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Rob Bell, Hell, The Gospel Coalition, and Holy Week

Bound Lamb by Francisco de Zurburan

In my own heart this last week I felt the stirrings of revival. It happened at The Gospel Coalition, a conference co-founded by Tim Keller and D. A. Carson designed to bring intellectual and spiritual integrity to Christian leaders. I want to share, this HOLIEST of weeks, from a special emergency session that deeply stirred me. Then next week, beginning Easter Sunday, I want to share from Tim Keller’s session on The Crossing Over in Exodus. Both, as well as other sessions, were amazing. I believe that if you take the time this Holy Week, and then again, Resurrection Week, that you too may feel the stirrings of revival in your heart.

There were 6,000 people at The Gospel Coalition from every tribe and nation – mostly men, but women as well. I met a pastor from Mexico in the elevator who, in response to my questioning, tearfully said, “The Lord provided for me to be here.” I know his words could have been repeated again and again by thousands.

You can hear many of the talks right now on this website:


I want to begin, this Holy Week, with the session where I sensed revival in my heart, and it is relevant to our quest to overcome idolatry, because of what Jonathan Edwards termed “the expulsive power of a new affection.” In this session, I was reminded again of how holy God is, and how blessed I am to be redeemed. This was a special early morning emergency session scheduled in response to Rob Bell’s new book: Love Wins. You may have heard the stir – Rob Bell, popular young pastor of a Grand Rapids megachurch of 7,000 has embraced universalism. It seems nearly every holy week that Time Magazine or another popular secular magazine, features some kind of blasphemy on the cover. Satan always slithers out of his hole during Holy Week, breathing lies. His lie from the beginning of time is that we should not believe God’s Word, His judgment, His Gospel. That is the basic lie in Rob Bell’s book. (I have liked Rob Bell in the past, even used clips from his well done Nooma series at my conferences – particularly liking the one on grief called Rain. Zondervan published those videos and many other of Rob’s books – but refused to publish Love Wins.) But his departure shows he was never with us.

Honestly, I want to confess that I have struggled with the doctrine of hell, even though I do believe it because I believe Jesus. But there’s a part of me, in thinking of those I love who may not embrace Christ, that has pleaded with God: “But torment forever? O Lord – really? What if that person comes to his senses in hell? Lord, is there really no hope ever for him?”

The special session not only helped me with those questions, but stirred a revival in my heart. It put me in awe again of a holy God, a just God, and yet a merciful God. I wept, as did many, feeling ashamed for questioning God, and my mouth was stopped. Martin Lloyd Jones defines a Christian as one whose mouth is stopped, quoting Job. Remember when Job was questioning God about His justice? When God answered him, Job said, “I put my hand over my mouth.”

You can hear D. A. Carson’s opening remarks to this session in which he explains the two main kinds of universalism and why they are not true if you click here:


Carson makes many strong points, but he closed with the truth that hell is not filled with people wanting to repent, but rather people who still want to be their own gods. (Consider the story Jesus told in Luke 16 of the rich man and Lazarus – though he wants to warn his family, he also is not repenting.)

After Carson spoke, four men, including Keller, responded. Each had so much to offer. I want you to listen, because it is so good, but I will share a few of the points that convicted me.


You may also watch the video here: http://thegospelcoalition.org/resources/a/preaching_from_the_old_testament

Tim Keller:

There must be a penalty for sin. If you lessen the penalty, you lessen the sin. (How would you feel if someone murdered someone you loved and could be let off by paying $100?) You also lessen what Christ did – He was the lamb of God who sacrificed Himself to pay for our sin.

Keller made some fascinating remarks about C. S. Lewis’ view of hell (he believed in it) and also Bell’s book. He said he felt Bell ridiculed those who had a different view, and that he has learned that it is far better to treat people with respect – to phrase what they believe in the clearest and most honoring way, so that when you dismantle their argument, they know they have been heard. (I have seen Keller do this with the atheists on his video The Reason for God. He treats them with respect, he understands we have honest reasons for doubt, and they listen.)

