John MacArthur on Rob Bell: “a Brother to Embrace or a Wolf to Avoid?”

This is the question that John MacArthur seeks to answer in a post on his Grace to You blog:

The post begins:

If Christopher Hitchens or Deepak Chopra penned a book that scoffed at the biblical teaching on hell, we would not be surprised. So why would anyone be shocked or confused when Rob Bell writes Love Wins? Has Bell shown any more commitment to gospel truth, or any more devotion to the principle of biblical authority than Hitchens or Chopra?

MacArthur continues,

Is Rob Bell truly a Christian, or is he one of those dangerous deceivers Scripture warns us about repeatedly (Acts 20:292 Corinthians 11:13-15Colossians 2:82 Peter 2:1; etc.)?

It’s a fair—and necessary—question. Christ’s famous warning about wolves in sheep’s clothing is given to us as an imperative: “Beware of the false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will know them by their fruits” (Matthew 7:15-16). Our Lord clearly expects His true disciples to be able to spot spiritual imposters and wolves in sheep’s clothing—especially those who are purveyors of deadly false doctrines.

Rob Bell certainly fits that category. He relentlessly casts doubt on the authority and reliability of Scripture. He denies the Bible’s perspicuity, disavows its hard truths, and ridicules some of the most important features of the gospel.

Mid-way through the post we find,

Historic evangelicalism has always affirmed the authority, inerrancy, and sufficiency of Scripture, while declaring (as Jesus and the apostles did) that the only way of salvation for fallen humanity is through the atoning work of Christ, and the only instrument of justification is faith in Jesus Christ as He is revealed in the gospel.

Rob Bell believes none of those things. His skepticism about so many key biblical truths, his penchant for sowing doubt in his hearers, and his obvious contempt for the principles of divine justice as taught in Scripture all give evidence that he is precisely the kind of unbelieving false teacher Scripture warns us about.

Bell is an inveterate syncretist who loves to blend “progressive” and politically correct dogmas with eastern mysticism, humanistic jargon, and Christian terminology. His teaching is full of barren ideas borrowed directly from old liberalism, sometimes rephrased in postmodern jargon but still reeking of stale Socinianism.

What Bell is peddling is nothing like New Testament Christianity. It is a man-centered religion totally devoid of both clarity and biblical authority. read more, bold added

This is John MacArthur’s take on Rob Bell and Love Wins.

While I’m often slow to categorize, if it can be demonstrated that Rob Bell has indeed “disavows its hard truths, and ridicules some of the most important features of the gospel,” and has denied the tenets of Historic Evangelicalism, which makes it Christian, then I must join John MacArthur and say that Rob Bell is a “Wolf to be avoided.”

As a footnote, Rob Bell does believe that Jesus is the only way to salvation.  It’s in Love Wins.

Now it’s true that Rob Bell can say that Jesus is the only way to salvation but cast serious doubt as to what this really looks like.

Neither do I believe we need to shy away from labeling Rob Bell “a wolf to avoid,” if such is the case.  Come on!  Let’s not be naive.  The Bible talks about false teachers in the last days.

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115 Responses to John MacArthur on Rob Bell: “a Brother to Embrace or a Wolf to Avoid?”

  1. Ya got to ya like MacArthur really, he is always consistent. He comes from the place of the pastor and the teacher. And always simply believes the Word of God!

  2. Mark says:

    Rob Bell has done a pretty good job of letting Christians do his dirty work when it comes to promoting his new feel-good book. I believe he has tried to become all things to all people at the expense of the scriptures, instead of personal love and sacrifice. I have watched him backpedal in many interviews as he tries to placate himself and defend his position (poorly at both ends I may add)

    I fear that as Bell hacks away at the roots of scripture…his popularity will only grow with those seeking easy believism and watered down versions of the gospel. I pray that he sees the error of his ways. Truth be told, I’ve been tired of hearing about him since Velvet Elvis.


  3. Jerry_B says:

    Was there any mystery to what Johnny Mac would have to say about Bell?! I don’t think It doesn’t look like I am going to agree with Bell on the issue of hell, from what I have read, but I don’t think it puts him in the category of a wolf. He doesn’t deny the divinity of Jesus and he doesn’t deny that hell could be the choice someone makes. Annihilation seems to be where he is headed and there are plenty of good Christian folk that believe similarly.

    But in typical Johnny Mac fashion, it seems the only real qualifier for being a wolf is not agreeing with Johnny Mac.

    • Christian Annihilationism, if you will, does not deny God His time of judgment and punishment, it just is not eternal. The lost soul still undergoes great torment, in this position.

    • T.C. R says:

      Fr. Robert,

      Yes, I hold to my endorsement. How can it be inconsistent with Scripture when it only forces one to grapple with Scripture and to put to test what we really believe? That’s the irony of it all.


      Perhaps you’re right.


      At some point, John MacArthur has to be right.

      • TC,

        Indeed for you this might be of some kind of theological help and divide? But for other younger Christians, and those not really able to engage theologically, Bell is simply trouble! Note 2 Cor. 4:2, etc.

      • Bobby Grow says:


        Isn’t that like saying that a JW is “scriptural” or a Buddhist or whatever; since every belief system contra Scripture’s clear testimony should push us into Scripture?

        I just don’t think what Bell is communicating is that innocent. I don’t even think it’s just his “Love Wins!”; his questions are wreckless. He needs to keep them to himself until he can articulate them in clear and cogent ways. In other words folks shouldn’t have to guess at what he’s saying — even after he’s said it — that’s not responsible. And it is very true, there are many many vulnerable young and even old Christians out there. I just don’t see how preaching a post-mortem salvation does anyone any good, esp. Bell.

  4. Bobby Grow says:

    TCR=provocateur 😉

  5. Bill Trip says:

    If you don’t think Rob Bell is a false teacher, you are spiritually blind.

  6. T.C. R says:


    I’m simply continuing the conversation. 😉

    Bill Trip,

    For the moment, I know these things for certain, I’m in no position to go all out as a John MacArthur. Apparently he has done the researching and so on.

  7. T.C. R says:

    |Indeed for you this might be of some kind of theological help and divide? But for other younger Christians, and those not really able to engage theologically, Bell is simply trouble! Note 2 Cor. 4:2, etc.|

    Fr. Robert,

    Yes, I hear a pastoral concern beaming through your comment.

