29 Comments on “Warnock and Bell discuss “Love Wins”

  1. It's interesting that right off the bat Bell admits to not 'Googling his name', but then goes on to say that his book is a contribution to his discussion. Certainly, there's a lot of junk out there in the blogosphere, but if he really believed it was a conversation, shouldn't he be willing to at least spend some time reading what others are saying about his writing? Just strikes me as a bit odd.

  2. I think Bell has done a fantastic job of trying to grasp hold of a thorny problem. The difficulty is that if humans wish that all humans might be saved – if humans belive that it would be intolerable to belive that someone can do anything that would deserve a punishment that last for eternity – then the new testment makes belviers say that they are more loving than God. What Bell attempts to do is say wait a minute some of this stuff we are being asked to belive just doesnt add up – it doesnt make sence of how we understand God. For me personally this become even more pressing in the light of not beliving in a literal Adam and Eve. Christianity hasnt yet found a way to square the circle of the point of Jesus' death – or this whole way of seing actions as requiring punishments that last for ever. If God is meant to be the best parent their is – and we dont agree with God's parenting methods do we find a new God or say that actually this was the record of people strugling to understand – and actually they didnt always get it right.

    • The difficulty is that if humans wish that all humans might be saved – if humans belive that it would be intolerable to belive that someone can do anything that would deserve a punishment that last for eternity – then the new testment makes belviers say that they are more loving than God.

      Not at all. You are deciding that human standards are better than God's. That itself is an act of rebellion and demonstrates your rejection of God's sovereignty, making you a rebel and one who refuses to accept God's reign. QED, you do not love him and you do not live as you are meant to, live as he created you to. Why should he be unjust to send you to hell, away from him, which is where you want to go anyway (away from him)? You get exactly what you want but you still complain about it!!

      • Ahhh i think we have a little bit of confussion here. Am i suggesting that human standards are better than God's? Only if you are defining God's standards in this way – if you are then yes – if not then no :)

        I think we have been given a bit of an ability to think – to test everything – that kind of stuff – this means we can weigh up whether something is just or not.

        Why would it be unjust to send someone away from God who wants to be away from them? Well lets apply it again to humans – tough i know – but relevent i think. Lets say my child wants to leave home. I can say – okay darling – please do write – or i can lock the door so she cant get back in. That would to my mind be a bad response. But wishing to follow God's example – if we belive God is a propent of Hell would mean that we belive that as she doesnt want to live at my house i should not just say fair enough, not just lock the door – but find a big hole to drop her in – and make sure she is then beaten every day – forever. If God is meant to be the perfect parent – and this is the parenting style then i think their are some issues.

        • The analogy is incorrect. The door remains firmly unlocked and yet the daughter absolutely refuses to come back inside. She wants to be elsewhere.

        • OR: Your daughter expects that the "natural grace" of your home will somehow follow her to wherever she goes … i.e., that she'll have food, care, shelter, despite the fact that you warn her: "The natural grace that you have been living with, will no longer be there, if you are utterly separated from me"

          Those separated from God may no longer have the means to even "move" … she may no longer have the means to cognize or imagine in the way that we as subjects in our current bodies with our own sense of space and time do. The very faculties that allow us to "change our mind" or "ask if we can go somewhere else" may no longer be with us, due to our separation from God's natural grace. When thinking of such "ultimate things," we must truly think "outside of the box."

          It is impossible for us to imagine anything without imagining God's natural grace; being, shapes, colors, emotions, intentions, guilt, etc.. all point in some way or other to the created order.

          It may also be like: you're having a picnic with a sumptuous meal near a cliff, and your daughter gets angry for some reason. She takes a banana and states her intention of walking off the cliff, asking you if she can keep the banana. You want to tell her: "Don't do that … what you might imagine about eating that banana after you've walked off the cliff – is sadly no longer applicable after you've walked off that cliff." We can imagine being in hell with all sorts of things we associate with this life – perceptions, will, passions, ability to think, ability to change our minds. We know from persons with mental diseases, that these things are not always so "static" and there are situations where persons lacking some natural grace are unable to think or feel in a manner that we consider normal, healthy, and proper. How much the more so will this be once we are removed entirely from God's natural grace?

