Is Rob Bell a Real Christian? February 27, 2011

Is Rob Bell a Real Christian?

As popular as Christian pastor/author Rob Bell may be, I was surprised to see him as a trending topic on Twitter yesterday. The reason boils down to the content — or at least speculation of the content — of his new book Love Wins: A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived.

According to the product description:

… Bell addresses one of the most controversial issues of faith — the afterlife — arguing that a loving God would never sentence human souls to eternal suffering. With searing insight, Bell puts hell on trial, and his message is decidedly optimistic — eternal life doesn’t start when we die; it starts right now.

In other words, Rob may be arguing that Hell doesn’t actually exist.

And since evangelical Christians believe the only way to avoid going to Hell is by “accepting Jesus” in your heart, what is Rob saying about Jews and Hindus and atheists and all the other people evangelicals believe are going to Hell? Are they really not? Is there a way to be “saved” that doesn’t involve Jesus?

Rob explains this idea in his own words in this video:

Anyway, as a result of this, a lot of Christians are getting pissed off.

John Piper once wisely wrote, “Bad theology dishonors God and hurts people. Churches that sever the root of truth may flourish for a season, but they will wither eventually or turn into something besides a Christian church.”

It is unspeakably sad when those called to be ministers of the Word distort the gospel and deceive the people of God with false doctrine.

If Bell is teaching that hell is empty and that you can reject Jesus and still be saved, he is opposing the gospel and the biblical teaching of Jesus Christ. You may think that’s judgmental to say that; I think it’s being faithful. (Link)

Rob Bell is a universalist, and now he is out of the closet. And he should be out of our Churches, and he should be out of the Church. Do we believe the Gospel? Do we? It is good news. The very best news ever. We must reject this foolishness. It has no place in the Church. In order to push back the Darkness, we must shine the light of the Gospel. We must begin with the Church, with ourselves. (Link)

… fellow soldiers of Christ, blow a clear note. Bark like a dog. Sound the battle-horn! Rob Bell has long been a heretic and grows ever more wicked as he seduces the weak and undiscerning to defy God and His Word.

Tender souls, RUN! Don’t think you can consume his poison but avoid his fate. His path leads to Hell–the very place he denies and defies.

Run for your souls! (Link)

There are also the Christians on Twitter…:

There is chaos in the Christian world, I tell you. They’re afraid because Rob Bell has more influence over younger Christians than just about any other prominent pastor out there. And he’s teaching them lies!

Meanwhile, I’m watching all of this from the sidelines and thinking, they’re arguing about what? The existence of Hell?

Are you kidding me?

This is very simple. I’ll break it down for you.

Hell doesn’t exist.

And neither does Heaven.

And neither does God.

And Jesus wasn’t resurrected.

Arguing about whether or not Hell exists is like arguing over whether a unicorn is white or pink. It doesn’t make a damn bit of difference because the whole premise is faulty to begin with.

So while Christians continue to argue about whether Rob Bell is a True Christian® or if he’s a heretic, and as they continue to use the “slur” Universalist to describe him, I’m laughing because the entire debate is silly.

Both sides are wrong and neither side realizes it.

I suppose I have a soft spot for Rob Bell, though, because he was one of the only pastors willing to speak with me when I wrote my book. After we spoke, my publishers asked him if he would be willing to write the foreword to the book and he said yes. It certainly helped my book get out to a Christian market — because if Rob Bell was endorsing it, then it must be worth reading.

***Update***: A commenter reminds me of a past episode of This American Life in which Pastor Carlton Pearson stopped believing in Hell.

What [followed were] the swift departures of his pastors, and an exodus from his congregation — which quickly dwindled to a few hundred people. Donations [dropped] off too…


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  • Good thing he endorsed it before he lost all of his Christian cred!

    I like Bell and am looking forward to reading this book. I’ll be anxious to hear what some of my relatives who have been long-time Bell advocates will think about this development. I’m guessing they may disagree.

    And while I get that it doesn’t matter to you, I’m still happy to see famous & likable Christians bucking orthodoxy. Because while this doesn’t really mean anything to those outside of the church scene, these are the same people who influence ideas about gay marriage and separation of church & state and stuff like that which DOES have an impact on society as a whole. So I might argue that it does matter, at least a little bit.

  • asonge

    Joseph Priestley sued Satan for violating patent rights on Oximight (generic: oxygen). He got hell in the settlement and decided to make universalism true. Hell is now where the cool kids hang out.

