idea about theology has long ago been discovered, and they have the only key to those treasures. That’s crazy!

        Even within the restrictive confines of Calvinism, some really good work is being done. I’m thinking of Ten Myths About Calvinism, which you recommended, as well as Salvation and Sovereignty (a nice try that falls short of convincing me).


      • Hi Roger. You said, “Like evangelicalism, I think there are two postmodernisms: extreme pragmatism (Rorty) and non-foundationalism (McIntyre).”
        I would really like to see an article describing the difference. I find that a lot of young people feel that pomo is a reliable guide for deconstructing fundamentalism, colonialism, patriarchy etc. But then use it as a way to attack any ethical or moral claim that is put on them. Certainly we need to expose Mohler and anyone else who supports and sustains ego driven or oppressive spiritualities. But we also need affirmations of faith too. Do you see this problem in your students?

        • rogereolson

          My late friend Stan Grenz never tired of making this distinction in his writings (e.g., Beyond Foundationalism).

  • Roger,

    Are you aware that Bell’s Mars Hill Bible Church is so far off-track that co-teaching pastor Shane Hipps is proud they offered communion to a practicing Muslim yesterday:

    • rogereolson

      No. I’m only talking about Bell’s book Love Wins. What else Bell has done or does is not relevant to my complaint about Mohler’s treatment of the book.

      • Jan

        It may not say anything directly about Rob Bell’s book….but what goes on at the church he is the shepherd of…speaks alot about Rob Bell….and his credibility.

        • Bart Breen

          I’d look for some other corraborating sources for that accusation about Bell. Look more closely at the site that makes the claim. It’s a “heresy hunter” type “ministry” that operates on similar premises to Mohler. It’s not more credible as a source for news as a political radio commentator is a journalist.

          These type of sites. like Mohler and company, circle back to one another to confirm the “facts” they throw out which only further serve to sensationalize their claims and confirm what they already believe to be true about anyone who isn’t exactly like them.

          • actually, it’s Ken silva’s own heresy hunting website…

    • Beakerj

      Um, when you read that link it posts tweets that quite clearly say that she was invited to the Communion table…but that she didn’t take it for theological reasons. Are you sure this wasn’t more of a euphemism for telling/showing her that Christ’s mercy was open to her too, i.e just because she’s a Muslim doesn’t mean Christ has shut the door to her & she can come to him if she wants?

  • And what does he have to say about his own high Calvinist version of God’s love that is compatible with God predestining individuals to eternal suffering and then rendering it certain that they will sin and thereby “deserve” hell?

    Now that’s hitting the nail on the head, right there! That notion right there is the hermeneutical grid by which he interprets all of life, IMO.

  • Thank you for your post. I have found a similar treatment of Rob Bell among many evangelicals, typically in the Reformed tradition. I think it is no coincidence that with the dismissal of several prominent seminary and college professors from various schools in the wake of the Emergent Church backlash is leading to such a reaction by various evangelicals which, I might add, I would no longer label evangelical, but simply neo-fundamentalist. I attended a Christian liberal arts college out west where I was taught how faith and reason interact in all areas of life and various disciplines (See Arthur Holmes, The Idea of a Christian College). I wasn’t introduced to the Reformed tradition, at least a fair hearing of it, until I attended seminary at Gordon-Conwell. I had read quite a bit of N.T. Wright from college because the historical Jesus was the hot topic of the day and the doctrine of justification was heating up in my early years of seminary. I learned in seminary that N.T. Wright was a dangerous fellow that many would not dare read or care to hear, and that John Piper has much better ‘stuff’ than him. It was curious to me because precisely the opposite was occurring at my undergrad. One time, N.T. Wright came and spoke on John’s gospel, lecturing for the better part of a day. Leaving the lecture, I commented to someone that I thought it was wonderful that they brought in such a profound scholar to speak and lecture. Someone responded to my comment, a student, saying they ‘couldn’t believe they would let that heretic come’ and explained that they were severely disappointed with the seminary for allowing such a horrible thing to happen. This student was Reformed and her sentiments were shared by many other Reformed students on campus, though some were pleased to hear N.T. Wright despite ardently disagreeing with him on some things (i.e. justification and the central focus of Paul’s theology). I have recently heard that my undergrad has been forcing the resignations of various professors in light of various interpretations of the historicity of Adam and Eve, and creation as a whole.

