The Theology of Rob Bell: Making Evil Good and Good Evil?

Several years ago there was a lot of buzz on the internet about Rob Bell’s new book titled, Love Wins.  The conversation in the blogosphere was heightened though when Justin Taylor released an article on Bell’s book before the book was officially released.  Taylor’s article was titled, Rob Bell: Universalist? Specifically, the controversy over the article was due to whether or not it was justifiable to accuse Bell of Universalism before his book had actually been published.

For the record, Rob Bell is a very gifted communicator and skilled writer. I have read his book Velvet Elvis and have read several books from his contemporaries, such as Brian McLaren. I have also watched and naively used Bell’s Nooma videos in my past ministry. With that said, my following critique is not coming from a blind eye nor from an ill-informed perspective, but from a well-informed and concerned theological disposition.

While it would be beneficial to spend time doing a book review of Bell’s newest book, I think our time is better spent examining a short promotional video for the Love Wins book.  In other words, by examining the video we can be more efficient with our time and we can get straight to the heart of the theological issues and concerns.


The section of the promotional video that causes me the most distress is where he says,

“What is God like? Because millions and millions of people were taught that the primary message is that God is going to send you to hell unless you believe in Jesus. So what gets subtly taught is that Jesus rescues you from God, but what kind of God is that, that we need to be rescued from this God? How could that God ever be good? How could that God ever be trusted? How could that ever be good news?”

What is so disturbing about this comment above is that this comment is viewing God through what Luther called a Theology of Glory. Luther tells us in the Heidelberg Disputation that the problem with glory theology is that a theologian of glory calls evil good and good evil. This is exactly what is being said above. Bell is essentially calling God’s holiness and justice evil, consequently making mankind morally good. Furthermore, the comment also makes God’s salvific atonement of Christ evil when it is in reality really good news.

Bell’s theology is actually rooted in the theology of the 16th century theologian and Catholic humanist named Erasmus. In layman’s terms, it seems as if Rob Bell’s main problem and issue, as laid forth above, is with God and not mankind. His problem with God is due to  his presupposition that mankind is morally neutral, good and free.  When one is consumed with the idea of radical free will and the moral neutrality of mankind, then the inevitable result is to shift blame for this sin problem upon God. “Mankind isn’t at fault, therefore, God is too strict, can’t be trusted and is indeed a moralistic monster. God is the problem!” As a result, Bell’s theology makes God into a small god (possibly a different god altogether) whose omnipotence and holiness are radically reduced.

How does this whole ideology change when we reverse the presuppositions and make mankind the problem rather than God? Think about this for a moment: mankind is the one that sinned in the garden; mankind is the one that continually turns away from God to self; mankind is the one that runs from God; and mankind is the one that has made war with God due to sin. Mankind is not the victim but the instigator. The problem of sin is mankind’s problem not God’s. Viewing things through this lens changes everything.  If mankind is the instigator then God is totally just to punish sin; it means that God’s holiness is good, not evil. If mankind is the instigator it also means that God is good in that He maintains His holiness, yet sets out to pursue His creation for reconciliation through the death, burial and resurrection of Christ. On the Cross, Christ made the problem of sin His problem; this is good not evil! Because of Christ, God’s holiness is maintained and mankind is reconciled, this is so good and is the Theology of the Cross.

Thus, the theology of Rob Bell makes evil ‘good’ and good ‘evil’, resulting in love losing.  There is another way though, and that is the way of the cross.  Isaiah and the Apostle Paul tell us,

Yet it was the will of the Lord to crush him; he has put him to grief… For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. (Isa. 53:10 & 1 Cor. 5:21)

The way of the cross my friends calls evil ‘evil’ and good ‘good’.  This is how Love Wins.


About Pastor Matt Richard

Rev. Dr. Matthew Richard is the pastor at Zion Lutheran Church of Gwinner, ND. He was previously a Senior Pastor in Sidney, Montana, an Associate Pastor of Spiritual Care and Youth Ministries in Williston, North Dakota, and an Associate Pastor of Children and Youth in Rancho Cucamonga, California. He received his undergraduate degree from Minot State University, ND and his M.Div. from Lutheran Brethren Seminary, MN. His doctor of ministry thesis, from Concordia Seminary, St. Louis, MO, was on exploring the journey of American Evangelicals into Confessional Lutheran thought. Pastor Richard is married to Serenity and they have two children. He enjoys fishing, pheasant hunting, watching movies, blogging, golfing, spending time with his family and a good book with a warm latte! To check out more articles by Pastor Matt you can visit his personal blog at:


The Theology of Rob Bell: Making Evil Good and Good Evil? — 13 Comments

  1. In his marvelously funny “Diskworld” series, Terry Pratchett – who is rather obviously an atheist – has his world’s gods hand down various laws and rules arbitrarily. “Thou shalt not eat broccoli”, for instance. That seems to be the attitude of all of the Secular Humanists: that God’s rules for humanity (what we Lutherans call the Natural Law, as opposed to the state laws of Israel or the Jewish ceremonial law) are arbitrary and capricious. That there are no true consequences for either ourselves or society for breaking them.

