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.