Preaching Articles

Dear Friends and Ministry Partners,

Occasionally something pops up on the radar of Christians, pastors, and local churches that becomes an important teaching moment.  The release of Rob Bell’s book, Love Wins, is an example of this.

Since this book is becoming a point of conversation for many believers (and sadly, for many outside of the church), I thought you might want some resources to help navigate through the conversation.  The April 25 cover of Time magazine is titled “What if There’s No Hell?”  (A popular pastor’s best-selling book has stirred fierce debate about sin, salvation, and judgment).  This discussion is not going away.  I send these resources to help you process this topic with other believers (and spiritual seekers) in a way that will honor Jesus and stay true to Scripture.

Please feel free to forward this to anyone who might benefit from looking at the resources I have attached.

I have provided a link to a brief but very revealing interview of Rob Bell by Martin Bashir.  Martin is a well-respected reporter who does an excellent job calling Bell out on a number of problems with his book.  See video.

Here is a link to a follow-up radio interview between Martin Bashir and a very sharp pastor (Paul Edwards), where they discuss Bell’s book in greater detail.  In this interview, Bashir also speaks of his own faith.  See video.

I have also given you a link to a very thorough theological review of Bell’s theology and new book that was written by a personal friend of mine who I respect greatly, Kevin DeYoung.  I was going to write a review of Bell’s theology, but Kevin did such an excellent job that I will simply commend his work to you.

A number of scholars and pastors had a brief discussion on the topic of universalism (the big theme of Bell’s book).  Read reflections by Tim Keller, Don Carson, and others here.

I have traveled a unique journey in relationship to Mars Hill Bible Church (where Bell is a pastor) and with Rob.  I would like to share some of my insights about what I have learned along the way and also give some of my observations about the content and teaching style of Bell’s books.

I have read a number of blogs in defense of Bell and his beliefs over the past few weeks.  In many cases, the writers say that those who critique Bell are jealous, don’t know him, or have not read his work.  In my case, none of these are true.  I hope my reflections shed some light and give insight from someone who loves the church and is deeply concerned for Rob.

A few months before Mars Hill Bible Church would be planted by Rob Bell (and a group from Calvary Non-Denominational Church), I heard that there would be a new church starting a couple of miles from my house.  (At the time, I lived in Byron Center, MI.)  I felt led to pray for this new church regularly before it even began.  I love new churches and celebrate any time God moves to birth a new congregation!  I was praying for Rob and the church two or three times a week for many months before they began meeting.

Once the church was launched, I continued to pray and dropped Rob a couple of notes of encouragement, letting him know that a local pastor was lifting him up in prayer and celebrating the new ministry.  Rob responded by sharing one of these notes with some church members and sent me a letter thanking me for partnering in prayer.

Not long after that, I received a call from Willow Creek Church and was asked to write an article about Mars Hill Bible Church, Rob Bell, and the rapid growth the new church was experiencing.  I did this, and the Willow Creek magazine published this article (one of the first written about Rob and the church).  In preparation to write the article, I visited the church, interviewed the lead elder, a key staff member, and Rob.  I was very positive and wrote about the great work God was doing and the way the Holy Spirit was blessing this new ministry.

Over the coming years, I continued to pray for the church and even took Rob out for lunch to encourage him and bless his ministry.  I found him engaging, passionate, and desiring for people to know the love of Jesus. 

Rob published his first book, Velvet Elvis, with Zondervan.  Since I had been writing for Zondervan for over a decade at that time, I received an advance, pre-edited copy of the book.  I read it and was deeply troubled with the theology and method of teaching in the book.  In that book, Rob clearly questioned the importance of the virgin birth of Jesus as well as the authority of the Bible.  I was concerned enough to call Rob and ask if we could meet to talk about his book and what he was trying to communicate.

