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Archive for the ‘theological method’ Category

Scott Oliphint apologist

Rev. Dr. K. Scott Oliphint (PhD, Westminster Theological Seminary) is professor of apologetics and systematic theology at Westminster Theological Seminary.  He is a proponent of Presuppositional Apologetics which starts with a high view of the God of the Bible, Scripture and engages in apologetics at the level of worldviews.

He was recently on a show for the “Trinities Podcasts” which was loaded up online two days ago.  The topic: How Christianity Trumps Philosophy.  Readers should beware that not necessarily everything associated with “Trinities Podcasts” is orthodox although Dr. Oliphint who is being interviewed is himself orthodox.  Since our blog has a new wave of readers I would say if you are new to Presuppositional apologetics its better to start with .

Here’s the show as found on Youtube with further description below:

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Doctrine of God John Frame

As regular readers of our blogs know, from time to time I tackle some of the alleged contradictions of the Bible.  You can read them in our provisional Listing of Our Posts Answering Bible Contradictions.

I thought I share with you a quote from John Frame’s book on the Doctrine of God on apparent contradiction that I think is important to keep in mind when dealing with “apparent contradictions” in theology and apologetics:

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question theology foundation

Last week we finished our Saturday four-part outline series on “Three Theological Questions Foundational to Studying God.”

I thought I put together a table of content for easy access to the series.

1.) 

2.) 

3.) 

4.) Three Theological Questions Foundational to Studying God: How has God revealed Himself? Part 2: Special Revelation

 

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Part 2: Can We Know God?

question theology foundation

Here in this third outline we will consider the question: “How has God revealed Himself?”

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Part1: Why Study About God?

question theology foundation

Here in this second outline we will consider the question: “Why Study About God?”

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This morning we begin our first installment of our Saturday series “Three Theological Questions Foundational to Studying God.”

question theology foundation

Here in this first outline we will consider the question: “Why Study About God?”

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Matthew vines

This is part 4 of our look at Matthew Vines’ pre-commitment or starting points that prejudice him towards rejecting the Bible’s rejection of same-sex relationship even before he began researching for his book God and the Gay Christian.  Here in this post I want to address a paragraph in the book in which he thinks it would be hard for Christians to embrace the traditional interpretation of the Bible’s rejection of homosexuality.

Matthew Vines In His Own Words

On page 28 of the book Vines stated the following:

If you are like me, you grew up in a community that embraced this view of human sexuality without controversy.  But increasingly, even for Christians who affirm the Bible’s full authority, the traditional understanding has become harder to accept.  Especially for young believers, the trouble starts when we put names, faces, and outcomes to what the traditional interpretation means in practice”

In other words, for younger Christians who personally know homosexuals and what they go through, Vines believes that this would make them bent towards rejecting the traditional interpretation of the Bible that homosexuality is a sin.  Note here that Vines has said nothing about any consideration for what does the Bible objectively have to say about same-sex relations; just the mere knowledge of a homosexual makes it hard to accept that homosexuality is a sin according to Vines.  But is this without it’s problem?

The Problem with Vines’ view

  • Matthew Vines’ line of reasoning here does not logically follow.  Just because one personally knows a homosexual it does not logically follow that the desire and behavior of homosexuality itself is not sinful.  Vines commits a categorical fallacy since knowing a person with a certain desire and/or behavior is not the same thing as knowing the ethical value of a desire and behavior.
  • The error of Vines’ reasoning is best illustrated when it is applied to other sins.  Vines himself believes that adultery is a sin because he believes that Christians must be in committed monogamous relationships.  Yet is Vines willing to say that his “traditional understanding” about the sinfulness of adultery “has become harder to accept” once he can put names and faces to adulterers?  There are some “nice,” “kind” and “loving” adulterers out there.  Does Vines know of any?  Does knowing adulterers as persons somehow make the act of adultery somehow less heinous?
  • Again, being able to “put names and faces” of individuals associated with certain pet sins doesn’t mean that it must be harder to accept those sins as sins.  Think of all those who work intimately counseling alcoholics, drug addicts and felons as their calling.  Their familiarity with those who practice sinful behavior and struggle with sinful desires doesn’t make them necessarily less inclined to see sins as sins.
  • Make no mistake that Romans 1:26-27 does not speak highly of same-sex relationship: “26 For this reason God gave them over to degrading passions; for their women exchanged the natural function for that which is [r]unnatural, 27 and in the same way also the men abandoned the natural function of the woman and burned in their desire toward one another, men with men committing [s]indecent acts and receiving in [t]their own persons the due penalty of their error.”  This passage is situated in Romans chapter one that talks about the sinfulness of man and God’s judgement.
  • What are we to make of those who personally know homosexuals and suddenly approve of homosexual desires and acts?  After identifying same-sex relationship as sinful and part of God’s judgment Paul goes on to say in Romans 1:32 that “although they know the ordinance of God, that those who practice such things are worthy of death, they not only do the same, but also give hearty approval to those who practice them.”  God does not approve of those who call what is sinful as “good.”
  • This problematic pre-commitment is a symptom of Matthew Vines’ misplaced role of experience over Scripture which we have documented and refuted in part 2.

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John Frame Selected Shorter Writings Volume Two

 John M. Frame. Selected Shorter Writings Volume Two.  Phillipsburg, NJ:
Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing, 2015. 382 pp.

This book is the second volume of John Frame’s Selected Shorter Writings that contains some of John Frame’s essays that are outside of his Theology of Lordship SeriesI have previously reviewed volume one of Dr. Frame’s Selected Shorter Writings. Although I highly recommend both volumes I actually enjoyed volume two more in comparison with volume one.  As usual with John Frame’s writings, I appreciate what he has to say since he makes me think more deeply about the inter-connectedness of Biblical doctrines, theological foci and various method and divisions of theology and philosophy.  Readers will not be disappointed.  Frame’s characteristic way of writing that stresses the authority of Scripture, his exploration of the inter-dependence and inter-connectedness of perspectives along with his straight forward and clear way of writing is evident throughout the book.

The book is divided into seven parts: There are miscellaneous theological topics, theological education, theological method, apologetics, ethics, the church and a personal section.  All seven parts of the book contained essays which were very stimulating and eye-opening.  I have read thousands of pages of Frame’s work and I found that there were still things I learned from reading this book.  Anyone who thinks a book titled “Selected Shorter Writings” means that this is a stale collection of ad hoc old ideas is badly mistaken.  I was highlighting a lot of materials as I was reading through it.  In what follows I want to share some of what I appreciated from the book.

PART 1: Theological Topics

  • I appreciated the first chapter of the book that was adapted from Frame’s ETS presentation in which he talked about inerrancy and how Evangelicals must not be naïve to think that the question of inerrancy can be resolved with liberals and non-believers by simply talking about facts since methods and presuppositions are important.  Using Alvin Plantinga’s famous essay on the role of Christian philosophers’ project being for the Christian community rather than just appeasing the secular academic world, Frame also calls Christian scholars to embrace inerrancy “as a place to live” in one’s academic career.
  • Concerning the relationship between philosophy and theology I thought chapter five presented the most succinct presentation of the Van Tillian perspective: theology and philosophy need each other, theology and philosophy are similar although it uses different language and terminology to describe the world and the nature of ultimate reality and of course there is a need for philosophy needs to examine itself from a biblical theological perspective, etc.

PART 2: Theological Education

  • The first three chapters in this section comes from the first three chapters of his book titled The Academic Captivity of Theology and Other Essays, published by Whitefield Publishers.  This is one of Frame’s lesser known work but after reading these chapters I admit I want to read the rest of the book to see Frame further articulate his distinct philosophy of theological education.  He has a lot to say that those involve in leadership of Christian institute of higher education needs to hear.  He has a good point concerning the problem of Evangelicals idolatrously seeking doctorate programs in schools that does not honor God’s Word.  I thought it was fascinating that he noted how in the past famous Christian scholars such as Machen and Warfield did not have earned doctorates but were nevertheless highly effective with their masters’ degree.  Frame also talked about seminary desire for academic respectability from the world sets it in conflict with its aim to train men for the ministry at the church.  He argues that in the end it is the church who has the authority to evaluate the means and goals of a seminary and not a secular accreditation agency.  Accreditation agencies often making a seminary do more unnecessary and unhelpful work in order to be accredited.  There is so much more than I can summarize here in this review.
  • His essay on the demise of systematic theology also demonstrated the difference between a liberal philosophy of education and the biblical aim of seminary education.  A doctorate in systematic theology at centers that does not have a high view of Scripture would only teach guys to teach theology that becomes more of a kind of historical theology that only states what other scholars believe; but this kind of method is inadequate in an Evangelical seminary where the skill requires is finding out what the Word of God says about a respective subject.

PART 3: Theological Method

  • The chapter “Arguments and Conclusion in Theology” is partly in response to WSC and those who advocate “Escondido Theology.”  However it’s usefulness extends beyond the debate of Radical Two Kingdom Theology.  Frame rightly point out that some systematic theologians today are weak in logical thinking.  Case in point: Those whom Frame critiques in his book Escondido Theology responded to Frame’s book by denying the conclusion of Frame’s argument.  But the critics have not interacted with Frame’s actual argument that lead to his conclusion.  It is not enough to say one does not like the conclusion but one must also demonstrate why the argument does not lead to the conclusion.

