Tag Archives: universalism

“You REALLY Believe in HELL?! But WHY?” (Ten Reasons) (Reason 10) The False Alternatives: UNIVERSALISM

Why in the world would someone believe in hell? And what exactly does it mean to “believe” in hell? These are a couple of the questions we want to answer in this ten-part series of posts. We’ve looked at REASON #1 — I got saved out of a fear of hell. We’ve also thought about REASON #2 – Hell makes sense. We’ve also considered REASON #3 — How does the doctrine of hell relate to the doctrine of God? We also touched on REASON #4 – How does the doctrine of eternal lostness relate to the doctrine of Man? We’ve thought about REASON #5 – How does hell relate to the doctrine of Sin? We’ve also considered REASON #6 — How does the doctrine of eternal hell relate to the doctrine of SALVATION (Soteriology)? REASON #7 asked about hell’s relationship to the Person of Christ.

In REASONS 8-10 we are looking at the THREE ALTERNATIVES suggested to take the place of eternal conscious punishment. We’ve considered the most popular alternative view —  ANNIHILATIONISM (REASON #8). We found that view lacking biblical support. We’ve also looked at REASON #9 POST-MORTEM CONVERSIONISM and found that it, too, lacks biblical support.

The last ALTERNATIVE which is suggested is REASON #10 and that is UNIVERSALISM. This view teaches that all without exception will be saved (some even suggest that Satan himself will be brought back into God’s family). Advocates of this view abound: The author of The Shack, William Paul Young, says quite clearly: ““God does not wait for my choice and then ‘save me.’ God has acted decisively and universally for all humankind. . . . Are you suggesting that everyone is saved? That you believe in universal salvation? That is exactly what I am saying.” (Lies We Believe about God, p. 118)

Phillip Gulley in his book If Grace Is True, says, “I have a new formula.  It too is simple and clear.  It is the most compelling truth I’ve ever known.  It is changing my life.  It is changing how I talk about God.  It is changing how I think about myself.  It is changing how I treat other people.  It brings me untold joy, peace, and hope.  This truth is the best news I’ve every heard, ever believed, and ever shared.  I believe God will save every person.”

Bishop Carlton Pearson puts it this way: “The message the world needs to hear is not that they need to accept Christ to be saved . . . but that God loves them and has already reconciled them to himself.” He further says, “The purest gospel to me is not that you need to ‘get saved’ but that all in fact are both saved and safe with God through the finished work of the cross and Christ. . . . We tell the unregenerate or unenlightened . . . your sins are already atoned for and you are ok with God, so enjoy a more intimate relationship with yourself in God.”

David Bentley Hart, in his That All SHALL Be Saved, mocks the “infernalists” who hold to an eternal hell and rejects the traditional Christian view of the gospel: Penal Substitution as the solution to our plight under the wrath of God due to Original Sin. He then rejects this gospel, calling it “degrading nonsense” (p. 25). [I haven’t finished reading Hart’s book yet, but highly recommend the following review by Steve Rohn found here].

We acknowledge that there are some texts that sound universalistic, such as Romans 5:18 which says, “Consequently, just as one trespass resulted in condemnation for all people, so also one righteous act resulted in justification and life for all people.” But we read in the preceding and the following verses the following: “17 For if, by the trespass of the one man, death reigned through that one man, how much more will those who receive God’s abundant provision of grace and of the gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man, Jesus Christ! . . .19 For just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous.”

Colossians 1 says, “19 For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, 20 and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.” However, 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”).

One writer says, “In context,”  [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.”

Philippians 2:9-11 reads,

 9Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
    and gave him the name that is above every name,
10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
    in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
11 and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord,
    to the glory of God the Father.

One evangelical asks, “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 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!

In summary, the three alternatives to eternal conscious punishment are lacking in biblical support. We agree with John Gerstner who said that “the fear of hell is the only thing most likely to get worldly people thinking about the Kingdom of God. No rational human being can be convinced that he is in imminent danger of everlasting torment and do nothing about it.” (we will have one more post as an epilogue to this discussion)


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Posted by on February 25, 2020 in hell


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Review of Article: “Why Do People Believe in Hell?” Part 2

I wanted to begin my rebuttal of Hart’s article entitled “Why Do People Believe in Hell?” (found here) with the following sentence:

“The idea of universal salvation is neither biblically, philosophically, nor morally justified. But for many it retains a psychological allure.”

(If you’ve read his article, he began his essay with the sentence: “The idea of eternal damnation is neither biblically, philosophically nor morally justified. But for many it retains a psychological allure.”). (Sorry for the snarky attitude, but Hart’s article really ticks me off).

