Anyone read this book length response to Bell?


I can’t believe it, but there is already a book length response to Bell by Michael Wittmer! I’ll link to a post I put up about it that includes the introduction.

Has anyone read this book yet? If so, I’d love to hear what his responses were, not because I feel as if Bell’s book merits a response (Robin’s work was so much better and it deserves the response!), but because of the general response to universalism amongst the evangelical community. He at least seems as if he is going to handle himself with care and generosity in discussing the matter. I should be getting the book today or tomorrow and I’ll try to post some thoughts.


Wittmer’s book already has its own website Like you say, at least his tone is warm and civil. He says “you are wrong” much more nicely than MacArthur and co do. :wink:


Thanks for the heads up! I have not read it, but I liked the bits I just read on the website. Not that I agree–but his attitude seems to be really good, and I appreciate that.



Finally got the book in the mail and I have read about forty pages. Rather simplistic rebuttal of Bell so far, but what can you really expect when Bell himself didn’t offer any real substantive defense of universalism, but rather asked a million questions and raised the issue for others to discuss. I’m debating whether or not to start a blog series on it next week, but as of now I’m leaving towards no.

Why? I don’t know that I want to out myself as a very hopeful, probably soon to be dogmatic universalist just yet! I am in volunteer leadership at an Acts 29, Reformed church that is fairly conservative in their views. Although, I will say my pastor has not condemned me or even chided me for asking questions. He even commented that he enjoyed reading my thoughts on the whole Bell matter because unlike Bell I’m actually driving the issue deeper instead of just raising the issue. I can respect that and his attitude even if he disagrees with me!

Reading my blog and the amount I’ve written in defense of universalism, it would be hard pressed for someone not to at least question where I am at in my theology. I’ve kept my own positive views on universalism hidden thus far, choosing only to critique the critiques of Bell and universalism that are out there and show how they don’t hold any real threat to the doctrine as posited by evangelical universalists. My real hope is that the conversation moves from Bell to strongly formulated exegetical version of evangelical universalism such as those by Robing and Talbott. Then, the discussion will actually benefit us!


EXACTLY! That’s what I am hoping to see. There is a lot of “fluffy” universalism out there from many theological viewpoints, and I’m not interested in those because I simply can’t stray from the scriptures. That’s where I have to make my stand. There are some excellent arguments against ECT from a philosophical viewpoint, but if it can’t be shown from the Bible itself, I’m afraid I can’t go there. Fortunately, there are excellent arguments made from the likes of Talbott and Parry and other great writers on this site. I’m hoping that some of the evangelical heavyweights will take on TEU. I know that the opinions out there vary quite a bit, but I think that Rob Bell is hurting us. Yes, it is bringing up the argument, but for the most part people arent’ arguing against EU, and the conservatives are setting their feet firm against a new outcropping of “an old heresy”. That’s the message I’m getting out there. :cry:



You are among many who have said Bell is hurting the EU cause, and leave me curious if they have read all of Love Wins. I can certainly see many reasons for concerns about his approach, yet my reaction was as positive as Talbott’s. Have you read it?


Hey Bob, I actually have not read the book. My problem actually had less to do with his book than with his many teachings on the internet. After this whole thing exploded on the internet, I looked the guy up because I had never heard of him before. I listened to his promo of his book and then followed that up by listening to several of his bible studies. The reason why I think he hurts the cause is that I think he plays a bit too loose with the scriptures. One example was where he was talking about Peter walking on the water. He basically said that Peter didn’t really have a faith problem so much as he had a self confidence problem. It because a thing about self esteem. The exegesis was horrible! Many out there in the emerging church, such as Bell and Maclaren are going to be quickly dismissed. The reason why I love TEU is that it tackles the issue in a way that shows the utmost respect to the scriptures. I’ve seen now, having read on a lot of UR sites that the respect for the Bible varies quite a bit and many in UR circles are even a bit hostile toward the bible.

For many, Bell will be a great person because many don’t care if the evangelicals come along for the ride. But I am an evangelical and those are the people who are in the circles that I live in. For me, I would much rather have a Robin Parry, who treats the issue like a scholar, and I would love to see some major evangelical come along. I’m not sure if I’ll read the book or not. Not that it’s a matter of principal or anything. I just haven’t had the urge to do so. I hope that made sense. I say this all carefully because I really like the people on this site.