    The underlying assumption, of course, is that all people are well intentioned and of good will and there is no such thing as evil. It is interesting to note that such people have no problems setting aside the laws concerning sexual immorality but assume that no one would ever consider committing theft or murder – ignoring the fact that to set aside one law is to set aside them all.

    Bell, and Erasmus, see only the inconvenience associated with the Natural Law: how it constricts our desires and will. They are rather like spoiled 3-year-olds in that they cannot understand how any loving parent (or god) could constrain us in any way or thwart our natural desires. They cannot understand that it is not only that “God is totally just to punish sin”; it is that in going against God’s un-capricious, non-arbitrary will we can only harm ourselves and others.

  2. I just looked at Rob Bell’s wikipedia profile because I had no idea who is. Fact: a man who wears glasses like that is flat not to be trusted about pretty much anything.

  3. Bell is basically a universalist, and every time he’s addressed about it, he dances and dodges about the question. He along with Pagitt, McLaren, Tony Jones, and the other emergents have taken Christianity and tried to wax nose it through their filter of postmodernism.

    The sad thing is, some of us who were in the evangelical camp pointed out the problems when this stuff started springing up. Unfortunately, the early emergents couched their terms carefully so as not to look so heterodox. I’m glad Rob Bell has finally been pegged by evangelicals as bad, but he slipped in a lot of bad thinking into the church before enough people finally stood up and said the Emperor has no clothing.

  4. Rob Bell was the first. I am still waiting for (Reformed) Bill Hybels and (Southern Baptist) Rick Warren to show their cards.

  5. @Lumpenkönig #5
    Bill Hybles is reformed? I don’t think so. Rick Warren is the one speaking at Desiring God and confessing the doctrines of grace. And you are not going to see either of them touch universalism with a 10 foot pole.

  6. @Lumpenkönig #7
    Any association means complete doctrinal agreement? That’s ridiculous. Neither you nor Jesus would pass that test. Would this make John Piper a universalist by proxy, since Warren associates with him too?

    Rick Warren holds boring, traditional Baptist doctrine without innovation. I believe his church has adopted the Baptist Faith and Message. He believes in hell.

    He’s on the program for a platform and influence, but rest assured he’ll use it much better than Mr. Smiley will. I wouldn’t be shocked at all if he even talked about hell on Oprah. It wouldn’t be the first time he gave the finger to liberal PC expectations.

  7. sounds like some leaders in the LCMS when we cry out for help to save our home congregations with HIS TRUTH—but the/some leaders say do and hear nothing so they can keep their positions-are we wrong.”controlled chaos” is now outright sin by leaders

  8. Isaiah 5:20-21…

    Woe to those who call evil good
    and good evil,
    who put darkness for light
    and light for darkness,
    who put bitter for sweet
    and sweet for bitter!
    Woe to those who are wise in their own eyes,
    and shrewd in their own sight!

  9. The New Yorker magazine has an excellent article on Rob Bell this week(amazing that they would write on him)

    This article makes it official. Rob Bell has rejected the inerrancy of scripture and just can’t handle orthodox doctrine anymore. He’s on a slippery slope out of Christianity and needs our prayers.

    Please make an attempt to read this secular magazine take on him.

  10. I have read all of Rob Bell’s books and lots of christian literature. I wish neither to praise him or slam him. Rather as Christians, we should filter the material we are exposed to using “a spirit of discernment” which God has given us all. We could never stop the onslaught of false profits in our world, the bible tells us that there will be many, especially in “the end days” but it is our business to be able to tell the difference. Many who have commented have taken phrases out of context in both the bible and also Rob Bell’s book. These should be looked at in the context in which they are written to receive their broader meaning. Because the bible has been translated so many times over such a long period, taking a single verse out of context can disastrously lead to a misinterpretation of the greater message. Rob Bell makes a point we cannot ignore. That the salvation of a life cannot depend solely on the hope that he will get the message from some other person. What happens to the person who dies not knowing Jesus’s sacrifice and what it meant simply because he hadn’t got the message? Does he go to hell?
    And if every human who has sinned is destined for “HELL”, exactly how many people are we expecting to get to “HEAVEN” ?
    When asked what hell is or where it is my answer is simple. HELL is simply any place that God isn’t.

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