  • mouse

    Bell’s ideas remind me of the whole “all gods are one god all goddesses are one goddess” thing from Marion Zimmer Bradley’s The Mists of Avalon. At the time I first read that book I was going through my Wicca/pagan type of phase and the idea that all people of any faith are essentially worshiping the same diety(ies) but by different names really appealed to me. It still does in a purely fictional sense (big fan of spec-fic that plays with religion). I don’t know if the connection I see there is as obvious as I feel it is but, there you go.

    In the long run, if it turns out all of us atheistic types are wrong about this whole god thing, I’d like to think that the type of god(s) people like Bell believe in is closer to reality than the crazy fundies’ ideas.

  • Clayton

    While I agree completely that both sides are clearly wrong in their religious beliefs, I would argue that it DOES “make a bit of difference.”

    As someone who believes religion is harmful to society and scientific progress, I think minimizing it (with the ultimate long-term goal of eliminating it more-or-less completely) is incredibly important. However, it is highly unlikely that the indoctrinated masses are going to do an about-face and come completely to their senses in any real numbers. To that end we should probably think strategically.

    While it may be a small step, if Bell can encourage even a small percentage of Christians in to accepting that there is no hell, then that is a step forward – which is exactly why the orthodox Christians are so up-in-arms. It opens the door for Christians to question not just this specific issue of their faith but, without the threat of hellfire, they are free to more clearly examine the faith as a whole. And, as a bonus, it completely eliminates one of their biggest recruitment tools (fear).

    To me it would make sense to promote this book and try to get it in the hands of as many Christians as possible. Even if it reinforces faulty beliefs it can be a baby-step for some who would otherwise be more likely to stand firm.

  • Thorny

    has anyone really met a real christian? i know i haven’t met a christian who doesn’t violate some sin or does something the bible condemns, as this rob guy hes still a christian but the fact he is splitting up sections of the church is only good news for atheists.

  • Gordon

    When I was a christian I liked Rob Bell’s message and style. I’m glad to hear that he doesn’t believe in hell or that a loving god would ever send anyone there.

    Baby steps.

  • Ron in Houston

    I think a lot of this “new age” or “post-modern” Christianity is about folks who are pretty damn agnostic trying not to totally abandon some of the good things about religion.

    I don’t know if it’s a good thing or a bad thing but at least they don’t try to teach kids the Earth is 6000 years old.

  • MIDVALCRE

    As a born & raised UU I’ll wear their slur with pride, tho i’m a bit more farther from the no-mans land known as Universalism, I’ll still be supportive in his spiritual journey, rather than condemning him for not being in lock step with my views. Apostates prove to be the most lethal to any group and are our only hope of being, as Dawkins puts it, “out bred”.

  • Jeff

    Meanwhile, I’m watching all of this from the sidelines and thinking, they’re arguing about what? The existence of Hell?

    Are you kidding me?

    Hemant, as I’ve told you and Richard before – this is who they are. The vast majority will never change, because the vast majority are literally incapable of it. To continue to attempt to regard them as beings capable of compassion and rational thought, if only we can get them educated or to listen to this or that argument with an open mind, is to set oneself up for bitter disappointment.

    Think about what they’re arguing for, what they’re so desperate not to let go of. Beings who are perfectly comfortable with the idea of billions of their human siblings suffering for all of eternity are simply incapable of solving their problems. The only solution – indeed, the only hope for human continuity – is to marginalize them and breed this maladaptive trait out of the genome. Of course, this won’t be done, which is the main reason I have no hope left for our future. We’re completely screwed.

    But, they’re going to heaven. That’s all that matters! Selfish cretins, the lot of them – the worst people who have ever lived.

  • JD

    He’s really rattling the cage. Christians that don’t or won’t grapple with the questions he raise are really doing themselves a disfavor.

    Previous controversies were laid by people aggressively reading between the lines of what he says. One stink was about him addressing the Dalai Lama as “His Holiness Dalai Lama” or some such when the two met, which struck me most likely a courtesy, not a statement of belief. They complainers in question didn’t seem to bother sending questions his way either, it was a tar and feather tribunal in absentia. They didn’t seem to be aware that they weren’t following the protocol laid down in the text that they claimed to believe.

  • Anonymous

    Is Rob Bell familiar with the This American Life episode
    Heretics? It’s one of the most compelling TAL episodes ever.
    http://www.thisamericanlife.org/radio-archives/episode/304/heretics/

    ACT ONE. RISE.
    Reporter Russell Cobb takes us through the remarkable and meteoric rise of Carlton Pearson from a young man to a Pentecostal Bishop: From the moment he first cast the devil out of his 17-year-old girlfriend, to the days when he had a close, personal relationship with Oral Roberts and had appearances on TV and at the White House. Just as Reverend Pearson’s career peaked, with more than 5,000 members of his congregation coming every week, he started to think about Hell, wondering if a loving God would really condemn most of the human race to burn and writhe in the fire of Hell for eternity. (30 minutes)

  • Thorny:

    has anyone really met a real christian? i know i haven’t met a christian who doesn’t violate some sin or does something the bible condemns…

    As any evangelical Christian will tell you, being a Christian doesn’t mean you’ll never sin. So apparently the only difference between a True Christian(TM) and an atheist is the faith, which apparently makes True Christians(TM) not want to sin but doesn’t actually prevent it.

