Archive for February, 2011

Rob Bell and Universalism

The Christian blog world has been rocked this week after Rob Bell’s new book has been announced with the promotional video, LOVE WINS (from Rob Bell on Vimeo). Notable Christian bloggers Justin Taylor, Joshua Harris, and Kevin DeYoung have all weighed in.

Christianity Today blogger, Sarah Pulliam Bailey, has has responded with criticism for Justin Taylor and others for passing judgment before the book it is fully released.

John Piper tweeted, “Farewell Rob,” only to be blasted by Scot McKnight, who wrote to Bailey,

Frankly, John Piper’s flippant dismissal of Rob Bell is unworthy of someone of Piper’s stature. The way to disagree with someone of Rob Bell’s influence is not a tweet of dismissal but a private letter or a phone call. Flippancy should have no part in judging a Christian leader’s theology, character or status.

Taylor, Piper, DeYoung, and Harris have this right. After watching that video, how much more needs to be seen, heard, or read? Quite frankly, the content of book would have to completely contradict the content in the promotional video in order for Taylor and others to be wrong.

This new video does from Bell does not surprise me at all. I have been following Rob’s trajectory for the past several years. In one sense, I grieve for those who have been influenced by his teaching. I also fear for him, that blackness of darkness has been reserved for him. However, in another sense, I’m glad that he has been unmasked.

What Rob Has Already Said

He writes in Velvet Elvis,

While we were unable to do anything about our condition, while we were helpless, while we were unaware of just how bad the situation was, Jesus died. And when Jesus died on the cross, he died for everybody. Everybody. Everywhere. Every tribe, every nation, every tongue, every people group. Jesus said that when he was lifted up, he would draw all people to himself. All people everywhere. Everybody’s sins on the cross with Jesus. So this reality, this forgiveness, this reconciliation, is true for everybody. Paul insisted that when Jesus died on the cross, he was reconciling ‘all things, in heaven and on earth, to God.’ All things, everywhere. This reality then isn’t something that we make true about ourselves by doing something. It is already true. Our choice is to live in this new reality or cling to a reality of our own making.

To Bell, since Jesus paid for the sins of the whole world, then the whole world is already reconciled to Jesus. The only choice now is not to make this reconciliation true – there is no call for faith and repentance. Rather, the question is: “Are you going to live in this new reality or will you cling to one of your own making?” It has been suggested that Rob’s work has been highly influenced by neo-orthodox theologian, Karl Barth. Notice the similarities; Barth writes,

The conversion of the world to God has thereofre taken place in Christ with the making of this exchange. There, then, in Christ, the weakness and godlesness and sin and enmity of the world are shown to be a lie and objectively removed once and for all. And there, too, in Christ, the peace of the world with God, the turning of man to Him, his friendship with Him, is shown to be the truth and objectively confirmed once and for all. That is the history which Paul has to narrate. And such it is the history of God with Himself, as he has already said in v. 18. But now it is also the history of God with the world, as we are told in v. 19. And notice that in this respect too (and the two cannot be separated) it has taken place once and for all, the history of a decision which has been taken and which cannot be reversed or superseded. That is how He was in Christ – we might say with Jn. 3:16 that is how He loved the world – and it is the fact, and it is so, it is in force, and must and will be, whether there are few or many who know the fact, and whatever attitude the world may take to it. The world is God’s. Whatever else we may have to say about it (e.g. that it perishes) we must also remember that it is God’s – not merely because it is His creature, not merely because God has sworn to be faithful to man, but because God has kept His oath, because He has taken the world from a false position in relation to Himself, becuase He has put it in that place which belongs to it in relationship with Himself. The reconciliation of the world with God has taken place in Christ. And because it has taken place, and taken place in Christ, we cannot go back on it. The sphere behind it has, in a sense, become hollow and empty, a sphere which we cannot enter. The old has passed away, everything has become new. The new is conversion to God. In v. 18 Paul said that this had happened to him personally in Christ. In v. 19, and as the basis of the former verse, he says that it has happened to the world in Christ. It was a definitive and self-contained event.

If everyone is already reconciled to Christ, then the questions naturally follow: “Who goes to hell?” and “Is there a real place called hell?” Bell gives some answers in his first chapter of Sex God, entitled “God Wears Lipstick.” He writes,

Now if there’s a realm where things are as God wants them to be [heaven], then there must be a realm where things are not as God wants them to be. Where things aren’t according to God’s will. Where people aren’t treated as fully human. It’s called hell.

Ask Rob Bell if he believes in hell and he will tell you that he does. However, his comments in Velvet Elvis may suggest otherwise; he writes,

“Heaven is full of forgiven people. Hell is full of forgiven people.”

In an interview with the Ooze, the online presence of known universalist, Spencer Burke, Rob gives some interesting answers.

Q: You recently preached a sermon called “God wants to save Christians from hell.” I was discussing the message with a guy who after hearing this message was a bit disturbed and somehow came to the conclusion that you didn’t believe in a literal hell. Let me ask you, do you believe in a literal hell that is defined simply as eternal separation from God?

Rob: Well, there are people now who are seriously separated from God. So I would assume that God will leave room for people to say “no I don’t want any part of this.” My question would be, does grace win or is the human heart stronger than God’s love or grace. Who wins, does darkness and sin and hardness of heart win or does God’s love and grace win?

I don’t know why as a Christian you would have to make such declarative statements. Like your friend, does he want there to be a literal hell? I am a bit skeptical of somebody who argues that passionately for a literal hell, why would you be on that side? Like if you are going to pick causes, if you’re literally going to say these are the lines in the sand, I’ve got to know that people are going to burn forever, this is one of the things that you drive your stake in the ground on. I don’t understand that.

Q: Especially when so many fail to recognize the hell that many people are experiencing today and do little about it.

Rob: Yeah, I would think it would be your duty as a Christian to hope and long and pray for somehow everybody to be reconciled to God. If you are really serious about evangelism, as I’m sure your friend would claim, and you wanted to save people from hell, then wouldn’t your hope be that everybody reconciles with God? Why would you hope for anything else? It would be your duty to long for that. I would actually ask questions about his salvation.

You can see that whole interview here.

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