Rob Bell is Right: Love Wins

The Christian side of the internet was set a flutter this weekend over the subject matter of Rob Bells upcoming book release: Love Wins. Most of the discussion was over the question of whether or not Rob bell is a heretic for denying hell and embracing universalism. Even those who made the charge of heresy admitted they did so only tentatively since the promotional material only seemed to indicate that Bell embraced universalism. This caveat received as much space and attention as the legal disclaimers at the conclusion of commercials.

Whether or not Rob Bell is a heretic is not for me to say. I will say that about the only thing more distasteful than the so-called evangelical rock star mentality is the glee that others seem to demonstrate in tearing those rock stars down. Whether or not Rob Bell is a universalist or not, he is right about one thing: love does win.

Universalism is wrong on multiple levels. It is wrong logically: there is no point in pursuing the Christian life if we all end up in the same place. It is wrong historically: no group of orthodox Christians have ever believed and taught it. It is wrong biblically: no plain reading of the Scripture’s teaching on hell allows for it. It is wrong theologically: and this is the most fundamental error of universalism.

The promotional video for Love Wins points to one of the foundational arguments for the salvation of all mankind: God is too loving to send anyone to a place of eternal torture. A loving, merciful God would never do such a thing. The problem with such an argument is that it actually belittles the love of God. That’s right: to say that God is too loving to send anyone to hell diminishes God’s love and makes his mercy into something repulsive.

“God is love.” While John’s statement certainly is not meant to describe all that God is, it accurately represents what his character is. We also know from Scripture that God does not change; he is immutable. If God is loving and immutable he has always loved. That is to say, even before man existed, God was a God of love. But who was there for God to love before creation? Only himself.

And now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had with you before the world existed. Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory that you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world. (John 17:5, 24)

Universalism fails to take the love of God seriously because it does not recognize the fountain of all God’s love: the love that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit have for one another. What shall the Father say to the Son regarding the humiliation of his incarnation and crucifixion? “Sorry my boy, I guess you did not have to abandon your glory, embrace poverty, and be forsaken after all. I have decided to just let everyone in.” What shall he say to the Spirit? “I know you have been striving for thousands of years to call sinners to repentance and saints to holiness, but all your effort really was not needed.”

Universalism makes God a monster. It actually validates the charge of atheists that God is a cosmic child-abuser. Universalism declares that God loves people more than his own Son. For God to be merciful to those who reject the sacrifice of Christ, the Father Himself is the one “who has spurned the Son of God, and has profaned the blood of the covenant…”

As with all heresy, universalism begins with a faulty conception of God. Universalism maintains that God the Father does not love the Son enough to honor the sacrifice he made to save his people from their sins. In addition, the Holy Spirit toils in vain to apply the benefits of Christ’s death to his followers if all will eventually receive it.

Universalism is heresy because it makes little of the love God has for himself. I pray that if Rob Bell has been tempted by this poisonous allurement, the Spirit will open his eyes to the fact that love does win. Te love God has for himself will be vindicated.

Eternally.

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13 thoughts on “Rob Bell is Right: Love Wins

  1. What you’ve written here is so indescribable, so unbelievable that if it is a description of your god, it would be the most moral choice in the universe to say No Way, No How. This is a description of god as the supreme egotist, caring more for himself than for anyone or anything else. If your god is in charge, I am SO looking forward to giving him an obscene gesture and a few choice, unprintable words as I’m dragged off to hell.

    P.S. Today’s March 4, the book’s not out until March 29 (not that I plan on reading it, since Christian theology gives me heartburn). You’re basing your thoughts on something that has not yet been published. Good work!

  2. mirele,

    As for the release of the book in question, that is why this post is not really about the book or even Rob Bell per se. The book (really the controversy about the book– not even the book itself) and Bell are only foils to address the issue of universalism. Whether or not Bell believes in universalism is not essential to the nature of this post.

