Category Archives: UNIVERSALISM

My CIU Chapel Message on Rob Bell’s Book “Love Wins”


Here is a 19-minute video of the message I gave at Columbia International University’s chapel this past Thursday (April 7th).  A good number of students came to the open luncheon afterwards and we had some good discussion, especially concerning theological areas we Evangelicals need to focus on.  I’ll post that list in my next blog.

Always interested in your comments.

Discussion Question:  What is the place of public debate on theological issues?  What steps can church leaders and churches take to correct false teachers, especially if their leaders support them?


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My Review of Rob Bell’s “LOVE WINS”


Please click on the link below for my review.  Always glad to get your comments.



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I’ve called for Rob Bell to publicly repent of his universalism.  That call was not done prematurely.  I’ve listened to his full book (twice) on audio and am now reading the physical book itself.

I will be posting serial blogs as I work my way through the book.  I welcome comments because the issue of Evangelical Christianity versus universalism could not be greater!

My Comments on the jacket blurbs and Bell’s Preface:

Eugene  Peterson, a respected scholar and author of The Message, wrote a blurb for the book that says, “It isn’t easy to develop a biblical imagination that takes in the comprehensive and eternal work of Christ…Rob Bell goes a long way in helping us acquire just such an imagination — without a trace of the soft sentimentality and without compromising an inch of evangelical conviction.”  We will devote a future blog on that last statement: “. . . and without compromising an inch of evangelical conviction.”

One jacket blurb asks:  “What if the story of heaven and hell we have been taught is not, in fact, what the Bible teaches?”  Let me remind us that the crux of the issue is not personalities, but biblical teaching.

Several comments on his Preface:

Bell begins his book with the statement: “Jesus’s story is first and foremost about the love of God for every single one of us.” (vii)  (It’s quite an interesting study to look at verses in which Jesus says why He came, such as Mt. 5:17; 10:34-35; Mk. 1:38; Lk. 12:49; Jn. 5:43; 6:38; 8:42; 9:39; 10:10; 12:46.   These certainly teach much more than the idea that “Jesus’s story is first and foremost about the love of God for every single one of us.”)  Of course God’s love for us was a paramount topic for Jesus, but was it “first and foremost”?  How about coming to do the Father’s will? . . .  Was His purpose primarily about US?

Please don’t miss Bell’s clear statements that “Jesus’s story has been hijacked by a number of other stories, stories [that] . . . have nothing to do with what he came to do.  The plot has been lost, and it’s time to reclaim it.” (vii-viii).  If I understand Bell up to this point, I’m being told that I have missed the whole point of Jesus’s coming, I’ve lost the plot of His story, and, worse than that, I’ve hijacked His story with my own.  Hmmm.  Could a mere human like you or me do something worse than that?

He says he’s written his book “for all those, everywhere, who have heard some version of the Jesus story that caused their pulse rate to rise, their stomach to churn, and their heart to utter those resolute words, ‘I would never be a part of that.’” (viii).  [I think for many of us, when by God’s grace we begin to understand our sin and the price Jesus paid to redeem us, our response would be:  “I could never have a part in that!”]

Ummm.  I think I’m a part of that. Because the “that” that’s he referring to is the viewpoint known as eternal conscious punishment.

Bell says, “You are not alone.  There are millions of us.” (viii).   This argument has sometimes been called an argumentum ad populum (an argument from the perspective of “if many believe so, it is so”).  This argument has also been called, appeal to the masses, appeal to belief, appeal to the majority, appeal to the people, argument by consensus, authority of the many, and the  bandwagon fallacy.  It’s nice to be able to say that one is not alone in what one feels, but the popularity of a position has no bearing on the truthfulness of that position.

Bell lays his cards on the table and says that “A staggering number of people have been taught that a select few Christians will spend forever in a peaceful, joyous place called heaven, while the rest of humanity spends forever in torment and punishment in hell with no chance for anything better.” (viii).  The emotive words “a staggering number” and “a select few Christians” and “no chance for anything better” leads one to respond:  “Yeah!  And they’ve been duped! And what kind of God would be that stingy and preferential and . . . and . . . stubborn and unmerciful?!”

He then points out that this belief is so central for many Christians that to reject it is to reject Jesus.  How ought we to respond to that?  Bell says, “This is misguided and toxic and ultimately subverts the contagious spread of Jesus’ message of love, peace, forgiveness, and joy that our world desperately needs to hear.” (viii).

Okay.  So I’ve hijacked the Jesus story and the story I give as His story is misguided and toxic and subversive.  I just want to understand where I stand.

Bell concludes his Preface by saying “My hope is that this [discussion] frees you.”  Jesus said, “The truth shall make you free.”  Only truth frees.  If Bell is wrong in his attack on what Evangelicals have been preaching, then the result will not be freedom, but slavery to something other than truth.

One last comment on Bell’s Preface:  He states clearly that “nothing in this book hasn’t been taught, suggested, or celebrated by many before me. . . . That’s the beauty of the historic, orthodox Christian faith.” (x).  He is identifying his teaching with the historic, orthodox Christian faith.  As we continue interacting with his subsequent chapters, we must ask, “Is he right?”


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A Public Call for Rob Bell to Repent

Pastor Bell, in light of what you have hinted at in your previous writing (Velvet Elvis), and have now made quite clear in your present work (Love Wins), you have joined a long-standing heretical movement called universalism.  You profess that you and your church hold to Evangelical 

Pastor Bell, is Christianity the exclusive way to God?

Orthodoxy, but the facts are otherwise.  Your challenges to the wider Evangelical population to care about lost people encourage us to stand strong for the gospel, but you have departed from the faith once-for-all-delivered-to-the-saints (Jude 3).

I appeal to you and to the spiritual leadership of Mars Hill Church to abandon the heresy of universalism and make your repentance public.

Paul’s warning to the Ephesian elders in Acts 20 speaks of “savage wolves” who “will not spare the flock.”  He further says, “even from your own number men will arise and distort the truth in order to draw away disciples after them.”

It seems clear that you have embraced a kind of “Evangelical” universalism advocated by false teachers like Philip Gulley, Thomas Talbott, Carlton Pearson, Gregory MacDonald (pseudonym of one of the leaders of the

These are rejoicing over your message, Pastor Bell.

“Evangelical universalists”), and apparently my friend of 40 years ago, Brian McLaren.

Please sincerely consider this challenge to repent and turn away from your error.  There are many Evangelicals who are praying that you will do just that.


Larry Dixon

Columbia International University Seminary & School of Missions

Columbia, SC


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I’m posting the second chapter of my book, The Other Side of the Good News: Confronting the Contemporary Challenges to Jesus’ Teaching on Hell (Christian Focus Publishers, 2003).  The chapter is entitled: “The Other Side — Will It Have Any Occupants?” (it has not been edited for publishing here.  There are some strange page numbers and the book title on each page).

I would appreciate any comments you want to give on this chapter on UNIVERSALISM:

The Other Side: Will It Have Any Occupants?

““Heaven can be heaven only when it has emptied hell.”” (Nels F.S. Ferré)

““The vague and tenuous hope that God is too kind to punish the ungodly has become a deadly opiate for the consciences of millions.”” (A.W. Tozer)

““There is no doctrine which I would more willingly remove from Christianity than [hell], if it lay in my power …I would pay any price to be able to say truthfully: ‘‘All will be saved.’’”” (C.S. Lewis)

““For it pleased the Father . . . to reconcile all things to Himself …whether things on earth or things in heaven.”” (Col. 1:19-20, NKJV)


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““Hell exists,”” says the convert to Roman Catholicism Richard John Neuhaus, ““but no one is in it.”” Some theologians today acknowledge that there may indeed be a place of perdition, but believe it will be unoccupied. Claiming to base their conviction upon the nature of God, or upon the concept of a cleansed universe, or upon what they consider the conclusive teaching of Scripture, these writers have, at least in their minds, emptied hell.

The liberal scholar John A.T. Robinson, agreeing with the sentiments of the second century Alexandrian theologian Origen, pointedly charges in the article ““Universalism –– Is It Heretical?”” that ““Christ . . . remains on the Cross as long as one sinner remains in hell. This is not speculation: it is a statement grounded in the very necessity of God’’s nature. In a universe of love there can be no heaven which tolerates a chamber of horrors, no hell for any which does not at the same time make it hell for God. He cannot endure that —— for that would be the final mockery of his nature —— and He will not.””1

The appeal of universalism, the doctrine which says that all without exception will be redeemed, is powerful. Such a theological position appears to reflect the self-declared desire of God as One who ““is not willing that any should perish”” (2 Peter 3:9, NKJV).

Some argue that universal salvation is the only theological option which makes sense in the new heavens and the new earth. If one day God ““may be all in all”” (1 Cor. 15:28), then must not all human beings be brought into God’’s family?

Annihilationism (which we will consider in chapter 3), the concept that the wicked will be put out of existence at the end of time, is, in one sense, a form of universalism. That is, if an everlasting hell constitutes what Seventh-Day Adventism calls ““a plague spot in the universe of God throughout eternity,””2 then the wicked must be extinguished (so that only one class of human beings –– the redeemed –– remains). Annihilationism does posit a temporary double destiny for humans. However, the wicked will simply cease to exist; nothingness can hardly be considered an eternal, conscious destiny.


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Universalism, also known as the doctrine of apokatastasis (restoration), emphasizes that one day the bad dream of sin will be over and we shall all rise and go back to our Father and home. Sin’’s rebellion shall be done away, says one universalist, for ““the grace of God shall triumph in the end and break down all resistance.””3

Is universalism solely a twentieth-century heresy, advocated by a few obscure liberal theologians? Hardly. Although one could quote Satan’’s words to that original pair in the garden –– ““You will not surely die!”” (Gen. 3:4) –– as the earliest expression of universalism, Clement of Alexandria (ca. 155-ca. 220), appears to have held this viewpoint. He states, for example, in The Stromata:

Wherefore also all men are His; some through knowledge, others not yet so; and some as friends, some as faithful servants, some as servants merely . . . For either the Lord does not care for all men; and this is the case either because He is unable (which is not to be thought, for it would be a proof of weakness), or because He is unwilling, which is not the attribute of a good being . . . Or He does care for all, which is befitting for Him who has become Lord of all. For He is Savior; not [the Savior] of some, and of others not . . . And how is He Savior and Lord, if not the Savior and Lord of all? But He is the Savior of those who have believed, because of their wishing to know; and the Lord of those who have not believed, till, being enabled to confess Him, they obtain the peculiar and appropriate boon which comes by Him.4

God’’s attributes of love and power can only be shown by universalism, according to Clement. The statement ““If Christ is not Lord of all, He is not Lord at all,”” often heard at revival meetings, has certainly taken on a new meaning!

Origen: The Father of Universalism

The Alexandrian theologian Origen (ca. 185-ca. 254) suffered several setbacks in his illustrious career. His efforts to be


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martyred as a teenager with his father in the Severian persecution of 202 were thwarted, we are told, by his mother who hid his clothes! He subsequently devoted his life to study, his academic pursuits being subsidized by a wealthy widow. For twenty-eight years he headed the Catechetical School in Alexandria and has been described by scholars as a ““philosopher, philologist, critic, exegete, dogmatician, apologist, [and] polemicist.””5

Origen’’s work, De Principiis, the church’’s first systematic theology and manual of dogma, sets forth such matters as his view of the Heavenly Hierarchy of the Father, the Word, and the Spirit (Book 1); the creation and redemption of man (Book 2); the freedom of the will in struggling against the forces of good and evil (Book 3); and his biblical hermeneutics (Book 4).

