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,