    As to the substance of the post itself and your charge of God’s egotism, in a very limited sense you are of course right. The first and greatest commandment is that we love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength. But such a command is not egotism when it is given by one who is worthy of such adoration. Of course God puts his own glory first, because he is the only one worthy of such glory.

    But as to whether this is a selfish and repulsive egotism you are quite off base. Were God selfish he would not share his salvation with any. The depth of God’s love is seen in the fact that the Son did love the Father enough to obey his will. The Father does love the son enough to honor his sacrifice by giving him a people. The Spirit does love the Father and Son enough to make the Father’s plan and the Son’s sacrifice effective in the life of men.

    If God only cared for himself he would not have gone to such lengths to provide for man’s salvation. The fact that he did go to such lengths is only a further justification for the condemnation of those who reject the mercy that God offers in Christ.

    I am not sure why you are so angry. But I know that is blinding you to the love of God. If you continue to treasure your wrath I assure you that you will have no such joy in meeting God’s judgment upon you. But God can change the heart of the blasphemer. So I pray God will grant you repentance. Perhaps you and the apostle Paul will be able to praise God together for his great mercy!

  3. There is an answer to every one of your “wrong” statements in paragraph three. It appears you haven’t bothered to see the other side’s viewpoint, though. Please avail yourself of several free books available on the Internet, starting with [removed by blogger to keep others from heretical material], and the entire [removed by blogger to keep others from heretical teaching] website. I believe you will see that your four “wrongs” with Universal Reconciliation are debatable at best, and simply false at worst. Simply stated, all of creation will ultimately bow to Jesus and recognize Him as King, and no one is able to do that save through the Holy Spirit. THEREFORE, most Christians just need to see (as Rob Bell emphasized) that Universal Reconciliation has indeed been a viable doctrine throughout church history.

  4. Dan,

    I am not really sure of the purpose of your comment. Is simply telling someone they are wrong supposed to be in any persuasive?
    Why should I bother living the Christian life if I am going to end up in heaven anyway?
    Which group of orthodox Christians have held to universalism?
    Which passage in the Bible is it that says everyone will enjoy eternal reward?
    Did the same man who wrote, “Every knee will bow…” also write, “whose end is destruction” in the very same book?
    What might this mean?
    Does it raise any red flags that you have to depend on Internet ministries for support? Where anyone can say anything?
    If you would care to, I also bogged on this topic here: https://bradkelly.wordpress.com/2011/09/09/do-i-really-have-to-believe-in-hell/
    I would be interested to know everything wrong in that post as well. But I guess until then I will just assume it is all wrong.

  5. Brad, I was saying there are valid answers to each of those statements where you called Universalism “wrong” – I wasn’t calling you wrong directly. Please forgive the misunderstanding.

    However, the fact that you removed references in my post to scholarly articles that disagree with your position shows me that you are unwilling to even consider the other viewpoint, that you enter into the discussion having made up your mind, and that it is inconceivable to you that anyone, giving the same information you have, could possibly draw a different conclusion than you have drawn for yourself. The answer to this discussion cannot be adequately summarized in a short blog summary. I would just implore your readers to realize the extent of the slant you give this subject in your article above. You belittle the messenger with the antiquated straw man argument that the Internet is innately full of misleading information, leaned on by those with weak arguments, when in fact it is a fabulous library, not constrained by the filters of a certain dogma, if used properly. I don’t depend on it, but I certainly use it, as do you.

    The purpose of my comment was to let you and your readers know that your questions have answers, and where to begin in their own research. It would take too much space to spell it out here. But you disallowed them the opportunity to compare you viewpoint with others. Google Dr. Stephen E. Jones and Gary Amirault as a starting place for research.

    The doctrine of Eternal Punishment was NOT held by 5 of the 7 main schools of theology in the first centuries. Rather, they held some form of corrective judgment, which you lump into the term “Universalism”, which is way too general. The doctrine of the Restoration of All Things is a better term, held with vigor by the Apostle Paul.

