Waiting for Rob Bell 2

I stood in horror watching the blogosphere light up last week, but my horror was not simply over the accusations made against an author whose book was not even yet available nor just over those who were denouncing Rob Bell for what they were absolutely certain was universalism. No the horror was that there was a volley of posts put up about hell. It looked like a tug of war between Love Wins! and Wrath Wins! Is this what we need? the way to proceed? the way to find resolution?

My horror, then, was three-fold: first, the image of God that is depicted when hell becomes the final, or emphatic, word and, second, the absence of any context for how to talk about judgment in the Bible and, third, the kinds of emotion expressed: we saw too much gloating and pride and triumphalism on both sides. I felt like those who watched the sinking of the Titanic and who didn’t cringe at the thought of thousands sinking into the Atlantic to a suffocating death. They were instead singing and dancing to a jig that they were right or had been predicting the sinking all along.

If there is an eternity, and I believe there is, and if there is a judgment, and I believe there is, then let us keep the immensity and gravity of it all in mind and refrain from flippancy, gloating, triumphalism — and let it reduce us to sobriety and humility and prayer. When Abraham faced the prospects of the destruction of Sodom in Genesis 18, he didn’t gloat that he was on the safe side but supplicated YHWH for mercy for those who weren’t. We need more Abrahams.

I have myself weighed in on this Eternity.Life debate in my book One.Life: Jesus Calls, We Follow, so I don’t want to weigh in again or repeat what I have already said. Instead, I want to set this discussion into a slightly different context: the image of God that jumps from the pages of the Bible in passages that might be called final triumphant grace. I will put it this way: there are passages that sound univeralistic, that sound like somehow God will reconcile all things in the End, and that if we don’t occasionally sound universalistic we are not being as biblical as God — and as Jesus and Paul. Yes, these passages are not the only ones to consider, but — let this be said — neither are they cushioned or cautioned or cornered off by Jesus and Paul so they don’t give the wrong impression. What the Bible is talking about here is that God’s grace will win. God will make all things right. I’m not a universalist but I want this language to be the way I talk about these topics.  So, here goes:

I begin with Jesus, whose parable of the Prodigal Son should make us stop in our tracks, from Luke 15:28-32:

28 “The older brother became angry and refused to go in. So his father went out and pleaded with him. 29 But he answered his father, ‘Look! All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. 30 But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!’31 “‘My son,’ the father said, ‘you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. 32 But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’”

And now to Paul, beginning with 1 Corinthians 15:20-28:

20 But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. 21 For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. 22 For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive. 23 But each in turn: Christ, the firstfruits; then, when he comes, those who belong to him. 24 Then the end will come, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father after he has destroyed all dominion, authority and power. 25 For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. 26 The last enemy to be destroyed is death. 27 For he “has put everything under his feet.” Now when it says that “everything” has been put under him, it is clear that this does not include God himself, who put everything under Christ. 28 When he has done this, then the Son himself will be made subject to him who put everything under him, so that God may be all in all.

And especially Colossians 1:15-20:

15 The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. 16 For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. 17 He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18 And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. 19 For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, 20 and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.

And this line from James:

Mercy triumphs over judgment (2:13).

And, once again, I don’t consider these to be the only passages that have to be considered. But let this grand and glorious vision of hope and triumphant grace and putting things to rights be in our minds and on our lips and in our emotions whenever … whenever … whenever we talk about final matters.

To talk about wrath apart from this depiction of the grace-consuming God is to put forward a view of God that is not only unbiblical but potentially monstrous. And, to put forward a view of God that is absent of final judgment, yes of wrath, yes of eternal judgment, is to offer a caricature of the Bible’s God.

No one should begin to talk about hell without spending fifteen minutes in pausing prayer to consider the horror of it all.

I find some people can get intoxicated on wrath and it can lead them in a triumphalist dance of anger. And I find some who get intoxicated with a flabby sense of grace. Isn’t it better to get lost in the dance of God’s good and triumphant grace and of making things right? If we are to be intoxicated, let it be from imbibing the hope and grace of God’s love which will both win and be right in the End.

Remember the supplications of Abraham. Every.Time.



About Scot McKnight

Scot McKnight is a recognized authority on the New Testament, early Christianity, and the historical Jesus. McKnight, author of more than forty books, is the Professor of New Testament at Northern Seminary in Lombard, IL.

  • http://faithautopsy.com Ben D.

    Thank you Scot!

  • TriciaM

    Thank you Scot. People will notice when we learn to live lovingly in the tension between judgement and mercy. My mid-life goal is to learn to speak about both to a culture that wants to hear about only one.

  • Susan N.

    Yes, this week for me was like a recurring nightmare. I’m sure that my reaction to the critics’ response of Rob Bell’s book was typical of PTSD. The horror you describe feeling was similar to what I felt when I understood the meaning, as defined by those who espouse the doctrine, of “sovereign grace”. I will risk being accused of “flabby grace” any day, if I am continuing to hope in God’s omnipotent love to find a way for most, if not all, to be reconciled to Him through Christ and redeemed forever. I was thinking of “atonement” yesterday… AT-ONE-MENT. God proved that we cannot kill him, nor his love, in the resurrection. I think of grace as God’s ever open arms reaching out to us to come home to Him NOW, and also the mercy He grants those who are unable to understand what is being offered. Judgment is proportionately related to accountability I suspect. If love is so important in this earthly life, in order to be “perfect like our Father in heaven”, then that part of me which God has been successful in transforming will have to be undone for me to enter heaven with no sorrow or grief for those who are sentenced to ECT. I guess I am not cut out for heaven. Something drastic will have to change in what God has done in me up to this point in order for me not to be utterly horrified at millions cast into hell apart from God for eternity. And that’s all I have to say about that.

  • Richard

    Good words Scot.

  • Jason Lee

    Posts like these that cut to the heart are why I find myself continually coming back to this blog.

  • Christine

    Thanks for this beautiful post, Scot. Important words. I do wish you’d blog a bit more about your own views which you’ve apparently addressed in your book. Could you make them a bit more accessible without necessitating that we buy/read the book (tho that would be a good thing!)?

    Thanks!

  • Dave

    Good Stuff, thanks.

  • Diane

    Dear Scot,

    Lovely post: Love will win over wrath, mercy over judgment. The wicked must be judged, but God’s way are not our ways.

  • Taylor G

    Very, very well written Scot. We lack balance, and most of all we lack humility and mystery on both sides of this debate. This whole topic should bring us to our knees weeping in sack cloth. Really.

    I think you’ve missed the most powerful verse that could be used to think of God’s love universally: 1 Timothy 4:10 That is why we labor and strive, because we have put our hope in the living God, who is the Savior of all people, and especially of those who believe.

  • http://www.friends4thejourney.com/ josenmiami

    good comments. I agree. We need some true prophets who will bring correction to the laughable and lamentable bs that reigns in the evangelical world.

  • http://ninure.tk Ninure

    First,I want to find away, giving you every jot and tittle, to post this to my website.

    Second, I have caught myself saying more than once that this person, or that person, is worthy of hell. And then I think. Well, maybe by God’s standard, so am I”

    I have no idea what hell is like/going to be like, I can only hope that God’s Grace and mercy is far greater, and broader than anything I can possibly imagine. And that will it will far more people than I would think deserve it.

  • Scot McKnight

    Ninure, blogs seem to me to be open game… go ahead.

  • http://knapsack.blogspot.com Jeff

    All of which I agree with — and yet, in the words of Elie Wiesel et alia, we can no longer say things about God that do not make sense in the presence of burning children. Auschwitz makes certain demands on our theology of justice and eschatology (but hey, I’m an annihilationist at heart). I want grace, but cheap grace can be as pain-inflicting as excessive judgment, from the point of view of a grieving mother.

  • bill

    Thanks, Scot. We seem to forget that God is love. We are so anxious to condemn people.

  • http://homekettle.wordpress.com David N.

    Thanks, Scot. This is the kind of step back and deep breath this discussion has needed.

  • Ted

    Early in my ministry I served as an itinerant Evangelist. I was influenced by a statement from a contemporary of D.L. Moody, the great 19th Century Evangelist. It was said that “Mr. Moody never preached on Hell without tears streaming from his eyes.”

  • http://kentfaver.com Kent F

    Scot – I don’t get by here daily, but this is the best post of your’s I’ve read in a long time. Maybe it’s because this is what I needed to hear after last week’s heavyweight bout. Thanks!

  • http://thesometimespreacher.blogspot.com/ Andy Holt

    “No one should begin to talk about hell without spending fifteen minutes in pausing prayer to consider the horror of it all.” Now that is convicting!

  • Jeremy

    Great post! One of the problems I have with the “big personalities” in certain camps is their utter lack of anything resembling love towards those they disagree with. This applies to those that complain about Piper and company as much as it does to Calvinists. I’m praying for the day when “Team Rob” and “Team John” t-shirts aren’t funny because they’re true.

  • Taylor G

    I am hopeful that Rob Bell will give us what Brian Mclaren failed at: an orthodox way of expaining where modern day evangelicals are going on the issue of hell and judgement. Maybe it should be said however, that Mclaren had to push the envelope so that guys like Bell could even get a word in edgewise.

  • John W Frye

    Scot, my brother, your pastor’s heart and soul come out in this incomparable post. I shared it on my FaceBook page. God bless you!

  • http://www.leahermann.typepad.com Hermann

    Scott

    Thanks for this post.

    We forget our own need for grace and that is why I am grateful for the fact that grace wins, love wins. God loves me because of who He is.

  • David

    Thanks for the post! The current debate has reminded me just how unsettled I am over this issue. As an evangelical pastor who desperately wants to handle God’s word accurately, who would be horrified to discover that anything I taught or preached failed to give to God all the glory due HIM, I found your words, w/ the passages, challenging. I truly believe God’s grace will triumph in the end, but I am not convinced that the triumph of grace means the absence of eternal judgment. Contradictory, I know! Praying for wisdom!

  • http://thedesignspectrum.wordpress.com/ pds

    “misguided and toxic” – Rob Bell.

    That not the way to have a civil debate about an important topic. Why is Rob Bell so judgmental towards those who are more conservative than him?

