Rob Bell and Everything I Used to Know

Rob Bell has certainly ratcheted up the question of eternity in Christian and secular discussion with his book Love Wins: A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived . Many know that when I was younger I was an atheist and came to faith once I realized that Jesus was an actual historical person, He was physically raised from the dead and the Bible is fundamentally true. As I viewed his interview with Martin Bashir: I was struck Rob Bell’s assortment of non-answers. Does it matter how we live? Perhaps. Is salvation by grace alone, through faith alone in Christ alone? We aren’t sure. Rob Bell wonders about those who haven’t heard. His claim is that doctrine we have about salvation is “all speculation.” In other places he has said that he believes Christ is the only means by which we are saved but we may call on Him without knowing it. Does that mean we can reach Him by calling on Buddha? Bell, like any good politician, doesn’t commit himself one way of the other.

As an atheist, it didn’t really matter how I lived for I would die and that would be the end of it. Sort of standard Darwinism. Is Bell teaching this annihilationist view? We are unsure, he doesn’t really say. Will all eventually be reconciled to God? Will they be tormented to the point that they realize the love of God and are redeemed post-mortem? Again, no clear answer. Bell seems to be more enamored with heretics like Origen and the Gnostic writings than biblical teaching but I suggest that he will remain unable to answer basic questions about the faith and continue on his to trip to joining the Jesus Seminar.

The Bible does make exclusive claims. It is clear that all are sinners (Romans 3:23; 5:12). As a result we are spiritually dead. That means we are separated from God. By definition dead means separated, it does not mean non-existent. When we die in this life, our spirit is separated from our body. When we are spiritually dead we are separated from God. We may all be God’s creation but by definition we are not all God’s children. This is not my opinion but comes directly from the mouth of Jesus to religious leaders of His day in John 8:44:

You are of your father the devil, and you want to do the desires of your father He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth because there is no truth in him Whenever he speaks a lie, he speaks from his own nature, for he is a liar and the father of lies.

We are born into the family of the first Adam and are by nature at enmity with God. By faith we are adopted into the second Adam Who is a life giving spirit (1 Corinthians 15:45). That is Jesus Christ. His death, burial and resurrection provided the means by which we may be saved. However, one must call on the name of the Lord to be saved (Romans 10:13; For a fuller treatment of this see The Princess and the Pauper).

What about those who have never heard? That is a valid question. Hebrews 11:6 tells us that God is a rewarded of those that seek Him. What does that look like? Well, we have examples in Scripture of those who are seeking for God and God sends one of His people to proclaim the gospel. A dramatic example is in Acts 10. Although I am not personally inclined to the view that the sign gifts are extent today I do believe and have been part of coming into contact with people who had been praying for an accurate knowledge of God and had the great opportunity to clearly lay out the gospel and they believed. How God does things are not as clear as what He does.

We find it clear in Scripture that this life is where our eternal decision is made. To be with God or to remain separated. We don’t find anything like postmortem conversions. As the writer to Hebrews states it in Hebrews 9:27:

And inasmuch as it is appointed for men to die once and after this comes judgment,

But then, if Rob Bell is to be believed, the Scriptures are “all speculation.” The apostolic writers would simply bemusing “what if” sorts of questions. The Scriptures are not really inspired and inerrant. Martin Bashir pointed out that one reviewer said that Bell’s history is inaccurate and his use of Scripture is abominable. I am not sure who that was, but they were correct.

As an atheist I knew that the Bible was “all speculation,” myth and fantasy. Bell isn’t really saying anything that an atheist, Wiccan, or New Ager may say. They too would say that claims of absolutes in doctrine are wrong and we should just allow the questions to go unanswered so that no one will feel bad.


Rob Bell and Everything I Used to Know — 6 Comments

  1. A question that has been rolling around in my head: What about the Amazonian who is the 24th generation of tribal peeps that have had no outside human contact, have never seen or heard the written scriptures, and quite possibly, will not be preached the gospel via a missionary due to their utter isolation? Or even the blind, deaf, and dumb kid with no interest in human contact?

    Is it not possible that they would be like the modern day version of Melchizedek? I know that Ecclesiastes speaks about how God writes his law on our hearts. Those who seek the Lord, not knowing that he is the true Lord will be rewarded?

    I asked my brother, who sits under the tutelage of John Piper, whom I find quite smart (John Piper, that is…my brother is a brain too, actually) and yet do not like the strict Calvinism, and the ever present arrogance that continues to seep out. He stated very flatly that they will be going to hell. He was pretty confident and I know it seems that way, but I can’t imagine that it would be so.

    What say the Scriptures? What thinks ye?

  2. The questions you have raised, and there are two different question categories in your comment, are good and have plagued many who are smarter than I over the centuries. In some ways I think the difficulty here is that in both cases we are dealing with the mechanics of the faith (how God does stuff) rather than the essentials of the faith (the main plain things in Scripture). Since that is the case I cannot give a one word or even one sentence answer but have to approach it from what I think the Scriptures infer or demonstrate as well as what they state. So, if you don’t mind being patient we will see if I can make a credible case for my views.

