Rob Bell-- More about Judgment

Darrell L. Bock's picture

This morning deals with Bell's take on why judgment is a bad story. Here we have less Scripture and more opinion. Bell does not like an angry God and says God does not get what he wants when he judges.

Then why does Scripture talk about judgment so much? I make this point because we do not speculate about the future or judgment when Scripture speaks to it. We cannot take half the Scripture (God's love and compassion) and pit it against another half (God's wrath and judgment) and then walk away and call that tension, and then claim we are doing theology. These texts say more than Bell suggests. Here is why.

Bell correctly points out that we are all a part of God's family according to several Scriptures. Yes, but what Bell does not tell us (yet again another omission) is that most of these texts address us as God's creatures and that God as Creator means we are accountable to him. The idea of being in God's family in a more intimate sense is not the point of these texts or else Jesus' announcement of the kingdom and a call to repent makes no sense. If God's love eventually overcomes, then why did not Jesus make that the point of his preaching? Why did he not say, "Hang around long enough and God will show compassion and let you in." Or "Watch long enough and the love of God will overwhelm you and melt your heart." That was not his message. It was to repent and receive what God graciously offers--forgiveness and new life. But to refuse it is to commit "blasphemy against the Spirit" and for that sin there is no forgiveness (Mark 3:29).

Another topic Bell ignores the implications of are parables that tell of the door being closed and people being on the outside looking in as people come from all over but those near missed the meal and look in from the outside. Apparently the "in" and "out" imagery Bell dislikes comes from Jesus as well. Read Luke 13:25-28 or Matthew 25:10-12. There are other texts as well where the odd man out weeps and gnashes teeth. This also pictures people on the outside. Jesus did speak about judgment, about a judgment that did matter and that did cost-- and not just with language that looks at a temporary purging-- but being on the outside for not knowing someone.

Bell describes judgment as being for not believing the right things. This is an oversimplification. It is for not responding to God, for not coming to know him on the basis of relationship He sets. The parables I just noted above end with the refrain "I do not know you." This is about more than propositions (the way Bell likes to tell it), it is about self understanding before God. God's goodness and love says, I will forgive you if you accept my gift and understand you need me and what I offer. Yet many walk away. If they do not get it now, why would more time help? What more can God do to show that He cares than to take our place of punishment and offer us a clean slate?

Here is why getting the book of Revelation right is so important. Bell reads Revelation 21-22 as if Revelation 19-20 did not exist. Is Satan judged alone? When Jesus spoke of the goats condemned in Matthew 25 was he only kidding or rhetorically scaring people with an image that in the end does not come to pass? Where is the tension in what that image shows? Justice is a part of God's work, so is His judgment. The new heaven and earth is filled with people from all nations, but that is not the same as saying everyone (or almost everyone) is in, if they just hang around God long enough. Jesus came as the revelation from God and many rejected him. Luke 13:6-9 even suggests that more time may not (read did not) help Israel. 

Our point is that Jesus did speak about judgment in teaching the parables and in the revelation to John in the final book of Scripture. Judgment is only a bad story for those who struggle with the concept of God and His right to judge. Yes, God desires all be saved. Yes, He reaches out in love. Yes, He seeks the lost. Yes, He is capable of all of this. However, He made us in His image to be responsive to Him and He honors that responsiveness by making us accountable to Him. It is not always a pleasant story because we often reject what God graciously does for us. But that does not nullify the call to be responsive or the importance of that conscious choice.

This portrayal also ignores another element in Scripture. Those who hearts open up to God, God gets the gospel to them. Look at Cornelius in Acts 10.God is capable of that as well. To my mind, chapter 4 has been the weakest of Bell's chapters so far. A concept he finds hard to swallow is what he rejects. 