  • Michael

    This argument has been raging for decades and was part of my reason for leaving the church in the first place (well before I actually became an atheist).

    I was at a Lutheran seminary about a decade ago as part of a project for high school students looking to go into ministry, and I had a long conversation into the morning hours with a couple of the student counselors about whether they could justify an all-loving God with the concept of Hell. Part of the reason I left the church is because no one in my congregation was having these kinds of important conversations or questioning anything about what they already believed and I went looking for a deeper truth, Christian or otherwise. So, I guess this could be good news. As more “real Christians”do the critical equivalent of shoving their fingers in their ears, believers who are willing to put their faith on trial will, hopefully, find it wanting.

    And yes, Thorny, WBC are real christians. Amish folk, too. Read the bible, you’ll see no one embody its principles better.

  • allison

    I’m glad to see Bell taking this stance. Given the community he’s in, it’s a pretty courageous one. I would also like to assert that people such as him coming out and saying that they don’t believe Hell exists do make a difference. First, as others have mentioned, it does ultimately leave the door open to have wider discussions about other aspects of the faith and to challenge the faith altogether. Second, it can help open more of the community up to hearing information from secular sources – if you believe that the secular community is trying to tempt you in ways that will send you to hell, you’re going to close your ears. Third, more Christians letting go of the Hellfire and brimstone results in fewer people trying to tell my children that they and their entire family will burn in a fiery pit for eternity unless they convert.

    I wish Rob Bell well.

  • Perhaps it is too early to know which of the following will be said 100 years from now.

    1. The “new Atheist” movement presented a challenge to traditional Christianity resulting in the re-emergence of Universalism as an accepted and influential (and ultimately dominant) set of beliefs within Christianity.

    2. Once Universalist ideas started to gain some traction within Christendom, the shrugging off of the Hell concept allowed people to also question the other supernatural concepts within Christianity resulting in phenomenally rapid growth of the atheist or free-thought movement.

    Of course, both will probably be in play.

  • Tim H

    The anger against Bell seems pretty simple to me. If there is no hell, what will allow these Christians to feel superior toward groups they don’t like or people they find icky? If everyone gets to go to heaven, True Christians(tm) aren’t quite so unique or special anymore.

  • I’m curious to read this and see how Bell holds the rest of Christian theology together without Hell. Kind of makes the whole “redemption” thing superfluous. Which I’m sure is why the troops are up in arms.

    Had to chuckle at the commentary decrying Bell for corrupting the “good news” by telling people God won’t roast them in a lake of fire.

  • Jeff

    Had to chuckle at the commentary decrying Bell for corrupting the “good news” by telling people God won’t roast them in a lake of fire.

    Yes, precisely. Also, those who are “saddened” by it. Again – this is who they are. To insist upon seeing them differently is to insist upon remaining in denial.

  • BlueRidgeLady

    If I didn’t know better..I would think that some Christians..almost..ENJOY the idea of “others” burning. Nah, couldn’t be.

  • Steve

    The dichotomy doesn’t have to be “hell vs heaven”. It could also be “heaven vs ceasing to exist”. For some people that would be scary enough. Not as punishment in of itself, but contrasted with the possible reward of an infinite life.

  • Jeff

    If I didn’t know better..I would think that some Christians..almost..ENJOY the idea of “others” burning. Nah, couldn’t be.

    It’s a cornerstone of Calvinism, which, along with Dominionism, is the most pervasive influence upon the evangelical subculture.

    Many (I’m convinced it’s most) think the large part of their “heavenly reward” will consist of hanging around on a mezzanine in heaven, swilling beer with Jesus and Dubya, peering over the balcony into the bowels of hell, watching the vast majority of humans being tortured unimaginably for all of eternity. This isn’t a few crazies on a compound in Idaho; there are literally millions who believe this.

    Believe it? Hell, They’re banking on it. They’ll be inexpressibly disappointed if it doesn’t come to pass. It’s what they f*cking live for.

    They are the worst people in the world. I have no patience with these attempts to persuade them, gently, to come around to our way of thinking. It reminds me of the appeasement tactics of the Chamberlain government during WWII, and it makes me sick.