    • TC,

      This is always part of my concern, none of us does theological study in a vacuum either. Even some of the mistakes I have made, still rather haunt me as a pastor-teacher (note James 3:1). We simply must tread lightly here. And having met John MacArthur once, and chatted a bit, I am also convinced he always comes from his place as a pastor-teacher also. I don’t always agree with him, but what ya see with Mac is what ya get! No double talk here! Would that we had more straight shooters in our Christian pulpits!

  8. Bill Trip says:

    Look, I hate it. I do. I don’t enjoy telling other Christians, “Hey, this guy is a false teacher!”. I don’t take pleasure in saying this about someone who is I’ll bet quite nice if you were to ever talk with him one on one.

    I remember the movie, “The Ten Commandments” when Moses, Charlton Heston, says to those surrounding the golden calf, “Who is on the Lord’s side?”, a swarm of people moved toward Moses while others stayed with the calf and the ground opened up and swallowed them.

    I feel like John Piper, John Macarthur and others are like Moses, “Who is on the Lord’s side?” I am running to their wisdom and leadership because I know in my heart they are on the Lord’s side.

    Those with Rob Bell will be swallowed up. Run for your very life!

    • T.C. R says:

      Well, this certainly corresponds with the naivety that I’ve referenced in my post.

    • Bill,

      Nice scripture reference, but we should get the biblical story or narrative straight…Exodus chapter 32, note verse 26..”then Moses stood in the entrance of the camp, and said, “Whoever is on the Lord’s side – come to me!” And it does have an application for us today, for about 3,000 souls fell that day! (verse 28) This is not so much eternal judgment, but a judgment of the Lord nonetheless! Note, they were killed by the hands (swords) of the “sons of Levi”. Note also, verse 29..”For every man has opposed his son and his brother.” (NKJV)

      Again, by spiritual application we who long to serve and be faithful to the Lord, must stand with the Lord and His Word, and often oppose even our so-called “Brethren”! (Note here too 2 Tim. 2: 14-15-16 ; 19-26 …”in humility correcting those who are in opposition”. And note too only God can change the heart & mind!)

  9. Tom says:

    You’ve got to be kidding me? What’s wrong with you guys–MacArthur, Bill Trip, Fr. Robert, Mark? Step back just a few steps and gain a little perspective, please! The false teachers of the NT are not those that fail to articulate the conservative theological systems of modern-day evangelicalism. Most of our theological questions weren’t even on the radar screen of the early church, e.g., the question of exclusivism or inclusivism, the question of inerrancy, et al. False teachers were those that denied Jesus as Israel’s resurrected Messiah and thus the Lord of the world, something that Rob Bell clearly affirms. Okay, he might not be in your theological camp, but such is the nature of a diverse and robust Christianity today. I’m not sure why that bothers so many Christians living in the 21st century. We’ve got a lot to learn when it comes to dialoguing with other Christians who don’t look exactly like ourselves. To be honest, your rhetoric smacks of the fundamentalism we should have already learned our lesson about.

    • mark says:

      I don’t think I every used the world “heretic” when describing Bell. My position is not based on rhetoric because I have actually read his books so I can formulate my own opinions. I think Bell is using the discussion on hell as a vehicle to drive more into the “big tent” mentality when it comes to Christianity. Now whether this is good or bad will ultimately come out in the wash. I also think Bell is using his books to work out some of his own issues when it comes to his upbringing and early theology. I think Bell means well but you ultimately have to decide how much to blur the lines, and how long it takes before you fall into the trap of your own design? It’s a very slippery slope. Thanks for your perspective Tom.

    • T.C. R says:


      Is your argument then that no extra-biblical creeds and the like would be a good enough test to judge anyone, much less a Rob Bell?

  10. Bobby Grow says:

    As far as answering your question, TCR, I think Bell is a brother who is confused; and that he needs some help with hermeneutics and understanding the history of interpretation. Beyond that, he needs to take some more classes on systematic theology (I mean on the Love Wins! stuff, he’s interweaving classic Calvinist thought with Arminian Libertarian free will, with Roman Catholic purgatory and Eastern Orthodox toll-house with a variety of other mutually exclusive belief systems and thoughts).

    Christians actually believe something though, and they have for centuries. It’s strange to me that folks label others “fundy” who would want to push pause on Bell, when historic orthodox Christianity actually has repudiated much of what Bell’s questions are intending to articulate. The burden of proof remains on Bell, and until he writes a book that gives some constructive answers (not just questions); I’m positive that Bell will continue to be pressed (what’s wrong with that?). Is Bell a “Wolf?” In many ways I would say he is, maybe not for many of us; but for many he is. He’s a pastor to many “untrained” people, and what he is teaching (in thrust and ethos) is not reflective of what Christians have taught for centuries (he admits this, even in the promo vid for his book); and centuries. The ironic thing for me, personally, is that I think that John MacArthur’s Lordship Salvation is just as damaging for someone’s daily spirituality (not eternal salvation) as the stuff that Bell’s providing. And if anyone wants to argue with me about that, I’d be happy to go for it! 🙂

    • Jon Hughes says:


      I agree with you about MacArthur’s Lordship Salvation. No argument from me!

    • T.C. R says:


      While I do not want to yield to naivete in all this, I’m also aware of the Scriptures predictions of false teachers and the like. So at some point, someone comes along who fits the bill.

      But is Rob Bell such? I’m not prepared at the moment to say that. As I indicated in my post, I have to do the work. I have to find out for sure.

  11. kenny chmiel says:

    Read Bells book and then read this, seriously read it and then try to explain away the intensity of of what this biblical writer is communicating- Bell’s easy and nice “hell is just bad things you do for a while until God’s love wins theology” makes a mockery of such an intense warning. Sure you can explain away this passage from 2 peter like Bell has, but I think if one does, the force and power of the plain reading/hearing (of 1st century readers/hearers and 21st) is limp and powerless.

    The Rise of False Prophets
    1But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will also be false teachers among you, who will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing swift destruction upon themselves.

    2Many will follow their sensuality, and because of them the way of the truth will be maligned;

    3and in their greed they will exploit you with false words; their judgment from long ago is not idle, and their destruction is not asleep.

