Love Wins – Universalism’s New Champion

(June/July 2011 – Volume 17, Issue 3)

There was so much hype surrounding the publication of Rob Bells new book Love Wins that even before it was released emotional critiques were flooding the Internet and the bloggers were in full swing. When John Piper, who had not yet read the book, tweeted three little words, “Farewell Rob Bell,” the blogosphere exploded and the war was on. Bell, who claims credentials within the evangelical camp, was purported to be teaching universalism. When the book was finally on the market it immediately rose to the top of everybody’s bestsellers list. Bell was featured on the cover of Time magazine, interviewed on both secular and Christian television and radio programs and perhaps became the “rock star” that Time claimed he was some years ago.

When I reluctantly determined I needed to read what everybody was talking about I was speaking at a conference in Texas. I, with a couple of other speakers, went to the largest Christian bookstore in the city, an international chain, and after not finding the book I asked the manager where it might be. He informed me that the chain had decided not to carry Love Wins because of its universalism message (which by the way is not its only problem as will be detailed below). I commended the store manager for their decision but then noticed on the shelf behind him that their number one best seller was none other than The Shack. I could not resist asking how it was they carried The Shack which conveyed the exact message as Bell’s book in fictionalized form. He didn’t seem to catch my point and I got the idea that he had probably not read either book. So much for discernment. One man teaches universalism, new age mysticism and other assorted heresies in story form and few catch on. Another teaches universalism in more direct ways and his book is banned.

The appeal of Love Wins is not Bell’s exegesis. He actually handles the Scriptures very poorly, playing fast and loose with both narrative and propositional passages. It is not his theological novelty. Universalism, in its various forms, has been around since the second century and Bell adds nothing to the standard arguments of Origen and others. It is not Bell’s intellectual honesty and freshness; Bell is counting on readers’ lack of familiarity with history, theology and basic facts. That universalism has always hung out on the fringes of evangelical Christianity is true enough, but that it has ever been a major player in Christian tradition, as Bell claims, is simply not true. Universalism has been recognized, and condemned, by most of the key theological figures of the past and by numerous church councils, but it has never been anywhere near a strong minority view. No, Love Wins appeal is found in its author’s communication skills and popularity. Bell knows how to turn a phrase, how to paint word pictures and how to offer his audience what it wants to hear.


These abilities have made Bell a luminary in the Christian world but that is not the same as a careful and faithful dispenser of biblical truth. Ultimately Bell does not base his claims on Scripture anyway; he has other criteria. In general we could identify three primary motivators behind Bell’s theology:

Uncertainty: Love Wins is literally full of questions (someone has counted well over 350) which gives the impression that no theological truth or biblical interpretation can be held with any degree of certainty. The first chapter is virtually 19 pages of rapid fire questions leaving the reader panting and confused. When the dust has settled Bell wants us to believe that the Bible is one big series of contradictions and mysteries and all of our efforts to unravel those contradictions and mysteries only lead to more questions. When students of the Word attempt to understand these biblical messages, they develop systems, formulas, theologies, that do more to divide people than offer solutions. With this backdrop, Bell is ready to challenge the traditional view of heaven and hell. If the best of theologians can’t pin down the truth of Scripture with clarity then perhaps Bell’s views are just as viable, or so goes the logic.

Popularity: In Bell’s estimation the twenty-first century world cannot any longer stomach the traditional view of hell. Hell just does not play well today, nor does any view of God except that of an unconditional loving Father who in the end accepts everyone. A judgmental deity who is angry at sin and pours down wrath on sinners is not appealing to modern people. A benevolent God who loves everyone and makes a way for all to enjoy eternal life is accepted, but one who creates hell and sends people there is not. Bell writes,

Millions have been taught that if they don’t believe, if they don’t accept in the right way, that is, the way the person telling them the gospel does, and they were hit by a car and died later that same day, God would have no choice but to punish them forever in conscious torment in hell…If there was an earthly father who was like that, we would call the authorities…And that is the secret deep in the heart of many people, especially Christians: they don’t love God. They can’t because the God they’ve been presented with and taught about can’t be loved. That God is terrifying and traumatizing and unbearable.[1]

The bottom line to Bell is that hell, and a God who will judge sin, is most difficult to market well. People can’t stomach these ideas and will reject such concepts. If we want people to come to Christ we must offer them a different storyline.

