Monday, June 13, 2011

Rob Bell, Total Depravity, and Post-Mortem Repentance

Rob Bell’s view on eternal punishment and the nature of hell is not a new view. In fact, a fringe element in the early church posited such a view long before Bell came along. Rob Bell fails to tell his readers some very important facts about church history on the subject. Many of these readers have never and will never pick up a book on church history or read anything about historical theology. The truth is that the view Bell apparently espouses in his book was condemned in the strongest of language at the church council in Alexandria, Egypt in 400 and then again in at the synod of Constantinople in 543 [Allison, Gregg. Historical Theology, 705]. Now Rob Bell knows his audience as well as anyone. It would only seem fair that he should provide both sides of the story when going back into church history and parading out men who seemingly agreed with his view, or at a minimum was sympathetic with the idea of at least, raising the question. However, for some reason, Rob Bell does not think his audience is entitled to hear both perspectives from church history so that they can make up their own mind. In fact, if you read Rob’s book and pay attention to his style of writing, he is not raising a question at all. He is arguing for or against a position. For what it’s worth, I am nearing the end of my invectives about Bell’s views. There are two or three more points I think I need to make and it will be on to another subject.

Total Depravity

So how does the biblical doctrine of total depravity destroy Rob Bell’s position that men will eventually repent of their sin, if not in this life, then in the next. First, men will never repent of their sin unless God first opens their hearts and minds to do so. II Cor. 4:4 says, “in whose case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelieving.” Moreover, Jesus said that the unregenerate are not even able to hear His word. (John 8:43) Jesus said that people who are not of God do not hear God’s word. (John 8:47) This is a real problem. Can a person go from ungodly to godly without divine intervention? Jesus said the only way this can happen is for a person to be born of God. (John 1:13) An unregenerate person rejects the things of God. (I Cor. 2:14) Second, repentance itself is actually a gift from God. (II Tim. 2:25) An unregenerate person does not just decide that Jesus is the best choice of all the religions in the world and become a Christian. Christians are born from God, not man. Hence, the nature of man is hostile to God. (Rom. 8:6-8; I Cor. 2:14) Men are evil. The world hates God. (John 15:18) Unregenerate do not decide to follow God. (Romans 3:10-18) The condition of fallen man is utterly hopeless outside of Christ. The Christian religion is not like Islam, Buddhism, or any other religion. People do not simply decide to subscribe to Christianity. They do not simply decide, on their own, to follow Christ. God chooses us to follow Christ. (John 6:70; 15:16, 19) God gives us a new nature. Without this new nature, we would NEVER come to repentance and faith!

By total depravity, I do not mean that man is as utterly wicked as he can be. The great theologian, Robert Dabney says it this way: “We mean, first, that as to the chief responsibility of the soul, to love God, every soul is totally recreant. No natural man has any true love for God as a spiritual, holy true, good, and righteous Sovereign.” [Dabney, R.L. Systematic Theology, 323] Man is not the standard by which true love can be measured. Moreover, the hyper-emotional condition of western culture is by no means a good measure by which we can measure genuine religious affections. That measure is Scripture alone. Yet we live in a culture that is convinced that love is a feeling. Worse, we have Christians who think that if they become warm, emotional, and tear-up during Amazing Grace, this suffices as proof that they really love God. These ideas promote false security and self-deception on a wide scale in the visible church today. Pastors and teachers would do well to remind believers what is meant by love and affection for God according to Scriptural proofs. Men’s souls are, after all, in grave danger.

Post-Mortem Repentance

It seems somewhat unambiguous that Rob Bell believes that hell is a state of loving below God’s intentions to some degree. Since we all do this I am not sure where Bell draws the line between an imperfect believer battling sin and an actual unbeliever living a life defined by rebellion against God. It is hard to say. Bell does not address this. It is also difficult to say what the state of the unbeliever is on the other side of the grave. Bell seems to recoil at any thought of real fire and torment at all, even though he doesn’t quite say so as directly I would like to see him say it. However, he says enough to make such a conclusion altogether reasonable. The problem that total depravity presents Bell is that it takes the selection of Christian followers out of the hands of man and places it in the rightful hands of a Sovereign God. If it is true that God is the one who selects men to salvation, and it is true that God must change man’s nature in order for man to repent, then it begs the question; “why would God wait until someone dies to change their nature if He could change it now?” That makes no sense whatsoever. Given the condition of fallen man, God could wait an eternity for him to repent of his self worship and it would not be enough time. Man needs a miracle.

