Monday, May 30, 2011

The Gospel of Self

Part 2: Self-Centered Worship

By Pastor Anton Bosch

Modern “Christianity” has taken us back to the dark ages and beyond. In those days everyone believed that the universe revolved around the earth. It was only around 1610 that Galileo discovered that the Earth is not the center of the Universe, but the Sun is the center of our solar system and that Earth actually revolves around the Sun. (Galileo was declared a heretic by the Roman church and spent the rest of his life under house arrest.)

Modern Christianity teaches that God revolves around the Christian and that we are the center of His Universe. This is even worse than believing that the universe revolves around the Earth.

This is the result of the false gospel – the gospel of self. By contrast, the true Gospel – the Gospel of Jesus Christ – teaches that He is the preeminent One, and that our lives should revolve around Him.

These are not variants of the same gospel but they are total opposites – one emanating from and terminating in God, the other in self. The one leads to life, the other to death. But how are these two gospels manifested? Let’s look at some of the fruit of both.

The first evidence of these gospels lies in what a person thinks about. Is self the center of their thoughts – how things benefit them, what they plan to do, how they feel etc.? Or is Christ, His Word (and His body) the preeminent subject of their private thoughts? Do their thoughts revolve around earthly things or heavenly things? “If then you were raised with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ is, sitting at the right hand of God. Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth” (Colossians 3:1-2).

What we think about most is evidenced in what we talk about. Jesus said: “How can you, being evil, speak good things? For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. A good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth good things, and an evil man out of the evil treasure brings forth evil things” (Matthew 12:34-35). If our heart and thinking revolves around ourselves, that is what we will speak about.

Even some preachers speak about themselves more than they do about the Lord and his Word! It is very hard to have a conversation with such a person since they are not interested in you, or what you have to say. They can only think and talk about themselves. Most people in the world are like that, but when “Christians” exhibit these traits, there is a real cause for concern. Those who have truly discovered the wonder of the Lord Jesus and His Word, cannot cease to talk about the things that really matter. I don’t mean we should never express our feelings, needs and joys, but when “I” is the word used most often, there is a real problem.

The prominence of the personal pronouns “I” and “we” are also evident in much of modern worship. This is symptomatic of the gospel of self. Those who have been touched by the true Gospel will want to speak and sing about the Lord Jesus Christ, and He is the theme of their songs, praise and worship.

The very fact that people choose one church above the other because they “enjoy the worship” better is a blatant statement that their worship, and therefore their lives, revolve around themselves and not around the Lord. They worship so they can have a great experience, and not in order to bless the Lord! Sadly, entire churches are built around the worship “experience” – plainly declaring that they preach the gospel of self.

Many people assume that only believers pray. But unbelievers also pray and, they pray in churches. Their prayers are very much like those of the Pharisee of Luke 18:11-12 who used the pronoun “I” five times in his two sentence prayer! Jesus commented that “he prayed thus with himself.”

James says that your prayers are not answered because “you ask amiss, that you may spend it on your pleasures” (James 4:3). Yes, we have needs and it is right to express those needs before the throne of grace. But when our lives revolve around ourselves, we only see our own wants, and not the needs of others nor the will of our Father. Many Christians have been taught that prayer is how we get God to do what we want. That is not real prayer – it is the prayer of the gospel of self. True prayer helps us discover, and do, what God wants – “Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:10). Jesus Himself prayed “not as I will, but as You will." (Matthew 26:39).

The gospel of self produces people who choose whether, where, and when they go to church based on their own desires and not the will of God. I don’t know how many times I have heard “I want a big church” or “I want a church with a youth group,” or “I like a church that serves good coffee,” or any dozens of other selfish desires. Very seldom do we hear people praying for the Lord to lead them where He wants them, or where they are needed. It is always about what people get from the church and not what they can contribute. For this reason big churches get bigger and small churches decline. The very existence of mega churches is evidence of the gospel of self!

I once knew a lady who had a beautiful voice and who, for a while, made a real contribution to the singing in a small church. But she chose to go to another church in the next city because the singing was better at that church. What the small church needed, and what the Lord’s will was, had nothing to do with her decision. She was not serving the Lord, but herself. Sadly, there are millions of people in churches today who choose “their” church based on selfish desires and not on God’s will for them. And when that church no longer serves their wants, they will move on to the next one that will serve them better. Such churches and their ministries revolve around the selfish desires of the people, and they have very little to do with true Christianity.

True church is where people meet to serve, not be served; to give and not to receive. It is where they go to worship, not be worshipped; and where they seek God’s will and not their own.

True Christianity is where the focus and center is the Lord Jesus Christ, not individuals, programs, entertainment or any other human endeavor.

The True Gospel, church and Christianity seek to please and glorify the One who bought us at a great price. The counterfeits are pleasing to man and the flesh.

To be continued. . . .

The Truth:

"Examine yourselves, whether ye be in the faith; prove your own selves. Know ye not your own selves, how that Jesus Christ is in you, except ye be reprobates?" (2 Corinthians 13:5) [emphasis added]

Pastor Anton Bosch is the author of Building Blocks of the Church: Re-examining the Basics and Contentiously Contending, both available HERE.

Friday, May 27, 2011

The Gospel of Self

Part 1: Self-Centeredness

By Pastor Anton Bosch

"This know also, that in the last days perilous times shall come.
For men shall be lovers of their own selves,..."

(1 Timothy 3:1-2a) [emphasis added]

We seldom take notice, when things change very slowly. I am sure you know the story (probably an urban legend) that if you threw a frog in a pot of boiling water, it would immediately jump out of the water, but if it is put into the pot when the water is cold and the water is gradually heated, it will stay there until it is dead.

The Gospel in the western world has gradually been changed over the past 50 (or more) years so that what is believed to be the gospel today is no longer the true Gospel but a false gospel which differs substantially and dramatically from the true Gospel. But because the changes have been brought in gradually, no one seems to have noticed.

Paul mostly just refers to the Gospel as “the gospel” meaning that there is no other gospel, and assuming that his readers understand what the term means. But about 30 times he calls the gospel “the gospel of Christ” (Romans 1:16; 1Corinthians 9:12 etc.) or “the gospel of God” (Romans 1:1; 1Thessalonians 2:2 etc.). In fact, Mark opens his gospel with “The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God” (Mark 1:1).

By calling it the “gospel of Christ” the writers of the New Testament are saying that the Gospel is about Jesus Christ, it is founded in, and by, Him. It is completed in, and by, Him. And He is the object and center of the Gospel. Nowhere is this clearer than in Paul's explicit definition of the gospel:

“Moreover, brethren, I declare to you the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received and in which you stand, by which also you are saved... For I delivered to you first of all that which I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures” (1 Corinthians 15:1-4 NKJV) [emphasis added]

This is about Jesus Christ, not about anyone else. Yes, we happen to be the beneficiaries of His atoning work but the only role we had to play in this great work is that He died “for our sins.” But it is He Who died, Who was buried, and Who rose from the dead.