    From the NY Times:

    In a book to be published this month, the pastor, Rob Bell, known for his provocative views and appeal among the young, describes as “misguided and toxic” the dogma that “a select few Christians will spend forever in a peaceful, joyous place called heaven, while the rest of humanity spends forever in torment and punishment in hell with no chance for anything better.”

  • @mattpboyle

    Brilliant Scott, this brought real clarity!!

  • Taylor G

    David, It sounds like you are right in the place where Scot leaves us. You are caught between a real tension that exists in scripture of a God who at times seems to love universally but at the same time threatens a very real and possible eternal judgement. It’s a good place to be in my opinion.

  • http://www.robertjameshamlet.com Bob Hamlet

    thanks scott…. shortly after i was married my wife pointed out to me that i had become as negative towards the school we went to as they were towards me… she went on to say (in a very loving way) that i had lost my testimony. that hit me right between the eyes! i get posts on FB from both sides of the emergent church movement.. as i was trying to figure it out… i believe the Holy Spirit spoke to me about using that same energy to advance the Kingdom… that is the direction i need to go

  • http://www.gettingfree.wordpress.com T

    pds,

    I’ve not read the “heat” from either side on this (too much else to do), but to call a particular teaching “misguided and toxic” isn’t being “so judgmental” towards people, in my view. When push comes to shove, I personally find very good grounds for the view Bell is describing as wrong, but I can handle that he finds that teaching to be toxic, harmful, and wrong. Calling a dogma bad isn’t the same as calling everyone who holds that dogma bad. He’s doing the former according to the NY Times.

    Scot,

    I think the call to follow Abraham is wise and powerful. Good post.

  • Randall

    As someone who has walked on both sides of this street I’ve learned that we live to lament some of the things we say and teach. However much humility we have regarding our powers of scriptural interpretation, I think we need more. God hasn’t made his closing arguments yet and the jury shouldn’t deliberate until He does. As Scot says, these passages aren’t the only ones that pertain to the question; but, neither are they tempered or diminished in their context. People’s conclusions aren’t what’s so injurious, as humans it’s inevitable we have them, it’s the graceless dogmatism where maybe openness and freedom is called for.

  • http://thedesignspectrum.wordpress.com/ pds

    T (28),

    “Toxic”? Really, do we need that?

    I am in the middle of Velvet Elvis. He condemns “brickianity” and those who spend time saying others are wrong. The only problem is that in Velvet Elvis, he spends a lot of ink saying who he thinks is wrong — often with ridicule. Bell seems to be building different walls with different bricks.

    Tim Keller knows how to persuade gently. Rob Bell seems to want to provoke to sell books.

  • Pastor Apologist-Evangelist

    Thanks Scot. I would like to see more of your opinion & depth, but I realize that’s what your books are for. As for me, I am greatly opposed to the “flabby grace” (as you refer to it) teaching that abounds in so many of the churches today. I believe that is very deceptive teaching and leads people down the “wrong road.” Christ’s words in Matthew 7 are some of the most frightening words He has to say–and they’re directed towards those who “believe”…or THOUGHT they believed and were followers of His, only to find out when it is much too late, that “He never knew Him!” Most of this teaching abounds in “seeker” type churches who don’t want to “offend” their congregants. Thankfully, that was NOT Christ’s approach. He had no problem offending the people of His day. In fact, not only did He do it often, He actually made it HARD to follow Him! He wanted to make sure BEFORE He allowed others to follow Him, just what He required and what it would COST them to be a disciple of His. Furthermore, He spoke more about hell and its realities than anyone. Are we not supposed to be following His example & teaching? So, in my opinion, I would rather err on too much judgement, than not enough. In reality, people need BOTH. Anything short of BOTH, is NOT the Gospel…it is a DIFFERENT GOSPEL! People really need to know just WHAT they are being saved “from,” in order to truly appreciate the fullness of His GRACE, otherwise, they may
    simply find themselves “Trying Him out,” to see if they will fulfill their wants, needs & emotions., only to find out in the end, on judgement day, that “He NEVER knew them!”

  • http://www.kevinglenn.net Kevin Glenn

    So I hear about a rapist, a person who exploits children, or someone doing any number of sickening and unspeakable crimes…and for them I want judgement. Bring on the brimstone baby! Let me watch gleefully as they are punished for their sins…kind of like watching Rambo decimate the guards who tortured him. It’s vengeance, it’s unbiblical, unchristian, and it makes me ashamed. Why?

    Because when I blow it, when I hurt someone, when I fail, when I commit acts that are in direct violation of God’s Word and therefore worthy of judgement…I want grace!!

    What would happen if we wanted grace for others the way we want it for ourselves? Perhaps the gleeful flippancy of how we talk about hell would be replaced with a somber humility…even a mournful lament for those in danger of experiencing whatever hell is, for however long it is.

  • http://theologica.ning.com/profile/ShermanNobles Sherman Nobles

    Though saddened, I’m not surprised at all by the heated, negative, judgmental statements and accusations. It’s part and parcel of a value system where what one professes to believe is more important than how one actually lives and treats others, one’s practical down-to-earth love of God and one another.
    Such negativity towards others of differing beliefs flows from disfunctionally thinking that one’s motives are pure and one has the corner market on truth and other’s motives are selfish and others are willfully deceived and willfully seeking to deceive others.
    My students had a shirt made for me with one of my favorite sayings. The front says “I’m Ok, You’re OK” with a big “NOT” sign around it. The back says, “Truth Is, I’m A Mess, And I Think You’re An Even Bigger Mess!”
    If there was more humility, love, and faith, there would be much less anger, resentment, hatred, and fear.

  • http://theologica.ning.com/profile/ShermanNobles Sherman Nobles

    Oh, and btw I am a convinced Universalist.

  • dopderbeck

    Amen, amen, and a thousand amens! Thanks Scot for calling all of us — including me!! — back to a posture of expectant humility.

  • Stephen

    There is not just a dismissive triumphalism about hell in this debate, there is also a strange triumphalism in the opposition to debate itself by some (though thankfully not Mr. McKnight as far as I can tell).

    Can we all admit that this is an important topic, and that if Mr. Bell is preaching something that actually is toxic, then it may be correct for some who see that to point it out as such? That if Mr. Bell is right, then we are causing massive unnecessary pain by teaching a false doctrine?

    Humility is necessary, but it must be a humility borne of the fact that there is truth in this whole situation and that that truth is important, and that it doesn’t necessarily show good character to believe the truth, or bad character to be ignorant of it, but we must seek the truth.

    After all, Jesus is not just the way and the life, but also the truth. To love Him is to love truth.

  • http://www.restoringpangea.com Nathan Smith

    Oh man – great image with Abraham. That works so well – and the fact that God is willing to relent is remarkable. I do sense a shift. The “scandal of particularity” has been a concern for a long time. In studying the Enlightenment, it was one of the foundational factors that began the British Enlightenment and that which Jon Edwards was writing to answer in his works. This issue will never go away and will always trouble us and the image of Abraham is a perfect posture that seems to fit.

    Thank you for reminding us of his posture in the midst of all of this. Abraham didn’t hear the fate of Sodom and accept it as “glory to God” – He plead for the lives of really bad people and used his own reasoning to do so, without letting shame stop him. And with his own understanding of how to stop God from enacting judgment, God responded in favor of Abraham’s reasoning – what’s stopping us from doing so? I hope it’s not God’s “glory.”

  • http://www.everythingnew.org Jeff Cook

    (24), (28), (30). Pds and T. To push this conversation further, when we speak of ideas it seems to me completely appropriate to identify, characterize, and judge ideas with pointed language. Nazism needs to be put down on the idea level with harsh rhetoric, idolatry needs to be put down boldly at the idea level. It is a good and healthy exercise to speak aggressively about ideas and use value judgments to advance competing thoughts. This is never appropriate for those who *hold* the idea. There needs to be a clear distinction. But of course we should debate with passion those ideas that are most critical to what it means to be human, and do it with clarity and respect (which Scot continues to do a brilliant job advocating. Cheers! Cheers! Cheers!)

    For those who of you who hold to indefinitive, conscious torment, this is what many of us *need* to hear from you:

    Why is this view of hell beautiful and worthy of the God of creation? Why is indefinitvie conscious torment the *best possible way* for God to construct reality? What is it that appeals to you about this way of understanding the text? The traditional view of hell is *not* the exclusive reading available to us — so why commit to it? There are equal (perhaps superior) readings among which are conditional immortality and universalism, and your exegetical pre-commitments are moving you to your view of hell. I would love to know why you choose that reading? Where is there life down those roads?

    As it presently stands, I am convinced and would affirm the claim that the traditional view of hell is “misguided” (for it seems to me uncharacteristic of everything else I know and experience of God) and (for many of us who know the fruit of that dogma in the secular academy) “toxic”. Please give me the reason to embrace it that is not about proof texts.

    (Postscript – None of us want power plays anymore. None of us want non-intelligent answers in which someone simply says, “I am so and so, and you are wrong and no longer part of our club.” Please….)

  • http://www.gettingfree.wordpress.com T

    pds,

    I imagine you also condemn “brickianity”, no? I think most Christians would.

    I read velvet elvis as well, and I don’t recall it as an attack on people, as much as Bell contrasting bad ideas he saw w/in Christianity with the good ideas he saw in the gospel. By way of contrast, I did walk away from McLaren’s “generous orthodoxy” thinking it was well-written if the goal was to push the buttons of conservatives.

    Again, though, I think it’s one thing to call a particular teaching “toxic.” It’s another to call a person, church or denom that, and Bell apparently does the former. I’m not an advocate of using such terms often or flippantly, even to describe bad, harmful ideas, but I know of no preacher who does not use such powerful words from time to time to identify harmful ideas. Shame is toxic. Violence is toxic. It is very, very easy for teachings about hell, therefore, which contain threats of both, to be toxic as well, if not done with great exegetical humility and skill as well as pastoral care, which is part of the thrust of Scot’s post, which I wholeheartedly agree with.

