This is is a review and warning I did about this recent book. Please be careful who you share it with, as the last thing I want to do is promote this book. I'm reasonably sure, given that it's been brought up in discussions here recently, that just about everyone here has heard of it; which is why I post this. Having read it carefully, I consider it an extremely deceptive book that attempts to eliminate the fear of God, which is the beginning of wisdom (edit-Proverbs 9:10). The primary accusation against it by its critics is that it teaches universalism (i.e. that everyone will eventually be saved). I can say that though it might not say that outright, in multiple places it gives the reader that impression, and that is bad enough. It gives the impression to all of "Peace, peace; when there is no peace" that the false prophets spoke to Jerusalem whom God rebukes in Jeremiah 23. Here's the review:
"For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears; And they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables." (2 Timothy 4:3-4)
In this book Rob Bell twists God's word to make it say what he wants it to say to a degree that is shocking (see how he uses 2 Corinthians 5:19 on page 189 and then look at what 2 Corinthians 5:20 says). In addition, he makes many definitive, bold statements which have absolutely no scriptural basis, even though he speaks as if he believes the Bible is the word of God. If you simply look up the Bible verses this books quotes virtually, if not actually 100 percent of the time, the very chapter, if not the very verse he quotes from, destroys the point he's trying to make. So in reviewing this book and contrasting with the truth of the Bible, I'm quoting scripture profusely to back up what I say and to let the reader who actually wants the truth test everything by the scripture in its context.
Rob Bell himself acknowledges that his god is not the God of the Bible, as he implies very strongly that God is not violent (especially on page 175). The God of the Bible, without negation of His love and mercy, does use violence, as evidenced by His flood of the world which killed all but eight righteous people, His destruction of Sodom and Gomorrha, His judgments on Egypt and overthrowing their army in the sea, His judgment on those who worshipped the golden calf in Exodus 32, His sending the cruel Babylonians to execute His judgment against the Jews who had forsaken His law (which Jeremiah and Ezekiel, two large books of the Bible deal primarily with), His sending Christ to the cross, His judgments in Revelation, etc. We must remember that vengeance alone belongs to God, as Romans 12:19 makes clear. The wrath of man works not the righteousness of God (James 1:20) but the wrath of God does. We must receive the revelation He has given of Himself and not explain it away by our own limited understanding.
Some other major errors of this book: A God who uses violence is equated to a slave-driver. Though many preachers have used fear wrongly to control people for their own advantage, we must remember that Jesus, who said " Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light." (Matthew 11:28-30) That same Jesus also said "And if thine eye offend thee, pluck it out: it is better for thee to enter into the kingdom of God with one eye, than having two eyes to be cast into hell fire: Where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched." (Mark 9:47-48) The truth is that if we hate sin and fear God like Jesus told us to in Luke 12:4-5 God WILL help us and obeying Him will not be a horrible burden. It is explained in the phrase "God resisteth the proud, and giveth grace to the humble." (1 Peter 5:5b)
Rob Bell speaks of repentance as a way to have blessings, while forgiveness of sins is spoken of as unilateral, as if everyone has already received it (Pg. 189) But that is a deadly error! The Bible repeatedly puts repentance as the condition for forgiveness of sins. "And (Jesus) said unto them, Thus it is written, and thus it behooved Christ to suffer, and to rise from the dead the third day: And that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in his name among all nations, beginning at Jerusalem." (Luke 24:46-47) " Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost." (Acts 2:38) "Repent ye therefore, and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out, when the times of refreshing shall come from the presence of the Lord." (Acts 3:19)
The passages where Jesus spoke of hell that are quoted are given as a warning by Bell, but very different from how Jesus used them. "These are strong, shocking images of judgment and separation in which people miss out on rewards and celebrations and opportunities." (Pg. 197) No, they are given as a warning about eternal hell-fire. One of the passages Bell lists before this previous statement is Matthew 13:42, which in it's context is "As therefore the tares are gathered and burned in the fire; so shall it be in the end of this world. The Son of man shall send forth his angels, and they shall gather out of his kingdom all things that offend, and them which do iniquity; And shall cast them into a furnace of fire: there shall be wailing and gnashing of teeth." (Matthew 13:40-42) These verses, along with Matthew 13:49-50 later in the chapter could in no way be parabolic/symbolic. Why? Because Jesus is giving his disciples the literal interpretations of parables which he had just spoken! Will we simply believe Jesus over the words of mere men who contradict him?