His book Contra Celsum demonstrates Origen’’s philosophical skills as he endeavored to reconcile Greek philosophy with Christian doctrine. The church decided that Origen went too far and had departed from orthodox Christianity. Justinian, for example, published his ten Anathematisms Against Origen (540), stating in the ninth anathema that ““If any one says or thinks that the punishment of demons and impious men is only temporary and will have an end, and that a restoration [apokatastasis] will take place of demons and impious men, let him be anathema.””6

Accused of subordinationism by Jerome and Epiphanius, he was condemned for that teaching by some synods, such as the Synod of Constantinople of 543. ““Perhaps one should not take these rejections too seriously,”” writes one biographer, ““since he was the first of the systematic theologians and a seminal thinker.””7

On the other hand, ““Origen,”” writes another scholar, ““is the foundation upon which practically all subsequent forms of universalism have been based.””8 His doctrine of apokatastasis colors much of his writings. He saw the threats of hell only as remedial, not retributive. Origen’’s allegorical method of interpretation (which he may have developed after taking Matthew 19:12 too literally) allowed him to fit God’’s wrath


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and the concept of future punishment into his system of universal salvation, leaving no room for the retributive wrath of God.

God As a Consuming Fire

In Origen’’s thought, ““gehenna,”” says one writer, ““stands for the torments that cleanse the soul . . . God is indeed a consuming fire, but that which He consumes is the evil that is in the souls of men, not the souls themselves . . . The hope of Origen colors even his view of the guilt of Judas, and he sees in his suicide the act of one who wished to meet his Master in the world of the dead, and there to implore forgiveness.””9

In his work Contra Celsum, Origen writes:

The sacred Scripture does, indeed, call ““our God a consuming fire,”” (Deut. 4:24) and says that ““rivers of fire go before his face,”” (Dan. 7:10) and that ““he shall come as a refiner’’s fire, and purify the people”” (Mal. 3:2). As, therefore, God is a consuming fire, what is it that is to be consumed by him? We say that it is wickedness, and whatever proceeds from it, such as is figuratively called ““wood, hay, stubble,”” (1 Cor. 3) which denote the evil works of man. Our God is a consuming fire in this sense; and he shall come as a refiner’’s fire to purify rational nature from the alloy of wickedness, and other impure matter which has adulterated the intellectual gold and silver; consuming whatever of evil is admixed in all the soul.10

Origen taught that the threats of eternal punishment were only hortatory. One scholar writes that Origen ““admits that the grammatical sense of the scriptural terms teaches an everlasting and inextinguishable fire; but considers this an intentional and gracious deceit on the part of God to deter men from sinning.””11

Hell is understood by Origen as purification, not punishment. Eternal punishment is not necessary because the wicked will come around at some point, and all things will be restored to their original condition (apokatastasis).


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Hell As Internal Anguish He argues in De Principiis that the wicked will suffer internal anguish brought about by their separation from God. Commenting upon Isaiah 50:11 (““Look, all you who kindle a fire, who encircle yourselves with sparks: walk in the light of your fire and in the sparks you have kindled.””), Origen suggests that there will be a kind of self-generated purgatory:

By these words it seems to be indicated that every sinner kindles for himself the flame of his own fire, and is not plunged into some fire which has been already kindled by another, or was in existence before himself. Of this fire the fuel and food are our sins, which are called by the Apostle Paul wood, and hay, and stubble . . . When the soul has gathered together a multitude of evil works, and an abundance of sins against itself, at a suitable time all that assembly of evils boils up to punishment, and is set on fire to chastisements; when the mind itself, or conscience, receiving by divine power into the memory all those things of which it had stamped on itself certain signs and forms at the moment of sinning, will see a kind of history, as it were, of all the foul, and shameful, and unholy deeds which it has done, exposed before its eyes: then is the conscience itself harassed, and, pierced by its own goads becomes an accuser and a witness against itself.12

Hell As School

Origen, one writer declares, teaches that ““The whole universe is one vast school system in which nobody is ‘‘flunked out.’’ The rod is applied skillfully according to the need of each pupil. All are assured of final graduation. Each pupil learns at his own pace. There is no need to hurry. Eternity is available. Even the ‘‘dunce’’ of them all, the devil, will some day graduate, and school then be declared officially over.””13 Nels F.S. Ferré, a twentieth-century liberal theologian, holds this same view of hell as remedial education, as we shall see later.


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The anguish which the wicked will experience will bring about purification, eventuating in the restoration of all creatures (including Satan) to their original condition. Sounding like the Roman Catholic doctrine of purgatory, Origen’’s view is broader in that hell is not limited to the burning away of the sins of those who possess explicit or implicit faith (as in Roman Catholicism). Rather, Origen’’s hope includes those who expressed themselves as enemies of God (such as the Sodomites, Pharaoh, and even Satan himself).14

Origen clearly expresses his hope of universal restoration by saying that there will be:

a time which God alone knows, when He will bestow on each one what he deserves. We think, indeed, that the goodness of God, through His Christ, may recall all His creatures to one end, even His enemies being conquered and subdued. For thus says holy Scripture . . . ““For all things must be put under Him.”” What, then, is this, ““putting under”” by which all things must be made subject to Christ? I am of the opinion that it is this very subjection by which we also wish to be subject to Him, by which the apostles also were subject, and all the saints who have been followers of Christ. For the name ““subjection,”” by which we are subject to Christ, indicates that the salvation which proceeds from Him belongs to His subjects . . . 15

Other texts used by Origen to support his apokatastasis include: Philippians 2:10-11’’s prediction that all will bow and confess Christ’’s Lordship, John 17:20-21’’s teaching of promised unity, and Ephesians 4:13’’s imagery of the perfect man. However, as one writer summarizes Origen’’s use of these passages, ““[T]hese verses are more in context when interpreted as referring to the ruin of the enemies in the final subjugation. They are removed from the possibility of further resistance. These Scriptural passages are certainly slender threads upon which to suspend so vast a weight as the reconciliation of the entire universe!””16


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Future Falls?

Origen’’s view of the perpetual freedom of human will presents him with a serious difficulty. What is to prevent man from asserting his free will against God and experiencing another fall? And then another? Although Origen’’s supporters reply that he held to a time when the cycle would be complete, one writer states that ““so far did [Origen] carry his idea of the freedom and mutability of the will that he appears to have held to the possibility of renewed falls hereafter, and of worlds to take the place of the present for the recovery, once more, of inconstant souls.””17

Origen’’s perspective on hell as a purifying process is not limited to his time period. Some theologians today hold out the hope that, although hell may be very real, it will not be particularly permanent. One of my friends (who professes to be an evangelical) gives evidence of being what Packer calls a ““wishful universalist”” and suggested to me that a long time may be needed by God to persuade the unbeliever to accept his redemption in Christ, but accept it he will! Another theologian argues that, given an eternity of opportunity, God can demonstrate His wisdom with such force that continued resistance is impossible. That process may involve much time and suffering, but just as irresistible logic brings us to conclusions which we may not like but nevertheless accept, so also the appeals of God after death may bring even the most stubborn souls to yield to divine mercy, without the sinner’’s personality being overridden in the process.18

As we shall emphasize in chapter 6, the choices we make in this life have abiding consequences in the next life. Dorothy Sayers captures the biblical picture of the Other Side and the permanent nature of the sinner’’s choosing against Christ when she writes:

It is the deliberate choosing to remain in illusion and to see God and the universe as hostile to one’’s ego that is of the very essence of Hell: The dreadful moods when we hug our hatred and misery and are too proud to let them


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go are foretastes in time of what Hell eternally is . . . But if, seeing God, the soul rejects Him in hatred and horror, then there is nothing more that God can do for it. God, who has toiled to win it for Himself, and borne for its sake to know death, and suffer the shame of sin, and set His feet in Hell, will nevertheless, if it insists, give it what it desires . . . He cannot, against our own will, force us into Heaven.19

Sayers aptly points out that ““it is of the essence of heaven and hell that one must abide forever with that which one has chosen.””20

Other Advocates of Universalism

Other theologians such as Karl Barth, C.H. Dodd, John A.T. Robinson, and Nels F.S. Ferré either imply or argue on behalf of universalism. We will also look at several contemporary examples.

Karl Barth (1886-1968)

Barth, described as ““one of the theological giants of all time –– not just of this century,””21 was born in Basel, Switzerland. He is probably best known for his commentary on Romans which one writer characterized as a ““bomb on the playground of the theologians.””22

Barth’’s numerous theological writings (his thirteen-volume Church Dogmatics contains 15,000 Scriptural citations) overwhelm many who wish to grasp his thought. But a survey of Barth’’s writings demonstrates that this formative neo- orthodox theologian sets forth a view of triumphal divine election which appears to lead to universalism. As one writer points out, ““[T]here runs through the whole of Barth’’s dogmatics a strong universalistic strain which comes to expression in a variety of connections.””23 Barth taught that Jesus Christ ““is God’’s Word, God’’s decree, and God’’s beginning. He is so all-inclusively, comprehending absolutely within


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Himself all things and everything, enclosing within Himself the autonomy of all other words, decrees, and beginnings.””24

Barth’’s ““Christomonism”” sees Christ as the Elect Man and emphasizes the fact that we are elected in Him collectively —— not as separate individuals.25 ““God has ascribed to man . . . election, salvation, and life; and to Himself He has ascribed . . . reprobation, perdition, and death.””26 He emphasizes that ““predestination is the non-rejection of man. It is so because it is the rejection of the Son of God.””27

His Perspective on Predestination

Barth viewed redemption from a double predestination perspective in that Christ is both the reprobate and the elect for all (what he termed a ““purified Supralapsarianism””). He states:

Jesus Christ is the atonement. But that means that He is the maintaining and accomplishing and fulfilling of the divine covenant as executed by God Himself. He is the eschatological realisation of the will of God for Israel and therefore for the whole race. And as such He is also the revelation of this divine will and therefore of the covenant. He is the One for whose sake and towards whom all men from the very beginning are preserved from their youth up by the long-suffering of God, notwithstanding their evil heart.28

God’’s covenant ““does seriously apply to all men and is made forallmen …itisthedestinyofallmentobecomeandtobe members of this covenant.””29 Barth allows no competing views to the one he sets forth concerning God’’s covenant. He says that ““according to the revelation accomplished in Jesus Christ . . . for all men of all times and places . . . this was and is the critical point of all faith in God and knowledge of God and service of God. This God,”” says Barth, ““or none at all.””30

Barth characterizes Calvin’’s concept of predestination as a ““grim doctrine”” (because it portrays Christ as dying not for all


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men, but only for the elect), but finds some affinity with Zwingli’’s view of God’’s covenant. Zwingli’’s view, says Barth, ““stood for something which cannot be surrendered, the character of the covenant as the true light which lighteth every man (John 1:9) and for which, therefore, every man is claimed.””31 But Barth concludes his evaluation of these other views of God’’s covenant by charging them with ““the abandonment of an original universalism in the conception of the atonement.””32

Man’’s Response

Barth’’s doctrine of election appears to minimize man’’s response to the Gospel. He says that ““Jesus Christ is God’’s mighty command to open our eyes and to realise that this place is all around us, that we are already in this kingdom, that we have no alternative but to adjust ourselves to it, that we have our being and continuance here and nowhere else. In Him we are already there, we already belong to it. To enter at His command is to realise that in Him we are already inside.””33

Man’’s responsibility is to live out his election in Christ. It appears in Barth that God makes the choice, not only of man, but for him. ““Man has already been put in the place and kingdom of peace with God,”” says Barth. ““His decision and act, therefore, can consist only in obedience to the fact that he begins and does not cease to breathe in this place and kingdom, that he follows the decision already made and the act already accomplished by God, confirming them in his own human decision and act; that he, for his part, chooses what has already been chosen and actualized for him.””34

Man’’s choice either for or against God seems irrelevant. For example, Barth says that ““If man has forfeited his salvation, what do we have to grasp in this event but the inconceivable fact that all the same it is given to him?””35 How does Barth view unbelief, then? He states that ““With the divine No and Yes spoken in Jesus Christ the root of human unbelief, the man of sin, is pulled out. In its place there is put the root of faith, the new man of obedience. For this reason unbelief has