  • mikespeir

    I don’t believe there is any such thing as a “real Christian,” Thorny. That would imply that there’s something real underneath Christianity.

  • ACN

    This has caused a number of very amusing rant-fests and arguments on my facebook news feed as very serious christians all take their turns at vocally denying bell’s ideas.

    (Note: to clarify, I’m not provoking anyone, they are all re-posting this video or videos similar to it)

  • @Jeff,

    The battle over religious ideology is largely a generational battle. Ideas change within a society as people holding to older ideas die off yielding to a new generation of people with slightly different ideas. I think it is worth it to try to influence the minds and hearts of the younger people. I agree, though, that the older indoctrinated people, in general, will not change their views. That is why I like hearing about Bell’s new book. It might influence the young. You don’t need to be pessimistic with a longer view.

  • Beckster

    I think this is a great development. My first step down a fast road to atheism was the day I decided hell couldn’t possibly exist because a loving god would never do that to someone and if god did do that to people then I certainly wouldn’t be worshipping him. I imagine many who read this book will eventually come to the same conclusions I have.

  • Jeff

    You don’t need to be pessimistic with a longer view.

    No. The beliefs of today’s fundamentalists – substitutionary atonement, salvific exclusivism, eternal damnation for everyone outside of the fold – reflect the beliefs of most Christians over the past two millennia. Liberal Christianity is the innovation – and it’s losing ground.

    Furthermore, there is a small but growing body of evidence strongly suggesting a neurological foundation for fundamentalism/authoritarianism. When I say the vast majority are incapable of change – I mean they are literally incapable. They’re hardwired for it. I suppose that should lead me to be more compassionate toward them – but it doesn’t. They’re complicit; most don’t even try to change, and they’re perfectly happy to see everyone else, even their own children, in hell, as long as they get the ontological security blanket for the few brief decades they’re here. Fuck ’em.

    Quarantine them. Don’t let them vote, don’t let them breed. It’s the only way.

  • Daryl

    It’s truly depressing – though not surprising – that a large percentage of the American population are quite comfortable with the idea of people they don’t agree with being tortured for eternity. In any other context, such a monsterous concept would surely count as some kind of pathological behaviour. Within the Christian matrix, it is a fundamental axiom that, when challenged, results in the hysterical reaction above. What is wrong with these people? Oh yeah, they’re simply defending something that in their eyes is entirely reasonable: it is a just punishment for failing to invite Jesus into your heart.

    Like Jeff above, I doubt whether such people could ever be reasoned with, although there is always hope. Bell is evidence of that, as well as many who have left the evangelical faith.

  • Claudia

    Arguing about whether or not Hell exists is like arguing over whether a unicorn is white or pink. It doesn’t make a damn bit of difference because the whole premise is faulty to begin with.

    I strongly disagree with this. This is like arguing that whether or not the Catholic church decided that god does or does not approve of contraception doesn’t make a bit of difference. In the most shallow sense it doesn’t matter because the god concept is wrong, but in the practical sense the impact would be huge, particularly in African nations.

    Hell continues to be the most despicable aspect of Christianity. Indoctrinating children to believe that if they sin God will torture them forever is pyschological abuse. It does matter if they get rid of this horrific little concept. There are adults who even having abandoned religion continue to feel a terror of Hell. Frankly any and all steps to get rid of it are a great idea.

    Of course I don’t find the rest of religion believable at all, but that doesn’t mean you can’t recognize that there is an actual measurable and important difference between a member of the Westboro Baptist Church and a Quaker. I don’t see that merely sneering that they’re all wrong after all is very helpful, even if it is technically correct.

  • Raghu Mani

    We are the pure and chosen few,
    and all the rest are damned.
    There’s room enough in hell for you –
    We don’t want heaven crammed

    This has been attributed to various sources and is probably satire but it perfectly illustrates the attitude of many believers today.

    Raghu

  • Jonas

    Bell’s argument sounds very much like the Current Unitarian Universalism, I briefly associated with when I moved to my current town. This particular UU Church was more Christian in heritage than some, which is why I with an nonpracticing Jewish background gave it up.

    I did see however a lot of former Catholics, and other Christian Faiths. — To me they seemed to be saying ‘I don’t like my old idea of God, so I’ll adopt one that’s more pleasant.’ Rather than rejecting the idea of ‘God’ completely.

    UU’s officially? believing ‘all go to heaven’ seemed like a compromise – It’s considered impolite to say you’re going to Hell, but we had UU Pagans at the time, and what of the Pagan belief in Re-Incarnation?

    Despite there general Liberal Good works, which I approved of, they seemed to have the same bribe of ‘Your life has purpose, because God grants you one, and God always finds something redeeming in you thus allowing you into Heaven, rather than condemning you to hell.’

