Rob Bell... a universalist?

Today I was surprised to see that Rob Bell was trending in Twitter. Normally  the "top ten" of the twitterverse is reserved for the likes of Justin Beiber et al. You know, the people that all the kids are into these days... But, Rob Bell? How did that happen? I had to find out... One click, and inspecting just a few tweets revealed why. That theological dirty word has been thrown at someone again like the proverbial "mud" and as always, it's stuck... universalism. Rob Bell is a universalist. Well, that's what we think he is at least. He must be if he titles his book "Love Wins", doesn't he?

I've posted on this topic before here, and received some interesting responses at that time. Again, I'm not a universalist myself, but I wish I was. I wish that everyone "made it in the end'. I'm certainly sympathetic to theologians who propose universalism as the way things will end. I think God might even be sympathetic as well. The theologian that most interests me, Gregory of Nyssa, was a universalist, and even suggests that the devil himself will be redeemed "in the end" (I've posted on that before here). It certainly takes some bravery, at the very least.

So, what's the problem? 

Is it really that Rob Bell "appears" to be preaching a universalistic gospel? He wouldn't be the first to do so. Or is it that we don't want everyone to "get there in the end"? Is the problem really with us, not Bell. We have followed Jesus and so deserve to get eternal rewards, (or for the Calvinists out there, God has chosen us so we are part of the select few), but those other people who have not done anything good in their lives should get what they've got coming to them... they should burn in hell for all of eternity. We're in the "in crowd' and we can't stand it when someone suggests that all of "our" effort is for nothing. Is that what the problem is?

Have we forgotten that none of us deserves any of the good gifts we've received from God? What right do any of us have to judge someone so harshly as to call them a heretic when they propose that God's love extends to everyone, regardless of good or bad behaviour, but simply because he does, in fact, love the whole world (John 3:16)?

Again, I'm not a universalist, but as a Salvationist I wrestle with this constantly. Our sixth doctrine states that Jesus Christ has "made an atonement for the whole world". The question that I constantly ask myself is "what do we mean by the whole world?  I really want the whole world to know the love of God. I think God does too.

Bell, in his promo clip (see below), asks some very difficult, but necessary, questions. He is right to ask what sort of God we would believe in who would only allow a "few" to "get there". What kind of God would that make him? I don't see these questions amongst Twitter. I just see judgement, condemnation and apparent offers to pray for his now eternally damned soul...

All because he dared propose that "Love wins". He dared to suggest that Jesus did actually die for all people, and that death was effective for all people. He dared to suggest that God would love all people, save all people, and bring all people into an eternal, loving relationship with himself...

At least that's what we think he said. We don't really know because his book hasn't actually been released yet.

Ironic, that.


Comments

  1. My sentiments exactly. Very well-said, Adam!

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  2. I have an even dirtier title for you Adam "feminist Universalist'. Imagine the horror of such a person! I have always found it disturbing how freaked out most Christians get at the idea of all people being redeemed. I get Rob Bells concern (what kind of God who choose only a few) but I have a bigger problem with the narcissistic control freak God who damns all those to hell who fail to believe what he says and do what he commands (like that is super clear?). That kind of God does not at all relate to the kenosis of Christ. But then, we always tend to argue for God’s power and not God’s submission.

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  3. There is a great line from the Simpsons: "God loves you; he's gonna kill ya." :-)

    Arseny

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  4. Good post Adam. Isn't it amazing how quick Christians are to condemn one of own.

    A word of caution though, theologically. Universal Atonement and universal salvation are not the same thing (your last paragraph made them sound equal). To believe the first is to embrace classic Christian doctrine. To embrace the second is to make the witness of the NT false, though like you, I wish it were true.

    Keep up the great posts!

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  5. i think you have the same position held by karl barth, which i also agree. barth argued that he is not a universalist, but he did not reject universalism as a possibility either (in light of the depth and width of God's grace and sovereignty).

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