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become an objective, real and ontological impossibility and faith an objective, real and ontological necessity for all men and for every man. In the justification of the sinner which has taken place in Jesus Christ these have both become an event which comprehends all men.””36

Does this mean that God acts against man’’s will? Yes, according to Barth. He states that ““we are those whose place has been taken by another, who lives and suffers and acts for them, who for them makes good that which they have spoiled, who –– for them, but also without them and even against them –– is their salvation.””37 As Berkouwer points out, ““The new situation exists independently of the proclamation or non- proclamation of it. It also exists independently of belief or nonbelief in it. The Kingdom of God ‘‘has its truth in itself, not in that which in pursuance of it happens or does not happen on the earth.’’””38

Berkouwer concludes his evaluation of this aspect of Barth’’s theology by stating that ““The error of universalism does not lie in glorying in God’’s grace, but in integrating grace into a system of conclusions which is in conflict with grace as a sovereign gift. The gripping element in all universalism is that at the moment when this integration takes place the seriousness of calling, of responsibility, and of the human decision of faith, is eliminated.””39

An Objectivistic Bent

Donald G. Bloesch, whose view of the Other Side is evaluated in chapter 4, finds difficulty with Barth’’s soteriology. Bloesch states that ““there is an unmistakable objectivistic bent in Barth’’s theology that tends to undercut the necessity for personal faith and repentance.””40 According to Bloesch, Barth’’s position teaches that ““it is not the mandate of the church to call people to a decision for salvation, since salvation already extends to them because of Christ’’s redemptive work on the cross; instead, we should call our hearers to a decision for obedience. The response that is expected of those who hear the Gospel is basically ethical rather than soteriological in significance.””41


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““But,”” asks Bloesch, ““does not Scripture plainly teach that only those who believe are justified and sanctified, that apart from personal faith and repentance we stand condemned in our sins (cf. Luke 13:3; John 3:18; 12:35-36; Rom. 3:22-26; 4:24-25; 10:9- 11; Heb. 10:38-39)?””42

Berkouwer agrees that Barth underemphasizes man’’s acceptance of grace. He says that ““The normal course of things for the New Testament man is that grace is not only offered to him but that he also accepts it. The situation has been changed. It is now an objective factuality manifested in the faithfulness of God to Himself and to His will as Creator.””43

Brunner’’s ““Nein””

Although no friend of evangelical Christianity, another universalist, Emil Brunner, criticizes Barth for his position that man cannot ““cancel”” God’’s decision,44 and that the judgment which has once struck Jesus Christ can strike no one again.45 Barth states, for example, that ““God has acted in His grace . . . He has acted, therefore, without us and against us and for us, as a free subject in Jesus Christ. He has by Himself posited a new beginning. But He has really acted. What He has done is not just something which applies to us and is intended for us, a proffered opportunity and possibility. In it He has actually taken us, embraced us, as it were surrounded us, seized us from behind and turned us back again to Himself.””46

Brunner believes that Barth underplays the subjective decision of faith; Brunner emphasizes that grace is for all ““in so far as they believe”” and that ““whoever excludes himself is excluded.”” Brunner opposes Barth’’s doctrine of election as a ““fundamental alteration of the Christian message of salvation.””47

Brunner criticizes Barth’’s view of election by means of an illustration of men who are threatened with shipwreck at sea. ““In reality, however, they are not at all on a sea where they can founder, but in shallow water in which they cannot drown. They just do not know it.””48


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Barth’’s Irrevocable ““Yes””

Berkouwer says that Brunner does not give an unfair picture of Barth’’s doctrine of election by means of this illustration. ““The already taken and no longer nullifiable decision is indeed the fundamental thesis of Barth’’s view of election.””49 For example, Barth says that ““This alteration in the human situation has already taken place. This being is self-contained. It does not have to be reached or created. It has already come and cannot be removed. It is indestructible, it can never be superseded, it is in force, it is directly present.””50

Ontologically, Barth stresses that in Christ ““a new human subject was introduced, the true man beside and outside whom God does not know any other, beside and outside whom there is no other.””51 Barth’’s definition of man ties in with his universalism: ““To be a man is to be in the sphere where the first and merciful will of God toward His creatures, His will to save and keep them from the power of nothingness, is revealed in action.””52

Barth’’s Universal ““Yes””

With a series of questions Barth drives home his conviction that the reality of the entire world’’s reconciliation to God is certain:

But is it so inconceivable, does it need such a great imagination to realise, is it not the simplest thing in the world, that if the history of Jesus is the event of atonement, if the atonement is real and effective because God Himself became man to be the subject of this event, if this is not concealed but revealed, if it is the factor which calls us irresistibly to faith and obedience, then how can it be otherwise than that in this factor, and therefore in the history of Jesus, we have to do with the reality which underlies and precedes all other reality as the first and eternal Word of God, that in this history we have actually to do with the ground and sphere, the atmosphere of the being of every man, whether they lived thousands of years before or after Jesus?53


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Emphasizing the unity of the human race in Christ’’s reconciling work, Barth says, ““We died: the totality of all sinful men, those living, those long dead, and those still to be born, Christians who necessarily know and proclaim it, but also Jews and heathen, whether they hear and receive the news or whether they tried and still try to escape it. His death was the death of all: quite independently of their attitude or response to this event.””54

Connecting the nature of God Himself with the exclusive character of the covenant, Barth says, that ““We are therefore prevented from thinking otherwise about ourselves . . . than as being engaged and covenanted to God . . . Just as there is no God but the God of the covenant, there is no man but the man of the covenant.””55

Berkouwer compares Barth’’s view to the liberation of a city from an occupying enemy. ““The armies of liberation have already entered the occupied city and the capitulation has taken place, but the wonderful news has not yet penetrated into all the streets and suburbs of the city. Not everyone ‘‘knows’’ that the liberating event has taken place. This detracts nothing, however, from the fact of the objective liberation. The subjective knowledge of it does not yet correspond to the objective situation.””56

The Impossibility of ““No””

Barth utilizes several images to convey his belief in universalism. For example, he speaks of man’’s response to the Gospel as ““a kind of silhouette of the elective, free and total activity of God.””57 The old man who continues to break God’’s covenant can only be a lie, says Barth. He is ““a shadow moving on the wall.””58 Although man is reconciled to God in Jesus Christ, ““he can still rebel and lie and fear, but only in conflict, in impotent conflict, with his own most proper being . . . All his mistakes and confusions and sins are only like waves beating against the immovable rock of his own most proper being and to his sorrow necessarily breaking and dashing themselves to pieces against this rock.””59


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““Human trespasses,”” Barth says, ““can still be committed, but they no longer count, they can no longer be entered up –– like items in a well-kept statement or account. What counts now,”” says Barth, ““what is reckoned to men, is the righteousness of God which they are made in Jesus Christ. That and that alone is their true yesterday and today and tomorrow.””60 Man’’s decision to act in obedience to his position in Christ ““is not a loud and stern and foreign thing, but the quiet and gentle and intimate awakening of children in the Father’’s house to life in that house.””61

The Eternal Verdict of ““Yes””

Changing the image to a courtroom scene, Barth declares that the eternal verdict of God’’s Yes has been pronounced. He states that, ““With all the truth and validity and force of a sentence which has not only been pronounced but executed, and therefore pronounced once and for all, it declares that man is no longer the transgressor, the sinner, the covenant-breaker that God has found him and he must confess himself to be, that as such he has died and perished from the earth, that he cannot be dealt with as such, that as such he has no future.””62

Barth particularly revolts against the idea of dividing God’’s grace into two graces:

We cannot . . . split [grace] up into an objective grace which is not as such strong and effective for man but simply comes before him as a possibility, and a subjective grace which, occasioned and prepared by the former, is the corresponding reality as it actually comes to man. But the grace of the one God and the one Christ, and therefore the objective grace which never comes to man except from God, must always be understood as the one complete grace, which is subjectively strong and effective in its divine objectivity, the grace which does actually reconcile man with God.63


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A Matter of Knowledge

What, then, is the difference between the Christian and the non-Christian in Barth’’s understanding? Let us make no mistake here, the non-Christian is in God’’s family. Barth states that Christian love is to be shown toward each person, ““because in his Christian and also in his non-Christian form he is a member ofthepeopleofwhichJesusChrististheking.””64 Thedifference is that those who are part of the visible church understand and seek to be obedient to their reconciliation through Christ. Barth states that:

the love of God in Jesus Christ brings together Himself with all men and all men with Himself. But at the same time it is obviously the coming together of all men one with another. And as that communion is known it is once and necessarily evident that there is a solidarity of all men in that fellowship with God in which they have all been placed in Jesus Christ, and a special solidarity of those who are aware of the fact, the fellowship of those who believe in Him, the Christian community.65

The church’’s responsibility, says Barth, is not to speculate about the consequences of rejected grace. ““To reflect today with unseemly seriousness about the possibility of the eternal damnation of this one or that one,”” says Barth, ““and tomorrow with an equally unseemly cheerfulness about the ultimate reconciliation of one and all is one thing; another (and that is the charge that has been given to the Christian Church) is to regard oneself obliged to witness with Christian word and deed to Jesus Christ not only as Lord but as the Redeemer of the world and, as such, its future.””66

As forcefully as Barth shouted Nein to Brunner’’s concept of natural theology, he shouts Ja to the universal intention (and accomplishment) of the reconciling work of God in Christ. In his commentary upon the Apostles’’ Creed, Barth says that ““We do not have to believe in hell and in eternal death. I may only believe in the resurrection and the judgment of Christ, the judge


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and advocate, who has loved me and defended my cause . . . We cannot ‘‘believe’’ in sin, in the devil, in our death sentence. We can only believe in the Christ who has overcome the devil, borne sin and removed eternal death.””67

Concerning the question of Christ’’s ““descent into hell”” (a doctrine which we discuss in chapter 4), Barth writes, ““As soon as the body is buried, the soul goes to hell, that is, into remoteness from God, into that place where God can only be the Adversary, the enemy. In our place the Christ suffered that situation which ought to have been ours. Our lives too know despair. But it is not, it is no longer, that total despair suffered by Jesus Christ alone . . . we now know that Jesus Christ has destroyed the power of hell, however great it may be.””68

An Admitted Universalist?

Barth specifically denied teaching the idea of a universal homecoming (apokatastasis), because he saw such a position as tying God to a principle. Universal salvation cannot be formally declared, not because of man’’s freedom to say no, but because of God’’s freedom in giving grace:

To the man who persistently tries to change the truth into untruth, God does not owe eternal patience and therefore deliverance . . . We should be denying or disarming that evil attempt and our own participation in it if, in relation to ourselves or others or all men, we were to permit ourselves to postulate a withdrawal of that threat and in this sense expect or maintain an apokatastasis or universal reconciliation as the goal and end of all things. Even though theological consistency might seem to lead our thoughts and utterances most clearly in this direction, we must not arrogate to ourselves that which can be given and received only as a free gift . . . But universal salvation remains an open possibility for which we may hope.69

Bloesch agrees that there is much in Barth’’s writings which suggests universalism, but he adds that ““there is another side to


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Barth’’s theology . . . [that] he explicitly declares that God is under no obligation to continue to favor those who spurn his mercy.””70

An interesting anecdote about Barth is related by Eberhard Busch, Barth’’s personal secretary from 1965 until Barth’’s death in 1968. Busch recalls that one day he came to Barth,

and he was very nervous. I saw this and asked him what had happened. Then, as was typical for him, he said, ““I had an awful dream.”” And Barth had a very great sense of dreams. I asked him, ““What have you dreamt?”” He said, ““I was dreaming that a voice asked me, ‘‘Would you like to see hell?’’ And I replied, ‘‘Oh, I am very interested to see it once.’’”” Then a window was opened and he saw an immense desert. It was very cold, not hot. In this desert there was only one person sitting, very alone. Barth was depressed to see the loneliness. Then the window was closed and the voice said to him, ““And that threatens you.”” So Barth was very depressed by this dream. Then he said to me, ““There are people who say I have forgotten this region. I have not forgotten. I know about it more than others do. But because I know of this, therefore I must speak about Christ. I cannot speak enough about the gospel of Christ.””71

From the Letters of Barth it is evident that he tired of being badgered about universalism. But, as Bernard Ramm says, ““the question will not go away.”” Although we don’’t agree with the wag who said, ““Christianity ain’’t important unless somebody around here can get damned!””, Barth says very little about eternity without God. Ramm says that ““Barth has not taught universalism in so many words and cannot be charged formally with teaching it . . . [However,] the very fact that the charge persists indicates that Barth shows a strong bent toward the doctrine.””72 We would respond to Ramm by saying that it seems that Barth uses many words to drive readers to his view. To the end of his life, in spite of all his statements indicating otherwise, Barth refused to identify himself as a universalist.