    But Eternal Heaven still took away the value, and preciousness of a limited life – precious because of it’s rarity.

  • This isn’t the first time Bell has talked about hell being a misinterpreted concept in the bible.

    He talked about it in “Velvet Elvis” as being a physical place (gehenna) with context that people would have understood at the time. He may not come out and say it, but he probably didn’t believe in hell at that time either … 6 years ago.

    If you’re interested, I’m referencing page 57 in the hardbound copy of Velvet Elvis.

    So say it within a book, the brethren doesn’t bat an eye. Say it in the title of a forthcoming book, and it’s a holy land war.

  • As this is all speculation without having read the book, it may be premature to say that Bell is a universalist. Perhaps he’s just being “controversial” to grab people’s attention. And he sure has done that!

    God’s existence cannot be proven or disproven.

    If there was really a God, would it be right for Him to torture people in hell forever just because they held the wrong belief system? I think not! It would be well for Christianity to reconsider this doctrine.

  • I sympathize with the Christians who are unhappy with Bell. If he’s wrong and there is a hell then it matters. It means many people will be suffering for eternity. That should matter. And someone claiming otherwise could result in real suffering; not just a finite amount but an infinite amount. One problem that the evangelical Christians have is that in some sense many of them are more merciful and compassionate than their deity. Their deity is perfectly fine with torturing people for eternity, they are not.

    This would be less of an issue were it not for the fact that universalism seems to be strongly not supported by Christian scriptures.

    The fact that we understand that this has about as much connection to reality as to whether an Imperial Star Destroyer would defeat the starship Enterprise in a fight shouldn’t cause us to appreciate how given what they believe in this is a very serious issue that should matter. It doesn’t take sadism on their part or a need to feel superior. It simply requires taking the beliefs to their logical conclusions.

  • Jeff

    Joshua, you have it all wrong. They aren’t worried that Bell is leading people astray; they’re worried that he may be right, and they’ll be deprived of the sight of our eternal torment.

  • Jon-Michael

    I wanted to add that what struck me about this article is that anyone would think any sort of afterlife is an optimistic belief.

    Once you begin to comprehend a never-ending life–that to me is just slightly less worrisome than hell. And just because it might be a happy afterlife (i.e. Heaven) doesn’t help much.

    I’d say the “optimistic” view here is that when you die that’s that, and the things that you pass on, pass on. And hopefully we all enjoyed the ride.

    This is where I think many Christians lie to themselves the most.

  • Richard Wade

    Evangelical Christianity is like a protection racket. Preachers won’t accept taking away hell. Without that threat, they would be like a 98 pound weakling with no weapons trying to bully the neighborhood as a one man mafia. They don’t want to persuade with love, they want to control with fear.

    However, that’s slowly going out of style.

    I wish Rob Bell well. Trying to humanize his religion and his concept of his god is, like others here are saying, baby steps in the right direction. It will be less de-humanizing to those who believe it, and I think it will make more of them more open to a fully humanistic view.

    We’re in a 200 year process. Be patient, keep working to help it along, and don’t buy into pessimism. That’s a living hell.

  • Nate Phelps

    There’s a price to pay for announcing the Emperor has no clothes.

  • Jenna

    So they are whinging amongst themselves about the existence of fictional destinations and mythological beings.

    *opens teapot, drops in tempest*

    Other than an amusing dissension in their ranks, why should the rest of us care if they’ve got their collective panties in a bunch? I’m just gonna pop some corn and watch the events!

  • ACN

    Evangelical Christianity is like a protection racket.

    QFT. This is a very good analogy.

  • Arguing about whether or not Hell exists is like arguing over whether a unicorn is white or pink. It doesn’t make a damn bit of difference because the whole premise is faulty to begin with.

    The unicorn is pink. And also invisible.

  • Alex

    In my experiences in a Catholic school growing up, this was one of the obvious failing points for Christianity in my eyes. The mythology takes over, there’s so much arguing over the trinity and ascension and it’s all based on nothing at all. For the “perfect” word of god the bible is astonishingly inaccurate in every sense (historically, scientifically) so to prop it up as evidence of anything is baffling to begin with, but to then take it a step further and throw in personal “revelation” and theological nonsense makes my head hurt from the inanity of it all.

  • I know you said you don’t believe in heaven but I hope you don’t mind my telling you that everyone will go there. This doesn’t in any way lessen the importance of morality. On the contrary, it’s extremely important.

    I don’t want to take up any more of your real estate here but given the subject matter of your post, I include this link for you or any reader who might be interested in heaven.

