DeYoung's review of Bell's Love Wins


Kevin DeYoung has just produced a comprehensive response God Is Still Holy and What You Learned in Sunday School Is Still True: A Review of “Love Wins”. Bell’s book has (rightly I believe) produced a lot of controversy in the blogosphere, while good for Bell’s bank balance (no news is bad news when it comes to book sales), it’s good to talk about these important topics of God, sin, salvation, heaven and hell, as most of you would agree.

The review is strongly worded but clearly outlined and is, I believe, an excellent overview of the traditional response to many Universalist arguments. The first interesting example is the comment he makes about Gregory of Nyssa:

The second is his comments about Jesus’ comments about Sodom and Gomorrah:

The third is his comment about Bell’s definition of God, that he is simply love.

Lastly, DeYoung pulls up Bell on his definition of sin:

Sorry about the long post (warning: it’s a long review). I know Bell’s views don’t represent you all, some of you I know for certain would be more conservative then Bell in some areas, and a few no doubt would be in complete agreement. But for a current traditional (DeYoung is a Dutch Reformed minister) response to the main ideas of Universalism you can’t go past it.


I was just about to post that, but you beat me too it :slight_smile:

Coincidently, I just got this from Robin a few minutes ago:

We’re told Sodom (Ezek. 16:53) is restored, so I can see why Bell would think other cities who had been “eternally” burned, would also receive mercy.

Passages like 1 Cor 13 make a bigger deal of love than everything else…

Sin is evil, but that doesn’t make God out of control with rage. Rather, He bends down and sacrifices Himself to rescue and heal us.

I don’t know how close Bell comes to EU, so I can only defend what I know so far. I was quite disappointed with DeYoung’s “To Hell With Hell” that we discussed recently :neutral_face:


My post on DeYoung’s blog … ment-15751


De Young:

Entirely consistent with Universalism. What matters is what ELSE Gregory says.

Completely untrue. It says that judgement of Capernaum will be more harsh than judgement of Soddom & Gomorrah. No more and no less. Not a problem for universalism.

The verb is not the important aspect. Neither is the sentence construction which is a cheap attempt at distraction. God is many things. He may be tall, thin, short, brittle, soft, opaque, transparent, light, fire, true, just, but as soon as He says He is LOVE, He is giving us information on an entirely different scale. A different dimension. The consequences and ramifications are overwhelming.

I assume De Young is Calvinist.


Consider the father of the prodigal son. He was not merely disappointed with his son’s rebellion. He was deeply offended. He was angry at the way his son judged him and abused him. It got so bad the father couldn’t stand even to look at the boy. He was filth! The father’s nostrils flared at the very thought of his ingratitude, impurity, self-centeredness, disobedience, defiance. No wonder the neighbors were astounded to hear the father had accepted the son back into his house. “What incomprehensible love!” they said with a knowing look. (They heard the poor boy had to do some serious grovelling.) Personally, I find it even more astounding that the son even considered going back home to such a man! If that was my father, I’d be gone like a shot and never seen again. Seriously, I’d rather die in a ditch.


I’m working up some detailed comments of KDY’s review, some of which I agree with in principle (and maybe even in practice, depending on how accurately and sufficiently he is reporting from RB’s book.)

But don’t let that stop anyone else from commenting first! :smiley: I’m only letting people know I’m working on it, in case they were curious about whether I’d say anything.



Hey Luke,

I’m not with Bell on his take on UR. I’m still working through all of this and while I’m, after about 2 years of wrestling, coming on the side of UR, which is no simple task for a conservative with a high view of scripture, I’m still wrestling back and forth on many different levels. Something that you quoted here has been a struggle of mine and it deals with, not the scriptural arguments, per se, but more with, perhaps, philosophical or logical arguments. You quoted the author as saying:

*Lastly, DeYoung pulls up Bell on his definition of sin:

"n Bell’s telling of the story, there is no sense of the vertical dimension of our evil. Yes, Bell admits several times that we can resist or reject God’s love. But there’s never any discussion of the way we’ve offended God, no suggestion that ultimately all our failings are a failure to worship God as we should. God is not simply disappointed with our choices or angry for the way we judge others. He is angry at the way we judge him. He cannot stand to look upon our uncleanness. His nostrils flare at iniquity. He hates our ingratitude, our impurity, our God-complexes, our self-centeredness, our disobedience, our despising of his holy law. Only when we see God’s eye-covering holiness will we grasp the magnitude of our traitorous rebellion, and only then will we marvel at the incomprehensible love that purchased our deliverance on the cross."*

I agree with the author here but want to concentrate on this part of the statement:

“Only when we see God’s eye-covering holiness will we grasp the magnitude of our traitorous rebellion, and only then will we marvel at the incomprehensible love that purchased our deliverance on the cross.”