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C.H. Dodd (1884-1973)

Dodd, a British Congregational minister and New Testament scholar, reacted to the evangelical concept which to him appeared to say that the great bulk of humanity had been created only to perish. He responded to this idea by teaching that in the end God would relent and forgive everyone, treating all persons as if they had believed.73

Paul’’s ““Development””

The Apostle Paul held to what Dodd calls ““the Jewish concept”” (expressed in the Apocryphal book of 2 Esdras) concerning the fate of the wicked. Paul ““steels his heart,”” says Dodd, ““to accept this inflexible and gloomy eschatology in which at most but an elect handful of Jews inherits the Age to Come, while the rest of mankind perish in inconceivable misery.””74

Dodd sees a progression in Paul’’s thought from 1 Thessalonians and Galatians (which seem to proclaim the final and irrevocable rejection of the Jews) to his argument in Romans 11 that Israel’’s rejection cannot be final. He says that for Paul, ““the coming of Christ in fact marks a crisis in God’’s dealings with the human race, in that down to that time His purpose proceeded by successive stages of exclusion (Ishmael, Esau, the unrepentant Israel of prophetic times, and the Jews who rejected Christ), but since His resurrection it proceeds by way of inclusion, until in the end no member of the human race is left outside the scope of salvation.””75

Dodd believes that Paul meant exactly what he said in Romans 11:32 that ““God has shut up all in disobedience that He might show mercy to all”” (NASB, emphasis mine). ““In other words,”” Dodd says, ““it is the will of God that all mankind shall ultimately be saved.””76

In his treatment of Romans 11, Dodd states that ““the arguments by which Paul asserts the final salvation of Israel are equally valid (in fact are valid only) if they are applied to mankind at large.””77 ““Whether or not, therefore, Paul himself drew the ‘‘universalist’’ conclusion,”” Dodd argues, ““it seems that we must draw it from his premises.””78


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Commenting on Romans 8:21 (Paul’’s teaching that creation will be finally delivered), Dodd says that what that text ““really expresses is a religious conviction or intuition that, if God is what we believe Him to be, then all the evil in the world must in the end be worked out.””79 Dodd argues that ““If there is but one God, and He wholly good, then all mankind must be His care.””80 ““As every human being lies under God’’s judgment, so every human being is ultimately destined, in His mercy, to eternal life.””81 ““The entire created universe is to be ‘‘redeemed’’ and ‘‘reconciled’’ to its Creator, ‘‘that God may be all in all.’’ This is the final meaning of the entire process in time.””82

Dodd sees development in the epistles in that, for example, 2 Thessalonians 1:6-10 indicates that the ““bulk of mankind . . . will be destroyed at the coming of Christ to judgment. [However,] in the later epistles [Rom. 11:32; 8:18-23; Col. 1:20; Eph. 3:6-10; 1:10] the Church is truly universal, for by an inward necessity it must ultimately include all mankind, and form the centre of a reconciled universe.””83

Referring to this apparent development of Paul’’s thought, illustrated by Ephesians 1:10 (that God will sum up all things in Christ, things in heaven and things on earth), Dodd states:

The ultimate unity of all things in God is secured not by the mere suppression or destruction of hostile elements, human, sub-human, or super-human, but by bringing them all into harmony with the will of God as expressed in Christ . . . But though we may have to confess that we cannot have any certainty on these points, it does at least seem clear that after the period represented by Galatians and by 2 Corinthians as a whole, there is a growing emphasis on the idea of reconciliation, and a growingly clear expression of a belief in the ultimate universality of salvation in Christ.84

According to Dodd, Paul outgrew his harsh, dualistic Weltanschauung (worldview) with which he began. He forsook his two categories of the ““elect”” and the rest of humanity and ““matured”” in his view of final things. He states that, ““It is no


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accident that from this time . . . we find in his epistles a revised eschatology combined with a generous recognition of the natural goodness of men and of human institutions, a willingness to claim all sides of human life as potentially Christian, and a larger hope for mankind and the whole universe.””85

Dodd then concludes, that if his understanding of Paul’’s developing eschatology is correct, ““the interpreter of Paul’’s thought should have regard to the changes which it underwent, and judge it finally not from stages which he outgrew, but in the light of its maturity.””86

Obviously, Dodd’’s view of inspiration leaves a great deal to be desired! Perhaps God’’s thought also underwent changes as He inspired Paul in his writings. The implication is simple: we also should ““grow up”” in our understanding and hold to universalism rather than the final and eternal loss of those who reject the Gospel. Dodd issues the further challenge that, ““If we really believe in One God, and believe that Jesus Christ, in what He was and what He did, truly shows us what God’’s character and His attitude to men are like, then it is very difficult to think ourselves out of the belief that somehow His love will find a way of bringing all men into unity with Him.””87

In discussing Israel’’s ““ethical monotheism,”” Dodd says that ““Holding firmly to this belief [Israel was] also convinced that His righteous will is the sole finally effective force in the universe.””88 Dodd sees both a universalistic as well as a nationalistic bent in the Old Testament. ““Yet there can be no going back upon the prophetic discovery that God is the God of all men. The Old Testament wrestles with the problem and hands it on unsolved to the New.””89 Of course, Dodd feels the problem is solved in the ““maturing”” of Paul’’s theology!

The Problem of Evil

Dodd also believes that the problem of evil is better dealt with by a universalistic position. He states that:

There is another way of confronting the problem of evil. It is to believe that although there is evil in the world,


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yet it is God’’s world, and the sphere of His Kingdom. His purpose is becoming effective in every part of it, though with varying degrees of intensity. Its inhabitants are all His children, and it is His will to save them all. In all our contacts with the world, we are in touch, in one way or another, with His purpose.90

As we shall demonstrate in our final chapter, universalism does not solve the thorny problem of evil. If anything, universalism takes human sin far too lightly.

John A.T. Robinson (1919-1985)

Bishop Robinson, the infamous author of Honest to God, also argues that ““the very necessity of God’’s nature”” demands that not one sinner be left in hell.

A War Over God’’s Nature

Robinson expresses his conviction that the issue is really a battle for the nature of God: ““there must be a war to the death . . . We are here in the presence of two doctrines of God, and between them there can be no peace.””91 For example, he says that ““the truth of universalism is not the peripheral topic of speculation for which it has often been taken. If God is what ultimately He asserts Himself to be, then how He vindicates Himself as God and the nature of His final lordship is at the same time the answer to what He essentially is. The truth or falsity of the universalistic assertion, that in the end He is Lord entirely of a world wanting His lordship, is consequently decisive for the whole Christian doctrine of God.””92

Robinson makes it clear that any Scriptural pronouncement about the future of the wicked or the righteous is not primarily a ““guess about the turn of future events . . . [but] they are statements rather of conviction about the eternal nature of a God whose last word could not be one of destruction. They represent . . . insight rather than foresight.””93 ““False ideas of the last things,”” argues Robinson, ““are direct reflections of inadequate views of the nature of God.””94


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Misunderstanding Myths

Some of those false ideas stem from a misunderstanding of the purpose of myth in the Bible, Robinson believes. As a kind of working picture, myth in the Bible is not to be pressed in a literal fashion. Concerning these myths, Robinson says that

their truth does not depend on the mythical representations themselves being scientifically or historically accurate. Neither the myths of Genesis nor of Revelation set out to be historical reconstructions, i.e., literal accounts of what did, or what will, happen. As history they may be entirely imaginary, and yet remain theologically true. The only test of a myth is whether it adequately represents the scientific facts to be translated . . . . The eschatological statements of the Bible are of this ““mythical”” nature, in precisely the same way as its narratives of the Creation and Fall . . . The form of the myth is governed by the current presuppositions of a particular age and place, and is not integral to its truth. But the truth itself is not speculative, it is scientific.95

So, Robinson is clear that we are not able to trust the accuracy of either the beginning or the end of the biblical description of life.

Like fellow universalists, Robinson emphasizes that love is God’’s basic attribute, and declares that ““it is most important to hold to the fact that justice is in no sense a substitute for love, which comes into operation when the other has failed to be effective . . . [God] has no purpose but the purpose of love and no nature but the nature of love.””96

T.F. Torrance challenges Robinson’’s out-of-hand rejection of the total witness of Scripture to the nature of God:

The whole argument presupposes that what I can think is, and what I cannot think is not . . . The extraordinary fact is that Dr. Robinson claims to be able to assert now by his own logic the truth of a doctrine which even he admits rests ultimately upon the final action of God . . .




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Is the love of God to be understood abstractly in terms of what we can think about it on a human analogy, such as human love raised to the nth degree, or are we to understand the love of God in terms of what God has actually manifested of His love, that is Biblically?97

Nels F.S. Ferré (1908-1971)

Ferré also built his theology on the central thought of divine love, not on God’’s justice. He describes God’’s ““Agape”” love as ““unconditional, uncaused, unmotivated, groundless, uncalculating, spontaneous Love, creative of fellowship . . . Love for enemies, if need be, is an intrinsic, inseparable part of Agape, universally, unconditionally and eternally.””98

All-Encompassing Agape

Such a definition of love, however, rules out any divine enmity toward God’’s enemies as well as any concept of retributive justice. Such a presupposition concerning the nature of God, if found to be incompatible with the biblical data, flaws his theology. Discussing his theological starting point, Ferré acknowledges that ““if the starting point is correct and meaningful, we have both the right and the need for basic theological revision in order to let the Christian faith become rightly understood and properly effective. If this starting point is wrong, on the other hand, our whole theology needs redoing.””99

One’’s starting point must be carefully examined, and Ferré’’s (which he calls the ““new wine of the centrality of the love of God””) dispels the dark clouds of the wrath of God from all those who stand under its umbrella.

