For Whom the Bell Tolls: Heretic or Hero?

29 03 2011

What does hell mean to you? Is it an endless nightmare for sinners and unsaved souls, as mainstream orthodox Christianity has taught for centuries? Or do we create a hell on earth by our choices that lead to addictions, despair, depression and worry?

Those ideas are receiving fresh scrutiny from some believers after a prominent evangelical pastor, Rob Bell, founder and senior pastor of Mars Hill Bible Church, questioned the traditional idea of hell in his new book, Love Wins.

I have ordered the book but not read it yet. Yet the amount of questions and controversy this book is drumming up motivated me to introduce the discussion and encourage you, if you’re interested, to look at the subject critically.

Some important denominations and theologians have moved quickly to criticize the book. Such leading pastors and theologians like Al Mohler, President of the Southern Baptist Seminary; John Piper, noted author and pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church; Justin Taylor, an executive at Crossway books and a leading blogger, have all come out soundly against Love Wins. A forum was held last week at the Southern Baptist Seminary in Louisville in which Christian writers and thinkers laid out their problems with Bell’s thinking.”

Atheists are not going to be impressed by this book. Skeptics are not going to be impressed by this book,” said Christian blogger Justin Taylor at the Southern Baptist forum. “The people who are going to be impressed by this book are disaffected evangelicals.”

Ben Witherington, one of the most influential evangelical theologians, is using his blog to take on Bell’s book chapter by chapter. If you are interested in the subject matter of hell and Bell’s perspective, let me encourage you to read Dr. Witherington’s analysis of the book. Though I’m not an Arminian theologically, as Dr. Witherington is, I found his argument and critique very orthodox and biblical.

Who is Ben Witherington? This is from his website:

Bible scholar Ben Witherington is Amos Professor of New Testament for Doctoral Studies at Asbury Theological Seminary and on the doctoral faculty at St. Andrews University in Scotland. A graduate of UNC, Chapel Hill, he went on to receive the M.Div. degree from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary and a Ph.D. from the University of Durham in England. He is now considered one of the top evangelical scholars in the world and is an elected member of the prestigious SNTS, a society dedicated to New Testament studies.

Witherington has also taught at Ashland Theological Seminary, Vanderbilt University, Duke Divinity School and Gordon-Conwell. A popular lecturer, Witherington has presented seminars for churches, colleges and biblical meetings not only in the United States but also in England, Estonia, Russia, Europe, South Africa, Zimbabwe and Australia. He has also led tours to Italy, Greece, Turkey, Israel, Jordan and Egypt.

Witherington has written over forty books, including The Jesus Quest and The Paul Quest, both of which were selected as top biblical studies works by Christianity Today. He also writes for many church and scholarly publications. Along with many interviews on radio networks across the country, Witherington has been seen on the History Channel, NBC, ABC, CBS, CNN, The Discovery Channel, A&E and the PAX Network.

If you would like to read Dr. Witherington’s blogs on the subject of Rob Bell’s book, you can access them through the following:





3 responses

30 03 2011
Alan D Morgan

Hey there Steve,

Again, a good blog post. Hey, could you add a RSS link to your blog so I can add it to my reader? Not you personally of course. 🙂



1 04 2011
steve holt

Thanks for the suggestion. It’s now added.
– blog support.

30 03 2011

One of the professors at DTS, Darrell Bock, has been working his way through Bell’s book and writing about it in his blog:

Rob Bell has done some very creative, cutting edge stuff, but this shows what happens when you are willing to change not only the method, but the message: you end up “blown about by every wind of doctrine.”

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