So, how does the modern gospel differ from the Gospel of Christ? It differs in that Christ is no longer the center and object of the message -- but man is. It is no longer the Gospel of Christ, it is the gospel of self, and it is another gospel entirely.

Just think about how this “gospel” is normally communicated. Those who preach the modern gospel talk about you: God's plan for you, how much He loves you, how you can be happy and fulfilled, how He wants to bless you, make you rich and make you healthy and heal your marriage, etc. While many of these things are all true, the emphasis is in the wrong place. These preachers feel the need to sell people on the benefits of salvation, and so it becomes a man-centered message.

Right through the book of Acts we find that they preached “Jesus the Christ.” That was their message beginning at Pentecost (Acts 2:22) and ending at the last verse (Acts 28:31).

Some may say that this is merely semantics and splitting hairs, and that all that matters is that people come to accept Jesus. No, this is fundamental to the Faith. There are different gospels, and each presents a different Jesus. Paul warned that there would be “another gospel” and “another Jesus”:

“For if he who comes preaches another Jesus whom we have not preached, or if you receive a different spirit which you have not received, or a different gospel which you have not accepted—you may well put up with it!” (2 Corinthians 11:4 NKJV) [emphasis added]

On the surface this other gospel and other Jesus appear very much like the real Gospel and the real Jesus, but they are both counterfeits empowered by a very different spirit – the spirit of Antichrist (1John 4:3).

The Gospel of Christ and the gospel of self have different messages: The object of the first is Jesus Christ, His person, His work and His glory. The object of the second message is self. This message concentrates on what man can get from God and how everything Christ has done and does, revolves around blessing man.

Responding to these two different gospels produce dramatically different results. The gospel of Christ is unpopular and few respond to it, while the gospel of self is popular and many flock to it (Matthew 7:13-15). They also produce very different attitudes in their followers. Those who obey the Gospel of Christ, worship Him and their lives and doctrine revolve around Him – they are Christ-centered. Those who choose the gospel of self worship themselves, and their lives revolve around themselves – they are self-centered.

Not only do these messages produce very different followers, but they produce entire congregations that are either self-centered or Christ-centered.

These differences are more than a slight difference in emphasis. They are complete opposites. The true Gospel produces repentance and faith in Christ alone. The gospel of self produces arrogance and self-righteousness. The Gospel of Christ leads to eternal life while the gospel of self leads to eternal damnation. Those who have been attracted by the gospel of self are not saved – they have put their trust in a false message with a false savior.

Nowhere are these two gospels more clearly illustrated than in the ministry of Jesus. The Jews preached a Messiah who would fulfill their political, economic and ego-centric goals. Their message was one of self, and ultimately no different than the message so popular today. They had no time for the suffering Servant who would not dance to their tune. They had formed a gospel that had nothing to do with God and His purposes, but that had everything to do with their goals, plans and ambitions. In the process they crucified the Lord of Glory (Acts 2:23) and brought God's judgment on the whole nation.

What people wanted from Jesus 2000 years ago is exactly what they want from Him today: Happiness, health, material blessings, problem solving, ego boosting, political dominion, in short – heaven on earth. When Jesus refused to give them those things and, rather, offered them the cross and eternal life beyond the cross, they crucified Him and chose Caesar as their king (John 19:15).

Modern christianity has not crucified Him, but they quietly ushered Him out the back door of the church, locked Him out (Revelation 3:20), and crowned self as their king.

“All things were created through Him and for Him. And He is before all things, and in Him all things consist. And He is the head of the body, the church, who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in all things He may have the preeminence.” (Colossians 1:16-18 NKJV)

In the next article in this series I hope to show you more specifically and practically how this is works. . . .

The Truth:

"If ye then be risen with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God. Set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth. For ye are dead, and your life is hid with Christ in God."

Pastor Anton Bosch is the author of Building Blocks of the Church: Re-examining the Basics and Contentiously Contending, both available HERE.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Battle of the Mind

Part 4: Renewing the Mind

By Pastor Anton Bosch

"Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me."
(Psalm 51:10)

Part 1: Strongholds
Part 2: Separation
Part 3: Knowing the Truth

Wrong thoughts, ideas and arguments shape us, and the way we act. These are strongholds that need to be broken down and replaced with Godly and Biblical values. Paul refers to this process as “the renewing of mind” and in Romans 12 refers to the pressure of the world to conform us into its image, whereas we should, in fact, be “transformed through the renewing of the mind” (Romans 12:2). This process does not only liberate us from bondage, but it changes us from the inside out.

We have a mind which has been tainted and perverted through the influence of our former lives and the continuing propaganda campaign of the world and the devil. Now that mind needs to be renewed. Partly, this happens when we are born again, but much of the work has to happen after the initial new-birth experience. This work is never complete and is an ongoing process as we abide in the Word and follow the Master in simple and complete obedience.

We know that all the cells in our bodies are continually renewed as we expel the old cells and through healthy nourishment build new ones. The problem with the body, however, is that in spite of it being renewed all the time, it also grows old and is slowly dying. In the same way the mind is also renewed as the old thoughts and ideas are expelled and a constant stream of biblical ideas are fed into it. Unlike the body, the mind does not need to become more limited over time, but can become more spiritual and closer to the Lord as we get older.

Just as what we feed our bodies will determine its health, so what we feed the mind will determine our spiritual health. In Philippians 4:8 Paul says: “whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy – meditate on these things.” So, as we fill our minds with the Word and with heavenly things, our minds will be changed and renewed, more and more into the Mind of Christ.

There is yet another step in this process which Paul refers to it as “bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ.” In a military battle not a single member of the enemy can be allowed into our camp, let alone hundreds and thousands of enemy soldiers infiltrating our side of the line. Yet in the spiritual battle we will tolerate thousands of enemy agents in the shape of thoughts and ideas working inside our minds and hearts!

NO! Every thought needs to be brought into captivity. Just one wrong thought can sabotage the entire work of God in our lives, just as a few Islamic insurgents allowed on home ground killed thousands on 9/11. Have you ever wondered why God was so angry that Saul did not wipe out every single Amalekite? It is because of this exact principle. You may remember that it was the very thing that Saul had spared that came to finish him off, and it killed him when he was at the lowest point of his life! The New Testament application is this: do not spare or show mercy to any of the Devil's agents in your mind.