One more thing: Bell mentions Origen and Clement as those being open to what he is saying. I wonder if they are as open as he suggests. It is true that many in the past did hold to some exceptions of people who got in without consciously embracing Christ. These slots were reserved for the great philosophers of the past and others who showed an ethical dimension to their lives. But let's be clear Bell seems to have a much larger category than this in mind. What is a crack in the door for some, where God might be open to some who show a life of caring, Bell risks turning into no door at all, because a judgment and being out is not what Scripture directly addresses.

In sum, Bell says this only by ignoring or underplaying things Jesus taught in the parables and in the book of Revelation. I regret having to be so harsh, but it is a case of not allowing so much of what Scripture does teach to be swept aside as if it were not relevant. Again to note what Scripture says (all of it) is not speculation; it is exposition and doing theology.


Professor Bock,

Thanks for the great posts! Two questions:

1) What do you think about our temporal sins receiving eternal punishment? Do you think this is a problem for the justice of God?

2) Do you think that it is a good response to hope that God will in the end redeem all of his creation, including those that reject him in this age? Certainly there are promises of judgment, but do you think it is wrong for Christians to hope that there may be something we do not know yet about how all this will play out and to hope that God will redeem everyone (as might be hinted at in Romans 5 and 1Tim 2)?

Thanks for your time.


Darrell L. Bock's picture


1) Temporal sin and eternal punishment: The question here is a bit misleading. Temporal sin suggests sin has a limited impact. In fact, it often is passed on. As for the consequences- that is God's business. I think once all is known, God's acts will be shown to be just.


2) Hope for more redeemed: I do not think Romans 5 and 1 Tim 2 hint at anything more. The creation brought into balance (if you will) includes the exercise of God's justice and judgment. This is why I noted the texts I did in this review.

Professor Bock,

Thanks for your time. I appreciate your answer to the first question. You did not answer the second question; I was not primarily concerned with the texts. So, I'll ask again: Do you think that it is a good response to hope that God will in the end redeem all of his creation, including those that reject him in this age for whatever reason? Certainly there are promises of judgment, but do you think it is wrong for Christians to hope that there may be something we do not know yet about how all this will play out and to hope that God will redeem everyone?

This is typically my response to this sort of discussion, but I am curious to know what you think about it.




"Again to note what Scripture says (all of it) is not speculation; it is exposition and doing theology."

Amen Brother!

By the way I did not think you were too harsh. You were merely exercising godly discernment and judging in light of God's Holy Word.

Darrell L. Bock's picture

One can hope, but I am not sure what good it does when the issue seems to be addressed by Scripture.


Thanks for this reasoned review. We will pass it along to some of our SF students who have inquired. Stay at it, look forward to having you back on campus, but know you are learning much in the mother land.

- Paul

Dr. Bock,

Thanks you for you blog and your thoughts!  I really respect your writings and really appreciate them.  

I have been just starting to look into what Origen and Clement wrote on the topic, but their writings are a little harder to search though.  I found a few marks for Origen in First Principles 3.6.3, but they seem very cryptic to me (As does much of his writing).  Is there any place in particular where you would direct me or is it just all that cryptic and that is your point?

I did find Augustine’s arguments to be very helpful especially his City of God 21.11 “Some, however, of those against whom we are defending the city of God, think it unjust that any man be doomed to an eternal punishment for sins which, no matter how great they were, were perpetrated in a brief space of time; as if any law ever regulated the duration of the punishment by the duration of the offence punished!”

This seems to be one Rob Bell’s main points later in the book, that it would be unfair for God to punish eternally those who only sinned briefly. It is amazing to me that we would still be bringing up these exact same arguments some 1600 years later.

Thanks Again Dr. Bock!


"It is amazing to me that we would still be bringing up these exact same arguments some 1600 years later."

Yes it is amazing in light of the fact that God says, "If you have sinned in one point of the law you are guilty of all."

But even beyond that, the God's Word is also abundantly CLEAR that we were born in sin. We are SINNERS in need of a Saviour. God has graciously provided one in His Son Jesus Christ!