  3. It's fascinating, isn't it, that he works so hard to have to answer questions clearly!

    His stock response to any pressing question of "do you believe…?" was "do you?" Always "reflecting" back, never actually engaging.

    Classic liberalism.

  4. David, Peter: I think that Jesus Christ himself actually engaged by asking questions and reflecting back. Look at conversations with Pilate and Nicodemus. But then I think Jesus Christ was a classic liberal.

    Why is it that you boys have really taken against Rob Bell? Is it because he is exposing Conservative Evangelicalism as being (literally) hopeless? I went to see him speak in Cheltenham a couple of weeks ago and was very impressed by him. He spoke with passion about the Gospel. He was engaging. He had no notes. He was not full of spin. He was not political. He was just passionate about the Gospel. Why do you keep going for him as opposed to others – why not the newly appointed bishop of Salisbury, for example? (NOT that you will answer these questions, other than with a question :) )

    • Andrew,

      Before I respond, let me just point out to you that of all the people who comment here, you are to my knowledge the only person who feels the need to use an elevated title ("Canon") in their name. You might want to reflect on why that is.

      Let me tell you why I have criticised Bell. It is because the ultimate consequence of what he writes is that it does not matter what I do in this life, I will not be judged for it by God and I can end up with him eternally anyway. That is simply untrue and it is bad news because it deludes people into thinking that there are no eternal consequences for what they do now, when in fact the very opposite is true.

      Let me ask you a question (and please answer it or otherwise we will finish the conversation here). Do you believe that all will end up in heaven eventually? If not, what are the situations which lead to someone not spending eternity with God?

      • Peter- I am sorry you don't like me using my title. Maybe you want to reflect on why it is you don't like me doing so.

        The situation that would lead to someone not spending eternity with God would be their deliberate choice to reject God and his loving forgiveness when ultimately offered it.

        I think you need to listen to the interview with Warnock again. It is a shame Warnock gets so angry in it. But there are some good responses to Warnock from comments on his own website.

        Now – any chance of you answering the other questions I put to you?

        • The situation that would lead to someone not spending eternity with God would be their deliberate choice to reject God and his loving forgiveness when ultimately offered it.

          So either you agree that those who reject Christ in this life spend eternity in hell, or you have decided that Scripture is wrong. Either way, the matter is settled.

          Thanks for playing Andrew.

      • Not to speak for Andrew, but evangelicals can be very crafty in promulgating the view that anyone who doesn't agree with their particular brand of calvinism either a) doesn't know theology b) is a heretic c) both. In that light, pointing out that lots of Revs, canons, Very Revs,Most Revs, Drs, Right Revs etc etc believe different things and can articulate the reasons why is a useful corrective (although of course argumentum ad verecundium is a fallacy irrespective of which "team" is invoking it – one reason why "C.S. Lewis Says, And I Agree With Him" Wesley Owen populist evangelical "apologetics" tend not to be worth the paper they're printed on).

        And I'd maintain that, if you did a straw poll in evangelical churches (and people, crucially, answered honestly) along the lines of "If Hell Exists, Does It Necessarily Involve Eternal, Conscious Punishment?" the answers would negate rather your "Orthodox, who by definition believe in my model of Hell" v "Liberal Heretics" false dichotomies.

  5. There are some questions which I don't see brought up in general "Rob Bell" debates, which are important in discussing hell are those regarding:

    1) God's agency and its appearance of self-limitation in His creation of free human agents

    2) Original sin – that our general worth and culpability must be considered in light of the fact that we people chose to deny God (itself a thing so terrible we are very limited in our speculation regarding it); that none of us are born immediately of God, but rather of our sinful parents, as people (and our metaphors of the courts of human governments and allotted punishments are thereby impoverished and limited). "Liberally minded" persons – whether they believe in a literal Adam and Eve – can also see something of the reality of original sin in the rather unjust world humans have created, and the massive, needless suffering – which resists "correction" and tends to even buckle into chaos with our legislative and military attempts at corrections. Humans are so beautiful in potential, so filthy in actuality, and always an admixture of both of these. Our lot is: that the "innocent" suffer – this is, in a certain sense, simply what we are – we make others suffer.

