This weekend a big stink was kicked up about the trailer and marketing copy of Rob Bell’s latest book, Love Wins: A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived. Indeed, the brouhaha led to Bell’s name trending on Twitter!
So as you can imagine, this thing is causing quite the commotion among Christians on the interwebs.
The issue came onto my radar yesterday when I saw Emily had been reading this post from Justin Taylor. I read the marketing copy, which after some fairly heavy-handed selling of Bell’s credentials, we get to the heart of the controversy:
Bell addresses one of the most controversial issues of faith—the afterlife—arguing that a loving God would never sentence human souls to eternal suffering. With searing insight, Bell puts hell on trial, and his message is decidedly optimistic—eternal life doesn’t start when we die; it starts right now. And ultimately, Love Wins.
The accompanying video doesn’t help much:
In his previous books and tours, Bell has often been… squishy regarding his take on the wrath of God (even going so far as to reinterpret God’s wrath as a feeling of grief mixed with a desire to reconnect and restore). Indeed, he’s been so ambiguous that it’s caused a great many pastors and theologians to ask the question: Is he a universalist?
With this book it seems we might have an answer, in much the same way Brian McLaren dropped his pretence of trying to remain orthodox in A New Kind of Christianity.
However, I don’t know if it’s safe to say that for certain because, well, the book hasn’t been released yet. Because the material is in Bell’s typically ambiguous style so it can be taken one of two ways:
- He is playing “Devil’s Advocate” (oh, how I loathe that term) and presenting legitimate questions
- The trajectory he’s been on for years has reached it’s destination and he’s outright abandoned the gospel
My hope would be the former. But if I had to be honest, my expectation is the latter. And this is not something I find delightful or comforting.
Here’s what I would hate to see: If it turns out that he has indeed abandoned the gospel and embraced universalism (“Christian” or otherwise), that is cause to weep. Rob Bell’s influence is enormous and, if he does indeed advocate for universalism, then he will be preaching people straight into hell.
We can’t get away from the reality of hell. The Bible is clear that there will be eternal punishment for those who do not repent and turn to Jesus for salvation.
And love doesn’t win unless there’s something from which to flee.
(Thanks to Erik from J.C. Ryle Quotes for the title of the post.)