Fun: Bell tells us that Christians who actually believe in hell do not throw good parties,[2] and if we don’t throw good parties then no one will be attracted to God. This fits well with Bell’s credo repeated in much of his literature and media — he follows Christ because he believes it is the best way to live. We are left to presume that if a better way to live could be found then Bell would embrace that way and abandon the way of Christ.

In response to these three motivators it must be said that the purpose of God’s Word is to reveal to us truth about God, ourselves and life. While some Scriptures are indeed difficult and we must approach them humbly, most of the Bible is understandable and clear. The conservative church at large has been able to identify and agree upon core doctrines throughout the ages and one of those doctrines concerns the eternal destiny of man. Both heaven and hell are real and humans will spend eternity in one or the other based upon their response to Christ and His gospel. In addition, what we believe is never based on its popularity, palpability, or acceptability. What we believe must be grounded in what is true and emerge from God’s authoritative revelation. Bell makes weak stabs in Love Wins at supporting his views from the Bible but it is the above three motivators that seem to be at the heart of his theology.


False teachings and sloppy handling of Scripture are found throughout Love Wins so it will be necessary to concentrate on just a few of the major fallacies. Let’s start with the one that has caused all the controversy, even though it may actually be the lesser of some of the other evils.


By definition “a universalist is someone who believes that every human being whom God has created or will create will finally come to enjoy the everlasting salvation into which Christians enter here and now. Universalism is the recognized name for this belief.”[3] Universalism comes in various forms. The secularists believes that if there is an afterlife then surely all will enjoy some form of utopia (with the notable exceptions of a few like Hitler). Pluralists understand all religions as virtually identical and will get everyone to the same place (whatever that might be) in the afterlife. Others, and Bell seems to be a resident of this camp, believe that some will exit this life to suffer temporary judgment but that God will shortly thereafter win them to Himself and they will be saved.

Bell denies that he is teaching universalism but this is only a slight-of-hand, if not downright dishonest. He can deny his universalism only in the same sense that he can throw into question all other doctrines – he simply does not think we can know for certain that these things are true. But the whole premise of the book, from the title on, is a polemic promoting that God’s love will ultimately win over all people and they will eventually turn to Him, if not in this life then surely in the next. The only caveat that Bell holds out is that of freewill. He writes, “We are free to accept or reject the invitation to new life that God extends to us. Our choice. We’re at the party, but we don’t have to join in.”[4] God will never, he claims, violate freewill and if someone desires to stay in pain and misery for eternity then God will graciously allow such to happen. Of course neither Bell, nor anyone else, could imagine such a scenario, so surely love wins in time: “Let’s pause here and ask the obvious question: how could someone choose another way with a universe of love and joy and peace right in front of them – all of it theirs if they would simply leave behind the old ways and receive the new life of the new city in the new world?”[5]

It would be good at this point to quote a few of Bell’s statements in support of universalism:

“God wants all people to be saved and come to a knowledge of the truth” (1 Tim. 2). So does God get what God wants? How great is God? Great enough to achieve what God sets out to do, or kind of great, medium great, great most of the time, but in this, the fate of billions of people, not totally great. Sort of great. A little great…will all people be saved, or will God not get what God wants. Does this magnificent, mighty, marvelous God fail in the end?[6]

At the heart of this perspective is the belief that, given enough time, everybody will turn to God and find themselves in the joy and peace of God’s presence. The love of God will melt every hard heart, and even the most “depraved sinners” will eventually give up their resistance and turn to God.[7]

At the center of Christian tradition since the first church have been a number who insist that history is not tragic, hell is not forever, and love, in the end, wins and all will be reconciled to God.[8]

