Love Loses: Rob Bell, John Piper, and the Tone Of Public Conversation


I haven’t posted here for months as I’ve been working on my new record, so I thought I’d make up for lost time by making my first reentry a long one. Sorry.

I have misgivings about writing this post, mostly because I imagine people might be tired of hearing about the controversy surrounding Rob Bell’s new book, Love Wins – you know, that it’s already become passé. After all, this topic is sooooo last week. But I’ll risk it anyway believing that fashionable doesn’t always equal relevant, contrary to the zeitgeist of blogging culture. I wonder if there’s still an opportunity here for the Spirit to speak to us.

Besides, I haven’t even read the book yet and it’s not really the book that I want to talk about anyway. At present I’m more interested in talking about the accidental topic that Love Wins has raised, which concerns the way we conduct ourselves as Christians in public conversation.

If you missed it, Rob Bell set off a blogging maelstrom a few weeks ago with comments he made about his upcoming book, Love Wins, where he turns his formidable spotlight on some of the left of mainstream ideas out there concerning Hell – what it is, how you end up there, and whether Dante was right about the sign posted above Hell’s gates saying “abandon all hope ye who enter here”. Are our short 80 years (give or take) on earth really the absolute and final testing ground that determines an eternity of punishment or bliss? What do you do with the problem of the souls who’ve never heard the gospel? How can a loving Father condemn people to a place of eternal punishment with no hope of correction? Or is Hell a place we choose for ourselves because we prefer it to Heaven? Are the gates of Hell locked from the inside?

These are not new questions, nor are most of Bell’s musings (from what I have gathered so far) either as unorthodox or as progressive as some would make them out to be. Even C.S. Lewis asked similar questions in his discourse on the afterlife, The Great Divorce, offering up a different lens through which to imagine what Hell might be all about.

To risk being even more unfashionable, I’d like to make another pop culture reference that we’re all probably weary of: Charlie Sheen’s recent headline making behavior. But it’s as good an example as any of the kind of thing I believe Lewis and even Bell are getting at. Watch the interviews with Sheen and you will see a man who is so clearly choosing the ideals of Hell – consuming lust with no hope for intimacy, prideful self-justifying un-forgiveness, a relentless denial of help from others… All of this he called “winning”, but those of us who know the joy of intimacy, humble forgiveness, and community recognize it for what it really is: Hell on earth. Charlie Sheen may be a good example, if Lewis is on target, of a person who can’t stomach the virtues of Heaven and who, even in his suffering, prefers Hell. But I digress…

Bell’s book raises questions that understandably rattle the cages of modern Evangelical Christianity.And in truth, the book may very well be revealed as being, at the very least, theologically soft.But aside from all that, the unintended question it has raised for me has to do with the tone of Christian conversation and whether the church has fallen victim to the contentious and self-righteous spirit of the age.

I bowed out of watching political television programming some time ago because of how dehumanizing it can be, whether you’re from a blue state or a red one. It’s rare that anybody is actually “heard” in what passes for political dialogue. I experience it more as an ideological kind of blood sport where mutual understanding is sacrificed on the altar of a kind of “winning” that only serves to assure everybody that they’re right and everyone else is wrong. The tone is so polarizing and, though it can be morbidly entertaining, I’ve grown weary of it.

And yet I know I’ve often been guilty in my own way of the same kind of thing. Too much of the time I have loved being right more than I have loved mercy, loved winning a fight more than I have loved the person I’m talking to. This impoverishes me.

The day that Rob Bell’s comments hit the web, the reaction was swift and strong by those who felt that his theology was dangerous at best and downright heresy at worst – and this was before anybody even read the book! One of the most famous critiques came from my fellow Minnesotan, Pastor John Piper, who could hardly have been more dismissive when he tweeted three words: “Farewell, Rob Bell.”

I’m about as interested in taking John Piper to task as I am in defending Rob Bell’s orthodoxy, so I’ll move on quickly (you can read this as me hoping to avert the wrath of you Piper enthusiasts out there). It is, however, this kind of tone in public Christian conversation that seems worthy of our evaluation. Piper’s comment and others like it seem to me to fall short of genuine conversation and instead engenders a circling of the wagons that is long on self-righteous defensiveness and short on respectful listening.

Bell’s detractors might argue that such “heresy” deserves our contempt and dismissal, but even so, might there be another way to conduct this conversation, especially with the rest of the world eavesdropping on us? Why did passions boil over so quickly on this one?

Well, I can’t speak for everyone, but I’m learning to see what’s happening in my own heart when I react similarly.

A while ago I started to feel like the Holy Spirit was inviting me to pay attention to my defensiveness and anger – what activated it and why? Most times I only get defensive when I feel threatened, whether directly or vicariously by way of something I cared about being challenged. Defensiveness is a natural response to feeling threatened, but is it always the best response? I believe the Holy Spirit began to invite me, every time I felt defensive, to be curious about why and if there might be more redemptive responses to choose from.

I started to wonder if feeling threatened all the time was really a symptom of misplaced identity and trust. Here’s what I mean: if my identity is firmly rooted and secure in Christ, if I am defined by my belovedness to Jesus, should I feel as threatened as often as I do? I began to see how often my defensiveness arises from a desperate need to prove myself – less because of arrogance than because of how hard it is for me to believe and rest in the sufficiency that Christ won for me.

Reformed Pastor Tim Keller (and contemporary of John Piper – so, you can’t completely dismiss me as a liberal) says the default mode of human instinct is self-justification.As an unbeliever, one way to do this is by always trying to tell ourselves that we’re good people – especially compared to Hitler, Jeffrey Dahmer, and [insert name of your favorite villain here].As believers we’re often guilty of the same sin of self-justification, though it’s harder to diagnose.

Here’s what I began to wonder about myself (I’ll leave it up to the Holy Spirit to prompt you if you should wonder the same about yourself). How many times has my defense of the truth been merely a veiled attempt at self-justification – my need to be right, to be on the right side, to prove myself, to be honorable, the hero, etc.

I also started wondering about my assumptions about the nature of my relationship to the truth. Charles Spurgeon – another hero of reformed theology – once likened the Truth to being a Lion. “Who ever heard of defending a lion?” he asked. “Just turn it loose and it will defend itself.” This compelling understanding of truth relieves me of the responsibility to come to the rescue whenever I’m afraid that Truth is under attack. Does the truth really need me? This is a simple question that I believe can help change the tone of our conversations.

Of course there is a time to defend the Truth, to guard it as Paul exhorted Timothy, but I think the dynamic changes when we understand that defending the gospel is maybe more of a privilege than it is a responsibility. Does that make sense? I know there is great risk of being misunderstood here, but I pray you will give me the benefit of your doubt for a moment.

Trusting that God’s Truth is all sufficient and can stand on its own without needing me to come to its rescue takes the anxious hand-wringing out of my “defense” of it. It’s big enough to take care of itself without me. Furthermore, I’m not responsible for the hearts of those that I would defend the gospel to – meaning it’s not all up to me to persuade or convert those I find myself in conversation with. That is the work of the Holy Spirit.

When I trust that the Truth doesn’t need me, and when I trust that I’m not solely responsible for the fate of those around me, it takes a lot of pressure off. I can relax a bit and I can even enjoy the conversation. And it’s here that I begin to see that some of my so called defense of the gospel may have been more about my need to be right – my default instinct of self-justification – than it’s been about love of the gospel or especially love for those I’m in conversation with.

If I trust the sturdiness of truth, if I trust that God is in charge of drawing people to himself, and if I trust, too, that God is ultimately in control (which, by the way, are all ideals celebrated by people of the reformed theological tradition like John Piper), it sets me free to do something radically loving: listen.

Nowhere is this dynamic more evident than in marriage. When conflict arises and a conversation must be had, we have to choose: will we fight to be right, to be heard at all costs, thus failing to listen to each other because of our defensiveness? Or will we lay down our weapons for a moment and really hear each other’s hearts? Which is more honoring? Which produces better fruit? Which choice leads to death and which leads to life?

