DeYoung is "too kind" to Rob Bell...

A brother in Christ forwarded this letter he'd just sent to Pastor Kevin DeYoung responding to DeYoung's review of Rob Bell's recent book attacking the Biblical doctrine of Hell. It was an encouragment to me and the brother gave me permission to post in here for your encouragment, also. As far as I know, Pastor DeYoung has not responded. (TB)

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Dear Pastor DeYoung,

I just read your excellent review, "God Is Still Holy and What You Learned in Sunday School Is Still True: A Review of Love Wins by Rob Bell". I hadn't read Bell before, but I  recently read his Hell chapter and was shocked at how bad it was--not just in its theology, but, as you point out, its crude and sophistical use of Bible passages...

One sentence in your review I particularly liked was: "The emerging church is not an evangelistic strategy. It is the last rung for evangelicals falling off the ladder into liberalism or unbelief."

Perhaps Tim Keller is the last rung for liberals falling off the ladder into evangelicalism. In both cases, the idea is to sugarcoat the ideas so that someone with a prejudice against them  can pretend to himself they are consistent with what he grew up as, evangelical or liberal.

I don't like it, though, when you say, "No doubt, Rob Bell writes as a pastor who wants to care for people struggling with the doctrine of hell."

That is too kind. Towards the start of your review you point out that Bell is trying to use words cleverly to convince people of something. Your sentence is literally true, maybe, because maybe Rob Bell writes as a pastor who thinks traditional Christianity is a false religion and wants to care for people suffering under the delusion that it is true. But in this he is really like the quack doctor who wants to care for people struggling with cancer, and so tells them that it can be cured if they drop the chemotherapy and eat bee pollen instead. The quack might do that out of kindness, believing that chemotherapy won't work either and it is kinder to make people think they are going to be cured. Or it might be that the quack wants personal success. I believe in Bell's case that he wants personal success. He is like the health-and-wealth preachers, having found a good line of goods to sell. In his case the original goal might not have been money, just a comfortable job and the delights of feeling superior, but he must be making quite a bit of money now, too.

It is good to be charitable to people up to a certain point, but not to the point of absurdity, and certainly not just because someone calls himself a Christian brother. We should be charitable towards the intentions and good faith of atheist and self-professed Christian alike until we learn something about them, but not once we have clear and convincing evidence of bad faith. And if it is a matter of the welfare of others, as opposed to our inward attitude, Christian charity does *not* require giving them trust. One shouldn't refrain from auditing your church treasurer or trust an elder to go camping alone with your daughter. Once it is clear that someone is working for the Devil, it is time to start shouting warnings, rather than hoping against hope that actually he just misspoke.

It may be that Rob Bell has redeeming features--I really don't know much about him except for one chapter and his notorious Bullhorn Guy video. I just write this to encourage you to use blunt language about him personally, if you do believe him to be an unbeliever.

On this, to change the subject somewhat, I wonder if he actually believes in an afterlife at all, or even in God. He really does sound like a Unitarian pastor who thinks religion is a set of nice stories, all fictional but having literature's insights into human life (so contradictions are beside the point). People make their own hells or heavens, all purely natural, and eternal life is just a metaphor for the eternity of the present moment. God is a useful fiction, and we shouldn't disturb each other's fictions unless they cause people to behave badly, but there is never any actual supernatural intervention. And if somebody's stories cause them to start doing things that don't have useful consequences in this life--if they start fasting too much, or feeling too guilty, or making real-world decisions based on God's existence--then those are bad stories. Jesus is a good story too, because it is a story of love and sacrifice, and Jesus has saved many people by being the protagonist in a story that has caused such good. But not only is there is no substitutionary atonement, it does not even matter whether Jesus really existed or not--it is the story that matters, not any facts that might underlie the story.

I suspect that this is what Bell really believes. It is no worse and no better than what many liberal Christians and "nice" atheists believe. The only reason we get excited is that some people don't seem to realize that just because someone calls himself an evangelical Christian he must believe in God.

In His service,


you say "It is good to be charitable to people up to a certain point"- I think the issue with Bell is not that we shouldn't be charitable toward him, we should practice charity towards the most vile Atheist. What we shouldn't do is not call a spade a spade because we are dealing with a "Christian" brother. The remedy is not to be uncharitable, but to be charitable while pointing out that this man is an apostate, a false teacher, and a mortal danger to his flock.