We met for over an hour, and I read six sections of his book out loud to Rob.  I told him things like, “As I read this section, it seems clear that you do not believe the virgin birth of Jesus is important to the Christian faith.”  In each case, Rob explained that I had misunderstood what he was trying to communicate.  He would then explain what he actually believed and what he was trying to communicate.  Each time, I told him that if he really believed what he was telling me, his words in the book were dangerously misleading, and he should be much more careful and clear in future writing.  He thanked me for sharing my concern

A few months later, I read the final edited version of Velvet Elvis.  Some of the language had been softened, but I still had all of the same concerns.  In response to Rob’s verbal explanations, I continued to pray for him and his ministry but had a real caution about where he was heading.

Over the next few years, my concerns grew, and I found myself praying that Rob would humbly seek counsel from wise leaders who are in the mainstream of the Christian tradition and faith.  Instead, more and more he surrounded himself with leaders who are liberal in theology, from the liberal-emergent stream of thinking, and those who question and reject core doctrines of the Christian faith.  Many of the people Rob looks to for wisdom and support in ministry (and who are guest preachers at his church) are those who seriously question the authority of Scripture and who are rejecting long-held beliefs of the Christian faith.

When Rob’s new book, Love Wins, was released, I read it.  I took over a hundred and forty notes and was astounded by the poor theology, abuse of Scripture, and irrational conclusions.  The theological concerns expressed in the attachments above are ones I had when I read the book.  Here are some of my other concerns (of a more pastoral nature):

From One Inaccurate Caricature of God to Another

In the book, Rob paints a picture of God that is not true to Scripture or the way that most people think of God.  Rob’s vision of how most people view God is a Being that says, “I love you,” but as soon as you don’t follow just the way he prescribes, he is delighted to send you to eternal torment.  Rob does not grapple with the holiness of God, the justice of God, or the wrath of God in any meaningful way.  Instead, he sets up a caricature of a mean and vindictive Being and seeks to knock it down.

It is sad, because Rob replaces one false view with another very flimsy caricature.  Rob does not like the story he supposes people are telling, so he comes up with his own story, one that makes him feel better.  Rob paints a picture of a god who is loving, but not holy or just.  This being, or version of Jesus, is all about love as Rob defines it. 

Rob tries to move the reader from one false view of God to Rob’s false view of God.  Both are inaccurate and unbiblical caricatures.  Neither reflects the glorious, holy, just, loving, and powerful God of the Bible.

God Is Love, but Love Is Not God

Rob is correct that in First John we read that “God is love.”  One core characteristic and quality of God is perfect love.  But this is only part of who God is.  As I read the book, it seems that Rob has turned this passage of the Bible upside down, and he believes “Love is God.”  This leads to very confused theology.

A Stylized and Manipulative Form of Communication

I have been writing for Zondervan Publishing and other publishers for over two decades.  I have also been preaching and speaking for Christian gatherings for almost three decades.  I know a fair amount about communication.  I have never read a book that was so cleverly deceptive on the one hand and so transparently manipulative on the other hand.  Here is my primary concern about Rob’s communication style after reading Love Wins:

Over and over through the book, Rob does the same thing.  He sets up a caricature (straw man) of some idea or theological concept.  He then paints a picture of what he will be seeking to dismantle or do away with.  In almost every case, it is not a real picture, and few if any people think or view things the way he describes them.  His picture is simplistic and childish. 

Then, with a cyclical process of saying the same thing over and over, Rob tries to wear down the reader by making the false idea he has painted seem unloving, intellectually shallow, or just silly.  At this point, he usually throws in a little joke or humorous comment to break the tension and distract from the fact that he is inviting us to leave orthodox Christian doctrine and travel down a road that heads toward non-biblical belief. 

Once Rob paints his new vision of things, Rob assumes we all agree and moves to the next topic.  Rob does not like the traditional Christian story (as he has heard and interpreted it).  So he tells a new story or offers a new painting of things as he sees them. 

It is ironic that he does much of this by asking questions and pretending he is a fellow searcher for truth.  The truth is Rob has his conclusions firmly in mind; he knows where he is taking the reader and is actively seeking to get people to shift their beliefs.  He is not coming at the topic of heaven and hell as someone who is wandering along trying to figure things out.  He has firm convictions and is invoking a very specific method of communication to draw people along and help them agree with him.  It is deceptive at worst and disingenuous at best for Rob to pretend he is asking questions because he is a fellow searcher.

