Presentation on theme: "Heaven, Hell, & Universalism A Look at the Theology of Rob Bell & “Love Wins” Part 1."— Presentation transcript:
Heaven, Hell, & Universalism A Look at the Theology of Rob Bell & “Love Wins” Part 1
What are we Talking About? On March 15, 2011, HarperOne publishers releases Emergent Church leader Rob Bell’s new book “Love Wins”. The promotional video for the book immediately raised speculations in Christendom that Rob Bell was a universalist, and what has followed since then has been one of the largest theological firestorms in some time.
What are we Talking About? Everything started with a promotional video that was released of Bell’s book “Love Wins”. The video prompted Justin Taylor of the Gospel Coalition to speculate that Bell was embracing and teaching universalism.
Taylor’s blog post on Rob Bell’s book elicited a large response from many people including Dr. John Piper who simply remarked, “Farewell Rob Bell.” Piper’s comments communicated that Bell had finally and fully set sail from orthodox Christianity.
I was asked by gotquestions.org to write a response to Bell’s book and the concept of universalism in general, which I did. It was posted on the gotquestions.org website, and I also posted it on my personal blog. But not everyone agreed with my conclusions.
The media frenzy caused by the major discussions happening in the Christian world caused Time magazine to do a cover story that asked the question “What if There’s no Hell?” Speaking about the traditional view of Hell, the article says, “Bell, a tall, 40-year-old son of a Michigan federal judge, begs to differ. He suggests that the redemptive work of Jesus may be universal — meaning that, as his book's subtitle puts it, "every person who ever lived" could have a place in heaven, whatever that turns out to be.”
Bell’s book “Love Wins” and its accompanying controversy has landed him on Time’s 2011 “100 most influential people in the world” list. The reach of Rob Bell has far outgrown the 10,000+ members of his Mars Hill church, and therefore it is important we understand what his teaching is and how it affects people’s spiritual thoughts and lives.
What is Universalism? Defining Terms and a Look Back at its History
What is Universalism/Ultimate Reconciliation? Universalism (universal salvation), or its more technical term “Ultimate Reconciliation” is a teaching that says every human being, at some point, will ultimately be reconciled to God. Because Jesus died for everyone (satisfying God’s justice), each person will – either in this life or the next – be won over by God’s love and spend eternity with Him.
The Teachings of Origen Origen of Alexandria ( A.D.) is widely thought to have been a universalist. The African theologian, who took an allegorical approach to Scripture and was heavily influenced by Greek philosophy, did not believe in the eternal suffering of sinners in Hell. For Origen, all created beings, even demons and the devil, would eventually achieve salvation, no matter how long it took in the current life or in the life to come. He reasoned that because God’s love is so powerful, it will eventually soften even the hardest heart.
“No one can resist God’s pursuit forever because God’s love will eventually melt even the hardest hearts.” -Rob Bell (pg. 108)
The Teachings of Origen “So then, when the end has been restored to the beginning, and the termination of things compared with their commencement, that condition of things will be re-established in which rational nature was placed, when it had no need to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil; so that when all feeling of wickedness has been removed, and the individual has been purified and cleansed, He who alone is the one good God comes to him ‘all’ and that not in the case of a few individuals, or of a considerable number, but He Himself is ‘all in all’. And when death shall no longer anywhere exist, nor the sting of death, nor any evil at all, then verily God will be ‘all in all’.” -Origen De Principiis, 3.6.3
“And so, beginning with the early church, there is a long tradition of Christians who believe that God will ultimately restore everything and everybody, because Jesus says in Matthew 19 that there will be a “renewal of all things,” Peter says in Acts 3 that Jesus will “restore everything,” and Paul says in Colossians 1 that through Christ “God was pleased to....reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven.” - Rob Bell (pg. 107)
The Teachings of Origen Origin’s restoration of all beings, known as apokatastasis, is the Greek word used in Acts 3:21 for 'restoration', and can be traced back to the Greek philosopher Heraclitus, who stated that “the beginning and end are common”. Origen’s belief in ultimate reconciliation were eventually refuted by Augustine and condemned in 553 A.D. in a council at Constantinople.
What is Universalism/Ultimate Reconciliation? “A universalist is someone who believes that every human being whom God has created or will create will finally come to enjoy the everlasting salvation into which Christians enter here and now. Universalism is the recognized name for this belief.... Among Christian theological options it appears as an extreme optimism of grace, or perhaps of nature, and sometimes, it seems, or both. But in itself it is a revisionist challenge to orthodoxy, whether Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, or Protestant evangelical; for the church has officially rated universalism a heresy ever since the second Council of Constantinople (the fifth ecumenical council, A.D. 553), when the doctrine of apokatastasis (the universal return to God and restoration of all souls) that Origen taught was anathematized.” - J. I. Packer
The Teachings of Socinus An Italian theologian named Laelius Socinus who lived in the 16th century, and his nephew Faustus, revived the 4th century heresy of Arianism - officially condemned at the council of Nicaea in A.D and taught that the Trinity was a false doctrine and that Christ was not God. In that sense, they were “Unitarian” in their teaching.