    Now, I don’t think it is a far-fetched think that you conclude in saying ‘neo-fundamentalist’ and I might even go as far to say that ‘neo-Reformed’ is simply another way of saying the former. Regardless of titles, there is a clear problem and a lot of heretic-witch-hunting going on in evangelicalism today. I think evangelical scholars would do a great service to evangelicalism and any Christian book section in a book store if they were to write about Christian civility and how to read works which are contrary to the reader’s views, and the benefits of it. I found it amazing that so many evangelicals were writing all manner of things in blogs, social media, magazines, and being quoted in the press about Rob Bell’s book and their generally heated opinion towards it. It is interesting that I have spoken with many and read some reviews, and found that there is a large number among them collectively who have not read his book or at least not read all of it. Does this mean that Christian ethics among “scholars” are to be discarded whenever someone might say something different? It is astonishing the number of blogs, reviews, books, and other things which give you their opinion of Rob Bell, yet, seem to be less concerned with the book. I have read Bell and seen some of his popular videos. He is a gifted communicator for younger, modern types, but often he is unclear on some things and on occasion I believe that is intentional. In his book Love Wins, he asks many questions as anyone will tell you and he leads the reader towards emotional based conclusions, but he never really seems to conclude in my opinion. He seems to simply want to offer up an idea for discussion and critique those who claim they know who is going to Hell. He seems to rather be critiquing the judgment factor of who goes and who doesn’t when in the court of the individual as opposed to the deconstructing of a historically orthodox understanding of Hell. I found Francis Chan’s book to be a welcomed, gracious response to Rob Bell’s book Love Wins amid the storm to the contrary.

    I wrote a small piece on the importance of Christian civility on my own blog, so I will not get into that here. I do think this is a great post, but at the same time I think it would be good to move beyond the titles and move more towards writing in magazines and books to the audience of the evangelical world that this sort of poor scholarship and this new heretic-hunting thing bug that is going around is not a good thing, and not an evangelical thing. John Stott, God bless him, would agree. Thanks again for your post. -blessings

    • Steven Porter

      You might find Richard Mouw’s recent book promoting civility to be what your heart desires. Mouw is a theological ethicist from the Reformed tradition and president of Fuller Seminary. Not surprisingly, he also has defended Rob Bell as a representative of a generous rather than “stingy” orthodoxy.

  • Jackson Baer

    The Bible does not teach eternal punishment. God’s love and mercy endures forever. Does it really endure forever or only in this life? How can it be Good News if it doesn’t translate to the afterlife?

    1 Timothy 4:10- This is why we work hard and continue to struggle, for our hope is in the living God, who is the Savior of all people and particularly of all believers.

    Also see 1 Timothy 2:3-6; Titus 2:11; Philippians 2:9-11

  • Justin B.

    Thanks for writing this. I think Mohler is only one of several people who owe Bell an apology for misrepresenting his views.

  • I too have read Love Wins twice. I am in a men’s breakfast Bible study. Except we must all be lost liberals because we don’t do what is traditionally thought of as “Bible Study.” We read a book, a chapter a week, by a Christian author on a Christian topic, discuss what the author says, examine what Biblical support the author draws upon, and consider how our lives might need to change or adjust given what we have learned. Two month’s ago I suggested Love Wins, and the guys agreed. Turns out we have had some great discussions. Bell asks lots of questions. He provokes thought about ways our culture and beliefs may have guided our understandings of crucial Biblical passages about heaven, the kingdom of God, hell, forever, eternity, and words used in the Bible that get translated as these words. Not sure what it would mean to read the Bible with no cultural biases. But it is good to unmask some of them. I think Bell does that in a way meant to make us better.

    Some of the interesting disucssion we have had has been where a member of the group relates what their spouse or friend has said about Love Wins. And in every case (there have been at least a dozen) none of those folks have favorable things to say of the book, and none of them have read it!

    I do not see Bell as endorsing “No Hell.” Indeed, he seems to strongly endorse the view that there is Hell, and it is all around us, that sometimes we participate in and contribute to the Kingdom of Heaven, and sometimes to Hell. Hell is more real, it seems to me, in Bell’s view than in the view that it is some other place of future eternal torment.

    Nor do I see Bell endorsing universalism. I suspect that he, like me, HOPES all people come to submit to God’s reign. Yet he also seems to believe that God loves everyone enough to allow them to make their own decisions. And further, that a decision now is not a decision for all eternity. He reports that at the end of Revelation, the gates of the new Jerusalem are always open. From that he suggests (but does not assert) that even then we will be free to come into the kingdom or, once there, to leave, to go outside of God’s reign.