You see, I’ve been reading through Dr. Hart’s newest book, That ALL Shall Be Saved: Heaven, Hell & Universal Salvation. If one wants to believe in universal salvation — that all not only can, but will, be saved  — you pretty much have to get rid of hell. And that’s what Dr. Hart seeks to do.

1.This is a very personal issue for me, mostly because I got saved as a result of being afraid of going to hell. If hell doesn’t exist, or if it is something quite different than Christians have believed (like, the purging flames of God universally applied), then I got saved under false pretenses.

2.The very first book I wrote sought to defend the traditional doctrine of eternal conscious punishment in light of its erosion among Evangelical theologians (such as Clark Pinnock, John Stott, Michael Green, etc.). Some of my brethren have opted for substitute views like annihilationism (see the book Rethinking Hell). My contribution to the discussion was/is entitled The Other Side of the Good News: Contemporary Challenges to Jesus’ Teaching on Hell and covers the three primary “alternative views” (universalism, post-mortem conversionism, and annihilationism).

3. I am quite familiar with all of Dr. Hart’s objections to eternal hell. My Ph.D. is in historical theology (how doctrines have been understood down through church history). I have made it a practice in my scholarly life to read what I call “boiling books” (books that will make a conservative Christian hopping mad before he or she gets past the preface) so I can familiarize myself with the arguments of unbelievers. I am not reading Hart’s That ALL Shall Be Saved for my spiritual nourishment, but to see what his objections are to the clear teaching of the Word of God, the B-I-B-L-E. (I can’t get rid of my snarkiness).

4. I believe the denial of hell as eternal conscious punishment minimizes the seriousness of man’s sin, makes a mockery of Christ’s atoning work, and eviscerates the very enterprise of missions and evangelism. Why seek to convert others to biblical Christianity if all will ultimately be saved? The universalist theologian Theodore Parker (d. 1860 -who is celebrated as an intellectual who “played a major role in moving Unitarianism away from being a Bible-based faith”) once quipped, “I believe that Jesus Christ taught eternal punishment — I do not accept it on his authority!” If the gospel is true and hell is real and Jesus is God the Son, that’s the dumbest and most dangerous thing anyone could ever say!

Here’s a copy of the letter I’ve written to the Opinion Editor of the New York Times. Let’s hope they’ll let me write a rebuttal piece. (to be continued)





Posted by on January 22, 2020 in hell


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Review of Article: “Why Do People Believe in Hell?” Part 1

Friends: The following article challenges the very idea of hell. David Bentley Hart is an American theologian who recently published the book That ALL Shall Be Saved. I will be reviewing that book in several subsequent posts. But to hold to universal salvation one must get rid of the traditional view of hell. May I suggest you read over the following article and leave a comment or two? We will critique this article over the next few weeks.

Why Do People Believe in Hell?

The idea of eternal damnation is neither biblically, philosophically nor morally justified. But for many it retains a psychological allure.


Dr. Hart is a philosopher, scholar of religion and cultural critic.

Once the faith of his youth had faded into the serene agnosticism of his mature years, Charles Darwin found himself amazed that anyone could even wish Christianity to be true. Not, that is, the kindlier bits — “Love thy neighbor” and whatnot — but rather the notion that unbelievers (including relatives and friends) might be tormented in hell forever.

It’s a reasonable perplexity, really. And it raises a troubling question of social psychology. It’s comforting to imagine that Christians generally accept the notion of a hell of eternal misery not because they’re emotionally attached to it, but because they see it as a small, inevitable zone of darkness peripheral to a larger spiritual landscape that — viewed in its totality — they find ravishingly lovely. And this is true of many.

But not of all. For a good number of Christians, hell isn’t just a tragic shadow cast across one of an otherwise ravishing vista’s remoter corners; rather, it’s one of the landscape’s most conspicuous and delectable details.

I know whereof I speak. I’ve published many books, often willfully provocative, and have vexed my share of critics. But only recently, in releasing a book challenging the historical validity, biblical origins, philosophical cogency and moral sanity of the standard Christian teaching on the matter of eternal damnation, have I ever inspired reactions so truculent, uninhibited and (frankly) demented.

I expect, of course, that people will defend the faith they’ve been taught. What I find odd is that, in my experience, raising questions about this particular detail of their faith evinces a more indignant and hysterical reaction from many believers than would almost any other challenge to their convictions. Something unutterably precious is at stake for them. Why?