I found the approach of how Rob seeks to change the reader’s mind highly stylized and extremely manipulative.

An Assault on Evangelism

As much as Rob claims love for people, he does not believe they are lost without Jesus.  Any call to do evangelism and reach people who are far from Jesus is removed if a person adopts Rob’s new theology.  He might use the word evangelism, but he does not believe people need to hear the gospel, repent of sin, and receive Jesus to enter this life-giving relationship.

He even goes so far as to (without naming names) make fun of some of the great outreach ministries God has used to reach many for Jesus.  Rob subtly (and sometimes overtly) mocks and belittles people through history who have sought to do missions and evangelism.

Hostility Toward Christians and the Church

Rob frames his whole book around the idea of love, but I felt a clear disdain and even hostility toward many groups of Christians and the church as I read Love Wins.  It broke my heart.  There is a tone all through the book that shows that Rob does not really love the church or most people who are seeking to bring the good news of the gospel to the world.

Rob uses words like “toxic” and “misguided” to describe Christians, churches, and outreach ministries who teach what has been embraced by believers for 2,000 years.  With all his talk of love, Rob does a lot of taunting and degrading through the book.

Playing Both Sides

Rob wants to question core doctrines of the Bible and claim he is still in the mainstream of the historical orthodox Christian faith.  He redefines hell and heaven to the point that they do not reflect what the Bible teaches or the church has believed for the past two millennia.  Yet, he still wants to say, “I believe in heaven and hell.”  Rob attacks the church and Christians but still wants to declare his book is a labor of love.  He will say, “I am not a universalist,” and then affirm the core beliefs of universalism.  Rob plays both sides of the issues in an effort to keep his audience as large as possible and still accomplish his goal of changing the core beliefs of the church.  One of the most shocking things I see as people respond to this book is how many don’t see the inconsistencies. 

Bible Abuse

Rob likes dramatic illustrations. All through the book, he points to abuse and other painful sins that happen in our world.  As I read this book, I felt Rob abuses Scripture over and over again.  He tears verses out of context and seeks to build a case that supports his version of the “Jesus story.”  He clips small portions from the Old Testament prophets and points out how God wants to extend grace (and this is true), but he neglects the next verse or chapter that addresses God’s holy judgment of sin.

Rob seems to have made a decision that he wants to give the world a new version of the story of Jesus.  It seems to me that Rob decided that a better version of the story would be one where there is not eternal punishment in hell.  In Rob’s version, everyone gets to go to heaven.  In this revised version, God’s love is the only attribute that matters, and holiness, justice, and judgment are swept away. 

I like Rob’s version.  It is warm and nice.  I wish it were true.  The problem is it is unbiblical and false.  The only way to arrive where Bell does is to absolutely abuse the Bible, to cut things out of context, and to ignore a large portion of the Bible’s teaching.  This, it seems to me, is what Rob has done.

In the end, I find myself praying for Rob, as I have been for about a decade.  At first, I was praying for God’s blessing on his new ministry.  Now I am praying for a humble and repentant heart.  I am praying Rob will experience a deep conviction of the Holy Spirit and an encounter with the God who is loving, but also holy, holy, holy!  I invite you to pray with me.


Kevin Harney is the Lead Pastor of Shoreline Community Church in Monterey, CA.  He is the author of many books on outreach and church health including: Organic Outreach for Ordinary People, The U-Turn Church, and Organic Outreach for Churches.  He has also launched a yearly outreach training event called The Organic Outreach Conference along with the web site with free outreach resources.