I think this might be worth consideration: We are told in Genesis 3 that the consequence of sin entering the world for Adam and all those who come after him is that

through painful toil you will eat food from [the ground]
all the days of your life.
It will produce thorns and thistles for you…
By the sweat of your brow
you will eat your food…

There is a sense of futility here, that our efforts will be frustrated and we will be plagued by feeling that no matter how hard we work it will never be enough – that we will never be enough. This pretty much sums up the human experience as we know it: our days dogged by a deep sense of inadequacy – as spouses, as parents, as workers, even as children of God.

Which can lead to the temptation to prove ourselves. I would propose that most if not all of us carry around a deep sense of futility and inadequacy that puts us always on the defensive.

Bring this dynamic into public discourse and our conversations can quickly degrade into dismissive, defensive, un-listening self-justification fueled by fear and the need to be right. It is all the more insidious when you bring Christianity into the mix because of the way this brokenness hides behind the virtues of “defending the gospel” and “standing up for Truth and Righteousness.” (for a glaring example of this, watch Martin Bashir’s unlistening and bullying interrogation of Bell here.)

Please don’t think that I’m saying there’s never a time to passionately speak out for what we believe. John Chrysostom, one of Christianity’s Early Church Fathers, said: “He that is angry without cause sins, but he who is not angry when there is cause sins.”

If I give Pastor Piper the benefit of the doubt – which I believe is a pre-requisite to fruitful conversation – I would imagine that his comment on twitter came from the heart of a pastor feeling protective over his flock, concerned that ideas like Bell’s pose a threat to their spiritual development. A commendable instinct perhaps – there is, of course, such a thing as righteous anger. I’m just afraid that most of us are generally too quick to assume our anger is righteous when in fact it may just be self-righteous.

There is a simple antidote that I think can help. What if we examined the motives of our hearts by being curious whenever we feel defensiveness or anger rise up in us: “Is this legitimate or is this a symptom that my identity isn’t firmly rooted in Christ, or that deep down I believe the salvation of the world is some how up to me?” Asking ourselves this may spare us from being ugly and reactionary.

Jesus himself models passion under control. One of my favorite discoveries in scripture is the moment when he goes to rid the temple of the moneylenders. At first glance it looks like he’s swept up in a moment of righteous indignation, turning over tables like a man consumed by his passion. But a closer look reveals that Jesus is responding with intentionality rather than reacting emotionally – John 2:15 shows us that before driving out the moneylenders, Jesus “made a whip out of cords.” It starts to look less like a heated moment of passion when you factor in the time it must take to braid a whip.

I fear that to the outside world the face of Western Christianity looks scarred by all of our precious dividing lines of theological parsing. When our conversation is marked by reactionary rhetoric, I’m afraid that we fail to show the world that we are disciples of Jesus “by loving one another” (John 13:35) and that love loses.

I will confess that much of my own line drawing has been driven by fear and a failure to rest in my identity as Jesus’ beloved. If I could believe I’m already approved, I wouldn’t feel such a need to prove myself. And If trusted God is in control, I could relax a bit more and honor others with my listening. Who knows, I might even learn something I otherwise wouldn’t on my own.

Is Rob Bell so persuasive a writer that he can dismantle evangelical Christianity with one book? Is he or any one else the author and finisher of our faith? Are we so afraid of being deceived and ruined as though a lie – perceived or genuine – can have the final say over our lives?

I know there are times to speak up and stand our ground – and some may feel that this is such a time – but for me, personally, it’s good to ask myself these kinds of questions before I go crusading.

[Editor’s Note: Please keep your comments germane to the subject of Jason’s post. Comments will be tightly moderated if necessary.]

Jason Gray is a recording artist with Centricity Records. His latest single, out now, is "When I Say Yes".


  1. Chris Yokel

    Great post Jason. Speaking of Keller, I had the wonderful opportunity last year to participate in a book study of his book “The Reason for God”. The group included Christians, agnostics, and atheists. It was a great experience in learning to listen. I learned a lot about how non-believers think, in ways I didn’t realize.

  2. Jud

    I don’t know about Rob Bell, and I don’t know about John Piper, but I do know that here be Truth! God has blessed you with much wisdom, Jason Gray. Thanks for blessing us with it too.

  3. Collin Bullard

    Jason, thanks for a thoughtful response to what is too often boiled down to 140 characters. I find your comments about our “self-defensive” attitudes to be right on. “Defending the truth” can sometimes be an exercise in “defending the views that we hold”. Naturally, everyone thinks that what they believe is right, otherwise, they would believe something else. But your post got me thinking: “Do I really believe that all my beliefs are correct?” Surely it is that attitude that keeps me from listening. The one who believes he has nothing else to learn is in dangerous territory indeed! May we all humbly come to the table with our partial understandings of truth and, God willing, somehow we’ll figure it out together…. in other words… we need each other. Thanks again.


  4. John Barber

    Agreed, agreed, agreed, and agreed. Jason brings the truth – we should always evaluate our motives for entering any kind of public discourse. That being said, it is the duty of the church to maintain sound doctrine (2 Timothy 4, etc). So I think discussions like this can be profitable – if they are conducted in love and with love.

    (note: I, like Jason, haven’t read the book and am not taking a side – read nothing like that into my comments)

  5. JWitmer

    I wasn’t aware of Rob Bell before this article, but I have been keenly aware this week of the poison of defensiveness. There can be no community and little love where defensiveness is present, yet it comes so easily.

    What have we to defend? As Jason suggests, God does not need us – He invites us to participate. And can we defend ourselves? I’m a sinner, broken but saved by grace and loved. What about that, exactly, entitles me to immunity from criticism or disagreement? But I so often resent the friction Proverbs describes as “iron sharpening iron” and struggle under condemnation too.

    Only a deep belief in God’s mercy and loving-kindess can free us from striving to prove ourselves.

    I could go on and on, this touches so close the raw spots of my heart right now. I do have some thoughts written down elsewhere, on my blog, so I’ll leave the space here for others. =)

  6. Leanore

    Jason, Oh how I love mercy. It is my only refuge in Christ. (I have listened and read much that has been published on this discussion.) But I also love mercy for my own adult children, who have been lured away from a strong faith in Christ by careless living, and by many religious voices who are “soft” on what the Bible teaches that God’s love is really like. For them, and the many thousands of Bell’s followers who are embracing this book, they need to know that there is no equivocation with God’s truth. Unfortunately, Twitter does not contribute to real understanding of anything. But perhaps it might cause some to look a little deeper.

  7. Matthew

    Thanks for sharing, Jason. I feel like your post is well-balanced and you offer an appropriate caution about where our identity is situated. However, I would suggest that after Pastor Piper’s rather unfortunate and inappropriate tweet, most of the discussion from the leading teachers and bloggers of evangelicalism was restrained, directly responding to what Bell had to say, and offered in pastoral concern for their readers. I think that if Bell cared so much about the issue as to write this book, he should be willing to submit himself to the tough standard of public criticism. If Rob Bell wanted to “start a conversation” and “ask good questions,” he got a lot of good answers. I think we should be appreciative of that.

  8. Mike

    “I’m just afraid that most of us are generally too quick to assume our anger is righteous when in fact it may just be self-righteous.”

    This sentence stood out to me. I’ve been on both the giving and receiving end of self-righteous anger.

    This article gave me a lot to think about. Thanks for the wise and measured approach, Jason.

  9. Laura Peterson

    Jason, this is great stuff. I’m going to go back and read it a few more times. Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts. I really apreciate the reminder to take a step back when I start getting defensive and examine what’s really going on. I’m afraid you’re right, that “most if not all of us carry around a deep sense of futility and inadequacy that puts us always on the defensive.” At least, that’s what I start to see in myself when I look back on times when I’ve hastily jumped to prove my point.

    [A note on the Editor’s Note: I had to look up what “germane” meant. Thanks for the new vocab word!]

  10. Fellow Traveler

    Leanore is touching on something very important here. I agree that it’s good to examine our motives, but I think that simply because we are firm on something doesn’t mean we should second-guess ourselves and wonder whether we’re just being self-assertive and defensive. Some of us may personally know people who are becoming confused about what the Bible actually says, and this is truly painful to watch. In LOVE we apply discernment, and in LOVE we offer guidance and help to sheep who are straying. It would be unloving NOT to do these things.