After all, the idea comes to us in such a ghastly gallery of images: late Augustinianism’s unbaptized babes descending in their thrashing billions to a perpetual and condign combustion; Dante’s exquisitely psychotic dreamscapes of twisted, mutilated, broiling souls; St. Francis Xavier morosely informing his weeping Japanese converts that their deceased parents must suffer an eternity of agony; your poor old palpitant Aunt Maude on her knees each night in a frenzy of worry over her reprobate boys; and so on.

Surely it would be welcome news if it turned out that, on the matter of hell, something got garbled in transmission. And there really is room for doubt.

No truly accomplished New Testament scholar, for instance, believes that later Christianity’s opulent mythology of God’s eternal torture chamber is clearly present in the scriptural texts. It’s entirely absent from St. Paul’s writings; the only eschatological fire he ever mentions brings salvation to those whom it tries (1 Corinthians 3:15). Neither is it found in the other New Testament epistles, or in any extant documents (like the Didache) from the earliest post-apostolic period. There are a few terrible, surreal, allegorical images of judgment in the Book of Revelation, but nothing that, properly read, yields a clear doctrine of eternal torment. Even the frightening language used by Jesus in the Gospels, when read in the original Greek, fails to deliver the infernal dogmas we casually assume to be there.

On the other hand, many New Testament passages seem — and not metaphorically — to promise the eventual salvation of everyone. For example: “Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men.” (Romans 5:18) Or: “For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive.” (1 Corinthians 15:22) Or: “He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.” (1 John 2:2) (Or: John 13:32; Romans 11:32; 1 Timothy 2:3-6; 4:10; Titus 2:11; and others.)

Admittedly, much theological ink has been spilled over the years explaining away the plain meaning of those verses. But it’s instructive that during the first half millennium of Christianity — especially in the Greek-speaking Hellenistic and Semitic East — believers in universal salvation apparently enjoyed their largest presence as a relative ratio of the faithful. Late in the fourth century, in fact, the theologian Basil the Great reported that the dominant view of hell among the believers he knew was of a limited, “purgatorial” suffering. Those were also the centuries that gave us many of the greatest Christian “universalists”: Clement of Alexandria, Origen, Gregory of Nyssa, Didymus the Blind, Theodore of Mopsuestia, Diodore of Tarsus and others.

Of course, once the Christian Church became part of the Roman Empire’s political apparatus, the grimmest view naturally triumphed. As the company of the baptized became more or less the whole imperial population, rather than only those people personally drawn to the faith, spiritual terror became an ever more indispensable instrument of social stability. And, even today, institutional power remains one potent inducement to conformity on this issue.

Still, none of that accounts for the deep emotional need many modern Christians seem to have for an eternal hell. And I don’t mean those who ruefully accept the idea out of religious allegiance, or whose sense of justice demands that Hitler and Pol Pot get their proper comeuppance, or who think they need the prospect of hell to keep themselves on the straight and narrow. Those aren’t the ones who scream and foam in rage at the thought that hell might be only a stage along the way to a final universal reconciliation. In those who do, something else is at work.

Theological history can boast few ideas more chilling than the claim (of, among others, Thomas Aquinas) that the beatitude of the saved in heaven will be increased by their direct vision of the torments of the damned (as this will allow them to savor their own immunity from sin’s consequences). But as awful as that sounds, it may be more honest in its sheer cold impersonality than is the secret pleasure that many of us, at one time or another, hope to derive not from seeing but from being seen by those we leave behind.

How can we be winners, after all, if there are no losers? Where’s the joy in getting into the gated community and the private academy if it turns out that the gates are merely decorative and the academy has an inexhaustible scholarship program for the underprivileged? What success can there be that isn’t validated by another’s failure? What heaven can there be for us without an eternity in which to relish the impotent envy of those outside its walls?

Not to sound too cynical. But it’s hard not to suspect that what many of us find intolerable is a concept of God that gives inadequate license to the cruelty of which our own imaginations are capable.

An old monk on Mount Athos in Greece once told me that people rejoice in the thought of hell to the precise degree that they harbor hell within themselves. By which he meant, I believe, that heaven and hell alike are both within us all, in varying degrees, and that, for some, the idea of hell is the treasury of their most secret, most cherished hopes — the hope of being proved right when so many were wrong, of being admired when so many are despised, of being envied when so many have been scorned.

And as Jesus said (Matthew 6:21), “Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.”

David Bentley Hart is the author, most recently, of That All Shall Be Saved: Heaven, Hell, and Universal Salvation.


Posted by on January 21, 2020 in hell


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Babylon Bee: A New Unitarian Universalist Hymnal!

U.S.—A new printing of the Unitarian Universalist hymnal just contains one song: John Lennon’s “Imagine.”

The official UUA hymnal, titled Songs of Doubt, includes the popular song in a few dozen different arrangements and nothing else.