Deny as he will in interviews and blogs, Bell is clearly presenting classical universalism. And there is nothing new about what Bell teaches, for his ideas go back at least to Origen in the second and third centuries. Origen, much like Bell, was considered a brilliant thinker and originator of many theological views that, in Origen’s case, were eventually recognized as heretical. Al Mohler writes, “Origen…promised the total and ultimate restitution of all things and all persons. His logic was that God’s victory would only be complete when the last things are identical to the first things…[Therefore] hell would be purified and thus temporal.”[9] Bell admits that others before him have held to his views and strongly implies that universalism has been a standard option throughout the years:

Nothing in this book hasn’t been taught, suggested, or celebrated by many before me. I haven’t come up with a radically new teaching that’s any kind of departure from what’s been said an untold number of times. That’s the beauty of the historic, orthodox Christian faith. It is a deep, wide, diverse stream that’s been flowing for thousands of years, carrying a staggering variety of voices, perspectives, and experiences.[10]

Bell is being deceitful at this point. His implication that universalism has been an accepted theological option throughout church history is simply not true. It has been soundly condemned by conservative church leaders and councils since the earliest times. Origen’s view, for example, ran counter to the understanding of almost all the early church leaders and he and his teachings were anathematized at the fifth ecumenical council (Constantinople II) in 553.[11] Bell is simply dusting off ancient heresies and giving them a fresh spin. He is right about one thing – all that he writes in Love Wins has been taught in the past. But it has all been rejected by Bible-believing Christians. However, theological liberals, as far back as Friedrich Schleiermacher in the eighteenth century, have embraced various forms of universalism. Bell, and his emergent friends, is merely presenting old bankrupted liberalism, which appealed to moderns for a time, to postmoderns who lack the historical knowledge and biblical insight to understand what is being served. The emergent church movement, of which Bell is a key player, is just a freshly painted version of old liberalism that saw its best days in America between 1890 and 1930.

The Gospel

When you deny the biblical view of the afterlife you inevitably change your understanding of the gospel. This is exactly what Bell is after for he claims,

“Jesus’s story has been hijacked by other stories – that a select few Christians will spend forever in a peaceful, joyous place called heaven, while the rest of humanity spends forever in torment and punishment in hell with no chance of anything better…This is misguided and toxic and ultimately subverts the contagious spread of Jesus’s message of love, peace, forgiveness, and joy that our world desperately needs to hear.”[12]

The traditional, conservative understanding of the gospel is that God is holy and therefore cannot receive sinners into His presence – He cannot simply ignore sin and offer unconditional forgiveness. In order for us to be reconciled to God it is necessary that our sin and guilt be paid for. Therefore the Son of God came to earth, died in our place and took our sins upon Himself. However, for the blood of Christ to be applied to our particular sins it is necessary that we come to Christ by faith alone and receive the forgiveness that He offers. Decisions made in this life have eternal consequences. Those who have received the Lord’s forgiveness will enjoy eternal life in the presence of the Lord. Those who do not receive the gift of salvation face eternal banishment and judgment in the Lake of Fire. It is this story (or something similar to it) that Bell believes has hijacked the true story of Jesus.

What does Bell think the true story of Jesus is? First, Bell wants us to understand that

some stories are better than others. [And] telling a story in which billions of people spend forever somewhere in the universe trapped in a black hole of endless torment and misery with no way out isn’t a very good story…In contrast, everybody enjoying God’s good world together with no disgrace or shame, justice being served, and all the wrongs being made right is a better story.[13]

It is important to Bell that we have a good story to tell – a story in which everyone (his word) enjoys the world together. Whether this story is true or false or whether this story is drawn from Scripture, wishful thinking or imagination does not seem important to Bell; he wants a story that plays well and has a happy ending. This happy ending leads to a second facet of Bell’s gospel and comes right out of the playbook of theological liberalism: In the age to come (Bell’s forced definition of heaven)[14] “this world, the one we know – but rescued, transformed, and renewed”[15] will be inhabited by all people of all ages. God’s party will be on earth in that day and everyone is welcomed to attend. Those who refuse to attend will live in self-imposed hell until they are eventually persuaded to join the rest of us. And since we are all going to inhabit this earth eternally it should be our mission now to get a headstart on the renewal process: “People will have access to clean water in the age to come, and so working for clean-water access for all is participating now in the life of the age to come.”[16]