    Similarly, consider this: How many times have you heard somebody say, “Well you’re just being holier-than-thou. Remember what Jesus said about hypocrites. Judge not that ye not be judged,” etc., etc? Well, it’s true that Jesus said that. But think about the entire context of his words. He tells the Pharisees to take the beam out of their own eye before going after the speck in their brother’s eye. He is NOT categorically forbidding the process of judgment for the Christian. He is in fact saying that we SHOULD judge, but only AFTER we’ve examined ourselves. At that point, we can and should make thoughtful judgments.

  11. Rob Y

    Well put, Jason. These words are full of grace. Thank you for the prompt to look at my own motives and defensiveness.

  12. Kyle Keating

    I think in contrast to the defensiveness we are so prone to, there is an alternative way of listening to people. Defensiveness is often characterized by a hermeneutic (lens, perspective) of suspicion, where we assume the worst about the speaker and radicalize whatever is said. When we does this it necessarily results in polarization and caricature. The scary thing is if we use this to defend the truth, the same things can (and will) be used against us as well. The ends (defending the truth) don’t justify the means (suspicion, caricature).

    In contrast we can choose to have a hermeneutic of grace and generosity, where we assume the best about what is being said and the person saying it. Where we hear first with a desire to understand before passing judgment. Where we seek to engage well with the questions, rather than dismissing them. This is the hermeneutic that rests in the gospel, that trusts in Jesus, that strips us of our self-righteous pretensions of defending the Truth.

    Oh, and this goes for both sides of the dialogue, of course.

  13. Andrea

    As I read disturbing, bewildering, and thought-provoking articles on this topic, I wondered if any rabbit room friends would comment. This article is excellent as I was quickly saturated with all things Bell – despite the title this really does not fall into that category. Thank you, Jason – your thoughts are exactly what I needed to hear. Love the Spurgeon quote on Truth being like a lion. I had never heard that one before.

  14. Jess

    Thanks. This issue of being wary of self-righteous anger and (maybe subconsciously) automatically assuming that I am right–or automatically assuming that I understand everything–has been surfacing and resurfacing in the past weeks for me. I hope I’m learning something and not simply feeling touched and walking away.

  15. Leighton

    I’m huge into theological debates, (feel free to hit me up on my blog anytime you want) but I feel like others, that John Piper is justified in dismissing it. Yes, he could have argued, but who says he’s not coming out with a book of his own that counters it? I’d be. lol

    Thanks Jason, for posting this!

  16. Clay

    Good thoughts, Jason. We need to be challenged to dialog and unity in the spirit, not to disagreement and disunity. I just want to share a hopefully relevant observation from Scripture.

    “For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ” (John 1:17). I think we still struggle with law. Faith is too subjective, so we tend to create Christian laws to objectify our faith–laws of belief (my doctrines or dogmas are the right ones) or laws of behavior (my lifestyle or standards are the right ones). Whether you call it self-justification or just self-assurance, these well-intentioned laws can become our external barometers of whether our, or someone else’s, faith is acceptable.

    I think the Apostle John’s statement is a corrective to that dynamic. Moses and the written law is no longer how we know we are God’s; grace and truth in Jesus Christ, realized by faith, is now how we know we are God’s. Here’s how I see John’s statement. Grace is subjective, truth is objective, and they are both found perfectly in Christ. If you distort grace, I think you wind up with a legalism of behavior; if you distort truth, I think you wind up with a legalism of belief. John suggests that only in the person of Christ can we find balance and unity. And that is where we find God because Jesus, after all, is the “exact representation of [God’s] being” (Hebrews 1:3).

    I think classic, orthodox Evangelicalism, in its better expressions, tries to move to that middle where the person of Christ is, rather than to the extremes where we feel more comfortable. The middle is Spirit-directed and defined, and characterized by spiritual freedom in Christ (Galatians), so the middle can get messy. There is undoubtedly more mystery and ambiguity there, even less certainty in some ways, but Christ is there to keep the body centered on him, always coming back to him when we want to push to the edges where we think we can find or formulate more objectivity and certainty. It is in the middle where the kinds of issues that prompted your post need to resolve–our unity will not be realized in the sometimes polarizing Christian laws of belief or behavior, but only in Christ himself, who perfectly embodies God, and is the divine fulcrum on whom grace and truth find perfect balance. If our unity is in anything other than the gospel of Christ (truth) and his Spirit (grace), we are at risk of an unbalanced Christianity. (Philippians 2:1-18 gets at this idea, too.)

    Do I know how that works? No, but I know that is what we as fellow believers must work towards. As always, I reserve the right to be wrong, but hopefully Jesus is the right answer. Grace.

  17. whipple

    Thanks, Jason, for upending the traditional scenery surrounding Jesus’ driving out of the moneychangers. What actually came to my mind was one of the few (the only?) times he is actually said to be angry is in Mark 3.

    “Which is lawful to do on the Sabbath: to do good or to do evil, to save life or to kill?” But they remained silent.

    He looked around at them in anger and, deeply distressed at their stubborn hearts, said to the man [with the shriveled hand], “Stretch out your hand.” He stretched it out, and his hand was completely restored.

    It is rare that Jesus is said to be angry, but when he is, his response is not one of violence, but of compassion. In fact, he makes an example out of compassion in his anger. This is alien to me in my sin and imperfection, but it is also wonderful.

  18. Jon HIMknotmeasles Slone

    Question, Have people on this site been unappropriate before?
    All I see on here are people who are artists in one way or another, creative souls to varying degrees, looking for others of like ilk to comune with.

    Don’t know that that caveat was really appropriate.

    Jason, I think for the most part, what you are saying is right. I love the part about “Faith being like a Lion, and that who ever heard about defending a Lion.” Powerful stuff there my friend!

    I think what this comes down to is that we need to restrain our chatter a bit and love and listen a whole lot more.

    Like you said, we only assist on getting people to Christ. The comforter does most of the work.

    Lots of good points made brother!!

  19. Pete Peterson


    There have occasionally been issues, yes. I added the note to remind folks to stay on the topic Jason is discussing, that of how we relate to one another. We don’t want this to descend into a debate about the rightness or wrongness of Bell’s book. That’s not what Jason is addressing.

  20. josh skinner

    why wouldnt we want this to be on the subject of the wrongness of Bell’s book? his book is dangerous and his influence is great? if we believe the Bible as the authoritative Word of God, shouldnt we take every opportunity to denounce teachings that strip the Bible of its authority and strip the cross of its necessity?

  21. Dan R.

    Jason, I think this post embodies why I appreciate you so much. You’re not afraid to make an extraordinarily long post (a plus in my book), and you make every sentence worth reading.

    This actually struck a nerve in me, which tends to lean in the opposite direction too heavily, tempting towards an over-conciliatory approach to this process and an apathetic stance of resting in the strength of Truth. But I know that the savior of us all is the same Lord, and I hope we can all gain encouragement and be spurred on by that truth. Thank you for shining this light into the dark places in us, and thanks to the Light himself for shining in our hearts!

  22. Leanore

    If I may add a further thought, “How SHALL they hear without a preacher?” Truth may (possibly) not need to be defended, but it does need to be proclaimed. In fact Paul commended the Phillipian believers for standing with him in his “defense and confirmation of the Gospel” (Phil 1:7). And who will proclaim the whole truth in ways that are both clear and winsome? Will we value being “winsome” in our sound bites so much that we never get to “whole truth” and “clear?”

    In many cases this generation is deriving the gospel from its music. And so the whole truth needs to be there, which puts a greater burden on poets and songwriters. May God give you the vision, the language, and the shoulders to bear it.

  23. Fellow Traveler

    Jon, for what it’s worth, I don’t moderate comments around here, but my impression has always been that Rabbit Room folks are thoughtful and articulate. I’ve never seen anything inappropriate myself (not that Pete would let that sort of stuff get through of course!)

    Because of the nature of this topic, I suspect Pete wanted to avoid hasty, inflammatory remarks that would lead to conflict, hence the caveat.

  24. AStev

    “He that is angry without cause sins, but he who is not angry when there is cause sins.”

    Not to nitpick, but Chrysostom didn’t say this (we don’t know who did). During the Middle Ages, the Opus Imperfectum was believed to be written by Chrysostom, but Erasmus refuted that in 1530.

    The sentiment is true, however.