Now UUA church members can sing along with deeply spiritual lyrics such as “Imagine there’s no heaven / It’s easy if you try / No hell below us / Above us only sky.” While UUA churchgoers aren’t required to participate in hymn singing, the preaching of the Word, church attendance, or anything else, church leaders hope this move will encourage more parishioners to sing along.

“The old hymns were problematic because they mentioned Jesus, the cross, and God sometimes,” said a UUA pastor of doubt formation. “Now we can sing that there aren’t any countries, nothing to kill or die for, and no religion too, just like the Great Feminine Spirit in the sky would have us do.”

“One day all the world will live as one, as Lennon’s classic hymn says,” she added. “Preferably under communism.”


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Psalms of My Life (Psalm 22, conclusion)

Psalm 22[a]
For the director of music. To the tune of “The Doe Screen Shot 2015-01-05 at 6.55.58 AMof the Morning.” A psalm of David.

1 My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
Why are you so far from saving me,
so far from my cries of anguish?
2 My God, I cry out by day, but you do not answer,
by night, but I find no rest.[b]

3 Yet you are enthroned as the Holy One;
you are the one Israel praises.[c]
4 In you our ancestors put their trust;
they trusted and you delivered them.
5 To you they cried out and were saved;
in you they trusted and were not put to shame.

6 But I am a worm and not a man,
scorned by everyone, despised by the people.
7 All who see me mock me;
they hurl insults, shaking their heads.
8 “He trusts in the Lord,” they say,
“let the Lord rescue him.Screen Shot 2015-01-05 at 7.15.37 AM
Let him deliver him,
since he delights in him.”

9 Yet you brought me out of the womb;
you made me trust in you, even at my mother’s breast.
10 From birth I was cast on you;
from my mother’s womb you have been my God.

11 Do not be far from me,
for trouble is near
and there is no one to help.

12 Many bulls surround me;
strong bulls of Bashan encircle me.
13 Roaring lions that tear their prey
open their mouths wide against me.
14 I am poured out like water,
and all my bones are out of joint.
My heart has turned to wax;
it has melted within me.
15 My mouth[d] is dried up like a potsherd,
and my tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth;
you lay me in the dust of death.

16 Dogs surround me,
a pack of villains encircles me;
they pierce[e] my hands and my feet.
17 All my bones are on display;
people stare and gloat over me.
18 They divide my clothes among them
and cast lots for my garment.

19 But you, Lord, do not be far from me.
You are my strength; come quickly to help me.
20 Deliver me from the sword,
my precious life from the power of the dogs.
21 Rescue me from the mouth of the lions;
save me from the horns of the wild oxen.

22 I will declare your name to my people;
in the assembly I will praise you.
23 You who fear the Lord, praise him!
All you descendants of Jacob, honor him!
Revere him, all you descendants of Israel!
24 For he has not despised or scorned
the suffering of the afflicted one;
he has not hidden his face from him
but has listened to his cry for help.

25 From you comes the theme of my praise in the great assembly;
before those who fear you[f] I will fulfill my vows.
26 The poor will eat and be satisfied;
those who seek the Lord will praise him—
may your hearts live forever!

27 All the ends of the earth
will remember and turn to the Lord,
and all the families of the nations
will bow down before him,
28 for dominion belongs to the Lord
and he rules over the nations.

29 All the rich of the earth will feast and worship;
all who go down to the dust will kneel before him—
those who cannot keep themselves alive.
30 Posterity will serve him;
future generations will be told about the Lord.
31 They will proclaim his righteousness,
declaring to a people yet unborn:
He has done it!


Posted by on February 13, 2015 in the book of Psalms


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Time for a Great Quote! (R.C. Sproul)

“I’m afraid that in the United States of America today the prevailing Screen Shot 2014-09-22 at 6.19.53 AMdoctrine of justification is not justification by faith alone. It is not even justification by good works or by a combination of faith and works. The prevailing notion of justification in our culture today is justification by death. All one has to do to be received into the everlasting arms of God is to die.” (R.C. Sproul, Saved from What?)

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Posted by on September 30, 2014 in salvation


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“The Savior of All Men” (A Study of I Timothy 4:10)


As we have been looking at “Ten Steps to Spirituality,” one particular verse merits a bit more attention from us.  How are we to understand this verse which says, “For it is for this we labor and strive, because we have fixed our hope on the living God, who is the Savior of all men, especially of believers.”

If taken in a literal sense, if God is “the Savior of all men,” then universalism seems to be taught here.  But that would contradict all the other Pauline passages which teach that some will be eternally lost.