In Bell’s mind heaven and earth cannot be distinguished, and in some sense neither can the temporal and the eternal: “When Jesus talked about heaven, he was talking about our present eternal, intense, real experiences of joy, peace, and love in this life, this side of death and the age to come. Heaven for Jesus wasn’t just ‘someday’; it was a present reality…To say it again, eternal life is less about a kind of time that starts when we die, and more about a quality and vitality of life lived now in connection to God.”[17]

Finally Bell is not concerned about who “gets in” or how to “get in”[18] for all “get in” because “everybody is a brother, a sister. Equals, children of the God who shows no favoritism.”[19] Everyone ultimately “gets in” because of Jesus. What Bell is careful to avoid is describing how or when or in what manner the mechanism functions that gets people to God through Christ.[20]

Jesus is bigger than any one religion…He will always transcend whatever cages and labels are created to contain and name him, especially the one called “Christianity”…We see that Jesus himself, again and again, demonstrates how seriously he takes his role in saving and rescuing and redeeming not just everything, but everybody.[21]

Bell clearly understands that he is opening the door to welcoming Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists and everyone else into heaven,[22] but he believes this is acceptable because whether they know or recognize Jesus at all, nevertheless He is the one saving them, “What Jesus does is declare that he, and he alone is saving everybody.”[23]

As to the question, how do people “get in?” Bell responds, “People come to Jesus in all sorts of ways… Sometimes people use his name; other times they don’t.”[24] Because of Bell’s strong emphasis on inclusivism he warns us, ‘It is our responsibility to be extremely careful about making negative, lasting judgments about people’s eternal destinies. As Jesus says, he ‘did not come to judge the world, but to save the world’ (John 12).”[25]

Bell summarizes well his understanding of the gospel when he states, “The father’s love cannot be earned, and it cannot be taken away. It just is. It’s a party, a celebration, an occasion without beginning and without end.”[26] So far so good, but then he follows up: “Jesus forgives everyone, without them asking for it. Forgiveness is unilateral… God has already done it… Everybody is already at the party. Heaven and hell, here, now, around us, upon us, within us.”[27]

The Atonement

If everyone is already forgiven and at the party, and if Jesus’ story is that of the need for social redemption, then His purpose for dying on the cross must be radically different from that which has been understood by conservative Christians throughout the generations. Why did Christ die? Why the cross? What is the purpose of the atonement?

First, according to Bell it has nothing to do with propitiation:

Many have heard the gospel framed in terms of rescue. God has to punish sinners, because God is holy, but Jesus has paid the price for our sin, and so we can have eternal life. However true or untrue that is technically or theologically, what it can do is subtly teach people that Jesus rescues us from God. Let’s be very clear then, we do not need to be rescued from God. God is the one who rescues us from death, sin and destruction. God is the rescuer.[28]

We see from the above quote that Bell does not flatly deny propitiation (the doctrine that Christ’s death not only paid for our sins but satisfied the holy nature and wrath of God against sin) but he wants to distance himself from the idea and redefine it as he has done with other doctrines throughout Love Wins.

Bell also has no place for penal substitution in his theology. As Kevin DeYoung writes,

I see no place in Bell’s theology for Christ the curse-bearer (Gal. 3:13), or Christ wounded for our transgressions and crushed by God for our iniquities (Isa 53:5, 10), no place for the Son of Man who gave his life as a ransom for many (Mark 10:45), no place for the Savior who was made sin for us (2 Cor 5:21), no place for the sorrowful suffering Servant who drank the bitter cup of God’s wrath for our sake (Mark 14:36).[29]

Even Mark Galli, in a review of Love Wins for Christianity Today admits,

This is the classic exemplar model of atonement – Christ’s self-giving death inspires us to live the Christian life. It has been a stand of liberal Protestantism…But Love Wins treats substitutionary atonement as culturally anachronistic, reimagining Christ’s sacrifice as the “brilliant creative work” of New Testament writers putting “the Jesus story in language their listeners would understand.”[30]

There is no place or need for penal substitution or propitiation in Bell’s theology primarily because Bell is presenting a God different from that which is described in Scripture. This is perhaps of far greater consequence than the universalism that has created all the buzz.

