Not long ago Scot McKnight identified Christian Universalism as the biggest challenge facing evangelicals. Here’s how he defines Christian Universalism:
Christian universalism if the belief that everyone will eventually be saved because of what Christ has done. Christian universalism differs from raw pluralism. Pluralism is the belief that no religion offers superiority in the process of redemption. With pluralism, all religions lead us to the same god and the same ends. The distinction for Christian universalists is that what God did for humans in Christ will redeem all humans, whether they are Hindus, Muslims, or atheists, all will eventually be saved.
I learned long ago it’s best not to judge a book by its marketing blurbs but sometimes that’s all you have to go on till you see the finished product. Such is the case with a forthcoming book by noted pastor and author Rob Bell in a book titled Love Wins. Here’s the catalog description:
Rob Bell reveals a secret deep in the heart of millions of Christians–they don’t believe what they have been taught are the essential truths of their faith. Out of respect for their tradition, they keep quiet, confiding to a few close friends their doubts and questions about salvation, Jesus, and, of course, God.
Bell brings out to the open and faces squarely the questions on everyone’s mind: Does it really make sense that God is a loving, kind, compassionate God who wants to know people in a personal way, but if they reject this relationship with Jesus, they will be sent to hell where God will eternally punish them forever?
In Love Wins, Bell goes to the heart of these issues and argues that the church’s traditional understanding of heaven and hell is actually not taught by the Bible. Bell is emphatically not offering a new view of heaven and hell; instead, he closely examines every verse in the Bible on heaven and hell and shows what they really teach. And he discovers that Jesus’s most fundamental teaching about heaven and hell is, “Love wins.”
I had two thoughts after I read this. First, it does not sound like Bell is “thinking out loud” or just trying to start a conversation which has been typical of much of what Brian McLaren has done. Bell has come to some firm conclusions and will argue for that position in this book. Second, if his position is a universalist one it will spark a huge debate in the Grand Rapids area (and other places as well). That’s fine. We should be able to come together and debate the strengths and weaknesses of our beliefs. I look forward to reading the book but I’m not expecting anything really new as far as evidence or arguments are concerned. Universalism comes in various stripes and colors but common to them all is the belief that every person will ultimately be saved. I leave you with one thought from an essay by David Fergusson, “Will the Love of God Finally Triumph?” in Nothing Greater, Nothing Better: Theological Essays on the Love of God. He writes:
Universalism appears to be committed to a theology that is as deterministic and destructive of human freedom as the doctrine of double predestination in hyper-Calvinism. In particular, it does not allow any human being the freedom finally to say ‘no’ to God. Yet without this possibility can we really be said to have the freedom finally to say ‘yes’ to God? John Hick’s argument for God as a cosmic therapist who will assist all his creatures in attaining spiritual health seems to break down at this juncture. It presupposes that all persons will either submit voluntarily to or be administered coercively a para-eschatological course of therapeutic treatment. (p. 199)
Many Calvinists won’t see this as a valid objection because it relies so heavily on a libertarian view of the will. But given that premise this is one objection to Universalism that must be considered.
Love Wins will be a
paperback hardcover from HarperOne with 208 pages and sell for $22.99.