PART 4: Apologetics

  • This was by far the longest part of the book!  It is also the section of the book that demonstrate Frame at his best!
  • I appreciated that Frame in his opening chapter to the section looked to the Scripture first concerning why it is hard to believe in God and at the same time why it is easy to believe in God.  A good editorial decision that lays the foundation before the other chapters look at some intense apologetics’ matters.
  • Chapters 19-22 were on Van Til.  Some of these were short summaries of Van Til but then you also have chapter 21 titled “Van Til: The Theologian.”  This chapter was originally published years ago as a pamphlet and also as a chapter in a Festschrift for Van Til that was published by theonomists in the 1970s.  When I read this essay many years ago it totally revolutionize my own theological method and how I looked at theology so it was refreshing to re-read this essay again now that I am older.  “Van Til: The Theologian” was what got me going with teaching systematic theology in such a way as to try to portray how doctrines from Scripture beautifully integrate and mutually support one another.  This essay has ever since moved me to doxological fervor in teaching the inter-connectedness of theology in order to deepen our worship and further a coherent apologetics by showing how a truly Biblical system of theology have doctrines “cohere” with one another while also maturely handle theological paradox.

PART 5: Ethics

  • His chapter on the failure of non-Christian ethics is a very good summary of the problem of trying to ground morals and ethics apart from the Christian God.  Excellent!  It is worth reviewing from time to time.
  • I must say though that the weakest chapter of the book was found here:  Frame sees Joel Osteen as less of a problem than I would like and I wish Frame could have considered the question as to what Osteen believes concerning the role of repentance and the Gospel.
  • “But God Made Me This Way” is a neat chapter and very relevant in light of the advancing agenda of homosexuality and Same Sex Marriage in today’s culture.  Good response.

PART 6: The Church

  • Good discussion about the problems of denomination and also church unity.

PART 7: Personal

  • A light hearted chapter on Frame’s Triperspectivalism applied to the issue of eating and dieting.

Again there is more to the book than my highlights mentioned here.

After finishing the book I’m convinced that this book is useful for Christians across all spectrum of theology and familiarity with the John Frame.  I think the nature of short essays make it helpful as an introduction to those who are new to John Frame’s work.  The book also has a “theological devotional” flavor to it that makes a wonderful read for those who want something to stimulate their minds more deeply in terms of devotional materials.  I believe it would make a wonderful “devotional” for the theologian in which one can read a chapter a day (give or take for the longer ones) where one has something theological that is God-centered at the same time it exercises one’s mind to love God’s truth (that was practically how I did read this book).  For those who consider themselves “John Frame buff” or experts of his theology, this book is still worthwhile to purchase the book as there are still things in this book that I think is new to chew on.  It also serves as a good refresher to Frame’s Theology of Lordship.

NOTE: This book was provided to me free by P&R Publishing and Net Galley without any obligation for a positive review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.

Purchase: Westminster | Amazon

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In Defense of Theology Gordon Clark

Gordon Clark. In Defense of Theology.
Milford, MI: Mott Media Inc, 1984. 119 pp.

Most Christians if they know anything about Gordon Clark probably know of him as a critic of Christian apologist Cornelius Van Til.  It is a shame that few Christians even among those interested in Christian philosophy, apologetics and Reformed theology know who Gordon Clark is.  In contrast to Van Til, Gordon Clark seems to have written more works at the popular level than Van Til did while remaining less known than Van Til.  This work is one of them.  In this review I want to look at Clark’s work as a full blooded Van Tillian who disagree with Gordon Clark but have found him beneficial to read and interact with.

I appreciated this book because while Clark is capable of writing more technical and difficult work this seems to be the one book that is accessible for lay people that pretty much summarize Gordon Clark’s apologetics.  The book presents a defense of the endeavor of theology while embracing the Biblical worldview and subjecting opposing worldviews to logical scrutiny and refutations.  The flow of the book critiques three groups of people with the first being those who subscribe to atheism, secondly those who are disinterested and the third group being Neo-Orthodox.

I really like his chapter on atheism.  Even if one disagrees with his apologetic methodology it is succinctly stated.  Clark notes briefly that he has problems with the Classical arguments for the existence of God which puts Clark in a different trajectory with his approach towards the question of God’s existence and atheism.  I think Clark persuasively argued contrary to the Existentalists that it is important to first discuss about essence over existence; practically for the topic at hand Clark note that it is important to define what God is and which God we are believing before we ask whether or not it exists because after all the Christian is not engage in prove some kind of bare theism or some other gods that is not the Christian God.  I think Clark’s discussion about axioms and ultimate authority being axiomatic is excellent.  While I don’t necessarily fault the book for fleshing it out given its limited space nevertheless it is important for readers to know that my general criticism of Clark’s apologetics is applicable to the methodology of the book here: I often wish Clark developed more of the implications of Romans 1 for apologetics and shaping how he understands the unbeliever and approaches towards their unbelief.  In particular, I wished he could have seen the apologetic value of the phenomenon in which people suppressed the truth they do know and perhaps lead him to see a role of some kind of transcendental argumentation to make that point.

Clark’s chapter on the disinterested is rather short but he does give more space to critique the Neo-Orthodox.  His survey of the Neo-Orthodox works chronologically backwards since he wishes to begin the readers with better known contemporary writers and then tracing it back their influences.  I think his critique of the irrational claims and methodology of Liberals and Neo-Orthodox is excellent.  Clark is really out to defend the propositional nature of Scripture.

This leads to a chapter length discussion about the role of logic in the Bible.  This discussion is indeed a key component in Clark’s defense of theology, given that the task itself involve the use of logic.  The book ends with a fourth group that is contrast to the first three group in that these are believers of Jesus Christ who loves the Word from the Lord.  He also add in this chapter a discussion about grounding the laws of logic in the Imago Dei that I think should have been better organized to have been part of the chapter on logic.

Overall good book.  If you had to read a book that’s an introduction to Gordon Clark and also get a flavor of his method (and his highbrow sarcasm) then this is the book.

Purchase: Amazon | Also Available as E-Book from Trinity Foundation

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Doctrine of Christian Life John Frame

Note: You can purchase this work at a discounted price over at Westminster Bookstore by clicking HERE.

A massive volume on the important subject of Christian ethics by one of the most sophisticated Biblicist today.  This volume by Dr. John Frame in his theology of Lordship series was a wonderful read and was intellectually stimulating and doxological—what I expect from John Frame’s work and something I hope to be able to emulate in my own teaching ministry.  This work is different than most Christian text book on ethics in that it applies John Frame’s Triperspectivalism (looking at things with the consciousness of the normative, situational and existential perspective) and a robust Reformed and Biblical theology to the area of Christian ethics and living.  I also think Frame’s Van Tillian side is also a big a plus since I appreciate how the beginning of the book John Frame goes about refuting non-Christian philosophy, religion and worldview that are competitors against the Christian worldview of ethics.  This section is excellent and can be a small book that is worth buying alone.  Frame also wasn’t just into refutation but a positive presentation of the Christian position on ethics as well.  In fact the bulk of the book was his exposition on the ten commandments and he did a good job of showing how other parts of the Scripture illuminates the Decalogue with more specific application or nuances.  Even if one might not agree with Frame in the particular, he nevertheless will provide great food for thought and challenge the reader to think more biblically and rigorously on ethical matters.

Frame was able to strike my interests and simulated my thought throughout the thousand page book which I think is quite a feat.  In what follows I can only share some of the highlights:

  • Frame had a good discussion in the book about the danger of exclusively preaching redemptive-history especially without the intention of application. If one reads his collection of shorter works, Frame expands on this concern he has.
  • The chapter on motive and virtue was saturated with the Gospel and how it motivates a believer’s sanctification; this same chapter also had a good discussion trying to reconcile imprecatory prayers with loving one’s enemy with Frame noting the distinction between wanting God to pour out His wrath while we not doing this ourselves.
  • Another highlight in the book was John Frame’s discussion about racial equalities. I think what he has to say is probably the closest position to mine that I have seen in print.  In particular, I find it helpful his discussion of various ways people use the term “racism.”  I also liked his discussion about race within the context of the church such as his quote: “Churches do not have to seek a quota of every ethnic or national group in their vicinity.  But they must welcome everyone” (John Frame, Doctrine of Christian Life, 674).
  • The discussion on war is a good one; Frame is conscious of what the Scripture say and does not say and he brings this to bear in his observation and criticism of Just War theory. As a Marine myself, I have had some questions about various aspect of Just War theory that seems problematic such as what is proportional force, etc.  I appreciate Frame saying that Just War Theory isn’t so much a theory as it is a series of good questions we must ask concerning war.
  • I really appreciate the section of the book on culture. He does a good job working towards a theological definition of culture and from there explain the various model of the relationship between Christ and culture along with his criticism of each respective views’ strength and weaknesses.  Frame’s discussion about culture also led to the topic of Christians and film; he gives some good principles of what to ask when one watches movies as a Christian and also a defense that movies are not wrong in of itself.
  • For anyone who has read Frame before, there are many points he makes that makes one think not only with the doctrine or position at hand, but also the theological method that is driving Frame as well. I feel Frame is great to read to think about theological method more consciously.
  • In terms of the appendix, I really appreciated Frame’s review of RJ Rushdoony’s book, The Institute of Biblical Law. I thought Frame did a good job of noting Rushdoony’s contribution to Christian study of the law while also being critical in a helpful way that can help push the Christian Reconstructionist movement forward.  His review noted some good problems in Rushdoony’s book while Frame was also able to address Theonomy’s critics that they must not knee-jerk emotionally reject God’s Law out of hand just because we don’t like it, because afterall it was at one time God’s Law.

With the positive I must add a few constructive criticism of the book but I hope this is not misconstrued to mean that I thought Frame did a poor job.  On the contrary, I think it speaks to the quality of the book that my criticisms are few for such a lengthy book:

  • The book is weaker theologically concerning eschatology and especially the millennial positions. Frame doesn’t get into much of eschatology although I think its worth pursuing by others more systematically the relationship between eschatology and Christian ethics.
  • The book gave a short treatment on the topic of spiritual growth and I wished he talked more about sanctification but for such a lengthy book that already covered so many areas one can’t really fault John Frame.
  • A lot of the appendixes were book reviews of works in the 1980s or earlier. Since the book was published in 2008, I thought it would have been nice to see reviews of books that are more recent in publication.