  25. Rebekah

    I am very thankful for the thoughtfulness and wisdom of this post. It is good to hear a response to the whole “Love Wins” kerfuffle that embodies James 1:19: “My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry.” I really appreciate your thoughts.

  26. JJ

    Hopefully I don’t drift too far off topic here. I’ll try and stay focused.

    Very great points, and I do agree with them for the most part. I think it would have been helpful if Piper explained his comment. But to my knowledge he hasn’t. Those kinds of situations can be tricky. I found a great blog post by a guy who tried to analyze it (which is tough considering it’s only 3 words), and Piper responded that it was ‘pretty close’. But regardless, if you’re going to make what might be perceived as a flippant statement I think you need to be prepared to explain why, especially when dealing with things like this (or anything really in a public forum like Twitter). And the fact that Bell was posing these questions (and his publisher posted a flat out heretical comment) in a public forum, plus he didn’t directly sin against Piper or anyone else, the Biblical principle of “take your brother aside” doesn’t apply.

    I think what you’re talking about can definitely be applied here, but I also think we are called to bring false prophet to task for their claims. We are commanded to be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry (notice that “quick to listen” is first in the list). There’s a reason I think God tells us that. But Bell and others like him in the emergent church movement are preaching a false gospel. With the book out now we can see that without a doubt. And I think church leaders of all denominations (not just Reformed folks) that hold firm to historical Christianity as preached for thousands of years are obligated to speak out against these false gospels when their target audience is other Christians. And we can see clear examples of how that was done throughout the Old and New Testaments.

    But like I said, I think your point still stands in those situations. False gospels need to be confronted, but in the appropriate forum and balanced with grace. The point isn’t to win the argument just for the sake of winning it. I would hope the desire would be speak the Truth to them and pray that the Holy Spirit would convict them and change their hearts towards the REAL Gospel. But if we’re being quick to anger and quick to speak and shout over someone, they’re probably not going to listen to the Truth.

    And I also am working through my own temptations to get defensive at everything that I perceive as an assault on my pride. It happens a lot I’m ashamed to say.

  27. Lauren

    As a current read of “Love Wins” i am so thankful for this post. Currently i am loving the book, & the questions that are being asked. If anything, so far, it has made me think more than anything that i have recently read.

    Thank you J.Gray~

  28. Caleb Land

    You make a lot of good points in this post, and frankly, I am sick of a lot of the “Rob Bell Blogosphere Controversy.” I was particularly challenged by your points about truth not needing us to defend it.

    BUT, I think that you are missing the fact that Rob Bell brought this on himself. He isn’t a poor innocent traveler on the difficult journey of life, but is the pastor of a 10,000 member mega-church. Here is the key: If he had been personally struggling with this issue and having these questions, he should have gotten people in the body he trusts and worked through his stuff. If he had done that it would have been unforgivable to bash him in the blogosphere and on the news. But that isn’t what he did.

    He published a book and helped build an aggressive ONLINE marketing program about his “questions.” He is making money off of this. Then he gets sympathy when the blogosphere is critical? When the book gets bad reviews? When people expose his shoddy handling of the text and historical fallacies?

    Have some people been arrogant and unchristian jerks? Yes, but that is because people are human and they do stupid things. No surprise and they will be held accountable for their own stuff.

    BUT, many people like Tim Challies and Justin Taylor and Kevin DeYoung have been respectful and thoughtful while challenging the problems with Bell’s book. Show me where they were in any way hotheaded or rude?

    Christians should speak, even online, with charity and love, but they should not be afraid to speak out against error. Bell and his supporters cannot cry foul when it was Bell who basically asked for the controversy in the first place.

    Finally, while it was obvious that Bashir had issues with Bell and his book, that was a news program, not a Church. The tone and interview matched the setting. Bell should have been prepared to answer the tough questions.

    Nowhere in the Gospels do I get the sense that Jesus was a softy who backed down from controversy or was too sweet and sensitive and spineless to call a spade a spade.

    Bottom line, I do respect a lot of your ideas in this post and I too get sickened by the Christian blogosphere from time to time, but I struggle finding any sympathy for Bell.

  29. Rob Harrison

    Personally, I thought Piper’s comment was pretty clear, and I’ve been surprised at how many people have read it as “dismissive”; I also think that calling Michael Krahn’s post “pretty close” (link is here: essentially endorsed it as an explanation for those who were misreading his tweet. (After all, there’s always *some* little thing you’d put differently.) But then, I’ve been reading his works and listening to his sermons for years, I have family in his church, and so I’ve learned to hear his tone; I’ve rarely heard him speak in anger, but I’ve often heard him speak in grief. As such, to me it sounded clearly as Piper’s sad acknowledgment that Bell has finally abandoned classical evangelicalism, about which he’s been increasingly ambivalent for quite some time. I don’t see anything dismissive in that; it’s Bell’s choice to go a different way.

  30. Fellow Traveler

    There’s been a lot said here about how we should be more loving and listening towards Rob Bell. After reading Rob’s comment, I wonder whether perhaps somebody ought to extend that same attitude towards John Piper as well?

  31. Jon HIMknotmeasles Slone

    Like dip rippy says, “Truth wrapped in love.” We have to speak out, have to defend. But in doing so, try to present ourselves in Jesus’ love. Its hard to do sometimes.

    The Bible says, love makes up for a multitude of sins! So, when in doubt…LOVE! Love this Bell guy till it hurts!! But dislike what he says!
    @ 31. dip rippy, I read a review, it was pretty good!

    As a young man in my 20’s, I use to think that God was being mean when he said that we were sheep! Now that I’ve lived a bit longer and seen a few more things…! We really aren’t that bright! We really do need a Shepherd!

    Its sad and somewhat droll that He gives us this Good News in one book, not a hundred! And yet countless religions and innumerable churches have sprouted up because no two people can agree on anything. Enter the word, SHEEP again.

  32. Jason Gray


    Some of these comments are starting to sound (to me at least) a little self-righteous, lacking in self-suspicion and like Truth defending. I’m just sayin…

    But that’s probably very self-righteous of me to say. Oh how can we be free of this malady?! Deliver us oh Lord!

  33. Ruble

    My view may be unpopular here… I agree that the crowds that hang out in the rabbit room are not going to be shaken (or stirred for that matter) by Rob Bell but I am concerned for the spiritual babes that are filling church pews these days. I DO think it really matters what we do with Jesus in this life. I also appreciate people like Piper and Keller and Kevin DeYoung who will speak up for those of us in the “cage of modern Evangelical Christianity.”

    As a side note: It has been a long time since I read “The Great Divorce” but as I recall it was an allegory. That is significantly different from this book…

    I do agree that we should listen to each other and treat each other with love.

    Btw: Jason I really like your music… I recently learned to play “I am New.” Great Song…


    Editor… Feel free to edit me.

  34. Fellow Traveler

    Jason, since when is defending the truth a bad thing?


    Actually, in all seriousness, I would encourage you to think about Mr. Harrison’s comment at #38, because it’s directly relevant to what you have been saying here.

  35. Rich Kirkpatrick

    Here is my question, is not Bell at least partially responsible for framing and fueling this conversation and the results we see? Regardless of our view of his theories–which I have read his book completely–this should be asked, at least.

    Why is it that Bell is allowed to ask questions, control public info on his book till release after he already created buzz–almost a marketing dream come true–and, no one really cares to question the context created by him and the publishing machine or “formidable spotlight” as you mention? Bell threw red meat to people he, you and I already knew would be inflamed. Piper is just one example. Great press!

    Also, we are so hypersensitive to disparity that we view it as wrong. The tension is where we learn. Anger? Hate? Discourse does not mean compromise nor does it mean being mean. How do we get along with people who are OPPOSED to us? This is the question I think you are asking. Here is one way not to do that. This book.

    Bell draws some real sharp lines about what he is against in his book. It is not like he is not culpable as a contributor to all of this as much as anyone else. Those statements in his book are really more of a problem to Christian unity then the theological things that are not new. He is writing a polemic that damns a way of thinking. Why would that not get a reaction like this? Why are we surprised? And, why is he off the hook completely in the conversation? None of us, by the way, are off the hook.