Every thought needs to be brought into captivity. This means it needs to be captured and brought under control. When an enemy soldier is found on the wrong side of the line, he is immediately apprehended and restrained, and eventually either imprisoned or deported. The whole object is to render him incapable of inflicting any kind of hurt or damage on the friendly forces. In the same way these thoughts need to be apprehended and restrained, and either expelled from our minds or brought under control.

It is just here where most of us are defeated. Our minds are filled with thoughts and ideas that run about, unrestrained, gathering momentum and support and undermining us from within. Why do we allow that to continue? I really don’t know, but we do. Every thought needs to be controlled. Don’t let your mind run away with you down the road of lust, bitterness, pride, anger, worry and unbelief. Bring those thoughts into submission to the obedience of Christ.

Peter puts it this way: “Therefore gird up the loins of your mind, be sober…” (1 Peter 1:13). He is using an analogy of a soldier who would place a belt around his waist so that his loose clothing will not get in the way and trip him up when he is in battle. That is what all these uncontrolled thoughts do. They trip us and ensnare us as they flap about inside our heads. They must be brought under control and tied down.

Paul, speaking about the same things, says “having girded your waist with truth” (Ephesians 6:14). Is that not what we said last time? – The truth will set you free! So, just as the truth makes us free from the domination of bad thought patterns, so the truth will stop our thoughts running away with us. There is nothing like a dose of reality and truth to dispel the ghosts that lurk about in our deepest thoughts. Those who have a problem with stress and worries during the night will know how the light of day (truth) brings all those doubts and fears down to nothing.

So, let us bring every thought under control and let’s be transformed by the renewing of our mind, that we may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God. And let’s heed Peter’s call:

“Therefore, since Christ suffered for us in the flesh, arm yourselves also with the same mind, for he who has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin, that he no longer should live the rest of his time in the flesh for the lusts of men, but for the will of God. For we have spent enough of our past lifetime in doing the will of the Gentiles” (1Peter 4:1-3)

There is victory! But the victory only comes after we have won the battle and battles are hard. For this reason some choose to remain under the tyranny of strongholds and bondage all their life. Jesus won the victory for us at the Cross so we do not need to be defeated.

Is it not time to bring down those strongholds and experience the victory and freedom that cost Him so much?

Pastor Anton Bosch is the author of Building Blocks of the Church: Re-examining the Basics and Contentiously Contending, both available HERE. Pastor Bosch is currently working on building a Bible School. Read his article in the latest Discernment Ministries newsletter HERE for a report on this exciting new development.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Battle of the Mind

Part 3: Knowing the Truth

By Pastor Anton Bosch

“For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh.
For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal
but mighty in God for pulling down strongholds,
casting down arguments and every high thing
that exalts itself against the knowledge of God,
bringing every thought into captivity
to the obedience of Christ”

(2 Corinthians 10:3-5)

Part 1: Strongholds
Part 2: Separation

So far we have spoken of the fact that these strongholds are habits, thought patterns and complexes that have been built in our minds over many years. They are built one thought at a time and become very powerful as they dominate the landscape of our thinking and feelings. The world and its systems continue to build forts in our lives through a constant stream of thoughts, ideas and arguments that infiltrate our minds through the gates of our senses, primarily our eyes and ears. We will never win the battle against these strongholds until we stop the flow of misinformation to our minds. Today I want to look at how these strongholds can be dismantled.

Paul speaks of “casting down arguments.” So the stones that make up the walls of these strongholds are arguments and they need to be pulled down. Now if we were to pull down the stones that make up a literal fortification we would do so using ropes and chains and some kind of machine that could pull at the stones and so bring them down. Our battle, however, is a spiritual one and therefore we cannot use physical things to bring these arguments down.

There is only thing that can bring an argument down and that is a stronger argument. So many people try to deal with these strongholds in an emotional way, but feelings are no match for arguments. We need stronger, better, and right arguments or reasoning to break the strongholds down. We simply call those the Truth! The arguments that Satan and the world build with are lies, half-truths and deceptions. Our weapon against these is the truth and there is only one truth – God’s Truth; as contained in His Word.

Yes, the Bible contains the antidote to the lies of the world, the flesh and the Devil. Remember when the Devil tempted Jesus with arguments based on half-truths from the Bible? Jesus’ response was not to “bind” the Devil or to say “I think” or “I feel.” No, He simply quoted the Scriptures correctly and in their correct context. That is the only way we will win this part of the battle of the mind – by knowing the Scriptures and being able to wield the Sword of the Spirit.

Without spending time in the Bible and being taught in a good church, by a godly Bible teacher, you will never win the battle of the mind. You can only use a sword when you have been trained how to wield it. And you will never win the battle of wits against the Devil unless you know the Word and know it well. I know there are some who are reading this who feel they will never know the Word enough. That is not true. If you are diligent in searching the Scriptures and you fill your mind with the Word instead of what the Devil has to say, the Holy Spirit will teach you and bring to your remembrance exactly what you need in order to win. But the Spirit can only bring to your remembrance what you have learned. (John 14:26)

A verse often quoted, even by unbelievers, is John 8:32: “…you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.” This is often used as some kind of mantra without understanding exactly what it means. Truth about some every-day issue does not have a magical ability to set people free as politicians and social engineers would like to have us think.

First, Jesus said: “If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed. And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free” (vv 31 & 32). In other words, if we abide (remain) in His Word, that proves that we are His followers then we shall know the Truth which will set us free. This promise does not belong or work for those who are not followers and learners of Jesus.

The Truth is not going to be found in the manifesto of a political party, or a history book, or in our own emotions or thoughts. It is only in the Word. Neither is Truth found in a superficial reading of the Word, but as we abide in the Word, we will discover the Truth which will make us free. This means spending time in the Word, meditating on it and being obedient to it. Listening to a 30 minute sermon once a week is not going to set you free, neither will a 3-minute reading of a daily devotional. Abiding means to remain constantly in, and submerged in, the Word!

As we abide, remain, dwell, live and move in the Word, we will begin to really know the Truth and that will set us free. Notice also that He did not say if you heard the Truth, but as we know the Truth – we are set free. Jesus was speaking about freedom from the slavery of sin, which is exactly what these strongholds do – they keep us captive.

Then, in John 8:36 Jesus continues to say, “Therefore if the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed.”. First He said the Truth will set us free, but now He says the Son will set us free. Is that a contradiction? No. Remember that Jesus said “I am the Truth” (John 14:6). So abiding in the Word will teach us to know Jesus, and Jesus will set us free as we obediently follow Him. Jesus said “Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light” (Matthew 11:28-30).

So, in order to begin breaking down the strongholds, we need to immerse ourselves in the Word and be obedient to it. As the Word begins to contradict the arguments of the world, the flesh, and the Devil, and we believe and act on the Word, the strongholds will come tumbling down, argument by argument and reason by reason.