    On a personal note, I remember hearing for the first time how David chose for God to punish the nation for the census rather than anyone else do it because of God’s great mercy. I could not have been more surprised by that choice and, especially, the rationale. Rightly or wrongly, the fear of God had been so vividly taught to me, I think I would have answered the opposite way: at least men’s power is limited (rather than God’s), so let them do what they can in three months. Maybe my conservative Christian upbringing had nothing to do with the fact that I feared God more than I loved him; that I had much more confidence in his power to punish than his mercy. For my part, I tend to think that it is very possible to teach on hell in such a quantity or quality that we drive out perfect love with fear, that our teaching is toxic to our relationship with God. If Bell thinks that a particular teaching on hell (that I actually respect if not believe) is toxic, I understand how he thinks that, based on the scriptures and on experience.

  • John W Frye

    Pastor Apologist-Evangelist (#31),
    Did you really mean to write “So, in my opinion, I would rather err on too much judgement, than not enough.”?

    “too much judgement”– really?

  • http://www.sjaustin.com SJ Austin

    Excellent. Many thanks for this.

    (If I can choose my particular error of intoxication, it will be toward any kind of grace rather than wrath.)

  • Fish

    While the debate is as already as strident as if our personal salvation were at stake, in reality this is just an intra-Christian dustup.

    The person on the street doesn’t care; they’ve grown numb to the various theological disputes that Christians are always having. God’s certainly not going to change.

    Perhaps feeding one meal to one homeless person matters more to God than 5 million Christians creating 50 million conversations in a theological debate.

    But I guess that depends on your view of salvation :)

  • John Mc

    I cannot comprehend why the Creator of all that is, would create a hell to hold those who fail to believe or act as God wills. The smallness of hell just makes no sense in the enormity of the Creation enterprise. I cannot comprehend why he God who created a creation as enormous as our universe would bother to create a special place of punishment for recalicitrant members of so insignificant a species as humans. I cannot comprehend a God who would opt for a hell of etertnal punishment when annihilation would serve the same purpose and more economically.

    I cannot comprehend that a God who has revealed and defined himslef with the personal characteristics of love, loving kindness, mercy, healing, compassion and forgiveness would create a hell, the purpose of which is to accomplish nothing other than the antitheses of love, loving kindness, mercy, healing, compassion and forgiveness – in perpetuity.

    I cannot comprehend how an all powerful God who stood by and watched the brutal and senseless torture and murder of 10′s of million’s of people in the 1940′s would create a special place to eternally punish those who are guilty of coveting their neighbor’s cows or who find themselves deeply in love with another person of the same gender.

    I cannot accept the notion that God’s idea of justice is unfathomable to humans, and wholly unrelated to human notions of justice. “Be perfect as your father in heaven is perfect,” suggest to me that, to a degree at least, God’s notion of justice is accessible by humans and it involves compassion and forgiveness much more than retribution, and that even in the event of retribution, such will be meted out with regret and compassion and expeditiously.

    And finally, If God suffers wrath,it seems to me that it will be manifested in transformative if not creative ways and not in fits of blind fury. There is nothing transformative in any notion of hell which I have ever heard.

  • Taylor G

    Fish, I’ll take issue with your comment. Our view of God shapes every single other world view we might have. Our view of who God is determines whether or not we will feed that one meal to the one homeless person.

  • Linda

    Is it not more correct to say that God wins, instead of saying “love wins”, or “grace wins” or “wrath wins”?

    Speaking of parables, since you mentioned the Prodigal Son parable, there are some rules to keep in mind when interpreting any parable, here is a short article I found very helpful this area:

    http://www.austinsquare.com/parables.pdf

  • Kenneth McIntosh

    Thanks again, Scott!

  • http://andrewsporch.wordpress.com Andrew Arndt

    Big amen. Thanks Scot.

  • http://thedesignspectrum.wordpress.com/ pds

    T. #39,

    Problem is, Bell does not define “brickianity” clearly. Is it orthodoxy? Read 2 Timothy and we see that there is sound teaching and unsound teaching and the difference is important to Jesus and Paul. Does Bell articulate the difference?

  • http://thejourney2.blogspot.com/ Rick Ellis

    Thanks Scot! I appreciate your words here and through the many books you have written or been an editor, I have been blessed and challenged. Thanks for bringing your scholarly mind to the conversation. I pray for my conversation and less contemnation.

  • http://www.realhopeforhaiti.org Casey Zachary

    I have been exceedingly vexed by this entire episode. I want to thank you for calming my nerves and reminding me that there are some with sense in this blogosphere. Big Jesus Love.

  • http://www.thedarkglass.net Anthony

    Scot – It seems to me that as we strive for clarity regarding theological matters we feel the need to subordinate some things in Scripture to others so that we can create a rationally coherent picture. The thing is, we need to acknowledge that there are certain things that will remain in tension, certain ideas in Scripture that we are not going to be able to subordinate or coordinate one to the other without doing violence to the text, and so they will remain in tension. The hitch is, if we are humble we can see such tensions as an opportunity to enter into something that is real even if it is beyond rational comprehension, something that can transform our hearts as we enter into the pull of this tension, something that will evoke awe and wonder, and a proper holy fear that will hopefully lead us to praise.

    Thanks for writing this post, prompting us to reflect, and calling us to repentance regarding being glib about such weighty matters.

  • Daniel

    Good call to a biblical approach to the subject.

    However, I guess I am not reading the same blogs as others are since I have not run across many “triumphalist dances of anger” and “flippancy and gloating.” Maybe the vigor of a theological debate is getting mixed up with pastoral compassion. But have any of you ever attended an academic conference like ETS/SBL and not see vigor and passion in the “give and take” after a paper is read? Passion in an argument is not the same as “triumphalism.”

    By all means let’s try to be fair to those we disagree with. But let us also not try to trump the exchange with “I am more compassionate than you” at the expense of biblical teaching. The judgment of God is a terrible and humbling thing but we also learn from the responses of the saints in other parts of the Bible too. We might consider some of the psalms where we see a mixture of rejoicing in the satisfying of God’s justice with the worship of the same God. Someone said somewhere that all Scripture is profitable for reproof and correction.

    Can both co-exist?

  • http://LostCodex.com DRT

    pds#48, I have not listened to Velvet Elvis in awhile, but I think it is quite clear from the phrase brickianity that he is talking about forms of Christianity that are not flexibile and which fit neatly together to form an unchanging object. He is attacking the idea of brickianity in all forms that one may see it in a church. If it fits you then he is making the argument that one should consider a more flexible approach.

    He is not condemning particular people or organizations, he is critiquing an idea graphically.

  • Deets

    Thanks Scot, This is an excellent post and I hope that it leads many to civility and humility on the issue. (Or, at least, to wait to see what we are being civil about.)

    It reminds me of a point in the Fifth Discipline where Peter Senge talks about the difference between discussion and dialog. Discussion, having the same root as percussion or concussion, is about me beating my ideas into you through trying to be louder or stronger. Dialog is about using word to sharpen one another’s thinking on a particular topic. This issue needs dialog. Harsh discussion is toxic.

  • http://LostCodex.com DRT

    …to add on to my 53, Part of the point Rob makes about brickianity is the fervor that those folks use to defend their bricks. That is part of the point. I was kicked out of a church simply for suggesting something different from their current bricks. Brickianity rules and it is harmful.

  • gingoro

    John Mc @43

    It seems to me that their must be some kind of justice and judgment at the end of time. Places like Auschwitz where one sees rooms full of human hair or eyeglasses seem to demand at least some retribution.
    I do not think that God barbecues individuals (to put it very crudely) for ever and ever. Either conditional immortality or soul death seems to be in accordance with the evidence but still with judgment.
    It seems to me that this issue is likely even more contentious than old earth and common descent.
    Dave W

  • http://thedesignspectrum.wordpress.com/ pds

    DRT #55,

    Kind of like Paul’s fervor in exhorting Timothy to defend the “bricks” of sound teaching in 2 Timothy? What is the sound teaching that Bell would defend with Paul and Timothy? Does he articulate it?

  • Terry

    Scot, thanks for this, and your ongoing pleas for, and example of, the grace of God and the love of Christ in and among the church. My tradition would benefit from this grace and wisdom in much of our thinking (I am thinking #8 on the “10 Things” post.) like John, I too have Facebooked this–this word is what must get out among the body of Christ.

    T–from another, appreciate your thinking in the comments…

  • Rick Seelhoff

    The apostle Paul wrestles with this in his letter to the church in Rome, particularly in chapters 9-11. He gives us a peek into how he works the Text, and how he moves from one reading to another. He begins on a very low note:

    “I tell the truth in Christ, I do not lie, my conscience also bearing me witness in the Holy Spirit, that I have great heaviness and continual pain in my heart. For I myself was wishing to be accursed from Christ for my brothers, my kinsmen according to the flesh…”

    After working through his inner concordance for two and a half chapters, he ends up on a grace note, exultant, in chapter 11:

    “O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments, and His ways past finding out!”

    How did Paul get from “great heaviness and continual pain in my heart” to “O the depths!”?

    What was his conclusion, exactly? Might we get there, too, perhaps?

  • http://thedesignspectrum.wordpress.com/ pds

    DRT #53 and #55,

    Bricks are hard. Rock is hard and sand is “flexible.” Someone once taught that the wise man builds his house upon the rock.

    Is Bell replacing Rockianity with flexible Sandianity?

    I am all for flexibility built on the foundation of historic orthodoxy. Does Bell articulate how to find the balance?

  • http://www.connectafrica.us Michael Flowers

    Scott,

    Thanks for your helpful input. I am reminded of the tension Scripture presents around these matters:
    Romans 11:22 – “Note then the kindness and the severity of God: severity toward those who have fallen, but God’s kindness to you, provided you continue in his kindness. Otherwise you too will be cut off.”

    Romans 2:5-11 “5 But because of your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed.

    6 He will render to each one according to his works:
    7 to those who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life;
    8 but for those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, there will be wrath and fury.
    9 There will be tribulation and distress for every human being who does evil, the Jew first and also the Greek,
    10 but glory and honor and peace for everyone who does good, the Jew first and also the Greek.
    11 For God shows no partiality.”

    This passage again presents us with the tension of God’s kindness and severity. And, in the end, both play out.

  • http://thedesignspectrum.wordpress.com/ pds

    As I said above, I think Tim Keller does a better job of articulating these issues. This post has some quotes from TK and Newbigin and a link to TK’s sermon on the topic:

    http://thedesignspectrum.wordpress.com/2010/05/25/tim-keller-on-exclusivity-how-can-there-be-just-one-true-religion/

  • smcknight

    OK, pds, you’ve had your say. Please don’t hijack the conversation.