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Evangelical Faith and the Challenge of Historical Criticism

(Available on Amazon)

NOTE:It’s nearly four in the morning and I supposed I had too much notes more than I can finish as one review so this will have to be in parts.

This book was provided to me free by Baker Academic and Net Galley without any obligation for a positive review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.

This book attempts to advance the thesis that there is a place for Evangelicals to critically use historical criticism in Biblical scholarship.  It is a call for Christians to be Evangelical and critical (in the sense of utilizing historical criticism).  The book is more a collection of essays by various writers dealing with different portion of the Bible and an exploration of what historical criticism means in each respective parts of Scripture.

I had a hard time with the chapter on Adam.  The main point of this chapter by both co-writers was that the denial of the historicity of Genesis 2-3 does not seriously affect the essence of Christianity theologically.  Readers must remember that the chapter is not necessarily denying the historicity of Adam and Genesis 2-3, but merely trying to argue that historical critical methodology on this passage does not destroy the fundamentals of the Faith.  Here the chapter makes a distinction between Original sin and the idea of sins’ concupiscence and ends up doubting the former while affirming the latter.  However, one must wonder whether there is good justification for Christians to question the historicity of Genesis 2-3 in the first place; it seems to raise more eyebrow when the chapter’s case rest upon the suppositions that there were multiple sources (JEDP) behind the Pentateuch and alleged parallel of Genesis 1-11 with the Atrahasis Epic.  Concerning the Pentateuch as having various sources, I find it troubling that the writers failed to interact with Evangelicals’ rebuttal for arguments for multiple sources such as doublets, etc.  Since this book is written to encourage Evangelicals to embrace historical criticism, it would have been good for the writers to interact with those who oppose it and their argument.  Concerning the Atrahasis Epic and the argument that the Ancient Near East did not have a literary form that fits our modern conception of history, I have always had a hard time buying the argument by historical critical proponents such as Peter Enns that these were somehow literary fictions or the fact that people in the Ancient Near East could not and did not conceptualize ways of communicating straight forward truthful narratives; it seems very hard to demonstrate this to be the case conclusively.  Assuming the historical critical assumption that the ancient was not as complex as us now, it seems to me that communication of stories back then would appeal to straight forward sensory experiences while more conceptual ways of communicating events would be more advance and complex and a later development (think of the Apocalypic prophetic literatures, etc).  Again, it seems to be the case that the writers grant certain suppositions of historical criticisms that needs to be better examined.  These foreign presuppositions apparently include the mention of macro-evolution as a possible explanation for the persuasiveness of sin, but this is to bring into the discussion more debates and dilemmas.

I also had a hard time with the chapter on the Exodus narrative.  The writer tries to paint an alternative between minimalists and maximalists approach to history and the Bible.   He sees minimalists as having problem of denying the historicity of the Exodus narrative altogether while maximalists don’t have the evidentialists support for all the historical claims of Scripture.  I don’t think the chapter really establish a good alternative.  With the impasse between a maximalist or minimalist position I think it might be more helpful to explore and discuss the worldview that moves one to hold those position as way of moving the conversation forward (see my recent posts at https://veritasdomain.wordpress.com/2014/01/29/maximalists-minimalists-in-light-of-presuppositional-apologetics/).

The book more than once mentioned that academic and intellectual studies of the Scripture is important.  I get that, and I agree but I don’t think that means one has to embrace historical criticism.  Since I respect the various authors’ effort to suggest a modified historical critical approach is possible, I think it’s only right I continue my review of the other chapters in another posts. Got to grab some sleep.

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Palmyra- Cassas Baal Temple

I’ve been noticing the last few months news story related to the Bible and Archaeology, from the sensational to the subtle announcement of academic bulletin.  Christianity Today even had a summary of the “Top 10 Discovery in Biblical Archaeology of 2013″ published earlier this month.

As some of the readers might be aware, there are two general camps when it comes to the issue of the reliability of the Bible as it relates to archaeology: the Maximalists and the Minimalists.  Since the archaeological data concerning the Ancient Near East (ANE) and the Biblical world are often fragmentary, sometimes archaeological data appear to conflict with what the Bible has to say.  What should we make of this, specifically with our conclusion concerning the veracity of the Bible?  Maximalism and Minimalism describes the general approach one answer that question.

Note what Jona Lendering of Livius website (on Ancient history) has to say about maximalists and minimalists:

Maximalist scholars assume that the Biblical story is more or less correct, unless archaeologists prove that it is not; minimalists assume that the Biblical story must be read as fiction, unless it can be confirmed archaeologically. “Minimalism” and “maximalism” are, therefore, methods, approaches, or theoretical concepts.” (http://www.livius.org/theory/maximalists-and-minimalists/)

Lendering even provide this additional example:

It is easy to recognize minimalists and maximalists. If the author’s method can not immediately be deduced from the evidence he puts forward, the auxiliary hypotheses usually offer a clue. When the archaeological evidence contradicts the Bible, the maximalist will write something like “absence of evidence is not evidence of absence”; the minimalist will stress that the Bible should be read as literature.

Take, for example, the Jericho walls: so far, no remains have been excavated of a wall that has collapsed in the Late Bronze Age, which contradicts the Biblical account of Joshua’s capture of the city. A maximalist will argue that these walls stood on top of the hill and must have eroded; his minimalist colleague might say that the story should be read as a description of a first fruits offering – the first town captured by the Hebrews was for God. There’s something to be said for both approaches, although in this example, the erosion argument is probably incorrect.”

The exchange between Maximalists and Minimalists in the past has been quite heated.  Probably adding fuel to the fire is the reality that this is not just another academic turf war between two competing school of thoughts: for some, there’s a deeper underlying current driving one’s methodological decision.  While not all minimalists are secularists, no doubt secular humanists and atheists would be incline towards the Minimalists approach.  Christians who hold to a high view of the veracity of the Bible of course would be inclined to the Maximalists’ approach (of course with the caveat that not all Maximalists are Evangelicals or identify themselves as Christian).

At this point one might say there’s a stalemate between the debate of Maximalists and Minimalists.  The Minimalists might charge Evangelical subsets of Maximalists for being driven by the Christian faith to dogmatically affirm that the Bible has to be true at the get-go.  It isn’t rational to do so, they say.  The Maximalists might reply with the observation that typically in archaeology one gives an ancient document the benefit of the doubt concerning it’s content being true unless proven otherwise so here we see the Minimalists being inconsistent.

It’s a dead end, some say, with the debate being a draw.  No side ultimately wins, nor has any side loses in a clear, knock out fashion.

I submit that Presuppositional apologetics is important here, with it’s attention on the role of worldviews.  As noted earlier, often there’s a deeper undercurrent that drives one to adopt a certain methodological approach towards the Bible and Archaeology.  The discussion between particular Maximalists and Minimalists doesn’t have to be at an intellectual stalemate if one discusses one’s worldview behind one’s methodology.  No doubt the most unpopular aspect of Van Til’s apologetics is the fact that it tells Christians to never compromise with the veracity of the Bible .  The content of the Bible is true if it has been attained via proper hermeneutics such as consideration of literary genres, etc.  But Presuppositional apologetics isn’t just about Christians being dogmatic, for it makes the observation that everyone including the minimalists are not immune to being dogmatic when it comes to their web of ultimate commitments which we call worldview.  But instead of being “stuck” with two dogmatic individuals talking to each other, Van Til’s apologetics goes further by asking whether one’s worldview would undermine or provide the intelligibility and meaningfulness of the archaeological endeavor in the first place.  Imagine the surprise if a Minimalist were to discover that the particular worldview which incline him towards Minimalism ends up being an undercutting defeater towards archaeological studies; now the dilemma is posed: does he continue to maintain his Minimalism for the sake of his cherished worldview or does he back away from it seeing the catastrophic consequence of it making archaeology categorically unintelligible and insignificant?

Space does not permit me to flesh out the details since for now I just want to provide a sketch of what does Presuppositional apologetics in relationship to archaeology would look like.  Here also we find philosophy to be a helpful tool and valuable in assessing the merit of the internal relationship between one’s view of reality (physical world, and metaphysical, if any) and the epistemological status of archaeology.  Interdisciplinary studies and the exploration of perspectival relationship of knowledge is quite fascinating!  

Perhaps in the far future I might write a post on how the Christian worldview (Christian theology from the Bible that supplies the meta-narrative of the world) allows Archaeology to be a sensible and rational pursuit.  This would touch on theology Proper, doctrine of providence, God’s relationship to history, biblical anthropology, etc.  Again, how beautiful is the fact that there can exists an inter-relationship of various disciplines from archaeology, history, philosophy, and now, even theology–I find it so beautiful to see this inter-dependent unity of a well-put together world for knowledge  that it makes me want to praise God.  Presuppositional apologetics and Perspectivalism (John Frame’s variety) regularly bring me to doxology.

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Peter Enns meme

A post over at Justin Taylor’s blog on The Loss of Historical Adam and the Death of Exegesis has generated a lot of comments and discussion, some of it being rather tense.  I also had an exchange with a guy name Hank who was going around trolling against those who believe in the historical Adam.  For those who are interested, the thread of that brief exchange (thus far) can be found here, and he began commenting after he said he read my essay critical of Peter Enns’ methodology.  To spare the blow by blow details, my latest response follows below.  What else could you add?

Hank,

3.) “I’m just saying you seem like a young amateur in biblical studies–perhaps an MDiv–but certainly not someone who has written and exposed his ideas to learned and critical scrutiny.”