But remember, if we allow the world to rebuild and reinforce the strongholds faster than the Word can break them down – we will never win – and that is unfortunately the truth for most Christians! Limit the access of the world into your mind and soak in the Word of God and you will begin to find victory in areas you never thought possible. I have often spent time with folks in deep depression and watched how quoting the Scriptures and the promises of God, sometimes for hours on end, have brought people out of the depths of despair. It does work! It is the Truth!

– To be continued. . .

Pastor Anton Bosch is the author of
Building Blocks of the Church: Re-examining the Basics and Contentiously Contending, both available HERE. Pastor Bosch is currently working on building a Bible School. Read his article in the latest Discernment Ministries newsletter HERE for a report on this exciting new development.

Monday, May 09, 2011

Love Loses

The Quantum Spirituality of Rob Bell

A critical review of Love Wins

By Pastor Larry DeBruyn

Rob Bell, Love Wins: A Book about Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived (New York, NY: Harper One, 2011) xi + 198 pages, Acknowledgments and Further Reading. The back cover blurb first states and then incredulously asks: “God loves us. God offers us everlasting life by grace, freely, through no merit on our part. Unless you do not respond the right way. Then God will torture you forever. In hell.” Huh?

Recommended by a who’s who of emergent leaders, Rob Bell’s book Love Wins has, as it is calculated to do, stirred-up controversy. Recently, Time ran a front cover story on it.[1] Eugene H. Peterson lauds the book as being born out of a “thoroughly biblical imagination,” and a book “without a trace of soft sentimentality and without compromising an inch of evangelical conviction in its proclamation of the good news that is most truly for all.”(Front Cover Flap). Open theist Greg Boyd calls the book, “bold, prophetic, and a poetic masterpiece.”(Back Cover Flap). Andy Crouch sees Bell as “a central figure for his generation.”(Back Cover). So much for endorsements . . .

In his own hip way and as in his previous books (Velvet Elvis and Sex God), Rob Bell has written a book contending for universal reconciliation (UR); that based upon divine love eclipsing all other attributes of God (His justice, wrath, righteousness, etc.), everybody from everywhere and from all time and from all religions, without exception, are reconciled to God.[2] As the teacher at Mars Hill Bible Church in suburban Grand Rapids, Michigan, the reader is not surprised that Love Wins is inundated with scriptural references that cite book and chapter but omit the precise verse location. This means that readers will have to make an extra effort to locate the citation to determine if it and the context really support Bell’s interpretation. I guess the average reader will just have to trust the author has got it right.

A word about tone: For writing this book, Bell knows he’ll be criticized. Some will think he’s courageous for having stated in public what many contemporary pan-evangelicals believe in private. Survey says . . .[3] Purposely, I have not read any other Internet reviews of Bell’s book for the reason of trying to retain objectivity in this review. This pastoral evaluation results from my impressions of the book, period. The eternal destiny of human beings is a serious subject and should be treated as such. Bell writes of religious people, who “shaped by their God,” become violent, a violence manifesting itself in the “toxic, venomous nature of certain discussions and debates on the Internet.”(183) Recognizing that Bell does not articulate matters of faith as I do, and as I understand the Bible to state, I hope this review will not be taken as “violent, toxic, or venomous.” The only other option for a pastor is to say nothing, and that is not an option. With this stated, we proceed . . .

After a Preface, the book consists of eight chapters, the last of which recounts Bell’s youthful conversion to the evangelical faith in his home near Lansing, Michigan, during the mid 70s. In reviewing the book, I shall attempt to follow the argument by which Bell builds his case for UR, and then comment upon it.

Preface—Millions of Us
Bell’s thesis is that the “Jesus story is first and foremost about the love of God for every single one of us . . . a stunning, beautiful, expansive love . . . for everybody, everywhere.”(Love Wins, vii)[4] This expansive love story includes all persons, from all times, from all places and from all religions . . . billions of people for whom Bell allows for no apparent exceptions. God is reconciling to Himself Nero, Hitler, Stalin and the sick-o-father who, as he molested his daughter, recited the Lord’s Prayer and sang Christian hymns.(7) Even the Canaanites were/are reconciled to Yahweh. That God’s love may be discriminatory, that heaven might be limited to God’s elect (Calvinism), or to a contemporary evangelical crowd that just wants a “personal-relationship” Jesus, Bell rejects. That’s just their “version,” he writes, a story that turns people off and away from Christianity.(viii) The idea that only a few will make it to heaven, Bell views as “misguided and toxic and ultimately subverts the contagious spread of Jesus’ message of love, peace, forgiveness, and joy that our world desperately needs to hear.”(viii)

In this introduction to UR, Bell plays an overwhelming numbers game—millions upon billions of souls in hell forever simply because they did not hear about Jesus. The thought is stunning. But on this point, my heart is comforted by John’s vision that in heaven he saw “a great multitude, which no man could number, of all nations, and kindreds, and people, and tongues . . . clothed with white robes” [incidentally, attire Bell derides, Love Wins, 24] (Revelation 7:9). How many people will be in heaven? Less than universalism believes, and more than what Bell thinks some of these other versions allow.

Chapter 1—What about the Flat Tire?
In this chapter Bell attacks the doctrines of grace (Calvinism) by asking, “Of all the billions of people who have ever lived, will only a select number ‘make it to a better place’ and every single other person suffer torment and punishment forever?”(2) After pulling readers’ heart strings by alluding to Mahatma Gandhi and an atheist teenager killed in a car accident, Bell asks, “Is this the sacred calling of Christians to announce that there’s no hope [if they had not believed on Jesus]?”(4) What if Christians fail their missionary calling? What if in route to share the Gospel a missionary gets a flat tire? Will the persons he was supposed to bring the Gospel to go to hell because the missionary had mechanical failure? The author fails to recognize that absent one human messenger, whether by default or disaster, the sovereign God is capable of sending another messenger, perhaps an angel, to preach the Gospel (See Revelation 14:6-7). God can fix flats! And in the end, “Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?” (Genesis 18:25).

In addition to attacking the doctrine of election, this chapter questions, I think legitimately, how evangelicals have peddled the Gospel over the last half century—the “personal-relationship-with-Jesus” Gospel. Bell observes “that the phrase ‘personal relationship’ is found nowhere in the Bible.”(10)

To make his argument, Bell weaves together, by my count, twenty-two passages, all of which, by his interpretation, present a little different slant on what it takes a person to do or believe to get to heaven. About these passages, and as he casts an aura of suspicion about how evangelical Protestants have understood the Gospel from the time of the Protestant Reformation, the author asks questions . . . questions . . . and more questions. Welcome to Chaos 101. Bell thus lays the groundwork for constructing his colorful and symmetrical fractal of universal reconciliation. The chapter’s tone manifests “a morbid interest in controversial questions and disputes about words” (1 Timothy 6:4, NASB).