    Your “eternal reward” question can be addressed as well, but it would take more focus than we can lend it here. Most Christians have not done their due diligence in researching the word “aionian” and how it came to be translated as eternal, or without end. Not to mention the related topic of “the Kingdom”, which was context for most “eternal” passages. The Kingdom was understood by the Jews as the 1000 year period with the Messiah at the helm.

    “every knee will bow” and “whose end is destruction” are completely dissimilar thoughts. Suffice it to say, “whose end is destruction” has no temporal reference. Have you not experienced destruction in this life?

    Yes, other Spirit-filled scholars have come to differing conclusions, and far more than even Rob Bell has shown.

    However, given the spirit I see expressed in your post, and your two responses, I do not believe it would be beneficial to continue the discussion. Everyone needs to seek for themselves.

    • Dan,

      As I linked to in my last reply, I am not exactly shooting from the hip on this issue. I also blogged a review of the recent Christian History Institute release on the history of hell: https://bradkelly.wordpress.com/2011/07/28/christian-historys-the-history-of-hell-a-brief-survey-and-resource-guide-a-review/ So I am only partially as ignorant as I may come across.

      As a Christian I would not lean on Stephen Jones for anything. As a false teacher (member of the Mormon church) I believe the Bible instructs me not even to offer him greetings, let alone consider anything he has to say about Scripture.

      I checked out the resources you provided and I believe your estimation of them as “scholarly” is very generous.

      I of course have suffered some things in this life, but I am not sure I can really say I have experienced destruction. In any event, Paul is quite obviously talking about their “end.” Even if I have experienced destruction in this life, I have the hope of eternal life. Paul quite clearly contrasts the end of destruction for false teachers with the citizenship in heaven of believers. To assign “end is destruction” to temporal affairs of life is either ignorant or disingenuous. If you could provide reputable commentators that support your point I would be more than happy to listen.

      I will await the “schools of theology” in the early church that held to Restorationism.

      Brad

  6. Brad, you are mistaking Dr. Stephen E. Jones for someone else. I know him personally, and he has never been a Mormon. His background is Missionary Baptist, if that is important, but he is very much orthodox Christian, just not according to Arminians, Calvinists, or Dispensationalists. [website removed]

    Regarding the schools of theology… sorry, my numbers were off. Of the five I could dig up, only one taught endless punishment. The five are:
    Alexandria (Clement, Origen, and others clearly taught that sinners are purged by the lake of fire)
    Caesaria (where Origen lived for most of his productive years in high esteem)
    Antioch agreed with Origen’s view of the “lake of fire”
    Edessa, same as Antioch
    Carthage – it was only this Latin school that taught the doctrine of endless punishment. Augustine, the “champion” of endless torments, wrote that there were “. . . indeed VERY MANY (who) . . . do not believe that such things will be. Not that they would go counter to divine Scripture.” That was an Augustinian quote, no less.

    I could list dozens of similar quotes from other church fathers, such as Theodore of Mopsuestia (d. 428). He asked, “Who is so great a fool” as to believe that God would resurrect men merely to destroy them forever with torments?”

    Or Gregory of Nyassa (d. 394).. ““They who live in the flesh ought, by virtuous conversation, to free themselves from fleshly lusts, lest after death, they should again need another death to cleanse away the remains of fleshly vice that cling to them.”

    To quote Dr. Jones, “The early Church had quite a number of doctrinal disputes, but this issue was NOT EVEN DISPUTED. In fact, it was taught by all the major theologians of the day in the churches that the Apostle Paul founded.”

    And regarding your criticisms of lack of scholarly references in your review of the Christian History Institute book, you’ll find Dr. Jones’ works to address all of those concerns. [title of work deleted]

  7. Dan,

    Thanks for the correction about Dr. Jones. I searched Steven instead of Stephen.