    3) Our current dependence on the order of natural grace, thus our inability to meaningfully speculate about an ability to "change our mind"

    4) The limitation of us as human agents in meaningfully speculating about issues of divine agency and natural law – "Is it God actively punishing us, or the sin in us? Or is it some rather automatic 'just desert' which occurs by us not being united with God, when we are no longer enjoying the fruits of life and natural grace accorded by it? Or is it somehow both?"

    I don't think "eternal conscious punishment" is a good formulation of hell as it pertains to human beings as we find it in Scripture. I would be much more tentative in allowing for, e.g., annihilationism, though also very critical of anyone commending this to belief in the church. Each of these words reflects an aspect of hell as we find mentions of it in scripture – but I find none that imply that, e.g., the consciousness is eternal. It would be better to simply say: Hell is in some manner eternal; it has in some way to do with punishment (though this might not be a complete descriptor of its essence or purpose); it has to do with conscious punishment (though I don't think we're certain or not whether this punishment is eternal).

    One thing is clear: Hell is utterly awful. And we can not recommend that anyone forego the presence of God for eternity. Scripture did not need to tell us, in detail, that e.g. the consciousness is eternal. Just last week, I had a discussion with a young man who unfortunately had been brought up with parents who emphasized hell in a terrifying manner – a manner very unlike Jesus or the apostles. He is still very, very anxious about hell. But he is more worried about annihilationism than he is eternal torment.

    Adrian Warnock did very well to point out the verse about the unpassable gulf in the parable about Lazarus and the rich man. Jesus wasn't simply a skilled story-teller; He would not have added that detail about the unpassable gulf just to scare the rich into becoming more aware of the poor. This would make him into those "fire insurance salesmen" type preachers who are so loathed. He was, rather, telling us truthfully something about our condition if we do not turn to Him. Rob Bell's answer that this is simply a kind of embroiderment upon a common first century narrative I found very sloppy. But then again, many reviews, and honest critiques of friends who have read the book have told me that it is hermeneutically very sloppy. The position that some, in hell, at some point decide, "this isn't where I want to be," I find very unlikely given Scripture.

  6. "So either you agree that those who reject Christ in this life spend eternity in hell, or you have decided that Scripture is wrong. Either way, the matter is settled.

    Thanks for playing Andrew."

    Does this mean you have bumped Andrew off? If so I for one am completely staggered that you could treat him with such contumely. It may be your blog but you seem to think that that gives you some kind of "sovereignty" over it that disallows any questioning of a Calvinistic interpretation of scripture. How is a questioning of a the way God's purposes have been interpreted or puzzled over a sign of hatred and rebellion against God? For instance your answer above "You are deciding that human standards are better than God’s. That itself is an act of rebellion and demonstrates your rejection of God’s sovereignty, making you a rebel and one who refuses to accept God’s reign. QED, you do not love him and you do not live as you are meant to, live as he created you to" makes it look as if "loving God" means behaving like an abject slave before an impossible tyrant rather than being in a loving Father-Child relationship.

    • You'll notice that on the Election thread I've been having a lengthy debate with Fr J where we disagree fundamentally on the issue of God's need to justify his actions to humans. It follows that it cannot be that I automatically "blow off" those whose views differ with mine. Try and think of another reason why I don't want to continue this conversation with the oh so impressive and important *Canon* Andrew?

    • Tom (and Canon Andrew),

      Canon Andrew likes to come up with questions which he finds very, very important – but which I find odd and potentially distracting / derailing, and I suppose Peter might as well. E.g., on a previous thread from months ago Canon Andrew was very insistent that Peter ask his question about whether he believed same-gender sex acts should be made illegal in the UK, and was asking Peter repeatedly then why he was not answering this question.