  • I think there are some believers who are attacking this out of a genuine concern for people, because they really believe christian doctrine. I also believe there are those, as Richard pointed out so clearly, who are afraid of the loss of their meal ticket or power base.

    I believe the former, in spite of an initial negative reaction, will start questioning their beliefs and eventually the god depicted by these belief-but it’s a slow process.

    The latter will become more authoritarian and vehement, which will hopefully become less attractive over time, removing their influence on people.

    One thing that we need to do is to point out to questioning believers is that this is a time for decision: seeing that their beliefs about hell may not be tenable, do they a) follow Rob Bell’s example and ignore those bits of sacred text, inserting their own thoughts as replacement, while insisting on the goodness of the faith overall; or b) recognize that the “goodness” of the “good” book is called into question by such failings and begin considering a posttheistic morality and lifestyle.

    Providing christians with an “alter call” (as in alter your thinking about reality) might be the greatest favour we can do them at a time like this.

  • Secular Stu

    Is Rob Bell a real Christian? Nope. But he is a good person.

  • Jack

    Wait..
    Did I read that correctly?
    Some people think that unicorns are pink?

  • Imagine if whenever atheists disagreed with each other, they accused each other of “distorting” atheism. That sure would be silly, huh?

  • Before I lost my faith, I figured that any good God had to be a universalist. Because, really, what’s 100 years (at best) compared to eternity? What a cop-out for the people who only have to play nice for that long, too.

  • sven

    It is sad to realize that some people think invisible unicorns are not pink.

  • DaveS

    I have to agree that this does make a difference. Of course, as an atheist, I don’t believe in hell, god or heaven. There are plenty that do though. Giving up this part of a hateful theology is a step in the right direction. Any message from within this theology that blunts the intolerant and ugly rhetoric I see and hear coming from evangelical xians is a good thing. Not perfect, but good.

  • gsw

    Difference between Jahwe and Lucifer?
    Lucifer will pay you for your soul;
    Jahwe demands a percentage of your income to take it off your hands.
    What does that say about their respective value systems – or rather of the churches that invented them?

  • conradg

    Hmmm.

    Hell doesn’t exist.

    And neither does Heaven.

    And neither does God.

    And Jesus wasn’t resurrected.

    How exactly do you know this? Isn’t this just another form of belief?

    Now, it might interest you to know that half of Christianity – the Eastern Orthodox Church, which theologically speaking is probably the most representative of the early Church – doesn’t believe in hell either. Not literally, not as a place, but only as a state of mind.

    A number of western Christians seem to finally be figuring this out.

  • I find it incredibly ironic that one of the first things he says is, “And someone knows this for sure, and felt the need to let the rest of us know?” as if making absolute statements like that is foolish and then proceeds to try and convince us that his interpretation is more plausible.

  • Hellboy

    John Piper once wisely wrote, “Bad theology dishonors God and hurts people…”

    Isn’t that the same John Piper that promotes Quiverfull theology and says that women should stay with their abusive husbands?

  • Jeff

    He’s also the same John Piper who said over 25 years ago that if God wanted to send his children to hell, he was just fine with it:

    http://www.desiringgod.org/resource-library/articles/how-does-a-sovereign-god-love

    (Scroll down to the last two paragraphs.)

  • Cameron

    two words on all true christian and sophisticated theology nonsense: Courtiers reply. nuff said.

  • It doesn’t make what they believe any less ridiculous, but I am always heartened when I hear about evangelicals acknowledging the immorality of hell and then taking the all-important step of getting rid of it! It’s funny that they consider “universalist” to be a slur. From my perspective, universalism is the only moral position for Christianity to take.

  • Jeff

    It doesn’t make what they believe any less ridiculous, but I am always heartened when I hear about evangelicals acknowledging the immorality of hell and then taking the all-important step of getting rid of it!

    You all just don’t seem to be getting it. They aren’t “acknowledging the immorality” or “taking the all-important step of getting rid of it”. It’s one Christian suggesting that maybe – maybe – everyone else won’t go to hell – and the rest of them are so infuriated by the very idea, they hurl at him the most vile insult they can think of – “Universalist!”

    This is who they are. They are the worst people in the world. They are the worst people in the history of the world – and they will never change.

  • Wow, Jeff, “the worst people in the history of the world?” That seems a bit hyperbolic.

    I take it you have had negative experiences with people from this community, but I am still encouraged when I hear stories of Christians (who are clearly more humane and moral than the god they worship) getting rid of such hateful ideas. Is it a minority? Certainly, but there’s nothing to say that it can’t spread. Maybe 200 years from now, the vast majority of Christians will be universalists.

  • ACN

    conradg,

    Things that be can be asserted without evidence, can be dismissed without evidence.