    4For if God did not spare angels when they sinned, but cast them into hell and committed them to pits of darkness, reserved for judgment;

    5and did not spare the ancient world, but preserved Noah, a preacher of righteousness, with seven others, when He brought a flood upon the world of the ungodly;

    6and if He condemned the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah to destruction by reducing them to ashes, having made them an example to those who would live ungodly lives thereafter;

    7and if He rescued righteous Lot, oppressed by the sensual conduct of unprincipled men

    8(for by what he saw and heard that righteous man, while living among them, felt his righteous soul tormented day after day by their lawless deeds),

    9then the Lord knows how to rescue the godly from temptation, and to keep the unrighteous under punishment for the day of judgment,

    10and especially those who indulge the flesh in its corrupt desires and despise authority Daring, self-willed, they do not tremble when they revile angelic majesties,

    11whereas angels who are greater in might and power do not bring a reviling judgment against them before the Lord.

    12But these, like unreasoning animals, born as creatures of instinct to be captured and killed, reviling where they have no knowledge, will in the destruction of those creatures also be destroyed,

    13suffering wrong as the wages of doing wrong They count it a pleasure to revel in the daytime They are stains and blemishes, reveling in their deceptions, as they carouse with you,

    14having eyes full of adultery that never cease from sin, enticing unstable souls, having a heart trained in greed, accursed children;

    15forsaking the right way, they have gone astray, having followed the way of Balaam, the son of Beor, who loved the wages of unrighteousness;

    16but he received a rebuke for his own transgression, for a mute donkey, speaking with a voice of a man, restrained the madness of the prophet.

    17These are springs without water and mists driven by a storm, for whom the black darkness has been reserved.

    18For speaking out arrogant words of vanity they entice by fleshly desires, by sensuality, those who barely escape from the ones who live in error,

    19promising them freedom while they themselves are slaves of corruption; for by what a man is overcome, by this he is enslaved.

    20For if, after they have escaped the defilements of the world by the knowledge of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled in them and are overcome, the last state has become worse for them than the first.

    21For it would be better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than having known it, to turn away from the holy commandment handed on to them.

    22It has happened to them according to the true proverb, “A DOG RETURNS TO ITS OWN VOMIT,” and, “A sow, after washing, returns to wallowing in the mire.”

  12. Peter Kirk says:

    Lots of “ifs” there, TC, such as “if it can be demonstrated that Rob Bell has indeed …”. But has this been demonstrated? Has MacArthur or anyone else demonstrated this, or even offered good evidence of it? Failing this, it seems to me that in this post you are simply propagating gossip and unproven allegations about a minister of the gospel, just as you would be if you wrote “If it can be demonstrated, Pastor X is having an adulterous affair”. Yesterday I quoted 1 Timothy 5:19 concerning allegations about Benny Hinn. The same verse needs to be applied to any accusations made against Rob Bell.

  13. Ferg says:

    I’m confused TC. I thought you recommended Love Wins for all and now you’re saying he’s a wolf to avoid?

    • MJ says:

      Your not the one who is confused. Sorry T.C but you seem to be quite confused on this whole issue. If you are wanting to understand for yourself from the scriptures about hell, and answer some of these questions which you have brought up then fine. Do a study and pray for understanding and guidance. Seek out the assistance of others who can provide a sounding board, even as you are. But endorsing Rob Bells book is just so unbelievable to me, it beggars belief. This man is an emergent heretic, there I’ll say it, heretic, and should not be endorsed. As MacArthur stated this man denies and undermines the basic tenets of the Gospel. Any such endorsement lends credibility to this man, and renders the endorser culpable.

      If I have misunderstood your stance on this then please accept my apology in advance.

      Yours, MJ

      • T.C. R says:


        Have you read my review of Love Wins? This post is not about what I believe about hell. This post is about whether Rob Bell is a “wolf to avoid.”

  14. T.C. R says:


    First, in reference to MacArthur, I’ve been using “apparently” or something to that effect. Has that escaped you? Second, about “propagating gossip….,” do you really know what gossip means? Why I ask this? Well, this post and this blog have joined the Rob Bell conversation sometime back. HarperOne even sent me out a review copy of Bell’s Love Wins. I reviewed it here.

    Bell’s writings and sermons are public matters. I’ve read two of his books, but nothing to make me side with MacArthur. Hence, the “ifs…”

    Have you read his books? Have you listened to his sermons? Have you read Love Wins?


    No confusion intended. In fact, I originally had a sentence in the post to the effect that I wasn’t going to retract my endorsement of Love Wins. I removed it since I thought it wasn’t so much about that. Maybe I should have left it. At any rate, my endorsement still stands.

    • Peter Kirk says:

      No, I haven’t read the book. If you had reminded your readers that you were still endorsing the book that would have been better. Better still you would have made it clear that you did not believe anything had been demonstrated. But your post taken on its own sounds rather like you are accepting what MacArthur says without quite committing yourself. I agree “gossip” wasn’t the right word but “unfounded allegations” is.

      • T.C. R says:


        In fact, I edited out the fact that my endorsement of Love Wins still stands. Now I realize that I should have left it. 😉

  15. Penny says:

    I really have no problem with someone disagreeing with Rob Bell or his book. Seriously, when do you ever agree with everything anyone says? Look at how divided the Body of Christ is? We can hardly agree on anything!

    But to just make blanket, sweeping statements about someone is really frustrating. If you are going to call someone a wolf, you better be very very very careful and back it up in detail. So often when I see people bashing Bell, there is not one bit of citation or example. When I see things like McAuthor’s blog post, it just seems to me that he’d label any Christian who didn’t believe like he did a wolf and that is pretty darn scary. Is he willing to through C.S. Lewis or Billy Graham through the same hole as Rob Bell?

    Do I agree with everything in Love Wins? No. But when I read the book, I get the feeling that Bell is wrestling out loud the same questions I am, and for that , I love the book. The more I study and learn, the more I see that the Bible has a lot of blank space and wiggle room and that God’s power in that space. I will trust God with the things that I do not believe are crystal clear. my beef with systematic theology is that it dishonors God by trying to fill in all those blanks and paradoxes. God is in the paradoxes and we should not take that away.

  16. Inigo Montoya says:

    Hello. My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die.

