As my American readers will know, Rob Bell, Fuller Theological Seminary alumnus, has a new book out called Love Wins: A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived.

The book has created a firestorm because of Bell’s apparent universalism, which he has denied.  Bell is pastor of the Mars Hill Bible Church in Grandville, Michigan. (His church is not to be confused with Mark Driscoll’s Mars Hill Church in Seattle, Washington.)  He is prominent in the emergent church movement — which, incidentally, the Archbishop of Canterbury endorses — and has written books about his theology.  As such, Bell is directly or indirectly responsible for thousands of souls around the world and, in some sense, for their salvation or condemnation.

Recall what St James said (James 3:1):

Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness.

Now, if Rob Bell were a layman discussing his views at a dinner party, that would be one thing.  But, he is what St James described as a ‘teacher’.  And, as such, a significant number of Christians will look to him for theological guidance.

As my regular readers already know, I am only now reading the Bible in its entirety for the first time.  I’m completing my second reading of the New Testament and am over halfway through my first reading of the Old Testament.  I’m not mentioning that fact out of hubris but as a plea to everyone to either start reading it or to reread it.  Don’t make the same lifelong mistake I did!

I attended church faithfully from the time I was a toddler.  I was christened, made my First Holy Communion and was confirmed five years later.  Yet, despite this and my Catholic school education, I was still woefully ignorant of the Bible.  This remained the case when I became an Episcopalian many years ago.  Partly this is because the passages relating to salvation and hell are just not preached.  Many are excluded from the three-year Lectionary, and clergy give their sermons based on those Sunday and weekday readings.  This is why I started Forbidden Bible Verses.  Some of you who go to traditional Bible and evangelical churches will know them, but many people — including seminarians — will not.

In any event, it was the quotations from the Bible which piqued my interest.  A few years ago I started looking for Protestant blogs and saw that the Calvinists intersperse quotes from the Bible — prooftext — their assertions.  For two years, I read these thinking, ‘Is that what Scripture says?  Really? I’d better read it for myself.’  Gradually, from reading smaller passages which I didn’t know, I moved onto the Grant Horner Bible Reading System, which I continue to use.

The point is that I can see errors in Rob Bell’s theology, and these are dangerous.  Those pastors and lay bloggers who criticise his books and sermons are correct to do so, as I shall explain in detail this week.  But, imagine the people — like myself only a few years ago — who haven’t read Scripture or learned it was ‘allegorical’ and ‘for its time’. In other words, ‘don’t worry about it — keep attending church, that’s the main thing’.  They’re high school or university students.  They’re young adults on their own in the world.  They’re middle-aged folks coming back to the Church after a long hiatus.  They don’t know what they believe or why they believe it.  After all, the Bible is a dead book, is it not?  It was fine then, but we’ve moved on.

So, when USA Today (and other newspapers) feature articles such as ‘Pastor/author’s Love Wins bedevils traditionalists’, people read that prominent American theologians — among them Fuller Theological Seminary’s President — endorse Bell, what more can they think other than, ‘Must be okay’ (emphases mine throughout):

Richard Mouw, president of the world’s largest Protestant seminary, Fuller Theological Seminary based in Pasadena, Calif., calls Love Wins “a great book, well within the bounds of orthodox Christianity and passionate about Jesus.

The real hellacious fight, says Mouw, a friend of Bell, a Fuller graduate, is between “generous orthodoxy and stingy orthodoxy. There are stingy people who just want to consign many others to hell and only a few to heaven and take delight in the idea. But Rob Bell allows for a lot of mystery in how Jesus reaches people.”

Hmm.  First, Mouw should know better.  He comes from a Reformed (i.e. Calvinist) background.  Second, the New Testament — from Jesus’s words in the Gospels to those of the Apostles in the Epistles — makes salvation and damnation very clear.  Many of the passages Bell uses to his advantage are intended for believers.  They do not apply universally.

Third, to address Dr Mouw’s accusation of believers taking delight in others’ condemnation, nothing could be more inaccurate.  Faithful Christians evangelise in order to draw people to Christ’s truth, away from error and heresy.