Chris, I didn’t realize there were that many UR sites or, at least, ones that believe in EU, like this one. I suppose UR is more than just EU? Universalism, in general, I understand can tend to have people that have less respect for the bible, but EU? I probably would have assumed, if I didn’t know better, that ultra’s - no hell at death, didn’t take their bible serious. Aaron, on our site, takes it so seriously and has given me pause to consider his outlook, that is so different from mine.

I was sure I didn’t want to read Bell’s book either. I thought exactly like you, Chris, that I’ve already read Talbott/Parry and I love their depth. Sounded to me like Bell wouldn’t have much to offer me. But, my dad, Bob, came home really excited about it and so I’m reading it now. I’m finding it really refreshing! Actually, when he starts to go into some depth, like on the word “aion” etc. he starts to lose me (and I’m already at least a little familiar with this stuff). I wish he would stop trying to go into that stuff, leave it to the Talbott’s/Parrys, because he has such a gift in telling stories to make his point. If everyone had the same style, approach, now wouldn’t that be boring!There are some things I hadn’t considered, as a result of Talbott’s and Parry’s approach, that he’s gotten me thinking about. He will really have people thinking about the questions we are all wrestling with. I’m impressed that it is a book that is easier to read and may be a great introduction for people. Bell has made an enormous contribution to our cause and we should really be thanking him!

I’ve witnessed so much going round and round on scripture, missing the love, even arguing who God loves. I’ve seen it have little affect on people’s hearts. Jesus, after all, loved stories/parables. He must have been a Bell! Lucky for his hearers! I’m in for a break from the tit for tat, law loving, love lacking, pharisee-like, let’s break down your heresy approach. And am, instead, just soaking up the read of an inspirational view of the love of God, his purpose, plan to do it, and our part in that. It’s got plenty of scripture, but that flows in such a natural way. It’s hard not to marvel at that.


Hey Amy, I’ve heard from a lot of different sources that the book was quite good. I think that the general reaction to him from the evangelical community was an overreaction, especially given the fact that most of the people reacted before his book was even released! My lack of desire to read it is not based on a principle or anything. I’m just an avid reader with limited time and with so many books to read, I just haven’t put his on my top list or anything. That doesn’t mean that I won’t read it though.

Concerning the scriptures, one doesn’t have to be like a pharisee, or lacking in love, or a heresy hunter to have a deep abiding respect for the scriptures. Sure there are those, like Macarthur, who personify what you are saying, but it need not be that way. The reason why the scriptures are so important to me (well that would be hard to put in a simple statement, but…) is that things could easily slip into a “whatever you want to believe” or “whatever feels right” religion. I’m not a heresy hunter, but I do want to be right in the eyes of God. If I believe a certain thing, I want to do so because it is right, not because I want it to be right. It’s true that TEU isn’t for everyone. My wife is a great example. It’s definitely too technical for her. Not that she couldn’t understand it–she could. She would just be bored with it.

I think you are right that Bell will probably help UR, but I’m not so sure he will help EU. I think that, for the most part, Bell will drive evangelicals away from EU, as I have already been seeing this happening. It does bum me out though how relentlessly committed to hell that people are. It’s depressing and more than a bit distressing! But I think, that for many evangelicals, I’m thinking of my brother right now, they simply think that they are being true to the scriptures. It’s not that my brother loves hell or anything. He simply thinks that this is what God has revealed and as much as it would be nice for it to not be true, he’s convinced that it is and he wants to be true to God. He feels like challenging it is like calling God a liar. Although my brother is open to discussing it where many evangelicals are not. This is why I love Robin’s book though because there is no “liberal” theology getting in the way. You walk away deciding not based on your feelings, but on the scriptures, and that’s a huge deal to evangelicals


P.S. I love you and your dads contributions to this forum!


I have mixed emotions about Bell’s foray into the area of universalism (technically per Robin’s terms he is a hopeful and not dogmatic universalist). On the one hand, I think it is great as Amy has noted that Bell is raising questions and awareness of the issue amongst evangelicals. I applaud this. But, I think I would have to ultimately conclude that because of the lack of serious exegetical work in Bell’s book and/or extended discussion of his contested points, many will treat EU quickly and dismissively. So, in that sense, he is hurting the case for those who have went before him and have laid the groundwork of hard theological study from which he derives his conclusions (none of which he footnotes or points to by the way…he only lists a few books at the end of his tome that have influenced him).