    I am very aware that it is not difficult to find quotes of individuals that taught what you are advocating, what I assert is that no “group”, no recognized orthodox ecclesiastical church, council, or assembly has ever asserted it. Origen is of course a very well-known name, but so is Arius. Origen continues to be valued and esteemed even today–but at a distance. Again, I do not know of any/many that would want to depend too heavily on Origen to make their case. I believe Origen’s opinion on this would be called “private.” Because the Cappdoccian fathers esteemed him, though, it is not too surprising to see them echo his teaching.

    As to the lack of dispute over the matter, there is a quite apparent reason for that. When matters such as the person and nature of Christ, the Trinity, the personality of the Holy Spirit, etc. are under dispute they tend to demand close attention. As most historians will state in some manner, the language of orthodoxy was formulated because of heresy. Core doctrines of the faith were under attack. Such argumentation should not be persuasive to anyone with a rudimentary knowledge of church history.

    Dan you are not going to persuade me on this matter at all. I know what Scripture says and I know what I need to about church history. If I were merely a blogger I would be happy to carry on this conversation. But I am the pastor of a church and I am charged with watching out for the souls of Christ’s followers. I have said what I am going to say about this issue and you have not addressed neither the real substance of this post nor even your transparent misreading of Philippians 3:18-20. You have my email, and I will reply to that. But any further posts in which you simply attempt to teach what I consider a misreading of Scripture will most likely be deleted or heavily redacted.

  8. I will do my best to write something that you won’t deem as needing editing, then!

    “Such argumentation should not be persuasive to anyone with a rudimentary knowledge of church history.” Really? I must beg to disagree. There is plenty in church history to suggest that Universal Reconciliation was accepted as being within the scope of orthodoxy, and it can be argued that U.R. was the more prevalent theme of the day. Your statement is a not-so-veiled attempt to belittle those that disagree with you.

    The fact is, the earliest creeds of the church included no reference to “hell” and certainly not “eternal punishment”. And the creeds are what were commonly agreed to be the core doctrines. It wasn’t until the Roman church truly exercised its stifling political power that endless punishment began to be proclaimed as “orthodoxy”. And we all know what effect the Roman church had on the move of the Spirit among men. Enter the dark ages.

    Brad, your position as a pastor does not make your understanding of the Word infallible. I appreciate your passion for rightly dividing the Word, but you must empower those you teach to do so as well, giving them freedom in the Spirit to arrive at their own conclusions, or we return to the days of the Roman church’s lockdown on orthodoxy. I know the Word, too. There are many Spirit-filled men who disagree with you on the nature of God’s judgment – that it is corrective and refining, not punitive and retributive. To call all these men uneducated and wrong flies in the face of Romans 14.

    Finally, as for my “transparent misreading of Phil 3:18-20”. The last response was getting so long, I didn’t want to expound on that. However, I believe it is evident that this passage is speaking of the enemies of Christ, whose end is destruction. As in 70 A.D., when Jerusalem was destroyed, and many people killed. That is the “end result,” but not speaking of the final end, because there is yet a resurrection of the dead, wherein mankind is judged. People can take Phil. 3:19’s “end” as being the end of all things, or FINAL end, but there are many endpoints in different contexts. To identify this particular “end” with the end of all things is purely interpretive. Even to compare it to verse 20, the time reference is the first resurrection, where the believers’ bodies are transfigured and perfected – and there is another resurrection yet to come. And if one still wants to see this particular “destruction” in end-times terms, you must also balance this against the several references of Paul to reconciliation, not the least of which appears in this very book in 2:10-11 where the confession can hardly be a forced one if it is to be “to the glory of God the Father.”

    That’s all I have to say – hopefully other readers can benefit from this discussion and do their own due diligence.

    • Dan,

      I referred to my position as pastor, not because it makes me right but because it makes me responsible. I suppose some might say that since you are presenting a differing viewpoint I am not responsible for it. But since it is on my blog I am going to err on the side of caution. So, believe me, I am fully aware that I am not infallible. But I have to conduct myself as one responsible for those in the church. On Wednesday evenings we are going through 2 Peter. Peter spends the entire middle portion (chapter 2) describing the immorality of false teachers. In chapter 3 he reveals the reason for it: they deny the reality of future judgment (2 Peter 3:4-7). You can say that you are not teaching that, but in the end it is the same result: there is no ultimate condemnation of wickedness. And before you object, I am not saying that this means you lead an immoral life or teach others to do so. But there is no logically or morally compelling reason to live a life of holiness if everyone is ultimately saved.