It should be noted that Rob Bell does not confine his appearances to his own pulpit.  He also speaks to other Protestant denominations.  Manny Silva’s Reformed Nazarene blog details Bell’s and the Emergents’ infiltration into the Church of the Nazarene.  Have a look at ‘Northwest Nazarene University: Symbol Of What’s Wrong In Our Christian Schools’:

In NNU’s theology courses, you will find emergent leaders, Roman Catholic mystics, and modern day mystics such as Richard Foster in the textbooks used.  The Master’s in Spiritual Formation program uses books by Henri Nouwen, Richard Foster, Donald Miller, Rob Bell, Steve Chalke, Brother Lawrence, Eugene Peterson, Brian McLaren, and Dallas Willard.  There are two Nazarenes on the list, but they both support open theism, process theology, and do not believe in biblical inerrancy.  The M.A. in Missional Leadership, and M.A. in Pastoral Leadership, also are stacked with books from the same kind of writers.  It makes one wonder, is there a severe shortage of textbooks by Bible believing teachers?  Even the M.A. in Christian Education is filled with textbooks from emergent authors such as McLaren, Sweet, and Phylis Tickle …

Point Loma Nazarene University has been going the way of contemplative spirituality for quite a while, and also has brought false teachers consistently to the school, most recently an appearance by Rob Bell, where he spoke on Pastor’s Day

The post points us to an excellent review by Reformed pastor Kevin DeYoung and his 21-page paper which I shall bring you excerpts from beginning tomorrow.

In preparation for the next few posts, it’s worth spending a short time becoming (re)acquainted with pertinent New Testament passages which Rob Bell dismisses.  Use these to evangelise against the false teaching of universalism and for the truth of our Lord Jesus Christ:

Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many.  (Matthew 7:13)

41“Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. 42For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, 43I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ 44Then they also will answer, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to you?’ 45Then he will answer them, saying, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ 46And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.” (Matthew 25:41-46)

18And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:18-20)

14Now after John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the gospel of God, 15and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.” (Mark 1:14-15)

42“Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him if a great millstone were hung around his neck and he were thrown into the sea. 43 And if your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life crippled than with two hands to go to hell, to the unquenchable fire. (Mark 9:42-43)

15And he said to them, “Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation. 16 Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.  (Mark 16:15-16)

1There were some present at that very time who told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. 2And he answered them, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way? 3No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. 4Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them: do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem? 5No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.”  (Luke 13:1-5)

And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth. (John 1:14)

Jesus answered him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” (John 3:3)

Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him. (John 3:36)

I told you that you would die in your sins, for unless you believe that I am he you will die in your sins.” (John 8:24)

I am the door: by me if any man enter in, he shall be saved, and shall go in and out, and find pasture. (John 10:9)

Jesus said unto her, I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live: (John 11:25)

Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me. (John 14:6)

11This Jesus is the stone that was rejected by you, the builders, which has become the cornerstone. 12And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.” (Acts 4:11-12)

The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent. (Acts 17:30)

28And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done. 29They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips, 30slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, 31foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless. 32Though they know God’s decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them.  (Romans 1:28-32)

For when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law. (Romans 2:14)

19Now we know that whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God. 20For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin.  (Romans 3:19-20)

For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 6:23)

8But what does it say? “The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart” (that is, the word of faith that we proclaim); 9because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. (Romans 10:8-9)

9 Know you not that the unjust shall not possess the kingdom of God? Do not err: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, 10 Nor the effeminate, nor liers with mankind, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor railers, nor extortioners, shall possess the kingdom of God. (1 Cor. 6:9-10)

1Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, 2and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you— unless you believed in vain. (1 Corinthians 15:1-2)

5For you may be sure of this, that everyone who is sexually immoral or impure, or who is covetous (that is, an idolater), has no inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God. 6 Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon(F) the sons of disobedience. 7Therefore do not become partners with them; (Ephesians 5:5-7)

1Now the Spirit expressly says that in later times some will depart from the faith by devoting themselves to deceitful spirits and teachings of demons, (1 Timothy 4:1)

16 Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers. (1 Timothy 4:16)

2preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. 3) For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, 4and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. (2 Timothy 4:2-4)

It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God. (Hebrews 10:31)

Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life.  (1 John 5:12)

And we know that the Son of God is come, and hath given us an understanding, that we may know him that is true, and we are in him that is true, [even] in his Son Jesus Christ. This is the true God, and eternal life. (1 John 5:20)

7just as Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding cities, which likewise indulged in sexual immorality and pursued unnatural desire, serve as an example by undergoing a punishment of eternal fire.  (Jude 1:7)

3 Remember, then, what you received and heard. Keep it, and repent. If you will not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what hour I will come against you. (Revelation 3:3)

16So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth. (Revelation 3:16)

From his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron. He will tread the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty. (Revelation 19:15)

8 But as for the cowardly, the faithless, the detestable, as for murderers, the sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars, their portion will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death.”  (Revelation 21:8)

11Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it. From his presence earth and sky fled away, and no place was found for them. 12And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Then another book was opened, which is the book of life. And the dead were judged by what was written in the books, according to what they had done. (Revelation 20:11-12)