      In such cases, Canon Andrew probably has some kind of point he wishes to make, and then it's probably simply more productive to allow him to make his point.

      I find that he has a good point to make once in a while; I agree with some of what he says here about Rob Bell, and do wish that more Christians would keep such things in mind. But this asking questions and then needling Peter as to why he hasn't answered them does come off as badgering. It seems polite enough here, but in other threads it does sort of get out of hand.

      I think that Canon Andrew probably is a great believer in Socratic dialectic. However, as a philosopher I can also tell you: Socratic dialectic does have its limitations, and sometimes even Socrates comes off as an ass.

      Months ago, I asked Canon Andrew a number of questions, and he also failed to reply; the "game" works both ways. It can lead a thread terribly off-topic, and I think Peter is trying to keep things on topic, and Canon Andrew's mind focused on the issue of Rob Bell's view of hell.

      Notice also the multiple slams here, without very much substantive content, on "conservative Evangelicals." I like to see conservative Evangelicals criticized where that criticism is well-thought out and constructive. When conservative Evangelicals see themselves slammed as here, with comments which seem little more than emotive utterances: "I really don't like conservative Evangelicals …" – they become less likely to change and more recalcitrant toward criticism. It is important when we criticize them, that we criticize them well, cognizant also of our own positions and the general weaknesses of our own positions.

  7. It did cross my mind but as I don't think "Canon" is that impressive a title – and you are a parson in a Church that goes in for hierarchy – I didn't think it would bug you that much. Do you object to people who call themselves "Dr"? You seem to give "Fr" a pass.

    Apart from his use of a rather meaningless title Andrew was trying to further the argument in polite and reasonable terms.

  8. Aren't Canons the ones allowed to wear red pom-poms on their birrettas? That's pretty impressive to me! ;)

    I can recall at least one occasion , Peter, where you attacked evolution on the grounds that your degree-laden wife objects to it – so if Andrew referring to "Canon" *is* an attempt at endevouring to argue from authority, he's hardly the only one doing so! But I don't see any grounds for assuming that. As Tom says, what about those who *prefer* to be called Fr? It seems simply bad manners to assume that anyone with preferences other than call-me-Dave lowchurchmanship is puffed-up and egotistical. In the good old days you were supposed to call people by their titles!

    Canon Andrew's questions on the legality of homosexuality obviously ought not to be dragged into every conversation, but it's still a pertinent and important one. Homosexual acts were illegal in Scotland until 1980 – and the Church of Scotland (amongst others) *opposed* the change for the same "Biblical" reasons that are currently cited by conservative Christians opposed to "homosexual practise". It is a good thing for people who assume that they are maintaining some golden two millenia-long Christian position on homosexuality to realise that, in fact, they are more "liberal" than they think.

    • I can recall at least one occasion , Peter, where you attacked evolution on the grounds that your degree-laden wife objects to it

      No I didn't. I said that my wife doesn't believe in it. I did not attack it "on the grounds that your degree-laden wife objects to it". Don't be so preposterous.

      • Really?

        "My wife who has a doctorate in biochemistry from Oxford University and is one of the leading experts on certain parts of the HIV protein structure absolutely rejects evolution as a “biological nonsense” and as an unobserved phenomenon. Is she and hundreds of other PhDs mad?"


        I'm sure that wasn't your intention, Peter, but that very much does read as boilerplate creationist argument-from-authority guff (with the added frisson that you set up a false dichotomy, where disagreeing with the point before the "Is" sentence means one is guilty of implicit ad hom!)

        • The "mad" expression was in the context of the claim (from Tim Ireland) that those who wanted to have a more literal view of Genesis had "a credibility gap".

          And please note carefully that I did not claim that *because* my wife had a PhD she was therefore correct. Rather, I said that she and hundreds of other similar academics rejected the central hypothesis of evolution, that kinds change through random selection. This is far from taking an "authority from title" position, rather it is simply saying that a significant minority dissent, but do not have "a credibility gap".

          Context is a wonderful thing.

