February 28, 2011
Rob Bell: Universalist?
Folks are flipping out about Rob Bell's theology again. What's your take?
Popular and controversial pastor Rob Bell has a new book launching at the end of March, Love Wins: Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Has Ever Lived. The topic has given new fuel to Bell's critics who have been looking for definitive evidence that his theology strays from orthodoxy.
Although few have read the book yet, the official description from the publisher does raise some eyebrows:
Fans flock to his Facebook page, his NOOMA videos have been viewed by millions, and his Sunday sermons are attended by 10,000 parishioners—with a downloadable podcast reaching 50,000 more. An electrifying, unconventional pastor whom Time magazine calls “a singular rock star in the church world,” Rob Bell is the most vibrant, central religious leader of the millennial generation. Now, in Love Wins: Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived, Bell addresses one of the most controversial issues of faith—the afterlife—arguing that a loving God would never sentence human souls to eternal suffering. With searing insight, Bell puts hell on trial, and his message is decidedly optimistic—eternal life doesn’t start when we die; it starts right now. And ultimately, Love Wins.
In response, Justin Taylor has already written a post on The Gospel Coalition's site. While reluctant to declare that Bell is definitely a universalist, Taylor believes all indications point to that conclusion.
I think that the publisher’s description combined with Bell’s video is sufficient evidence to suggest that he thinks hell is empty and that God’s love (which desires all to be saved) is always successful. I should have been more careful in my original post not to imply that Bell is definitely a universalist. He may believe that some people go out of existence and are not thereby saved. The materials I have seen sound more like universalism though (note it sounds like no one goes to hell, and that the title promises to talk about the fate of everyone who has ever lived, which sure sounds like it’s the same for everyone).
In this video, Rob Bell introduces the main idea of Love Wins. In the process he questions how Jesus Christ rescuing us from a wrathful God can be called "Good News."
What's your take? Do you think Bell is a universalist? Would that make him a heretic, a false teacher, and an enemy of the gospel? And if he is, how does that impact the rest of us? What should our response be? Or do you think Taylor and other Calvinistas are overreacting by serving as theology police more than pastors?