 Response: Let’s say I’m a young amateur.  To think this is a refutation is simply to commit an ad hominem fallacy and doesn’t prove your assertion that I’m just recycling others’ criticisms, that my arguments are wrong, etc.  Let’s say hypothethically you are older and more knowledgeable than I with your condescending tone towards me.  As the older and knowledgeable man, I would appreciate it if you not make a false appeal to authority but teach a younger man such as myself of how one interact with others fairly and reasonably: Please LOGICALLY DEMONSTRATE how my critique was wrong rather than merely asserting it and straw-man it. Ironically this whole time you have only been making assertions, and not offer critical scrutiny and interactions.  Show an amateur like me how someone in the major leagues like you behave and engage in reasonable and charitable interactions, intead of acting like a juvenile Enns’ fan boy.

 Truth be told, I have been following Enns for a few years now and I don’t know what the big deal with him is since Enns problem is more philosophically basic than how to weigh ANE evidences–if you recall in the essay that you said you read, I argue that the precommitments behind his bibliology would make rational discourse unintelligible and meaningless such as the very ones you expect others to engage in.  Can you resolve this dilemma of Enns’ methodological precommitments?

4.) “That is not ad hominem, but from what I see a reasonable conclusion.”

Response: You might want to brush up on logic.  You are committing a logical fallacy of ad hominem since you fail to address anything substantial in our exchange but simply shift the topic to something concerning the other person.

5.) ” I do see, though, that you are versed in the rhetoric of apologists: never answer questions only ask them.”

Response: It’s flat out incorrect for you to say this since I have answered your questions.  Read it again.  If you disagree, can you point out which one of your questions that I have not answered ?  There was a question that I asked of you for further explanation so that I can answer it which ironically, you did not answer.  Just looking at our exchange I find it ironic (yet once again) that the very thing you said about me is actually true about yourself in our exchange.  It is you who never answer questions or inquiry.  If I can remind you of what my inquiries you leave unanswered:

(a) Can you be more specific of what it is in my post that is merely “repeating the reactions of others”?

(b) Can you (1) show something I said (2)that  has been stated by someone else before (links and book citation would be nice)?

(c) I’m curious to see how Enns deal with the methodological problems driving his position. Or how you would answer for that matter.

(d)What constitute for you a “serious background” in Biblical studies?

(e) I think it’s legitimate also as well to ask whether your credentials is up to par with the standard you are putting me through concerning “SERIOUS Background” in the mentioned areas of study.

One last thing:  I finally looked at other comments on here and seeing your comments to others I just wanted to point out that you have the rhethoric of an Enns’ troll.

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Apparently the issue of Michael Licona’s interpretation of Matthew 27:52-53 has fueled some controversy ever since Norman Geisler has come out with his open letter raising concern about his non-literal interpretation of the Saint’s resurrection after Jesus’ death.  The passage from Matthew 27:52-53 is as follows from the New American Standard Bible:

The tombs were opened, and many bodies of the [a]saints who had fallen asleep were raised; 53 and coming out of the tombs after His resurrection they entered the holy city and appeared to many.

This upcoming Thursday I will be getting my hands on Licona’s magnificent work, largely to read this new contribution to the defense of the Resurrection but also to see Licona’s view and reasoning for his interpretation for myself.  I have not read either Al Mohler’s or Norman Geisler’s open letters and what I have read thus far have only been from apologetics’ bloggers whose posts have been favorable towards Licona.

While I understand that the weight for Licona’s position should be evaluated from his own writing, I am beginning to be somewhat concern with how some of his supporters are going about defending Licona.  I don’t doubt these individual have a passion for defending Christianity.  But sometimes one might be more passionate and have blindspots we aren’t aware of.  While I don’t have all the time in the world to write on how everybody is wrong, I think I narrow my comment to that of Michael Bird, whom I believe Christians will probably begin to know more and more of in the coming years in the field of Christian historical and evidential apologetics (if they don’t know him already).

The issue is identifying the genre of the Biblical passage in question.  In terms of calibrating the literary form, Bird provided this reasoning for a non-historical interpretation:

In my chapter about the resurrection in How Did Christianity Begin: A Believer and Non-Believer Examine the Evidence, co-authored with James Crossley (London: SPCK, 2008/ Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2010), I said in a footnote about Matt. 27.51-53: “My understanding of this text is that it is not historical and it blends the present and the future together so that Matthew provides a cameo of the future resurrection at the point of Jesus’ death to underscore its living-giving power” (p. 69, n. 30). That was my off-the-cuff thought, but I stand by it, since Matt. 27.51-53 is a strange story that is reported nowhere else in Christian or non-Christian literature.

I don’t see any reason why Licona’s or my interpretation of Matt. 27.51-53 does not conform to a view of scripture as infallible, inspired, and authoritative. I think it explains the text and it explains why you don’t hear Josephus or Tacitus talking about the day that many Jewish holy men came back to life.

What struck me about his argument was what I highlighted in bold above, which I repeat again: “I think it explains the text and it explains why you don’t hear Josephus or Tacitus talking about the day that many Jewish holy men came back to life.”  I think Bird’s method behind his conclusion about Matthew 27:51-53 is flawed.  For one thing, this is an argument from silence.  That is, there is the flaw in the reasoning that if a pericope was not mentioned anywhere else outside of scripture, it must not have been the case historically, and therefore what is written in the Biblical text is deem as non-historical in it’s genre.  To invoke the apologetic cliche, the absence of evidence is not the same thing as evidence of absence.  Secondly there are many things in the New Testament or the life of Jesus that are not mentioned by Josephus or Tacitus.  Does that mean that events recorded in the Gospels such as the woman at the well in John 4 or Jesus as a twelve year old apologist in Luke 2 are nothing more than non-historical literary forms?  I don’t think Bird would want to say that.   I don’t state that so as to be uncharitable but I wish to point out that Bird’s reasoning here for Matthew 27:52-53 raises more problem than it answers.

Bird also stated the following,

“Moreover, Geisler and Mohler are systematicians, not New Testament scholars, and most of those who came to Licona’s aid in his open letter are New Testament scholars. I think there’s a big lesson to be learned in that!”

I think Bird might be reading too much into Geisler and Mohler being systematicians here.  I don’t believe it is an issue of Systematic theology versus New Testament theology.  This sets up an unnecessary false dilemma.  Even if it’s true that those who are supporting Licona are NT scholars, it seems that Licona’s position and that of Bird’s are a minority position even among Evangelical New Testament scholars.  Hence I don’t believe it is “a big lesson to be learned” as Bird might suggest.  Moreover, I might be mistaken since I have yet to read Mohler’s open letter, but did he not invited Licona to an open forum of some kind with the faculty of Southern Seminary?  The faculty includes NT scholars that are reputable such as Tom Schriner.

I close with what I believe are the real questions for Licona and Bird, that I will be asking myself when I read Licona’s work this Thursday:  How does one establish the literary form of Matthew 27:52-53 being unhistorical in a manner that does not bring more problem (logical fallacies, inconsistencies, self-defeaters) than answers?  How does one prove Matthew was engaging in Greco-Roman literary genre when Matthew seem to address largely a Jewish audience?  And the Greco-Roman texts that are being cited as examples of what Matthew 27:52-53 were participating in–can one establish definitively that they were meant not to be taken historically?

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Introduction

On March 15th, 2011 a book titled Love Wins was published by HarperOne.[1]  The book was authored by Rob Bell, a popular emergent pastor and the founding pastor of Mars Hill Bible Church in Grand Rapids, Michigan.  Even before the book was officially released, it has sparked a controversy throughout the Evangelical landscape.  Evangelical leaders such as Al Mohler[2] and John MacArthur[3] have responded and many lesser known Evangelicals have done so as well, in an historic moment for Evangelical Christianity in which the internet is used at an unprecedented scale as a means of responding to a theological controversy.  The controversy can be understood in light of the book’s subtitle: A book about Heaven, Hell, and the fate of every person who ever lived.

In fact, the controversy began before the book was even officially published, when the publishers released a promotional video clip for the book featuring Bell walking and asking questions.  The controversy has caught the attention of the secular world.  Time Magazine even devoted their April 25th, 2011 edition to Love Wins and had their front cover asking the question, “What If There’s No Hell?”

In light of the fact that many Conservative Evangelicals have already responded to Bell’s book, one might asks why another essay on Love Wins.  The purpose of this essay will offer a critique of the theological method behind Bell’s soteriology.  Since there are debates as to what exactly Bell believes concerning salvation, the first section of this paper will construct Bell’s position from his own writings in print, as opposed to being dependent upon secondhand sources in understanding Bell’s position.  This essay will attempt to accurately portray and interact with Bell’s position rather than a straw man.  After documenting Bell’s soteriology, it is important to understand and interact with the method of how Bell arrives at his conclusion.  The second section of this paper will explore some of the Scriptural references Bell offers, noting how the proper interpretation of these passages fail to lead to Bell’s conclusion.  In examining Bell’s biblical data, this section will argue that that the basis for Bell’s theology is not the result of an overarching hermeneutical scheme of interpreting Scripture, it is more likely that Bell’s scriptural arguments were an ad hoc attempt to gather proof texts to have tacked on after Bell has already arrive at his conclusion through other means.  The root of Bell’s theological methodological behind his soteriology seems to originate from his precommitments made prior to his reading of the Scripture.  These theological and meta-religious precommitments are the subjects of scrutiny in the third and final section of the paper.