      Your interpretation of Philippians of 3:18 is quite shabby. Here are what some others say about it:

      Speaking about these enemies of the cross of Christ Paul continues, whose end is destruction. This is their appointed destiny, for God has ordained that “their end shall be according to their works” (II Cor. 11:15). This end is the fruit of their wicked live (Rom. 6:21). It is the wages earned by their sin (Rom. 6:23). Destruction, however, is by no means the same as annihilation. It does not mean that they will cease to exist. On the contrary, it means everlasting punishment (Matt. 25:46), for this destruction is an everlasting destruction (II Thess. 1:9). This destruction begins even in this present life, but is climaxed after death. (William Hendriksen, New Testament Commentary Exposition of Philippians, 181-182.)

      Their end is destruction, which means that, cutting themselves off from the only hope of salvation in Christ alone (Gal. 5:4), they have no prospect except the doom which awaits unsaved man (e.g. Rom. 9:22). (Ralph P. Martin, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries Philippians, 158.)

      The ultimate end for such persons is “destruction” (apoleia, the regular NT word for eternal loss, the opposite of soteria, “salvation”). (Homer A. Kent Jr., The Expositor’s Bible Commentary Philippians, 147).

      With something of a play on “completed” (v. 12) and “mature” (v. 15), Paul speaks about the eschatological outcome of such “enemies of the cross”; it is “destruction.” This stands in the starkest contrast, both by its wordplay and by its content (“utter loss”), to Paul’s “goal” described in v. 14 (“the heavenward call of God in Christ”), which he reiterates in the final contrast in vv. 20-21. Our present bodies may exist in “humiliation”; but they are destined for a “glorious” transformation. But those who have abandoned the cross, both for themselves and as the paradigm for Christian life, are destined for “destruction.” [In a footnote Fee describes this word: “This is the language of eternal loss; it is generally reserved by Paul to describe the eternal destiny of those outside Christ.”] (Gordon D. Fee, Paul’s Letter to the Philippians, 370-371.)

      If “the cross of Christ,” i.e., “Christ’s death on the cross,” is the one essential thing for salvation and the Jews, or anyone else for that matter (especially Christian leaders who treat a suffering apostle as a contradiction in terms), reject this as absurd and scandalous, then they, by the nature of things, have turned away from salvation to its opposite because they have espoused an alien gospel (2 Cor 11:4). Paul says of them, not with any sense of delight but rather of pain, that ὧν τὸ τέλος, “their end” (as in 2 Cor 11:15), as the natural result, the inevitable consequence of their sustained decision, is ἀπώλεια, “destruction” (cf. 1 Cor 1:18). ἀπώλεια originally was used in the sense of “loss.” Later it came to mean “waste” (Mark 14:4), or “destruction,” “annihilation,” “ruin.” It was especially used of eternal destruction as punishment for the wicked (Matt 7:13; 2 Pet 3:7; Rev 17:8, 11). Paul seems to be using it here in this last sense since he couples it with τὸ τέλος, “the end,” “the goal.” Even so, the precise meaning of ἀπώλεια is difficult to pin down. Hence, as often is the case, it is best explained in terms of its opposite: σωτηρία, “salvation” (Phil 1:28); περιποίησις ψυχῆς, “the preserving of one’s soul” (Heb 10:39); ζωὴ αἰώνιος, “eternal life” (John 3:16). For Paul, then, to reject the crucified Christ and live a life not shaped by the diaconal character of Jesus and its cruciform pattern as the sole means of salvation is in effect to reject salvation. It is to lose one’s soul and thus to forfeit life. Elsewhere he says of such people τὸ … τέλος ἐκείνων θάνατος, “their end is death” (Rom 6:21; he is speaking here of antinomian Christians, not Jews), a condition in which the destiny of life outside of Christ is turned to its opposite, i.e., corruption (Gal 6:8) or destruction (Rom 9:22) in the active sense of the word (A. Oepke, TDNT 1:396–97), “the absolute antithesis of the life intended by God and saved by Christ” (Ridderbos, Paul, 112–13). (Ralph P. Martin, Word Biblical Commentary: Philippians.)

