Rob Bell: Universalist?

So I’ve done my best to avoid this topic, but I would like to share a few perspectives on this whole situation that’s brewing in regards to Rob Bell. For some, you’ve already met up with me and had some solid discussion around this topic, but I feel the drive to provide my personal perspective and clarification of where I’m at with all of this–as Tullian Tchividjian says–kerfuffle.

[note: if you’ve been sleeping for three days and have no idea what I’m talking about, click here –> http://ow.ly/46WIv]

[note 2: I will provide the content from the link below, and expound briefly upon it]

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The following content is drawn directly from Justin Taylor’s Blog post, and until otherwise identified, is not my own writing [slight format differences have been made to properly provide links as necessary].

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Rob Bell: Universalist? – From 2/26

Note: I’ve added an update at the end of this post.

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.

Here is HarperCollins’s description (http://ow.ly/46WTY) of his next book, Love Wins: Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived (http://ow.ly/46WUK)

Fans flock to his Facebook page, his NOOMA videos have been viewed by millions, and his Sunday sermons are attended by 10,000 parishioners—with a downloadable podcast reaching 50,000 more. 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.

I haven’t read the whole book yet and was hesitant to say something based on the publisher’s description (which usually isn’t written by the author). But this video from Bell himself shows that he is moving farther and farther away from anything resembling biblical Christianity:

Update: Thanks for all of you who have weighed in. I cannot respond to each comment, so I thought this might be the best way to make a few points.

1) One of the things I get criticized for is having comments in the first place, but this is a place where you can tell me if you think I’ve done things wrong or in the wrong way. I want to be open to correction, and this is one forum by which to do it.

2) I updated a couple of things on the original post. First, I deleted “seems to” with regard to Bell’s moving farther away from biblical Christianity. Second, I changed “unambiguous about his universalism” to “lay his cards on the table about universalism.” Third, I deleted the 2 Cor. 11:14-15 (http://ow.ly/46WXh) reference at the end. I do think it’s important to recognize the biblical theme that false teachers look like cuddly sheep and like angels of light. But let’s wait for the book so we can see all his cards laid out on the table.

3) I have not read all of Bell’s book, though I have read some chapters that were sent to me. When the book is published there will be detailed reviews, and I will link to them. I think that the publisher’s description combined with Bell’s video is sufficient evidence to suggest that he thinks hell is empty and that God’s love (which desires all to be saved) is always successful. I should have been more careful in my original post not to imply that Bell is definitely a universalist. He may believe that some people go out of existence and are not thereby saved. The materials I have seen sound more like universalism though (note it sounds like no one goes to hell, and that the title promises to talk about the fate of everyone who has ever lived, which sure sounds like it’s the same for everyone).

4) I highly doubt that this is a mere marketing stunt or that Bell is merely asking questions or playing Devil’s Advocate. If it turns out that the full book is diametrically opposed to his publisher’s description and to the conclusions he wants you to reach in the video, I will make that clear on this blog.

5) If Bell is teaching that hell is empty and that you can reject Jesus and still be saved, he is opposing the gospel and the biblical teaching of Jesus Christ. You may think that’s judgmental to say that; I think it’s being faithful. I would encourage a careful study of 1 Timothy to see what Paul says about false teaching and teachers.

6) For those who are not regular readers of this blog and think that the perspective advocated here is totally out to lunch, you may want to check out Kevin DeYoung’s post, “To Hell with Hell,” (http://ow.ly/46WYM) which gives a nice brief summary on the importance of understanding the wrath of God. As H. Richard Niebuhr wrote 75 years ago, too often we want “a God without wrath brought men without sin into a kingdom without judgment through the ministrations of a Christ without a cross,” (Kingdom of God in America [1937], p. 193). Also see Denny Burk’s post where he seeks to answer (http://ow.ly/46X1n) Bell’s questions from a biblical perspective.

7) Let’s remember to pray. Rob Bell needs to know and teach the liberating gospel of grace—including that Christ absorbed the Father’s wrath on behalf of those who trust in him and repent of their sins. And there are tens of thousands of folks who look to Rob Bell as a biblical teacher and leader. May God give much mercy.

Update 2: Announcement from The Gospel Coalition [http://ow.ly/46X46]

Rob Bell’s forthcoming book Love Wins has already raised perennial questions about universalism, exclusivism, the love of God, and heaven and hell. So what does the Bible say about these weighty matters? What did Jesus himself say? And what’s the best way to relate this teaching to a skeptical culture?

Don Carson and others will address these questions in a special session just added to The Gospel Coalition’s national conference [http://ow.ly/46X4E] in Chicago, April 12 to 14. A panel that follows Carson’s address will field questions from the audience.

Update 3: Kevin DeYoung has a helpful post [http://ow.ly/46X65] about whether or not (1) I needed to go to Rob Bell first before airing public criticism, and (2) I needed to remain silent until Rob Bell’s book is published.

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PHEW!!! Okay.. back to me again. // Again, I want to reiterate that THE ABOVE IS NOT MY OWN WRITING, BUT MERELY COPIED FROM JUSTIN TAYLOR’S BLOG POST WHICH HAS BEEN PROPERLY LINKED AND IDENTIFY ABOVE.

–Though I’m sure most of you are not even down to this part at this point, I find it necessary to at least finish up. As you can see, there are plenty of opinions swirling and verses being dug-about, and I simply wish to provide my extremely brief, inexhaustive point of view on this.

1) I believe some of the things in which are being said are contrary to the Gospel. — I want to be careful here–ESPECIALLY here–because I cannot be making concrete assumptions about Rob Bell’s intentions or arguments off of a simple 3-minute video outlining the basis of his book. I feel it necessary to wait until the book is read in it’s entirety before absolute criticisms or arguments are being made.

2) The last thing I EVER want to do is to break down someone else, so if it seems to be so, please rebuke me for it. — I simply feel like this is a significant enough issue to draw some attention and awareness to and to begin testing things in the solidification or the Word of God.

3) We [myself included] must pray for our leadership, and allow God to align their sights in the most biblical way possible. The last thing we need in the church is a heretical mud-slinging, verse-throwing, debate to be yet another form of division. As much as some of this content makes me uneasy, I understand that I need to be laboring in prayer for Rob Bell, and other leaders with whom involvement could occur. I find it important to point out that our opinions on the matter should not overshadow our intentionality in prayer.

4) I want you all to know, very clearly, that these points are being drawn from a vastly incomplete archive of information. This video and brief description can–in no way–be taken as an absolute viewpoint of Rob Bell. The book must be released, prayerfully engaged upon and weighed against scripture [as all things should be], and then examined as to his ideologies upon the issues — therefore concluding whether his arguments are biblical or not [again, which should be done in all things]. I want to, again, make it very clear that we do not have all of the content, and are thus unable to make claim to Rob Bell’s viewpoints without examining this book [and collective sources] in it’s entirety.

I pray that Truth and understanding will reign supreme in our Church, today, and that division and malicious intentions will be done away with. May we be refined in Truth, developed in the character of God, and wise in the ways everlasting — weighing everything, from everyone, against the absolute TRUTH that is the Word of God and allowing this Truth to direct our paths, our minds, our intentions, and our desires.

Amen.

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One thought on “Rob Bell: Universalist?

  1. I couldnt agree with you more. Until we read the book we have no clue or opinion on the matter a couple of chapters dont speak about the whole book.

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