Another possibility is that “Savior of all men” is meant in a broad sense, but that He is the Savior of believers in a more particular and special sense.  Some Arminian believers suggest that the text is teaching that Christ has paid the penalty for sin for every human being, that He is the potential Savior for those who believe.

One writer suggests that the word “all” has several nuances, depending on the context and usage.  How did the Apostle use the term “all” (pas in Greek)?  James White says that sometimes “all” means “many,” but “many” never means “all.”  “All” denotes “all types” or “all kinds.”  Paul writes in I Timothy 6:10 that money is the “root of all (pas) evil.”  Is that really true?  Was money the motivator in the Garden of Eden?  Is money always the cause of murder?  Do people commit adultery because they love money so much?  Most modern translations render I Timothy 6:10 as “For the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil.”

The Apostle Paul had a specific ministry to the Gentiles, so perhaps the idea here is that He is the Savior to more than the Jews.  He is the Savior of all men of every ethnic and cultural background [who believe].  Revelation 7:9 speaks of there being those whom God has redeemed from “every kindred, tribe, tongue, and race” before the Throne.  Some would argue that Paul’s use of the word “world” may have the same meaning in some passages, that is, not everyone without exception, but the whole world of humans without distinction.

Our verse reads:  “For it is for this we labor and strive, because we have fixed our hope on the living God, who is the Savior of all men, especially of believers.”  Let’s think about that term “especially.”  The Greek word malista has the idea of “chiefly” or “most of all.”  One translation suggests that Paul is saying that Jesus is the Savior of a specific subset of “all humanity”, that is, He’s the Savior of “believers.”

So,as one writer puts it, the text is saying:  “We have fixed our hope on the living God, who is the Savior of all types of men (as opposed to Israelites exclusively), that is (or, particularly) those who believe.”

Christ is the Savior to all — to uncircumcised Gentiles and every type of human on the planet.  His salvation is fully effective only to those who believe have faith in Christ’s finished work.

Paul also says in I Timothy 2, “For there is one God, and one mediator also between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave Himself as a ransom for all, the testimony given at the proper time.  For this I was appointed a preacher and an apostle (I am telling the truth, I am not lying) as a teacher of the Gentiles in faith and truth.  Therefore I want the men in every place to pray, lifting up holy hands, without wrath and dissension.” (I Timothy 2:5-8).

Thank God for His Son, the Savior of all who believe!

[Thanks to Jim McClarty and his work found at: for some of this material.]


Posted by on December 30, 2012 in UNIVERSALISM


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A Review of Three Books on Eternal Lostness


I’ve recently reviewed three books on eternal lostness for the Emmaus Journal.  The review is found below.  The book that really concerns me is Sharon Baker’s book Razing Hell.  Please feel free to post your comments below.

Click on the following link for my review:

review of three books on hell – pdf


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Thanks to all who have supported me in this publishing project, “Farewell, Rob Bell”:  A Biblical Response to Love Wins.  I especially appreciate the support of Ken Silva of Apprising Ministries.  This book is now available through  There is also a Kindle version.  Allow me to repeat the flyer below which shows the cover (masterfully done by Christian cartoonist Ron Wheeler):

God’s given me courage to send a copy to Bell’s elders at Mars Hill Bible Church.  Please pray that some of them will read it and respond properly.

I’ve also sent a copy to Mark Galli of Christianity Today who says that Rob Bell and Love Wins are no litmus test of orthodoxy!  He’s publishing a book entitled God Wins.

Discussion Questions:  Why should we get in such a flap about a book on God’s love?  What makes neo-universalism so dangerous?


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“FAREWELL, ROB BELL”: A Biblical Response to Love Wins (available soon)

Friends:  I’ve been working hard the last few weeks to complete my response to Rob

me at hard labor

Bell’s Love Wins:   A Book about Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived (HarperOne, 2011).   The book is finished and is being published through Amazon’s Create Space (print on demand).  Not a particularly long book (70 pages or so), “Farewell, Rob Bell:  A Biblical Response to Love Wins” deals with the primary questions Bell raises in his presentation of what I’ve been calling neo-universalism.

I’m extremely pleased with the original cover art by cartoonist Ron Wheeler.  Below is the cover (which probably needs no explanation):

Didn’t he do a great job? I’m trying to keep the price down, so I’m charging only $10 (which includes shipping to the USA and Canada).  Send a check or money order made out to me (Larry Dixon) + your address and I will ship your copy as soon as they come off the press!  My address:  117 Norse Way, Columbia, SC  29229

Sorry for the commercial, but I believe I’ve put together a solid response to Bell which will be of help, especially to those who have not or do not intend to read Love Wins.


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