Rob Bell’s Soteriology

There has been concern that Bell subscribe to universalism in his soteriology.  In his book on an Evangelical theology of religion, Todd Miles provides the common definition of universalism: “universalism (or universal reconciliation), describes those who believe that in the end, all will be reconciled to God.”[4]  There are more than one form of universalism, such as the pluralistic or inclusivistic strand.  The inclusivistic subset of universalism sees the importance of Christ’s work on the cross for the salvation of people which pluralistic univeralists would deny.[5]  This inclusivistic universalism is also called Christian universalism.  Miles provide a helpful working definition for Christian universalism:

Christian universalism, sometimes called universal reconciliation, is the doctrine that the final holiness and happiness of all humans will be brought about by the grace of God through the life and work of Jesus Christ. The work of Christ is decisive and necessary to bring about the consummated end for all.[6]

            In an MSNBC interview on the day the book was officially released, Rob Bell was asked by interviewer Martin Bashir, “So are you a universalist who believes that everyone can go to heaven regardless of how they respond to Christ on earth?”  It was helpful that Bashir did not just used the label universalist but also specify what he meant with the term in his question.  Bell’s answer to Bashir was, “In regards to the question, ‘Are you a universalist?’, I would say first and foremost, no.”[7]  For some, Bell’s denial of being a universalist is surprising.

The definition of universalism includes the fate of everyone in the end will be saved.  In tackling this question of whether all will be saved, Bell in Love Wins believed that the answer is currently a mystery:  “Will everybody be saved, or will some perish apart from God forever because of their choices?  Those are questions, or more accurately, those are tensions we are free to leave fully intact.  We don’t need to resolve them or answer them because we can’t, and so we simply respect them, creating space for the freedom that love requires.”[8]  According to this citation from Love Wins, Bell pleads ignorance to the question of whether all will be saved.  Bell’s statement here resonate with his denial on MSNBC that he is a universalist, since he cannot say everyone is going to heaven when he does not know.

Discussion of whether Bell is a universalist must also take into account Bell’s unique conception of heaven and hell.  For Bell, heaven is not so much a description of physical location or a specific era as it is a state of being in relations to God: “when Jesus talked about heaven he was talking about our present eternal, intense, real experiences of joy, peace and love in this life, this side of death and the age to come.  Heaven for Jesus wasn’t just ‘someday’; it was a present reality.  Jesus blurs the lines, inviting the rich man, and us, into the merging of heaven and earth, the future and present, here and now.”[9]  Likewise, hell does not describe a location as it is an individual’s state of being: “Hell is our refusal to trust God’s retelling of our story.”[10]  “Again, then, we create hell whenever we fail to trust God’s retelling of our story.”[11]  Bell rejects a literal hell in which God is punishing sinners.[12]  Asking the question of whether or not Bell believes everyone will one day be rescued out of a physical place call hell and moved to a new location call heaven does not make sense in Bell’s framework, since his eschatology presupposes that those who are in the mental state of “hell” and “heaven” are actually going to be in the same physical place when they die, before the joyous presence of God.  The picture of eternity is this: “We’re at the party, but we don’t have to join in.  Heaven or hell.  Both at the party.”[13]  Hell is being at the glorious party of God after one’s death but “refusing to join in the celebration.  Hell is being at the party.  That’s what makes it so hellish.  It’s not an image of separation, but one of integration.  In this story, heaven and hell are within each other, intertwined interwoven, bumping up against each other.”[14]

In light of Bell’s understanding of what hell is, one might say that Bell is a universalist since there is no doubt that everyone will arrive at the same physical destination of God’s blessing (what traditionally has been called heaven or the new earth). In Bell’s view the question is what one’s attitude would be upon arriving at the same location where everyone else is at in the afterlife: will the individual join in with all the festivity of God, or will they chose for themselves not to enjoy the party?  Within Bell’s framework, when an individual dies, the issue is not whether that person will be separated from God (a question of salvation), but whether the individual is going to have a loving and obedient response of joy before His Heavenly presence (a question of sanctification).  The mystery for Bell is whether everyone in the end will give up their own self-imposed hell and trust in God’s love instead.  Bell’s eschatology seems open to post-mortem ability to exit this hellish state, given how strongly Bell reacts against the idea that there is no hope for reconciliation for the unrepentant sinner after death.[15]

Again, though on the one hand Bell appeals to mystery with the question of the “fate” of all who have died, this does not mean Bell has nothing else to say on whether or not everyone will be reconciled to God.  Bell in Love Wins asserts that universalism is part of the historic Christian faith going as far back as the “first church” itself, and even presents arguments for universalism:

At the center of the Christian tradition since the first church have been a number who insist that history is not tragic, hell is not forever, and love, in the end, wins and all will be reconciled to God.  To reflect on these perspectives we’ve briefly covered, two observations and then a picture from the end of the Bible.[16]

            Notice from the quote above how Bell believes universalism to be “at the center of Christian tradition” early in the church’s history.  The two “observations” and one “picture from the end of the Bible” Bell gives are actually arguments for universalism: he appeals to the need of pluralism[17], gives an abductive argument that account for universalism as a “better story” than other soteriological positions[18], and an argument based upon Revelation 21:25.[19]  It is important to realize that these arguments are presented favorably by Bell and nowhere in Love Wins does he express his problems with them.  In fact, the three sets of arguments are quite similar with his arguments given throughout the book against exclusivism.  Exclusivism in soteriology refers to the belief that only one faith actually brings an individual into contact with God.[20]  Bell’s soteriology explicitly rejects exclusivism, believing that there is room for a more “generous” Christianity:

Many people find Jesus compelling, but don’t follow him, because of the parts about ‘hell and torment and all that.’  Somewhere along the way they were taught that the only option when it comes to Christian faith is to clearly declare that a few, committed Christian will ‘go to heaven’ when they die and everyone else will not, the matter is settled at death, and that’s it.  One place or the other, no looking back, no chance for a change of heart, make your bed now and lie in it…forever.  Not all Christians have believed this, and you don’t have to believe it to be a Christian.  The Christian faith is big enough, wide enough, and generous enough to handle that vast a range of perspectives.”[21]

            Similar expressions by Bell appear throughout Love Wins, such as the following:

A staggering number of people have been taught that a select few Christians will spend forever in a peaceful joyous place called heaven, while the rest of humanity spends forever in torment and punishment in hell with no change for anything better.  It’s been clearly communicated to many that this belief is a central truth of the Christian faith and to reject it is, in essence, to reject Christianity.  This is misguided and toxic and ultimately subverts the contagious spread of Jesus’s message of love, peace, forgiveness and joy that our world desperately needs to hear.[22]

            Note in the excerpt above, Bell rejects Christian exclusivism being the “central truth” of the Christian faith, which should be understood in light of his view that universalism have enjoyed the status of being at the center of Christianity since the first church.  Note also how Bell expressed his view that exclusivism is “misguided,” “toxic,” and subversive to Jesus’ message.

Bell’s rejects exclusivism since his soteriology embraces a modified form of Christian inclusivism.  Inclusivism is the belief that while one religion is ultimately true, others outside of that faith might be able to attain salvation.[23]  While Bell states that he does believe John 14:6 to be exclusive, he believes it is exclusive in such as a way as to be “on the other side on inclusivity,” whatever that might mean.[24]  Though Bell suggests that he believes John 14:6 indicates Christianity to be “exclusive,” in actuality Bell subscribes to an inclusivist type of soteriology when he commented further about the verse:

This kind insists that Jesus is the way, but holds tightly to the assumption that the all-embracing, saving love of this particular Jesus the Christ will of course include all sorts of unexpected people from across the cultural spectrum.  As soon as the door is opened to Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, and Baptists from Cleveland, many Christians become very uneasy, saying that then Jesus doesn’t matter anymore, the cross is irrelevant, it doesn’t matter what you believe, and so forth.  Not true.  Absolutely, unequivocally, unalterably not true. What Jesus does is declare that he, and he alone, is saving everybody.  And then he leaves the door way, way open.  Creating all sorts of possibilities.[25]

            When Bell stated in the above that Jesus has left all sorts of possibilities for salvation, it seems that he was quite literal about it.  Bell has also commented on John 14:6 and the means and mechanism of salvation:

What he doesn’t say is how, or when, or in what manner the mechanism functions that gets people to God through him.  He doesn’t even state that those coming to the Father through him will even know that they are coming exclusively through him.  He simply claim that whatever God is doing in the world to know and redeem and love and restore the world is happening through him.[26]

            According to Bell, the means that God brings people to salvation through Jesus might not even result in people knowing the name of Jesus:

At the same time, there are Christians who have raised support, gathered supplies, traveled thousands of miles into the farthest reaches of the globe to share the good news of Jesus with ‘unreached people,’ who upon hearing of Jesus for the ‘first time,’ respond, ‘That’s his name?  We’ve been talking about him for years…’  As Jesus says in John 10, ‘I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen.’[27]

            Bell believes that some people even “come to Jesus” despite being unwilling to identify that the person they met was named Jesus:

People come to Jesus in all sorts of ways.  Sometimes people bump into Jesus, they trip on the mystery, they stumble past the word, they drink from the rock, without knowing what or who it was.  This happened in the Exodus, and it happens today.  The last thing we should do is discourage or disregard an honest, authentic encounter with the living Christ.  He is the rock, and there is water for the thirsty there, wherever there is.  We are not threatened by this, surprised by this, or offended by this.  Sometimes people use his name; other times they don’t.  Some people have so much baggage with regard to the name ‘Jesus’ that when they encounter the mystery present in all of creation—grace, peace, love, acceptance, healing, forgiveness—the last thing they are inclined to name it is ‘Jesus.’[28]

            The last two quotes above indicates the extent of what Bell means when he said Jesus had opened up all kind of possibilities to bring people to salvation.  Bell believes the means Jesus employ to draw people to Himself include means which allow people not to know His name or even to acknowledge that the person they met was named Jesus.  Evangelicals would hold that knowing Jesus’ name is important for salvation and also knowing His blood atonement made for sins.  For Bell, not only is the name of Jesus not important for Jesus to save people, even Jesus’ vicarious atonement is not that important.  In fact, Bell questions the relevance of this doctrine for our day and age:

