Rob Bell, a leader in the postmodern emergent church movement and "a rock star in the church world," recently released a video discussing his upcoming new book "Love Wins." This video has gotten everybody all a-lather (and a-twitter), over what appears to be an apologetics defense for Universalism. So Christian bloggers, pastors and leaders immediately started getting out there, calling this out, and naming by name what they think this is: Universalism.
But here's the deal: yes, Rob Bell IS a Universalist - only not in the classic sense. What I mean by that is I think Bell believes - à la The Shack - in Universal Reconciliation. The difference is subtle, but, once this book is actually released, the difference is going to be enough for Bell (and all of his supporters) to slam those who are calling him out on Universalism for being alarmists and haters. And why? Because Universal Reconciliationists often use Christian terminology and claim to hold to certain Christian concepts. Like I said, the difference is subtle.
So what I suspect is that, in this new book, Bell will affirm that.....
- Absolutely, Jesus had to suffer and die on the cross. (When what he really believes about the cross, if he is a Universal Reconciliationist, is that for us to think that this implies exclusiveness is narrow-minded because everybody gets there in the end anyway.)
- Absolutely, there is a hell. (When what he really believes about hell - again, if he is a Universal Reconciliationst - is that there is some kind of purgatorial, burning-off-of-sins form of hell, but after that - of course - everybody gets to heaven).So I have a suggestion about how to approach the Rob Bell thing so that maybe - just maybe - we evangelicals have at least a shot at being heard on this. We need to call this what it is - Universal Reconciliation - and we need to know the difference between this and Universalism, so that when the verbal body slams start coming as soon as the book is released (March 15), we won't have egg on our faces and look foolish when Bell and his peeps start mocking us for saying he's denying hell and Jesus and the cross.
So let's look at Universalism, that is to say, the straight up, New Age, Oprah kind of Universalism that most people have at least some understanding of:
UNIVERSALISM: ALL paths leads to God. You can be a Muslim, Buddhist, Christian, Hindu, Jew, whatever, and you get to God through your own path, whatever that looks like according to your faith tradition. Absolutely no Jesus necessary. (Please note that this is the main point that distinguishes Universalism from Universal Reconciliation)In the strictest sense of Universalism, neither the cross nor any form of hell are affirmed.
And now Universal Reconciliation:
UNIVERSAL RECONCILIATION (also called CHRISTIAN UNIVERSALISM): ALL people are ultimately saved through Christ. They may not have a complete understanding of who Christ is, but in some way, the suffering and crucifixion of Jesus Christ constitutes the mechanism that provides redemption for all humanity and makes atonement for all sins. A limited form of hell is sometimes held to, but not always.
"And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire." Rev. 20:15
Jesus Gave Us Almost All We Know About The Doctrine of Hell