"No doubt, Rob Bell writes as a pastor who wants to care for people struggling with the doctrine of hell."

This is a particular problem I have with some of the well-known reformed men of today. They will condemn the doctrine, but not the man. DeYoung's above quote causes readers to see Rob Bell as a misled pastor who is geniune in his struggle to do what's right for his congregation, rather than "...false apostles, deceitful workers, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ. No wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light"

It seems a bit unfair to pick at 2 sentences in a post that is otherwise very helpful to the body of Christ as a whole. Does it serve the Church best to critique those who are on our side on public forums?

Dear Aaron,

For the reasons the letter writer outlined, I think he's right to lead Pastor DeYoung to greater zeal. We all need such prods to be faithful in our evil age. Think of the Apostle Paul asking, regularly, for prayers for greater boldness. If he needed it, we hugely more so.

And let me add that such tips of the hat to civility were not marks of the ministry of the Apostle Paul, either. So really, our letter writer is simply exhorting us not to be nicer than the Apostle Paul or Calvin or Luther or Jeremiah in our treatment of those enemies of God who pursue their wickedness under cover of the pastorate.


I guess my concern is more that posting such thing for all to read will cause readers to doubt Mr. DeYoung's character, intent, or motive. I could certainly be wrong. I'm a whole lot younger in the faith so I won't quarrel over it. I think you could make the same point though to the average reader without pointing to DeYoung's post.

A wonderful insight from a man who admits that he did not read Rob Bell's book, and almost certainly has read very little of what Kevin DeYoung has written. The man seems to be unaware of either Bell's book or the ensuing response, but is quite willing to lecture Pastor DeYoung about what Pastor DeYoung should have written. I suggest that it might be a good idea to follow Kevin's blog. You might just learn a few things.

Look, men: here's the sentence my friend objected to after saying the review itself was "excellent."

"No doubt, Rob Bell writes as a pastor who wants to care for people struggling with the doctrine of hell."

The evaluation of this statement is the simplest of matters for anyone who's simply watched Bullhorn Guy, let alone read interviews and a chapter of the book. Going that far in sampling arsenic shows amazing discipline, in my book.

The quoted statement is bad and needed to be corrected. But beyond the simple correction, the points my friend makes along the way are invaluable for those of us called to preach the Gospel to this effeminate age. I'm grateful for my friend's wise counsel provided so lovingly to Pastor DeYoung and I trust we all learned from his wisdom.


Bob, if I were Pastor DeYoung I would be grateful for someone taking such careful note of what I had said and prodding me where I was weak. I can count on one hand the number of times I've had that since I left home 18 years ago, and it's just those life-giving rebukes that can change your trajectory at a critical moment.

"Better is open rebuke than hidden love."

One nice thing about my field of economics is that the custom in comments in seminar presentations is to skip all the polite stuff about "what an important contribution the paper is" and go straight to how to inch it closer to perfection. Whether that's the right thing to do does depend on local custom, but I wish we more often could trust that we actually do love each other and go straight to the suggestions for improvement.

Of course, Aaron is right that the best can be the enemy of the good, so we have to gauge whether the writer is easily discouraged, but it's equally true that the good is the enemy of the best.

p.s. The frequent criticisms of Tim Keller and his Manhattan church on this blog are perhaps an on-point example of constructive criticism. I, at least (and perhaps the Bayly brothers would agree) think Tim Keller is a good preacher. But he has plenty of people telling him that already, and he really does need huge improvement in certain areas. Criticism on these points won't make him shut down his church, and it doesn't even imply that he isn't good in other respects, but it might make him improve, and that's important enough to be worth stating things bluntly and publicly.

>> Of course, Aaron is right that the best can be the enemy of the good, so we have to gauge whether the writer is easily discouraged, but it's equally true that the good is the enemy of the best.

Also, it's not just about the person who wrote or spoke. Everyone wants to focus only on him and how this criticism might affect his feelings. But we deal with issues of truth, and faith, of heaven and hell. If I misspeak and I have any love for my hearers, I am the first to desire correction -- for their sakes!

Nobody thinks of the sheep. Nobody thinks of the babies. Lord, teach us to love!

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