An especially deceptive statement which Bell makes speaking of the last two chapters of Revelation is "But the letter does not end with blood and violence. It ends with two chapters describing a new city, a new creation, a new world that God makes, right here in the midst of this one. It is a buoyant, hopeful vision of a future in which the nations are healed and there is peace on earth and there are no more tears." (pgs, 112-113) Talk about a half-truth! This quote applies to the righteous, those who overcome. It does not apply to everyone! Of course, Bell never quotes the following verses in his talk about the last two chapters of the Bible. But they are relevant, don't you think? "He that overcometh shall inherit all things; and I will be his God, and he shall be my son. But the fearful, and unbelieving, and the abominable, and murderers, and whoremongers, and sorcerers, and idolaters, and all liars, shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone: which is the second death." (Revelation 21:7-8) "Blessed are they that do his commandments, that they may have right to the tree of life, and may enter in through the gates into the city. For without are dogs, and sorcerers, and whoremongers, and murderers, and idolaters, and whosoever loveth and maketh a lie." (Revelation 22:14-15)
Here are two clear sets of contrasts; those who inherit all things and enter through the gates into the city and those in the lake of fire and brimstone without it. Bell does not even acknowledge these verses directly, though on the following pages he speculates that the open gates to the city (in Rev. 21:25) COULD mean that people could enter in later on and that maybe everybody will be saved after all. He admits though that he cannot answer that for sure (pg. 115- being the reliable spiritual guide that he is). However, such is nonsense. God in His love clearly warned in Revelation 21:7-8 and 22:14-15 that those who overcome will be with Him and those who don't overcome will be in the lake of fire. You can't overcome after you die; that could only be in this world, where there is temptation to endure. "Blessed is the man that endureth temptation: for when he is tried, he shall receive the crown of life, which the Lord hath promised to them that love him." (James 1:12) The open gates of Revelation 21:25 speak of the safety and security of the New Jerusalem. Evil will be FINISHED and those who worked it will have no chance of entering and defiling the new world. God has spoken clearly right in the final chapters of scriptures who will be saved and who won't be. Revelation 21:7-8 and 22:14-15 mean what they say. No hope is given elsewhere in the Bible after death for those who die unrepentant and unconverted (Mark 9:43-48 and Luke 13:23-28 show that absolutely).
If a man told you to jump off the Empire State Building because you might survive, would you listen? And yet the Bible makes it even clearer that there are no second chances after death to be made right with God!
Rob Bell speaks of the good news of the gospel and the threats of hell to those who don't respond as contradictory, speaking as if God becomes someone different to the unsaved the moment they die (Pg. 174) That is a false dilemma though. First of all, the reason for the gospel, the backdrop of it, is the guilt and condemnation of all mankind before God. In writing Romans, Paul proves this (Romans 1:18-3:20) before he ever starts to explain the gospel in detail because it is necessary to understand why we need to be saved in order to understand God's love in Christ and the reason he went to the cross. It is because mankind is already condemned that Jesus came to save us so we would not be condemned by faith in him (as Jesus explained in John 3:14-21- note esp. vs. 18). God's wrath has always been against the ungodliness and unrighteousness of men (Romans 1:18) yet at the same time God has never had any pleasure at all in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his ways and live (Ezekiel 18:23,31). The following passage clears up the dilemma Bell poses. "Or despisest thou the riches of his goodness and forbearance and longsuffering; not knowing that the goodness of God leadeth thee to repentance? But after thy hardness and impenitent heart treasurest up unto thyself wrath against the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God." (Romans 2:4-5) That is the biblical revelation. The response of repentance is what God insists on, which is letting His King (Jesus) reign over you (John 3:19-21, John 5:22-24). In fact, Romans 2:4-5 alone settles so many issues which Bell sought talked about, yet only made unnecessarily complicated. So the answer is that man must repent or be condemned, as Jesus also showed (in Luke 12:58-59, 13:1-9) that God has given us a set time to repent or perish. Those who are still bothered by that then need to know their issue is with Jesus himself.