The Teachings of Socinus But Socinus went further and said that some of God’s attributes (e.g. His omniscience, immutability, etc.) were optional and not necessary, meaning He didn't have to manifest them if He chose not to. Socinus claimed that God’s justice was optional, but His mercy is mandatory. In other words, God always had to be merciful, but He didn't always have to be just toward offenses committed against Him. Therefore, the logic of Socinus progressed as follows: if God's justice is optional, but His mercy is mandatory, and if God loves all the world and Christ died for everyone who would ever live, then all people will be saved by God. In this respect, Socinus and his nephew were “Universalists”.
The Majority Opinion on Hell “Until the nineteenth century almost all Christian theologians taught the reality of eternal torment in hell. Here and there, outside the theological mainstream, were some who believed that the wicked would be finally annihilated.... Even fewer were the advocates of universal salvation, though these few included some major theologians of the early church. Eternal punishment was firmly asserted in official creeds and confessions of the churches. It must have seemed as indispensable a part of the universal Christian belief as the doctrines of the Trinity and the incarnation.” -Richard Bauckham (“Universalism: A Historical Survey,” Themelios 4.2 [September 1978]: 47–54)
Recent Poll: Is Universalism True?
What is the Purpose of Hell? How Universalists View Hell
What Purpose Does Hell Serve in Universalism? Origen saw the church as the great “school of souls” in which erring pupils are instructed and disciplined, but for those who do not choose God in this life, they would continue their ‘tutelage’ in the next through an atoning and sanctifying process of purging fire. Origen believed that Hell cannot be permanent for any soul because God could not abandon any creature. Since God respects human freedom, the process of winning over His created beings may take a long time in some cases, but God’s love, Origen believed, will ultimately triumph. Or as Rob Bell puts it, Love Wins (pgs.197-8).
“We can create all sorts of Hells right now if we want…” -ABC News Interview (never asked the question if he believed in a literal Hell) “A heretic is someone who is able to choose…” -MSNBC News Interview (never asked the question if he believed in a literal Hell) “There is a Hell because we see Hell everyday. Yeah we can resist and we can reject what it means to be fully human and good and decent and compassionate. So yes, there is. And we have that choice now. And I assume we have that choice into the future. Yes.” -Initial promotional book interview
Bell: “To the question ‘are you a universalist’, first and foremost, no…” Question: “Is it irrelevant as to how you respond to Christ in your life now to determine your eternal destiny?” Answer: “It is terribly relevant and terribly important. Now, how exactly that works out and how exactly it works out in the future now when you die, we are firmly in the realm of speculation.” Interviewer: “What you’ve done is you’re amending the gospel, the Christian message, so that it’s palatable for contemporary people who find the idea of Heaven and Hell very difficult to stomach.” -MSNBC News Interview
Bell’s view of Hell: There are “all kinds of hell because there are all kinds of ways to reject the good and the true and the beautiful and the human now, in this life, and so we can only assume we can do the same in the next” (pg. 79) A “period of pruning” (pg. 91) “An intense period of correction” (pg. 91)
In Context: “The goats are sent, in the Greek language, to an aion of kolazo. Aion, we know, has several meanings. One is “age” or “period of time”; another refers to intensity of experience. The word kolazo is a term from horticulture. It refers to the pruning and trimming of the branches so it can flourish. An aion of kolazo. Depending on how you translate aion and kolazo, then, the phrase can mean “a period of pruning” or “a time of trimming” or an intense experience of correction. In a good number of English translations of the Bible, the phrase “aion of kolazo” gets translated as “eternal punishment,” which many read to mean “punishment forever,” as in never going to end. But “forever” is not really a category the biblical writers used.”
What does the Greek Text Really Say? The word “aion”, in context, does not refer to simply a long time and “kolazo” is nowhere to be found in the way that Bell describes… καταργέω means the waste of a tree, lose its power, or cause something to come to an end.
What does the Greek Text Really Say? The word “kolazo” means to punish or penalize and can be used to speak of a punishment in Hell.
How does Bell view the Bible? An important look at the Emerging Church’s view of Scripture
Bell on the Clarity of the Bible
Tony Jones on Truth and the Bible “We must stop looking for some objective truth that is available when we delve into the text of the Bible.” -Tony Jones Emergent Church Leader
“In the book, I write about how some have believed that all will be reconciled and while I long for that as I think everybody should long for it, I don’t take a position of certainty because, of course, I don’t know how it all turns out.” - Rob Bell Interview with Time Magazine
“Will everybody be saved, or will some perish apart from God forever because of their choices? Those are questions, or more accurately, those are tensions we are free to leave fully intact. We don’t need to resolve them or answer them because we can’t, and so we simply respect them, creating space for the freedom that love requires.” -Rob Bell (pg. 115)
But is that what Bell really thinks?
But is that what Bell really thinks? Remember Bell entitled his book “Love Wins”. That alone communicates which side of the fence he falls on, which is the same side as Origen and Socinus.
A Warning from Edwards “It is by the mixture of counterfeit religion with true, not discerned and distinguished, that the devil has had his greatest advantage against the cause and kingdom of Christ, all along hitherto. It is by this means, principal, that he has prevailed against all revivings of religion, that ever have been since the first founding of the Christian church. By this, he hurt the cause of Christianity, in and after the apostolic age, much more than by all the persecutions of both Jews and Heathens. The apostles, in all their epistles, show themselves much more concerned at the former mischief, than the latter.” - Jonathan Edwards
Is the Bible Clear on Hell? We’ll examine that in Part 2 of this series…