  • Linda

    I thought this quote would help people think about universalism properly:

    “Christ and the apostles were constantly warning people of God’s wrath and judgment on sin and urgently calling them to repentance. Hence if universalism is true, Christ and the apostles were either ignorant or grossly deceptive.”

    – Source: Charts of Christian Theology and Doctrineoffsite, H. Wayne House, Zondervan Publishing House, Grand Rapids, Michigan. 1992. Page 110.

  • http://www.gettingfree.wordpress.com T

    pds,

    I’m not a student of Bell, but my best understanding of his point about “brickianity” was very similar to one of Jesus’ points about the Pharisees: being “right” about everything isn’t the main point (or even possible). Further, his point was about the fragility/insecurity/defensiveness that comes with putting more stock in our systematic “buliding” than in a Person. In “brickianity” of any stripe, if someone disagrees with one “brick” of our systematics, the whole wall of our faith seems threatened. I thought that Mohler’s suggestion that theism was at stake in the age of earth debates was a perfect illustration of this. I’ve had the same conversations with folks about imputed righteousness or election, or the SoM, or even whether God “feels” pain, etc. So, the point isn’t whether this or that conclusion about the earth’s age, for instance, is correct, but whether at the core we are trusting a Person or a very long set of if/then statements, which is only as strong as its weakest link. Bell is right to remind us that trust in a Person (who is love) doesn’t get so easily threatened or insecure.

    But on the topic at hand, I don’t have any problem teaching that at the end of the day, only one kingdom will remain, and it’s Christ’s. Further, life in him is the only life that keeps living. It only makes sense, therefore, to tell people that distance from or working against Christ is dangerous in the most serious sense of the word. The scriptural warnings are for our benefit and safety. I know what God has threatened, and I don’t know if his mercy will shorten the punishment that has been promised, like the promised punishment on Israel for the census was shorter than 3 days when the Lord saw the devastation of his sword (I Chron 21). But David only chose “the sword of the Lord” in the first place because he had supreme confidence in God’s core of mercy, which turned out, after all, to be well placed, since God relented before the full, explicitly promised punishment was given. Maybe God will do something similar at the end; I hope that he does. Maybe I should have confidence that he will, based on David’s hope and God’s actions with Israel.

  • anita

    I find it interesting that most of the arguments against eternal judgement begin with…”I can’t see how…” or I don’t believe that…”
    I am not quite as concerned with what people are believing about hell as the way they are arriving at their conclusions about God and hell. We do not define God, He has defined Himself (as much as He wanted to share with us, through His Word and His Spirit)He doesn’t have to make sense to us and He does not have to suspend one attribute (love) to exercise another (wrath) (loosely taken from Tozer)
    Please meditate on what we do know about Him!

  • http://LostCodex.com DRT

    pds#69, I think he is advocating more for having each generation re-interpret the Christian faith. That is the whole point of Velvet Elvis, if the painter of his Velvet Elvis decided that was the pinacle of painting then no one should paint again.

    So, we don’t have static bricks. We need to reinterpret the text for ourselves. The bible certainly is not 100% black and white and must be interpreted and not made into bricks.

  • Randall

    Linda, I understand the intent of your citation in #64 and I am not going to defend a universalist understanding of scripture here but I have read lots of universalists authors and none have suggested that sin has no consequences or that it isn’t debilitating or something to ashew. The premise of statement in 1st sentence is true, the conclusion doesn’t follow logically because of unstated assumptions. The biggest unstated assumption is that apart from seperation from God, sin has no costs or detriments. It does, it dehumanizes.

  • http://www.gettingfree.wordpress.com T

    Linda,

    Again, I’m at the place where I will personally heed warnings of hell and pass them on to others. That said, the quote you gave isn’t really right in light of several OT stories of promised judgments. Whether you look at the promised punishment for David’s census, or Jonah’s promise to Ninevah (what I can think of off the top of my head), God has made unconditional promises of judgment only to later relent based on his mercy (and his sovereign right to relent). He retains the right to relent, even at the final judgment, especially on the basis of Christ’s sacrifice. He has bought the right. It is at least possible that he will exercise it. IF he does relent at the end, it will not make Jesus or the apostles ignorant or deceptive, any more than God was ignorant or deceptive with Ninevah or David via his prophets. It will simply mean that God is sovereign and merciful.

  • BradK

    Linda @45,

    “Is it not more correct to say that God wins, instead of saying “love wins”, or “grace wins” or “wrath wins”?”

    Taking a “syllogistic” approach… ;-)

    God wins.
    God is love. (1 John 4:8)
    Love wins.

  • http://www.gettingfree.wordpress.com T

    FWIW,

    I am a big, big believer in God’s sovereignty, but I tend to think of it in terms of what God has the right and power to do, especially based on Christ’s obedience. I wonder why I don’t hear more reformed folks (who tend to hold a high view of God’s sovereignty) at least mention this sovereign right of God to relent, even from explicitly promised judgment, especially in light of the biblical examples. I guess it goes back to how far they think the atonement is capable of reaching (limited atonement), which strikes me as one of the weaker links in the TULIP chain. But if the atonement is big enough for all, then God, in his sovereignty, could relent.

    God is King and he is the definition of good; I trust his call.

  • http://theologica.ning.com/profile/ShermanNobles Sherman Nobles

    BradK @ 70,
    Have you ever taken the 1 Cor. 13 love passage and replace the word love with God. It’s powerful!

    God is patient.
    God is kind.
    God does not envy.
    Got does not boast.
    God is not proud.
    God does not dishonor others.
    God is not self-seeking.
    God is not easily angered.
    God keeps no record of wrongs.
    God does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.
    God always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres!
    God never fails!

  • http://thedesignspectrum.wordpress.com/ pds

    Scot #63,

    Really? I thought I was squarely on topic and not hijacking anything.

  • Linda

    T – if I do recall rightly God about a hundred years latter did wipe out Ninevah after sparing them when Jonah preached to them.

    So what does this say about making assumptions like you did on important doctrine like final judgment when you referenced Ninevah ?

  • chad m

    Scot,
    i wondered last week as i read blogs and comments if the entire controversy wasn’t about hell and judgment but atonement. wrath satisfied vs. love magnified. we need some P.P. Waldenstrom up in here!

    thanks for your posts Scot!

  • Joel

    Ever since reading Re:Mission by Andrew Perriman, whenever I read the word “Hell”, I no longer think of Dante’s Inferno. Rather, I think of judgement on Israel via Rome’s destruction of Jerusalem and the throwing of bodies into the smoldering and worm-ridden dump of Gehenna and the subsequent judgement on Rome. Accompanied by the glory of God’s faithful.

    To borrow a snippet from above:

    9 There will be tribulation and distress for every human being who does evil, the Jew first and also the Greek,
    10 but glory and honor and peace for everyone who does good, the Jew first and also the Greek.

    I’m not sure why this isn’t part of the discussion. Have we layered on meaning to Jesus’ words/removed the context? An honest question.

  • scotmcknight

    Joel, the problem with a radical historicizing is that it means everyone — and I mean everyone — was wrong in the history of the church. Not just some, but everyone.

  • Linda

    BradK – I think you do not understand the love of God. I suggest you read the chapter on love of God from the book, “The Knowledge of the Holy”, by A. W. Tozer, here is a short excerpt:

    The words “God is love” mean that the love is an essential attribute of God. Love is something true of God, but is not God. It expresses the way God is in His unitary being, as do the words holiness, justice, faithfulness and truth. Because God is immutable He always acts like Himself, and because He is a unity He never suspends one of His attributes in order to exercise another.

  • http://www.dankimball.com Dan

    I so loved your heart and most of all the way you are suggesting we handle this topic. As you know I am someone who teaches a annual sermon in our church specifically about hell and judgment in our church and we don’t side-skirt the issue. But how we teach about it makes all the difference and attitudes and posture. And not avoiding the tough questions about it and pre-suppositions we may have had about hell that might not even be biblical in origins but derived from culture and artists and then propogated over time to become seen as reality. When we teach in our church about this, we share there are views such as annihilationism. I am a want-to-be-annihilationist, although I have not been able to be persuaded to that biblically, although I know there are godly folks like John Stott that do have that belief.

    When we teach about this in our church, we always end up using this quote by Charles Spurgeon too, which I think aligns with what some are saying in the comments here:

    “If sinners be dammed, at least let them leap to hell over our bodies. If they will perish, let them perish with our arms about their knees. Let no one go there unwarned and unprayed for.”

    Thank you for those posting comments on this as I am enriched not only by Scot’s post but by the comments which I love reading on the blog.

  • http://www.gettingfree.wordpress.com T

    Linda,

    Maybe it’s just the difficulties of writing and conveying tone, but you sound very hostile toward me in your second sentence. If I’m wrong, I’m glad, though.

    The message Jonah proclaimed was: “Forty more days and Nineveh will be overthrown.” God relented (which Jonah suspected and resented.) But more than that, the story doesn’t end with God being barely appeased and with future warnings about 100 or even 10 years later. Looking at the story as a whole, it takes, in my view, a much bigger leap or unjustified assumption to connect Jonah’s 60-day warning with whatever happened years later, let alone generations later, when Jonah makes no such threat or promise.

    My point is simply that we have cause to believe that it is within God’s sovereignty to relent even after explicit promise of judgment based on the Jonah and David stories. Even aside from the Jonah story, the census story makes the same point and is precedent worthy of consideration all on its own. Another point these stories have in common though: not only was the promised judgment explicit and unconditional, both men of God suspected (or hoped) that God would be merciful and relent, just because it’s his nature to do so, and both men were right. Again, I don’t plan on, therefore, failing to heed or pass on God’s warnings of future judgment–I take them as seriously as a heart-attack or more so. But your quote would make Jonah or the prophet to David into either deceivers or ignorant of God, and they were neither. God is simply sovereign and, thankfully, also merciful.