God’’s justice, Ferré argues, is completely in the service of His love. With appropriate ridicule, one critic of universalism says that universalists have fallen in love with an imaginary deity of their own creation:

This is wonderful because it means that we have evolved in our religious thinking beyond the men of the Bible,


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who were supposed to be inspired by the Lord. They thought that God was a God who not only could love but also judge. The prophets were wrong when they spoke about judgment. Jesus did not really mean it when He said something about some ““shall go away into everlasting punishment, but the righteous unto life eternal.”” As for the others, Paul with his ““the wages of sin is death,”” and John with his ““wrath of God”” and ““lake of fire,”” and all those others, they were merely deluded. They believed in a God who loved so much that He was just. But that day is past. Today, we have created another God, One who is compatible with the latest thinking, up-to-date, and He doesn’’t have to worry us.100

Much as Robinson declared, so Ferré sees the theological battlefield to be the nature of God. ““Traditional orthodoxy,”” Ferré says, ““has to be challenged, fought and slain.””101

Heaven Rules Out Hell

Ferré assumes that love and punishment, heaven and hell are mutually exclusive categories:

Some have never really seen how completely contradictory are heaven and hell as eternal realities. Their eyes have never been opened to this truth. If eternal hell is real, love is eternally frustrated and heaven is a place of mourning and concern for the lost. Such joy and such grief cannot go together. There can be no psychiatric split personality for the real lovers of God and surely not for God himself. That is the reason that heaven can be heaven only when it has emptied hell, as surely as love is love and God is God. God cannot be faithless to Himself no matter how faithless we are; and His is the power, the kingdom and the glory.102

Sounding much like some recent evangelicals who have rejected the traditional doctrine of hell as a ““moral outrage,”” Ferré says that:




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The very conception of an eternal hell is monstrous and an insult to the conception of last things in other religions, not to mention the Christian doctrine of God’’s sovereign love. Such a doctrine would either make God a tyrant, where any human Hitler would be a third degree saint, and the concentration camps of human torture, the king’’s picnic grounds. That such a doctrine could be conceived, not to mention believed, shows how far from any understanding of the love of God many people once were and, alas, still are.103

Ferré makes it quite clear that the very character and nature of God is at stake. ““Not to believe in full consummation insults the character of God or sells the power of Christ short.””104 In another place he says that ““The logic of the situation is simple. Either God could not or would not save all. If He could not He is not sovereign; then not all things are possible with God. If He would not, again the New Testament is wrong, for it openly claims that He would have all to be saved. Nor would He be totally good.””105

Ferré is overlooking the biblical teaching that all things are not possible with God! For example, Scripture declares that it is ““impossible for God to lie”” (Heb. 6:18). We are also told that ““He cannot deny Himself”” (2 Tim. 2:13, KJV). Christ has promised that the one who comes to Me I will never drive away”” (John 6:37, NIV); He has not promised that those who don’’t come will be forced into His family. God has committed Himself to His program of salvation for humans, which some, to their own eternal peril, can ultimately reject.

Love Never Fails

God’’s particular attribute of love is at stake, says Ferré. ““The total logic of the deepest message of the New Testament, namely, that God both can and wants to save all, is unanswerable. On the grounds of our total analysis of truth, moreover, our existential ultimate requires that all be saved, or else Agape is not ultimate.””106


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““Christ is love,”” declares Ferré, ““and Love never fails. To say that Love fails is to insult God.”” The biblical doctrine of Christ rests upon a proper view of the restoration of all things, insists Ferré. ““The final resurrection can mean nothing less than the victory of Christ over all his enemies; the final victory of universal Love is universal salvation . . . Christology is deceit except it end in a hallelujah chorus.””107

Ferré overlooks Jesus’’ teaching that the wicked will be cast out to a place where ““there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth”” (Matt. 8:12; 22:13; 24:51; 25:30; Luke 13:28). In Matthew 13:42 and 50, Jesus uses the phrase ““wailing and gnashing of teeth”” (NKJV) to describe the emotional and physical condition of the rejected. This hardly sounds like a hallelujah chorus!

An Empty Hell

No one shall go to a place called hell forever, declares Ferré. ““The wonder of Christology is the waiting for the final victory by scorned Love and the transfigured glory of accepted Love where none shall stand outside it.””108 Again, Ferré ignores Christ’’s authoritative declaration in Matthew 7:21-23:

Not everyone who says to Me, ““Lord, Lord,”” shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven. Many will say to Me on that day, ““Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?”” Then I will tell them plainly, ““I never knew you. Away from Me, you evildoers!””

Jesus is clearly saying that some in the day of judgment will vigorously defend their right to enter the kingdom of heaven. They will use orthodox language, doubly appealing to Jesus as ““Lord!”” There will be ““many,”” Jesus says, who will make this desperate plea for admission. In fact, some will list the deeds which they did in Christ’’s name. Jesus does not say that He will deny that such deeds were done; He will deny their doers entrance because He never knew them. His words to those on


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that day, contrary to Ferré, will be words of woe, not of welcome, and they will be told to ““depart””! Obviously, there will be ““many”” (v. 22) who will indeed ““stand outside the transfigured glory of accepted Love.””

Similar language is used by Jesus in Luke 13:23-28 in response to the question ““Lord, are there few who are saved?”” Jesus replies:

Strive to enter through the narrow gate, for many, I say to you, will seek to enter and will not be able. When once the Master of the house has risen up and shut the door, and you begin to stand outside and knock at the door, saying, ““Lord, Lord, open for us,”” and He will answer and say to you, ““I do not know you, where you are from,”” then you will begin to say, ““We ate and drank in Your presence, and You taught in our streets.”” But He will say, ““I tell you I do not know you, where you are from. Depart from Me, all you workers of iniquity.”” There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth, when you see Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God, and you your selves thrust out (NKJV).

In this passage, Jesus again emphasizes that there will be ““many”” (v. 24) who will attempt to enter heaven, but will be prevented from doing so! Using the imagery of a homeowner awakened in the night, Jesus states that the homeowner has a perfect right to shut his own door to outsiders.

How are we to understand verse 25 which indicates that many want to enter in, but are denied? Doesn’’t God desire to save all who come to Him? The answer to this question occurs in the next verse where these outsiders begin to present their arguments as to why they should be allowed entrance. To paraphrase their defense, they say ““Jesus, we partied together! Don’’t You remember the great times we had at so-and-so’’s place? And, Jesus, You gave some stirring religious lectures right on our block. Look —— we have notes, the outlines of Your very inspiring sermons, to prove that we were there, listening to Your every word!””


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The fact is that these outsiders demand to be escorted into heaven on their own basis (an earthly association with Jesus), rather than on God’’s basis, and the Savior’’s sole response to such a self-righteous demand is ““go away!”” Rather than agreeing with Ferré that heaven will be an inclusive place ““where none shall stand outside it,”” Jesus categorically teaches that heaven will be an exclusive home where only redeemed children will find entrance. All others will be ““thrust out”” to where there ““will be weeping and gnashing of teeth”” (v. 28, NKJV).

Hell As School

But God has ““no permanent problem children,”” Ferré says. ““He will make our way so self-punishing that at last we come to our better selves and see how good for us is His way. By our own choices and experiences we shall become willing and loving children of God.””109

““This life,”” he confidently declares, ““is no final examination at the end of life’’s full story.””110 ““He who thinks that not God but death settles our fate, believes more in human life than in God.””111 Apparently, Hebrews 9:27’’s truth that ““man is destined to die once, and after that to face judgment”” has escaped Ferré’’s attention.

Ferré sees hell, like Origen, as an educational institution. ““Beyond earthly life lies the larger school where we are expected to mature according to new conditions.””112 Matt Groening, the creator of The Simpsons TV show, has produced a comic book trilogy entitled Full of Hell: Love, Work, and School Is Hell. Apparently, according to Ferré, we can turn that sentence around and declare that hell is school!

If we are indeed to ““preach hell as having also a school and a door in it,””113 how long will that program of study be? Ferré emphasizes that, ““There may be many hells. There may be enough freedom even in the life of hell for man to keep rejecting God for a very long time. Hell may be not only unto the end of the age, but also unto the end of several ages. It cannot be eternal, but it can be longer than we think, depending upon the depth and stubbornness of our actual freedom now and


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whether or not God will give us fuller freedom in the life to come, and how much.””114

Hell cannot be eternal, Ferré argues, because ““the only way to live in eternity beyond conditional time is within love’’s fellowship. An eternal hell is incongruous, a false mixing of categories. Evil never reaches eternal status. Eternal hell confuses the two orders of time.””115

Man’’s Freedom?

But what if one does not wish to believe? Regarding the issue of man’’s freedom, Ferré emphasizes that ““ultimately God’’s freedom and man’’s belong together; and man’’s freedom to be over-against God is not the freedom to remain an eternal problem child. God’’s creation and pedagogy are both too good for that!””116

Man cannot ultimately or eternally respond negatively to God; in fact, says Ferré, ““[F]reedom can be real [only] if God finally controls it . . . Freedom is real and serious precisely because it is God who gives it, who cannot be escaped for our own good.””117 The issue is really one of finiteness verses infinity: ““Finality is never of finitude, but of eternity. Finality belongs to God and His purpose, and not to man and his temporal choices.””118

However, as has been frequently pointed out:

The advocates of universal restoration are commonly the most strenuous defenders of the inalienable freedom of the human will to make choices contrary to its past character and to all the motives which are or can be brought to bear upon it. As a matter of fact, we find in this world that men choose sin in spite of infinite motives to the contrary. Upon the theory of human freedom just mentioned, no motives which God can use will certainly accomplish the salvation of all moral creatures. The soul which resists Christ here may resist him forever.119


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William Barclay (although himself a universalist; see chapter 3, note 76) aptly concludes that ““It is a great fact of life that God will never fail the man who has tried to be true to Him, but not even God can help the man who has refused to have anything to do with God.””120

““God will not give up on man!”” retorts Ferré. ““A terrible thing is hell . . . in the long run, beyond our understanding, but the God who loves us will never be mocked by our stubborn depth of freedom, but for our sakes will put on the screws tighter and tighter until we come to ourselves and are willing to consider the good which He has prepared for us.121

An Answer to Evil

There is no place in Ferré’’s system for the finality of evil in any form. Referring to the belief in Satan, he says that ““there is no totally evil fact. There is no single, unrelated, permanently satanic fact. We know of no static structure permanently contradicting the good. The evil that we know is adjectival. It is a minor, never a major, premise; a subordinate, never a coordinate, clause . . . We know of no permanent or final negation.””122

In his book God without Thunder, John Crowe Ransom ridicules the God of liberal theology (which Ferré represents):

The new religionists, however, would like to eat their cake and have it too. They want One great God, yet they want him to be wholly benevolent, and ethical after the humane definition. What will they do about evil? They will do nothing about it. They will pretend that it is not there. They are not necessarily Christian Scientists in the technical sense, for they do acknowledge some evil, of a kind which is now or prospectively curable by the secular sciences. But they are virtually Christian Scientists so far as they gloze the existence of incurable evil. They represent evil in general as a temporary, incidental, negligible, and slightly uncomfortable phenomenon, which hardly deserves an entry in the theological ledger.123




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Ferré does not hedge in his view that universalism is the only viable position for Christians: ““Those who worship the sovereign Lord are proclaiming nothing less than the total victory of His love. No other position can be consistently Christian. All other positions limit either God’’s goodness or His power, in which case both fundamentalism and modern liberalism have their own varieties of the finite God.””124

Regarding ““Bible Thumpers””

Conservatives who hold to the traditional doctrine of hell are objects of Ferré’’s ridicule. He especially attacks the concept of an infallible Bible. ““We idolize the relative and freeze history into perversion and impotence. Or ‘‘the book’’ becomes perfect! Even the words become considered inerrant. Fearful human beings, claiming a liberating Gospel, barricade themselves behind a book. God’’s historic help in the Bible becomes frustrating Biblicism. God’’s good means is thus defiled through its perversion. The false use becomes demonic and destructive; and faith flees.””125

As an ““umbrella””126 which ““cloaks the spirit and implications of the Gospel,””127 the Bible is only ““a first century museum.””128 It ““handicaps””129 the church and ““thwarts””130 the Holy Spirit. The Bible is not the final authority, only the concept of God as Agape love. ““It is still Christ who constitutes the authority of the Bible. Is it anything less than the full picture of the universal love of God the Father in the face of Jesus Christ that is the authority of the Bible?””131

One is reminded of the famed author of Alice in Wonderland, Lewis Carroll (the pen name of Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, the son of an Anglican minister). Dodgson said that if the Bible really taught the doctrine of everlasting punishment, ““I would give up the Bible.””132

However, the Christ to which Ferré refers is not the Christ of the Bible. Ferré states that ““it is not the biblical Christ of the past that is the standard but the living Christ who bids us look less back to Jesus than up to God.””133 Because there is ““no such thing as a frozen final revelation to the Universalist,””134


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truth is dynamic and revelation continues. Ferré states that ““instead of trying to prove . . . that Christianity has a closed and final revelation, we are convinced, rather, that the true revelation of the absolute makes knowledge an infinite adventure.””135