One of my big problems with the idea that most mankind end up in hell (wide is the path to destruction) has exactly to do with what he said here. Only when we see God will we really grasp 2 important things: 1. How bad we really are, and 2. How much God really loves us. Those 2 statements should blow us all away. God goes so far as to die himself. He puts his best plan together, sacrifices himself, and sets his Spirit lose on us to draw us in. With all of his arsenal aimed at us we still end up seeing, at very best, through a glass darkly (and that is for Christians, not for the lost who see the gospel as foolishness), and most get lost, forever. He says that we truly don’t understand what a foolish thing we did until we die and it is too late. Don’t you see a problem with that? Wouldn’t God want us to grasp that BEFORE it was too late. OK, I’m going to pretend I’m god for a moment (forgive me, Lord, it’s just make-belief). I want to save my wayward children. I love them more than any mortal could possibly imagine. I can tell you at least one thing that I would do, and I will concentrate on that one thing alone for the sake of brevity: I would let each one of them know who I am and I would make sure they understood the full implications of their rebellion against me. It makes no logical sense whatsoever for me to damn a person for choosing sin over me when he didn’t understand me in the first place and without knowing that he truly would burn for all eternity for his choice. Not only would his choice result in his eternal demise, it would most likely do the same for his children whom he would train to think the way he does. He would then have the added bonus of his children in hell with him asking him, “why did you not tell me?” Expecting us to see how horrible our sins are when we simply can’t is an unrealistic expectation. Even my best understanding of how utterly corrupt I am after many years of sanctification pale in comparison to how utterly corrupt I am. Furthermore, my best, spirit-inspired understanding of the Lord’s holiness is laughable in the face of his actual holiness.

So, you have God warning Adam with a serious warning, but nothing even close to, “In the day that you eat of it you shall surely die AND condemn yourself and ALL your offspring to eternity in hell.” He doesn’t even mention is afterword. It just seems as if we have something wrong here because it’s not simply a matter of “our ways not being his”, but it becomes illogical based on the very things that God has revealed to us about him. I couldn’t imagine giving my son a very important charge with a horrific consequence if he disobeyed, but leave him mentally impaired to not really grasp what it was I was charging him with. It simply doesn’t make sense not based on my own understanding, but by what God reveals about himself to us in the scriptures. I know these aren’t new questions, but I have asked these my whole Christian life and I have been saved for 42 years and I’ve never heard even close to a decent answer to them except the typical, “trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding…” “My ways are not your ways…” etc. No one ever says, “You know, maybe we are seeing the text wrong.” You know, when the word says, “Love never fails” and “His lovingkindness is everlasting”, maybe it means more than we think it does, because in the traditional view it seems to fail AND end. What do you think about his statement?


P.S. Sorry, I have to stop being so long-winded :blush:


I love this. One of the things I’ve found lacking in traditional theology is the understanding that grasping #2 is not inherently different from understanding God’s holiness. His holiness is not a separate attribute from his love. It’s amazing how many times one hears (especially from the neo-reformed crowd) “Yes, God is love, BUT…” No, it’s “God is love AND…” He’s not two-faced or confused. It is abundantly clear from Scripture that any other attitude he has toward his creation (wrath, anger, whatever) is in the context of his love (Psalm 30:5, anyone? :slight_smile: ).

Our conclusions about God’s actions toward us always need to connect God’s love with his other attitudes. Perhaps we EUs can work on emphasizing this with ECTers, because to be honest sometimes our emphasis on God’s love can come across as wimpy and new-ageish. Of course God’s love isn’t wimpy, but until we get a better understanding of it, it wouldn’t hurt not to leave out his anger and wrath. I guess what I’m saying (and I’m preaching to myself here) is, instead of emphasizing LOVE (although there will be a time for that), maybe we can help ECTers refrain from disconnecting God’s attributes?

I don’t know, maybe this is just something for me to work on. Just a thought. :slight_smile:

Grace and peace,


Well put!!