There’s nothing wrong with talking and singing about how the ‘Blood will never loses its power’ and ‘Nothing but the blood will save us.’  Those are powerful metaphors.  But we don’t live any longer in a culture in which people offer animal sacrifices to the gods.  People did live that way for thousands of years, and there are pockets of primitive cultures around the world that do continue to understand sin, guilt, and atonement in those ways.  But most of us don’t.[29]

            To be fair, Bell does not deny substitutionary atonement, affirming many metaphors for Christ’s work on the cross[30] though he believes no explanation or metaphor should be elevated other the others.[31]  Just as Bell question the relevance of Christ’s blood to atone for sins in order to receive salvation in today’s culture, sin itself is irrelevant to his gospel message: “Your deepest, darkest sins and your shameful secrets are simply irrelevant when it comes to the counterintuitive, estatic announcement of the gospel.” [32]  Bell adds, “It simply doesn’t matter when it comes to the surprising unexpected declaration that God’s love simply is yours.”[33]  Here, the core of Bell’s gospel comes down to God’s love.  Such a gospel then is more about God’s present love for all than about Jesus and His blood sacrifice for our sins.  The ramification of Bell’s gospel leads to a dramatic shift in terms of what missions looks like:

 Missons then is less about the transportation of God from one place to another and more about the identification of a God who is already there.  It is almost as if being a good missionary means having really good eyesight.  Or maybe it means teaching people to use their eyes to see things that have already been there; they just didn’t realize it.  You see God where others don’t.  And then you point him out.[34]

 Have you ever heard missionaries say they were going to ‘take Jesus’ to a certain place?  What they meant, I assume, was that they had Jesus and they were going to take him to a place like China or India or Chicago were people apparently didn’t have him.  I would ask them if people in China and India and Chicago are eating and laughing and enjoying things and generally being held together?  Because if they are, then Jesus, in a way that is difficult to fully articulate, is already present there.  So the issue isn’t so much taking Jesus to people who don’t have him, but going to a place and then telling them who you believe is the source of all that.”[35]

            Bell’s gospel message of God’s love means that Bell believes missions and evangelism is more about telling people of Jesus who is already present in their lives, who is the source of everything and that the proof of Jesus already being among them is found in their eating, laughing and enjoying things.

Here one needs to understand that though Bell is inclusivistic, it is not the standard Christian form of inclusivism.  The typical form of Christian inclusivism acknowledges that Jesus’ death and resurrection is the basis for true salvation, though the recipients of salvation might not be aware of it.[36]  For Bell, there seems to be less the centrality of the cross as the true basis of salvation and more of God’s love in general.  While not denying Christ’s work on the cross, this facet is not what is most important in Bell’s gospel message, which mainly is about God’s general love.  The likely message Bell would deliver to an unbeliever is that Jesus already is in his or her mist, rather than the story of Jesus’ rescue of sinners by dying for their sins.  In fact, for Bell the discussion of Christ’s work on the cross to rescue sinners can pose a problem to the main point of God’s love:

Many have heard the gospel framed in terms of rescue.  God has to punish sinners, because God is holy, but Jesus has paid the price for our sins, and so we can have eternal life.  However true or untrue that is technically or theologically, what it can do is subtly teach people that Jesus rescues us from God.  Let’s be very clear, then: we do not need to be rescued from God.[37]

            In summary, Bell’s soteriology at a superficial glance seems to deny universalism, but in light of his understanding of heaven and hell, his position is universalistic in the sense that there is no literal physical hell and everyone will be at the same place of God’s blessing when they die, though the heart attitude of each individuals will be different when they get there.  Bell’s soteriology explicitly deny exclusivism, taking on the form of an inclusivism that believes the reality of Jesus saving people involving many means with the basis of salvation found in God’s love in general.

 Rob Bell’s Proof Texts

Space does not permit a lengthy treatment of all the passages that Bell quotes or referenced in Love Wins.  The task of responding to common inclusivist or universalists proof text is put in perspective by Miles when he writes: “Defending the uniqueness of Christ and the necessity of gospel proclamation and belief in Christ does not allow for much creativity. Many excellent books have been devoted to the defense of exclusivism, arguing for the necessity of conscious faith in Christ for salvation.”[38]  Certainly there are good Christian works responding to the common proof texts used by inclusivists and universalists.[39]  What follows is a survey of some of the verses Bell use to support his soteriology, for the purpose of demonstrating that Bell’s position does not enjoy Biblical support and to make some observation of his general hermeneutics in Love Wins.

The hermeneutics that leads Bell to believe that the Bible suggests universalism is based upon an unspoken principle that every time Bell finds an “all” in the text it must be understood as referring to universal redemption of every individual.  Verses that Bell believes imply universalism include Matthew 19:28 which talks about the “renewal of all things” and Acts 3:21 which refers to a “period of restoration of all things.”[40]  The best approach in understanding these verses and other similar proof texts for universalism is to situate the verses first in its immediate context, then the context of the book itself and the entirety of the canon of Scripture as well.

The reference to the “renewal of all things” in Matthew 19:28 cannot refer to a universal redemption of all souls since two and three chapters later Jesus gives the parable of the wicked tenets (Matthew 21:33-44) and the parable of the marriage feasts (Matthew 22:1-14).  Both parables describe the judgment of God and the later even include a reference to a physical place of separation and suffering (Matthew 22:13).  Jesus ends the parable of the marriage feast by stating “For many are called, but few are chosen.”  This exclusion is also evident in Matthew 7:21-23, where Jesus stated that not everyone shall enter the kingdom of God (Matthew 7:21) and some will be excluded (Matthew 7:23).  Considering the context of Matthew, it does not seem likely that the best interpretation of Matthew 19:28 favors universalism.

The interpretation of Acts 3:21 that “the period of restoration of all things” implies an inevitable future universal salvation does not follow from the immediate context of the verse.  Two verses later Peter states, “And it will be that every soul that does not heed that prophet shall be utterly destroyed from among the people” (Acts 3:23).  This verse indicates that it is possible for some not to be saved.  The possibility that not all people will be saved explains why the Apostle Paul would preach to the Athenians to repent in light of God’s coming judgment in Acts 17:30-31.  Interpreted in light of biblical theology, the Bible elsewhere contradicts the possibility of universalism.  Interpreting Acts 3:21 as favoring universalism is incompatible with its immediate and larger canonical context.

Bell’s soteriology also states that the gospel has already been made available to everyone in every culture and every religion.  His soteriology then entails a theology of religion that views other religions favorably.  As he articulates it, he finds this support in Colossians 1:23:

The gospel, Paul writes in his letters to the Colossians, ‘has been proclaimed to every creature under heaven’ (chapter 1).  Every.  Creature.  Under.  Heaven.  As wide as creation.  Including everybody.  The whole world.  This is crucial for how we understand the current state of world religions, with its staggering number of religion themselves, let alone the multitudes of splinter groups and subgroups and denominations and factions and varied interpretation.[41]

There are problems with this interpretation.  First, the verse itself does not talk about other faith and religion in relations to the gospel here.  Second, the rest of the book of Colossians does not teach a favorable view of other religion or theology when they are contrary to the teachings of Christ.  Paul warns the Colossians not to be taken captive by philosophies, empty deceptions and the religious traditions of men (Colossians 2:8) and informs his readers that the religious teachings of self-abasement and angel worship are wrong (Colossians 2:18; 2:20-23).  There are some religious experiences which Paul sees as being disconnected from the “head” which is Christ (Colossians 2:18b-19).  Bell cannot derive his theology of religion based upon Colossians 1:23 when one considers the context of the rest of the book of Colossians.

Another proof text for Bell’s theology of religion is John 10:16.[42]  It states, “I have other sheep, too, that are not in this sheepfold. I must bring them also. They will listen to my voice, and there will be one flock with one shepherd.”  Again, the context does not support Bell’s interpretation that this verse imply that people in other religions and culture already know Jesus before missionaries share them the gospel.  Nowhere does this verse state that.  The context of the book of John makes it clear that salvation requires believing in the person of Jesus Christ.  This is repeatedly affirmed in John 3:16, 5:24, 8:24, 10:25-26, 11:26 and 20:30.  In light of the context in the book of John, John 10:16 cannot be used to imply that God has saved some apart from belief in Jesus Christ.

Bell’s theology of religion as it pertains to soteriology is influenced by his view that Christ is already present in every culture in every place.  Recall earlier that this had profound implication for how Bell believes what missions ought to look like.  Bell appeal to 1 Corinthians 10:4 for biblical support, which was Paul’s summary of an event with Moses during the Exodus:  “And all drank the same spiritual drink, for they were drinking from a spiritual rock which followed them; and the rock was Christ.”  Bell believed that Moses’ rock that sprang forth water was Jesus because “Paul finds Jesus there, in that rock, because Paul finds Jesus everywhere.”[43]  From this insight Bell titles a chapter in Love Wins, “There are Rocks Everywhere” from which he developed his theology of religion.  Though Bell might wish 1 Corinthians 10:4 supports the idea that Christ is already present in every culture, there are some problems with his interpretation.  Bell’s hermeneutics is defective here.  To begin with, Bell believes on the basis of this verse that if Paul could find Jesus in that rock, it somehow leads to the conclusion that Paul’s theology would have found Jesus everywhere.  This does not logically follow since Bell assumes that what is the case in one part of God’s creation (the rock) must be true in the whole.  This is a fallacy of composition.  Secondly, Bell commits a categorical fallacy.  If one were to assume upon the basis of this verse that Jesus is present, this does not mean that Jesus is present in every culture.  Though Christ in His Divinity will be all present in created space, this is not the same as saying that every culture has Christ redemptively.  They are two separate categories, and the distinction must not be muddled.