Rob Bell's book is an appeal to the itching ears of people who want to have peace without having the righteousness of God in the Holy Spirit which is the condition for true peace and joy (Romans 14:17). To have this righteousness one must die to him/herself and truly let Jesus be Lord (Acts 5:32) The Bible never separates Jesus being Lord from Jesus being Savior, and to even imply that anyone can be saved by Jesus who does not follow him as Lord here in this life is a great lie that the world is all too anxious to hear; as well as a misunderstanding of New Covenant salvation which is focused on the kingdom of God, which is bringing people under the reign of God through Christ. The Bible is clear that the everlasting gospel is that we must fear God and give him glory before the judgment (see Revelation 14:6-7) and that Jesus is the author of eternal salvation (Savior) unto all them that obey him (Hebrews 5:9). When Jesus comes back, it will be "In flaming fire taking vengeance on them that know not God, and that obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ: Who shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of his power." (2 Thessalonians 1:8-9) This passage alone is biblical proof that we must obey Jesus in this life to be saved and that the wrath of God is everlasting on those who do not.
We must remember that Jesus himself said that it's not easy to be saved and warned people to turn from sin or be punished in hell forever; he loves more than everyone else, so aren't those who are following him and truly loving also going to warn others to turn from sin or be punished in hell forever? That sounds harsh to people, but mankind's definition of love is different than God's which He has revealed about Himself. The very point of Jesus going to the cross was to put to death sin in us and give us his nature make us obedient to God in this life (See John 8:31-36, Romans 8:1-4, Galatians 2:20, etc). There is a response to God's grace that we need to take very seriously in light of the previous and following scriptures. Rob Bell never dealt with these words of Jesus in his book, which make so simple that which he has made so complicated.
"And if thine eye offend thee, pluck it out: it is better for thee to enter into the kingdom of God with one eye, than having two eyes to be cast into hell fire: Where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched." (Mark 9:47-48-Jesus speaking, actually gave warning three times in Mark 9:43-48) Their worm= a personal possession- clearly forever
"Then said one unto him, Lord, are there few that be saved? And he said unto them, Strive to enter in at the strait gate: for many, I say unto you, will seek to enter in, and shall not be able. When once the master of the house is risen up, and hath shut to the door, and ye begin to stand without, and to knock at the door, saying, Lord, Lord, open unto us; and he shall answer and say unto you, I know you not whence ye are: Then shall ye begin to say, We have eaten and drunk in thy presence, and thou hast taught in our streets. But he shall say, I tell you, I know you not whence ye are; depart from me, all ye workers of iniquity. There shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth, when ye shall see Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, and all the prophets, in the kingdom of God, and you yourselves thrust out." (Luke 13:23-28)
Why does Rob Bell never deal with these scriptures in his book about heaven and hell? They are Jesus' clearest words about them and of the lack of a second chance of those who die unready! If a doctor tells patients that are terminally ill that even though they are really sick that they won't die even though they don't take the cure, we'd call them a criminal, not loving (as the writer says on pages 110 and 189 for example)! We'd call the doctor who insisted the patient took the cure and warned about doctors who didn't insist on that the loving one.
The response we must make to God's grace in Christ is clear: "For the grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men, Teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world; Looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ; Who gave himself for us, that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works." (Titus 2:11-14)
These verses again show that it is in this present world that we need to be saved and deny ungodliness and worldly lusts and live soberly, righteously, and godly by God's grace through Christ. It is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment (Hebrews 9:27). The way of self-interest is so normal and to truly let Jesus be Lord is to turn against everything the world stands for. Friendship with the world is enmity with God (James 4:4). Jesus knew how normal it would be to accept sin in our lives and deceive ourselves by rationalizing that we can somehow be saved while we still took pleasure in it; and that is why Jesus said "And if thine offend thee, pluck it out; it is better for thee to enter into the kingdom of God with one eye, than having two eyes to be cast into hell fire; Where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched." (Mark 9:47-48)
I warn everyone not to be deceived by Rob Bell and other ear-tickling preachers; now is the time to get serious about salvation; now is the time to be diligent to turn from the attitudes of the careless, ungodly society we live in to follow Christ; now is the time to fear God, turn from all sin, and put Jesus on the throne of our lives; now is the time to put your entire confidence in Christ and call on him until he seals you with his Holy Spirit and you know you're REALLY God's child (Romans 8:16); now is the time to bear the fruit of righteousness which evidences that (John 15:1-11); now is the time to enter the strait gate and walk the narrow way that leads to life (Matthew 7:13-14). By the word of God, there will be no second chances at the judgment seat! The harvest will be past, the summer will be ended, and those who are not gathered to Christ in this life will not be saved (See Jeremiah 8:20, John 4:35, and Matthew 12:29-30).
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