One theologian evaluates Ferré’’s view by stating ““If Scripture is not accepted as an objective authority then the true meaning and intent of revelation is lost in subjectivism.””136 Ferré emphasizes that ““the total logic of the deepest message of the New Testament, namely, that God both can and wants to save all is unanswerable.””137 He later states that we should not ““base the conclusion, however, solely on New Testament grounds. The witness of the New Testament is inconclusive.””138 One evangelical theologian responds: ““If the Biblical evidences are inconclusive, then the ‘‘deepest message’’ of the Bible must also be.””139

Venting his self-righteous indignation at those who cite Jesus as their final authority for the doctrine of eternal conscious punishment, Ferré says that such believers hold to ““a narrow, literalistic Biblicism . . . that the New Testament teaches eternal hell and that it even was taught by their Lord and Savior, which is enough for them. To question the morality of eternal hell is for them to question God Himself and the only way by which they know, authoritatively, about Him.””140

Mixed Motives

Ferré also says that some hold to an eternal hell out of an insecurity as to the reality of the Gospel or out of a professional lust for power. ““[Preachers don’’t give up eternal hell because they know] that people are more driven by what they fear than drawn by what they love, and for that reason they feel that to give up the preaching of eternal hell is to give up the most powerful hold that they exercise over people.””141

Ferré concludes his evaluation as to why some hold to the concept of eternal hell by stating that ““professional insecurity and longing for power join with Biblicism, personal success and historic heritage to confirm this doctrine of eternal hell.””142


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Continuing his criticism of evangelicalism, Ferré argues that this branch of Christendom can be described as ““the historic main line of theology which has condemned God and crucified Christ afresh by condemning the full Gospel itself that God is sovereign love.””143 Ferré frankly admits that by condemning Origen at this point the church judged itself the proclaimer of another than the Christian Gospel.144 So it is the church, not Origen, which is the heretic!

Lest some think that Ferré finds annihilationism a less odious option, he understands annihilationism as teaching that ““God in this view has children who are so permanently a problem that out of convenience, self-pity or frustrated concern He liquidates them!””145 He makes the point that ““most of the positive drive in view of conditional immortality comes from the desire to escape the Christian contradiction in eternal hell.””146 He dismisses conditional immortality by stating that ““at least in the doctrine of eternal hell, life is seriously eternal for each and all.””147

Fates of the Wicked

Not only does Ferré suffer from an inadequate view of the Scriptures, but he also argues that there are several traditions concerning last things in the Bible. He acknowledges that ““we think that it is at least likely that eternal damnation was actually intended by some of the writers of the Bible. We cannot be sure, but we think this to be at least highly probable . . . Whether Jesus taught eternal hell or not is uncertain . . . we must remember that Jesus was far from understood and that his message comes from some distance and with much dilution.””148

Ferré sees eternal damnation in some of the parables of Jesus, but also believes the Bible teaches annihilation in texts such as Romans 2:12 and 1 Corinthians 1:18. He also believes that final salvation for all is also taught. ““We simply have no right to meddle with the New Testament””; Ferré says, ““all three teachings are undeniably there.”” Ferré solves the apparent self-contradictions of the Bible by saying that ““only one position is finally consistent with God as agape. The other positions are there because preaching is existential.””149


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Jesus: A Deceiver or Merely Uninformed? Ferré has taken God as agape as his governing motif, but he dismisses Matthew 25’’s teaching regarding the sheep and the goats being sent to eternal destinies (the point is living one’’s life of Agape). He also minimizes the story of the rich man and Lazarus (mistakenly stating that it is in Luke 17) and the other eschatological parables of Jesus as teaching the doctrine of eternal punishment. He argues that:

most of the passages mentioning eternal or final damnation are the emphatic scaffolding of parables and not to be taken as specific teachings or literal truth. In other words, Jesus may have preached existential hell, where it is both true and needed, and not hell as an explanatory category. Wooden or leaden thinking on our part on this subject has caused much harm to the spiritually sensitive and the intellectually seeking.150

Later he says that the logic of God’’s sovereign love may have been missed by Jesus. The New Testament is very existential; the implications of God’’s sovereign love could not be understood by Jesus’’ disciples and, ““it may be, of course, that Jesus himself never saw them.””151 Fortunately, for truth’’s sake, Ferré claims that the reality of God’’s sovereign love was captured by twentieth-century theologians who had time to think through the implications of God’’s all-encompassing love!

Resistance to this rejection of the traditional view of the fate of the wicked is acknowledged by Ferré: ““Only those who have tried long and hard to present the glories of God in its full victory can know the astonishing fervor with which people cling to eternal hell as almost the most important part of the Christian message.””152

Hell and the Problem of Evil

Perhaps Ferré’’s strongest challenge to conservative theology is his attempt to provide a theodicy concerning the doctrine of hell. In his book Evil and the Christian Faith, Ferré says that ““without the ultimate salvation of all creatures, men and, we


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think, animals, God’’s time and way, it is easy to see that there can be no full solution of the problem of evil.””153 ““If one creature is to be eternally tormented, Christ’’s compassion declares that it were far better that there had been no creation.””154

Thomas Talbott (1941 –––––––––– )

One of the best known contemporary universalists, Thomas Talbott, wrote a book entitled The Inescapable Love of God 155 in which he attacks the traditional view that those who die without Christ will suffer eternal separation from God. He particularly charges what he calls ““Augustinian”” Christians with holding a ““demonic picture of God”” and advocates what he calls ““a stunning vision of Omnipotent Love.””156 He argues that God ““has but one moral attribute, namely his love . . . ,””157 a love which will not rest until all His creation is brought back into the fold. This is the time-honored approach of universal- ists, for if God’’s final and ultimate nature is love (rather than, say, holiness), He cannot eternally reject anyone. ““For God is love,”” says Talbott, ““that is the rock-bottom fact about God.””158

His use of several universalistic-sounding passages (such as Romans 5, 1 Corinthians 15, and Romans 9-11) causes him to conclude that even 2 Thessalonians 1:9’’s teaching about ““eternal destruction”” ““is itself a redemptive concept””!159

Because he has written his text to prove that the Apostle Paul was a universalist, he spends relatively little time looking at the teaching of the Lord Jesus Christ on hell. However, in discussing the parable of the sheep and goats in Matthew 25, he writes:

For even a superficial reading of the Gospels reveals one point very clearly: Jesus steadfastly refused to address in a systematic way abstract theological questions, especially those concerning the age to come. His whole manner of expressing himself, the incessant use of hyperbole and riddle, of parable and colorful stories, was intended to awaken the spiritual imagination of his disciples and to leave room for reinterpretation as they matured in the


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faith; it was not intended to provide final answers to their theological questions.””160

One could argue that where a person will spend eternity is hardly an ““abstract theological question.”” It must also be asked: ““How do we determine Jesus’’ intent?”” Rather than intending to ““awaken the spiritual imagination of his disciples,”” I would suggest that Jesus’’ teaching, especially as we will see in Matthew 25, patently speaks about two (not just one) eternal destinies. Because Talbott is seeking to read the Bible from a universalist perspective, he can declare:

The more one freely rebels against God, the more miserable and tormented one becomes; and the more miserable and tormented one becomes, the more incentive one has to repent of one’’s sin and to give up one’’s rebellious attitudes. But more than that, the consequences of sin are themselves a means of revelation; they reveal the true meaning of separation and enable us to see through the very self-deception that makes evil choices possible in the first place. We may think we can promote our own interest at the expense of others and that our selfish attitudes are compatible with enduring happiness, but we cannot act upon such an illusion, at least not for a long period of time, without shattering it to pieces. So in a sense, all roads have the same destination, the end of reconciliation, but some are longer and windier than others.161

We don’’t have to determine Jesus’’ ““intent””; we can take the text at face-value.

In discussing Jesus’’ story of the sheep and the goats in Matthew 25, a story which ends by saying that the wicked [the goats] will ““go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous [the sheep] to eternal life”” (verse 46), Talbott argues that this story does not teach that anyone’’s eternal fate is sealed at death. Rather, ““the purpose of the story is to inform us that our actions, for good or ill, are more far reaching than we might


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have imagined, and that we shall be judged accordingly; it is not to warn us concerning the ultimate fate of the wicked.””162 But does it not appear patently true that this text is clearly eschatological (pertaining to the end-times), concerns itself with verdicts rendered about the wicked and the righteous, and describes their respective fates as ““eternal life”” and ““eternal punishment””? (v. 46) What part our imaginations should play in interpreting the text is unclear to me, unless one is already committed to reading God’’s Word from, for example, a universalist perspective.

Talbott seems quite interested in the use of human imagination and declares his conviction that ““ . . . nothing works greater mischief in theology, I am persuaded, than a simple failure of the imagination, the inability to put things together in imaginative ways.””163 I would argue that there is something that works far greater mischief in theology than the failure of imagination and that is unbelief. When we refuse to believe God’’s Word, substituting our own wishful thinking or theological imagination, we should call it what it is: unbelief.164

George MacDonald (1824-1905)

In his work Unspoken Sermons, MacDonald gives his reasons for rejecting a retributivist theory of punishment (sermon entitled ““Justice””) and some of the grounds for his hope that God will eventually reconcile all created persons to himself (sermon entitled ““The Consuming Fire””).165 In his Getting to Know Jesus he ridicules the vicarious penal view of the death of Christ as ““the vile assertion,””arguing that ““as a theory concerning the Atonement nothing could be worse, either intellectually, morally, or spiritually . . . the idea is monstrous as any dragon. Such a so-called gospel is no gospel . . . It is evil news, dwarfing, enslaving, maddening —— news to the child- heart of the dreariest damnation.””166 He refers to the vicarious/ penal view of the atonement as ““the revolting legal fiction of imputed righteousness””167 and says that ““ . . . he who trusts in the atonement instead of in the Father of Jesus Christ, fills his


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fancy with the chimeras of a vulgar legalism, not his heart with the righteousness of God.””168 He expresses his universalism by saying,

If your will refuses to work with His you must remain in your misery until —— God knows when; God knows what multitudes of terrible sheepdogs He may have to send after you —— His wandering sheep —— before He can get you to come . . .169

Thomas Talbott says that MacDonald was ““fond of pointing out that not one word in the New Testament implies that vindictiveness and wrath are ultimate facts about God, or that Christ’’s sacrifice was required in order to appease a vindictive God.””170

In describing his understanding of hell, MacDonald says, ““I believe that the very fire of hell is the fire of love, but it is a love that will burn the evil out of you.””171 Hell is actually an ally, MacDonald says, ““For hell is God’’s and not the devil’’s. Hell is on the side of God and man, to free the child of God from the corruption of death. Not one soul will ever be redeemed from hell but by being saved from his sins, from the evil in him. If hell be needful to save him, hell will blaze, and the worm will writhe and bite, until he takes refuge in the will of the Father.””172 God’’s own person is at stake in this issue, he says: ““I believe that God will spare no pain, no trouble, no torture that will be needful to save men from themselves, else it seems true that He could not be God.””173

Madeleine L’’’’’’’’’’Engle (1918- )

Madeleine L’’Engle, a popular novelist among Christians, writes in her The Irrational Season:

I know a number of highly sensitive and intelligent people in my own communion who consider as a heresy my faith that God’’s loving concern for his creation will outlast all our willfulness and pride. No matter how




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many eons it takes, he will not rest until all of creation, including Satan, is reconciled to him, until there is no creature who cannot return his look of love with a joyful response of love . . . I cannot believe that God wants punishment to go on interminably any more than does a loving parent. The entire purpose of loving punishment is to teach, and it lasts only as long as is needed for the lesson. And the lesson is always love.174

D.A. Carson responds to L’’Engle’’s position by commenting, ““Regrettably, L’’Engle pays little attention to what the Bible actually says, but simply expounds what she can and cannot believe.””175

It seems that Karl Barth is virtually alone in his abundant use of Scripture to support his theological positions. Talbott uses a few references from the Apostle Paul, forcing other texts which do not agree with his universalism to fit into his ““imaginative”” way of reading Scripture. Other universalists seem to rely upon ““evident reason,”” or ““the nature of God as love dictates that . . . ,”” or similar arguments. In fact, a number of the theological texts of the men we have discussed have no indices to Scriptures used in their works, obviously because so little Scripture is used.

