10 Mar

A lot has already been said about Rob Bell and his forthcoming book, LOVE WINS.

"I'm just asking questions," Bell might say.

Let’s take one more look at the words to his promo video and ask a few questions:

“Several years ago we had an art show at our church and people brought in all kinds of sculptures and paintings, and they put them on display.  And there was this one piece that had a quote from Ghandi in it.  And lots of people found this piece compelling.  They’d stop and sort of stare at it and take it in and reflect on it.  But not everyone found it that compelling.  Somewhere in the course of the art show, somebody attached a handwritten note to the piece and on the note they had written: ‘Reality check.  He’s in hell!’  Ghandi’s in hell?  He is?  And someone knows this for sure?  And felt the need to let the rest of us know? Will only a few select people make it to heaven?  And will billions and billions of people burn forever in hell?  And if that’s the case — how do you become one of the few?  Is it what you believe, or what you say, or what you do, or who you know, or something that happens in your heart?  Or do you need to be initiated or baptized or take a class or converted or being born again?  How does one become one of these ‘few’?  And then there is the question behind the questions.  The real question: What is God like?  Because millions and millions of people were taught that the primary message, the center of the gospel of Jesus, is that God is going to send you to hell unless you believe in Jesus.  And so what gets suddenly sort of caught and taught is that Jesus rescues you from God.  But what kind of God is that that we would need to be rescued from this God?  How could that God ever be good?  How could that God ever be trusted?  And how could that ever be ‘good news’?  This is why lots of people want nothing to do with the Christian faith.  They see it as an endless list of absurdities and inconsistencies and they say, ‘Why would I ever want to be a part of that?’  See, what we believe about heaven and hell is incredibly important because it exposes what we believe about who God is and what God is like.  What you discover in the Bible is so surprising unexpectantly beautiful that whatever we’ve been told or taught, the Good News is actually better than that!  Better than we could ever imagine.  The Good News is that LOVE WINS!”

Here are several questions that occur to me:

The proverbial tempest in a teacup?

1.  Are all these questions a tempest in a teacup, or, better stated, a ruckus over rhetorical questions?  Questions do teach, raise doubts, suggest possibilities, challenge the status quo, make other positions look foolish or cruel.  Questions are not innocent.  As an excellent communicator, Rob Bell knows this.

2.  Should Christian leaders not strive to be above reproach?  Why has Rob Bell not come out clearly and said, “Friends, I am not a universalist.  Never have been.  Never hope to be.”  His silence certainly stirs up anticipation for his book’s release, but is silence a biblical stance to take or not take when one’s orthodoxy is questioned?

3.  The obvious question is:  Is universalism a heresy?  If Bell is a universalist, should he be defrocked (kicked out of the ministry)?  Should the spiritual leaders of his church take action against their pastor for his supposed heterodoxy?

4.  What does universalism do to the gospel?  Does it not eviscerate it?  Is it not an insult to the atoning work of Christ?  Although Scripture says that God takes no delight in the death of the wicked — and neither should we — should we all jump on the universalist bandwagon?  What gets sacrificed if we do?

Discussion Questions: How can you prove from the Scriptures that universalism is a heresy?  What advice would you give Rob Bell’s elders or spiritual leaders right now?


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2 responses to “WHO’S AFRAID OF >>> UNIVERSALISM?

  1. Soren McMillan

    March 10, 2011 at 2:38 pm

    Heresy must be defined. I would say that heresy is a dogmatic teaching that pointedly undercuts the substance of the gospel to such an extent that people are led away from the exercise of saving faith and toward eternal condemnation. Following that definition, universalism would be a heresy because it is a dogmatic assertion that all, without exception, will be saved. It is not a mere wish that all will be saved, but a bold declaration that this will be the case. It declares that there is ultimately no spiritual “bad news”. The Bible, however, repeatedly throws the bright “good news” into relief against the dark background of the “bad news”. The former does not make sense without the latter.

    If I were in spiritual leadership over Rob Bell, I would ask him to “come clean” in private over his beliefs. In public, universal salvation should strongly be presented as a wish, in the spirit of 1 Timothy 2:4. However, dogmatic promotion of “universalism” must not be allowed.

  2. George W.

    March 11, 2011 at 7:21 am

    I’ve got to keep asking myself: Why am I coming to the defense of a Christian over a potential doctrinal issue?

    Though I appreciate the fact that this post is more carefully worded, I still think you are risking a potential embarrassing scramble to qualify these posts if Bell doesn’t fall squarely on Universalism. I’m sure you will not take any of this back, or apologize, when this happens. You went too far to turn back now. No, this will be a post about Universalism, not Rob Bell- it was merely taking “this opportunity” to talk about something that is of interest. I now hope Bell is a Universalist for your sake, I hate to see someones hubris be paraded naked in the public square.

    Again I’ll reply in order:
    1. Questions teach. I have always agreed with this sentiment. But questions cannot and must not be divorced from context. This is how Christians consistently alienate the skeptics they are trying to dialogue with. Example: How are you fulfilling the Great Commission if you argue against evolution with Darwin’s Eye(an example I assume you are familiar with)? Christians can be quick to ignore rhetoric when it suits them and latch onto a literal interpretation of a statement. I have argued to this point that that is a mistake. Larry, I happily point you to my rebuttal of your comments on my blog for a more substantive argument for this…
    2. I wonder what might be the point of a public statement by Bell if it would need to be qualified by explaining his book to people. Would we really accept his statement without asking him to defend his beliefs? Wouldn’t that potentially give Christians the impression that the book is not important?
    3.If Bell is a Universalist, and that doctrine specifically contradicts the teaching of his denomination, then this question is about as useful as asking if the pope is catholic or if bears poop in the woods. I think that actions teach as easily as questions. That will sure show those questioning Universalists!
    4. I’m no scholar of the Gospel, but I know that there are a good number of Universalist passages in the Bible. I know that apologetics can explain them all away, but they are there nonetheless. I also find it difficult to jump on board with a case that it is un-biblical without allowing someone to make the case that it is biblical. That seems dogmatic as opposed to reasoned. I’d like you to address this, Larry, because it is my main concern. How on earth do we discount an argument without hearing the argument? Just because of tradition? Or a priori assumptions about the strength of Universalist theories? How?
    Here’s a good example of a teaching moment. I’d like you to argue out that Universalism is “an insult to the atoning work of Christ”. I perceive it, obviously incorrectly, as a testament to the atoning work of Christ. That his gift to mankind was greater than we previously imagined. That it was a gift, not a reward. The bible makes it sound like a gift, theology paints it as a reward. If Universalism is predicated on the universal salvation of mankind by the sacrifice of Christ, how is that diminishing Christ? I’m missing something here.

    I agree that Universalism is a harsh betrayal of the very benefit that made it so popular to peasants and slaves in the early history of the Church. Perhaps that benefit- that your earthly lot is a payment for a glorious afterlife- was improperly highlighted by a Church looking to make His message resonate with it’s audience. Maybe we have allowed our early traditions to blind us from a fuller appreciation of His message.
    All this is speculative. The proper biblical analysis of dissenters arguments is the only way to have clarity.
    You don’t get to make the argument for Universalism that you would like to reprove. To be intellectually honest, you must acknowledge the argument that is put forward by Universalists, test it biblically beside your own epistemology, and find which one is the most powerful.
    My goal is to understand this debate from both sides fully. What I’m getting from one side is reason and bible verses that build their case. What I’m getting from the other side is bible verses and shouts of “HERESY”. Who would you side with?


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