  • Jeremy D. Frens

    I offer two observations:

    C.S. Lewis in The Great Divorce has a hell much milder than Dante’s or Jonathan Edwards’.

    The Slacktivist writes an excellent article: “Team Hell gets loud”. tl;dr summary: not all Christians believe in hell because it’s hardly biblical.

    Ultimately, I suspect Bell gained more supporters than he lost.

  • Jeff, that’s certainly true for some of them. But there’s a large number of evangelical Christians who spend a lot of time proselytizing. Many of them are very sincere in their desire to save us from suffering.

  • conradg

    “Things that be can be asserted without evidence, can be dismissed without evidence.”

    If I tell you that my cat is sleeping on my bed right now, and I don’t provide proof, can you confidently say that it’s a false statement?

    Of course not. You just don’t know for sure. Likewise, just because you haven’t seen what you would consider valid evidence for the existence of God, heaven, hell, Jesus’ ressurrection, etc., doesn’t mean you can just confidently assert that these things do not exist.

    All genuine atheism is really a form of agnositicism. All assertive atheism is a form of religion.

  • Jeremy,

    The Slacktivist writes an excellent article: “Team Hell gets loud”. tl;dr summary: not all Christians believe in hell because it’s hardly biblical.

    Interesting article, but the comments section makes me want to tear my hair out in frustration. As much as I think that liberal Christians are on a better path (morally speaking, that is), I would find it hard to deal with all that hair-splitting over completely fictional things and places. To me, it just seems like a lack of connection to reality.

    Conrad,

    Likewise, just because you haven’t seen what you would consider valid evidence for the existence of God, heaven, hell, Jesus’ ressurrection, etc., doesn’t mean you can just confidently assert that these things do not exist.

    Why not? As Westerners, can’t we confidently assert that Brahma, Shiva, Vishnu, Krishna and Hanuman do not exist? Why do we have to play games simply because we’re talking about the dominant god in our culture? The god of our culture is no different from the gods and goddesses of any other culture, past or present.

    Personally, though, I don’t think “confidently assert” is the right phrase. I would more be more likely to “blithely dismiss” the notions of God, heaven, hell, and Jesus’ resurrection. As ACN said, that which is asserted without evidence can be dismissed without evidence. There’s no evidence for any of these things, and I refuse to pretend that they are somehow more plausible than Zeus, Hera, Poseidon, and the entire Greek pantheon.

  • Steve

    And the cat analogy doesn’t work because I have seen cats and can thus belief you that you have one. Or I might have seen a cat-like being and could thus imagine that a being like the one you describe could exist.

    The same, of course, can’t be said about gods, mythical places or supernatural events

  • Mary Anne Simpson

    As a believer in Christ, and a very imperfect person as well, I can tell you that the thought of ANYONE burning in hell fills me with the deepest sorrow and sadness. It also makes me want to love others through the very real power of God, that even one more soul might not end up there. The concept of hell is the hardest to grasp for many believers. Sadly, many believers forget that except for God’s grace, hell would also be their destination. And so, they become judgemental of others. The reaction against Rob Bell is, I think, that believers don’t want people to be misled about what following Christ actually means. And whether or not you believe in Christ as your savior, we all can recognize that often when preachers become powerful they also tend to hop off the biblical path (Jim Bakker, Jimmy Swaggart, et al)

  • Jeff

    Sadly, many believers forget that except for God’s grace, hell would also be their destination.

    This is a reflection of your abysmally low self-esteem. You think you deserve to go to hell, therefore everyone else does as well. I refuse to be held hostage to your idiosyncrasies.

    Now, of course, you’ll shake your head, sadly, and tell yourself “He just doesn’t get it.”

  • Steve

    A big problem with most Christian sects (and certainly evangelicalism) is the belief that only accepting Jesus as savior will get you into heaven. Or more generally, that faith counts more than actions.

    If there were a god, I’d like to think that someone who didn’t believe, but still behaved like a good human being would go to heaven as well. And that a believer who did only bad things would be punished. That also neatly gets around the dilemma that somehow two thirds to 90% of the world end up in eternal damnation no matter what.
    If that weren’t the case, it’s certainly not a god that deserves to be praised and worshiped.