The Nature of God

Bell is vehement that the traditional view of God makes Him into a vengeful ogre. He has so based his case on a one dimensional (or one attribute) God, a God of nothing but love, that his theology has no place for the holiness, righteousness or justice of God. He has imagined a God of such unconditional love, a God who has already accepted and forgiven everybody, that to admit a God of judgment in the afterlife is a contradiction. If such a God exists, then He is a fickle, changeable God who loves us while we live but becomes our judge when we die. He writes that such a God

would, in essence, become a fundamentally different being to them in that moment of death, a different being to them forever. A loving heavenly father who will go to extraordinary length to have a relationship with them would, in the blink of an eye, become a cruel, mean, vicious tormenter who would insure that they would have no escape from an endless future of agony…If God can switch gears like that, switch entire modes of being that quickly, that raises a thousand questions about whether a being like this could ever be trusted, let alone be good. Loving one moment, vicious the next. Kind and compassionate, only to become cruel and relentless in the blink of an eye. Does God become somebody totally different the moment you die? That kind of God is simply devastating. Psychologically crushing. We can’t bear it. No one can…That God is terrifying and traumatizing and unbearable.[31]

This is the kind of theology that emerges when a person attempts to filter out huge portions of Scripture which do not appeal to them or do not fit their preconceived notions. Bell conveniently skips the incalculable accounts of physical and temporary judgment that God brought on sinful and unrepentant humanity. From the Flood, to the invasion of the Promised Land, to the destruction of the nations, including Israel, Scripture clearly paints a picture of a God who hates and judges sin now – not just in the afterlife. Nor does Bell interact with texts such as Romans 1:18-32 in which we are told that “the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness.” Sadly Bell has invented a God who plays in the marketplace, who throws a great party and is a one dimensional being of love, and expunged any and all scriptural attributes, characteristics and actions that he finds unpleasant. The result is a God different from the One who has been revealed in the Word.


It would be fitting to conclude this review by addressing a few issues that will arise among Bell’s supporters. First, those who dare challenge Bell’s false views of eternity, God, the gospel and atonement, will be called unloving, harsh and judgmental. Eugene Peterson has already said as much when he stated, “There’s very little Christ, very little Jesus in these people who are fighting Rob Bell.”[32] I find this mildly amusing when in fact Bell is soundly condemning all who disagree with him as everything from toxic and misguided to unable to throw a good party. He is accusing conservative evangelicalism of deceiving the masses for generations and yet to critique his highly unorthodox theology is considered unloving and un-Christlike. I can only appeal to Scripture which regularly calls for us to “refute those who contradict sound doctrine” (Titus 1:9) and to “contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all handed down to the saints” (Jude 3).

Another comment that I have already heard is that Bell has changed. Some seem to think that, prior to Love Wins, Bell was far more orthodox. But that is really not the case at all. His first book, Velvet Elvis, had the roots of every heresy developed in Love Wins (read my review of Velvet Elvis).[33] His universalism, distorted gospel and misunderstanding of the atonement were also found in Velvet Elvis for the discerning reader. The only difference is that Bell has written more clearly and boldly in this more recent book.

Another issue is Bell’s repeated affirmations in interviews and other communications that he believes in hell and is not a universalist. How do we reconcile these statements with what he writes in the book? How can he, with a straight face, deny that he believes the very things that he repeatedly affirms in Love Wins? He can do so because he is borrowing the time-honored technique, used for centuries by liberals, of giving new definitions to established words and terms. Let’s start with “hell.” Bell states in television interviews that he believes in hell, so the gullible listener might say, “See, his critics are twisting what he is writing and making a big deal out of nothing.” But what does Bell mean by the term hell? Not what Scripture means. Here are some of his definitions:

  • After claiming he believes in a literal hell he immediately gives accounts of a woman who had been raped, of a boy whose father has committed suicide and of the life of a drug addict; the implications being that each of these are living out hell right now.[34]
  • Misusing the story of the Prodigal Son Bell writes, “Now most images and understandings people have of heaven and hell are conceived of in terms of separation. Heaven is ‘up’ there, hell is ‘down’ there…[However this is not true instead] hell is being at the party. That’s what makes it so hellish.”[35] What does he mean? Bell clarifies, “In this story, heaven and hell are within each other, intertwined, interwoven, bumping up against each other…Hell is our refusal to trust God retelling of our story…Again, then, we create hell, whenever we fail to trust God’s retelling of our story…Hell is refusing to trust.”[36] Bell goes on to write, “Several distinctions are important here. First, one about our choices. We are free to accept or reject the invitation of new life that God extends to us. Our choice. We’re at the party but we don’t have to join in. Heaven or hell. Both at the party.”[37] Bell is oblique enough that final conclusions on his view of hell are somewhat difficult. But it is clear that he does not mean by hell a literal place of judgment for the lost for all eternity. Hell to Bell seems to be the consequences of bad choices that cause us harm in this life and can be carried over into the “age to come.” Even in the age to come he views heaven and hell as side-by-side, intertwined, so that one can move from hell to heaven by choosing to do so. It should be presumed, although he never says so, that one would also have the freedom to move from heaven to hell if he thought hell was throwing a better party.
  • Bell can also deny he is a universalist because he believes even in the afterlife we are given the freedom to be in hell if we want to: “God gives us what we want, and if that’s hell, we can have it. We have that kind of freedom, that kind of choice. We are that free.”[38] Yet the thesis of the book is that God will ultimately win over even the most stubborn: “‘God wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth’ (1 Tim. 2). So does God get what God wants?”[39] Bell frames his understanding of hell (such as it is) with the hypothesis that forever doesn’t mean forever and that all of us will have the opportunity to switch from hell to heaven in the next life whenever we choose. Concerning “forever” Bell writes. “But ‘forever’ is not really a category the biblical writers used…So when we read ‘eternal punishment,’ it’s important that we don’t read categories and concepts into a phrase that aren’t even there. Jesus isn’t talking about forever as we think of forever.”[40] With “forever” redefined Bell is ready to proclaim that the gates to heaven will always be open: “If the gates are never shut, then people are free to come and go.”[41]

There are those…who put it quite clearly: “We get one life to choose heaven or hell, and once we die, that’s it. One or the other, forever.” God in the end doesn’t get what he wants…[But] what makes us think that after a lifetime, let alone hundreds or even thousands of years, somebody who has consciously chosen a particular path away from God suddenly wakes up one day and decides to head in the completely opposite direction? And so a universal hugfest where everybody eventually ends up around the heavenly campfire singing “Kumbaya,” with Jesus playing guitar, sounds a lot like fantasy to some people.[42]

Of course this scenario should sound like fantasy for there is not a thread of evidence for postmortem turning to Christ in the entirety of Scripture. We can sympathize with Bell’s desire that one day all of us, every person ever born, will be united in Christ, but to create our own theology, based on nothing more than wishful thinking, is wrong and contrary to the love that Bell promotes so heavily. If in fact, as Scripture teaches, in this life we are making eternal choices, then to give anyone hope that we can change our mind in another age is cruel, misleading and damning. True love would be careful to teach what God has revealed and not attempt to improve on His plan. No one will unravel the full mystery of God and His eternal plans – nor are we told to do so. Wise counsel is found in Deuteronomy 29:29, “The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things revealed belong to us.”

Sadly, instead of explaining the revealed things of God, Bell invents his own story and attempts to pass it off in winsome ways. He gives us a good summary of his story when he writes,

At the heart of this perspective is the belief that, given enough time, everybody will turn to God and find themselves in the joy and peace of God’s presence. The love of God will melt every hard heart, and even the most “depraved sinners” will eventually give up their resistance and turn to God…At the center of Christian tradition since the first church have been a number who insist that history is not tragic, hell is not forever, and love, in the end, wins and all will be reconciled to God.[43]

In this statement Bell distorts church history and ignores Scripture in his undermining of what the Lord reveals about eternal life. And yet Eugene Peterson can write in the flyleaf that Love Wins accomplishes its purpose “without a trace of soft sentimentality and without compromising an inch of evangelical conviction in its proclamation of the good news that is most truly for all.” As this paper has demonstrated Peterson is clearly wrong.

