Rob Bell’s video and marketing of his upcoming book Love Wins has made some huge waves. I’ve seen it posted on facebook and blogs everywhere. Bell does his little artistic media blurb he does so well, asking questions and leaving you. . . confused. Many, such as Justin Taylor, have inferred he is a universalist and wholesale condemn him as a heretic. On the other hand, Greg Boyd, who actually read the manuscript, has responded emphatically that Bell is not a universalist… but then seems to backpedal a bit saying it can leave you with the impression he is. Read Boyd here. I noticed the book is endorsed by Eugene Peterson, who is not a universalist as far as I know, but again that’s not saying alot.
I find this firestorm over Bell all very interesting, but generally disappointing. First, in Rob Bell because he is so unclear. This is unfortunately typical of him; he’s great at asking good questions, but not so good at giving answers. And to top it all off, he’s fine with that. I disagree with many things Bell says and does, but so far it seems to me he is roughly evangelical. What would disappoint me more is to find he really has left orthodoxy to become a universalist, something that has yet to be discovered – which leads me to disappointment with his critics:
Many seem to be jumping the gun to label Bell a universalist so early, when they really haven’t even read his book and assuming things from his marketing ploys that are so vague. Attributing a belief to someone which they haven’t claimed then attacking them for it? That’s just quarrelsomeness. What’s worse, it makes the critics look foolish to those watching this (The NY Times even noted the controversy) and sheds poor light on everyone who does believe in hell. There aren’t very many of us! Why make it harder than it already is to persuade people that there is a hell and they need a Savior from it? They see this as rabid fundamentalism at its worst, not the Gospel of God’s love that saves us from eternal wrath.
What is Bell trying to say? Maybe he is a annihilationist, or of the “new hope” theology, or something else. Who knows? What’s disturbing (if Boyd’s article is any clue) is a read through the whole book may leave you with the same question. This is the paralyzing problem with Christianity in the West today (especially the Emerging church strain of which Bell is a part). On difficult issues we no longer take strong stands, but become increasingly more vague. The Bible has answers for difficult issues. In fact, it has all the answers, especially on life after death. In a time when our world is as pluralistic and confused as ever, this is the time to know what God says and say what God said.
Anyway, if anything good can come out of this hellish debate, it brings more attention to the biblical doctrine of hell. Too many of us believe in hell, but live as though it doesn’t exist – we don’t tell people on the path there to switch paths and believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, or thank God every day for saving us from there. Many good men are speaking and writing about it; hopefully it will help wake up the church to its reality. For example, Al Mohler’s article analyzing the desire to “Do Away With Hell” is a great read.
Bell’s book comes out in a few more days yet. We’ll see what happens. I just hope and pray those involved will speak to make Christ exalted and come to the truth of His Word.