Though Bell has chide Christians for being narrow and keeping people “out,” it is unfortunate that Bell’s discussion failed to interact with any arguments offered by the other side.  Apart from telling anecdotes of silly Christians, Bell failed to interact with any serious teacher or scholar that does not share his view.  Love Wins failed to take into account verses that are commonly cited against universalism and other aspects of his soteriology with the exception of Bell’s discussion of John 14:6.

According to Bell’s interpretation of John 14:6, he does not believe that the verse provide the means and method of how individuals would receive salvation through Jesus, and conclude from this that there are many possibilities when it comes to the means of getting saved.[44]  Apparently these methods of people “coming to Jesus” include ways which does not require an individual to admit that they know Jesus.  This is contrary to what the following verse teaches about the requirement of knowing Jesus as a way to the Father: “If you had known Me, you would have known My Father also; from now on you know Him, and have seen Him.”  Furthermore, just because John 14:6 might not say how to receive the salvation Jesus provides this does not mean then that there many methods possible.  Bell commits a logical fallacy of argument from silence here.  In addition, Bell does not consider the input from the rest of the book of John that affirms the means Christian receive Christ’s saving work is by believing in Him.

Given that Bell’s soteriology must also be understood in light of his unique understanding of heaven and hell one must also analyze the verses he gives to support his position.  Bell turns to the parable of the prodigal son in Luke 15:11-32 to support his idea that hell is an inner state of an individual rather than an actual physical location separated from God.  He believes the parable show that those in “hell” are actually with everyone else physically in the afterlife, though in their inner state they fail to participate in all the heavenly excitement.  Bell explains,

Jesus puts the older brother right there in the party, but refusing to trust the father’s version of his story.  Refusing to join in the celebration.  Hell is being at the party.  That’s what makes it so hellish.  It’s not an image of separation, but one of integration.  In this story, heaven and hell are within each other, intertwined interwoven, bumping up against each other.[45]

Bell’s argument rests upon the interpretation that the older son is “right there in the party.”  However Luke 15:28 reveals how this older son “became angry and was not willing to go in” to the party.  The fact that the older son was not there physically at the place of celebration is clear when “his father came out and began pleading with him” (Luke 15:28b).  The son who chose not to celebrate and those who were celebrating were not physically in the same place “bumping up against each other.”

Bell’s view of hell in the afterlife leads him to suggest the possibility (however slight) that one can escape this “hell” even postmortem if the individual changes his or her heart.  He bases his argument upon Revelation 21:25 with the following explanation:

 We read in these last chapter of Revelation that the gates of that city in that new world will ‘never shut.’  That’s a small detail, and it’s important we don’t get too hung up on details and specific images because it’s possible treat something so literally that it becomes less true in the process.  But gates, gates for keeping people in and keeping people out.  If the gates are never shut, then people are free to come and go.[46]

            As Bell himself admits, his argument here might not be as strong as he would like.  While the gates here are describe as never being closed, two verses later the function of the gates are specified.  These gates are for the purpose of exclusion rather than inclusion.  The apostle John in Revelation 21:27 make it clear that “only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life” will be able to enter into the gates.  Prior to Revelation 21, Jesus would have already judge all those who have ever lived (Revelation 20:11-13).  Not everyone’s name would be found in the book of life (Revelation 20:15a).  Thus, if they were not already named in the book of life, they would not qualify at the outset of entering into the gate.  There is no post-mortem hope.  Those whose names are absent from the book of life are described as being cast into the lake of fire (Revelation 20:15b).  These people will be at a physical location separate from the city of God, which fits more the description of the traditional concept of hell rather than Bell’s conception of hell.

One cannot help but to notice that Bell’s hermeneutics at times assume certain things that were read into the text rather than from the text.  From the examples above, Bells used Colossians 1:23, John 10:16 and 1 Corinthians 10:4 to support his theology of religion but the subject of these verses were not about other religions per se.  Bell cites the parable of the prodigal son in Luke 15:11-32 to support his concept of hell, but the passage nowhere talks about hell.  If the interpretation of these passages stray so far off that the interpretation is not even the subject (theology of religion, hell, etc) of the text at all, one has to assume that the interpretations were read into the text rather than from the text, even if one believes Bell sincerely believed in his interpretation.  Since Bell’s interpretation of the text of scripture is heavily shaped by things prior to his reading of the scripture, it is important to interact with these theological pre-commitments.

Rob Bell’s Theological Pre-Commitment

God’s Love

The central theological pre-commitment that shapes Bell’s soteriology is his concept of God’s love.  Early in the book, Bell identifies this as his first and foremost principle:  “First I believe that Jesus’s story is first and foremost about the love of God for every single one of us.”[47]  It is the basis of Bell’s understanding of God’s love that “compels us to question some of the dominant stories that are being told as the Jesus story.”[48]  Bell strongly believe that God is love, and question whether the Evangelical presentation of God as judge who send sinners to hell for eternity would be compatible with the understanding of God as a loving Father.  Bell’s reaction towards the portrait of God in the Evangelical gospel is expressed with very strong words:

If there was an earthly father who was like that, we would call the authorities.  If there was an actual human dad who was that volatile, we would contact child protection services immediately.  If God can switch gears like that, switch entire modes of being that quickly, that raises a thousand questions about whether a being like this could ever be trusted, let alone be good.  Loving one moment, vicious the next.  Kind and compassionate, only to become cruel and relentless in the blink of an eye.  Does God become somebody totally different the moment you die?  That kind of God is devastating.  Psychologically crushing.  We can’t bear it.  No one can.  And that is the secret deep in the heart of many people, especially Christians: they don’t love God.  They can’t, because the God they’ve been presented with and taught about can’t be loved.  That God is terrifying and traumatizing and unbearable.[49]

Bell’s concept of God’s love makes him susceptible to reject hell as traditionally understood and to doubt whether God will only redeem those who make a profession of faith in Jesus Christ.  Due to God’s love, Bell believes God has no desire to inflict pain on anyone.[50]

Given the priority that Bell places on his doctrine of God’s love, it is the least negotiable pre-commitment in Bell’s theological system.  Other doctrines are subject to scrutiny.  The acceptance, rejection or modification of doctrines would be based upon it’s relationship to God’s love as Bell conceives of it.  Therefore, due to Bell’s understanding of God’s love, he is led to believe that the Evangelical’s story of Jesus has been hijacked: “There are a growing number of us who have become acutely aware that Jesus’s story has been hijacked by a number of other stories, stories Jesus isn’t interested in telling, because they have nothing to do with what he came to do.  The plot has been lost, and it’s time to reclaim it.”[51]

Bell gives a theological argument to justify his understanding of why God’s love is so great that He won’t send people to hell. He argues that God’s glory is robbed when He sends people to hell:  “Restoration brings God glory, eternal torment doesn’t.  Reconciliation brings God glory, endless anguish doesn’t.  Renewal and return causes God’s greatness to shine through the universe; never-ending punishment doesn’t.”[52]  But this would not be the understanding of the Apostle John in Revelation.  After witnessing the vision of God’s destructive punishment upon Babylon in Revelation 18, the Apostle of love saw “a great multitude in heaven, saying, ‘Hallelujah!  Salvation and glory and power belong to our God” (Revelation 19:1b).  A glorious worship of God ensues in heaven, even praising God for his judgment (Revelation 19:2).  Those in heaven are praising God for His glory.  God’s judgment of sin does not rob God of His glory.  He gets glory even when He does not reconcile everything to Himself.  This same passage reveals that God is able to get glory even by hurting sinners.  And this was a story about God that the Apostle John was interested in telling.

Bell correctly identifies that God’s love is based upon the fact that God Himself is love. [53]  There is a relationship between Bell’s doctrine of God and his soteriology, where his theology proper shapes his doctrine of salvation.  Throughout Love Wins, it seems the only attributes of God that is mentioned is God’s love.  Bell does not say whether there are any other attributes of God and if there are how these other attributes of God inter-relate with God’s love.  This elevation of a single attribute of God without considering the unity of the rest of God’s attributes contribute heavily to the problem in Bell’s soteriology.  When it comes to soteriological questions, Bell does not interact with the relationship of God’s love with His holiness, righteousness and wrath.  It is appropriate to say that God’s attribute of love is the only thing that matters to Bell.  This should not be.  In his discussion on the unity of God’s attribute, Wayne Grudem writes, “Moreover, the doctrine of the unity of God should caution us against attempting to single out any one attribute of God as more important than all the others.  At various times, people have attempted to see God’s holiness, or his love, or his self-existence, or his righteousness, or some other attribute as the most important attribute of his being.”[54]  These words are sobering corrective for Bell’s theological method.

Since God’s love is the only attribute that Bell brings to bear in his soteriology, what Bell has reclaimed as Jesus’ story ends up trivializing the blood atonement of Jesus Christ and the weight of sin in God’s eyes.  Yet these themes rest at the heart of Christianity and the story Bell tells goes contrary to the story that Jesus and the Bible are interested in telling.

It is important for Bell that if it can be demonstrated that the severity of sin in God’s eyes and the blood atonement of Jesus Christ are stories Jesus told, Bell should submit himself to believe and to tell the Evangelical version of the Jesus’ story, though it might be hard for him in his natural mind to accept it.  This principle is the basis for Bell’s own admonition towards unbelievers who wishes to have nothing to do with Jesus when Christians claim that Jesus is God:

This is an astounding claim, and one that causes many to get off the bus at the nearest stop.  To often there, too mythic, premodern, or superstitious to be taken seriously in our modern world.  Haven’t we evolved past such nonsense?  God became a man?  It’s a common protest, and it’s understandable.  It is, at the same time, unavoidable.  It’s the heart of the Jesus story.[55]

Bell then proceeds to attack the autonomy of unbelievers in thinking that as finite human being in their own subjective mind can be the great arbitrator of what can and cannot be:

If you find yourself checking out at this point, finding it hard to swallow the Jesus-as-divine part, remember that these are ultimately issues that ask what kind of universe we believe we’re living in.  Is it closed or open?  Is it limited to what we can conceive of and understand, or are there realities beyond the human mind?  Are we the ultimate orbiter of what can, and cannot, exist?[56]

The same challenge Bell throws down to the nonbeliever is the same challenge directed towards Bell himself: if the blood atonement atonement of Jesus Christ and the severity of sin in light of God’s holiness is at the heart of the story Jesus told, though Bell might struggle with making sense of it in light of what he understands God’s love to be, Bell should nevertheless forfeit the office of adjudicating what can or cannot be, and accept what Jesus and the Bible has to say.

