Home / News / Pastor Rob Bell: Love wins, no one goes to hell–sparks fury in evangelical community
Pastor Rob Bell:  Love wins, no one goes to hell–sparks fury in evangelical community

Pastor Rob Bell: Love wins, no one goes to hell–sparks fury in evangelical community

When Jesus preached love, he got the same reaction from the religious community that Pastor Rob Bell is getting–except Bell is getting a vocal crucifixion from the pious in the evangelical community instead of a literal one. What's the controversy?  Bell is preaching that everyone has a chance of going to heaven, which differs from the evangelical message that one must accept Christ into one's heart and believe that He is the Son of God–or go to hell.  This is the central, and most accepted premise of Christianity, and Bell is blowing it, well, to hell.   His new book Love Wins:A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived.

Time Magazine reports:

When word of Love Wins reached the Internet, one conservative Evangelical pastor, John Piper, tweeted, "Farewell Rob Bell," unilaterally attempting to evict Bell from the Evangelical community. R. Albert Mohler Jr., president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, says Bell's book is "theologically disastrous. Any of us should be concerned when a matter of theological importance is played with in a subversive way." In North Carolina, a young pastor was fired by his church for endorsing the book…Bell's arguments about heaven and hell raise doubts about the core of the Evangelical worldview, changing the common understanding of salvation so much that Christianity becomes more of an ethical habit of mind than a faith based on divine revelation. "When you adopt universalism and erase the distinction between the church and the world," says Mohler, "then you don't need the church, and you don't need Christ, and you don't need the cross. This is the tragedy of nonjudgmental mainline liberalism, and it's Rob Bell's tragedy in this book too."

What exactly Jesus preached has always been up for controversy.  Some claim Jesus' message was essentially a liberal one–love everyone, even your enemies, forgive those who persecute you, don't look down on people because nobody is better than anybody else, help the poor by feeding and clothing them, and Jesus even did something scathingly socialistic: He gave free health care to anyone who believed in Him.  Where was Jesus' church?  It was not a building–He preached wherever, whenever, even in peoples' houses.  So is the evangelical fear really the fear of a loss of power if people discover that Jesus and God are as far from the vengeful Old Testament God as they can get? What if love really wins and nobody goes to hell?  Does that mean people won't want the community of church?
Pastor Bell's congregation seems to contradict that evangelical fear. His church attracts 7,000 congregants weekly, and for the unchurched, seems a friendly, non-judgmental place to go build a relationship with God.   The very ferocity of the attacks on Bell by the evangelical community–most recently when Franklin Graham called Bell a "heretic" because "hell is real."shows that Bell has become a force to be reckoned with.   The Christian Post adds:
“For a very popular, charismatic, evangelical pastor to come out and call the traditional view of hell as toxic, misguided, and for him to mock the view of his grandmother – which he admits in the book – he has really thrown a grenade at the evangelical count,” said Trevin Wax in an interview with The Christian Post on Thursday.
Yet controversy has been good for the book–it's at No. 2 on the New York Times bestseller list, and Bell's controversial views have made the cover of the latest Time magazine cover.  Bell's message also brings new debate over free will–has God truly left it up to us to create the world we live in?  Or will God "judge" the evil and save the "good?"   For God to be all loving, it would seem that God cannot kill, yet this is what the book of Revelation says God/Christ will do, that the blood will be rein deep when Christ/God wreaks final judgment on the world.  The debate also shows the difficulties of interpreting the Bible–and that many people bring many interpretations to the Gospel, no matter the fundamentalist belief that everything is laid out in black and white.  The New York Times adds that some theologians are glad the debate over heaven and hell is being reopened:

Others such as Scot McKnight, a professor of theology at North Park University in Chicago, said they welcomed the renewed discussion of one of the hardest issues in Christianity — can a loving God really be so wrathful toward people who faltered, or never were exposed to Jesus? In an interview and on his blog, he said that the thunder emanating from the right this week was not representative of American Christians, even evangelicals. According to surveys and his experience with students, Mr. McKnight said, a large majority of evangelical Christians “more or less believe that people of other faiths will go to heaven,” whatever their churches and theologians may argue.

“Rob Bell is tapping into a younger generation that really wants to open up these questions,” he said. “He is also tapping into the fear of the traditionalists — that these differing views of heaven and hell will compromise the Christian message.”

The nature of American religious history shows that religious debate is not new–religion in America has conformed to changing views and the rise of modernity, and is now being shaped in a postmodernist fashion.   One thing is for sure–it's making people buy his book, and challenges theological boundaries.

Dakota O'Leary

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About Dakota O'Leary

Dakota O'Leary is a freethinker, and often sassy, scholar of theology and literature. She got her Bachelor of Arts degree in English and Theology from the State University of New York College at Buffalo, and her Master of Arts degree in Theology and Literature from Antioch University-Midwest. She is a contributing writer focusing on eschatology, biblical prophecy, and general religious news. Dakota is a co-host of the God Discussion radio show, offering insight to the news stories of the week. We like to call her "our in-house Biblical prophecy expert" as her articles on eschatology have received over 200,000 views on God Discussion.
  • Sally

    I like this guy. The evangelicals are so closed off from reality that they needed a shaking. Good for him. Besides, who knows? Revelation may have been written by some doped up loser who hated God. Who knows? One has to have faith, grounded in their past, grounded in their beliefs. Who knows? For the evangelicals, who spawned the least Christian person out there, Sarah Palin, to demand allegiance to a strict belief system that damns a segment of God's creation, is wrong.