    Finally, one service that I have received from Love Wins is the telling of the variety of things in the Bible people are told when they ask questions about what it takes to be part of God’s kingdom (in late-20th C evangelicalese, “to get into heaven”). None are given the four spiritual laws, none are given the Romans’ road, most are not told at all what beliefs they need to have. There are times when reading Love Wins where it is as if Bell says ‘here is what Jesus said or did, and here is what contemporary Christians say or do; should we believe that Jesus was a failure as a Christian?’

  • Tim Reisdorf
  • Russ

    Hi. Here’s 2 blogs I recently came across that may “stir the pot some more”…
    one is from Peter Rollins who made an important distinction between a Conservative and a Radical – that I liked a lot.

    And the other is from Justin Taylors interview by Rachel Evans – who I thot skipped lightly by the many distinctions you’ve been writting about re God, faith, sin, salvation, destiny, heaven, hell, etc.

    Basically, it seems that neo-evangelicals (or are they neo-Reformed?) paint with broad brushes to the exclusion of Scriptural truths in deference to their own dogmatic spirit as you have well observed.

    • rogereolson

      I think perhaps you meant “neo-fundamentalists” rather than “neo-evangelicals?”

      • Russ

        what’s the short definitions of all 3 groups again? (neo-evangelicals, neo-Reformed, neo-fundamentalists).

        • rogereolson

          I don’t have time to do that right now, right here. But “neo-evangelical” is a label that was coined and used by fundamentalists such as Carl McIntire for the post-fundamentalist evangelicals of the National Association of Evangelicals (which he refused to join because Pentecostals were included!). Apparently (as some have pointed out here before) some early post-fundamentalist evangelicals (Ockenga?) accepted the label and used it for themselves in the 1940s. Later, however, all postfundamentalist evangelicals (I’m not sure whether to use the hyphen or not!) dropped the “neo-.”

      • Dan Fugett

        I find myself a little confused by this particular thread. It appears you are using this forum as an opportunity to blast a person who said something against Rob Bell. Is there anything wrong with finding cause for great alarm with the theology of a person who has relegated the virgin birth to a nonessential doctrine that Chritianity could do quite fine if it were proven false? I read that for myself.

        I was actually pointed to your site by a respected “Calvinist” doctoral theologian who recommended your works as a good scholarly representation of Armininanism. I hope he was right because this particular subsite appeared to be just blasting a man you dont like because he, very unjustly, misrepresented you. Did I miss seomthing?

        Dan Fugett

        • rogereolson

          Yes, you did. There’s a lot more to it than that.

  • Russ

    I would like to make one last observation… postmodernistic theology has confronted Evangelic theology on several fronts: that Evangelics become more authentic with their broader Christian heritage; more engaged with minority theologies and suppressed Christian voices; more accepting and embracing of the richness of plurality within Christianity’s global church groups; and more willing to show an epistemic humility when doing the work of hermeneutics and theology.

    Furthermore, Evangelic Christianity has been give a tremendous advantage by postmodernistic Christianity’s pronounced objectives of bringing to an end evangelicalism’s absorption of modernity which needed destroying and replacement in its egoistic Age of Rationalism; its entitlement attitudes ahead all other Christian groups; its oppressive posturings proclaiming restrictive fiats and dogmas in condemnation upon non-Calvinistic brethren; its over-confident proclamations of creedal and systematic propositions in apprehension of the Divine personage and mystery; and, its willingness to embrace a form of cultural supremacy that has led to idolatry among Evangelic Christians in this Age of Enlightenment known as Modernity.

    Accordingly, Postmodernism has restored a rightful and necessary re-balancing to the Age of Modernity as the Church enters into a new era in the 21st Century perhaps to be known as the “Age of Authenticity” replacing both modernity and postmodernity as their cultural equivalents.

    Lastly, I would note that though Emergent Christians may have embraced postmodernism, they are not, however, fully defined by postmodernism. Rather, a broader definition of Emergent Christianity would be that of forward-looking Christians wishing to leave Evangelistic modernity and are actively exploring fuller expressions of the God and their relation to the Divine, and to one another, in the 21st Century.

  • K Gray

    “And what does he have to say about his own high Calvinist version of God’s love that is compatible with God predestining individuals to eternal suffering and then rendering it certain that they will sin and thereby “deserve” hell?”

