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They should have waited

June 1, 2011

I hope you’ll pardon a little gloating here.

I wrote previously that people should not be denouncing Rob Bell (or anyone else, for that matter) as a heretic without knowing what the person really believes. Those who denounced Rob Bell as a universalist based on his book Love Wins should have waited until they read it. The book does not espouse universalism. Bell says very clearly that some people may well remain in hell.

Why did people think he is a universalist? Because he trashes the doctrine of eternal punishment of the impenitent at the hands of God. Bell is a, shall we say, non-hellist. Well, that’s not quite true. He does believe in hell, but not a hell recognizable from Scripture. Hell is the natural consequences of sinful choices. Bell also believes in post-mortem salvation, so it is possible that everyone could be saved, but it won’t necessarily be so.

While Bell would clearly love to be a true universalist, his belief in human free will creates a problem. People may choose to not choose God. (I think, frankly, he deals with this matter more realistically than do others who say, for example, that maybe God will switch from libertarian freedom to compatibilism after a person dies to both safeguard the person’s freedom and get what God wants, or that God’s love will be poured out so absolutely overwhelmingly that people simply cannot resist it, or that it doesn’t really matter how God does it: God gets what He wants in the end.)

If Bell isn’t a universalist, what does “love wins” mean? For most universalists it means that the love of God will have its way, and its way is the salvation of all people. Here is what it means for Bell:

“If we want isolation, despair, and the right to be our own god, God graciously grants us that option. If we insist on using our God-given power and strength to make the world in our own image, God allows us that freedom; we have the kind of license to that.”

However, if we want light and truth and grace, he says, “God gives us what we want.” (Love Wins, 117)

He continues:

“These desires can start with the planting of an infinitesimally small seed deep in our heart, or a yearning for life to be better,” etc.

“If we want hell, if we want heaven, they are ours. That’s how love works. It can’t be forced, manipulated, or coerced. It always leaves room for the other to decide. God says yes, we can have what we want, because love wins.” (118-119)

So “love wins” apparently means we get what we want. Like his version of hell, Bell’s version of God’s love isn’t recognizable in Scripture.

All this isn’t to defend Bell’s theology. His handling of matters of enormous importance can be smart alecky and sometimes downright silly. It’s certainly not worthy of a man who claims to speak God’s Word (which he does implicitly by preaching).

It is, however, to make the point again I made earlier: It pays to know what a person thinks before denouncing him.

P.S. I’ll have to do a bit of a search on the ‘Net to see if anyone who labelled Bell a universalist before reading his book has recanted. I’m not holding my breath.

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From → Polemics

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