If you haven’t heard already, Rob Bell has a new book coming out. It’s called Love Wins: A Book about Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived. Here’s the promo video which is compelling in its own right:
The video, as you can probably infer, is rather provocative, especially because it seems to lean toward (gasp!) universalism, the doctrine of universal salvation.
From the publisher:
An electrifying, unconventional pastor whom Time magazine calls “a singular rock star in the church world,” Rob Bell is the most vibrant, central religious leader of the millennial generation. Now, in Love Wins: Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived, Bell addresses one of the most controversial issues of faith—the afterlife—arguing that a loving God would never sentence human souls to eternal suffering. With searing insight, Bell puts hell on trial, and his message is decidedly optimistic—eternal life doesn’t start when we die; it starts right now. And ultimately, Love Wins.
Now, the book hasn’t come out yet, and so no one (except those chosen few with an advance copy) can really read the whole thing until the end of March. But the video above has got the Christian blogosphere all atwitter. The whole story on Christianity Today’s blog here.
My own thoughts are forthcoming, but the reactions from different voices have been . . . interesting. Some selections, for your reading pleasure.
John Piper once wisely wrote, “Bad theology dishonors God and hurts people. Churches that sever the root of truth may flourish for a season, but they will wither eventually or turn into something besides a Christian church.”
It is unspeakably sad when those called to be ministers of the Word distort the gospel and deceive the people of God with false doctrine.
But it is better for those teaching false doctrine to put their cards on the table (a la Brian McLaren) rather than remaining studiously ambiguous in terminology.
So on that level, I’m glad that Rob Bell has the integrity to be lay his cards on the table about universalism. It seems that this is not just optimism about the fate of those who haven’t heard the Good News, but (as it seems from below) full-blown hell-is-empty-everyone-gets-saved universalism.
John Piper himself tweeted a link to the above post with a simple (even dismissive), “Farewell, Rob Bell.” Hey, that rhymes!
Here’s Trevin Wax:
I pray that Rob will once again preach the glories of the God who truly loves, the God who upholds his own glory at all costs, the God who loves us despite our sin, the God who takes on flesh and dies for us in order that we might find eternal satisfaction in him. In the words of Tim Stoner, Holy love wins:
As to the former question, it doesn’t matter if it’s meant to be promotional, devotional, or confrontational, the fact is he’s teaching. And false teaching of this depth and breadth needs to be addressed. This is not a conflict of personalities or an intramural turf war. This is about the gospel–what it means, what it accomplished, and what’s at stake if we do not believe its good news.
I know many young evangelicals barely have any stomach for controversy, let alone strong words about a serious topic. But if there is no way to be simultaneously bold and humble; if there is no way to be a gentle, caring person while still speaking in clear tones about hurtful error; if there is no way to correct those who oppose sound doctrine without being a moral monster; if there’s no way to love truth and grace at the same time, then there’s no way to be a biblical Christian. Judgmentalism is a sin and Calvinists can be jerks. But not every judgment is sinful and not every truth is cruel just because Reformed people teach it.
And as to the latter question, if Bell ends up espousing a traditional view of hell, the wrath of God, and penal substitution, that would mean McLaren’s blurb was misleading, the publisher’s description was misleading, and Bell’s video was misleading. Love Wins can be the second coming of Jonathan Edwards and it still doesn’t change that what was communicated in the video was untrue to the Scriptures, inconsistent with historic orthodoxy, belittling of the cross, deceiving to unbelievers, and a tragic distortion of God’s character.
Naturally, the backlash on the Reformed side provoked a number of thoughts from other bloggers who are, perhaps, a bit less dogmatic.
Here’s David Sessions:
I really have heard it all from these people when it comes to their assurance of the authority of scripture, but they can’t escape the reality that there are many things, including hell, on which the Bible is thoroughly inconclusive. As Jason Boyett explained today, you can’t draw any clear idea about hell from scripture without exegetical gymnastics. And on issues like this, you’d think people as deeply committed to self-examination and humility as Piper and Company ostensibly are would give other Christians some room for error. Especially, especially when those Christians are—like, God help us, all Christians should be—hoping people don’t have to burn in an eternal fire.
Jason Boyett (read the whole thing!):
But here’s where Taylor’s and Piper’s responses annoy and frustrate me: They are so absolutely certain that they are right. Because Rob Bell seems to be indicating that hell might not be a place of eternal suffering — or might not exist at all in the way traditional Christianity thinks of it — then they say he is flat-out wrong. Dangerously wrong. False-doctrine wrong. Opposing-the-Gospel wrong. But you know what? The Bible is really squishy on the subject of hell. The everlasting-torment hell of Dante and Jonathan Edwards doesn’t exist at all in the Old Testament. In the New Testament, Jesus talks about hell a lot, but sometimes in ways that a reasonable person could interpret metaphorically (like when he calls it Gehenna, after a real-life burning trash heap outside Jerusalem). And for centuries, some Christians have tried to make the case that, when Paul says Christ died for all, he really meant it. Not some. All.
No, universalism isn’t an orthodox Christian position. Hell is. But are we not willing to admit that, maybe, over the years, we could have gotten something wrong? Is it so wrong to maybe hope that everyone gets saved? That hell doesn’t exist? Because I totally hope that to be the case.
And my personal favorite, Jeff Keuss:
To put it even more bluntly, if Heaven is akin to a junior high lock-in night where you can’t leave and I am locked in, then love doesn’t matter does it? But if I am choosing to be embraced by the love of God as God is choosing to embrace me through the grace and mercy of Christ and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit, then the last thing I am looking for is the proverbial door. To put it bluntly, eternal security and damnation are code in neo-Calvinist rhetoric for simply not trusting in God’s ability to continually choose us and would rather have a once and for all “yes” that is final and ends the conversation so the relationship is always submissive to certainty in our own doctrine rather than God’s sustaining providence. Put that in your Piper and smoke it…
In other news, I’m a huge nerd. More thoughts on all this forthcoming.