  • JohnMc

    Gingoro @#56

    My reference to the brutality of the 1940′s was not a call for justice against the human perpetrators. Instead, I was challenging those who claim that God is in the business of visiting eternal retribution on the sinful, to square God’s own complicity with what happened then to the failure of single selfish soul (a goat if you like) who fails to reach out to aid the least of those around him? If the failure of one person to reach out and help another when it is within his or her power to do so renders him or her a ‘goat’ and subject to eternal punishment, then what of the all-powerful God who allowed the brutal deaths of millions and did nothing to prevent it?

    The disparity between the two cannot be ignored in a retributive system of rewards and punishments. If there is a complimentarity, in this regard then either God will be sharing a cell with us in hell, or we will escape punishment altogether. It’s craziness and leads to the conclusion that God is a monster.

    The issue of procedural justice is obviously complicated and clearly no one has the answers. But to point to eternal damnation as a threat against all but the few who win the heavenly grace lottery seems to me to be pointing in the wrong direction.

    We are called to me merciful as our Father in heaven is merciful and to forgive without limitation, including our enemies and those who would harm us. As an example of the extent of forgiveness to which we are called, God forgave those who would seek to kill him while he was on the cross dying.

    As God’s ambassadors it would seem to me that the message we teach should focus on forgiveness – at the risk of a messy understanding of grace. His followers were sent into the world to heal the wounded and to spread the good news of eternal life with God. They were not sent to threaten judgment and eternal flames for the sinful, be they many or few.

  • http://www.canonwired.com Daniel F

    Thought you might be interested in Pastor Doug Wilson’s response to Rob Bell. It’s not the typical evangelical response since Doug Wilson is Post-Mil in eschatology, and this effects his view of heaven and hell (and their fullness).

    http://www.canonwired.com/featured/wilson-vs-bell/

  • Joshua Wooden

    Professor, thanks for this.

  • David Hancock

    Scot,

    I can’t thank you enough for being a voice of biblical sanity crying into the wilderness of cyberspace armchair bloggers.

  • http://practicingresurrection.wordpress.com/ Bill

    Very good post.

    Amid all the uproar, what I have found most disheartening is the rush of Christians, anxious to proclaim the existence of Hell and eternal punishment. As Christ-followers we forgive even our enemies and we love our neighbors as ourselves. Are we supposed to believe that the God we worship is less forgiving and loving that we are commanded to be?

    Sometimes I get the sense that many believers will be disappointed if there isn’t a hell where billions of our brothers and sisters are being eternally tortured. Whether there is a hell or not, shouldn’t we hope and ferverently pray that there isn’t? Shouldn’t we hope and expect that if Hell exists (in the Dante sense at least) that it will be empty?

    Given more than one possible interpretation of the scriptures, shouldn’t we favor the one that best represents the character of a loving, merciful God?

    Just wondering….

    Love wins.

  • Taylor G

    Daniel F, Has Doug Wilson read his book? I will be very surprised if he has.

  • Joel

    Scot,

    Thanks for your response. I can’t read Greek or Hebrew and I’m not a New Testament scholar. What used to be straightforward now seems indecipherable. If Andrew is too radical in historicizing Jesus’ references to judgement, what context would be appropriate? Was Jesus warning of judgement in his present time or only at a future post-mortem time?

    Your writings have been helpful. Thanks again.

  • scotmcknight

    For his interpretation to work, Revelation has to be pre-70AD and all senses of a final universal judgment have to be read as a historical judgment on Jerusalem. Andrew knows I’m inclined to find lots of 70AD in the Gospels but that’s not easy for some other stuff in the NT — at least in my view. If one of those passages is about the final universal judgment, say 1 Cor 2 or 2 Cor 5 or Revelation, then the radical historicization theory is not as strong for any of the texts. My own view is that, yes, some of them are about 70AD but they reflect (1) a belief that we will all be judged at the end of life/history and (2) historical judgment is a kind of anticipation of final judgment.

  • Michael McKeever

    “Isn’t it better to get lost in the dance of God’s good and triumphant grace and of making things right? If we are to be intoxicated, let it be from imbibing the hope and grace of God’s love which will both win and be right in the End.”

    Amen! Well said.

    Rev 5:13 Then I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, and all that is in them, singing,

    “To the one seated on the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever!”

    Sounds like winning.

  • http://www.goodwordediting.com Marcus Goodyear

    Thanks for these two posts, Scott. You continue to amaze me.

  • http://www.goodwordediting.com Marcus Goodyear

    That should have been “Scot.” I’m notorious for dumb typos like that.

    Although somewhere out there is a Scott with two t’s who deserves thanks and amazement, too.

  • Dana Ames

    T @ 71,

    I think one reason that Reformed folk can’t answer your question is that Reformed theology arose during the Enlightenment in order to address Medieval questions, and both gravitated toward categorization. The Reformed focus on the attributes of God is connected to this categorization, esp when trying to understand the “essence” of God (which became the Scholastic question). Except there’s a problem: appealing to the attributes of God (sovereignty, justice, etc.) tends to locate them “outside and above” God, with the consequence that they even “drive” God and *make* God (the Father alone? or the Tri-Unity? Who are we talking about here?) do what God does. So in a sense, God becomes subordinate to his attributes – and the attributes become a very cold god.

    But scripture says that God *is* love. It’s not an attribute, nor can it be any *thing* that “forces God’s hand”. It bespeaks a relationship of freedom and self-giving union of Persons (centers of active will, i.e. hypostases). This tends to throw a monkey wrench into the tight gears of Calvinist/Reformed theology. I think such tight machine doesn’t allow for the kind of thought that can comprehend the sovereignty of (a non-legalistic relational) God allowing for God to relent.

    Dana

  • Robin

    In light of Dana trying to explain reformed theology, I’ll think I’ll take a stab at why a sovereign God might not be “free to relent”.

    I use that phrase “free to relent” in the sense that God really did intend to destroy Nineveh, he really was 100% set on it and didn’t foresee that Nineveh would repent, so when they did it was a shock to him, at least probabalistically, and he really did change his mind in the way that we change our minds. If that is your interpretation of Jonah, and if you are asking “why can’t that be the story with hell as well? There is nothing in God’s character or attributes that keep him from really changing his mind and forgiving evildoers who never believed in his son or did the other things he told us would be required to inherit eternal life”

    If that is your view of God, then I do not see why he couldn’t also say “you know what, I said that Jesus’ sacrifice would be sufficient, that I would forgive the sins of men if they trusted in him, that I would adopt them and give them eternal life, but you know what, they’ve really sucked for the past 2 millenia. Despite my son’s sacrifice they have still had slavery and genocide, and now they’re even polluting the environment…you know what, I’m relenting in my salvation. I know I made all kinds of promises to them and to Abraham, and they sounded really good when I made them, but I changed my mind.”

    If God can really change his mind (in the way humans do) and not satisfy justice, then I see no reason he couldn’t change his mind with regards to his good promises either.

    That is one reason calvinists treasure the doctrine of God’s immutability.

    All that said, I would be delighted to find that my interpretation of the judgement passages is incorrect and hell is non-existenet or empty, heck I’d even be happy with 100% annihilation if it kept anyone, including Hitler from experiencing ECT, but my reading of scripture doesn’t presently allow it.

  • Robin

    On “relenting”: I am a calvinist, but I don’t speak for all calvinists. However, I cannot think of any that really believe that God fully, 100% intended to destroy Nineveh or kill Moses for failing to be circumcised. We believe that he is completely sovereign and planned from eternity past to both threaten to destroy Nineveh, to have them repent, and to forgive them once they repented. I think of it like I do prophetic passages. God communicated things to the writers/prophets in the form they could handle. Just like most people on this site don’t believe in a YEC and believe that the message of Genesis contains other truths communicated in a form that was convenient to early believers, I believe he was fully sovereign and Nineveh was fore-ordained just as it occurred, but that he communicated it the way he did in order to accomplish other goals through Jonah and even to foreshadow the death and resurrection of his son.

    I know that is too narrow for some of you, you want a God who changes and grows and improves in his moral character.

  • http://communityofjesus.wordpress.com/ Ted M. Gossard

    Thanks so much, Scot for the good words here! We need them, or at least I do! I need to meditate on them and on the meaning of this from scripture.

  • http://www.gettingfree.wordpress.com T

    Robin,

    you put a host of conclusions on me (or some un-named “you”) that I have not made. Whether God knew he was going to forgive Ninevah all along, or, alternatively, if God to some extent changed plans in response to people’s actions, the point is that he clearly told Jonah to say that the city would be overthrown in forty days. Period. Just as importantly, that’s not what happened; He didn’t carry out the punishment that he told Jonah to predict. He told his prophet to predict a very specific punishment, but did not go through with what was predicted. Similarly, the prophet to David told David to choose 3 years of famine, 3 months of defeat by human enemies, or 3 days of the sword of the Lord. But God didn’t give the full 3 days of the sword of the Lord after it was chosen (and I Chron. implies that it was “seeing” the devastation that caused God to relent). Now, again, I don’t care for purposes of this conversation if we say that God knew what he was going to do all along or if he changed his mind in some sense. My point is that we have precedent for God threatening a particular punishment in explicit terms and then “relent[ing] and . . . not bring[ing] on them the destruction he had threatened.”

    Now, you seem to imply that this means that God could then go back on any of his promises. Linda has argued that such means that God or the prophets involved were either ignorant or deceitful. I disagree. I think it is better and more in line with our scriptures to say that forgoing promised punishment is the classic prerogative of a sovereign or of a wronged innocent party and God is both. Promising/threatening a punishment to a guilty party as a sovereign or as the wronged party is not the same as promising a benefit to someone, as in the various covenants. If God relents on a promised punishment, he is the only injured party if there is one. If he promises a benefit and backs out, then he will have injured others. Better, let’s look at the Jonah story on this point. Who was injured by God (or had the “right” to complain) when God didn’t punish Ninevah? Jonah seemed to think he was, but God disagreed and so do I. In the same way, if God forgave all at the end, would anyone have the right to complain? I certainly believe that God asks us to believe that not only were our sins laid upon Christ, but so were our neighbors’ sins. If a man that has sinned against me is forgiven, even after his death, I have no right to complain, nor any intent to do so. God has bought the right to forgive.

  • Robin

    T,

    If that is your view of “relenting” then I have no problem with it, nor would most calvinists. But let us apply it properly to hell.

