Unbelievable (Or is it UnBellievable?) – Rob Bell Defends “Love Wins”

Forget Bell’s drift towards universalism for a moment. 

If there’s anything apparent in this debate/interview, it’s that Pastor Bell is intent on playing a game.  Over and over again he’ll sidestep direct questions about his view, joke around, and play cat and mouse with Justin and Adrian.  Don’t get me wrong, the guy is winsome, jovial, quick on his feet and likable.  But he’s also slick.  And it’s the slick part that really frustrated me during this discussion.  He’s very good at disarming and dodging. 

Several times during the interview, I wanted Justin Brierley to stop him, open his bible and read 2 Corinthians 4:2, which says,

“But we have renounced disgraceful, underhanded ways. We refuse to practice cunning or to tamper with God’s word, but by the open statement of the truth we would commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God.”

As for Adrian Warnock, he handled himself well enough, I suppose.  I wish that he would have been a bit more forceful at times.  Bell will steer the conversation- frame it- direct it- if given the chance.  Adrian also seemed a bit taken back when Pastor Bell tossed some Greek at him. 

Now there’s one other thing I’d like to comment on.  It happened at the 12 minute mark.  I’ll reproduce the exchange:

Justin: [After quoting from Bell’s book about all people/nations coming to God] “It comes out that you’re not agnostic on this, Rob.  It comes out that you do believe everyone will ultimately be saved.  Of course you acknowledge that it’s one in a variety of options, but it sounds like that’s the one you prefer- the one you’re most convinced by.”

Rob: “Do you long for that to happen?

Justin: “Oh, yes, uh, well, Adrian…”

Rob: “Do you long for it to happen?”

Adrian: “I’m not a Christian who believes that only a few will be saved.  That’s for sure.” [Here Adrian continues, ending by saying that he believes we should stick to what the Bible says].

If I remember correctly, Pastor Bell pressed this line of reasoning twice.  When backed into a corner, he turns the tables by asking if you want all people to be finally saved.  Don’t you long for it?  Don’t you wish to see all men and women in heaven?  Don’t you hope for this? 

As I listened to the exchange, something from the book “The Brothers Karamazov” came to mind.  There’s a powerful section in that work where Ivan is questioning his pious Christian and younger brother Alyosha about the problem of evil.  I know of no more potent presentation than the one presented by Ivan.  It is horrific.  Horribly horrific.  And sustained.  It can be found in Chapter IV, Rebellion.

Near the end, when Alyosha cannot bear his brother’s maddening imagery any longer, he cries out, “Why are you trying me?  Will you say what you mean at last?”

Ivan continues on and then asks, “Tell me yourself, I challenge you—answer. Imagine that you are creating a fabric of human destiny with the object of making men happy in the end, giving them peace and rest at last, but that it was essential and inevitable to torture to death only one tiny creature—that baby beating its breast with its fist, for instance— and to found that edifice on its unavenged tears, would you consent to be the architect on those conditions! Tell me, and tell the truth.”

‘No, I wouldn’t consent,’ said Alyosha softly.”

Rob Bell’s approach is fundamentally no different.  It prompts men to consider what they would do if they were God, which always proves futile.  “Do you long to see all men saved?”  “Yes,” comes the reply.  “Ah, well, God doesn’t agree with you… see how He is?”

And where does it stop?  Would you allow 911 to happen?  Would you allow your aunt to get cancer?  Would allow one child to die of starvation?  Would you create a hell?

Maybe I should ask Pastor Bell if he longs for God to give all men (and demons) lollypops and create heaven on earth right now- forgive everyone by divine fiat (never mind justice, after all)- and dance in a big circle. 

Do you long for that?  Well, don’t you?

In all this we can easily forget that God alone is God, and perfectly good and perfectly wise.  Likewise we must not forget Isaiah 55:9, “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.”

At the end of the day, everything comes back to that.  Everything.  We either assume the right of deity or bow the knee.  Isn’t that what our history is all about?

If you would like help thinking through this more deeply, I would highly recommend two messages by John Piper. 

The Echo and Insufficiency of Hell (Link).

The Triumph of the Gospel in the New Heavens and New Earth (Link) [or a very similar message “The Supremacy of Christ and the Sorrow of Calamity Link].