However, universalists (when they employ Scripture) point to several specific New Testament passages, using them to argue the position that all without exception will be saved. Two of the more prominent texts, Philippians 2:9-11 and Colossians 1:19-20, will now be briefly considered.

Philippians 2:9-11

Paul argues in this text for a Christlike mind to serve fellow believers. Although the doctrinal teaching of Philippians 2 is rich (both His full deity and complete humanity are clearly taught), the imparting of doctrine for doctrine’’s sake is not Paul’’s concern. He is emphasizing, rather, the importance of demonstrating one’’s life in Christ through practical self-giving love.




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In His incarnation the second Person of the Trinity assumed the nature of a servant and became a perfect man (Phil. 2:6). His becoming man, Paul says, was for the primary purpose of giving His life in death on the cross (Phil. 2:7-8). The unbeliever Freud ridiculed the idea of Christ’’s sacrifice: ““That the Redeemer sacrificed himself as an innocent man was obviously tendentious distortion, difficult to reconcile with logical thinking.”” However, reconciliation is exactly the point! Christ’’s death paid the debt of sin for everyone who believes in Him.

But don’’t verses 9-11 of Philippians 2 argue that the Father has exalted the Son and ““bestowed on Him the name which is above every name,”” and do not these verses clearly state that at some future point ““every knee should bow . . . [at the name of Jesus] in heaven, and on earth, and under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord””? (NASB) Barth refers to these verses as recording ““the proclamation . . . of the justification of all sinful humanity.””176 The church, says Barth, as ““a very small and modest light in this world,”” began its commission with Jesus’’ charge to ““go therefore and make disciples of all the nations”” (Matt. 28:19) and then is brought by God’’s grace to ““its end, that ‘‘at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth’’ (Phil. 2:10)!””177

Could there be more inclusive expressions than these: ““in heaven, and on earth, and under the earth””? This ““universal character of the atonement””178 prompted one evangelical to ask, ““Does not ‘‘confessing Jesus Christ as Lord’’ equal salvation?”” ““After all,”” he continued, ““Romans 10:9 says that ‘‘if you confess with your mouth ““Jesus as Lord”” and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.’’””

However, one must point out that the demons in Mark 3:11 were compelled (apparently by the mere presence of Christ) to declare, ““You are the Son of God!”” That certainly does not equal saving faith, but rather a forced acknowledgment of Christ’’s person. Matthew 8:29 records the demons as expecting not salvation, but torment: ““What do You want with us, Son of God? . . . Have You come to torture us before the appointed


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time?”” Simply saying the words ““Jesus Christ is Lord”” does not bring salvation, as any Christian who has dialogued with Jehovah’’s Witnesses or Mormons knows!

But the eternal state, says one commentator, has no separate room for those ““outside”” faith:

Since all things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible . . . were created by Christ (Col. 1:16) and were to find their consummation in Him, they must come within the sphere of His mediatorial activity: they must ultimately be summed up in Him as their head (Eph. 1:10). Hence in the world of spiritual beings since some have sinned or apostatised, they too must share in the atonement of the cross of Christ and so obtain reconciliation (Col. 1:20) and join in the universal worship of the Son (Phil. 2:10) . . . Since all things must be reconciled and summed up in Christ there can be no room finally in the universe for a wicked being, whether human or angelic. Thus the Pauline eschatology points obviously in its ultimate issue either to the final redemption of all created personal beings or to the destruction of the finally impenitent.179

Earlier in Philippians Paul speaks of those who oppose the Gospel and by such opposition set forth ““a sure sign . . . that their doom is sealed”” (1:28, NEB). One verse later than the text we are considering, Paul admonishes the Philippians to ““work out your own salvation with fear and trembling”” (2:12). Salvation must be worked into one before it can be worked out of one.

Paul later reminds the Philippians of those who are ““enemies of the cross of Christ: [whose end] is destruction”” (3:18-19). Rather than teaching universalism, Philippians 2:9-10 appears to be emphasizing not a confession of personal faith, but an acknowledgment by force on the part of all unredeemed beings of the supremacy and lordship of Jesus Christ.


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Lightfoot understands verse 10 as referring to ““all creation, all things whatsoever and wheresoever they be. The whole universe, whether animate or inanimate, bends the knee in homage and raises its voice in praise.””180 Hawthorne, however, suggests that verse 11 refers to the fact that:

the hope of God is that every intelligent being in his universe might proclaim openly and gladly (Lightfoot) that Jesus Christ alone has the right to reign . . . [However], it is conceivable that beings, who are created with the freedom of choice, may choose never under any circumstances to submit to God or to his Christ. And it is also conceivable that these beings will never be forced to do so against their wills (cf. Rev. 9:20-21; 16:9, 11).181

Those particular passages in Revelation cited by Hawthorne emphasize that the impenitence of the wicked will continue (9:20-21), and that even when ““seared by the intense heat,”” men will continue to blaspheme the name of God, refusing to repent and give Him glory (16:9, 11).

Colossians 1:19-20

““But,”” the universalist might ask, ““what if the Bible clearly states that God’’s desire and action through Christ actually brings back all of creation to Himself? Surely we could not find a clearer biblical statement of such a truth than Paul’’s words in Colossians 1: ‘‘For it pleased the Father that in Him all the fullness should dwell, and by Him to reconcile all things to Himself, by Him, whether things on earth or things in heaven, having made peace through the blood of His cross’’”” (1:19-20, NKJV, emphasis mine).

At first glance it appears that this text supports the contention that ““the goal [of God] is undoubtedly [the] complete conversion of the world to Him””182 through the reconciliatory work of the Son. Some might even argue that the ““all”” of verse 19, which emphasizes the full deity of Christ, necessitates that the ““all”” of verse 20 (““to reconcile all things to Himself””) encompasses the full orb of all created beings.


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Ferré says that ““All men . . . belong within Christ potentially, for God is bound to them with cords of love that can neither break nor wear out. God as eternal Love will not rest satisfied until the children of his love accept his love.””182 However, to understand the truth of the whole Bible, we must look at what all of Scripture teaches. If one holds to the belief that the Bible is not self-contradictory, then one must attempt to reconcile the apparently universalistic force of Colossians 1:19-20 with other passages such as Matthew 25:46 (““these [wicked] will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life,”” NASB), John 5:29 (““those who have done evil will rise to be condemned””), and Revelation 21:8 (““But the cowardly, the unbelieving, the vile, the murderers, the sexually immoral, those who practice magic arts, the idolaters and all liars —— their place will be in the fiery lake of burning sulfur””).

Other texts emphasize that Christ’’s kingdom has an ““outside”” where there will be ““weeping and gnashing of teeth”” (Matt. 8:12), that there will be a category of humans who are ““cursed”” and will be sent ““into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels”” (Matt. 25:41, NASB), that some will be ““guilty of an eternal sin”” (Mark 3:29, NASB), that some are ““storing up wrath . . . for the day of [God’’s] wrath”” (Rom. 2:5, NASB), and that some of humanity ““will be punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord and from the majesty of His power”” (2 Thes. 1:9).

The contemporary Evangelical Thomas Oden writes that ““Hell is the eternal bringing to nothing of corruption and ungodliness. Hell expresses the intent of a holy God to destroy sin completely and forever. Hell says not merely a temporal no but an eternal no to sin. The rejection of evil by the holy God is like a fire that burns on, a worm that dies not.””183

One writer summarizes the issue by saying that ““on the basis simply of numbers, there appear to be considerably more passages teaching that some will be eternally lost than that all will be saved.””184 Another theology text emphasizes that Ephesians 1:10 (““ . . . to bring all things in heaven and on earth together under one head, even Christ.””) and Colossians 1:20


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(““by Him to reconcile all things to Himself, by Him, whether things on earth or things in heaven,”” NKJV) ““although not teaching universal salvation . . . suggest that the discord and fragmentation characteristic of the fallen universe ultimately will give way to harmony and unity as Christ sovereignly rules over the created order.””185

““In context,”” comments one evangelical text, Colossians 1:20 ““cannot mean, unfortunately, that every last individual will be in personal fellowship with God. The cosmic pacification Paul has in mind includes the reconciliation of believers and the disarming of unrepentant enemies of the cross (2:15). Having become impotent, the evil forces must submit to Christ’’s cosmic victory so that his peaceful purposes will be fully achieved.””186

Another writer reminds us that ““reconciliation”” may have more than one meaning. ““It is not, however, that universal reconciliation means universal salvation, because we know that, while the work of Christ is sufficient for all, it is efficient only for those who actually accept it. It is indeed God’’s purpose to save all men, but not all of them will come to Him for life. He impels but never compels.””187 Still another writer expresses his belief that these verses refer ““to the cosmic significance of Christ’’s work, the thought being similar to, but not identical with, that of Romans 8:19-22 . . . . The general sense is that the disorder which has characterized creation shall be done away and divine harmony shall be restored. A reflection of the same thought may be seen in Isaiah 11:6-9. In the present passage perhaps the main idea is that all things eventually are to be decisively subdued to God’’s will and made to serve His purposes.””188

It must also be pointed out that Colossians 1 states several verses later that such a reconciliation for human beings is valid only if one continues ““in the faith, grounded and steadfast, and . . . [is] not moved away from the hope of the Gospel”” (v. 23, NKJV).

Paul clearly speaks of the ““sons of disobedience”” in Colossians 3:6 (NKJV) and states that ““the wrath of God”” is coming upon them. Rather than emphasizing that all are saved, or will be saved, Paul appeals to the Colossians to support him in prayer.


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He requests that they pray ““that God would open to us a door for the word, to speak the mystery of Christ, for which I am also in chains, that I may make it manifest”” (4:3-4, NKJV).


Bernard Ramm characterizes Barth’’s universalism as a ““courageous”” attempt to bestow meaning on all human beings. Believing that Barth has responded ““Nein!”” to the question ““Are non-Christians the waste products of the plan of salvation?”” Ramm concludes, ““The compassion of Barth in saving significance for every human life by relating it to God through Jesus Christ is certainly commendable to every person of good Christian sensibilities. He does try to give meaning to billions of persons who under other premises would live completely meaningless lives.””189

We agree with Ramm that ““few things are more un-Christian than a juridical, stony response to the problem of the lostness of billions of human beings.””190 However, is the hope of man to be found in a Gospel which seems compromised from a number of directions?

Barth’’s doctrine of universalism is open to severe criticism. By its very definition, election to Barth eliminates reprobation for even the most wicked. Because other views of election ““have abandoned an original universalism,”” Barth’’s doctrine attempts to restore that emphasis. If man’’s ““No”” to God is only a foreword to God’’s all-encompassing ““Yes,”” and if God has said ““No”” to Himself in Christ and ““Yes”” to humanity (““spoken in the axiomatic certainty of God’’s judicially binding pronouncement””),191 then no one will be lost. However, the biblical basis for such a doctrine of election is lacking. God’’s last word to some will not be the ““Yes”” of reconciliation, but the ““depart”” of kingdom exclusion (Matt. 7:21-23 and Luke 13:24-28).

The necessity of personal faith in the Gospel seems to be weak in Barth’’s view. Man is not seen as drowning in the sea


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of his own sin, but is only ankle-deep in his ignorance as to his own election!

If ontologically the old man cannot exist in the new heavens and the new earth, and if every man has already been liberated by the atoning work of Christ, then where is the need for repentance?