Jesus understood God’s righteous and through this understood the severity of sin in God’s eyes, something that Bell finds irrelevant to the gospel since God’s love would accept people anyways.  In Jesus’ discussion about Galileans who perished under Pilate, Jesus warns His hearers that they were not to think of themselves as less sinful than those who perish, and He preached to them that unless they repented of their sins they will also perish (Luke 13:1-3).  Using the same formula, He warned them again to repent of their sins (Luke 13:4-5).  Sin to Jesus was not just simply irrelevant to the gospel, but it was all too relevant in His story since only repentance from sin through faith in Jesus Christ would lead to salvation.

The severity of sin in God’s eyes means God will bring judgment of sin even after one’s death.  Jesus does not project the type God Bells believe in: a God that is “safe” for unbelievers.[57]  Jesus tells His audience in Luke 12:5 that God is to be feared, for He judges sins and has the authority to send people to hell: “But I will warn you whom to fear: fear the One who, after He has killed, has authority to cast into hell; yes, I tell you, fear Him!”  Hell is not just something one brings about upon themselves in their state of mind.[58]  Jesus in Luke 12:5 indicates that Hell is not a mere self-inflicted misery but one that God has the authority to send people to.

This leads to the importance of Jesus’ blood atonement in the gospel story.  In Hebrews 9:22 the Word of God states that without blood it would be impossible to forgive sins.  Jesus in Matthew 26:28 identifies His own blood as that which will be poured out for the forgiveness of sins:  “For this is My blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for forgiveness of sins.”  Instead of seeing it as irrelevant in the Christian message to our present culture, Christ saw it as very relevant if people are to be forgiven of their sins and be saved.  To say that it’s not important to communicate today is to tell another story that is contrary to the story of why Jesus came on earth for.

If there is a theological spiral that is analogous to the hermenutical spiral when it comes to theological methods, the hope here is that Bell and his followers would reconsider their version of God’s love especially in light of the story that Jesus and the Bible have told.

This story of Jesus perfectly harmonizes God’s love with God’s righteousness and wrath.  Since only God Himself knows what that perfect unity of His attributes look like, it is best that Bell obey his own stated principle of letting God be God and allow Him to determine what is and is not possible.  Human knowledge of God is not original, but derive from God’s self-disclosure in the scriptures.

Having People “In” or “Out” is wrong

Another important theological pre-commitment that Bell has prior to his reading of the Bible is the idea that it is wrong to set up a situation in which people are either “in” or “out.”  For Bell, the act of excluding others is morally wrong for God and man to do.  This pre-commitment colors how Bell understands the gospel and his reaction towards Evangelicals’ gospel presentation.  He sees the Evangelical gospel to promote a sort of elitism which reinforces Evangelicals to see themselves as being “in” while further excluding others as a result of seeing others as “out.”  Bell writes,

 A gospel that that has as its chief message avoiding hell or not sinning will never be the full story.  A gospel that repeatedly, narrowly affirms and blosters the ‘in-ness’ of one group at the expense of the ‘out-ness’ of another group will not be true to the story that includes ‘all things and people in heaven and on earth.’[59]

According to Bell, “Life has never been about just ‘getting in.’  It’s about thriving in God’s good world.”[60]  Hence, Bell questions about the gospel’s urgency for sinner to be right with God in order to enter heaven.

Again, one must ask Bell whether this was a story that Jesus told: that there are no “in” and “outs” whatsoever.  Further, once again it is important for Bell to realize that if God dictates what is right and wrong, and he certain exclusion are allowed, then Bell cannot appeal to any higher transcendent standard than the God of the Bible Himself.  It is the same principle that Bell challenges the nonbeliever once more: will finite man or God be the arbitrator of what ought to be and what ought not to be.

Jesus’ word during the Sermon on the Mount challenges Bell’s story of Jesus.  In Matthew 7:13, Jesus opens with an exhortation to His hearers to “enter into the narrow gate.”  Somehow Bell’s “Life has never been about just ‘getting in” crept into Jesus’ story, something that was not a part of Jesus’ original story.  Jesus in the rest of Matthew 7:13-14 goes on to say, “For the gate is wide and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and there are many who enter through it.  For the gate is small and the way is narrow that leads to life, and there are few who find it.”  Jesus here teaches a sort of “in” and “out.”  Jesus teaches that many will on the road to destruction while few will be in the path to life.  However, Jesus demonstrates that it is possible to affirm some will be on their way to eternal life and others to condemnation without being immoral or self-promoting.  Jesus shows love by appealing His hearers to enter into “the narrow gate.”

Conclusion

Having quoted Love Wins extensively, this paper constructed Bell’s soteriology as fairly and charitably towards Bell as possible.  This paper argues that when one consider Bell’s understanding of heaven and hell as a state of mind rather than a physical place, Bell is a universalist in his soteriology.  Bell is against exclusivism, his theology of religion shows favor towards other religion in a modified inclusivistic sort of way.  While not denying Christ’s blood atonement for sins, Bell does not see it necessarily being always relevant in today’s western culture.  A survey of some of Bell’s proof text reveals that the evidence does not support his soteriology, followed by the identification and criticism of two important theological pre-commitment in Bell’s soteriology which shapes his interpretation of Scripture and determine what answer can and cannot be possible.  Bell has correctly stated in Love Wins, “What the gospel does is confront our version of our story with God’s version of our story.”[61]  It is hope that this essay and others like it will challenge Bell’s story with a better story of how Christ’s love wins.


                [1] Rob Bell, Love Wins: A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every person Who Ever Lived, (New York: Harper One, 2011).

                [2] Al Mohler, “We Have Seen This Before: Rob Bell and the (Re)Emergence of Liberal Theology,”  AlMohler.com, entry posted on March 16th, 2011,  http://www.albertmohler.com/2011/03/16/we-have-seen-all-this-before-rob-bell-and-the-reemergence-of-liberal-theology/ (accessed April 29th, 2011).

                [3] John MacArthur, “Rob Bell: A Brother to Embrace, or a Wolf to Avoid?”  Grace to You Blog, entry posted on April 12th, 2011,  http://www.gty.org/Blog/B110412 (accessed April 29th, 2011).

[4] Todd L. Miles, A God of Many Understandings?, (Nashville: B&H Publishing Group, 2010), 17.

[5] Ibid, 98.

[6] Ibid.

                [7] Justin Taylor, “MSNBC: Martin Bashir Interview with Rob Bell”  Between Two Worlds Blog, entry posted on March 15th, 2011,  http://thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/justintaylor/2011/03/15/msnbc-martin-bashirs-interview-with-rob-bell/ (accessed April 20th, 2011).

                [8] Bell, Love Wins, 115.

                [9] Ibid, 58-59.

                [10] Ibid, 170.

                [11] Ibid, 173.

                [12] See Ibid, 173-177, see also chapter three of the book which treats the subject of hell, pages 63-93.

                [13] Ibid, 173.

[14] Ibid, 169-170.

                [15] Ibid 108.

                [16] Ibid, 109.

[17] Ibid, 109-110.

[18] Ibid, 110-111.

[19] Ibid, 111-113.

[20] David K. Clark, To Know and Love God, (Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway Books, 2003), 321.

                [21] Bell, Love Wins, 110.

                [22] Ibid, viii.

                [23] Clark, To Know and Love God, 321.

                [24] Bell, Love Wins, 154.

                [25] Ibid, 155.

[26] Ibid, 154.

                [27] Ibid, 152.

                [28] Ibid, 158-159.

                [29] Ibid, 128-129.

                [30] Ibid, 127.

                [31] Ibid, 129.

                [32] Ibid, 187.

[33] Ibid, 188.

                [34] Rob Bell, Velvet Elvis, (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2005), 87-88.

                [35] Ibid, 88.

[36] Miles, A God of Many Understandings, 34.

[37] Bell, Love Wins, 182.

[38] Miles, A God of Many Understandings, 28.

[39] For a good concise general work on the popular Scriptural response to inclusivism, pluralism and universalism see  John Piper, Jesus: The Only Way to God: Must You Hear the Gosepl to be Saved?, (Ada, Michighan: Baker Books, 2010).

                [40] Bell, Love Wins, 107.

                [41] Ibid, 153.

                [42] Ibid, 152.

                [43] Ibid, 144.

                [44] Ibid, 155.

                [45] Ibid, 169-170.

                [46] Ibid, 114-115.

                [47] Ibid, vii.

                [48] Ibid, viii.

                [49] Ibid, 175.

                [50] Ibid, 177.

                [51] Ibid, vii-viii.

                [52] Ibid, 108.

                [53] Ibid, 177.

[54] Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology: AN Introduction to Biblical Doctrine, (Grand Rapids, Michighan: Zondervan Publishing House, 1994), 180.

            [55] Bell, Love Wins, 146-147.

            [56] Ibid, 147.

                [57] Ibid, 175.

 [58] Ibid.

                [59] Ibid, 135.

                [60] Ibid, 179.

                [61] Bell, Love Wins, 171.

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