  • Mary Anne Simpson

    Dear Jeff,
    I don’t have low self esteem. In fact, I struggle a lot with a huge sense of pride. I just think that we all fall short of God’s standard of perfection. I was busy leading my ordinary life and in my mid thirties when I decided to get into a bible study to see what I actually believed in. I was raised Roman Catholic, but did not like the legalism of the religion. When I began to read the bible it was as if God was speaking to me directly. The more I get to know Him (15 years later), the less likely I am to judge anyone. I am working on only 2 commandments that God gave us that He said sum all of the others up. Love the Lord with all your heart, soul and strength and love your neighbor as yourself. That is a full time job for me!! I have to trust that God is good, and that He would not spitefully condemn people to eternal suffering without giving them a chance to acknowledge Him, even if that happens between life and death, who knows? I only know that I look at the mathematical odds of our galaxy, our planet and at human beings just happening by accident and I can’t buy it. I can’t put my faith in that theory of how we came into being. When I look at this world I think that it screams of a creator. I am not sadly shaking my head, Jeff. I am on a journey, much as yourself. Do I hope you end up on my path? Yes!!

  • Jeff

    I don’t have low self esteem.

    Of course you do. You’re simply incapapble of seeing it.

    Hemant, Richard, this is what I’ve tried to tell you. There is no getting through to 99.99% of them. The .01% who are capable of getting out will do so on their own.

    By all means, continue to create community for atheists and secularists, but peaceful coexistence with evangelicals? Can’t be done.

  • ACN

    I only know that I look at the mathematical odds of our galaxy, our planet and at human beings just happening by accident and I can’t buy it. I can’t put my faith in that theory of how we came into being. When I look at this world I think that it screams of a creator…

    I agree, every time I think about my prostrate and ponder how intelligently it was placed so that upon swelling, which my creator cleverly designed it to do as I age, it will obstruct my urethra and cause urinary pressure issues, I am in awe of my creator.

    /sarcasm.

    Appeals to your own ignorance about cosmology, biology et al are not an affirmative argument for the existence of supernatural causes/creators/designers.

  • Steve

    Why do believers capitalize all their damn pronouns?! Your god doesn’t love you any more just because you annoyingly capitalize “he” and “him” for frak’s sake!

    Also, your god didn’t speak to you directly and you don’t know him. It’s just hard to take you seriously if you talk like that.

  • Mary Anne Simpson

    Actually Steve, god (lower case so as to not annoy you) can and does talk to people in many ways that are quite distinct. Perhaps he will speak to you one day and you will remember dissing me about it.

    However, I am not trying to convince you, there would be no point. If god wanted to get your attention suffice it to say, he could.

    To ACN: I am extremely ignorant in many areas. There are plenty of scientists all throughout history that are not, who vehemently believe in god. I don’t feel like typing out all of them, but it’s impressive: Kepler, Bacon, Einstein, Galileo, to name a tiny amount. Use a search engine and see for yourself. It is not ignorant to believe in god. I am not accusing you of being ignorant in your unbelief. In fact, sometimes the greater the intellect the more difficulty one has in believing in anything beyond self.

  • ACN

    Mary Anne,

    I’m not using “ignorant” in whatever colloquial sense you seem to think I’m using it. I used it in a standard dictionary sense, that is, “lacking knowledge or awareness”.

    What I was trying to say, was the fact that you don’t understand, or are unaware of, the cosmological and biological answers to questions of origins is not a positive argument against those positions. You cannot expect to be taken seriously when you make claims like this:

    I only know that I look at the mathematical odds of our galaxy, our planet and at human beings just happening by accident and I can’t buy it. I can’t put my faith in that theory of how we came into being. When I look at this world I think that it screams of a creator.

    because if you boil these these claims down, they really only say:

    I don’t understand “X” therefore there must be a supernatural explanation for “X”.

    this isn’t an argument, it is just a statement of the things that you don’t understand. There is nothing wrong, in and of itself with not understanding something. I have no idea how protein folding works for example, but for me to announce to a large number of molecular biologists and biochemists that “protein folding screams out for a designer” would be extremely silly, and would be as per my definition above, a demonstration of my own ignorance. My ignorance says absolutely nothing about the veracity of theories biochemists use to describe/predict/whatever they do with protein folding, in fact, it doesn’t even say anything about whether or not protein folding even happens! In the same way, your announcement about mathematical odds, accidents, and screamings of creators sounds silly to anyone who is aware of, and DOES understand something about biology/cosmology etc, as my claim about protein folding would sound to a biochemist.

    Anyway, that was a really long winded way of saying what I said before, which I continue to stand by, that an argument from ignorance is not a positive argument for supernatural explanations.

    (Aside: I wouldn’t use Einstein in my list of scientists who believed in god. Theists love to quote mine Einstein, particularly his classic “God does not play dice…” and others. Einstein used the word “god” in a sort of pantheistic sense, so as to indicate “the laws of nature” or something like that. At any rate, he was certainly NOT a theist)

  • Jiloaaz

    …. and you know that as an objective truth do you?  Mmmm … you must be a pretty amazing guy to know what has happened to others.

    Benito