          • Indeed, but since "credibility gap" hardly equates to "mad", I'm not sure that makes the comment any *more* logical. And,context aside, presumably you'd stand by the wider point that your wife's qualifications/expertise/reputation etc negate rather the presumed argument that no reputable/credible scientists reject evolution?

        • ryan, It's important that we distinguish between appeals to authority. Someone with an Oxford doctorate degree in biological chemistry who's also a Christian is probably better able to deal with the issues of faith and reason than a person

          It's also a response to this particular statement: "Anyone who regards the Bible to be a literal historical record is going to at least have a credibility gap when it comes to lobbying on matters of science."

          Now, this is significant – one would expect, given the circumstances, that Peter's wife does have some authority in "matters of science" – especially when the author of this critical remark is an expert in picking keywords for search engine optimization and other such things (also one of my areas of expertise; in engaging in this, I can attest that I've learned nothing which is particularly relevant to relating faith and reason).

          So this is a case where authority is relevant – especially since the argument is more about people than it is about issues – keyword here being "Anyone" – i.e., it's a "people who believe this won't be accepted amongst this other group of people" type argument. And Peter's wife is precisely the type of person who supposedly doesn't "belong" in the target group.

          So you should also see that: Peter here is not attacking evolution – he is attacking a view regarding sociology, beliefs, and acceptance..

          "does read as boilerplate creationist argument-from-authority guff" – please try to be less emotive (especially, negatively emotive) – and more factual and precise. Try to think: constructive criticism. You are a smart individual and that comes out when you are able to reign in the snark factor.

          I tend to think that some people come here only wishing to drag Peter down with a sheer volume of rather nasty-sounding comments, many of which any careful and informed reader will discover to be either false or cognitively empty. Let's not be engaging in hate campaigns against ex-gays. Ok, that last sentence does go a bit "over the top" – but think of how you would respond to a lot of "conservative evangelicals" behaving in a similar manner on a gay person's blog.

          Just as Canon Godsall doubts Peter's intentions in his selection of Rob Bell for criticism – I frequently wonder about the intentions here in selecting Peter for criticism.

          But there is a lot of good to be seen in many of the comments here as well, including you ryan, and also Canon Godsall. I'd just like to see more of the well-articulated stuff, and less of the stuff that's cognitively empty and primarily disparaging or inciting negative attitudes toward Peter, his views, and various groups.

          • James,

            It is very common for the creationist lobby to argue variations along the lines of "the debate's not settled!" "there is no pro-evolution scientific consensus!". Neither of those statements are true. A usual technique is to cite scientists who "reject" evolution – and I'd maintain that the novelty of such individuals is indeed revealing, but not in the way creationists mean. Even if you stacked the deck – saying that 1 Christian scientists is worth 10 non-Christian, the results would hardly be in the creationist lobby's favour. And of course you one can concede that those who reject evolution may have a "credibility gap" without in any way thinking that such perceptions are a *good* thing!

            However I am sorry if any of the above came across as an attack. It was in response to the point about Andrew using his title – which I maintain is a bit off. I would have made the same point if a Anglo-Catholic priest was pulled up for calling himself Fr here!

            • Thanks ryan, I know you didn't mean it as an attack; often our language belies attitudes despite our intentions.

              On the above: There are reasons for pointing out the things you do, but notice the words you chose: "creationist lobby" – is Peter or his wife a part of a lobbying group, do they receive funds to try to persuade groups wielding power to take courses of action guided by creationism? I'd say … again falling to "group-oriented," sociological type language. Though I do understand what you're trying to express. Using a term other than lobby here would be less "polarizing" and less likely to get people into group-think. There are times that we do need to think of arguments in terms of groups of people – but most certainly not all the time – and even then when we do, it helps to not ascribe money-driven power-wielding intentions with the word lobby.

              Of course, the gay lobby may disagree …

              (just kidding – I see this same kind of "poor choice of language" happening all the time on some blogs with conservative commenters. And I don't like it there, either)

              blessings to you

  9. Why is Rob Bell getting slammed?

    This is one of the "background" questions – Canon Andrew brings it up – and to be honest I have thought that some in the Anglican world were going a bit too hard on Mr. Bell, though I do think that riding him a bit is quite important.