    That’s quite a word bomb. A very grave accusation against Al Mohler. Would he agree with your interpretation of his beliefs? All one can do is ask.

    • rogereolson

      He claims five point Calvinism as his theology. What I wrote is a transcript of five point Calvinism. I used language very carefully. I didn’t say he believes God “causes” them to sin–language many five point Calvinists object to. But that God renders all things certain is a necessary part of high Calvinism. I have read numerous books by them and would be shocked to discover that Mohler, while claiming to be a five points Calvinist, would disagree with what I wrote. Calvin certain agreed with it. Read the Institutes. Or just read Against Calvinism when it is published (about a month from now) with numerous quotations from Calvin and leading Calvinist theologians past and present.

      • K Gray

        You say Al Mohler’s views are “compatible with” belief that God ensures certain people sin and thereby deserve hell.

        Al Mohler says Rob Bell in Love Wins presents “arguments for” universalism and denial of hell.

        It’s just interesting to think about how theologians talk about one another’s writings.

        • rogereolson

          I put it that way because I have never read a clear and unequivocal statement by Mohler to that effect. However, he proudly proclaims himself a five point Calvinist and five point Calvinism necessarily includes the belief that God ensures certain people (e.g., Adam) will sin and thereby (his descendents if not Adam himself) deserve hell and will go there. I would be shocked to find out that Mohler doesn’t believe that and, if that were the case, I would have to question whether he really is a five point Calvinist as he says.

          • K Gray

            That’s what interests me.

            You have never read a clear and unequivocal statement by Mohler to that effect, but you would be shocked if he doesn’t believe what you’ve stated.

            But: you say Bell has never clearly and unequivocally denied hell or embraced universalism, so anyone who says Bell presented “arguments for” those ideas is misrepresenting.

            Very different standards. The other fluctuating standard is civility.

          • rogereolson

            No, there’s a big difference. Al Mohler says he is a five point Calvinist. Every other five point Calvinist believes what I said. Rob Bell says he is not a universalist and has not written anything that would contradict that. The analogy would only work if Bell said he is a universalist and then said things no other universalist has ever said. Again, you’re in my house, so to speak. Why do you come to my house to heckle me? Why should I put up with it? What’s your motive? Is it anything truly constructive?

  • Richard

    Not terribly surprising. Interesting that he thinks the Gospel hinges on God saving us from hell rather than sin and death though.

  • Why would it “be helpful if he named some names”? Even if Mohler is 100% wrong, he’s arguing against concepts with which he disagrees, not people. If he “names names” and I have an affinity for the person he named, I am wont to simply defend that person without any consideration of the ideas.

    • rogereolson

      Because he leaves the impression that evangelicalism is riddled with heretics without naming a single one (except Rob Bell). I think that’s asinine.

      • Ah, “helpful” in the sense that his asininity could be refuted more easily.

  • Yet another error:
    “In Defense of Lifting Up Jesus: Will You Stand in the Gap With Me? ” by Wanda Treadway.

    “Pastor Rob Bell’s book Love Wins compares the Jesus story, an essential truth of the Christian faith, as being ‘misguided and toxic,’ claiming the truth surrounding the birth and life of Jesus is a myth,” Treadway says. “Those words compelled me to write my own book.”

    Do people just not know how to read anymore?

    • rogereolson

      Apparently not. Or they are being disingenuous for propaganda purposes.

  • Ivan A. Rogers

    I offered a complimentary copy of my book “Judas Iscariot Revisited and Restored” to a Jehovah Witness leader in Iowa. He refused to accept it, saying, “We are not permitted to read any religious literature that is not approved by the Watchtower Society.” May I suggest that many (if not most) evangelicals are also conditioned to refuse to read anything that does not conform to the ‘party line’ or to their gurus — like Mohler. It is an obvious fact that most of the evangelical fire-storm against Rob Bell’s ‘LOVE WINS’ was generated by people who hadn’t read the book. Evangelicals will fight like hell to defend hell.

    Now, let’s quit pussyfooting around the BIG issue. It is undeniable that Bell does not believe in the traditional hell of eternal conscious torture. So, what’s the big deal? The big deal (for Mohler) is that if there is no hell of torture, then God has hundreds of billions of souls on his hands and no place to put them — except heaven! Since Mohler and most evangelicals don’t believe in annihilation, the ONLY thing left is (gasp!) the salvation of all humanity and we evangelicals will never accept that much grace on God’s part — or will we?