  36. Caleb Land

    @41 Jason Gray

    Did you think my comment sounded self-righteous? It wasn’t my intent and I read back over it, but to be honest, since I didn’t really talk about myself at all, I don’t see how that description could fit…

    Do you think it could be that your default position is self-justification as well so that by disagreeing I seem self-righteous to you?

    Ah, here lies the biggest problem with the whole internet debate thing, you don’t know me and I don’t know you, all you see are words on a screen and can, in large part, take them many different ways…dialectic divorced from ethos, but I digress

    Bottom line, I think you made some great points in your post but were missing some other good points. Sorry if I came across offensive, I don’t want to be that guy.

  37. Fellow Traveler

    I have said the exact same thing before. Do you think Bell is a low-watt bulb? He knew and knows exactly what he is doing. This is the transcript of his promo video–completely his words:

    “Will only a few select people make it to heaven? And will billions and billions of people burn forever in hell? And if that’s the case, how do you become one of the few? Is it what you believe or what you say or what you do or who you know or something that happens in your heart? Or do you need to be initiated or take a class or converted or being born again? How does one become one of these few?

    Then there is the question behind the questions. The real question [is], ‘What is God like?’, because millions and millions of people were taught that the primary message, the center of the gospel of Jesus, is that God is going to send you to hell unless you believe in Jesus. And so what gets subtly sort of caught and taught is that Jesus rescues you from God. But what kind of God is that, that we would need to be rescued from this God? How could that God ever be good? How could that God ever be trusted? And how could that ever be good news?

    This is why lots of people want nothing to do with the Christian faith. They see it as an endless list of absurdities and inconsistencies and they say, why would I ever want to be a part of that? See what we believe about heaven and hell is incredibly important because it exposes what we believe about who God is and what God is like. What you discover in the Bible is so surprising, unexpected, beautiful, that whatever we have been told and been taught, the good news is actually better than that, better than we could ever imagine.

    The good news is that love wins.”

    Anyone who can read this and not see that Bell is INTENTIONALLY making a challenge and asking for a debate simply doesn’t understand marketing.

  38. DRBOBF

    Well spoken. I purchased the book to read for myself as a faithful shepherd. It has not arrived from Amazon yet, maybe today!

    Listening is most definitely a lost art in the West. It has been great to follow your calling since before Live Volume 1:Hoping – still one of my all time favorite albums. I am graced to see where you have landed on this issue. Be blessed and thank you for your faithfulness.

  39. Chase

    I agree with most of your conclusions. We should not hate Rob Bell, nor should we slander and attack him. However, his theology is pretty heretical and clearly un-biblical. We are called to mark those:
    “Now I beseech you, brethren, mark them which cause
    divisions and offenses contrary to the doctrine which ye have
    learned; and avoid them. For they that are such serve not
    our Lord Jesus Christ, but their own belly; and by good words and
    fair speeches deceive the hearts of the simple.
    Romans 16:17-18”
    “Brethren, be followers together of me, and mark them which
    walk so as ye have us for an example.(For many walk, of whom I
    have told you often, and now tell you even weeping, that they are
    the enemies of the cross of Christ: Whose end is destruction,
    whose God is their belly, and whose glory is in their shame, who
    mind earthly things.)
    Philippians 3:17-19”

    After all, Rob Bell is basically using the same tactic that the serpent used in the garden, “Did God really say?”.

  40. Ryan

    Very excellent post. It may have been long but some things are not easily addressed in a matter of several short paragraphs. Like someone else already said, I like the Truth like a Lion quote. And your right. It’s way to easy to get this false sense of heroism from “rescuing the Truth” from the heretics, because somehow we are afraid they’ll mess it up. A time comes to stand for the Truth, but we should be fairly careful to make sure our motives don’t include building up our own sense of identity about being on the right side. And your right: I’m sure stuff like this doesn’t really help “all men know that ye are my disciples” because we love each other.

  41. Jason Gray


    @Caleb: “Bottom line, I think you made some great points in your post but were missing some other good points. Sorry if I came across offensive, I don’t want to be that guy.”

    That’s about the best assessment of this post I’ve heard yet :- ) It’s true. I was hesitant to even post it because the more I wrote the more I realized how impossible it was to write a truly balanced (and yet readable) post. Thanks for weighing in.

    @Rich and a few others: I don’t think that I implied anywhere that Rob Bell should be let off the hook – and I didn’t intend that to be the point of this post. Bell is provocative, for sure. But we still have the choice whether we will be provoked to anger or to love or to whatever else we could/should be provoked to. I hope this post isn’t coming off as a defense of Rob Bell, I tried to be careful about that.

    But for some to read it that way would make me wonder if they already have a bias against Bell and are “looking for a fight”, which is the kind of reactionary response I’m suggesting we try to disarm. It’s what I’m trying to disarm in me.

    True Confessions: I have this reactionary response rise up in me whenever John Piper’s name is brought up. I know he has legions of fans, but living in the shadow of his church in Minneapolis I’ve experienced him as a contentious and dividing figure. I’ve been wounded (and dismissed) by his disciples and my blood rises (even as I write this) whenever his name comes up. I clearly have my work cut out for me and need to take my own medicine here…

    And I’m not even liberal! Not very much anyway :- )

    How do I deal with it? I subscribe to his podcast and afflict myself with it, trying to listen and resist the urge to shut his voice out of my life. I used to anyway. I listen more to Tim Keller now – similar theology but Keller is less likely to tweet flippantly ;- )

    But I’m still trying to deal with this anger that always takes me by surprise. I’m trying to listen and give the benefit of the doubt…

  42. Stephen Lamb

    Thank you, Jason. Great post.

    I know you already mentioned the C.S. Lewis connection to Bell’s work, but because we are talking about this in a forum inspired by C.S. Lewis and the Inklings, I think it is worth mentioning the connections others have made between Bell’s work and Lewis’ work, like Jeff Cook who said today over at Jesus Creed that “There’s not one controversial idea in Love Wins that is not clearly voiced as a real possibility by the most popular evangelical writer of the last century, CS Lewis.”

  43. MargaretW

    Throughout this entire discourse I have yet to see anyone mention apologetics. Am I the only one interested in that study of thought?

    Jason, I always love your posts. Very thoughtful.

    I was standing in line at a produce market on Saturday. It is held in a church rec room(I won’t mention which denomination). One of the sellers was telling a joke to the woman in front of me. It was a Christian themed joke.

    “What type of food did God give Abraham and Sarah when they were traveling in the desert?”

    Her response was “Well, I don’t believe in God.”

    He then clammed up and went about selling his wares. I wanted to say something trite to the young woman but I kept my mouth shut and prayed for her instead.” I’ve thought about her often over the past few days. The piece of me that is so fervent about defending the gospel was squashed in that moment as I saw the heart of a young woman who is lost. For whatever reason, it just broke my heart. What words could I have used to tell her what she is missing by knowing Jesus. I don’t think there were any for that moment. None that I could think of anyway as I observed a life devoid of hope and peace.

    I often want to defend and point out my position, but I am learning to be still, wait and pray before I speak. Examining my motives is also important so this discussion has really helped me. Thank you.

  44. Fellow Traveler

    Over here Margaret! I’ve had dinner with Mike Licona, and I’m good friends with one of the world’s leading experts in the field. It’s a fascinating area of study.

  45. Fellow Traveler

    @36, Murray: Thanks for the link man. Looks to me like a very balanced, thoughtful, loving conversation among Christians who have genuine motives. But maybe that’s just me.

  46. Mark Geil

    Thanks for these thoughts, Jason. I’ve long thought that our society’s general tone and demeanor have suffered mightily in the past few years, and it seems to me (surely others have discussed these ideas too) to have a lot to do with the anonymity of the internet. The carnal nature in all of us longs to get out. For believers it’s fettered by a desire to be Christ-like. For non-believers the checks and balances tend to be cultural and societal. Somewhere along the way, someone realized that dialogue on the internet (such as this very comment) is personally devoid of repercussions. And so derisiveness and incivility festered, and conversation became more and more inflammatory, and society’s mores lowered. Comment sections on Youtube posts and CNN videos are typically heartbreaking, and there is natural carryover to in-person conversation.

