Panel Discussion of Rob Bell’s book ‘Love wins’ at Gospel Coalition 2011

God: Abounding in Love, Punishing the Guilty

April 14, 2011 Notes by: Jonathan Parnell (for Desiring God)

A special session convened in light of Rob Bell’s book Love Wins. The panel, moderated by Kevin DeYoung, included D. A. Carson, Tim Keller, Crawford Loritts, and Stephen Um.

Carson framed the discussion giving a brief and clarifying overview on universalism:

1. Be clear about definition of universalism, don’t muddle what it is.

2. Universalism is built out of several different assertions: a) everyone is savingly loved by God and is reconciled to God already; b) because of the wideness of God’s mercy, people of other religions will somehow find their way to heaven; c) initially, the only lost people are those who reject God’s love; d) despite their rejection of his love, these people are still loved by God.

This set of beliefs invariably teaches other things that are often not articulated. It affects your view of atonement, impoverishes the love of God by disconnecting it from his holiness, and it assumes that Scripture always speaks the same way about God’s love.

3. Despite different claims to the contrary, universalism is a later development. It has never been accepted in confessional Christianity.

4. A few notes on biblical texts thought to defend and justify universalism:

2 Corinthians 5:19—“world” is not everyone without exception, but everyone without distinction.

Romans 5:18—“all” does not refer to the same locus of people. The broader context deals with two humanity, one in Adam and one in Christ. There is a contrast to these two different humanities.

John 12:32—“draw all people to himself,” in the context we see that Gentiles try to approach Jesus understands this as precipitated the cross. They do not come on the basis of past covenants, but on a new covenant rooted in the cross.

Revelation 21:25—”its gates will never be shut.” The symbolism of the gates open is not about whether people can get in day or night. Gates were shut for defense, but in the new heavens and new earth there is no more threat for violence.

Carson pastorally asserted that universalism’s handling of the atonement itself is deeply manipulative—even blasphemous. We must not talk flippantly about the cross of Christ, explaining that penal substitutionary atonement is not built on a proof text but is woven through the entire biblical narrative.

Panel Discussion (led by Kevin DeYoung)

To Keller — Is our response to this subject worth it?

Yes. It’s sort of like the bird in the ecosystem who if goes extinct throws off everything. Anything other than endless punishment lessens sin and the God who has been sinned against. If you take away the infinity of punishment, everything diminishes.

To Keller — There is one thread that says Bell is saying the same thing as C. S. Lewis. How do you respond?

Lewis was rebelling against the spirit of the age, which said that Hell is bad. His whole project was to tweak his contemporary scene and show that Hell and judgment make sense. It appears that Bell does just the opposite and acutally sympathizes with the spirit of the age.

To Carson — In John 10:16, does the phrase “many sheep are not of this fold” refer to other religions?

Although there are more recent readings that try to take it this way, the context is clear that “fold” refers to the Jewish people. “Not of the this fold” refers to Gentiles who are outside of the old covenant. It is about becoming one new people, Jew and Gentiles, as the church.

To Carson — What do you think this reemergence of universalism may or may not signify about underlying shifts in Christianity in North America?

This is not new. The early twentieth century and the rise of liberalism started the project of trying to defend Christianity by jettisoning everything the age considers unreasonable.

Evangelicalism is so broad and diverse, and also thinner. The newer generation is making choices: many who want to be more acceptable to this age and others who are embracing the gospel, wanting it to be heard as it is. There is a big division taking place and Bell’s book is a marker to this.

To Um — Respond to Bell’s statement that the position saying only a certain number will be saved is „misguided, toxic, and ultimately subverts Jesus’ message of love.”

There are several assumptions that need to be addressed. One assumption is that God is obliged to show favor to a sinful humanity. We should remember that Jesus spoke more about Hell than anything else. Rejecting Hell has serious implications for what we think about Jesus, undermining his entire ministry. I understand the heart: no one delights in seeing people in eternal conscious torment.

To Loritts — What would you say to someone who has cut their teeth on Bell? They are not committed to this view, but are sympathetic to it.

We all need to be careful when we talk about these things not to overcorrect. We are to love unbelievers and we are to preach the love of God. I would encourage this person, not only to pursue right exegesis on this issue, but to the study of the nature of God altogether. Look at the wholeness of who God is. Secondly, look at how we really view Scripture. Thirdly, we need to understand that God does not need a PR agent or marketing firm. The whole idea of wanting to have a Jesus who the world can embrace is wrong.