Darrell L. Bock's picture

Finding material on Clement and Origen is not easy. If you can get to a copy of the old Ante-Nicene Fathers, they have sections on both. Let me know if you find it and what you find.

If you go to this site: <> (Christian Classics Ethereal Library) you can find writings by both Clement and Origen. It is a good site for all the Early Church Fathers. Just type in their names in the search bar on the home page I have given.

I did check it out and found that if you isolate information you could come to conclusion that Rob Bell was right. However even though I did not find a multitude of statements concerning judgment and hell there were enough to come to the opposite conclusion that Bell came to.

I suggest all the readers of this post check it out for themselves. You will be spiritually enriched all the more on a variety of topics.

I must add that further reading of Origen has revealed that there are some controversies concerning what he really taught about judgment and hell. So I would say read his works asking the Holy Spirit for spiritual discernment. This is how we should be reading all men's works anyhow, even this post. The Apostle Paul commended the Bereans for their diligent searching in the Scriptures to see if what they were hearing from Paul was in accordance with them.

My understanding from what I have read is that Clement also was controversial on some subjects too.

Some would even categorize them as heretical. That, apparently, is an on-going debate. I will have to do more reading before I would make that declaration. What I have gleaned concerning his view of Jesus and salvation seems to be orthodox. More reading and studying will be necessary. Which quite frankly will not be a main priority for me now. My focus will remain on the Scriptures themselves.

Sinners continue their sin in hell. They continue in their hatred of God. There is no such thing as "temporal" sins. This is one reason why eternal punishment is fitting. Not to mention that just one sin infinitely offends an infinitely holy God.

I have not finished Bell's book, but this thought strikes me: Bell contends in effect, that Free Will continues after death and after judgment. Thus people will be able, when faced with Hell on the one hand, and seeing Heaven on the other, to exercise Free Will, repent and enter heaven. Yet, to be consistent, he must admit that Heaven-dwellers would also have Free Will and could reject Christ and enter Hell. So that, finally, we do not end up with all people in Heaven to the glory of God, but (at least the possibility of) a revolving-door, as some enter and some leave those open gates.

I listen to Bell's Podcast sermons regularly, and find his messages to be more sound and resonating a better understanding of scripture than anything in this book. He has stated that his goal is to engage people in a dialogue rather than closing the door before they ever enter. But this book shows sloppy study, sloppy debate, and purposeful "spin" of scripture. Is he correct that throughout history great theologians have been on both sides of this argument?

Have others who believed some may be SAVED after death conceded that some may be LOST after death? What of Satan and other lost angels?

Darrell L. Bock's picture


As I have noted elsewhere, some theologians have some exceptions, but the door is not nearly as wide open as Bell's book suggests. I know of no "revolving door" views. Jesus' parables teach the door is shut. See Matthew 25:1-13 or Luke 13:22-30 are examples.

Hebrews9:27 And just as people 31  are appointed to die once, and then to face judgment, 32  9:28 soalso, after Christ was offered once to bear the sins of many, 33  to those who eagerly awaithim he will appear a second time, not to bear sin 34  but to bring salvation. 35 

You die once, you face judgment - no second chances.

Only "those who eagerly await Him" will receive the consummation of their salvation.

Darrell L. Bock's picture

E: Nice point.

Professor Bock,

When Paul says that the things written before were for our learning, doesn't all of that history (namely the Old Testament) indicate some very harsh judgements for disobedience and rejection of the truth of God's holiness and divine authority?  Philosophically, if one asks why a God who speaks of an afterlife ("My book" in Deut. 32:33) gives graphic examples of the results of His displeasure at continual violation of His ethical standards (read everything from Israel's defeat at Ai to Israel's defeat and exile at the hands of Babylonia) in this life, one very obvious conclusion would be to warn of greater consequences in that life, is it not?

Darrell L. Bock's picture



To say it briefly, yes, it is to issue a real warning.

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