    God promised punishment, then declined to implement it. It was his prerogative (and I would argue his fore-ordained plan). However, he really threatened the punishment. And he really made the threat to David, and he really made the threat regarding Moses. You are asking, why couldn’t it be the same with hell. Why couldn’t God threaten punishment, and then decline to bring it to pass? He could. I hope he does. But I would ask, what should the church do about it?

    I mean, he THREATENED the desctruction of Nineveh, and he forced Jonah to go preach to them. He didn’t also send along 20 other prophets saying “don’t worry about what Jonah is preaching, my God is a God of love and he would never destroy a city.” We could extend it to the other examples if we liked. My point is, even if God has planned from eternity past to issue great warnings about hell, have Jesus make it look like an eternal hell is the reality, warn against hell, tell people to be obedient and believe lest they go to hell, etc., and then in the end to save every last soul…he went to great lengths to make us scared of hell, and I don’t think Christians or churches should be running around saying “don’t worry God is going to relent” or “don’t worry, God’s love is incongruous with the apparent meaning of his words.”

    If exegetical reasons persuade you that hell is allegorical or non-eternal, fine. I hope, along with you, that God has chosen something other than what his word appears to teach, and it is perfectly possible for a sovereign God to have devised such a scheme. But until I hear otherwise, I’ll trust my fairly simple reading of scripture and pray that God has really planned something better.

  • http://www.gettingfree.wordpress.com T

    Again, I am not going to blow off the warnings of hell, for myself or others. But I don’t see how we can say it is impossible for God to relent on a promised punishment when he has done exactly that before. Praise God!

  • http://www.gettingfree.wordpress.com T

    Robin,

    we simul-posted. Yes, I agree on the “what to do about it.” I don’t think it is wise or helpful for anyone to bet on God being too merciful to punish anyone. Just as we have examples of God relenting, we also have examples of him following through on promised punishments.

    But that’s not what I hear folks saying in response to Bell’s vague themes around “Love Wins”, tho I admit not really taking in all the heat that’s out there on this. As Scot mentioned in his post, there seem to be many who believe and even rally around the idea that God must punish many people eternally, and there is no chance for any other outcome. That strikes me as biblically unjustified in the way I mentioned and possibly unmerciful (in the way Scot has argued). I don’t hear many saying, “Well, maybe Bell is right, and we sincerely hope so, but we must take hell as serious possibility for many and conduct ourselves and our message accordingly.”

  • Robin

    T,

    I suspect many have exactly the hope you mentioned. They just think that being faithful means faithfully issuing the warnings that God has given – as if there is no alternative. 75% of people who smoke never get lung cancer, but it isn’t merciful to have a warning label that tells you there is a 75% chance of avoiding cancer despite willfully inhaling a carcinogen. It is merciful to say that inhaling carcinogens leads to cancer (even though we hope that in each individual situation it won’t).

    I appreciate your postings. There are a handful of you left who appear to be sincerely interested in dialogue and I appreciate it.

  • Dana Ames

    Robin,
    Your zeal for the Lord is admirable. May we all be faithful.

    Dana

  • scotmcknight

    Robin, the position you have articulated in your comments here is more or less what I’ve been advocating for myself, and the one found in my book One.Life. I don’t like to see anyone suggesting they know what Rob Bell is teaching unless they’ve seen the book, and everything I hear is that it is not a pro-universalism book but more of an open view on this issue, but while I deeply hope and pray for the some kind of relent or some kind of end to the punishment, my own to commitment to a biblical study-based approach leads me to see little prospect in so many texts.

  • http://LostCodex.com DRT

    Dana#92 said, I think one reason that Reformed folk can’t answer your question is that Reformed theology arose during the Enlightenment in order to address Medieval questions, and both gravitated toward categorization.

    Dana, I thought you all did not participate in the enlightenment….

  • S.Schulz

    I am giving the link to an excellent article entitled “If He’ll Is Real” by Mercy Aiken. http//www.tentmaker/articles/ifhellisreal.htm

    Ah, the beautiful heresy of universalism…. The definition of heresy “action of taking, choice…Dissent or deviation from a dominant theory”. Yes, by the grace of God given I have taken another choice … I have taken the narrow road of believing that my Lord and Saviour is who says He is….THE SAVIOUR OF ALL THE WORLD. Oh how grateful that my precious Lord Jesus has opened the eyes of my understanding that ALL SHALL BE SAVED. The first Adam did not triumph, the second Adam did! “For as in Adam all die, so to in Christ ALL shall be made alive”.
    (1cor.15:22).

    May the Spirit of Truth bless all those that desire truth in their inmost being!

  • S.Schulz

    Here is the link again… Sorry for all the typos… I am typing from my iPhone…the excellent article is entitled “If Hell is real”.
    http://tentmaker.org/articles/ifhellisreal.htm

  • Percival
  • Jeremy

    Scot, I often find myself disagreeing with some aspects of your theology, but I still regularly read your blog. This was a very sober post and a great reminder to me.

  • Nancy

    I am wondering – must God horrifically torture forever in order for there to be judgment? Can eternal not refer to God’s time in which in this life or the next we are purged – refined like silver – and held accountable yet forgiven when face to face with the awesome love of God we see our sin and repent and fall on our knees to the God who is love and life and mercy and grace? What is gained – how is God more powerful or more worthy of worship because God can condemn? Is love not more powerful? Is God not more awesomely God when we realize God is a God of steadfast love determined to renew creation so that all might know and every tongue proclaim that Jesus Christ is Lord!?

  • Dana Ames

    DRT,
    sorry, I don’t know what you mean.

    Dana

  • Jeremy

    Percival,
    Its a shame that many of the people that think Bell is a heretic for this are probably already absolutely convinced that Boyd is. That’s a great response without giving too much away.

    (Not the Jeremy of 107)

  • Fred Harrell

    A much needed blogpost from Chuck DeGroat on this “dust-up’…

    http://www.drchuckdegroat.com/

  • http://inchristus.wordpress.com Paul D. Adams

    Thanks, Scot. May I add:
    None of the biblical passages on judgment are without compassion and genuine pity for the loss: Jer. 9:1 (Jeremiah’s bitter weeping over the destruction of his people); Rom. 9:1-4 (Paul’s anguish over Israel); Mt. 23:37-38 (Jesus’ weeping over Jerusalem). “Though Scripture speaks plainly and boldly of Hell’s fury, it never does so without tears” (Carson, How Long, O’ Lord, p. 104). Dare we feel any less?

  • anita

    re: Nineveh- they repented but soon turned back to their ways and were utterly destroyed… Book of Nahum

  • http://www.gettingfree.wordpress.com T

    anita,

    Saying that God eventually destroyed the city only proves that God is free to deviate from his announcements of punishment as he sees fit, as in the story in I Chron. 21.

    My only point is that scripture itself gives us reason/hope to think that God MIGHT (in his sovereign/innocent party prerogative) still relent in some fashion or degree. Further, I don’t see how this fact should cause his people–people saved by sheer mercy–to get in any way upset. If some enter the kingdom at the very last hour, or even at the judgment itself, the workers who came in earlier in the day and worked longer have no reason to complain about what the Lord gives to someone else.

    Robin,

    Thanks for the conversation as well; the appreciation is mutual. I hope you are right that even most calvinists would have no problem with that possibility of God relenting. I also hope that Bell is not advocating the kind of “don’t worry about hell” message that you mentioned–that seems unfaithful to Christ’s own example and teaching, as well as genuinely unhelpful to the hearers. I hope he is trying to get readers to think seriously and biblically about not only what is likely, but the Who that is behind it all, and why He does what He does.

  • S.Schulz

    Hi T,

    I liked what you have written, especially about how God does indeed relent. (Lam. 3:31). I hope you will continue to seek His truth regarding His Kingdom, for I tell you the truth that His Kingdom has come to you today. His kingdom truth that all shall be saved but each man in his own order (1 Cor.15:22,23).

    The word *universalist* is a loaded word. Do I believe in the judgement
    of God, the answer is yes.

    Yes, I believe His judgements are always with the purpose to
    teach us righteousness , to purge us, refine us, and to bring us through
    to victory….Praise Him! (Isaiah 26:9; Matt. 12:20; Mal. 3:2,3).
    What I always find so interesting in all these conversations is that the
    majority of people do not want to study on their own to find out what the scriptures have to say about TWO very important words….Hell and Eternity.

    The KJV has unfortunately translated these words wrong and thus the reason there is so much error concerning the judgement of God for eternity.
    The word *eternity/eternal* is from the Greek word Aion and the
    definition means “an age, unto the age” . This denotes a length of time
    that has a definite end. For example, the “dark age” was for a length of time but it came to a close. So it will be when this age comes to a close and His Kingdom age manifests in the earth. The term ” eternal life” is more correctly translated “age abiding life, or age-during”.

    Let us look at Matthew 25:46 from the KJV, Young’s, & Rotherham versions.

    “And these shall go away unto everlasting punishment : but the righteous
    into life eternal.” (KJV).

    “And these shall go way to punishment age-during, but the righteous to life age-during.” (Young’s).

    “And, these, shall go away, into, age-abiding, correction, but, the righteous, into, age-abiding, life. (Rotherham).

    The reason that this pervasive error has continued is because many other translations (NIV, RSV, NASB,) have used the KJV as the source of their own translations. The good news is that there are others that have not, and have interpreted the Hebrew & Greek correctly
    (Concordant Literal, Rotherham, Young’s).

    My prayer is that all that read these lines will bow there head and sincerely ask for the Spirit of Truth to lead them into all truth and that the eyes of your understanding will be opened to the glorious truth that Jesus Christ is the Savoiur of ALL the world.

    An excellent article that answers alot of very tough questions with honest answers is the one given above & here it is again …
    http://tentmaker.org/articles/ifhellisreal.htm

    His love & peace to you.

  • Jeremy Turner

    This was refreshing to read. Thank you Scot!

  • Robin

    S. Schulz,

    Are you contending then that both the judgment induced punishment and heaven itself will be time-limited? I believe this was a point made by J.I. Packer, that you could only have temporary punishment biblically if you also believed in temporary paradise (Assuming God doesn’t relent and do things he hasn’t told us about).

