Is Rob Bell a Universalist?

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. 


About Louis

I am a 1997 graduate of Trinity Evangelical Divinity School.
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15 Responses to Is Rob Bell a Universalist?

  1. Paul says:

    So….how many non-Calvinist, libertarians are there in Grand Rapids? ‘-)


  2. the pricing you have at the bottom is wrong


  3. i’ve seen it at amazon and on harper sights for 15.98 – hardcover.
    here is what eugene peterson said about his Rob Bell’s new book – Love Wins

    “In the current religious climate in America, it isn’t easy to develop an imagination, a thoroughly biblical imagination, that takes in the comprehensive and eternal work of Christ in all people and all circumstances in love and for salvation. Rob Bell goes a long way in helping us acquire just such an imagination. Love Wins accomplishes this without a trace of soft sentimentality and without compromising an inch of evangelical conviction in its proclamation of the good news that is most truly for all.”

    – Eugene H. Peterson, Professor Emeritus of Spiritual Theology, Regent College, and author of The Message


    • Louis says:

      Thank you for the Peterson quote. An “evangelical” universalist? Mmmm. I know Gregory MacDonald has a book by that title which I’ve not read yet but have ordered for the store.

      As for the price, Amazon and others do have it listed at a discount. My price quotes are always the publisher’s suggested retail price which in this case is $22.99. I called HarperCollins today to verify the price. I’m sorry if I did not make that clear.


  4. Looking forward to this book. One small note: All of Bell’s books have so far been released in hardcover first. Also, $22.99 doesn’t sound like the price for a 208 page paperback book. I’d bet on it being hardcover.


  5. Jay DePoy says:

    A few years ago Mars Hill Bible Church hosted an event called, “Isn’t She Beautiful”, and I remember Rob spent about 90 minutes walking through every verse in the New Testament that dealt with this subject. I do not remember a clearly stated position in his conclusion, but he raised an illuminating point about the mystery of the gospel and the veracity of interpretations, considering the context of each verse.

    First of all, I have unashamed love for Rob. He has been a constant presence of grace, and a true friend to me during a season of relentless heartache.

    One of the reasons I love Rob is because is healthy enough to handle the push back and even the slanderous criticism that often accompanies someone in his position.

    I am an unapologetic member of the choir, belting the “love wins” anthem. I have personally handed out hundreds of these bumper stickers and shared the story behind the story…

    And this is the tension: For those who have been around long enough to remember the series of teachings that introduced the slogan “Love Wins.”, we remember the bedrock of this resolution was about the power of the resurrection.

    And practicing resurrection became the inevitable result of disciples who had experienced this reality.

    It had nothing to do with everyone making it into heaven.

    How can I begin to tear down and criticize what has not even been released yet? These haters need to learn how to put things in context, then find some edifying way to build up the body of Christ in humble dialogue.

    If Rob Bell clearly leads us to believe that God is too nice to create eternal separation from chosen rebellion, then I will be the first to openly disagree. But if Eugene Peterson (!) endorsed this work, and CS Lewis is a source of inspiration, then I think Rob is doing exactly what he does best: Punch you in the brain with a provocative question and then quietly dismiss himself to another thought…


  6. Pingback: Justin Taylor on the new Rob Bell book «

  7. An Open Letter to Justin Taylor Regarding His Condemnation of Rob Bell


  8. susan says:

    I think what is fundamentally at issue here is the concept of free will. Personally, my will didn’t have a shred of freedom until God boxed me in a corner and “made me” choose Him. Self-will, yes, but free? Not in the slightest.

    Why do humans demand they have a free will? Aren’t there more than enough scriptures that prove God is the one in ultimate control of everything, even the hearts of the kings? Why not just accept that and go for the ride?

    Oh, perhaps because of the hell issue? How can one relax and enjoy the ride if one believes there is such a thing as eternal torment in hell? Most would *have* to come up with elaborate “free-will, choice” scenarios in light of that.


  9. susan says:

    Oh, as far as Love Wins goes… I say something similar, but it goes, GOD WINS. Yes, folks, it’s God who wins in the end, not us. It’s all about HIS plan, HIS purpose, HIS will… not ours.

    Some folks hate the Christian Universalism message because they think CU’s are saying that ‘undeserving’ folks will be reconciled to God. As if they’ve won the jackpot and don’t deserve it.

    But this whole deal ultimately has nothing, really, to do with us and everything to do with God. We’ve been seeing it backwards and inside out. God wins, not us! Though of course in His winning, we, indeed, do win!


  10. John says:

    Many Christians have a problem with CU because they cannot accept that the redeeming work of the cross saves all mankind. Jesus meant what He said “It is finished”.

    Redemption for all does not in any way diminish the work of the cross. Rather it makes it the singular, greatest act of love given to mankind by the God Of Love.

    Twenty five years ago I had a personal encounter with God’s love that changed the course of my life, forever. Many people, sadly, will never experience the love and presence of God in their lifetime. Yet historical Christian doctrine is still not satisfied, God’s creations must suffer an eternal torment.

    The current revolutionary uprisings happening in the
    Middle East are driven by people’s desire for freedom. There is no greater freedom than knowing the God of Love. CU expresses an understanding of the fullness of that love.

    Mark my words, the day the Spirit of God reveals this truth to the world, His Glory will capture the hearts of humanity with such magnitude that it will realign Christianity and change the world as we know it.


  11. susankps says:

    Amen, John, amen!


  12. susankps says:

    Anyone who spends even a few hours researching ‘hell’ and ‘eternity’ in the original Biblical languages can’t help but see how confusing this subject can be. I was at it for almost a decade until God graciously simplified things.

    The bottom line is, if there is such a ‘place/state’ as eternal torment in hell, than poor, insane Andrea Yates had it exactly right, her children are in heaven, and the all the rest of the hell believers are just B team player wanna be’s.

    If eternal torment in hell is real, we need only one page in the Bible and it says TURN OR BURN. I mean, why complicate things? (gee, thanks God!)

    When did “if you eat you shall surely die” morph into “you shall surely burn forever and ever in the torments of an eternal hell”?

    As far as universal reconciliation being an unBiblical, heretical, minority opinion goes …


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