Chapter 2—Here Is the New There
We’ve all heard the expression, “Life is hell!” Well to Bell, if lived according the standards of Jesus, our reality can also be heaven. Life exists as a continuum of order from above (heaven) mixing with disorder below (hell). But if we cooperate and do the right as Jesus tells us, the fractal from above can bring order to chaos on earth. “Jesus invites us,” Bell writes, “in this life, in this broken, beautiful world, to experience the life of heaven now [As above, so below].”(62) That’s why here is the new there. As Bell writes later on of Jesus’ Parable of the Prodigal Son, “In this story, heaven and hell are within each other, intertwined, interwoven, bumping up against each other.”(170)[5]

To support his there-is-here view of reality, Bell appeals to string theory, that untested quantum physical worldview that posits the existence of several dimensions beyond spacetime—the three spatial dimensions (length, height and width) plus time. Bell tells readers that string theorists suppose “We live in several dimensions [at least eleven]. Up and down. Left and right. Forward and backward. Three to be exact . . . . If we count time as the fourth dimension, that’s seven beyond what we now know.”(59-60) In that string theory remains unproven, how does Bell know the universe exists in dimensions beyond spacetime?

Bell notes that occasionally we’ve all had “experiences when those three dimensions weren’t adequate. Moments when we were acutely, overwhelmingly aware of other realities just beyond this one.”(58) We know other realities exist because we’ve experienced them. We know they’re there because we feel they are. With this, the author reveals mysticism that posits realities beyond spacetime because at one time or another, we’ve all experienced them. Down here we can intuit what’s out there. Experiences can bring heaven into our reality as here becomes the new there, as our consciousness below connects to the new above.

But according to Jesus’ worldview, human reality is not so mixed, for He told his audience of “string theorists”: [W]hither I go, ye cannot come . . . Ye are from beneath; I am from above: ye are of this world; I am not of this world. I said therefore unto you, that ye shall die in your sins: for if ye believe not that I am He, ye shall die in your sins” (John 8:21-24). To Jesus reality is two dimensional: below and whatever this reality consists of—I believe time, matter and space—and above and whatever that reality consists of—God knows (See Genesis 1:1.). But Jesus said that below is below, above is above, and never the twain shall meet, except in the “I am,” who “when all things are subjected to Him,” He in turn “will be subjected to the One who subjected all things to Him, that God may be all in all” (1 Corinthians 15:28, NASB).

Chapter 3—Hell
If down is really up, and taking cue from the preceding chapter, Bell, his editor or publisher could have titled this chapter, There is the New Here. In this chapter pastor Bell attempts to deconstruct the traditional notion of hell.

To demolish it, the author points out that “the actual word ‘hell’ is used roughly twelve times in the New Testament, almost exclusively by Jesus himself.”(67) Rightly, he notes that the biblical words for hell—sheol, hades, gehenna and tartaros—carry a temporal nuance about them. Bell points out that sheol or the grave, is an ambiguous term sometimes referring to the realm of the dead (See Genesis 37:35; Job 17:16.), while at other times to trouble in life (See Psalm 86:13; Jonah 2:2.). The term does not refer to a fixed state after death. Hades, the New Testament equivalent of sheol, carries the same hazy nuance about it—grave or netherworld. Gehenna is a picturesque word Jesus uses to refer to the city dump to the south of the Old City of Jerusalem, suggesting to Bell that people can “trash” life, making it “hell” both for themselves and those around them. Tartaros is a term Peter imports from Greek mythology designating “the place where the Greek demigods were judged in the ‘abyss’.” (69) After taking his readers through a concordance tour of these words, Bell makes the bold claim: “And that’s it. Anything you have ever heard people say about the actual word ‘hell’ in the Bible they got from those verses you just read.”(69)

Anything you have ever heard people say about the actual word “hell” they got from those verses . . . Right? What about the lake of fire? Is not this “for ever and ever” place—where God imprisons “the beast” and “the false prophet” (Revelation 19:20; 20:10); into which God throws “the devil” (Revelation 20:10); where death and hades are consumed (suggesting the dimension when hades-the-temporal becomes hades-the-eternal, Revelation 20:14); and finally, where those who were “not found written in the book of life” are consigned (Revelation 20:15)—is not this forever place relevant to any discussion about hell? Bell mentions the lake of fire, but only in passing.(112)

Nevertheless, what kind of time frame does John ascribe to the lake of fire? Bell notes that in biblical usage aion often nuances “a period of time with a beginning and an end,” or an “intensity of experience that transcends time.”(32, 57) So confidently, he asserts that aion “doesn’t mean ‘forever’ as we think of forever.”(31-32) Seemingly there is no “forever” category of time for Bell. But John expresses the time frame for the lake of fire in multiples of forever-s! Literally, the lake of fire’s duration is for ages of ages, the longest period of time the Greek language, perhaps any language, can conceptualize (Greek plurals, tous aionas ton aionon, Revelation 20:10). Combined with “day and night” (Greek, hemeras kai nyktos), “for ever and ever” becomes an atemporal statement meaning that 24/7, for ages of ages, the unholy trinity—the beast, the false prophet, the devil—and others will be confined. The whole clause “expresses the unbroken continuity of their torment” in perpetuity.[6]

Based upon Jesus’ statement that the goats “shall go away into everlasting (Greek, aionios) punishment: but the righteous into life eternal (Greek, aionios)” (Emphasis added, Matthew 25:46), Charles Ryrie notes: “Because the same word is used it is impossible to argue that eternal punishment is not unending in the same way that eternal life is.”[7] In that Paul employs the same word “eternal” (aionios) to refer to the “everlasting God” (Romans 16:26), it becomes difficult to see how Bell’s temporal understanding of aion pre-empts the biblical teaching that the dimensions of hell and heaven exist in eternity and in perpetuity.