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John E Miller

commented on Apr 25, 2011

Living in Scotland I have never heard of Rob Bell or his writings but if what you report is factual, and I have no reason to doubt that, he is in the vanguard of a movement of pseudo-christianity that prevails all over the western world. Satan is constantly striving to cast doubt on the fundamental truths of the Christian faith so we have to be clear as to the source of such teaching. When Peter came up with his liberal ideas in Matthew 16, Jesus said, "Get behind me Satan...". The denial of the truths of the virgin birth, the need for the atoning work of Christ on the cross, the physical resurrection of Jesus and the exclusivity of man's eternal salvation being in receiving Christ as Saviour, are an offence to God and should be so to every born-again child of God. God's holiness and the sinfulness of man are unreconcileable apart from the cross of Christ. Jesus identified Hell as the final destination of every Christ rejector. Anyone who contradicts the Eternal Word of God needs to repent and acknowledge His truth.

John Prabhakar

commented on Apr 25, 2011

Dear Brother in the Lord, I share your concern regarding Rob bell's false theology, and appreciate that you are still praying for him that the Lord would open his eyes to the scriptural truths. I presume this man has started his own ministry all by himself, and was not sent by the church for the purpose. The Lord new that man is always liable to fall if he goes alone to do God's work, however genuine and intense his desire. That is why when the Lord sent the twelve apostles to preach the gospel he sent them two by two. When he sent for the foal of an ass he sent two by two. when he sent to arrange the upper room for the last supper he sent them two by two. when he sent the seventy disciples to preach the goslpel he sent them two by two. This He did inspite of giving His authority to heal the sick , cast out devils and do miracles, to each one of them. In the early church age also the Lord sent Paul and Barnabas, using the same principle of sending two by two from the church at Antioch. The Lord does all His work through His Body, the church and not through individuals apart from the church. Satan has certainly taken advantage of this situation and is using Rob Bell to gain many souls for hell. John

Clayton Galloway, Sr.

commented on Apr 25, 2011

It is very unfortunate that in the western church a ministry's success (God's approval) is measured by the size of the congregation and bank account not the depth or accuracy of the teaching. We have a tendency to listen to (follow) men based on thier style and less on what they are actually saying. If we can be distracted by a funny or sad story we would much rather than take a good hard look at ourselves in light of the truths of Scripture. Most Christians are taught to loath the conviction of the Holy Spirit instead of welcoming it as the way for God to mold us into the image of His Son and our Savior.

Bruce D. Mccabe

commented on Apr 25, 2011

Being an Evangelist I am disturbed at what I am reading in Rob Bells Books. The Holy Scripture clearly defines our task as Christians, To Take The Gospel to The Whole World, ( Mar 16:15, ) As it is written, not as we preceive it to be. It is very Dangerious to take Gods Eternal Word and belie it to fit someone's own beliefs. Rob Bell is dealing with not only his own spiritual destiny but that of every one who reads these books and follows his way of interpreting the word of God. One should be very careful to use God's Holy Word only as it is written in the Bible, as it pertains to Evangelism and to not add one's own thoughts or convictions when witnessing to the world through mass media. The Bible is very clear on the subject of contradicting God.s Eternal Word and Rob Bell Knows this and still he takes his own approach and not God's. I will also pray for him, and for anyone who reads his works.

Pete Cassidy

commented on Apr 25, 2011

Does it really matter what Rob Bell says? It matters what God's Word teaches. Until God reveals to me that Rob Bell is inspired of God to teach me otherwise, I am simply going to believe the Word of God. Reviewing Bell's material only serves to sell more of his book. Discouraging others in reading it only promotes the book. In a year's time, Rob Bell will have faded into the time line of history and God will still be on His throne.

Sheldon Boyd

commented on Apr 25, 2011

Yes I do think it matters what Rob Bell says as a man who has been given the responsibility to declare the "Whole Truth" and not to be a false prophet. Jesus didn't say, "Well it doesn't matter what the Pharisees teach." He confronted their false teaching and I believe that is still our responsibility. I am grateful that Kevin has addressed this issue and a very thoughtful and kind way.