Another Silly Observation worth Noting

Rob Bell says that God will get what God wants. Moreover, God does not want to be separate from any men for eternity. Therefore, God will eventually reconcile all things to Himself. After all, He is God. Hence, the entire premise is that the reason Love Wins is because God gets what God wants. That is the God of love! That is the God of Scripture. Follow me very close here. Pay particular attention to what I am about to say. If God gets what God wants, then that means God wants men to sin against him NOW. God wants abortions now. God wants rape, murder and oppression now. Bell would answer that men have free will. However, he also believes that freedom will never be lost. Therefore, if that is true, then man may always fall back into sin after enough time. Satan did! I would contend that if Bell is right, then God must be getting exactly what he wants now. Why wait to the end? Why is it that God must wait to get what He wants? Bell does not answer. Why does God get what he wants then and not now? Does not God want us to love one another now? Yes He does. Does God want us to love Christ now? Yes He does. However, we hate him instead. If it is okay for God not to get what God wants right now, today. Why does the argument hold up that God will get exactly that in the end? God gets what God has sovereignly decreed. That decree serves to glorify God and benefit those whom God has chosen from out of a world of wicked sin. The argument that God simply gets what He wants does not hold up given Bell’s logic. This argument just does not ring true with Scripture nor does it comport with simple and plain reason.

Thank God for the love of Christ demonstrated at Calvary. While we were still enemies God directed His love toward us and while we were still sinners he saved us. Only the precious blood of Christ could provide for our redemption.


  1. To consider Rob Bell and his view as a fringe element and your particular theology as more in line with the Bible is to selectively downplay the pervasive interpretive pluralism that has been "plaguing" the Christian faith since around the 1st and 2nd century.

    If the Creator we worship knew, in His omniscience, that many of us would fail to do so and would live in UNENDING ETERNITY in CONSCIOUS SUFFERING from the SEPARATION OF GOD, why should ANYONE worship such a devil?

    I am not G-d, I understand. Who am I to question G-d creating us? It's already happened.

    But, logically speaking, from the human point of view, why? If He was eternally sovereign within the Trinity, sharing love within Himself, why lovingly create us only to have us make the decision to jump off the deep end forever? That god can keep his love to himself.

    It makes no sense. That is why the fundamentalist biblicism espoused by many evangelicals needs to be challenged in order to open people up to church history and to make their own decisions instead of thinking that just because you follow the Bible you have somehow transcended any more difficulties.

  2. If pluralism were as big a problem in hermeneutics as early as you say, then explain to me how orthodoxy ever began to exist? The fact that there is such a thing as “historic Christian orthodoxy” indicates that interpretive pluralism, though a problem from the start, was nowhere near as encompassing as your comments imply.
    As for your characterization of God as a devil, what is the basis of your moral judgment? How is it that your morality stand in judgment over the divine morality revealed in Scripture? I understand that you really want God to be the product of your own creation, but wanting it won’t make it so.
    Indeed your blasphemy is a brazen as any I have encountered. It is fitting that a man such as yourself would defend a man like Rob Bell. You prove my point better than I ever could have. Your appeal to logic is quite fallacious. It does not follow that just because you don’t like God and you don’t understand why He created in the first place, that somehow Christianity is not logically. Lack of understanding nor lack of attractiveness does not make a position illogical.
    It makes sense to be as far it goes. I welcome any challenge that you desire to bring. I am open to any question that you wish to ask. I promise you two things: 1) I will answer charitably and respectfully; 2) I will provide you with more answers that you will provide me.

  3. I'll have to do more research on the matter. I don't know much about church history, admittedly. So, unfortunately I'm left to the devices of what I do know... which isn't much.

    I don't have challenges for you. I don't have a ThD. I'm just asking questions like any free thinking individual has the right to do. And mostly they revolve around what I already asked: If God was eternally sovereign within the Trinity, sharing love within Himself, why lovingly create us knowing that some of us would choose eternal conscious suffering.

    And I'm trying to keep this civil. So ease up and just help to inform me, this brazen blasphemer that is I.

  4. You said, "That kind of god can keep his love to himself." That is a judgment about the kind of god that exists, not a question. That is a blasphemous remark. I say it so that you may avoid it in the future.


  5. You are right, I originally made a statement about what I thought about that kind of god. And it was an emotionally charged one at that. But then I rephrased it as a question.

    In my limited, corrupt, sinful nature, I do not hold to the doctrine that the one true God would allow for an eternal place of conscious torment to exist, even for the most heinous of rebels. So, in light that I do not believe in that, I do not think to be making a judgement about that kind of god that exists. I believe that to be a God of a particular brand of Christians.

    What I am trying to do is to understand the viewpoint of Christians, such as yourself, so that I can make a decision based on the best evidence, as well as through self-denial and prayer and assistance from God.

    I am not trying to be brazen, I'm just trying to understand. I've lived blasphemy quite well in the past but I am trying to cease that and understand the nature of God... and seeing as how it looks like your original response was cut short, I am trying to ask as many people as possible so that I don't come to the conclusion I want.

    At the same time I cannot merely submit to doctrinal authority from fundamentalist biblicists. I would like to use the mind and heart that God gave me.

    So please, elaborate. Enough of what I said and the blasphemy that ensues... can you please just do the best to answer the question? What biblical evidence is there to support that "If God is eternally sovereign within the Trinity, sharing love within Himself, why lovingly create us knowing that some of us would choose eternal conscious suffering?"

  6. Fair enough. But lets take this to personal email. It would be much easier for me to provide better responses if I had more space.

  7. There are a plethora of questions bound up in the question(s) you pose. That is why email would be far better than blog responses.


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