Who has the skinny on hell?

The release of Rob Bell's book Love Wins has become an event. Maybe even an Advent. The conversation has touched a nerve in USA and the twittersphere has been twitching with pithy tweets and retweets for over a week.

"Farewell Rob Bell" has probably become the most famous Christian tweet of all time, even though no one really knows what John Piper meant by it. T-shirts will be made. Bumper stickers. The Farewell Rob Bell Bible?

It reminds me of 2004, when it was Don Carson and Brian McLaren. Carson's tapes on the emerging church excited the blogosphere into a frenzy of activity. At the outbreak of that controversy, I found myself heavily involved in defending the emerging church and standing up to critics.

Who had the skinny BACK THEN????

During that time, I stumbled on a guy who I thought had something to say that would add clarity and balance to the kerfuffel. His name was Scot McKnight. And I was right . . . Scot had the skinny and his thoughts were crucial to understanding the argument and finding some sense in it.

Now its 2011. Rob Bell is in the hot seat and Al Mohler about to take the first shot. At Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Al Mohler and his guests will host a panel discussion this week just to deal with the Love Wins book.

If I had to point to a single blogger who I think could add some clarity and understanding to this conversation on hell, who would it be?

Who has the skinny on this conversation NOW?

I dont think Al Mohler has the skinny. For all his talk on the doctrine of hell under attack by liberalism, universalism, wimpy catholicism, and seeker-sensitivism, there is very little appeal to the Scriptures themselves which is where this debate should be centered.

I am not convinced Rob Bell has the skinny. And if he has, he is not talking.

I don't think Al Mohler's panel-buddies have the skinny either.

Justin Taylor has leveraged the whole conversation with a single blog post, which is really impressive, but I feel his compulsion to label Rob Bell a universalist will prevent some good study of the Scriptures.

Russell Moore has treated the emerging church as more of a cultural taste ("black turtlenecks and gottees") and less of a rigorous resourcing of Scriptural and historical evidence. But he seems quite open to learn and he might turn out to have something to say. But not the skinny.

Denny Burk does not seem aware of the nuances of the hell conversation. In his imagined banter with Rob Bell, he does not differentiate between the terms "eternal life" and "heaven", just as he thoughtlessly blends "judgement" and "hell". If he did that with many emerging church leaders in the room, he would have a serious argument on his hands. And if he is anything like Kevin DeYoung, he probably treat all instances of hell in the New Testamant, including "Tartarus" "Hades" and "Gehenna", as pointing to a single spacial reality in which all unbelievers will be punished forever. I dont think he is very familiar with this conversation or he would not ignore the nuances so easily.

I can think of someone, but I need to say that although this blogger's view of hell, judgement, heaven, and the Kingdom of God is heavily influenced by NT Wright and the New Perspective, as well as years of participation in the emerging church circles, he will not represent everyone and possibly not even Rob Bell. But he carries the conversation in a way that resonates with a lot of us and I am hoping he will be taken seriously.

I think Andrew Perriman has the skinny and is the blogger to watch this week.

You might have read Andrew Perriman on why he thinks Tim Keller gets hell wrong but the post to read is Kevin DeYoung, Rob Bell, and the argument about hell  and even better, keep reading the comments where Peter Wilkinson adds some great push-back and good addtions to the thread.

When you are done, you will see his other recent posts on Justin Taylor, the emerging church and the new perspective, and theology in general. But start with the Kevin DeYoung post first, and expect some good thoughts during the week. And then . . . tell me if I was wrong about Andrew Perriman having the skinny.

Previously on TSK: Before you read Love Wins


Andrew Jones launched his first internet space in 1997 and has been teaching on related issues for the past 20 years. He travels all the time but lives between Wellington, San Francisco and a hobbit home in Prague.


  • Michael says:

    Wonder if Big Al invited Rob to the event at Southern? Now that would be something worth watching.

  • Paul Roberts says:

    I don’t know whether I know enough about Hell to do the skinny Andrew, but I remember some nightclubs in Swansea in the early ’80s which were an near as it gets to Purgatory.

  • I’ve started to visit Andrew’s blog regularly. He is clearly articulate, but I sometimes wonder if after deconstructing the old what we’re left with is too nuanced and lacking enough drama to compete with the traditional view. That seems to be the challenge. The old view has all the fire and brimstone and centuries of branding, the emerging view is going to need some substance to compete.

  • Another thing to watch out for are the book sales once people actually read Love Wins. This brilliant marketing plan is how one handles the release of a vehicle (e.g., Snooki’s book or a movie staring Paulie Shore) that is considered to be a dud. The strategy is to put up information “about” the vehicle that’s designed to build a buzz without offering trailers or book excerpts for the public to review. Along those lines, the movie and book either isn’t available for the press to review or it’s only shown to a very highly selective media pool that the publicist knows will create the kind of buzz they wish to generate. The intent in this campaign is to make as much money before people get a chance to actually see the product because then the negative buzz builds and product soon fades into the background.
    In this case, I was told that review copies for Love Wins were being mailed this week to coincide with the release date of 3/15. Also, unlike Bell’s previous books, it doesn’t look like galleys were sent to outlets like Publishers Weekly who reviewed his previous offerings. (In today’s economy, galleys are limited to major outlets like PW that have a long lead time.) Meanwhile, folks have already gotten their review copies of Brian’s latest book, which also releases on the same day. (Brian endorsed Rob’s book and I find it telling that there isn’t any cross publicity here given they both have the same publisher.)
    Rob is a brilliant performer and I am sure he will dazzle tomorrow night – and the interviewer doesn’t know enough about Reformed theology to ask the right Qs that will provide clarity on where Bell stands in terms of this evangelical debate. What would be fascinating (and it won’t happen) would be to have Rob Bell debate Tim Keller. At the end of that exchange, evangelical pastors would know where Bell stands and they can decide if they want to support this new book or stick to his older fare especially the NOOMA videos.
    At any rate, I’m sure the internet will be ablaze at 8pm EST (when the interview ends), a move that will help feed into the publisher generated pre-pub buzz.

  • Kenton says:

    I wouldn’t read into the marketing strategy that the book is necessarily a dud. I think Rob/Harper One is employing the same kind of strategy, not because they have a dud on their hands, but because they are trying to bypass “the guild” and reach a popular audience. Rob is really putting his neck out there. If they were to market this according to convention, Piper, DeYoung, et. al. would have the inquisition structure in place to kill the message and the messenger.
    I hope skirting convention works. I’m thinking the release of this book is a Wittenburg door moment.

  • That’s an excellent and very apt comment, Mark. There is clearly more work to be done.

  • I hear you but if that were the case, then they would have used the marketing strategy that’s employed when pushing a product that has a very loyal audience and also a very strong opposition (e.g., Sarah Palin or Ann Coulter’s books). The strategy is to send review copies of the book only to those in the media who are sympathetic to the author. That way some major positive buzz is built up pre-pub by those in the media who have actually read the book and can comment in depth. This then attracts the fans and they buy the book in droves to the point where any negative criticism is effectively drowned out.
    Not sending out any copies is a sign that they don’t want anyone to actually read the book. In particular, you DON”T withhold sending the book around to Publishers Weekly, Library Journal, etc. unless you have a product that you sense will get a crappy review. You want those kind of trade reviews because these are the rags read by booksellers and libraries who pre-order the book so it’s on the shelves the day it releases.
    I am commending Harper One for a brilliant marketing plan that got their product out there in a very horrible market. Kuddos.

  • Brandon says:

    As a big fan, I’m keeping my eye on McKnight, but will add Perriman. Great links!

  • britt says:

    Yeah, I don’t think Andrew Perriman has the skinny, either. I might agree that our doctrine of hell needs to be looked at and reevaluated, but Perriman doesn’t seem to have it.

  • TSK –
    Nice work evaluating some of the blather out there…. thanks for the link to Perriman’s stuff, and AP – good work!
    I’ve sent some folks your way today:
    Bryan Berghoef

  • Andrew says:

    Britt you might be right about Perriman’s doctrine of hell but my real question is “who has the skinny on this conversation about hell?” ie, this rob bell and reformed critics blog event that is happening this week.
    Andrew P. sees most of the NT prophecies around the the hell verses as happening in the first century while others see them all happening in the future.
    most people are in the middle but it might be helpful for many to start with perriman’s first century horizon and then work forward in time, rather than starting with hal lindsay and working backwards.

  • britt says:

    You’re right. I could see Perriman as a place to start and relevant info, if not necessarily a place to settle. Maybe I had a different definition of “skinny.” 😉
    btw, your post on it last week was the only one I’ll point people to … the most reasonable look out there, imo. Thanks again.

  • Steve Hayes says:

    I haven’t read Rob Bell’s book, and am not likely to. Nor do I claim to have the skinny on Hell, but just in case it might interest you, my 2c worth is here:

  • That seems like a sensible strategy to me. Just for clarity, though, I think that there are two main focal points for the judgment passages: judgment on Jerusalem and judgment on Rome. There is, of course, also a final judgment of all the dead, but it seems to me that that is somewhat marginal to the main thrust of New Testament prophecy.

  • Travis says:

    Is Rob Bell about to become irrelevant or will his message resonate with a new generation of Christians? Your thoughts and comments would be appreciated at:

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