Daniel Keeran

commented on Apr 25, 2011

I sent the following to Rob Bell and also posted it to his book and Amazon community discussion "Rob Bell".


commented on Apr 25, 2011

Luke 12:4 “I tell you, my friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body and after that can do no more. 5 But I will show you whom you should fear: Fear him who, after the killing of the body, has power to throw you into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him. Mt 13:49 This is how it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come and separate the wicked from the righteous 50 and throw them into the fiery furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. 51 “Have you understood all these things?” Jesus asked. “Yes,” they replied. End of discussion.

Joe Laher

commented on Apr 25, 2011

For those who have not bothered to study church history, this event regarding Ron Bell's take on theology is nothing new. I believe that with each heresy that presented itself over the centuries, that the church was forced to get off of it's apathetic laurals and defend the ancient doctrines of the Scriptures. It was Tertullian who said that persecution of the church were the seeds of the church. One might argue that he meant physical persecution, but I believe an attack on the foundations and tenants of the faith is just that. I believe that what Rob Bell wants is an easy Christianity; no pain, no effort, just come to a nice warm/cool building, stay dry, sing a few songs, grab a donut or two as we talk about our kid's schedule for the week, go home and do it again next week. Our Christianity is so far from Jesus' teaching. This book, "Love Wins", only exaccerbates the lack of desire to become a disciple of Jesus, who said that unless we follow His comands, we're out, meaning we can't be one of His disciples. I wonder if Rob Bell even believes that Jesus is the one-and-only son of God? He reminds me of Thomas Jefferson, who took a straight razor, and any passage of the Bible that he was in disagreement with, he simply cut out of the Bible with his razor. When it was all said and done, there wasn't much left of Jesus or God. Sound familiar?

John E Miller

commented on Apr 25, 2011

Andrew Lovins states that the Virgin Birth of the Lord Jesus Christ is not a "core doctrine". This is heresy and foolishness. The scripture is clear. To agree with Andrew Lovins is to reject the sinless perfection of God's Eternal Son who chose to become a man. Andrew Lovins and I were born in sin. Our parents were sinful and that condition is traced back to Adam. Mr Lovins, who do think was the father of Jesus Christ? Do you think that Joseph was His biological father? How can you call yourself a Christian when you dare to suggest that the scriptural account of the birth of my Saviour is a myth? The sheer effrontery of your defiance of the truth of scripture is breathtaking in its challenge to the word of the Almighty, Eternal God. "It is a possibility that the virgin birth was used as a rhetorical device to grant sacred status to the person of Jesus." Do you realise what you are saying. My friend, get down on your knees, seek repentance and put your trust in the only One who can give you eternal salvation.

Anthony Burrell

commented on Apr 25, 2011

As a pastor, I have not had one member come to me and ask about Rob Bell's "Love Wins". I do, however, feel that I should personally be prepared to answer questions arising from the book and that my members should be prepared to do the same. I have shared I Peter 3:15 with them so much that many of them could quote it ("always be ready"). In other words, know what you believe and why you believe it. I will pray for Rob Bell and others like him who have wandered from the faith once delivered to the saint of God.

Glen Stephen

commented on Apr 25, 2011

The Rob Bells are going to abound in the last days and we should not be surprised by these false teachers. 2Ti 4:3 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; 2Ti 4:4 And they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables. Thank the Lord that there are some confronting and exposing these false ones. A good dose of Biblical lliteracy would spare the church much confrontation.

Norman Wilkie

commented on Apr 25, 2011

Thanks for this helpful article by one who has been "up close and personal" with Rob Bell. I've read most of the book, enough to have real concerns that it can cause many people to be misled about balancing God's love with his holiness and justice. I pray for Rob Bell, and I pray that multitudes will not be led blindly along the road to a very real hell.

Simion Timbuc

commented on Apr 25, 2011

It seems to me that time and again the Satan follows the same tactic. He tries to destroy the church from inside out, especially in time of peace and no persecution. We indeed, need to search the spirits, and be watchful. May the Lord Jesus help Rob Bell understand that what he does is dangerous for his soul and those around him. God help us all to be faithful to the Holy Scripture both in spirit and in letter.

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