  • Lilybart

    The Jews say there is a Hell, but no one goes there.

    I like this guy.
    and I like this Jesus guy too and if people wanted to be like the Jesus in the New Testament, I could get on board.

  • GarColga

    The notion of Hell as a place of everlasting punishment has got precious little scriptural support, depending entirely on misinterpretation and mistranslation. There are also many verses in the New Testament weighing against such a horrible idea.

    1Cor. 15:21-22: "For since death came through a human being, the resurrection of the dead has also come through a human being; for as all die in Adam, so all will be made alive in Christ".

    Mark 3:28: "Verily I say unto you, All sins shall be forgiven unto the Sons of men, and blasphemies wherewith soever they shall blaspheme".

    1Tim 4:10 "For therefore we both labour and suffer reproach, because we trust in the living God, who is the Savior of all men, specially of those that believe".

    Obviously the idea of universal salvation is not a big hit with hucksters and priests because it would make them largely irrelevant.

  • Now this is my kind of Pastor. Once you have felt the love of Jesus Christ you will never again believe the nonsense of hell. I've said for a long time that Jesus doesn't care whether we believe in him or not. What he does care about is whether we love each other in order to make this world, right here and now a better place.

  • molly Malone

    I suspect that the underlying reason for evangelical outrage over Bell's take on hell is because this would mean that heaven is no longer their exclusive property.

  • The message of punishment of the wicked is a message preached since Blical time began. Christ let us know that there is indeed a Hell. If there is no hell why did he die? He died for nothing if that is the case. The message of a "no hell" is an excuse to forget our abominations, to dismiss the consequences for our actions. Christ taught love first, forgiveness of our enemies, but he certainly taught hell. The evangelical community is twisted in their teachings laced with hate and damnation for those who do not follow their theological traditions, they are no better than the Pharisees that Christ spoke against in his day, they lock people out of the Kingdom of Heaven by their traditions. Everyone gets a chance either in this world or the world to come because contrary to popular thought about the second coming of Christ, there will be people left on this earth (not many) when he rules from Jerusalem. If no one is left why does Christ rule for 1000 years?

    Christ's words stings sometimes, and his message is in perfect harmony with the Hebrew Bible teachings on the Messiah and especially the suffering servant. Christ brought new knowledge to earth via the revelation of the true nature of the Kingdom of Heaven and the existence of the Holy Ghost. The Kingdom of Heaven is inside of us all. Christ also taught the dead when he was in the tomb for three days to give them a chance.

    Christ spoke briefly on the end times but he one absolute he did teach, ""Matthew 24:14.And this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world for a witness unto all nations; and then shall the end come.""

    Most evangelicals interpret this scripture as the basic Word of GOD will preached to everyone on earth but that's not what Jesus said, he said the Gospel of the Kingdom (of Heaven) will be preached to all "Nations" not every single person on earth. G-D will not forsake those who have never been taught, they will get a chance to accept Christ as atonement for sins. Christ also taught about the period of time called the Great Tribulation, which I honestly believe we are in the midst of and his central message was "DECEPTION". He warned us that the number one thing that will happen during this time period is DECEPTION and teachings external to the Bible is the most dangerous enemy we have today.


  • People like Franklin Graham teach that all people go to hell if they have not accepted Jesus Christ and have been born again. If hell were real, this is the most absurd, monstrous teaching of Christianity I can think of. In this case, I agree 100% with Bill O'Reilly (who interviewed Graham earlier this week) that this means that people like Stalin and a little child all go to the same eternal damnation simply for not accepting Jesus Christ. It is completely illogical and fails to take into consideration behavior.

    Secondly, there are interpretations of the original text of the gospels that hell was referring to a garbage dump near Jerusalem where indeed, there were worms and fire.

    GarCoiga is correct that there is little biblical support for an everlasting torment in hell. It is more of a "2nd death" in a lake of fire.

    While I personally do not believe in the heaven and hell, I applaud Bell for presenting the compassionate side of Christianity.


    • GarColga

      "there are interpretations of the original text of the gospels that hell was referring to a garbage dump near Jerusalem where indeed, there were worms and fire."

      The Hebrew word that the King James translators translated as "hell" was "Gehenna". Gehenna was an actual place in the Valley of Hinnom outside of Jerusalem, and it is mentioned several time in the Old Testament as a place where human sacrifice took place – in Jewish folklore Gehenna was the very picture of an accursed, dark place.

  • It's really difficult to understand why church scholars do not come out and clear the air about the problem of hell in the New Testament scriptures. I have read several leading Protestant and Catholic theologians admit in obscure scholarly works that the biblical teaching on hell(sheol, gehenna, hades, tartaroos etc.)is not as simple and coherent as Christians imagine–but they generally avoid upsetting church tradition and simply don't talk in popular forums about the things they write about in their scholarly papers.

  • The outrage is because this man claims to be a Christian. Because of guys like this I have to work all the harder to defend the faith against those who would use guys like this against us.

    For many of us, sound doctrine and church history still mean something. When someone comes along and re-writes both, it is the churches God-given duty to oppose them.

    The apostle Paul was not above such scrutiny ( Bereans ), and neither is Bell.

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