DeYoung — „God does not need a publicist, he calls preachers.”

Teachers will be judged more strictly(James 3:1). Questions are one thing, let’s talk about them all. Allow people to ask them, ask them yourself. But we must (not) stay in the realm of mystery. If you are a teacher, at some point you need to let clarity be king.

To Keller — In light of your commitment to the gospel, how did Bell’s book make you feel?

The first thing that disappointed me was not the content so much as the attitude. There is an immediate ridicule of apparent “close-minded” people. A conversation about conflict cannot begin with ridicule.

We should not pit the doctrines of God against one another. At the cross, the love and holiness of God both win.

To Carson — What advice can you give about receiving criticism? Does disagreeing immediately make you the bad guy? Where does the younger generation need tweaking here?

First, I worry about ministries that focus just on correcting everyone. What I hope to do in all my writing is to promote the truth and proclaim it positively. When we correct, we do it because we think that the glory of God is being diminished.

Part of a positive faithfulness to proclaiming the truth involves refutation. Our articulation of right doctrine also involves saying what it is not. And all our correction should be done thoughtfully and humbly.

Concluding words:

Um asserted that universalism is unhelpful for sinners in need of atonement. Universalism subverts the work of Jesus on the cross. This whole situation is a wonderful opportunity for correction, for us to understand the finished work of Christ.

Loritts encouraged those considering universalism to write down all the issues their struggling with and go to the word of God. We should ask the Spirit to illumine our minds. We have listened to too many other voice. Go to the source.

Keller agreed with with Loritts and DeYoung and closed in prayer.

Click below for audio of  panel discussion:


Below – video from Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, a review of ‘Love Wins’ (from early March, 2011)

This is an excellent, informative, theologically rich, video discussion, on the various theological issues arising from Rob Bell’s new book ‘Love wins’. The panel includes: Albert Mohler (President of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary), Justin Taylor (former Crossway Managing Editor for the ESV Bible), Denny Burk (Dean of Boyce College (SBTS)  and Russell Moore (Dean of School of Theology SBTS):

Videourile Vodpod nu mai sunt disponibile.

Publication Love Wins: A Conversation on Rob Be…, posted with vodpod

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9 comentarii (+add yours?)

  1. Lynne B
    apr. 15, 2011 @ 08:44:26

    So what if Rob Bell thinks there isn’t a hell. He has only put into words the actions of Christians for a long time now. Though a majority of believers accept the orthodox teaching of a real hell for unrepentant sinners we do not live like it, preach like it, love like it. For those of us wagging one finger at some straying from “good Bible” there are 3 fingers on our own hand pointing back at us in effect saying, “So what if you believe in hell. Why doesn’t that knowledge translate into passion? Into prayer? Into preparation? Into philanthropy?”

    Dangle us over the hell we believe in for a couple of seconds. Then I think you’d have a Christian on fire for being effective in God’s work on earth.

    • rodi
      apr. 15, 2011 @ 09:40:42

      Lynne, your point is well made. The knowledge of hell is not enough to transform us. Even the knowledge of Jesus can not save or transform. We can only be transformed by believing in Jesus as the One who took away the sins of the world (that is mine and yours). And when we truly believe, it shows in our life.

      However, when someone who leads over the Church is in serious error (i.e. Rob Bell), the Church (through its leaders) needs to respond with the truth.

      If you go back and study some of those who in the past history affirmed what Rob Bell affirms, you will be shocked at their core beliefs-such as that they thought that God would have no way of knowing how we would end up living our lives or whether we would in the end choose Him or not. When you know the history behind the affirmations of some of the people who (absolutely)denied hell, you are shocked at their level of unbelief. So, as a Christian, why would I follow someone who doesn’t believe God has the power of foreknowledge?

      This dialogue is very good! We are certainly for (and not against) people making an informed decision? Aren’t we? Then we need to allow all dialogue to come forward. Rob Bell attacked one of the principles that Jesus Himself taught. All you are seeing is those of us that truly believe in Jesus as our Savior give our response.

      The eternal destiny of our souls is the most important matter to weigh in our earthly life. So we are discussing beliefs here. The actions that should spring from those beliefs are a whole different subject. And yes, Christians do not always honor what they profess with their lips. In order to do that, they need to be immersed into the word of God more (as in Bible) and prayer and less into the worldly idols and pleasures.

  2. Adam
    apr. 20, 2011 @ 08:14:43

    I think a quote of DeYoung above should include the word „not” in this sentence: „But we must [not] stay in the realm of mystery.”

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