Rob Bell is an Emergent Church pastor and author whose teachings have been labeled toxic by reputable discernment ministries. Now some of Bell’s teaching is being discerned prior to its March 29th release date. In reviewing an advance copy of Rob Bell’s coming book Love Wins, in which Bell claims to put hell on trial, Scott Leper has his work cut out for him.1 In a follow up to his first installment, Scott relates that “Mr. Bell’s writing style makes it hard at times to decipher whether he’s just playing devil’s advocate or if he really believes what he’s saying.”2 Take note Scott, the reason for that can be summed in a word: duplicitous.
Politicians, professors, and pastors use this style of elastic point of view—slipping between devil’s advocate and personal assertion, and you guess which ones intended—to say different things to different groups using the same message or text. If an author wants a select group to hear him say he doesn’t believe there is eternal torment for the damned, he will treat that view to mask his voice. Is the author speaking from conviction, or is he introducing controversial topics for examinations’ sake? The goal is applause from the focus group, and the benefit of the doubt from all others.
When skillfully employed, this style of rhetoric effectively sends two separate messages to two separate groups with each receiving it as stating their respective view. Politicians use this to appeal to more people to get more votes. Professors use this to abuse students, and rant on any topic they please. Pastors use it to disguise heresies; except to the heretics.
On the question of heresy, Bell’s selected description of his book does not portend well. Bell claims to put hell on trial in his work. If America were put on trial, the prosecutor’s case would not attack the purple mountain’s majesties, the amber waves of grain, and the fruited plains. The people of a sovereign nation would be the ones on trial. To boast of putting hell on trial carries the clear implication that a sovereign God, who created it for a specific purpose, is the one on trail.
Whether Bell is in fact advancing the old heresy of Annihilationism, where the damned parish in hell by ceasing to exist altogether, or a purgatorial view of hell being an Elysian field where penance perfects individuals who go on to heaven, or some derivative thereof, only time, or Scott, will tell. It could turn out after all that Bell is merely using sensationalism to sell more books, make more money, or become more famous. While this is a seemingly benign tactic for secular writers, it is unacceptable in Christian writing. At the lest, it would call such an author’s Christian credibility and fidelity into serious question.
1. As this article goes to press Scott’s real last name remains undisclosed. The name “Leper” was selected from his website name The Tenth Leper.
2. Scott, “Before Going Further in My ‘Love Wins’ Review: A Personal Note,” The Tenth Leper, March 2, 2011. http://thetenthleper.com/2011/03/02/before-going-further-on-my-love-wins-review-a-personal-note/