  • S.Schulz

    Hi Robin,

    Those are good questions. Jesus tells us that “the Kingdom of God is
    WITHIN YOU”.(Luke 17:21).

    When a person is born of the Spirit they become ONE with the Lord…for
    He that is joined to the Lord is ONE SPIRIT (1 Cor.6:17). We are also
    one BODY (Eph. 4:4).

    Now, I share all that to say this, all throughout the ages Christ Jesus has
    continued to bring forth his salvation within the lives of those that the
    Father gives to Him… He will continue this glorious work of salvation
    until He saves to the uttermost. What does the uttermost look like to
    you? Whew, for me I can only begin to imagine the far reaching results of what that truly means…. all praise to the precious and Holy Lamb of
    God!

    1 Corinthians 15:28 gives us a glimpse as to what age-abiding life means by telling us ” And when ALL things shall be subdued unto Him, then shall the Son also Himself be subject unto Him that put all things under him, that God may be ALL IN ALL .”

    What an amazing Saviour….with head bowed low I give Him all the praise and glory!

    His love & peace to you.

  • http://waynepark.com Wayne Park

    “let us keep the immensity and gravity of it all in mind and refrain from flippancy, gloating, triumphalism — and let it reduce us to sobriety and humility and prayer.”

    I agree on this but shouldn’t “immensity and gravity of it all” also lead to one other thing?

    Action?

    Which is my primary concern with (hard-line) universalism; in some ways it takes away the need to act because it pronounces with finality what should be left a mystery – precisely that we don’t know for sure the fate of lost souls; that’s why we are mobilized into action – into mission. “14How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? How will they believe in Him whom they have not heard? And how will they hear without a preacher? ” Romans 10:14

    There is no smugness in this, rather a galvanizing effect. If universalism is too easily appropriated into our faith, then, won’t we end up with similar problems as hyper-Calvinism proposed? (double-predestination, God will save the heathen himself kind of talk?)

    i sincerely hope the universalism discussion isn’t politicized to the extent that it’s the folks who are pro-love vs. the folks who are pro-hell. Some of us who struggle with universalism do so because of its implications on mission – the act of love itself.

  • Dana Ames

    Wayne, your question is a good one.

    I think the concern about mission has a lot to do with how we understand what “the gospel” – the good news – *is*. If the good news is “Jesus was punished on the cross in your place so that if you accept and affirm that that is what he did, God sees you as righteous and you will go to heaven and not to hell after you die and are judged,” then yes, the mission of the church as it is understood in Evangelicalism is called into question.

    Asking this question: “What is the good news – and particularly the good news that Jesus announced?” and seeking the answer to it was the beginning of a journey that led me places I never thought I’d go…

    Dana

  • Howard

    Rob Bell is one of the only pastors that I listen to. Haven’t been to church in a long time because it is completely filled with people trying to parse out “exactly the right way” to believe. Doing church correctly is like a jigsaw puzzle and if you pick up the wrong piece, you are either 1) in need of “getting saved,” 2) a heretic in need of burning/running off, or 3) in need of prayer (and not to get too close to). I don’t really care what Rob Bell believes or doesn’t–he just leaves me with the impression that he is genuinely concerned with me and my spiritual, physical, and emotional well-being. Some of the junior theologians out there in church-land will likely earn their merit badges over a) defending or b) attacking Pastor Bell. Most of us don’t really care.

  • S.Schulz

    Hi Dana,

    Loved what you shared. Thank you.
    His peace & love to you.

  • http://godtalkblog.com Grady Brown

    Everybody in the conversation should read this post before the conversation continues.

  • Jeremy

    Grady – What post? the main one?

  • http://LostCodex.com DRT

    There is a name for all these concepts of purifying punishment, non-infinite hell and such, it is purgatory. I am again becoming a believer in purgatory.

  • Cody

    Well now we actually have a review from someone who has read ALL of the book…

    http://www.challies.com/book-reviews/love-wins-a-review-of-rob-bells-new-book

  • Cody

    Howard,

    The funny thing is you are doing exactly to others what you claim to be so upset about. You are judging other Christians for thinking it is important to be clear on what the Bible and Jesus teaches. So should they follow your belief that these matters are not of importance? What makes your way of not being clear on doctrine right and their’s wrong? And on what merit do you judge them?

  • http://thedesignspectrum.wordpress.com/ pds

    I asked a question in #48 above, and don’t see that anyone answered it. I am genuinely interested in knowing how Rob Bell articulates the “sound teaching” that we should defend.

    Here it is again:

    “Problem is, Bell does not define “brickianity” clearly. Is it orthodoxy? Read 2 Timothy and we see that there is sound teaching and unsound teaching and the difference is important to Jesus and Paul. Does Bell articulate the difference?”

  • http://theologica.ning.com/profile/ShermanNobles Sherman Nobles

    Hi Wayne @ 119,

    Personally speaking, Universal Reconciliation (UR) has energized and empowered evangelism and missions in my life. I have a much greater faith in the power of the Gospel, the good news of God’s love for us and the DBR of Christ for I believe that God Wins, that Love Wins. And a foundational belief of UR is the brotherhood of all humanity – that every person is my family, my brother or sister, whether they realize it or not. This has given me a tremendous love for people whom I do not know. Another belief of UR is the recognition of the present evil age, the present kingdom of darkness. My brothers and my sisters are slaves in this present kingdom of darkness, and the faith that God will ultimately deliver them, to reconcile them, fuels my passion to participate in that ministry of reconciliation, to give my life in service to those who are slaves to the kingdom of darkness. Love + Faith is a much more powerful motivation than Love + Fear. Coming to be a convinced universalist has given me much more faith in the power of love, the power of grace, and the power of the Gospel.

    Also, sharing my faith in Christ has become much easier because the Good News of UR is much more “good” than the traditional message “God loves you but if you don’t (whatever) you’re going to burn in Hell forever.”

    Oh, and concerning missions, I wonder how many people are hindered from putting their faith in Christ because to do so according to the traditional gospel, one must also accept that their deceased loved ones are being tortured forever.

    In the traditional doctrine of Hell, God doesn’t win and most of humanity remains lost, slaves to sin forever. The kingdom of God, though maybe larger in size, is smaller in human population than the kingdom of darkness that is never really conquered, but is shoved off to some corner because love could not free them from their slavery to unrighteousness. Love fails!

  • S.Schulz

    Hi Pds,

    The only teacher a person needs is the Holy Spirit. It is so simple. It really is the simplicity of Christ.

    I had never heard of Rob Bell until a few days ago. I know that many within the church system feel that they need to be fed by pastors and by those that write & sell books and I don’t judge them b/c the Lord uses it all for where each of us are in our own particular walk with Him. I do believe that there comes a day when we are to put away childish things and go on to perfection. For me, those childish things are all the traditions of men that have been born out of the carnal mind instead of the mind of the Spirit. All the forms, creeds, rituals, dogmas, programs, the buildings, the man-made holidays, on & on…. For these are the very things that keep a believer stunted and they never enter INTO the
    spiritual realities.

    The scriptures teach that those who are led by the Spirit are the sons of God. Not led by man, or someone else’s interpretation of scripture, but we are to be led by Him alone. He will give us the true meaning of the Word so that it is not only head knowledge but becomes REALITY within. His word is still true today that He will give the Holy Spirit to all those that ask. The Spirit of Truth will lead one into all truth and there will be no error.

    His love & peace to you.

  • S.Schulz

    Hi Sherman Nobles,

    Wow! Yes indeed, what a NOBEL vessel you are…smile. I loved what you wrote, what a blessing. Thank you.
    His peace & joy to you!

  • Tom

    @Wayne at 119:

    We evangelize so that folks avoid hell, yes. It’s not like hell is a nice place to be. But the foremost reason we evangelize is because God deserves to be worshipped. Piper is right–the absence of worship is the [fundamental] reason for missions. To me, a) everybody’s eventually making it isn’t a reason not to make every sacrifice now to insure that people take the best path toward making it, and b) every day God isn’t worshipped and loved as he deserves is a state of affairs deserving of every possible sacrifice on our part to remedy. How wonderful is God to know? Wonderful enough to do all we can to introduce our friends to him NOW instead of blowing it off just because you know your friends will eventually meet him anyway?

    Tom

  • http://nimblewillsgrace.blogspot.com mike

    Its kinda like asking why teach someone to swim when you know there’s going to be a life guard there that will save them.

  • David the Hobbit

    God IS merciful…but not THAT merciful. Remember, Jesus talked of a narrow way and said few find it. God IS a wrathful Deity and if we are saved, it will be barely.

  • http://theologica.ning.com/profile/ShermanNobles Sherman Nobles

    David @ 134

    Jesus did talk of a narrow way, but the literary context is talking about right attitudes, right beliefs, and right actions. The narrow way that leads to the abundant life God has for us is the convergence of these three – a vary narrow path indeed and there are few, very few that find this in this life. One can have right beliefs, but no action with it and it does no good. One can have right beliefs and actions, but if the attitude stinks it will still bring destruction.

    Concerning God being a wratful Deity, scripture says that though His wrath lasts a moment, His mercy and love endure forever. And scripture says that where sin abounds Grace does much more abound. And is says that the sacrifice of Christ far outdoes the sin of Adam because it not only overcomes the sin of Adam but overcomes all of our subsequent sins too. And of course, mercy triumphs over judgment! So God IS merciful…THAT merciful!

  • Randall

    God is merciful, THAT merciful. Where sin abounds, grace does much more abound. I think the Holy Spirit meant to us to come down on the side of a wide embrace of grace, actually the passages generally interpreted narrowly tend to strengthen my conclusion of that if only we follow the development of the writings as they continue.

    Overestimating the grace of God isn’t the error sinful man errs, in all the talk to the contrary. It’s underestimating the power of the atonement.

  • Chuck

    It is so interesting to hear this debate. Heaven or Hell. Is there a hell? Is there a Heaven? Now wait a minute. Surely if there were no hell Jesus would not have talked about it. Did Jesus come to save us from God and his wrath? Jesus did say or didn’t he that God sent him ( Jesus ) into the world because he loved us. Jesus even said that God does not wish any to perish. If God is the same yesterday today and forever then his word remains the same. God said, not me that all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. God said the wages of sin is death But the Free GIFT of God is Eternal life through Jesus Christ. Death or life. You choose not God. You make a free will chose. If you die without Jesus as your savior and God I am sorry the bible God’s word says you go straight to hell. A physical place. Be careful then what you hear and listen to. Be even more careful what you Choose to believe.