  • nathan

    Dr. Olson:

    You are a kind and gracious man and that’s why you use the word “misrepresentation” instead of “lies”. But lying it is. Very sad.

    Thank you for being a consistent, gracious voice here.

  • Myron

    While I have not read “Love Wins” (and therefore will not speak for/against UNTIL I have read it), I have never been a fan of his. However, I am alarmed about how the Neo-Reformed have leveraged “Love Wins” in order to hold up their own house of cards. I graduated from a Reformed-leaning seminary, and I watched the same thing happen as the neo-Reformed salivated over some of the shortcomings of Willow Creek (to Willow’s credit, made public by their own “Reveal” study). For them, Willow Creek’s (very public) missteps amounted to more evidence of a need of their brand of neo-Reformation. Basically, the Neo-Reformed are reacting to Bell in the same way: “Bell’s wrongs proves that we’re right!” I think that the Neo-Reformed simply need something to “reform” in order to legitimize their existence, thus playing in to the typical Protestant tendency towards anachronism (I say this as an evangelical Protestant). While critiquing Bell when and where he drifts from historic orthodoxy is called for (with the right motives), merely using his missteps to legitimize one’s own enterprise is not wise.
    Moreover, the Neo-Reformed cries concerning Bell’s departure from historic orthodoxy are a bit problematic when you consider that Calvinistic doctrines such as limited/particular atonement and regeneration before salvation run counter to historic orthodoxy (in addition to very clear passages of Scripture). Though I in no way agree with other Calvinist doctrines, I can at least understand how Calvinists derive those from the Word (though I ultimately disagree with their interpretations). But limited/particular atonement and regeneration before salvation are utterly bereft of Scriptural support and are clear departures from historic orthodoxy (try ALL of the pre-Augustinian church fathers and most of the church from Augustine to Calvin–in addition to much of the global church today). Mohler may want to tone down his rhetoric and sweep around his own front door before sweeping around Bell’s (or anyone else’s).

  • mike

    I would have to say that from reading some of robs other books and watching his nooma series that he is very “new agish” (if that’s a term) and from his interviews he doesn’t seem to defend the universalist or hell denying claims very well

    That being said I do believe he definitely embraces both

    I know this is becoming an increasingly (though not new) trend among many groups and people such as the free believers network, darin hufford, steve mcvey, jon zens and many other arising leaders in the new forms of “christianity”

    • rogereolson

      Wow. I just really be out of it. I’ve never heard of any of those people (except Rob Bell). I’m not sure how much “arising leaders” they can be if I’ve never even heard of them. I pay pretty close attention to the contemporary theological scene. What’s your evidence that Bell is a universalist? Can you quote him to that effect? I have never seen or heard anything directly from his pen or mouth that justifies the claim that he is a universalist and I have heard one youtube clip of him talking at his church (after Love Wins was published) denying he is a universalist.

      • Russ

        I listen to Rob regularly in the pulpit and though he has a very wide platform for seeking anyone who wishes to hear of Jesus, he is very specific at all times and in all instances that we are to come through Jesus to God and thereby into God’s kingdom. He tries to but as few barriers as possible to any seekers (which includes an open table of communion denied to none; however, he will explain to believers from time to time the linkage of communion to faith in Christ). Furthermore, he doesn’t pretend to be God and will question how Christians can judge a person’s salvation so lightly on the basis of oet dogmas. This of course gets conservatives riled up and throwing accusations about hell, universalism, etc. Whenever Rob preachers about hell you listen in fear and trembling it is so powerful. So the charges by and large are baseless but Rob does expose himself time and again to those charges because of the many different angles he’ll present Jesus in light of Calvinistic et al doctrines. Still, he is clear, that God through Jesus has made a way for everyman, woman and child to come to himself and will not be denied his Son’s atoning victory despite sin, death, world, hell and Satan.

        • rogereolson

          I would appreciate it if you would elaborate a bit on that reference to Rob Bell and Calvinism.

          • Russ

            Re Rob and Calvinism – it’s not unlike what you have been writing about these past many months. I don’t sense much difference.

            It should also be known that he took his undergraduate at Wheaton and his graduate work at Fuller. Which would explain the emergent emphasis.

            Too, his theology is a work-in-process (but who’s isn’t?!) and I’ve noticed quite a significant refinement the past 4 years from his first 8 years – its like night-and- day. His focus is sharper and his objectives are clearer, and I think in large measure to the vitriol that he has received from straightlined, dogmatic evangelicalism.