Nevertheless, Bell dismisses mention of the lake of fire for reason that “the Book of Revelation” is “a complex, enigmatic letter” written “in an apocalyptic, heavily symbolic way” (111-112). He gives no attention to the ages of ages, the eternal maximum security prison into which the jail of hades will one day be cast, and he does so despite the fact that on other occasions, where it suits his purpose, he draws upon the Apocalypse to make the point that the presence, blessing and bliss of heaven are already here.(43, 48, 114-115) So it must be asked, by what imagination does an interpreter of Revelation pick and choose what is literal and what is not? Why not dismiss the whole book as symbolic of who knows what? But then, such an approach raises a bigger problem, doesn’t it? For John warns:

For I testify unto every man that heareth the words of the prophecy of this book, If any man shall add unto these things, God shall add unto him the plagues that are written in this book: And if any man shall take away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part out of the book of life, and out of the holy city, and from the things which are written in this book. (Revelation 22:18-19)

Chapter 4—Does God Get What God Wants?
Admittedly, certain biblical texts suggest universalism. For example, Bell quotes Paul’s letter to Timothy, “‘God wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth’ (1 Tim. 2).” (97) Other texts suggesting universalism are extant in the New Testament (See John 3:17; Titus 2:11; 2 Peter 3:9, etc.). Dealing with every text suggesting universal reconciliation (UR) goes beyond the scope of this review. But let’s look at the Timothy text which Bell employs to initiate his discussion.

Note: That God wants/wills/wishes (Greek, thelei) that all be saved indicates all are not saved, which is the point arguing against this verse teaching UR. If in the divine reality all persons from all times from all places from all religions are saved, then why “the divine wish”? Everybody’s saved, aren’t they? The fact that God wills/wishes/wants all to be saved indicates that all are not! Mounce comments that “the text does not move into universalism,” and then points out that the statement resists “the synagogue’s belief that God hates the sinner and wishes to save only the righteous” and “the gnostic belief that salvation is only for those ‘in the know’.”[8]

It can be charged that UR is fatalistic. Freedom of choice is violated to such a degree that even atheists are forced to spend eternity with a Person they do not like in a place where they did not want to go—with God in heaven.[9] There are fools who mutter in their hearts, “No God” (Psalm 14:1; 53:1). Sadly, the Bible describes some people as reprobate and “haters of God” (Romans 1:26-28, 30). Are we to project that those individuals who possessed a deep and abiding animus against God in this life, both denying and despising Him, will derive one moment’s pleasure from being in the presence of the One whom in this life they loathed? Will God take them by the nape of their necks and drag them “kicking and screaming” into heaven? Where is the responsibility of man? This raises the following question about hell: Never mind does God get what God wants (as if God is “needy”), but does man get what man wants? So “in the end,” writes Alistair McGrath, “God cannot and does not make that decision for us. To affirm human dignity is to affirm our ability to say ‘No!’”[10] Similarly, C.S. Lewis wrote of hell:

There are only two kinds of people in the end: those who say to God, ‘Thy will be done,’ and those to whom God says, in the end, ‘Thy will be done.’ All that are in Hell, choose it. Without that self-choice there could be no Hell.[11]

McGrath concludes that, “Universalism perverts the gospel of the love of God into an obscene scene of theological rape quite unworthy of the God whom we encounter in the face of Jesus Christ.”[12] In a universal scheme of salvation like that proposed by Bell, love loses.[13]

Chapter 5—Dying To Live
If UR is true, then what is to be made of Jesus’ death? Why did He die? Why the cross? In light of the Son’s agonizing death on the cross, are we to think of God like a liberal preacher of another generation thought of Him, as “a dirty bully”? Robertson McQuilken summarizes the dilemma:

For if all sin will ultimately be overlooked by a gracious deity, Christ never should have died. It was not only unnecessary, it was surely the greatest error in history . . . Universalism . . . demands a view of the death of Christ as having some purpose other than as an atonement for sin.[14]

When for reason of universalism the penal substitutionary atonement is rejected—that Jesus died for our sins—the only explanation left to explain Jesus’ death is that He died as a selfless example to others, the moral influence view of the atonement. In referring to the heroes of 9/11 and indicating he’s disposed toward such an explanation of Jesus’ death, Bell writes:

Who isn’t moved when they hear those stories of selfless heroism. We talk about how inspiring it is when people sacrifice themselves for the well-being of another. To inspire is to give life. Their deaths for others’ lives.”(131)

With that statement Bell tells us why he thinks Jesus died. He gave up His life to “inspire” mankind—death for life. To Bell, the cross (like that he observed the rapper Eminem wearing in 2010) is “a religious icon, it’s a symbol of an elemental reality, one we all experience every time we take a bite of food.”(131) To press Bell’s explanation, Jesus’ death might be compared to an act as common as a human eating an apple—death for life. Bell explains that, “This death-and-life mystery, this mechanism, this process is built into the very fabric of creation.”(131)

Of course, if Christ’s death is to be an influence, there must be something within the human heart—we might call it divineness—that will respond in kind to the example of Jesus. Yet radical depravity deters humanity from making an in-kind response to Jesus’ death. His death may move our emotions, but whether it will affect our wills is an entirely different matter.

Chapter 6—There Are Rocks Everywhere[15]
Remember (during the 1970s) when “pet rocks” were the rage? As he continues building his case for UR and employing Paul’s metaphorical reference to the pre-Christian Rock that followed and sustained the Israelites during their wilderness wanderings (See 1 Corinthians 10:4; Exodus 17:6; Numbers 20:11.), Bell tells readers, “Paul finds Jesus there, in that rock, because Paul finds Jesus everywhere.”(144) With rocks everywhere, it’s as if, in some incarnating way, rocks are “Jesus-ed,” that a Jesus-Force permeates the whole of nature investing it with “I-am-ness."[16] Betraying a pantheistic tendency, Bell describes Jesus: “He is as exclusive as himself, and as inclusive as containing every single particle of creation.”(Emphasis added, 155) Jesus is as everywhere as rocks. In Bell’s worldview, an immanent Jesus consumes the transcendent Christ.[17]

Drawing upon the Genesis account—which he calls a creation poem in which the Word speaks order out of chaos—and upon Paul’s letters where he mentions Christ created and sustains the cosmos (See John 1:1-3; 1 Corinthians 8:6; Colossians 1:16; Hebrews 1:2.), Bell suggests that a Jesus-Force permeates nature. “This energy, spark, and electricity that pulses through all creation sustains it, fuels it, and keeps it going. Growing, evolving, reproducing, and making more,” says Bell.(145, 144)

The inclusive everywhere-in-everything Jesus eschews any exclusivity—the Jesus only-ism of the other versions of the Gospel story. Yes Jesus is alone says Bell in alluding to John 14, but “What Jesus does is declare that he, and he alone is saving everybody.”(155) This exclusivity/inclusivity is of, “The kind that is open to all religions, the kind that trusts that good people will get in, that there is only one mountain, but it has many paths.” He goes on to say, “This inclusivity assumes as long as your heart is fine or your actions measure up, you’ll be okay.”(154-155) Bell writes that inclusivity “leaves the door way, way open. Creating all sorts of possibilities.”(155) Bell’s you’re-okay explanation is obviously pluralism, that many and variegated are the spiritual paths that lead up the mountain to God. Bell’s version of the Gospel also necessitates salvation by works, which according to Paul is another Gospel, one that deserves to be censored (Galatians 1:6-9). And all of this is premised upon a Jesus-Rock that accompanied Israel in her wilderness wanderings.