    Rob Bell focuses on God’s love and that is important. Unfortunately, and this is where he pretty much departs from sound biblical teaching, he neglects God’s justice. The same Scriptures which reveal to us that God loves us (John 3:16; Gal. 2:20) also are clear that God is just and that He is also the justifier of those who believe (Romans 3:26). These are within the nature and character of God and can only be separated at the peril of wandering in to heresy. This happens, more often than not, when trying to explain in finite terms and understanding the mechanics (how God does stuff) of the infinite God. So far, I don’t think I have said anything new or that you would disagree with. But what of the Amazonian or the deaf, dumb and blind kid (sound like The Pinball Wizard:D)?

    In the first case, we have a number of Scriptures which do speak to the Amazonian. In Romans 1:18-20 the Apostle points to natural revelation as a demonstration and evidence that God exists. Nature doesn’t tell us what kind of God exists and is not sufficient to reveal the gospel but as he writes is revelatory:

    For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse.

    How can this be? Well, if we all descended from Adam and Eve, which I believe is accurate, all of humanity has a common shared heritage and history. We have evidence this is the case by virtue of the creation and flood stories in most cultures. For example, the last I heard there are some 290 flood stories from cultures around the world. They are obviously not all the same but seem to have some common roots and theme. What that tells us is, as Paul points out, they had a knowledge of God but abandoned it for something of their own creation and imagination (Romans 1:21-25). As the Amazonian in question thinks on this and desires to know the true God, God will provide him with the knowledge of what he needs to know (Hebrews 11:6):

    And without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him.

    “Utter isolation” assumes that because the Amazonian is not in direct contact with other civilization that God cannot make provision to send a missionary into their path. We have a biblical example of God sending a missionary for one person in Acts 8:26-27. I know of missionaries who have come into contact with individuals in tribes which had no contact with “outsiders” prior to the missionary but the missionary knew they had a call and when they arrived met someone who had been trying to figure out how to know the truth about God. Hebrews 11 is just as true today as it was when it was written.

    The deaf, dumb and blind kid is a bit different. I would suggest this falls in the category of God holding us responsible for what we have the ability to know. My reasoning comes from an example of a child who died, never having heard of God’s expectations that we know of. It is found in 2 Samuel 12:16-23:

    David therefore inquired of God for the child; and David fasted and went and lay all night on the ground. The elders of his household stood beside him in order to raise him up from the ground, but he was unwilling and would not eat food with them. Then it happened on the seventh day that the child died. And the servants of David were afraid to tell him that the child was dead, for they said, “Behold, while the child was still alive, we spoke to him and he did not listen to our voice. How then can we tell him that the child is dead, since he might do himself harm!” But when David saw that his servants were whispering together, David perceived that the child was dead; so David said to his servants, “Is the child dead?” And they said, “He is dead.”

    So David arose from the ground, washed, anointed himself, and changed his clothes; and he came into the house of the LORD and worshiped. Then he came to his own house, and when he requested, they set food before him and he ate.

    Then his servants said to him, “What is this thing that you have done? While the child was alive, you fasted and wept; but when the child died, you arose and ate food.”

    He said, “While the child was still alive, I fasted and wept; for I said, ‘ Who knows, the LORD may be gracious to me, that the child may live.’ “But now he has died; why should I fast? Can I bring him back again? I will go to him, but he will not return to me.”

    David’s phraseology is instructive. David was a man of faith, even with all of his flaws (and they were many) he was regarded as a man after God’s own heart. He would be with God after he departed from this world. He expected to see the child there and said so when he declared “I will go to him, but he will not return to me.”” Wherever the child is, David expected to be there as well. Since David expected to be with God we see the will be with God as well.

    I don’t know that we can get much beyond this on the question. We know that God is loving and just as well as merciful. We know that he has given witness to His existence and rewards those that seek Him. Does He hold those who have no capacity to understand, not only the deaf, dumb and blind child but the mentally disabled, to the same standard? It doesn’t seem so. He does hold us accountable for what we have the ability to know.

  3. Wow! Thank you for the thorough answer. Actually, I was hoping for this exact conclusion because I think that it is clear in the Scriptures. It also provides those that see the world through a Christian lens, and yet fated, a reason to preach the gospel to all. But then, I sit here wondering why God wanted me to be without excuse. Don’t you think that’s a bit unfair? He could have dropped me into Antarctica to live with the whales and then I could have trusted in him from the knowledge he has put in my heart (Ecclesiastes). Not fair!!! Sarcasm intended.

  4. Read Eternity in Their Hearts by Don Richardson….this is a great, Biblical perspective on the tribals of the world and of history.

  5. God is sovereign in all things. It’s the finite(man) trying to understand the infinite(God). It can’ t be done. Accept it and glorify Christ our King.

  6. To compare human love to God’s love is impossible. God’s love is perfect as is His wrath and justice. Man’s love is tainted with sin, very imperfect.

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