      Consider how this verse is translated into English by some of the freer translations:

      that they are headed for hell! They worship their stomachs and brag about the disgusting things they do. All they can think about are the things of this world. (CEV)

      Their future is eternal destruction. Their god is their appetite, they brag about shameful things, and all they think about is this life here on earth. (NLT)

      In the end, they will be destroyed. They do whatever their bodies want, they are proud of their shameful acts, and they think only about earthly things. (NCV)

      Their future is eternal loss, for their god is their appetite: they are proud of what they should be ashamed of; and all they think about is this life here on earth. (Living Bible)

      You will excuse me if I go ahead and stick with the interpretation that seems make the most sense to me and the interpretation that the standard commentators put forth: unbelievers spend eternity in hell. You will excuse me for taking “whose end is destruction” in the same way translators of Scripture do.

      I think I will take some small measure of security from knowing that men who have given their entire lives to interpreting and translating the Scripture say Philippians 3:19 means just what I thought it means: unbelievers will spend eternity in hell.

      Dan, understanding the Bible is not as difficult as you are making it out to be. Stop grinding the ax and let it say what it says.

  9. We can both line up other commentators’ interpretations of different passages ad nauseum, so I won’t even bother addressing that. And I’ll overlook the “shabby” comment 🙂

    “…they deny the reality of future judgment (2 Peter 3:4-7). You can say that you are not teaching that, but in the end it is the same result: there is no ultimate condemnation of wickedness. And before you object, I am not saying that this means you lead an immoral life or teach others to do so. But there is no logically or morally compelling reason to live a life of holiness if everyone is ultimately saved.”

    Logical? Perhaps not, but my relationship with the Father is not driven by logic, it is driven by love and faith. There are reasons to want to please the Father beyond fear of the “eternal spanking”. We love our Father, and indeed, anyone standing fully in His presence would inevitably feel the same, no matter what their current degree of rebellion (e.g. the conversion of Paul.) Christ likened God as a father, for the benefit of the simple-minded humans around him. Something even they could understand, having kids of their own. He did not liken God to a torturer standing ready to punish endlessly if these measly humans (children, sheep) don’t make good decisions. And yet, He earnestly wants them to grow up, to earn their place as “sons” in the more responsible sense.

    You are correct – I am NOT denying the reality of future judgment, only the inherent nature of that judgment. Corrective, or punitive. One has an end and a purpose, one does not. And before you line up the scriptures using the term “eternal”, we must examine the true nature of the source word “aionian”. The truth is that Jesus’ teaching on judgment has time of indeterminate length involved (at least for now), but not unending. There is too much evidence to the contrary, including much scholarly opinion.

    I am not bending the Word to fit my doctrine, anymore than you are. Eternal Punishment, Annihilationism, and Ultimate Restoration all have puzzling passages when taken by themselves, or even in a small group might seem to contradict their claims. However, it is my conviction, *both by the Spirit’s witness in my heart*, and in His enlightening the Word to me, that only the third option above truly explains out His Plan for the ages. It would behoove you to allow for the same Spirit-witness experience for your readers.

  10. Good comment,

    But for what its worth I don’t think you could line up much of anyone on Phil. 3:19.

    I appreciate your response about the motivation of service as well. I have tried do make the same point with others in a different context so I know where you are coming from.

  11. Helpful info. Fortunate me I discovered your site by chance, and I’m surprised why this twist of fate did not happened earlier! I bookmarked it.

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