But does the author’s rock(s) analogy conform to Scripture, to what Paul actually wrote? Did Paul really believe there are rocks everywhere? Note he wrote: “The Rock was Christ” (1 Corinthians 10:4). Literally the Greek reads “but the rock was the Christ” (n petra de nv o Christos). In both instances, the articles, first prefacing rock and then prefacing Christ, are monadic. In other words, there is only one rock and only one Christ, for monad means “one”![18] So the foundational biblical text, out of which Bell develops his rocks-are-everywhere thesis, actually contradicts his argument. And so does the word of Yahweh to the ancient Jewish nation. Through the prophet He told them: “Do not fear, nor be afraid; / Have I not told you from that time, and declared it? / You are My witnesses. / Is there a God besides Me? / Indeed there is no other Rock; /I know not one” (Isaiah 44:8, NKJV). Say again? There is no other Rock, says the Lord, I know not one.

Chapter 7—The Good News Is Better Than That
What’s the “that” which the Good News is better than? Well it’s the old way of understanding an exclusive gospel that restricts heaven for only God’s elect or the “I-just-want-a-personal-relationship-with-Jesus” crowd. Bell writes: “So when the gospel is diminished to a question of whether or not a person will ‘get into heaven,’ that reduces the good news to a ticket, a way to get past the bouncer and into the club.”(178) “That” refers to attitudes like the older brother in Jesus’ Parable of the Prodigal Son, who begrudged that his younger brother, after he had messed up his life, returned home to be reconciled to his father (Luke 15:11-32). So those not believing in UR are compared to that older brother who with a bitter and begrudging spirit, while the party was going on celebrating the return of his younger brother, refused to join in, thereby making his own hell.

So any who do not believe in the magnanimity of a God who will reconcile every person from every place from all time and from all religions, Bell compares to the older brother—and for reason of peer pressure, who wants to be considered to be like him? As Bell writes, “An entrance understanding [that’s the older brother’s] of the gospel rarely creates good art. Or innovation. Or a number of other things. It’s a cheap view of the world, because it’s a cheap view of God. It’s a shriveled imagination.”(Emphasis added, 179-180)[19] And who wants to be reputed to be an unimaginative or ungracious cheapskate, a Scrooge? We want to think, we want others to think about us, that we are better than that kind of person. But if you believe in the traditional heaven/hell realities after death, if you believe that stingy version of the Gospel, you’re like a bunch of killjoys who “don’t throw very good parties”?(179) In this, Bell consolidates his following by flattering his readers’ egos—“us” is better than “them.”

Noting that “we do not need to be rescued from God,” but that “God is the one who rescues us,” that “God is the rescuer,” Bell states: “This is crucial for our peace, because we shape our God, and then our God shapes us.(Emphasis added, 182) Hum . . . we shape our God . . . isn’t that idolatry? Old Testament scholar Peter Craigie cautions regarding idols, not of wood, but of words:

Too easily in our modern world we forget the implications of the second of the Ten Commandments; it prohibits the construction of images of God. And although few of us are tempted to construct an image of wood or stone, too soon we construct images of words, which can constrict the conception of God as readily as the material image.[20]

Wouldn’t it be ironic, if in his desire to imagine who/what we want God to be, the author actually constricts the understanding of Deity? Do we really presume to be able to find God out? “For who hath known the mind of the Lord?” asks Paul. “Or who hath been his counsellor?” (Romans 11:34). Do Christians live in a Magic Kingdom?

Chapter 8—The End Is Here
Bell recounts his conversion to Jesus as a young boy, when he said yes to God’s love. “That prayer” he writes, “was a defining moment in my life.” To Bell, this love is expansive and “Jesus invites us to say yes to this love of God, again and again and again.”(194) To make life heaven, God’s love must be trusted, the barriers to which are cynicism and skepticism.(195) And that makes trusting difficult. Those who can’t make the leap of trust and choose to live without God’s love permeating, activating and controlling them are people “who “miss out on the rewards and celebrations and opportunities” that life (heaven) offers.(197)

Bell then ends his book with a poetic benediction to his readers:

May you experience this vast, expansive, infinite, indestructible love that has been yours all along. May you discover that this love is as wide as the sky and as small as the cracks in your heart no one else knows about. And may you know, deep in your bones, that love wins. (198)

In Love Wins, Rob Bell talks about a “better story,” presumably the one he, in an imaginative way, has created. But of his story, readers must ask the question: Is it just another story, a self-styled narrative parading as a metanarrative? In light of the very serious and eternal issues the book raise, the question needs to be answered by every reader.

In pan-evangelicalism’s big tent, Bell wants us to make room for his story, his version. “Whatever objections a person might have to this story,” he writes, “one has to admit that it is fitting, proper, and correct to long for it.”(111) Bell then pleads, “To shun, censor, or ostracize someone for holding this belief is to fail to extend grace to each other in a discussion that has had plenty of room for varied perspectives for hundreds of years now.”(111) Are those who might reject his version of the story guilty of being ungracious? In the spirit of grace, should his version of the story to be given a pass?

So we ask, is Judas in heaven? To his face Jesus told him: “Woe unto that man by whom the Son of man is betrayed! it had been good for that man if he had not been born” (Matthew 26:24; Mark 14:21). Are we to think that Judas’ life was Judas’ hell, and that’s it? Are we to think that despots like Nero, Hitler, Stalin, etc., men who presided over the genocide of millions, only made life hell for themselves and others, and that’s it? Is not the lake of fire as much a danger for them as for “the beast, the false prophet and the devil”? Will divine justice to be meted out by God in the next reality based upon what men do in this reality? Throughout its pages, from beginning to end, the Bible anticipates there will be justice. (Revelation 20:11-15) If in the end only love wins, what kind of God are we talking about? Are we to think that heaven totally eclipses hell because we simply can’t get past the emotional revulsion of the idea of it?

I hope Internet readers will not take this review to have been written in a censorious spirit. In a way, Bell is to be commended for stating in public what many post-evangelicals now believe in private. As a student of Scripture too, I want to know the truth about heaven and hell. But I do not find that Bell’s story of it conforms to Scripture; that the narrative he creates eclipses the metanarrative revealed by God in the Bible. Even though he quotes and argues from the Bible, in the end his story, no matter he imagines it to be otherwise, just doesn’t fit the Book. So the reader must ask, is the author by biblical allusion peddling spiritual illusion? In answering the question, remember, that’s what imagination can do (See Matthew 4:1-11.).