Most people will simply lump all EU together with Bell and believe that it is all based on flimsy scriptural positions and emotion. In my own interactions with people at my conservative evangelical church, I’ve seen this and thus have attempted to point them to Robin’s article about seven myths related to EU. Many of the stereotypes about EU that have been perpetuated in the past, such as lack of scriptural basis and the primary motivation being emotive, have only been strengthened by Bell’s book. This is why Jamie Smith’s response (see here: deal with the issue at a meta-level and fail to dive into the substantive work of Talbott and Parry. Bell’s lack of academic rigor has allowed for the response to be just as willy nilly!

One of the ultimate questions for me is this: what was Bell’s purpose in writing this book? I believe it was to create “cognitive dissonance,” (to unsettle them mentally) amongst evangelicals, raising the issue, and NOT primarily to answer the query he’s raised. This is what I draw from the nature of his book and the subsequent interviews he’s given (I am beginning to wonder if he is being so slippery in his interviews, failing to answer questions that he clearly handled in the book, to drum up more sales for the book…what else explains this…anyone else have any conjectures?). I think creating questions is perfectly fine, but my main criticism of him is that he has failed to adequately provide robust answers. And in the meantime, he may have put another, stronger barrier between those who have the ability to engage in deeper conversation and traditional, conservative evangelicals.


Chris, I totally agree with you. I’d worried, after I woke up this morning, that I did make it sound like wanting to really understand, discuss scripture is a bad thing - too pharisee-like. I don’t think that, of course, and I was hoping to make clear I understand where you are coming from, having not wanted to read the book myself. I do just get so tired of what appears like the kind of discussion I was describing - where it’s just missing something and doesn’t get at the heart. It’s difficult, I think people can really be sincere and still miss what’s there, even as they are scrutinizing over the facts. I can have a lot of compassion, at times, when I consider the system, how it works, how I was in it too, and needed the exact same things you describe - to be able to see it in scripture. It seems like there is a plus to having different kinds of approaches.

Sure have loved having you on here too. Enjoy looking at your questions, etc. if even I don’t feel like I have anything to contribute. Better hurry off to work before I’m late. Just wanted to stop in real quick and clear up what may have come off, and I think it did, too harsh against those feeling like they just don’t see what I see. You are so right, that it can be discouraging at times, but always best, for both sides, to think the best about their discussion partner - no matter how they disagree. Love is what matters. Amy

P.S. Chris, I was hoping, too, in writing so passionately to change your mind about reading the book. :slight_smile: I was so glad my dad shared it with me (It was free :laughing: ). Seriously, it’s been a pleasure reading it. It’s such an easy read, will probably only take you a few hours. If you don’t like it then you can give me an earfull. :laughing:


Hey Amy, I didn’t take it that you were criticizing me, so no worries in that arena. I know that you are simply frustrated with the pharisee types who feel as if it is there duty to pronounce who is and isn’t a heretic and therefore worthy of the kingdom of god. Oxymoron does that frequently here.


I was just speculating, with my dad, about this. Why, if he clearly had more answers in the book, than he gave in the interview, did he not give them? My same conclusion was just as yours, that he must have not been wanting to spoil the book, give it away. Maybe his motive was better than sales money? As I read the first part of the book Bell seems fairly passionate about having always wanted to write the book and felt that it was the right time. I take him that he is sincere. It must be so difficult because everyone will always want to critique something. There has to be more than one way of doing things. Seriously, though, I don’t want to keep comparing people with pharisees, but think of Jesus. When they asked questions he usually returned with another question, didn’t answer straight on. Jesus didn’t seem to think if I just break it all down for them, they’ll get it. I think it’s possible that we all can be pharisee-like, not open our hearts. It’s inherent in our religious system that we need to understand with our head so much. I wonder if this isn’t the mistake we all have made and are making? If God is really concerned that we love, not have all the right ideas, it explains my observation that sometimes, many times, the non-religious folk come out so ahead in their ability to care about the right things. And we, that think of ourselves as spiritual, usually deny it and say, no, that’s impossible. We are saved, have the spirit, believe the right things, and they don’t. Anyway, I appreciate Bell’s heart, that I want to trust is genuine.


OK, Amy, for that I’m going to have to read it now! It’s going to have to wait a little bit because I’m not allowed to buy any books right now (family budget :cry: ), but I will, I promise!