  17. Brian MacArevey says:

    Or…John MacArthur could be a wolf? I’m sure that those defending him in this context will be outraged at such a suggestion; but hey, it seems to me that he has more in common with the false teachers then Rob Bell. Just saying…

    • Bobby Grow says:

      Or they both could be, which is what I was getting at above.

      • Brian MacArevey says:

        I didn’t see that Bobby, and what you say is a possibility, though I am not sure that I agree with what you think about Bell (at least not entirely). Without a doubt though, MacArthur’s teaching is extraordinarily damaging, in ways that Rob Bell’s teaching is not.

      • Bobby Grow says:


        Yeah, I don’t think we ultimately agree on Bell; he’s out to lunch IMO! But then we do agree on Mac., so we’re half way there 😉 .

  18. Bobby Grow says:

    Let’s not spit on Systematic Theology to fast. We wouldn’t have much of our “essential Christianity” w/o it today. There are different ways to do systematic theology, for one, there is the analytic vs. continental. And then different styles, like confessional vs. dogmatic etc. I think Rob Bell needs to do more homework on this, and that anyone who wants to swipe the import of S. Theology away too quickly needs to do a bit more homework on this too.


    Your post does seem contradictory (but that’s why I just relegated it to “provocateur”), given what you’ve said about Bell in your past posts and review. This post does make it sound like you’re open to repudiating everything you’ve said prior to this point. But what I don’t understand is how much more you need to know or hear or understand about Bell before you can make a decision. Who cares what we think! We each stand before the LORD on all of this, not a bunch of “electronic voices” with avatars attached to them (avatars are “Eastern” anyway 😉 ). It is a serious allegation to say someone is a “Wolf,” but if that person is questioning and repudiating centuries of church teaching and Tradition, and what the Bible says prima facie; and that same person has not taken any outside counsel (from those who disagree with him), and that same person hasn’t offered up an exegetical defense of his assertions that question the Tradition and history of interpretation — then it seems clear to me that that person has indicted themself, and indeed Bell himself pleads guilty in his promo video (when he says that what millions and millions of Christians have been taught for centuries is wrong). So the burden is on him. And I think something is being over-looked by some. I don’t think being a “Wolf” for Rob is considered a bad thing for him; since he seems to believe that those labeling him a “Wolf” are indeed “Wolves” themselves.

    • Penny says:

      I certainly don’t think we need to throw out systematic theology. However, I have serious issues when we don’t remember to see it as tool. I think we quickly we can start worshiping our theologies. I used to be a bit angry and confused that God didn’t write a book of systematic theology and wondered why we handed us this narrative instead. I now relish that fact that we were given this inspired story of God’s interaction with Man.

      Your whole 2nd paragraph could very easily be about Martin Luther instead of Rob Bell. Think about it.

  19. T.C. R says:

    |Do I agree with everything in Love Wins? No. But when I read the book, I get the feeling that Bell is wrestling out loud the same questions I am, and for that , I love the book. The more I study and learn, the more I see that the Bible has a lot of blank space and wiggle room and that God’s power in that space. I will trust God with the things that I do not believe are crystal clear. my beef with systematic theology is that it dishonors God by trying to fill in all those blanks and paradoxes. God is in the paradoxes and we should not take that away.|


    Great paragraph!


    Good one. 🙂

    Brian M,

    How so?


    Not at all! I take Love Wins on its on terms. That’s why!

  20. Brian MacArevey says:


    I just think that the wolves in the NT are usually characterized as divisive, power hungry, judgmental, and self-righteous; they are those who demanded that Gentiles submit to Jewish tradition in order to be “saved”. With very slight modification (that MacArthur demands that everyone must submit to his own Reformed Protestant tradition in order to be “saved”) MacArthur fits the bill.

  21. This thread is running amok somewhat, I am always amazed how poorly people read and handle the Word of God, in theological issues. John MacArthur a “false teacher”? Please! We should also note how no one has said a word about Kenny’s application to 2 Peter 2! Indeed, the Holy Scripture always seems to get a back seat in these kinds of things. We all have feet of clay, but not so with God’s Word! Get in the Word of God people! And that also means perhaps a bit less of reading theology, and theological speculation! 🙂

    • Jon Hughes says:

      Fr. Robert,

      My own difficulty with MacArthur is his Lordship teaching, which can lead believers into unnecessary introspection as to whether they have sufficiently submitted to Jesus as Lord, and thereby demonstrated that they are truly among the elect! This is unhealthy, and actually gets people to take their eyes off Jesus and focus on their works. We’re all carnal. The closer we get to the Lord, the more we realize that. The outworking of MacArthur’s teaching is IMO borderline legalism. That said, the vast majority of his books have been a tremendous blessing – and he’s a great contender for the faith!

      Rob Bell, meanwhile, is a total waste of time for this conservative evangelical.

    • kenny chmiel says:

      Thanks Irishanglican fr. Robert, I too was wondering why no one commented on this scripture.

  22. Bobby Grow says:

    @Fr Rob,

    MacArthur teaches a hybrid form of precisianist Puritanism; in my book, that is no good, and not sound biblical teaching! I’ve written loads on that already, and won’t rehash that here.

    @TCR & Penny,

    You guys are making a sweeping generalization contra systematic theology, which is just not the case. The kind that fills in gaps is associated with what’s called “negative theology;” then, methodologically there is a kind that is “positive theology,” that seeks to follow “Revealed truth” and theologize from there. Like I said, more homework. And TCR, I also take what Bell says on his own terms; he believes in a post-mortem salvation, that’s clear, and that’s false according to Scripture . . . you’re just trying to be too diplomatic.


    On your definition, both Mac and Bell can be found guilty; I see it more as a personality difference.

    • Brian MacArevey says:

      How so?

      • Bobby Grow says:

        I mean, Bell’s approach is different than Mac’s. Bell is a hipster type, Mac is an old guy who is trad type. But that doesn’t mean they aren’t also similar relative to “power-play” per their personal empires (e.g. both have mega churches, both are “popular” authors and sell dozens of books and other stuff through e-media etc.). I’m just saying that “power” stuff can manifest in different forms. And that I don’t take Bell’s mode of engagement to necessarily mean that he’s not engaging the same kind of maneuvers as Mac (it just looks different, and I think part of that is personality and then generational etc.).

        But ultimately, God knows each of these guy’s hearts; yet at the same time we can critique what they are communicating per the standard of scripture sola scriptura 🙂 !