Stephen Um (Pastor from Korea)

He said that love without justice is something western people embrace. People from his area of the world who have seen atrocities done to those they love, have trouble with a God who is all love and does not punish wickedness. Bell’s treatise is not what makes sense, but what makes sense to western people.  Bell’s message subverts the Gospel in which we see both love and justice together.

Um said that universalism not only rejects a holy God, but hurts sinners who need to be justified.

Crawford Loritz

“Let us not a la carte the attributes of God.” He is the one who quoted Martin Lloyd Jones: “At the very heart of human behavior is our desire to be in control of God.” Those in hell still want to be in control.

He urged us to take our questions to the Word of God. Jesus spoke more about hell than did anyone else in Scripture.


1.       Is there a way, this Holy Week, that you could set aside some special time to draw near to God? Perhaps you could do it for an hour on Palm Sunday, or fast lunches to find the time during the week, or spend the hours Jesus was on the cross (9 to 3) on Good Friday. Ask God to show you. I urge you to listen to the above, for such a time as this, and to take notes. If you do, I’d love for you to share what you learned and your thoughts about it. Tell us, through the week.



2.       Read Exodus 12:1-13 and find any parallels that you can between:

A.      The lamb and Jesus

B.      What the Israelites were told to do and what we must do to be delivered from God’s righteous wrath

The Wrath (the Lion) and The Mercy (the Lamb) of God

3.       Read Revelation 5:1-14

A.      What question does the angel ask in verse 2?

B.      Why does John weep in verse 4?

C.      What does one of the elders tell John in verse 5?

D.      What attributes do you associate with a Lion? How do you see this in the LORD? (God the Father or the Son)

E.       When other animal does John see in verse 6?

F.       What attributes do you associate with a Lamb? How do you see this in Jesus?

G.      If you have not seen my daughter’s video story of the painting of Aslan, click here and give your thoughts:


H.      Why, according to verse 9-10, is Jesus worthy to take the scroll and open its seals?

4.       Why is love without truth enablement? Think of your role as a parent, and then of God’s role as a parent.

5.       Why is truth without love cruel?

6.       Why must the Gospel have both?

7.       Meditate on the chiasm of Psalm 85:10 (a chiasm is when you draw a line from a word in the first line to a word that corresponds to a word in the second line, so that the two lines cross) Do it here:

Mercy and truth are met together;

righteousness and peace have kissed each other.

Thank God for His truth that leads to righteousness

Thank Him for His mercy that leads to peace

8.       Share your favorite song of the cross and tell why. (Be singing it this week!)

9.       How did God meet you this Holy Week?

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  1. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rcybMPYRL4I

    another consideration: study and show thyself approved.

    God is with you, let the spirit of truth lead you to all truth, seek and you will find, perfect love cast out fear. Seek the approval of God, not man.

    In His confidence,

  2. One last greeting:


    dance with me!!


  3. Thank you so much for this post. I was one of those who attended your conference and viewed the Rain video.
    I had been confused by your showing of the video, after learning a few years ago of Rob’s leanings away from evangelical Christianity,as I not sure if you were veering into the emergent philosophy.
    I am pleased to hear how God brought revival to your heart through the messages.
    I do have a question though. Will you still continue showing Rob Bell videos?
    Thank you again for your synopsis and links to the messages.

  4. Hi Susie, are you addressing me or Dee?


    1. Hi Ana. Sorry about that.I was addressing Dee.

  5. Thanks for this great post. Keller et al are such important voices today.

    I do look forward to your response to Susie about whether you will still show Rob Bell videos. I was frustrated with Bell for self-tarnishing his name..but I have made the decision to still show his videos..often with some qualifying comments.

    But you did say flat out above that Bell is a universalist. He has never said he is, and has said repeatedly that he is not. Often with Bell I say, “Don’t hear what he;s not saying.”

    Note on the “expulsive power of a new affection.” the source is Thomas Chalmers, not Edwards.

    Keep up the great work. We really need profound women’s voices such as yours to speak to today’s church…and to fellow women.

  6. awesome, Dee.