I’m still only in the 3rd chapter of the book, but I think it’s good that he didn’t try to give summary type answers in the interviews. He’s presenting a different paradigm, a different way of looking at things, and that can’t be done effectively in summary format without it being dismissed.

He wants people to read the book because in the book he very skillfully addresses the issues beginning at the level of basic presuppositions about God and Christianity, bringing those into question, and painting a picture of a very different–yet still scripturally based–way of understanding them. If he just laid out his conclusions, people would dismiss that as wrong, but in taking the time to lay the foundations of his thinking and slowly build the picture, people are then able to follow the path he’s pointing them toward.



I agree with you. I was talking with Amy about how there are those out there who want to see a scriptural proof that are not pharisees – they are decent-hearted people who love the Lord and the scriptures and would only change their mind if there was a powerful scriptural basis to do so. Most wont even look


I do think any critique of a book or film that we haven’t seen is an unfair practice. I can’t seriously debate such eisegesis.

More substantially, implying that evangelicals reject EU because Bell, etc. fail to offer a “serious and extended discussion of disputed passages” seems to me to miss the big picture. My impression is that evangelical’s assumed paradigm leads them innately to already be opposed to universalism (seeing it as a heretical destroyer of the paradigm that provides meaning to their life). And so a great snag is that most don’t (and likely *won’t * be willing to) engage our Parrys and Talbotts who do offer a serious discussion. Thus if we argue that the only worthy approach is limited to their detailed, lengthy, and scholarly way of presenting the case, the track record is that 99.9% of evangelicals will never be motivated to read them, re-think, or be open to taking a more serious look at Scripture. That’s why I argued under Talbott’s affirmation that I agree that we need to be open to the value of raising questions in a variety of less nuanced presentations.


rtboswell and dirtboy,

Your example of Jamie Smith does indeed not engage the raft of Scripture in Love Wins. It simply asserts that we interpret Scripture to mean what we want it to. This philosopher at Calvin assumes Scripture supports ECT and rejects MacDonald’s asumption that our moral sensibilities might justify taking another look at Scripture. But you seem to imply that this happens because Bell doesn’t provide the careful approach of Talbott or Parry. Have you read the many criticisms of their books by such evangelical scholars. In my judgment, they tend to do the same thing as was done toward Bell. They avoid engagement with the exegesis and substance of the argument, and resort to a philosophical assumption that encourages them to conclude that their assumed paradigm is correct, such that they can dismiss engaging the Biblical text. (Just by way of personal example: in a a Romans exegesis class at Regent, Vancouver, which had emphasized Paul’s emphasis on sovereign grace, when I asked what Paul’s parallel use of pas (all) may have had in mind in chapter 5, I was told, "Let’s cut to the chase: it can’t mean “all men” because many Christians would be very upset in heaven if they found that Hitler ended up there after all of their effort in getting there; so much for expecting exegetical substance from a Ph.D. in N.T. and an Australian Anglican bishop.) I.e. I haven’t seen that being admittedly much more careful than Bell is very effective in avoiding the objections that you fear. I actually think Bell’s approach to undermining the paradigm may be invaluable.


After having read (listened to the audio book) I found that it was an excellent piece of material for those who are genuinely seeking answers, and not “itching of the ears” from their choir mates. It is not in depth, and I don’t believe it was meant to be. From what I can tell it was meant to be a broad-sweep to, as per Rob Bell’s personality; “Make them ask the right questions” and then go forth and seek the answers in a deeper way.

It is milk for the babe ready to be born, not meat, but it will set the truth-seeker after the meat they will inevitably crave.

This is my opinion anyway.


I think you are right that it couldn’t be done effectively.

I’d worried Bell seemed a little smug ,in the online interview we saw, and might not be genuine, but, refleting on it, I think it was nervous energy and excitement about something he’d anticipated for a long time. He risked more than ever and put his neck on the one in a much bigger way. My dad was saying that people that had supported his other books felt he went too far this time. He’s probably a lot wiser in his approach, not using the universalism word, than any of us have given him credit. We’ve not been able to get our ideas out there much at all, or maybe I’m wrong about his? Bell has done a lot to get the issues out on the table. I was just remembering how Gene had given Parry’s book to his sister, but she said it was just too difficult a read. Love Wins would be a great book to give her!