    • Bobby,

      I am not really defending Mac, but again, I am perhaps the only one that has met him and chatted with him on this blog? But again, Mac is simply not the issue, nor some contrast and antithesis with Bell. But if we must, even with Mac’s brand of Puritanism, he simply stands closer to the historic Gospel! But Bell’s book and theology are the real issue here. And it just simply comes way up short at best! I am again quite amazed how dumb-downed so many so-called Christians seem to be on this subject? Again, we need to return to the Biblical Text’s (2 Pet. 2, etc.), like our brother Kenny has suggested.

      Finally, for my part, the Holy Scripture and the Church is simply under great attack and spiritual assault! As an old book from the 70’s by an American said: The Battle is over the Bible! (The Battle For The Bible, by Harold Lindsell)

      • Bobby Grow says:

        Fr Rob,

        1) If you haven’t noticed, I’ve been referring to Scripture as much as anyone here. I’ve read that book by Lindsell (I liked it at the time). I don’t think the issue is really over the Bible, but the “theory of revelation” behind the Bible that people bring to the Bible.

        2) I’ve read Mac enough, and interacted, first hand with his editor (Phil Johnson) to know exactly what he teaches and believes (I’ve also attended his church a few times, and been surrounded by his students from his seminary, remember I grew up in So Cal). But it’s off topic to get into Macs problems. I do see a “cultural” distinction between Mac and Bell; but theologically, I see real problems with both of them that cannot be equivocated upon.

      • Bobby,

        I can appreciate what you are saying by personal experience. I too have mine. But again, the real issue here is not Mac, nor his “Puritanism”. Yes he is rather legal, and his Lordship is overdone. But his biblical theology is basically sound. And he just does not have any real contrast with Bell, save he, Mac is old school Baptist and Puritan. If you have ever read any of Spurgeon’s Baptist “downgrade” stuff, he is right there with Mac. And note their different time span, so the issue is biblical and theological.

        And indeed Lindsell’s point was the “authority” of Holy Scripture, and not the debate over inspiration and revelation, i.e. the how?

        Let’s not all make this tedious and wearisome, but back to Bell and his mess! And again, Mac is just not a real contrast with Bell, not for me at least. For Mac has his real Christian “orthodoxy”. And its really not about the personal Mac! 🙂 Let’s move on here!

      • Bobby Grow says:

        Fr Rob,

        Yes, but “authority” and how that is understood is tied into a “theory of revelation;” so I don’t see those as distinct as you apparently do. But again, that’s a different thread, as you note.

        I have major problems with Mac, and those who have been a theme of my blogging for years; so I thoroughly disagree with you on him. I’ve read Spurgeon my whole life. I know that Mac & co. like to try and coopt Spurgeon for themselves, and in some way they do mimic him quite well; but Spurgeon is more public than Mac would have him to be. I don’t think Macs biblical theology is sound, and that’s why “I” brought the parallel up; it wouldn’t make sense for you to do that, since you think he’s sound (it’s the same issue we’ve had in the past, but with Piper and Bell as parallel vs. Mac and Bell here 😉 ). I’m a conservative who appropriates Torrance more than Barth on the way that I think and do theology; and that’s the rift between you and I here (and its substantial). I do think that Mac is coherent in his beliefs, and Bell is incoherent; so that’s probably where we would agree on a distinction between them (but my point on the parallel between them has been on the theological conclusions that the disparate parties engender; and that’s where I see them both problematic, and thus I can agree with Mac on Bell [qualified], and then turn right around and disagree just as vehemently with Mac on his theology).

      • Bobby,

        That’s a fair assessment! 🙂 But were (you and I) are seeking biblical and historical theology here. But not Bell, he’s an “emergent”, and one without the Gospel to my mind. Mac, he’s got the Gospel, but pushes it in legal directions.

        My last word on this! 🙂

      • Jon Hughes says:

        Fr. Robert,

        I agree with your assessment.

        Bobby often goes over my head 😉

      • Jon,

        Thanks! 🙂 Bobby is a friend & brother, but we each have our own path and conscience over the Word of God. As I have noted of late again, Calvin was a biblical humanist! May we all be bound heart & mind/conscience to the Word of God!

      • Bobby Grow says:

        Fr Rob,

        Well emergent and incoherent often go hand in hand. I see emergent as pseudo-modernity not post anything, at least amongst her popular proponents (like Bell McClaren et al).


        Sorry 🙂 . If you ever want me to clarify anything, I’ll try; let me know. If what I think matters enough to you, anyway (I wouldn’t blame you if it didn’t) 😉 .

      • Jon Hughes says:

        Cheers, Bobby 🙂

    • Penny says:

      Bobby, I’ll take the advice for more homework any day! No issues there. 🙂

      But anytime we see systematic theology, it is taking the Bible, and processing it out into something else. I don’t think it is bad, but I know every version of systematic theology can’t be right, at least not about everything. Thus why I look at it is a helpful tool, but something I hold to loosely.

      • Bobby Grow says:


        No problems there, I just think systematic theology has gotten a bad wrap; and I like to stand up for it every now and again 🙂 . Only my version of systematic theology is right, so just follow me and you’ll do just fine 😉 .

  23. Pingback: Elsewhere (04.13.11) | Near Emmaus

  24. T.C. R says:


    As I said, when reading Love Wins, it will simply help a person put to the test their own beliefs.

  25. fdr says:

    wonder how Rob would interpret 2 Thess. 1:3-10

  26. Brian MacArevey says:


    I hear what you are saying. This is a very real possibility. One difference that I see on the face of things is that Bell does not seem willing to exclude MacArthur from fellowship, or question the sincerity of His Christian profession, as MacArthur does to him. Mac won’t even allow Bell a seat at the table, but it seems as if Bell would be open to that, if it were possible. I could be totally wrong, I don’t know Bell’s heart, and surely there are power issues involved on both sides (but when isn’t there?); all I know is that Bell’s position does not necessarily exclude MacArthur from “salvation” barring a repentance from Federal Calvinism and an embrace of Hipster Christianity.

    • Bobby Grow says:


      I’m not sure Bell would exclude anyone from his table, which is the problem. Do you not think Mac would sit down with Bell, if Bell was willing to actually sit down with Mac and talk meaningfully? It seems to me that both sides have already polarized themselves from each other.