Regarding this portion of DeYoung’s review: “Nine, what Bell does with Sodom and Gomorrah should make even his most ardent supporters wince. Really, you have to wonder if Bell has any interest in being constrained by serious study of the biblical text. In one place, Bell argues from Ezekiel 16 that because the fortunes of Sodom will be restored (Ezek. 16:53), this suggests that the forever destiny of others might end in restoration (84). But it should be obvious that the restoration of Sodom in Ezekiel is about the city, not about the individual inhabitants of the town who were already judged in Genesis 19. The people condemned by sulfur and fire 1,500 years earlier were not getting a second lease on postmortem life. The current city would be restored. And besides, the whole point of Sodom’s restoration is to shame wicked Samaria (Ezek. 16:54) so that they might bear the penalty of their lewdness and abominations (Ezek. 16:58). This hardly fits with Bell’s view of God and judgment.” …

I offer the following thoughts (which may be used by other reviewers of DeYoung’s review if they like):

  1. According to this old Christian Universalist (CU) article on the prophesied restoration of Sodom (Ezekiel 16:53-55) … … 1Sodom.htm … the restoration of Sodom cannot be about the city, as DeYoung claims, because of the personal pronouns “their,” “they,” and “them” used in vs. 47-55. These pronouns can only refer to the people of Sodom – not to the city or land of Sodom.

  2. DeYoung’s argument is circular reasoning, i.e. he is using what he hopes to prove (CU is false) as a premise in how to understand “Sodom” in this passage.

  3. DeYoung’s contention that v. 54 and v.58 is about Samaria reflects total confusion about Ezekiel 16. This chapter’s main point is that Jerusalem is worse than both Samaria and Sodom, yet God will ultimately bless all three.

  4. In conclusion, Bell’s argument that the prophesied restoration of Sodom strongly suggests CU is sound.


Welcome Quest_For_Truth! I appreciate the excellent points you made about Sodom and Gomorrah’s restoration :sunglasses:


Thanks Alex,

After posting I realized that my first post probably should have been more along the lines of introducing myself. I plan to do that soon on another thread. Suffice it now to say that I’ve appreciated both Tom’s and Robin’s books, and this site, for a few years now. I don’t have nearly as much time as I wish I had to participate in forums like this, but when I feel strongly about a topic, such as DeYoung’s treatment of Ezekiel 16:53-55, I will chime in.


By the way, I had been hoping to have my commentary on KDY’s review done by the weekend, but ‘work’ work had to be done first (as well as my pre-Easter posting schedule and some other things); and today I have a niece’s birthday party! :smiley:

So I’m still only about halfway through. I doubt I’ll be done this weekend, but I hope to do some more work on it at least. I have no less than five Bibles spread out over my desk at the office already; actually I want to get finished so they don’t become part of the alluvial deposits there… :laughing:


Excellent thoughts and ones I share. Recently on William Birch’s Arminian blog I posted to a fellow SLW that I find the idea of gratuitous punishment to be problematic as much as gratuitous evil. God punishing people with no end in site, seems incompatible as far as I can see that he is love.

I love in the Glenn People’s/Talbott dailogue that Talbott writes:

** ammend **
When I say gratuitous punishment, by that I mean that the punishment is purely retributive and non-correctional. Of course there’s justification for God punishing the wicked but I believe that to be “love”. If God does not punish for correction, then he does not want them to turn and if he does not want them to turn then he does not love them. And if he does not love them then I wonder in what sense is God love.


But Bell does not make UR, as KDY claims, smack dab in the center of the tradition. All Bell claims is that UR is part of the tradition, and some of those believed to be champions of orthodoxy held to UR.

Keven, it’s the STREAM that is diverse and wide on some issues, and this is one of them.

I haven’t gotten my copy of Bell’s book yet. But if Bell here is saying that at the center of Christian tradition was the insistence that hell is NOT eternal, conscious torment, then Bell is wrong. But against KDY, neither was the insistence that ECT is the ONLY eschatology compatible with Christian orthodoxy belief at the center of that tradition.

Neither was the rejection of UR or the categorizing of UR as heresy at the center of the tradition. Most were not universalists. For some time many were universalists. And there was nothing at the center of the tradition that categorized either view as heresy.

And what, pray tell, is hard to pin down about this? Hell is real anguish and suffering as the just consequence of sin, but it is not irrevocable torment. God is able to save from it.

It’s a point in favor of the argument that universalism per se is not heresy and that historically the Church was at one point full of many universalists who were never categorized and disciplined as heretics.

And he wants to criticize Bell for historical inaccuracies?