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Both Rob Bell and Tullian Tchividjian have each taken heat for talking too much about grace.[*] Here is, for example, an interview on John Piper's objections to Rob Bell, and here is David Murray's objection to Tullian's talk on works.

My premise is that they are fundamentally different. While both extend grace to an uncomfortable degree, Tullian also extends the literal demands of the law to an uncomfortable degree. In Tullian's view, you are in fact expected to "Be perfect", and when you realize you're not you seek out Jesus' righteousness. Bell on the other hand seems to say that grace is so great it erases hell for everyone.


  1. Are Bell and Tullian fundamentallly different, or fundamentally the same?
  2. Based on the conviction that all arguments have already been had before, do they essentially represent different sides of some famous split in church history-- say during the Nicene or Reformation periods?

Answers from those with different perspectives (agreeing with one or neither) are especially appreciated.

[*] If you are able articulate a better description of their common feature or problem than "talk too much about grace", that is part of my question.

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2 Answers

up vote 5 down vote accepted

Having read both of these authors, I can confidently say that Bell and Tullian are significantly different in their approaches to scripture, and in their interpretations thereof. I align myself strongly with Tullian's approach, but disagree strongly with Bell's belief.

Historically speaking, Bell's theology aligns well with historical Universalism, or Universal Reconciliation. He would state that all people, regardless of belief, will ultimately be going to heaven. To accomplish this, he redefines sin's effects as being bad not because it is an offense against an infinitely good God, but because of what it does to us. Sin damages us, but does not condemn us. And since it does not condemn us, the cross of Christ cannot solve a condemnation problem, but instead becomes a good example by which we live our lives.

Tullian's position falls pretty clearly along the lines of Calvinist Protestant Theology. He believes that the law of God is clear and extensive, and that the consequence of disobeying the law of God is eternal condemnation. Likewise, he believes that Christ's death on the cross fully paid the penalty that we owed for our sin, so that, through Christ, we might be able to experience fellowship with God. He believes that Jesus death on the cross grants positional righteousness to all who believe, thus justifying them in the eyes of God, and removing from them all condemnation.

Bell focuses on grace in the absence of the law, and in the absence of prior condemnation, but Tullian focuses on grace in the presence of the law, and in the presence of prior condemnation. The problem with Bell's theology is that grace cannot truly be real if the problem of condemnation doesn't exist. It would be as though you threw a life preserver to someone walking down the street in order to save them from drowning. Being on the street, they were never in any real danger of drowning, so they have no need for a life preserver. Tullian's theology, in contrast, offers a real problem, and then offers a real solution to the problem. We are condemned to hell, but Christ came and paid the penalty of condemnation, so that we might be free from that penalty. It's like throwing a life preserver to someone who is drowning. It makes Christianity needed and useful.

In short, Bell takes a real, deadly problem, denies it exists, and thus makes Christ nothing more than a symbolic, but unnecessary, solution. Tullian does not.

As a side note, it's important to that Tullian is mainly concerned with justification's effect on sanctification, while Bell is mainly concerned with defining justification, so objections to each of them are pointed at these two approaches. Piper's objection to Bell is objecting to Bell's view of justification, while Murray's objection to Tullian is objecting to his view of sanctification in light of justification. So in this sense, Piper objects to Bell saying that Bell is not defining Christianity right, while Murray objects to Tullian saying that Tullian doesn't define how we are to live out the Christian life right, yet he would agree with Tullian on his view of justification, and even says so in his objection.

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Bell is to be distinguished by his shoddy treatment of scripture. His word study on the Greek word "ainos" or "aionios" reads as though he wanted to express the 100% exact opposite of the truth. That level of total error is somewhat unusual and unsettling. I don't have time to go through his many errors. Refer to my book: "CrossCurrents: Making Sense of the Christian Life" It is on Amazon. A review of the book can be found here:


Blessings......... Jim

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Welcome to C.SE. I see you've made some inetresting and substantive contributions so far, but I'd really like to invite you to our faq. What we do here is a little different than most sites - We're more like a seminary than a church. The actual opinion is far less interesting than the facts you use to marshall your case. So, please understand when I say this is the start of a well-supported answer, but its tone seems rather off. While I agree that Bell handles Scripture "loosely" at best, there are better ways to phrase it –  Affable Geek May 13 '13 at 20:49
I could have weasel worded it, I suppose. Maybe I should have. But the bottom line would be the same. He is simply guilty of poor workmanship, which offends me. –  Harry James Fox May 13 '13 at 21:55
Bell says that the word aion has two meanings in Greek but that it does not mean "forever" as we think of forever. But the most authoritative lexicon is Bauer. Bauer shows aion to mean: 1. very long time, eternity. 2.a segment of time or age. 3. the world. 4. the Aeon as a person. He defines aionios as: 1. without beginning. 2. without beginning or end. 3. without end. We should note that the last meaning can include the idea of eternal quality. This means eternity or time without end. So despite Bell this is a biblical concept. –  Harry James Fox May 13 '13 at 22:04
This is a good start, as affable says, and linking to your book is perfectly acceptable. The problem is that there needs to be more in your answer here. There is no doubt that the content exists (in your book or mind or elsewhere). You just need to put it in the answer. –  fredsbend Feb 14 at 0:37
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