On this point, it might be noted out that what one might long for does not make it true. We may wish upon a star, but it makes a difference what we are. Once upon a time I wished I could play football in the NFL. But reality settled in—too slow, not strong, big, or quick enough. That persons might enter into eternity separated from the life of God forever is a stunning thought, something too many of us are far too casual about. It’s a final state no Christian wishes upon anyone, even their worst enemies. But the final disposition of the matter, as it should, rests in the hands of the Father and His Son (John 5:26-29).

Finally, does God possess wrath? Arthur Pink (1886-1952) observed: “A study of the concordance will show that there are more references in Scripture to the anger, fury, and wrath of God, than there are to His love and tenderness.”[21] We might imagine that it’s otherwise, but if the Bible is true, it’s not. Wrath is the other side of love. Subtract wrath from love and love is no longer love, the tension between which the vicarious and penal substitutionary atonement of Jesus Christ’s for sin solves. Absent divine wrath, divine love gets lost.

“Marvel not at this: for the hour is coming, in which all that are in the graves shall hear the Son of Man’s voice, And shall come forth; they that have done good, unto the resurrection of life; and they that have done evil, unto the resurrection of damnation.”
Jesus, the Gospel of John 5:28-29, Emphasis added.

1. John Meacham, “What If There’s No Hell?” Time, April 25, 2011.
2. The Shack (Los Angeles: Windblown Media, 2007), the best selling story by Wm. Paul Young, also opts for UR. In a comfortable, schmoozing, and relational conversation about the Canadian rock musician Bruce Cockburn, Papa says to Mack, “Mackenzie, I have no favorites; I am just especially fond of him.” Mack then responds, “You seem to be especially fond of a lot of people . . . Are there any who you are not especially fond of?” After pensively contemplating the question, Papa responds, “Nope, I haven’t been able to find any. Guess that’s jes’ the way I is.” (The Shack, 118-119) Bingo! God is as “fond” of Judas, Nero, Hitler, Stalin, and Osama bin as He is of Jesus. It’s all one big “circle of relationship” (Kum Ba Ya).
3. Greg Garrison, “Many Americans don't believe in hell, but what about pastors?” USA Today, August 1, 2009. Online at:
4. From hence forth, number(s) in parentheses refer to the page of Love Wins from which the quote is taken or the illustration occurs.
5. Of heaven and hell, Bell writes: “Everybody is already at the party. Heaven and hell, here, now, around us, upon us, within us.” (190).
6. Robert L. Thomas, Revelation 8-22: An Exegetical Commentary (Chicago, IL: Moody Press, 1995): 427.
7. Charles C. Ryrie, Basic Theology: A Popular Systematic Guide to Understanding Biblical Truth (Chicago, IL: Moody Press, 1999): 608.
8. William D. Mounce, Pastoral Epistles: Word Biblical Commentary, Volume 46 (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2000): 85.
9. Christopher Hitchens, God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything (New York, NY: Hachette Book Group, 2007). Interview of Hitchens on the Charley Rose Show regarding his book “Hitch-22” available at: In the interview and in explaining his family atmosphere, Hitchens reflects that his grandfather was a very strict and austere Baptist who didn’t believe in life that was fun. He also takes the opportunity to dispel any rumor that in the face of death, there might be a last minute conversion with him. No, his mind is made up.
10. Alister McGrath, Justification by Faith (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1988): 106.
11. C.S. Lewis, The Great Divorce, The Best of C.S. Lewis (New York: Christianity Today, Inc., 1969) 156.
12. McGrath, Justification, 106. Though he was an Arminian within the camp of open theism, Clark Pinnock (1937-2010) stated: “Universalism is not a viable position because of the gift of human freedom.” See William Crockett, General Editor, Four Views on Hell (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1996): 128.
13. Bell notes “Love demands freedom. It always has, and always will. We are free to resist, reject, and rebel against God’s ways for us. We can have all the hell we want.”(113) But such freedom exists only in the “now”—in the “lower stakes” of life. Where is freedom regarding the “higher stakes,” heaven or hell “not yet”? Is not freedom consequential to the coming reality after death? Given his overall argument, Bell’s admission of freedom is like so much window dressing. As regards this life all free to choose, but as regards the next life all are not. In Bell’s scheme, freedom has everything to do with the temporal, but is inconsequential for the eternal.
14. Robertson McQuilken, The Great Omission: A Biblical Basis for World Evangelism (Waynesboro, GA: Authentic Media, 2002): 41.
15. Compare Pastor Larry DeBruyn, “Here a ‘Christ,’ There a ‘Christ,’ Everywhere a ‘Christ-Christ’!” Guarding His Flock Ministries. Online at :
16. Frederic Louis Godet (1812-1900) commented on this point: “But the idea of the incarnation of the Christ in a rock is so contrary to the spirit of St. Paul, that one cannot entertain it seriously, and ver. 9 represents the Christ in the wilderness acting as the representative of Jehovah, from the midst of the cloud!” Commentary on First Corinthians (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, Reprint of 1889 ed.): 485. Personally, I agree with Garland that Paul’s Rock reference illustrates Christ to be the source for divine blessing; that as He supplied sustenance and guidance to Israel in the wilderness, so He “is the source of all divine gifts and succor” for the Church. See David E. Garland, 1 Corinthians (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2003): 458.
17. See Pastor Larry DeBruyn, “The ‘Holy’ God: From Immanence to Idolatry,” Guarding His Flock Ministries. Online at:
18. See Daniel B. Wallace, Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics: An Exegetical Syntax of the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1996): 223-224. Wallace writes that “the monadic article points out a unique object . . . For example, ‘the sun’ is monadic because there is only one sun. It is not the best of many suns, but is the only one.” So Paul’s monadic use of the article does not allow for many “rocks,” but only for one Rock.
19. “God has an imagination,” writes Bell.(116) So using our imagination/mind becomes a means of connecting to the divine imagination/mind. Interesting . . . but also idolatrous. Of a pagan frame of mind, Paul wrote, “Because that, when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened” (Romans 1:21, KJV). Other versions variously translate “imaginations” (Greek dialogismos) as “speculations, reasoning, thinking, thoughts.” What do we think God is like? “Simon says God is ____________. You fill in the blank. Do you think that’s how God desires to be known? What do you think about people who make up stories about you? Are we God’s counselors to tell Him what He’s to be like?
20. Peter C. Craigie, The Problem of War in the Old Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1978): 95.
21. Arthur W. Pink, The Attributes of God (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1975): 82.

This article published with permission of the author. Original article is posted HERE. Pastor Larry DeBruyn is the author of the following books: UNSHACKLED: Breaking Away from Seductive Spirituality, Church on the Rise: Why I am not a Purpose Driven Pastor, and Drumming Up Deception. All three of these books can be ordered HERE.