      You know I lean much more conservative, just not with Mac or Piper.

      • Brian MacArevey says:

        It depends what you mean by “exclude”. If you are using it in a MacArthuresque sense, then you are probably right; but I don’t think that Bell believes that everyone will with certainty, be saved in the end (though he hopes for this), so if by “exclude” you mean that Bell is a universalist, I disagree.

        I do think that Bell would sit down with Mac, but he would never listen, and he would never consider him to be a brother in Christ unless Bell recanted from everything that he had ever said, and became a reformed protestant (more or less). I do not think that meaningful conversation is possible when one of the participants looks down with condescension on the other person, with no intention of considering what they have to say at all. It might be meaningful in MacArthur’s eyes, but Bell wouldn’t see ti that way, because MacArthur would have been much more interested in getting his point across, than actually considering what Bell says.

        You are correct that this issue has been polarized on both sides. I do not support everything that Bell does, but I think that until the MacArthur’s of the world stop pronouncing judgment upon people, and questioning their faith, because do not subscribe to their relatively small tradition, then we won’t get anywhere.

      • Just a point Brian, but John Calvin not giving the communion table with the so-called, Libertarians. Yes it was the 16th century, but Calvin was standing for the purity of the Gospel, and those that confess the same. The principle is the same here really, at least for Mac.

      • Brian MacArevey says:

        I meant to say, I think that Mac would sit down with Bell, but Mac would never listen…

        Just wanted to correct that.

  27. T.C. R says:

    |Well, maybe and maybe not; in those passages, that is a matter of debate though. But the the Gospels and Acts paint a picture that is similar to my statement above (in my opinion). Actually though, I think that Jude and 2 Peter have much more in common with my statement above than is often recognized (though probably with some more emphasis on sexual sin).|


    You can’t squeeze everything into this mold you have created. It simply will not work. Have you taken into account the diversity within the NT? For example, do you think your mold accounts for the so-called Colossian Heresy?

    • Brian MacArevey says:


      I am giving a very brief statement; not systematically explaining every detail w/ regard to false teachers. I am not trying to squeeze everything into “this mold”, but I do think that these things do not get enough consideration when it comes to the real issues that were involved in the first century church. There is diversity, but we also must see similarities, because these writings were all composed in a fairly short time period, unlike the OT.

      Really though, you asked me about MacArthur, so I pointed you to the Gospels and Acts because the emphasis there is much different than places like 2 Peter and Jude; and I think my brief sentence sums up, in a very basic way, the kind of teaching that Jesus and His earliest disciples were most concerned about. So I do believe that there is diversity in the NT, and that is why I can give the brief definition that I did, and say that this picture looks kind of like MacArthur.

      • T.C. R says:


        Thanks. But I’m not interested in whether MacArthur is a false teacher or not. I want to no on what basis does the NT exonerate a Rob Bell.

      • Brian MacArevey says:

        Okay that’s fine; its your blog. 🙂 I’m just not sure that the NT ever calls people a false teacher for believing what Bell does; that’s a stretch to say the least. And, I think that it is slanderous to make such false accusations. If MacArthur is wrong (and I think that he is) he should repent of his careless and arrogant comments. I’ll leave it at that.

      • TC,

        Exonerate Bell? So that’s your mission? I thought you were seeking the meaning of the Word of God, itself. To add Bell in the equation, is secondary. And to fully “endorse” Bell, is simply problematic to say the least. For where does that put you if Bell is proved wrong? Some serious questions to my mind! 🙂

  28. Brian MacArevey says:

    Fr. Robert,

    I appreciate your concern for the purity of the gospel, it comes through in each and every one of your comments. I also understand what you are saying about Calvin, and thus MacArthur, and that this has been the practice of many within the history of the church; especially in the Reformed tradition. My problem is that I don’t believe that those who have acted this way have been acting in accordance with the gospel. This is a great evil in the tradition of the church, as far as I am concerned; not something to praise. So I understand what people like MacArthur think that they are doing, I just don’t think that it is admirable, or Christlike. Their approach to authority is much more similar to that of the world, than that of the bottom-up structure of the kingdom of God. While I think that it is necessary to contend for the faith, I think that this means that we must fight to keep believing in God through Christ no matter how much the world tells us otherwise, not adopt a worldly strategy of exclusion, division, and self exaltation, in the name of faith (for this is not faith, but unbelief).

    • Well Brian,

      Always conscience in/over God’s revelation, as Luther implied. The English Quakers were here also. This was also part of that essence of even Calvin’s humanistic biblicism. Hopefully we Christians are bound by God’s Word in the depth of our spirits! “The Lord Jesus Christ be with thy Spirit. Grace be with you , Amen.” (2 Tim. 4:22) 🙂

  29. Brian MacArevey says:

    You too Fr. Robert. 🙂 I sincerely do appreciate the input that you bring to so many of these conversations.

  30. T.C. R says:

    |Okay that’s fine; its your blog. I’m just not sure that the NT ever calls people a false teacher for believing what Bell does; that’s a stretch to say the least. And, I think that it is slanderous to make such false accusations. If MacArthur is wrong (and I think that he is) he should repent of his careless and arrogant comments. I’ll leave it at that.|


    Thanks for the follow-up. That’s what I’m getting at. As I said, this requires some familiarity and confirmation of what Bell really teaches about Christ and the Gospel. I’m prepared to do that.

    Regarding MacArthur, I believe he sees himself as a guardian of the truths of the Christian faith, hence his sermons and books. I know this to be the case from his writings and sermons.

    • Brian,

      I must admit that MacArthur is harsh and caustic at times, and years back was somewhat in his ivory tower. And btw, at one time Mac denied the Eternal Sonship of Christ also. But has changed his view there being around the Reformed doctrine & theology. But I agree with TC, he sees himself as a serious pastor-teacher, and engages hard there!

    • Brian MacArevey says:

      I agree that MacArthur sees himself this way, I just disagree with his approach and his conclusions; but that’s another topic. 😉

      So, do you think that Bell is a wolf, or that MacArthur is wrong? Do you think that Bell teaches something that is anti-Christ? Or do you think that MacArthur’s interpretation of either Bell, or scripture, or both, is flawed? I’m just wondering where you are at, at this point…

      Fr. Robert,

      I knew this about MacArthur, and have listened to many sermons where he actually preached that. He definitely sees himself as a serious pastor teacher, but the question in my mind is, is his behavior really very characteristic of a cruciform servant of Christ?