    Pair this degradation with some Christians who have a tendency to look first for what is wrong about a person doctrinally, sometimes under the noble objective of evangelism. A whole bunch of yucky, negative discussion emerges. I know many who think the modern church is too soft and inviting, and Jesus is “the stubborn Scandalon”, and I’m sometimes inclined to agree, but surely there’s a way to let our words be undergirded with love, not just in name only, but in practice.

  47. BuckBuck the Nordic Wonderduck

    Pshaw, Dan R. Thanks. 😉

    There’s a verse in Deuteronomy 25 about testicles. I remember the first time I read it vividly, because I was a young Christian working methodically through the Scriptures, determined to understand every single verse no matter what. I got to Deut 25:11 and all gears jammed. I flat couldn’t figure it out.

    “What in the WORLD is this verse doing in the Bible?” I thought. “This makes no sense! It’s so weird! It’s so random! This verse will never, ever, ever apply to my life. Ever.” That’s what I thought. And I was wrong.

    Deut 25:11 says that if a woman sees her husband getting attacked, and if she grabs the other guy’s stuff in an effort to save her hubby… the right thing to do is to cut her hand off.

    Cut her hand off? Seriously? I was baffled. What does that have to do with anything ever?

    However, about six years after getting stumped, I lived that scenario. I was that woman, and I didn’t even realize the gravity of the mistake I was making.

    So now I’m posting a confession. The ugliest sins I’ve ever committed within the body of Christ have been out of fear that God wouldn’t do His job. I’ve jumped into fights that weren’t my own, and I have tried to emasculate God’s opponents in the power of my own hands. For decades I lived thinking too little of His strength, and too much of my own.

    Several reasons for that:

    1.) I’m a type-A over-achiever, so I tend to carry responsibility that’s not mine at all.

    2.) Truth and justice matter to me a lot. Usually I sense very quickly if something is unsound.

    3.) Red-head. I am a Finn Button-type fighter by nature. A defender. A front-line fool who charges in where angels fear.

    4.) Polemic theological roots. I was trained as a warrior. I was trained that this was righteous.

    And you know what’s sad? Almost every time I have jumped in to fight against evil, I have been absolutely right in my analysis of wrong. I have been right, but what I’ve done about it has been wrong. I have chosen actions based on fear, anger, and self-will.

    It has been like getting dragon skins pealed to learn that reliance upon the strength of my own arms is a terrible offense. It is anti-gospel.

    Of course, I’m not saying that we shouldn’t comment on Rob Bell. But I need exhortations to context, kindness, and “faithing” (Ron Block). I need to let God fight His own battles, and wait for His cues to get involved.

  48. Nathanael

    No matter how much we would like to think we are unbiased and balanced, we are not. We are the product of our surroundings.
    Jason, your admonition is spot on. Only in community, where we can be held accountable for our reactions, can we grow in this area. If I isolate myself from those with whom I disagree and only surround myself with those who agree with me, I am the poorer for it.
    We are more prone to give the benefit of the doubt to an author or preacher that we like. But if we disagree with someone, even if we don’t read the book for ourselves, we find posts of reviews that confirm our concerns, and we give the reviewer (but not the author) the benefit of the doubt.
    But if I understand the tone of your post, brother, we should give everyone the benefit of the doubt (Pipers and Bells) not just those we like.

    Great thoughts.

  49. Fellow Traveler

    Some folks here have discussed the danger/consequences of saying too much. And yet, I wonder…has anybody considered the danger/consequences of silence?

  50. Fellow Traveler

    Well, in that case, I’ve seen many people speak against Rob Bell who are clearly speaking in love, with a heart to illuminate the Scriptures. They quote his exact words, without paraphrase, and then answer him directly where he is. In so doing, they are helping a lot of people who are simply confused.

    I see nothing to censure in this approach.

  51. Jon HIMknotmeasles Slone

    Note to self, this Halloween, don’t dress up like Buck Buck the wonder Nunchuck! She may in fack, hi-yah me with her rancor-riddled red tresses! LOL

    Okay, this one deserves a response right?

  52. Amy

    This is my first official Jason Gray post here at RR (I’m rather new to the place), but I would like to echo what others have been saying–very well thought out and well executed.

    I know Rob Bell isn’t the point, but honestly, I’m tired of the whole Rob Bell thing. I don’t want to read the book, discuss it, and the more I hear about it (from people who have read it), the more misgivings I have about the whole situation.

    The whole thing is angering me on both sides…I mean, how can people who say “love wins” go on to insult their fellow Christians? How can Christians who seek to “correct” act so hatefully? Ugh. I just want to run away from the whole thing. Thankfully, this post offered some intelligent perspective and I didn’t run away from it.

  53. Amanda

    Can I just say to BuckBuck, I so look forward to searching out your fiery head in the crowds of heaven. You have greatly entertained me with your wit.

    I oft seesaw from being still to jumping up…..ah, the recipe for being like Christ to the woman at the well. That I could speak Truth into someones life in such a way that would make them want to tell all their friends about the one who told them all they had ever done wrong with such love that they MUST meet me to hear the same. I can tell you most assuredly, I have NOT this skill (yet!)

    I have pondered all these comments and found such wisdom and truth. Thank you to each that have written and kudos to Jason for your boldness in posting- LOVE that about you.

    I think there is both folly and failure at either end of the argument over silence vs. defense. I am almost always quick to speak, many times to my regret. But I absolutely think there are situations that require a response. I wish for the sake of the Gospel that our responses could be like His would be.

  54. Sam

    Jason, I love how much you encourage “self-suspicion”. Your music is SO good at encouraging this element. My wife and I often talk about “hiding behind lobster tanks” to examine our motives for avoiding people. So, please don’t take this as any sort of attack, but I think it is important that we differentiate between suspicion of our own motives and suspicion of what God has revealed. That is the concern that many have with Bell – a suspicion not of self, but of God’s revelation in Scripture.

    Maybe I wasn’t discerning enough, but I don’t think Martin Bashir’s interview with Bell was inappropriate at all. It seemed like good journalism in search for elusive clarity. (ironically, Bashir is part ofTim Keller’s church).

    I’m thankful that you are encouraging self-suspicion of our motives for speaking truth, but I want to express my desire that we still engage in robust and respectful dialogue about what is true.

  55. Fellow Traveler

    Okay, sorry, I was trying to put a link here, but the link doesn’t seem to be going through. I would just like to say that I would highly recommend a radio interview Paul Edwards did with Martin Bashir for those who want to know more about his background and his views. It’s very thought-provoking and worth a listen.

  56. Jen

    Jason, it’s good to see you around here again. I’ll never object to your long posts. And look at all the discussion you started! I read the post this morning, came back to comment… and now I just feel late to the party. 🙂

    My concern through this whole thing wasn’t really the bloggers. The one that started it all (Justin Taylor, I think?) didn’t strike me as super inflammatory, and though it might have been out of line to say Bell had “laid his cards on the table” and was for sure a universalist (without reading the book), I appreciated his willingness to keep editing and clarifying as he learned more.

    It was the Twitter firestorm that bothered me. All those short bursts of anger and defense back and forth that put “Rob Bell” on Twitter’s front page really made me sad, because, like you said, the whole world is seeing our conduct, and it’s not the picture of love and grace Christians are supposed to have. That’s what hurts me most.

    Now that there’s some distance from the original drama, I appreciate the more thoughtful discussion that’s happening. Maybe the biggest lesson we can get from this is not to be reactive and just throw the first thought we have out on Twitter, but recognize the power of words and do some serious thinking before we go public.

    Sometimes good comes of it… just a couple days after the big controversy, I talked to a friend for a long time about Bell and Piper and some of our theological confusions and hangups. It turned out to be one of the most honest, freeing and meaningful talks about theology I’ve ever had with anyone. I’d like to think that Team Bell and Team Piper can both agree that’s a good thing.

    Mark (#60) – You are SO right on about the anonymity of the Internet. It’s so easy to forget there are people behind those comments.

    And BuckBuck (#22) – Big teeth! Yeah, beware those evil rabbits. Your comments crack me up. I like you. 😉

  57. Jen

    also, disregard this random empty comment. I just wanted to check the e-mail notify box. Because I don’t want to miss stuff and be late to the party again.