    The media campaign for the book began with a promo video with Rob Bell asking a lot of questions – rather insinuating questions, some of which implied "Straw man" type descriptions of doctrine as it typically has been taught for centuries. I.e., statements which in some way were not what the church had been teaching – but rather unfortunate characterizations thereof.

    It became abundantly clear from the combination of: the media campaign, the publisher's short description of the book, and the single chapter released to reviewers that this book would generate a lot of "heat" – that it would inspire itchy fingers to go typey typey type and hit the "submit" button before a lot of healthy analysis had occurred. And lo and behold, this very thing happened to John Piper with his famous "Good bye, Rob Bell" tweet.

    John Dyer wrote an excellent analysis of the various conditions present before the launch of the book here.

    What emerged was a situation which was far from ideal for fostering dialogue. Instead, the appearance of a "big thing" on the horizon with only sketchy information available for analysis created a situation for lots of rather empty prognostication about who would do what; people began using unhelpful descriptors like "conservative," "liberal," "evangelical" etc. etc.., speaking really more about people's feelings and reactions and sociology than about theological matters.

    Yes, some were too hasty in criticizing Bell, and used words which I myself find excessive.

    However: Rob Bell himself should have seen this coming. He teaches people how to motivate people with images and words; and his assistant pastor comes from a strong background in advertising; he's written a book about Marshall McLuhan's ideas of the media and their application to Christian internet behavior. So if anyone should have been able to predict this … it's the pastoral staff at Mars Hill.

    I am personal friends with a few people who are personal friends of Rob Bell, one of whom is in regular contact as a well-known Christian media person. These friends were very upset at the criticisms of Bell and were definitely in "counter-attack" mode before the book was published. I made abundantly clear, multiple times, that there were many things for Rob Bell to answer here – that one simply doesn't say a lot of dippy and inaccurate things about the church universal's doctrine, inspiring people into a twitter-storm, to sell a book. It's like yelling "fire" in a crowded theatre. That at the very least, for the sake of Christian unity, Rob Bell should apologize for how he conducted this media campaign – and that in doing so, he could also show the world his own wisdom and humility (in contradistinction to his critics). This at least would have cooled the atmosphere somewhat of this debate.

    Rob Bell's fans had no response for these words other than "well it takes a lot to sell books these days you know" type thing; they too were caught up in the polarized situation, not getting beyond the labels and name-calling. The beautiful opportunity for reconciliation was lost. Rob Bell never admitted the very tacky ploy (even if it may not have been intended or predicted), or the inaccuracies of his leading questions in the video.

    Furthermore, it seems the book is rather sloppy and hermeneutically naïve. This simply isn't how theology is debated in a healthy manner. It creates polarity, rather than the more serene atmosphere necessary for contemplation and evaluation of theological theses.

    And, as Jake above has noted, one of the main premises of the purpose of this book – "to start a discussion" – is being proven by Rob's behavior as quite false. Or perhaps: "this is the type of discussion that 'liberals' like – we bait the 'conservatives,' select the reactions that sound the 'meanest' for us to quote on television, and completely ignore all substantive reflection and factual content."

    Of course, above I am engaging in rather unfair characterization of "liberals" – though I would prefer if "liberals" amongst themselves would be a bit more self-critical, just as we see evangelicals at times being incredibly self-critical regarding poor means of discourse and engaging opponents.

    So Rob Bell is coming off as more of a provocateur whose viewpoints aren't worth defending, even by himself. This kind, intelligent man is appearing to me increasingly like a buffoon.

    This is a great pity, since Rob Bell is such an enormously talented man. And: because I think the Christian community would do well to discuss these things in a healthy, even-handed manner, without the epithets and hasty generalizations. Unfortunately we have more of a situation where we're likely to engage in this debate with words like "oh you say [some position] so that must make you a [some ideological label."

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