  • James

    It’s simple, God can’t love evil, and as a last option promises the worst of punishments for the worst of evils in order to motivate us towards Good. Its God’s decree for evil. If there is no evil, there is no need for hell.

    And in much the same way, He discourages music, drinking, and merry making and moderation in consumption, not necessarily because this things are bad in themselves, but because it is unfair to those who can’t or won’t do the same.

  • http://theologica.ning.com/profile/ShermanNobles Sherman Nobles

    Hi Churck @ 137,
    Actually not one word in the Hebrew or Greek text of scripture is correctly interpreted as Hell. And thus modern versions that do not have the word Hell in them are correct. What scripture does affirm is that Jesus came to save us from this “present evil age”, the “kingdom of darkness”. In this present evil age, humanity is lost in sin, slaves to unrighteousness, under the bondage of the fear of death, and oppressed by evil on every hand.

    It was studying what scripture actually says concerning the punishment of sin and judgment that freed me to accept in faith the many scriptures that affirm the salvation of all humanity like Phil.2 which says that “every knee shall bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus is Lord.”

  • http://theologica.ning.com/profile/ShermanNobles Sherman Nobles

    Oops, sorry about the typo with your name Chuck.

  • http://authenticmission.blogspot.com/ Andrew Kenny

    Thought you and some of your readers would be interested in reading the famed William Barclay’s take on universalism. To be honest I find it hard to believe that such a scholar could see it in the New Testament but he obviously did

    I am a convinced universalist. I believe that in the end all men will be gathered into the love of God. In the early days Origen was the great name connected with universalism. I would believe with Origen that universalism is no easy thing. Origen believed that after death there were many who would need prolonged instruction, the sternest discipline, even the severest punishment before they were fit for the presence of God. Origen did not eliminate hell; he believed that some people would have to go to heaven via hell. He believed that even at the end of the day there would be some on whom the scars remained. He did not believe in eternal punishment, but he did see the possibility of eternal penalty. And so the choice is whether we accept God’s offer and invitation willingly, or take the long and terrible way round through ages of purification.

    Gregory of Nyssa offered three reasons why he believed in universalism. First, he believed in it because of the character of God. “Being good, God entertains pity for fallen man; being wise, he is not ignorant of the means for his recovery.” Second, he believed in it because of the nature of evil. Evil must in the end be moved out of existence, “so that the absolutely non-existent should cease to be at all.” Evil is essentially negative and doomed to non-existence. Third, he believed in it because of the purpose of punishment. The purpose of punishment is always remedial. Its aim is “to get the good separated from the evil and to attract it into the communion of blessedness.” Punishment will hurt, but it is like the fire which separates the alloy from the gold; it is like the surgery which removes the diseased thing; it is like the cautery which burns out that which cannot be removed any other way.

    But I want to set down not the arguments of others but the thoughts which have persuaded me personally of universal salvation.

    First, there is the fact that there are things in the New Testament which more than justify this belief. Jesus said: “I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself” (John 12:32). Paul writes to the Romans: “God has consigned all men to disobedience that he may have mercy on all” (Rom. 11:32). He writes to the Corinthians: “As in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive” (1 Cor. 15:22); and he looks to the final total triumph when God will be everything to everyone (1 Cor. 15:28). In the First Letter to Timothy we read of God “who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth,” and of Christ Jesus “who gave himself as a ransom for all” (1 Tim 2:4-6). The New Testament itself is not in the least afraid of the word all.

    Second, one of the key passages is Matthew 25:46 where it is said that the rejected go away to eternal punishment, and the righteous to eternal life. The Greek word for punishment is kolasis, which was not originally an ethical word at all. It originally meant the pruning of trees to make them grow better. I think it is true to say that in all Greek secular literature kolasis is never used of anything but remedial punishment. The word for eternal is aionios. It means more than everlasting, for Plato – who may have invented the word – plainly says that a thing may be everlasting and still not be aionios. The simplest way to out it is that aionios cannot be used properly of anyone but God; it is the word uniquely, as Plato saw it, of God. Eternal punishment is then literally that kind of remedial punishment which it befits God to give and which only God can give.

    Third, I believe that it is impossible to set limits to the grace of God. I believe that not only in this world, but in any other world there may be, the grace of God is still effective, still operative, still at work. I do not believe that the operation of the grace of God is limited to this world. I believe that the grace of God is as wide as the universe.

    Fourth, I believe implicitly in the ultimate and complete triumph of God, the time when all things will be subject to him, and when God will be everything to everyone (1 Cor. 15:24-28). For me this has certain consequences. If one man remains outside the love of God at the end of time, it means that that one man has defeated the love of God – and that is impossible. Further, there is only one way in which we can think of the triumph of God. If God was no more than a King or Judge, then it would be possible to speak of his triumph, if his enemies were agonizing in hell or were totally and completely obliterated and wiped out. But God is not only King and Judge, God is Father – he is indeed Father more than anything else. No father could be happy while there were members of his family for ever in agony. No father would count it a triumph to obliterate the disobedient members of his family. The only triumph a father can know is to have all his family back home. The only victory love can enjoy is the day when its offer of love is answered by the return of love. The only possible final triumph is a universe loved by and in love with God.

  • Derek Clair

    I realize this has already been posted, but I wanted to repost just in case someone didn’t see it. The book has not been released, but a couple of reviews have been from people who have read a prerelease copy. Greg Boyd’s review, in support of Bell, gives no quoted text to support his conclusions from the book; however, the one by Tim Challies has plenty of quoted text supporting his conclusions, showing that the “pre-judgments” were not so far off from the truth…

    http://www.challies.com/book-reviews/love-wins-a-review-of-rob-bells-new-book

  • http://thelovewinsconversation.com Christopher

    Scot-

    First time commentator on this site… but have followed your blog for some time and have so much appreciated your writings.

    As another person “who I stood in horror watching the blogosphere light up last week,” I decided to open up my own blog on this topic and just posted the following observations at thelovewinsconverstion.com. I welcome any and all thoughts on this:

    “A theological weapon of mass destruction will be released in four days… on March 15.

    “That’s what you would surmise based on many of the posts this past week about Rob Bell’s forthcoming book. Ever since Justin Taylor accused Bell of teaching “false doctrine,” followed by John Piper’s “tweet that launched a thousand posts” with with three words “Farewell Rob Bell,” there have dire warnings.

    “How do you deal with perceived weapons of mass destruction? You launch a preemptive war. Taking a cue from some political missteps of the past decade, some of today’s prominent evangelical leaders have launched that kind of written war.

    “As we know, preemptive war is a unilateral “first strike” in the face of an imminent threat. A preemptive war is commenced in an attempt to repel or defeat a perceived inevitable danger a strategic or to gain advantage in an impending war before that threat materializes. Either way the goal is to destroy the potential threat of an enemy.

    “The question that remains is why Bell’s forthcoming book is perceived as such a great threat? “

  • http://thelovewinsconversation.com Christopher

    Typo in my entry above. Should have read:

    A preemptive war is commenced in an attempt to repel or defeat a perceived inevitable danger or to gain a strategic advantage in an impending war before that threat materializes.

    OOPS!

  • http://timmhallman.blogspot.com Tim Hallman

    “We need more Abrahams.” That’ll preach!

  • barb

    Christians are arguing over the doctrine of hell, while many people in our world are expereincing hell on earth, the family whose health insurnace has run out for thier young child with cancer, the young child in an abusive home who will grow up knowing nothing different without intervention, the youngwidow who can not support her two children on minimum wage and no health insurnace, the people of Japan.
    No wonder most people find Chritianity irrelevant!

  • http://www.thelovewinsconversation.com Christopher

    Amen Barb! Thanks for the reality check…

  • Jeremy

    Derek (142) – The reason no one is writing reviews is because the condition of being supplied the review copy was to NOT publish one until the 15th. It’s an interesting review, but the reviewer seems thoroughly incapable of telling the difference between “inclusivist” and “universalist.” Ah well, ordered the book. I’m just going to have to see for myself. So far, the only people talking are Reformed folks, who didn’t like Bell to begin with. That doesn’t exactly inspire trust that they gave him a fair shake.

  • http://bedeviant.com Justin Wise

    My prayer? “Lord, keep me from adopting the mindset of Jonah while sobering me with the reality that some people will choose to spend eternity without you. Amen.”

  • http://thesimplepath.org John Shepard

    Well said Scot. Thank you.

  • K. Reux

    Disclaimer: Haven’t read any of the posts, just Scot’s.

    Thanks Scot for a great post.

    Question: doesn’t Orthodox Christianity (Eastern, Greek, Russian) teach that judgment doesn’t occur (even for those presently dead) until the resurrection? Therefore, the dead can be prayed for. In my small brain cells, I think their emphasis is that even the dead have hope for redemption that if the dead have a “spark” of God’s love in them they will be saved. If they are completely black they will be lost.

    I bring this up because it is certainly quite different from the Evangelical view–and yet as far as I know, no prominent evangelicals are out trying to castigate the Orthodox.

    Or is it just me that’s missing this?

  • Rick Thomas

    Your blog is interesting. The first scriptural example that you use really isn’t a good fit for universalist, which I know that you’re not. If the prodigal son had not remembered his father and come home, he would’ve died with the pigs apart from his father. (actually remained dead would make better since).

  • Jason Speaks

    Scott,
    Thanks for the comments. I am reading through the book right now and find it very interesting. I’ve been on a road for awhile now that God has been leading me on. To really look at what I believe. He showed me that until I can lay down all my beliefs at His feet and let Him show me the nature of who He is, I will live my life in turmoil and judgement. I think Christianity has lost the ability to study, discuss and process amongst each other in love. We fight for our doctrine not understanding that every believer has a measure of truth in them and also a measure of false doctrine in them. There was constant talking and development in church history about doctrine until the Nicene Counsel. After that point we stopped a lot of the openness of discussion of the scriptures. I think we lost it and God is reestablishing it in the generation. Thank you for your honesty and I pray that God blesses you in your walk with Him more and more.


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