    Hi. =)

  58. Michele Lucas

    Beautiful!! It has been ripping at the corners of my heart to see this reaction. I was asked for my response by someone who valued my opinion and I said, I don’t know, I haven’t read it yet!
    When I was in Bible college, I also managed a fast food place. One of my employees approached me and very respectfully asked for my opinion on a matter that was obviously weighing heavily on her heart. She asked me if God was a male or a female. She said that this devisive issue was literally tearing her church in two, and wondered if I could settle the matter once and for all. My response was, does it effect your salvation? She gave me an inquisitive look and said, ‘what?’ I asked again, if God is male or female, does the fact that you are saved change? She said, well….no. I guess not. So, I said, does it really matter? This is a tool of the enemy to divide your church, and it’s WORKING.
    Nuf’ said.

  59. Heather

    I find it interesting to me that we are still passionately concerned about our “reactionary” techniques, when I really see no passion at all for the Truth in the modern evangelical church. If Rob Bell’s book (and I also have only read reviews and his own comments) is saying the things I think it is saying, I think the church at large lacks the spine to deal with it. Instead of reacting how you seem to be implying, it will probably be heartily embraced, much like the way The Shack was circa 2007/8.

    Piper’s comments on Twitter have been (in my opinion) nothing short of what Paul urged the Corinthians to do with those in the church in 1Corinthians 5, and again in Acts 20 when he told the leaders of Ephasus to “be on their guard” due to men who would arise and “distort the truth.” Do recall the way John Piper stood up for Mark Driscoll in the wake of some unfortunate comments made (which Driscoll later apologized for).

    Finally, while I do accept your point that Truth doesn’t “need” us. We are also made aware the Jesus Christ is the way The Truth and the light. When we defend the truth, we defend Christ. You are correct that this should be done gently. But from what I have seen from the evangelical church, we are not erring on the side of too much harshness. We are erring on the side of not acting or speaking when we ought.

  60. Chris

    I think that there has been a lot more constructive reaction to the Bell video than this post indicates. I understand that you are concerned with the tone of the discussion and I think that is right. But when an influential pastor broadly distributes ideas that are contrary to Biblical truth, it is necessary to say something.

    If a pastor that I respect were to publicly question a doctrine that is clearly laid out in Scripture, I would be disappointed if there was silence. If Mr. Bell is right, then he has nothing to fear from his detractors. But if he is wrong, then it is not his eternal fate alone that is at stake. And that is why I think it is appropriate that people of influence pointed very directly to the Truth in Scripture.

    One last comment: if you check Piper’s Tweet, he included a link to an article that clearly articulated some of the issues with Bell’s point of view. To indicate that Piper Tweeted a trite dismissal of Bell is simply not true.

  61. Fellow Traveler

    @76: Heather, I hereby dub you a genius. You are so right. Isn’t it ironic that everybody is getting so worried that the Church might be too outspoken, when really we don’t see this kind of clear, intelligent handling of falsehood often enough! I think people need to wake up and realize what the problem really is, because it sure isn’t hastiness to speak out for the truth.

  62. BuckBuck the Nordic Wonderduck

    Thanks, Jen. Back atcha.

    I’ve actually been super depressed all day because about five minutes after Jason Grey posted this, the best knock-knock joke I’ve ever thought up suddenly came to me, and now I can’t tell it to anyone. Because it’s about Rob Bell.

  63. Fellow Traveler

    Also, I think one could point out the fact that Bell has been writing and speaking for years, so if somebody today were to say, “Boy, I just really think that guy’s theology is out of line” without reading the current book under discussion, it’s not like that person would have nothing to go on with his statement. Bell has given us a lot of different kinds of material to survey and evaluate already.

    Example: Although he’s never come right out and denied the virgin birth, there’s a passage in _Velvet Elvis_ that comes across as very pointedly dismissive of its significance.

  64. Fellow Traveler

    And apropos of what Chris just said above, I think this link (which someone else already shared), is a perfect example of thoughtful, constructive Christian discussion surrounding Bell’s book. At no point do these four pastors do or say anything that could be construed as hateful: They simply answer Bell’s arguments, drawing heavily from Scripture and trying their very hardest to understand exactly what Bell is saying without misunderstanding it.

    I’m very grateful for pastors like this, and what they’re doing here certainly doesn’t offend me in the least.

  65. Fellow Traveler

    (By the way, if it sounds like I already said that, it’s because I did. I think the leprechauns ate it, so I thought I’d repost. :-D)

  66. John

    Fellow Traveler said: (By the way, if it sounds like I already said that, it’s because I did. I think the leprechauns ate it, so I thought I’d repost. :-D)

    Or maybe it had something to do with the editor’s note: [Editor’s Note: Please keep your comments germane to the subject of Jason’s post. Comments will be tightly moderated if necessary.]

    And if you think Velvet Elvis is “very pointedly dismissive of its significance” (talking about the virgin birth), then I’m afraid you completely missed the point of that chapter.

  67. Heather

    Thanks for the genius nomination @Fellow Traveler. And yes, I’m familiar with Velvet Elvis, and some of the things in there definitely make me squirm. And while I don’t think some of the “lambasting” is helpful/appropriate, I do think that perhaps distancing ourselves from people with dangerous views such as Rob Bell holds would actually, in the long run, cause him to see the error of his ways.

  68. Fellow Traveler

    Although, I seem to recall Jesus lambasting a few people too…

    So it would seem that even sharp words aren’t always necessarily wrong or out of place.

  69. Heather

    Very true. And (as Jason Gray points out in the above post) Jesus did take the time to braid the whips. But I’d like to point out that he didn’t just use it to gently urge them out of the temple.

  70. Fellow Traveler

    Heather, you might like this video. Somebody took one of Bell’s (in)famous “Noomas,” originally called Bullhorn Guy, and changed it a little: Bullwhip Guy

    You should probably watch Rob’s original first to get the full impact, but it’s worth it!

  71. Pete Peterson

    As I said in my note at the end of the post, the comments in this thread need to be germane to the subject at hand. The subject at hand is NOT the rightness or wrongness of Rob Bell’s position. Jason is addressing the tone and method of discourse among Christians, and using the current controversy as a talking point.

    I have removed comments that veer too far toward making doctrinal judgments, not because there is anything right or wrong with the comment, not because I/we agree or disagree, but because they are not relevant to the discussion of this post.

    There are plenty of places on the internet where those sorts are discussions are going on, there may even been a post on the topic here at the Rabbit Room at some point, but this post is not it and we don’t want the conversation to descend into a back and forth debate of Rob Bell’s book.

    Comments are welcome. Disagreement is welcome. Let’s just keep it on topic.

    Thanks 🙂

  72. Fellow Traveler

    Okay, but I had one comment here where I was trying to respond to a statement affirmed by somebody else in this thread to the effect that there’s nothing Bell says that Lewis didn’t say already. I merely pointed out that this isn’t the case, offering a couple examples from _The Great Divorce_. That was all–just a response to someone else on here who brought up the topic first.

  73. Heather

    Out of respectful curiosity, I fail to see how the discussion of Rob Bell’s theology isn’t “germane.” I think the point being made by many people is that it’s very necessary to call out lies for what they really are. If Rob Bell only put forward minor doctrinal disagreements and was shouted down by other believers, then Jason Gray’s post would be indeed called for. But the seriousness of his flawed theology is the whole reason that strong rhetoric is, in some cases, called for. I’m wondering how this can be discussed without mentioning his beliefs. But of course, I rest with the moderator’s decisions.

  74. Margaret

    I’ve been sort of percolating on this in the last few days (after my own indignation gave way to sadness). I think, Jason, you’re right on in what you’re saying. I think that we do jump to “righteous” anger too fast and when I saw this news hit the front page of I cringed because I know how the rest of world laughs at our infighting.

    It’s true that God doesn’t need us to fight his battles, but he does tell us that we are to love each other. I cringe at people like McLaren who offer “love” in the form of blanket affirmation and “space” to ask questions without offering answers (at best), but I also cringe at those who don’t think think about what love looks like beyond brutal truth (emphasis on the brutal).

    The simple fact that Scripture teaches is that God’s love is counterintuitive to our human love. Our love is easily swayed, but God’s is sacrificial, our love is too aware of what others think, God’s stands up to those who hate him.