      • T.C. R says:


        As I said in my post, if “Historic Evangelicalism is what true Christianity looks like, which is the basis of MacArthurs pronouncement, and Rob Bell has departed from it, then on this basis, yes. That’s the logical outcome. But of course, we must agree on the tenets of the Gospel and the Christian faith and so on.

        But as it stands, I do not stand with MacArthur’s interpretation of Rob Bell. Hope this is clear.

      • Brian,

        The reality of the Christian life exceeds the modern notion of humility, and being a cruciform servant of Christ also is measured by God. We can note too the very strong personality of St. Paul. So when we look at MacArthur we must keep things like this in mind. My thoughts at least. And note, I am an old Royal Marine, so I can get pretty earthy myself! 🙂

      • Brian MacArevey says:

        Thanks for the clarification TC, it helps alot.

  31. kenny chmiel says:

    What we have here, is NO STANDARD established for saying a teacher is false or not. What we have here is the common digression into I read this person and I like what they have to say vs. you read that person and you like what they have to say and around and around-it’s weird. Remember Paul’s words to the Corinthians –

    “Now I exhort you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all agree and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be made complete in the same mind and in the same judgment.
    11For I have been informed concerning you, my brethren, by Chloe’s people, that there are quarrels among you.
    12Now I mean this, that each one of you is saying, “I am of Paul,” and “I of Apollos,” and “I of Cephas,” and “I of Christ.”
    13Has Christ been divided?”

    This is still a real problem today.

    Now, Is bell the false teacher as J.M. calls him? What’s the standard? It should be an easy question to answer especially if it is so dangerous for the Church to entertain them. I mean hasn’t God made it easy to spot those who would destroy the bride with false ideas about the groom?

    This seems all J.M. is saying and I would agree with this, I think it is a bit strange to turn this around on the J.M. because of an appeal to Barth or whatever other Theologian you favor at this moment in your life, especially when J.M. is using BIBLICAL critique on Bells BIBLICAL interpretation of key texts which seem to be very important to a very important BIBLICAL topic. J.M. raised up a BIBLICAL standard to measure Bell’s ideas by, and since J.M. is in the vein of the historic orthodox interpretation of hell, while Bell isn’t, I would say J.M. is in the right here. So is Bell a wolf? Maybe more exegesis needs to be done on this and less on referencing dead Swiss theologians and the nuances of their theological systems.

    • Bobby Grow says:


      I presume you’re yelling at me, but re-read what I’ve been saying all the way through! The only time I mentioned Barth and Torrance was to clarify why I see JM different than does Fr Robert (who is more aligned with other ideas and persons relative to the history of interpretation). My whole thing has been to agree, that according to scripture Bell is wrong on Hell and salvation; I’ve referenced that repeatedly!!! I even agree that Mac, in this instance has gotten it right on Bell. I just noted that its ironic, for me to agree with Mac (qualified); since I so disagree with him on issues revolving around salvation too. But my standard is and always will be Scripture (not Wright, Barth, Torrance, Calvin, metaphors or whatever), and nothing but Scripture! I hope you’re comment was more of a general comment, but since you brought up Barth/Torrance I’m assuming not. You just need to reread all of my comments, though; since if you did, you wouldn’t have made this comment — and if you still would have made this comment, even after reading all of my comments on this thread; then you’re just being presumptuous!

    • Bobby Grow says:

      One more thing. It’s pure non-sense to believe that Mac, Bell, Wright or anyone interprets the Bible w/o presuppositions, or through naked un-informed lenses; not recognizing this is what actually leads to a proof-texting yelling match.

    • Bobby Grow says:

      And one more thing. Mac is relevant to this post, because it’s his words that TC quotes. It’s actually not off topic to talk about Mac. Like I said, I thoroughly disagree with Mac, but ironically I can appreciate his sentiment in re. to Bell (which again was the only reason I mentioned TFT/Barth, because it IS the distinciton, culturally that inheres between Fr Rob and myself . . . that’s not irrelevant to the inner-context of “our” discussion).

      • T.C. R says:

        In a sense the legitimacy of John MacArthur as a critic must be examined?

      • Bobby Grow says:


        I agree with you, which is why I thought this was on the table.

        I think when I disagree with you and Kenny from now on, I’ll just say you guys think what you think because you love Wright 😉 .

  32. Pingback: Is there No Standard? | New Leaven

  33. T.C. R says:


    Not Wright on everything. In fact, in few days I show you what I mean. 😉

  34. MJ says:

    Rob Bell preaches another Gospel!!! Its a message that is more palatable to the modern masses, but deviates from the saving power of the true Gospel. Wake up, please! I beg you. False teachers don’t speak outright lies all the time. They have to speak some truth (or some resembleness to it) to disguise the gross error in order to make the deception easy to swallow. Rob Bell and those of his ilk a very skilled at this. Watch out for the humanistic and intellectual arguments which raise themselves above the simple and plain teaching of Scripture and the essential truths of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Again I say please wake up!


  35. kenny chmiel says:

    No Bobby, it wasn’t a slam on you in this Post, but more to the general referencing of Theologians and especially Barth all over the theo-blog world and usually on essentially Biblical exegetical questions. A recent Biblical scholar has said that Barth’s exegetical work isn’t current and Biblical scholars have not taken much from his work. It was my point that Theologians aren’t the standard, but the text is on such questions.

    Theologians are important to the church, but the referencing of one against another, which happens a bit too much in the Theo-blog world, talk about protestant scholasticism! This state in the theo-blog world obviously raises the question of what is the central standard.

    Bobby, I completely agree that presuppositions govern all thought, but does this mean everyone’s thought on theology gets to ultimately be warranted by their presuppositions. What if the presupposition is foreign to the world of the biblical writer, but used to build a whole Theology – one can’t say that’s OK.

    Obviously I have a H.L.G. mixed with the social/scientific. Yes I know this method is born in the Modern period (?) and yes I know there are other starting points. But I’ll take these starting points in order to REACH THE WORLD (re-constructed and with gaps) that gave us the TEXT (reconstructed and with gaps) over theologians who don’t care about the history of where and why these texts where born.

