What sources do you see as trustworthy? Newspapers? If so, which ones? Television? If so, some networks more than others? The internet? Do you trust all blogs and sites equally? What about Wikipedia?
If we are honest, any book, article, sermon or even this blogpost must be evaluated to determine what is fact and what is opinion. As a Christian, I know that the only exception to this is the Bible. The sixty-six books of the Bible have been proven to be historically accurate and without contradiction or error in the original languages. These words were not penned by the thought of man, but by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit to recount the history of man's relationship with God and to share the Gospel of salvation through Jesus Christ.
Recently, a book has been released that caused a considerable amount of controversy and discourse: "Love Wins", written by Rob Bell, the pastor of Mars Hill Bible Church in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Before the book was released, word spread that Bell's book espoused his belief that everyone goes to Heaven when they die. I was intrigued by panel discussions and interviews that talked about the book and its teachings. The doctrine described in the book was labeled as both "Universalism" and "Inclusivism". Universalism is the belief that "all roads lead to God", where Inclusivism is the belief that it is possible to experience salvation through Jesus without actually knowing who Jesus is or that you even needed salvation.
Since I'd previously watched two of Bell's Nooma videos and actually liked them, I didn't want to completely discount his book without investigation. So I bought the book and read it. In some ways, I was slightly relieved by what I read. In a nutshell, Bell is neither a Universalist nor an Inclusivist. While he affirms that salvation only comes through personal intentional acceptance of Jesus as Savior, he claims that we still have that opportunity even if we die without Christ and go to Hell. At any point, a lost sinner in punishment can bow his knee and claim Jesus as Lord, which removes him from Hell and delivers him into Heaven. He makes the point several times that we can have as much of Hell as we want, so his belief is that a lost person could choose to spend eternity in torment. If any label is applied to Bell, either “Extensionist” or “Infinitist” might be worthy attempts. While not as far from Biblical truth as Universalism or Inclusionism, his views are not founded or backed by Scripture, so they are still heresy.
That being said, I was just as troubled by the background of the book as its primary thesis. While described as “a book about heaven, hell, and the fate of every person who ever lived”, it revealed more about Bell’s view of God than anything else. Bell repeatedly makes the inference that if God sends the lost to Hell who never heard of Jesus or who didn’t like “the Jesus” that was shared with them, then He is mean, cruel or vindictive. What the Bible SAYS about God is that He is our Creator, and He is righteous and holy. We were made for the purpose of knowing God and to have fellowship with Him. Adam and Eve lived in such a state until he chose sin over obedience. At that point, sin and death entered the world and became the nature of all men. Romans 3:23 tells us that “all have sinned and come short of the glory of God” and Romans 6:23 says that “the wages of sin are death, but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ, our Lord”. He is (as Bell over-emphasizes) love. He sent His Son to serve as a perfect, blameless sacrifice so that we could either choose to be restored to our intended relationship, or choose to follow our nature of sin and death. While no Christian should take pleasure or satisfaction in the eternal destination of the unrepentant, shirking away from Biblical truth does not honor God, nor does it help those who have not repented. It is, in fact, heresy. Bell’s claim of post-mortem salvation cannot stand under the light of Biblical examination. In short, we must see God as the Bible reveals Him, not remake Him into a portrayal that we can “accept” or “tolerate”.
Throughout “Love Wins”, Bell seems to read into the Scriptural text his own ideas, views and biases. This practice of eisegesis is apparent in several places in “Love Wins”.
Bell uses cultural and/or historical arguments to suggest that first century Jews had an understanding of heaven as being more about a better life than about post-mortem existence. The argument that this was the motive of the mother of James and John when she asked for them to sit at the right and left hand of Christ doesn’t seem to be viable, since the other ten apostles clearly saw it as we have traditionally read the passage.
Another example of Bell reading into a story is the Luke 16 account of the rich man and Lazarus. According to his understanding of the story, the only reason that the rich man remains in torment is that he’s asking Abraham to allow Lazarus to bring him water, which means that he still hasn’t gotten rid of his prideful attitude. He wants Lazarus to serve him, so he hasn’t learned humility. Now, to be fair, taken in context with his view of possible infinite salvation opportunities, I can understand how he might see that. However, since Jesus tells this as a STORY and not a parable, it would be a perfect opportunity to make it clear that the rich man could repent and go to Heaven.
Bell repeatedly makes the observation that Christians either seem to be concerned about Heaven later, or suffering on Earth now, but rarely both. I’m honestly not sure if he was speaking against both extremes, but it felt like it was geared more towards those of us focused on evangelization. Again, given his views of salvation, you might be able to say that it’s more important to make sure kids have clean water than tell them about the Living Water. But his views are not Biblically accurate, and therefore both heretical and dangerous. Indeed, a perfect situation would be to have clean water now and to enjoy the crystal sea later. But if I have to choose, I’d take a lifetime of dirty water now and live with the great promise of the crystal sea later.
My biggest concern about Bell’s “infinity” interpretation of salvation is its impact on evangelization! Just as Hyper-Calvinism leads to the discouragement of evangelization since God will save everyone who He has elected to save, will not the “infinite opportunity” interpretation lead to discourage evangelization and emphasize social activism? If you are convinced that everyone can repent their way out of Hell, doesn’t it make more sense to focus on making life better now? “They’ll find out about Jesus when they die, and we’ll have clean water and no nukes today.” Intended or not, the logical and catastrophic end to Bell’s infinitism is the death knell of evangelism. He is attempting to re-write the “story” of Christ’s redemptive work into one that “feels” and “seems” better. The truth, however, is that God speaks of very serious consequences to those who spread a different Gospel than the one that the Bible reveals.
So where does this leave us? Scripture does not allow the latitude taken by Bell for such a view of infinite salvation opportunities. While I do not doubt that he is a Christian, I do see an obvious departure from the Word of God in his theology. And therein lays the dilemma: We MUST hold to the Biblical standard. Every teaching must be measured and tested, and then either accepted or rejected according to its agreement with God’s Word. Like the men of Berea in Acts 17, we cannot be lead astray by fanciful arguments. We must know and search the Scriptures. We must cast off every vain imagination and well packaged lie as the heresy it truly is.
I’ve never met Rob Bell. I think that I’d probably enjoy sharing a meal with him and discussing our views. I know I’d enjoy the opportunity to share with him..and with you, that love DID win. Not in a pretty image or story, but in a bloody cross and an empty tomb! The ultimate victory over death, hell and the grave has been won, and you can share in the spoils of that triumph!
But despite Bell’s idea, your choice to join Christ in victory does not extend past your last breath. As Hebrews 4:7 says, “Today if you hear His voice, do not harden your heart”.