    The people hurt in this media storm are the ones who looked at Christians and were further pushed from God, though I know that God is faithful and will correct our mistakes. Perhaps there’s too much emphasis on what Rob Bell and Piper think instead of careful study in the local church context. I can’t help but feel that the broad finger-pointing on either side (whether right or wrong) doesn’t paint the entire church with too wide of a brush. Does that make sense?

  75. Jason Gray


    Okay, I’m trying to not weigh in here again… but part of the problem as I see it (and I don’t want this to degrade into fruitless doctrinal debate between armchair theologians – of which I readily admit that I am one…) is that we aren’t suspicious enough yet about our own theological lenses – meaning the lens that we have assumed or inherited that colors the way we see the world/scripture/etc. Some here are still assuming Bell to be heretical before either being curious enough to engage the questions he raises or before even reading the book.

    Again, I’m not defending Bell, this isn’t about that. But I would like to suggest that we not be afraid to be curious and that we engage the questions without being defensive. They aren’t altogether unworthy questions. (though I know some have taken issue with Bell for being a bit heavy-handed in the way he asks his “questions” – be that as it may, he’s not responsible for the way we choose to respond)

    But I think we tend to be prematurely dismissive because we may be – some of us, not all of us – oblivious of the theological lens that we see the world through.

    I was talking with a friend about this the other day and he went on a diatribe about dispensationalism, how dangerous of a theological lens it is, how it was basically championed by one voice in our culture – a man that my friend referred to as a mad-man – and how it has been adopted by all the major theological seminaries in the West.

    I have no opinion on dispensationalism and not enough information, but if any part of what my friend was saying is true, it’s a compelling example of a theological lens that we have accepted with little question.

    Either way my friends comments invited me to be curious about whether or not I’ve allowed some human dogma determine the way I understand my faith and it has made me want to look into it. In the end I may find that my friend’s claims were ridiculous, or I may find he’s on to something. But either way, my curiosity is not my enemy.

    (Just using that as an example – PLEASE, let’s not debate dispensationalism :- )

    All that to say, I perceive some comments here as coming from the standpoint of certainty that Bell is a radical heretic. Some of this feels to me like defensiveness and labeling that evades honest engagement with the questions. (Let me say that I don’t think that’s the case with everybody – I’m sure there are some out there who have rigorously thought through their position on this and are well aware of their theological lens and have intentionally embraced it – I have no issue with them addressing Bell’s claims).

    Stephen Lamb’s comment #55 is worth consideration – the fact that at least some of Bell’s wonderings have been considered by some of the great minds of our century, among them C.S. Lewis. To call Lewis a heretic would be an unfortunate injustice.

    But do you see how the polarized nature of our culture colors our conversations? If Lewis released “The Great Divorce” today, I wonder if he’d be labeled a heretic and his name smeared via twitter. If so, we would shut out the voice of one of the greatest champions of Christian faith that our century has known.

    Is he infallible? Is Bell or Piper infallible? Of course not. But that doesn’t mean we invalidate their entire ministry. I think the question I’m really hoping that we will ask ourselves – that I need to ask myself – is whether or not we believe we’re infallible. The answer is obvious, but I know that I for one too readily assume my position is right.

    The best thing that could come of Bell’s book is that we are encouraged to reconsider what Hell is all about, that it would drive us to God’s word and inspire deeper dependence on the Holy Spirit to reveal and clarify. But for some of us, our dogma is so precious to us and we’re so needy for certainty that we cease to be curious anymore.

    But loving conversation must include curiosity.

    My most significant growth and revelation has always come from trusting that God is in control of my life enough for me to be able to let go of things I was once so sure of in order to receive something even better, deeper. For instance, I once believed that I came to Jesus and that it was I who chose to be saved when I prayed the sinner’s prayer. But now I know it’s so much richer than that, that while that is true in part, it is truer to understand that it was Jesus who came to me and Jesus who chose to save me, and as to when I was saved – was it when I prayed the prayer? Or was I saved since the foundation of time? Are neither true, or both? It is a mystery that fills me with wonder, but I only gain access to it by surrendering my previous understanding as an act of trust.

    I know we can’t entertain every crazy idea that comes along – but are we curious enough to at least look it over when it comes to the door, see if it’s packing heat, and at least look it in the eye? Do we trust the Lord enough to wonder if the idea that seems crazy to us right this moment may be revealed to be true to us later? Come on, the incarnation? The resurrection? None of Bell’s ideas are as crazy as those.

    And I’m not saying we shouldn’t hold Bell theologically accountable – and some are doing that well. But I suspect most of us are reacting without genuine engagement and without taking into account the myriad of theological assumptions that we’ve unconsciously made or have inherited that have brought us to our current convictions.

    One of the things I wonder about – that I’m suspicious of in myself – is whether we’re trying so hard to avoid the pain of being wrong (unworthy, not good enough) by painstakingly trying to construct an air-tight theology that relieves us of the tension of having to trust. I wonder if we still believe we can figure it all out, that we can build the tower of Babel.

    I know everything I’ve just said has holes in it, that there are qualifications and exceptions, etc. But what do you at least think of the spirit of this? Is it worth wondering if curiosity is a virtue? That we do well to hold our theological lenses loosely? I don’t hold certainty in contempt, but knowing that self-righteousness and fear find a really good hiding place in my certainty, is it good to be at least a little suspicious of it?

    Anyway – for the record, I’m probably a little more mainstream than Bell in my understanding of the afterlife, but I am grateful to be considering these questions again and for the way they ask me to loosen my death grip on my current theological lens.

    Spirit of God, speak to us through your Word.

  76. Jason Gray


    And here’s an email I got from a Baptist pastor friend of mine that I thought got to another part of it that hasn’t been discussed:

    “I too, was taken back concerning the negative onslaught of so many, including Taylor & Piper. Though I am no universalist, I responded by asking the question: “Can you be a Christian and a universalist?” Is it really Jesus and Jesus alone? Or is it Jesus plus some doctrinal, or worse yet, convictional position? One of the bloggers called him “Satan,” and another “a wolf.” Gotta love evangelicals, or at least until you cross us!”

  77. Fellow Traveler

    “Do we trust the Lord enough to wonder if the idea that seems crazy to us right this moment may be revealed to be true to us later? Come on, the incarnation? The resurrection? None of Bell’s ideas are as crazy as those.”


    Well, I think there’s a difference, namely, that the incarnation and the resurrection have been revealed to us in Scripture by God, and Bell’s ideas have been revealed to us in Rob Bell’s books by Rob Bell.

  78. Fellow Traveler

    “I suspect most of us are reacting without genuine engagement and without taking into account the myriad of theological assumptions that we’ve unconsciously made or have inherited that have brought us to our current convictions.”

    Jason, I mean this in the most respectful way possible, but that comes across as a patronizing statement. Correct me if I’m wrong, but you seem to be implying that the majority of the people who have left comments here have failed to think through what they believe very carefully, or are failing to “engage” with what Bell has to say. We’ve all either read the book or read pieces of the book, we’ve all seen interviews and promo material from him discussing the book, and I would bet that most of us have absorbed at least one thorough, careful review of the book. I don’t think it’s inappropriate for us to make some conclusions at this point.

  79. Jason Gray


    Fellow Traveler, but you just said that these thoughts about the afterlife are “Bell’s ideas that have been revealed to us in Rob Bell’s books by Rob Bell.”

    That’s just not true. These are questions that have been being asked for the ages, and people who are just coming to the conversation for the first time because of Bell’s book probably haven’t had time or space to do the kind of rigorous thinking/prayer/reflection that I’m advocating. Your comment reveals that you are dismissing Bell’s ideas out of hand without considering the history behind them.

    Again – not defending the ideas, just hoping to encourage us to see our tendency to react rather than do the long hard work of responding responsibly

  80. Fellow Traveler

    I actually didn’t use the word “afterlife.” I was referring to”Bell’s ideas” more generally, including all his various ideas about theology.

    As for the afterlife, it’s true that we find people like Origen who were advocating universalism very early on. However, it’s worth noting that Origen and his ilk were dismissed as heretical very early on as well. And John Piper didn’t have anything to do with it! 😉

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