    Sorry Bobby if you thought I was attacking you, I seriously wasn’t.

    • Bobby Grow says:


      Sorry for being hyper-sensitive about that; usually when someone mentions Barth/Torrance in a negative light on a thread where I’m commenting, it’s usually directed towards me, since usually I’m the only one who leans that way sometimes. But, I set myself up for that, so I ask for it really (even if you weren’t directing it at me). I totally agree with you on Barth and exegesis, I’m really not a Barth follower ultimately (I only get some of his stuff indirectly through Torrance, and then even with TFT, what I most appreciate about him is how he talks about Trinitarian theology and his work on Christology — but I’m not “all-in” with even TFT, I still struggle with his covenantalism and other issues, like his bibliology [I like John Webster’s stuff on that]).

      Anyway, sorry for my over-reaction, Kenny! And this IS the problem with systematic theology; it can tend to function like a magesterium, tail wagging the dog kind of scenario. One thing that neither Barth/TFT offer is a robust “biblical” hermeneutics; instead its a dogmatic/theological hermeneutics that is offered (a function of their view of “revelation”), and this is another point of tension for me with that whole school. I am more sensitive to biblical studies than I think it often probably appears (usually I’m reading systematic theology, and so that emphasis comes through, because its fresh to mind, in my blogging); remember my Masters thesis was an exegetical one (squarely grounded in the LGH), and I’m still trying to figure out a good way to work all of this out (e.g. I think theological exegesis has its place, but not to the extent that the Text gets flattened out . . . so there has to be a balance — when I read the TEXT I still function through an Literary GH lens). Anyway, just trying to be transparent on where I’m at. I just don’t like having to work through all the higher-critical crap just to do biblical studies; which is usually why I end up reading more dogmatic theology and less bib studies stuff (maybe that’ll start to change for me, we’ll see).

      peace my brother!

      • kenny chmiel says:

        Yeah B. No problem, it’s funny, we are pretty much very similar. We both went to ccbc, mbc, and mbs and we both seem to have the same struggles with that Systematic and Biblical Studies tension. I think we brought this from these institutions which were pretty eclectic in method. Plus, I think we both like to argue a bit, which can cause us to take up one perspective over the other in debate, even though we have a deep commitment to both.

        That said, I do like what you bring to the blogging theological conversation and think you have done your homework and I have learned much from your Historical theology blogs – so, I guess what I’m saying is that I respect and like you and would never diss you over a reference to Barth or Torrance if they have something to add to the conversation. I just think sometimes they don’t and in the theo-blog world it seems more and more people are in Love with Barth more than scripture. That was the context for me mentioning Barth. Until the next battle. K

      • Bobby Grow says:


        I do think we are similar; both full of paradoxes 😉 . Which is why you should come over to Barth, the paradoxical theologian 🙂 kidding.

        Till we meet again . . .

  36. This is for Kenny and Bobby, one thing that an older brother (RIP) from the academy told me, try not to share your theological learning and tools “themselves” so much with your “charge”, but seek to bring Christ through them. I have never forgotten that! 🙂 I am not chastising here, just sharing an old memory and lesson!

  37. Simon says:

    If denial of hell is a heresy worthy of de facto excommunication, then what of the whole Eastern Orthodox tradition? They do not share the Western (Catholic and Protestant) view of heaven and hell. Are they not Christian either? And what makes the Roman Catholic view of hell more accurate than the Orthodox view? Especially considering that the Orthodox church predates the Roman Catholic church. In fact, the Orthodox view of hell (that it is not a literal place, but rather a spiritual state of being) is attested to by the vast majority of church fathers for centuries, as Doug Paggit points out.

    Shouldn’t we let scripture decide? And if this isn’t as clear as we thought, shouldn’t we allow for diversity of belief? I just don’t think the dogma of those like MacArthur is helpful.

    • Simon says:

      Also, the thing that really makes me lean towards the Eastern Orthodox view of hell is, not only scripture, but the behavior of those who push the eternal hell fire line. They do not appeal to God’s love, but they appeal to fear and hate mongering. The so called “hell houses” that several evangelical churches run for children is the most despicable example of this. These hell houses are border line abuse of children. For me it was so liberating to find that there was an ancient tradition within orthodox Christianity (literally the Eastern Orthodox church) that rejects the whole idea as hell being a literal eternal torture chamber as the Catholic/Protestant churches have taught. So for the fundamentalists, my question still stands: Why is the Roman Catholic view of hell any more correct than the Eastern Orthodox view? My guess is that many of the Reformers understood what the Catholics understood. That the concept of an eternal torture chamber was a very powerful tool by which to control people. This view of hell is never found in the OT, never predominate in the early church and is completely rejected by the Eastern Orthodox church.

  38. Simon says:

    And it seems that NT Wright is also leaning towards the Eastern Orthodox position.

    • N.T. Wright really should go over to the EO, but he will have to change his position on women! 😉 And that I bet he will never do! But, one never knows?

      • Simon says:

        Yes NT Wright does take a lot of inspiration from Orthodoxy. I think it’s his quest to question traditional understandings and interpretations of scripture. I really admire him for that. Obviously he doesn’t agree with everything in the EOC, but it seems the Church of England allows him the necessary freedom to express his views, albeit withing certain limitations. Having said that, Wright holds to traditional positions on all critical doctrines. So he really is not that “out there” after all.

      • He is this generation of the Neo-Orthodox! 😉

  39. Simon says:

    And then you’ve got JI Packer talking about hell in very vague terms. Never does he describe hell as it is traditionally described – eternal burning, demons tormenting you for ever and ever etc. Of course he subscribes to this view of hell. But he doesn’t just come out say this, presumbly because to any intelligent person, this concept of hell is completely abhorent. Also it is wrapped up in the Western idea that hell is “somewhere” that we must escape from. This is not good news… but anyway, i’ve always thought the Western view of hell to be in contradiction to God’s character, and it’s so refreshing that the Orthodox church thinks so too.;_ylc=X3oDMTBucDFsa3RvBF9TAzM5ODMwNzAxMgRhYwNkZWxNc2dz&&filterBy=&fid=%2540B%2540Bulk&.rand=933018329&nsc&hash=75284a99e1c1a533d4bf00596975fc79&.jsrand=2275041

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