            Lastly, I don’t find him wandering up-and-down the theological allyways as much anymore. But, then again, his training was more in ministry than it was in biblical exegesis, so I don’t hold him as highly accountable as I would a studied theologian. Still, he has made steady progress in this area while lessening his rhetoric that derived from feeling smothered by conservative dogmas.

            It’s been a provocative journey, fraught with the lack of clarity gained only by hindsight 12 years later. It makes more sense now than it did then when it felt sectarian at times. But then again, emergent Christianity was a nebulous unknown then, voiced only by a few, unlike today when there are many more voices lending stronger arguments and reflections based upon sounder exegesis and hermenuetic. Thanks.

  • Scott Gay

    My entry into Christianity involved the reading of John Wesley’s “Standard Fifty-Two Sermons” in my bedroom( it was the 250th anniversary of his Aldersgate experience, and hence a re-publishing). Particularly two sermons were instrumental in my conversion- “The Almost Christian” and “The Cure of Evil Speaking” Bottom line- after listing many “Christian” practices, he asks in the first sermon- “can you sincerely do all these things and still be but almost a Christian- he and I knew that you could. In the second sermon Wesley defines evil speaking, asks you to notice how often it is employed, asks you to notice where it is employed, asks you if you employ it, asks you to notice if you can stop, and asks you if you would like to know how to stop. I in no way enter this testimony to malign the neo-reformed in any way as to their salvation or that they are evil speakers. But after my repentance and glorious entrance into a relationship with our Lord, which Wesley’s book guided me, my first “lesson” in Christianity was in actively listening. That is, the lessons about evil-speaking are lessons in what is coming out of your mouth from your heart. That leads directly to an experience of truly listening to others. Not just waiting for your turn to inject what you think, but to take in what the other is saying. This lesson involves all sorts of lessons in questions, body-language, replies, many, many nuances. There is a graciousness to actively listening. This is where my experiences with the neo-reformed are agonizing.

  • I am a Christian universalist (see and ). I don’t know what’s in Rob Bell’s heart, but I’ve read LOVE WINS (quite carefully looking for material relevant to whether he’s teaching universalism), and he doesn’t teach universalism in that book.

    I can see how people might come to suspect from what he writes that in his heart he leans toward universalism. He presents universalist thinking, not as his own view, but as a view that some Christians hold. And at times he presents the thinking in a fairly compelling fashion.

    But he himself seems to think that it all comes down to whether everyone will freely accept Christ, and he doesn’t seem to take the positive position that everyone will.

  • Russ

    Just came across this and thot to pass it along per earlier discussion (Carl Henry is mentioned for one) –

    “Rich Mouw gave a great welcome address to Fuller’s incoming students. It outlines where Fuller Theological Seminary came from, what “evangelical” might mean as a label for non-fundamentalist, even non-conservative Christians.” – J.R. Daniel Kirk

    Richard Mouw’s New Student’s 2011 Convocation Address –

    • rogereolson

      I know Rich Mouw and respect him very much. But for some reason he doesn’t like me. Maybe it has something to do with my outspoken Arminianism? I don’t know. Once, some years ago, he wrote a brief article in Books & Culture criticizing my label “postconservative evangelical.” He called for me/us to drop the “post” and just be conservative evangelicals. I don’t think he fully grasps what “conservative evangelical” has come to mean in most of American evangelicalism. And I don’t think he ever really understood what I mean by “postconservative.” I tried to explain it to him at a conference we both attended at Beeson Divinity School, but I had the feeling he wasn’t even listening to me.

      • Russ

        Dr. Mouw was at Mars Hill early this summer and I could see where his mind drifts (whether a personality thing or an age thing, I don’t know). But I think you’re right in that your positions are quite similar. Thus my comment earlier re Rob’s de-Calvinalization of the bible.

        Mouw also gave a very similar speech then, as he did earlier this week to the Fuller students, with a few more additions. I like it as a very simple, but broad introduction, to the Christian faith and the general purpose of ministry given to every believer. My graduate studies were from Grand Rapids Theological Seminary under Dr. Carl Hoch, a close personal friend and mentor of mine for many years. Since his death Dr. David Turner has picked up all his areas of NT Studies and I’ve got to know him better from recent personal meetings. Thus my background is much more in biblical theology and much less in systematic theology. On Oct 3 CU/GRTS will host Scot McKnight as one of its featured guests which I intend to attend re “Text and Culture.” I’ll say hello to him for you: