And then there is the question of morality. With another chance, will people behave? The foundation of morality is consequences. In parenting, education and jobs -- "there are a lot of things in life, where you get only one chance," said McKnight.
Trevin Wax, 30, another rising evangelical, argued that Bell's "judgmentless" God is no god at all.
"People who are upset with God for allowing suffering are the same people who are upset that God judges," said Wax, author of another new book, "Counterfeit Gospels: Rediscovering the Good News in a World of False Hope."
"You can't have it both ways," said Wax, editor of LifeWay Christian Resources in Nashville, Tenn., and a former associate Baptist pastor. "The God who purges evil has to declare something right and wrong. Judgment and justice are two sides of the same coin."
"What kind of 'love' is this?" he asked. "A god who is never angered at sin and who lets evil go by unpunished is not worthy of worship."
Bell writes that because God is merciful, those who don't believe in Christ will find their way to him in the end. All are saved except those who outright reject God's love.
That, said Wax, is contrary to 2,000 years of Christian teaching and is "biblically unsustainable."
The heaven-hell discussion is the "bird in the eco-system," said Wax, quoting another traditional Christian preacher, Tim Keller. "If it goes extinct, it throws off everything. People say you can have a disagreement on eternal punishment and everything else is OK. You really can't. The doctrine of hell ties into the magnitude of what sin and idolatry is, and if you take away eternal punishment, it diminishes God in the process."
"I don't remember a debate of this magnitude in the last 10 years," said Wax. "Maybe it's because Rob Bell is so popular a teacher and his videos are so enormously successful and he is pastor of a growing well-known church."
Another traditionalist said Bell's new rejection of a fire and brimstone god is actually prophesied in scripture.
Phil Hotsenpiller, pastor of the Friends Church in Yorba Linda, Calif., cited scripture that predicts "many false prophets" who will "depart from the faith."
Prior to the return of Christ, Hotsenpiller quoted 2 Timothy 4:2, 4: "the time will come will they will not endure sound doctrine but according to their own desires because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers and they will turn their ears aways from the truth, and be turned aside to fables."
Hotsenpiller, author of the graphic novel, "Armageddon Now," runs workshops on the apocalypse, which is described in Revelations.
He said that "spiritual disruptions" like Bell's reinterpretation of the Bible may be responsible for the unusual amount of global activity -- earthquakes, the financial crisis and nations aligning for mass destruction.
"I think he has departed and everyone knows it," said Hotsenpiller. "Everyone who I have talked to within Christianity -- and not the most conservative -- say Rob Bell has gone off the deep end.
"He is such a vocal mouthpiece," he said. "What if Billy Graham said there was no hell?"