Rob Bell is always getting me in trouble! For every person who thanks me for introducing them to Rob’s books or teachings there is another who reminds me that he is a heretic leading people astray.
Yesterday I shared an excellent article about how Rob Bell is a better evangelical than the evangelicals.
And then I got into trouble…
See in 2011 Bell wrote a book called Love Wins and it sold about 100 kajillion copies. But what drove evangelical pastors crazy, besides selling more books than they, was that Bell suggested that there may be no hell.
Yes, he dared to suggest that maybe…just maybe…Jesus wasn’t operating some eternal torture chamber for those who chose not to dance with him.
The evangelical leadership around the world (well…ok, mostly just in America) went crazy.
* Christian book stores refused to sell the book
* Evangelical heavyweight John Piper famously tweeted, “Farewell, Rob Bell”
* Francis Chan quickly made a video telling us not to worry, there indeed was a hell!
In the end, Rob Bell became accused of being a “Universalist” and being a universalist (The Big “U”) is the Scarlet Letter of the evangelical world.
It didn’t matter that:
* He believed Jesus Christ was the son of God and through his life, death, and resurrection God had restored, and was restoring, creation back to its original intent
* That thousands, if not millions, have been introduced to a God who loves them through Christ and have had their lives radically impacted through Bell’s messages.
* He hadn’t actually affirmed anything he was accused of
No, like an adulteress woman in times passed, Bell had a “U” metaphorically attached by the tribal leaders as he was ushered to the gate of the evangelical village to live in exile.
Then much to the chagrin of those self same evangelical leaders…
…Rob Bell got even bigger!
And there was weeping and gnashing of teeth
Why Bell (or I) am not a Universalist
Rob Bell has been very influential in helping me shift my focus from “out there” to Earth. His talk on Beginning in the Beginning (see below) I have watched no less than 10 times and it has helped me immensely to understand what God is actually focused on.
There seems to be a gulf in the understanding between traditional evangelical theology, and some of the theological direction taken by Rob Bell and others such as N.T. Wright, Brian Zahnd, and Greg Boyd to name a few.
In an exchange I had yesterday a friend noted something that is the root of the difference. He noted a view I hear a lot which is essentially, “Hey, I wish God would just save everyone…that we would all get there (Heaven) in the end”
See, in traditional evangelical culture we are trying to get people saved so that they can go to heaven, and not hell, when they die.
The focus is always “out there” someday…one day.
Yet the Bible seems focused on Earth. Even in Revelation 22 when we finally get to “heaven” the whole narrative takes place as “heaven” descends to Earth.
Which was what Jesus prayed…
Everything about Jesus’ message, work, and life was about redeeming people so they could be rebooted as citizens of a new country, and then bring the culture of that new country to the world!
Jesus is Lord…and Barack Obama, Vladimir Putin, and Xi Xiping are not!
Yet we Christians seem to focused on clinging tightly to our earthly national identities until one day when we finally die and “go to heaven” if we were members of the correct tribe…
…or to hell if we were not.
The problem I have with universalism is twofold:
* it still focuses salvation as something that ultimately happens “later, someday” (heaven) rather than “right here, right now” (heaven)”
* it suggests that God, who has been diligently guarding our ability to make our own choices (despite the misery and havoc it has caused), will suddenly ignore everyone’s free will and swoop us all into his presence whether we want it or not.
Love has to be freely given or it’s not love.
Rob Bell dared to suggest that maybe, just maybe, love wins in the end.
Oh, the heresy!
PS: You can read more of my thoughts on heaven & hell here