Rob Bell, Universalism And The Christian Blogosphere

Before reading on, may I invite you to watch this video teaser for Rob Bell’s new book, Love Wins?

Now tell me how that proves Bell is a universalist? He may be, or he may not. This is far too ambiguous. This video raises the questions. It doesn’t give Bell’s answers. To be precise:

Unambiguously stating that Gandhi is in Hell does raise concerns. If you are an exclusivist (only those who have personal faith in Christ will be saved) you might well say that. But if you believe the biblical evidence leads in another direction, you will be bothered by this. That doesn’t simply apply to universalism (all will be saved, regardless of faith in Christ); it also applies to inclusivism (God will deal justly and mercifully with those who never get the chance to respond to Christ). And there is plenty of evidence for inclusivism in the Bible: take Melchizedek the priest of Salem in Genesis, for example. Take Job, possibly. And besides, Bell at very least may only be raising the questions our culture asks and which need answering.

Likewise, Bell’s portrayal of the Gospel as preached by some that a loving Jesus rescues us from an angry God. What kind of Trinity is that, where Christ is love but the Father isn’t? That certainly should be up for debate.

And as for the slogan ‘Love Wins’? Well, if Christians don’t believe that in some form or another, we’re in big trouble. There is something deeply troubling about a brand of Christianity that is more certain about who is going to Hell than who is going to Heaven – after all, Calvinism has always had a problem with knowing how you are one of the elect.

Oh, and by the way, the publisher’s blurb is correct: eternal life does start now. Read John’s Gospel, especially chapter 17 verse 3: ‘eternal life is knowing you’ (emphasis mine).

As I say, it is possible that Bell might be a universalist. But there is nothing in these two minutes and fifty eight seconds to establish that with any certainty. Therefore it is pretty unworthy for the new Calvinist militants to go after him like this. I say this as one who takes doctrine very seriously – this shouldn’t be the way a Christian theme ends up in the top ten trending topics on Twitter, as this did on Saturday.

I guess someone who commented on Christianity Today’s blog about the controversy got it about right:

Kudos to HarperOne’s marketing team. Job well done. I’d imagine this kind of buzz before the book’s release can only improve sales.


  1. I understand from another blogger commenting on Facebook (!) that the expected position that Bell will espouse is the one of CS Lewis – that we send ourselves to hell by rejecting God.

    On “love wins”, I was recently asked by my supervisor to pick only “yes” or “no” to the statement “God is love”. I picked “yes” and then got lambasted for being ignorant of Scripture. I’m not sure how choosing an unequivocal “no” would have represented the full counsel of Scripture either. At the end of the day, our need for God to love or for God to destroy seem to have more to do with us than with God.


  2. It’s all a deja vu from the controversy we had over here a few years back over Steve Chalke’s books and the UCCF/John Piper/Oak Hill fallout that followed on from that.

    It’s crazy stuff and thoroughly boring for anyone outside certain interest groups – it’s also thoroughly irrelevant to most of the church in the world. Which I guess prompts the question why so much virtual ink is wasted on meaningless accusations.

    For what it’s worth, I have drafted what I think could be a possible line of argument, though we shall of course have to wait and see in the fullness of time.

    Meanwhile, I am going to go back to T.F. Torrance and Barth and the much more exciting universalism in there . . . !


  3. It seems to me that Bell is arguing that God’s grace is universal; that salvation/eternal life is available and offered all people. And that God’s desire is that all people will accept the gift. It’s up to us to accept or reject the gift. And we don’t get to judge who is “in” or who is “out.” That’s God’s business. This argument is at the very heart of the doctrine of prevenient grace.

    I can see that neo-Calvinists who adhere to the doctrine of double predestination and limited atonement will have a problem with Bell.

    United Methodists who embrace Wesleyan Arminianism should have a great deal of resonance with Bell and this new book.


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