There is no space in this article to deal with all of Bell’s departures from Scripture. For that I will turn you to my previous articles on the afterlife[44] and to excellent books such as Robert A. Peterson’s Hell on Trial and Hell under Fire (see review accompanying this paper).


John R. W. Stott once commented on eternal hell, “Emotionally I find the concept intolerable and do not understand how people can live with it without either cauterizing their feelings or cracking under the strain.”[45] I understand how Stott feels, as I do when C. S. Lewis writes, “I would pay any price to be able to say truthfully: ‘All will be saved.’”[46] However, it is not for the servant of Christ to go beyond the Master’s will and teach that which He does not teach. Nor is Christ’s servant to imagine that he is more loving than the Father or has a better plan. We must teach and believe what the Lord has revealed to us. Yet the reality of hell must never be simply a doctrine to proclaim and defend. It is to be a truth that softens our hearts and motivates our witness.

On one occasion Robert Murray M’Cheyne discovered that his friend Andrew Bonar had preached on hell the previous day. At once M’Cheyne asked his preacher friend, “Did you preach it with tears?”[47] May this be our heart as well.


[1] Robert H. Bell Jr., Love Wins, a Book about Heaven, Hell and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived, (New York: HarperOne, 2011), pp. 173-175.

[2] Bell p. 179.

[3] J. I. Packer, ‘Universalism: “Will Everyone Ultimately Be Saved?,” Hell Under Fire, gen. eds. Christopher W. Morgan and Robert A. Peterson, (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2004), p. 170.

[4] Bell p. 176.

[5] Bell, p. 114.

[6] Bell pp. 97-98 (emphasis his).

[7] Ibid., p. 107.

[8] Ibid., p. 109.

[9] R. Albert Mohler Jr., “Modern Theology: the Disappearance of Hell,” Hell Under Fire, p. 17.

[10] Bell pp. X-XI.

[11] Ibid., p. 18.

[12] Ibid., pp. VII-VIII.

[13] Ibid., pp. 110-111.

[14] Ibid., p. 30.

[15] Ibid., p. 34.

[16] Ibid., p. 45.

[17] Ibid., pp. 58-59.

[18] Ibid., p. 50.

[19] Ibid., pp. 75-76.

[20] Ibid., p. 54.

[21] Ibid., pp. 150-151.

[22] Ibid., p. 155.

[23] Ibid., p. 155 (emphasis mine).

[24] Ibid., pp. 158-159.

[25] Ibid., p. 160.

[26] Ibid., p. 187.

[27] Ibid., pp. 188-190.

[28] Ibid. p. 182.

[29] Kevin DeYoung, “God Is Still Holy and What You Learned in Sunday School Is Still True,”, p. 16).

[30] Mark Galli “What’s Up with Hell?” Christianity Today, April 2011, p. 64.

[31] Bell, pp. 173-175 (emphasis his).

[32] Quote taken from Christianity Today, May 2011, p. 19.

[33] My review of Velvet Elvis can be found at

[34] Bell, p. 71.

[35] Bell, p. 169.

[36] Bell, pp 170-175 (emphasis mine).

[37] Bell, p. 176.

[38] Bell, p. 72.

[39] Bell, p. 97.

[40] Bell, p. 92.

[41] Bell, p. 115.

[42] Bell, pp. 103-105.

[43] Bell, pp. 107, 109.


[45] Quoted by R. Albert Mohler Jr., “Modern Theology: the Disappearance of Hell,” Hell Under Fire, p. 30.

[46] Quoted by J. I. Packer, “Universalism: Will Everyone Ultimately Be Saved?,” Hell Under Fire,” p. 174.

[47] Sinclair B. Ferguson, “Pastoral Theology: The Preacher and Hell,” Hell Under Fire, p. 234.


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