Difficutly:  Moderate

Must Listen Factor: Moderate

Length: 1 Hour

To Download:  Click Picture.  It’s April 23rd, 2011.  (If the link on the picture doesn’t work, as some wonky things appear to be inflicting it, you can get it from here:  http://www.premier.org.uk/unbelievable)


  1. Jared Olivetti April 29, 2011 at 10:21 am #

    Good stuff, brother. That part of the conversation is really astounding, when you lay it out like that. How easily our mouths can be stopped by the wisdom of the world! May God give us heavenly wisdom…

  2. Christine Pack April 29, 2011 at 11:04 am #

    What a great post – love the reference to The Brothers Karamazov. Yes, we are either bending the knee in humble submission, or shaking the fist in rebellion. There really is no middle ground.

  3. Jason Camery April 29, 2011 at 11:35 am #


    I loved your review and insight into the Rob Bell fiasco! Frankly speaking, if someone asks me if I desire all men to be saved, I respond by saying “I desire for God to be glorified in all things.” And he is glorified in saving and being just by sending the wicked to hell (eternally).
    1 Peter 4:13
    “but to the degree that you share the sufferings of Christ, keep on rejoicing, so that also at the revelation of His glory you may rejoice with exultation.” NASU

    Luke 12:4-6
    “I say to you, My friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body and after that have no more that they can do. 5 “But I will warn you whom to fear: fear the One who, after He has killed, has authority to cast into hell; yes, I tell you, fear Him!

    • Austin Brown April 29, 2011 at 4:16 pm #

      Thanks everyone.

      And that’s a great way to put it, Jason! Love the 1 Peter passage (not that I dislike the Luke one 🙂 )

  4. Barry York April 29, 2011 at 11:47 am #


  5. Rose May 3, 2011 at 1:08 pm #

    Of course the secret things belong to God, but what has been revealed belongs to us and to our children. One of the things that has been revealed is that God commands all men everywhere to repent and another thing that has been revealed is that he does not delight in the death of the wicked. In some sense, then, does God also desire that all be saved and come to a knowledge of the truth? I haven’t followed the Rob Bell thing, but I think that your reflections on it could be more clear on these points.

    • Austin Brown May 3, 2011 at 2:27 pm #

      Hi Rose! I think you are very right. I heartily agree that God does in fact desire all to be saved. And to be honest, I thought about touching on that point briefly in the post, but in the end, chose to refrain. As for Pastor Bell, he probably stretches 1 Timothy 2:4 to the point of saying that all men will in fact be saved because God desires to see all men saved. I trust you don’t agree. As for myself, I think this verse does highlight a true desire in God’s heart. But sometimes God ordains His displeasure for greater desires. Just take the cross. God does not like murder. And yet He ordained the death of his Son for a greater good.

      So it is, I believe, with 1 Timothy 2:4. God wants, on one level, all men to be saved. But He also desires, for good and holy purposes, to demonstrate his justice and reveal His glory. I wrote briefly on this subject here:


      The article to which I direct the reader at the end is very, very good. I would commend it to you.

      Thanks for providing an opportunity for me to clarify.

  6. cheshirelizzy May 24, 2011 at 6:02 am #

    Thanks for this post. I am new to your site but I really like your posts.
    I, too, liked your Karamazov text. I will have to read it now!
    I read “Velvet Elvis” years ago and felt alarmed by the teachings. Many of my friends in the more modern-but-evalgelical side minimised how wicked the teachings were (being “glad that people are even seeking or going to church”). My friends on the conservative and reformed side ignored him completely (minimising the dangers posed to them). I think we should be paying attention to what might attract our fence-sitting friends and our children yet without discernment.
    I wish I could ask Mr. Bell why Christ died if everyone’s ultimately okay.

    Thanks again,

    • Austin Brown May 24, 2011 at 7:46 am #

      Thanks Beth. While I enjoyed the Brothers Karamazov, I must say that I didn’t love it. There were moments of sheer genius, and there were moments of great lag. Now when it comes to Crime and Punishment: I loved it. It too was a little slow at times, but the slowness was for good effect. The lulls served to heighten the intense moments.

      Glad you enjoy the website!

      In HIm,


  1. Rob Bell on Unbelievable radio show « ridingacross - May 6, 2011

    […] noted very well about Rob Bell’s turning the question back on the people questioning him, here is very good, and what it seems to come down to is this:  Rob Bell places human desire for what we feel should […]

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