If faith is seen only as a ““silhouette”” of God’’s elective decree, and if the rejector of the Gospel is only a ““shadow moving on the wall,”” then where is the Gospel’’s urgency? If the eternal verdict of ““Not Guilty!”” has already been pronounced by God for every human, then why should any fear to stand before the Judge of all the earth?

If salvation is only a ““gentle and intimate awakening”” in the Father’’s house, then why the need for Calvary? Jesus’’ teaching in the Gospels seems to paint a picture of a person’’s worst nightmare if he dies in his sins (John 8:21, 24).

Barth’’s dream about hell (see page 49) perhaps illustrates the weakness of his universalism. His protests notwithstanding, Barth appears to have forgotten hell, or at least to have so redefined and qualified it that a sinner need not give it a second thought.

Dodd’’s brand of universalism, as well, leaves a great deal to be desired. He begins with a God who cannot be trusted to act justly (God will finally treat all as if they had believed). Of course, to forgive all regardless of their response to Christ is to trample underfoot His atoning work. Why, one might ask, did He even bother?

Basing much of his universalism on his belief that the Bible presents a ““developing eschatology,”” Dodd emphasizes that the last chapter of that eschatology comes through the Apostle Paul who matured out of the concept of eternal judgment. Arguing that the Bible moves from a scheme of exclusion to one of inclusion, Dodd invites all to draw the ““inevitable conclusion”” of universalism, even though Paul admittedly did not.

Dodd grounds much of his universalism upon the ““obvious”” truth that ““if there is but one God and He wholly good, then


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all mankind must be His care.”” Somehow, Dodd argues, God’’s love will find a way of bringing all people into unity with Him. Dodd’’s ““somehow”” is diametrically opposed to Jesus’’ teaching that ““many”” are on the broad way that leads to ““destruction”” (Matt. 7:13).

One is not surprised to hear Dodd say that the traditional doctrine of eternal conscious punishment and the universalist faith are springing from two distinct doctrines of God. Certainly the true God is ““not willing that any should perish,”” but His desire is balanced by His requirement that ““all should come to repentance”” (2 Peter 3:9, NKJV).

Robinson’’s brand of universalism equally calls for ““a war to the death over two competing doctrines of God.”” The myths of the Bible (which span Genesis through Revelation and encompass man’’s creation and his final destiny) are not to be understood literally.

All predictions of man’’s future fate are valid only if they agree with the nature of God as love and His universal lordship. Also connecting his theological pronouncements to ““the nature of God,”” Robinson makes it clear that ““false ideas of the last things are direct reflections of inadequate views of the nature of God.””

We completely agree. We will demonstrate in the final chapter of this book that the character of God necessitated the atonement (if man was to be righteously redeemed) and that that same character will require the expulsion of unbelievers from His presence forever.

Ferré easily dismisses the dark clouds of God’’s wrath by basing his universalism on God’’s central and foundational attribute, Agape love. Because heaven and hell are mutually exclusive categories, as we noted earlier, ““heaven can be heaven only when it has emptied hell.””

Again, this universalist agrees with the others that the very character and nature of God is at stake in the discussion of the Other Side. Not to hold to Ferré’’s view ““insults the character of God or sells the power of Christ short.””


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Ferré forgets that God’’s omnipotence means that He can do all things that are proper objects of His power, that is, whatever is consistent with His nature. If His nature is allergic to sin, one of the things which God cannot do is act contrary to His own holy nature!

““Love never fails,”” says Ferré. To imply that God’’s love fails to reach some sinners insults God! But, wait a minute. Parents who love a teenaged son with all their hearts, who practice a godly ““tough”” love toward him, who would willingly give their very lives for that son, cannot be held responsible if that son rebels and insists on drug-induced self-destruction! To say that their love failed (because their son chose to reject that love) is accurate (because their son died), but not an insult to parents who must sometimes submit to wrong decisions by their offspring.

How absurd for Ferré to insist that all sinners will have a part to sing in the final hallelujah chorus! Christ Himself declares that some will only weep, wail, and gnash their teeth due to their righteous judgment imposed by God (Matt. 8:12; 13:42, 50; 22:13; 24:51; 25:30; Luke 13:28).

If the Bible is self-contradictory, as Ferré asserts, and posits several conflicting views of the wicked’’s fate, then we are free to treat those views much as one making menu selections in a cafeteria. Choose what you like!

To suggest that Jesus did not understand the implications of God’’s sovereign love, as Ferré does, surely compromises His deity. Mackintosh aptly remarks:

The suggestion that He [Jesus] may have educated us beyond Himself, enabling us to take wider views, is hardly worth discussion. To call it improbable or unconvincing is a weak expression. Whatever our instinctive wishes, we may well shrink from supposing that we have attained to worthier or more ample conceptions of the divine love, its length and depth and height, than were attained by Jesus.192


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Furthermore, if the biblical evidences are ““inconclusive,”” then why should we trust Ferré’’s vision of the finally victorious, all-encompassing love of God? On such a fallible basis, how do we know that evil will not ultimately win, that the gates of hell will not prevail over those of heaven, and that the universe will not expire in a spasm of our most horrible nightmares? Why listen to Ferré if we have no authoritative revelation from above?

Much emphasis is placed by Ferré on his understanding of the nature of God. His primary source is human logic: ““if God is like this, then this conclusion follows . . .”” This use of human reason is a two-edged sword. If one’’s conception of God runs counter to the biblical description, then he has the wrong God. If one’’s conception of the future of humanity without Christ runs counter to the biblical description of the fate of the wicked (as we shall show in chapter 5), then he or she has the wrong Gospel!

Thomas Talbott’’s ““stunning vision of Omnipotent Love”” does not take the judgment passages of Scripture seriously. To say that God has but one moral attribute (love) is to go beyond —— and against —— the total teaching of the Word of God. But Talbott would accuse me of a failure of imagination in not reading Scripture from a universalist perspective. George MacDonald does not hesitate to attack the vicarious penal view of the atonement and sees hell as ““a love that will burn the evil outofyou.”” MadeleineL’’EngleviewsGod’’sloveasthatwhich will outlast all our willfulness and pride. A famous manufacturer of punching bags is called ““Everlast.”” L’’Engle seems to be saying that God will everlastingly pummel the sinner until he or she eventually capitulates. She argues that the entire purpose of loving punishment is to teach, thereby rejecting the clear biblical teaching of retributive (not remedial) punishment.

In speaking of the issue of universalism, J.I. Packer asks the piercing question: ““Does not universalism condemn Christ Himself, who warned men to flee hell at all costs, as having been either incompetent (ignorant that all were finally going to


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be saved) or immoral (knowing but concealing it, so as to bluff people into the kingdom through fear)?””193

Universalism also invalidates man’’s exercise of freedom. As much as Ferré and others try to argue that man is free to choose against God, they deny that man can ultimately say ““no”” to the atoning work of Christ. J.H. Bernard acknowledges that man may eternally spurn God’’s offer of forgiveness: ““That the divine intention may be thwarted by man’’s misuse of his free will is part of the great mystery of evil, unexplained and inexplicable.””194

Admittedly, God is ““not wanting anyone to perish”” (2 Peter 3:9). But this passage sets forth repentance as the only prerequisite which must be met by sinful man. Some will choose to ignore that prerequisite. Lewis and Demarest emphasize that ““[the] general desire or wish of God . . . is constantly assailed by creaturely freedom.””195 Berkouwer asks the question: ““Is the human choice —— belief or unbelief —— really important in universalism, if God in His love actually cannot be anything else but merciful to all men?””196

C.S. Lewis poses the same question concerning man’’s freedom. ““Is it not a frightening truth that the free will of a bad man can resist the will of God? For He has, after a fashion, restricted His own Omnipotence by the very fact of creating free creatures; and we read that the Lord was not able to do miracles in some place because people’’s faith was wanting.””197

Lastly, the Scriptures declare that Christ’’s kingdom will have an outside. As Kuhn so clearly points out, ““Protestant orthodoxy . . . [asserts] that the Scriptures are the final court of appeal . . . and that they teach that the final reconstitution of all things in Christ would be accomplished only at the price of the eternal loss of a portion of mankind.””198

The Word of God is to be our final court of appeal, not a logic which demands that if God is to save any, He must save all. T.F. Torrance asks: ““Dare we go behind Calvary to argue our way to a conclusion which we could reach by logic, and which would make the Cross meaningless?””199 The church’’s mandate, says Berkouwer, ““is not to investigate into the secrets


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of God, not to soften the Gospel into a communique informing the world that everything is going to come out all right in the end. Its command is to let the voice of the Cross resound through the world with its summons to faith and repentance.””200

In addressing the issue of universalism over twenty-five years ago, Harold Kuhn said that universalism overlooks at least two biblical concepts. It overlooks the ““Eli, Eli lama sabachthani”” of the Lord Jesus (His being forsaken by the Father), and also what Kuhn calls:

the unfathomable horror of the act by which men, in arrogance and proud denial, refuse the ultimate work of love at Calvary . . . [He who understands these two concepts] will see, in the light of the Cross, that hell is no crude medieval invention but hideous reality, prefigured here and now in the wreckage of character evident all about us, and the ultimate and inevitable consequence of the power of men finally to contradict God and to depart from him.201

If universalism’’s view of the Other Side is fatally flawed, what about the concept that the wicked will be consumed by God’’s wrath? Perhaps the wicked will be excluded from heaven by being excluded from existence. If eternal life is God’’s gift only to those who believe the Gospel, then maybe those who don’’t believe will cease to be. A discussion of the alternative known as annihilationism comprises our next chapter.


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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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In advertising his forthcoming book LOVE WINS, Rob Bell argues that the Good News about Jesus is much better than we thought.
He challenges the idea that Jesus died to save us from God. He says that the very idea that the biblical God could send anyone to eternal punishment is only one of a string of absurdities which sane non-Christians reject.
Does the death of Jesus not provide rescue from the coming wrath? Is it not true that Jesus took our rightfully-deserved punishment upon Himself?
If all without exception and without specific faith in Jesus go to heaven upon death, then SIN WINS! If God’s love trumps all His other attributes, then SIN WINS!
Discussion questions: If in the end, God’s LOVE WINS in Bell’s sense, then how does one explain Daniel 12:2?  What are the issues in the following transcript that concern you?


Here’s Bell’s video:  

Here is the transcript of Bell’s video:

“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!”



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In a new book, Love Wins, Rob Bell appears to come out in favor of universalism, the view that all without exception will be saved.   The Bells were featured in a November 2004 Christianity Today issue on the Emergent Church.  Readers may be aware of Bell’s flirtation with universalism.  On pages 151-152 of Velvet Elvis (2006)  Rob tells the story of a stranger paying his bill for him at a restaurant. The waitress told him he had nothing to pay because it had already been paid.  “My acceptance of what [the waitress] said gave me a choice: to live like it was true or to create my own reality in which the bill was not paid.”  Here’s his explanation:

“This is our invitation. To trust that we don’t owe anything. To trust that something is already true about us, something has already been done, something has been there all along.  To trust that grace pays the bill” (p. 152).

One blogger says, “This illustration is not Biblical. Rob’s illustration paints a reality where everyone is already forgiven (universalism) and whether you believe it or not, you owe nothing. But this is not Biblical. The Biblical teaching is that we are all guilty – we all owe a bill we can’t afford, and can never afford, and only if we repent and put our faith in Christ, essentially throwing ourselves at Jesus’ mercy, then and only then our bill is paid. But Rob teaches that our sin debt is already paid whether we believe it or not; whether we confess our sins or not; whether we repent or not.”

Justin Taylor of the Gospel Coalition has read some advance chapters and you can read his blog here.

Watch this video by Bell advertising his book and tell me what you think!

For any of you who follow my blog, my book The Other Side of the Good News: Confronting the Contemporary Challenges to Jesus’ Teaching on Hell, might be helpful.

Discussion Questions: How would you prove that universalism is a heresy?  What steps should be taken with Bell, do you think?


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