Discussion of Bell’s Love Wins is now allowed here for those who can truthfully say they have read it. If you post a comment about Bell’s book be sure to say whether you have read it.
I finally received my copy yesterday. (Sometimes I think mail has to arrive in my city by Pony Express!) I read it last evening and this morning.
First, it is obvious to me that early critics of the book were wrong and they owe Bell an apology. Nowhere in the book does Bell affirm universalism. (Let’s not quibble about what “universalism” means; we all know what the critics meant–that Bell was saying everyone will eventually be saved, go to heaven, and leave hell empty. He nowhere says that.)
Bell does say it is okay to “long for” universal salvation. So did Pope John Paul II! I’m sure some critics who jumped the gun and attacked Bell for promoting universalism without reading the book will come back around and use that to support what they said. But they are not the same. To long for universal salvation is not to affirm it.
On page 114 Bell says “So will those who have said no to God’s love in this life continue to say no in the next? Love demands freedom, and freedom provides that possibility. People take that option now, and we can assume it will be taken in the future.” And nowhere else in the book does he say that eventually everyone will say yes to God’s love. His emphasis on freedom as necessary for love requires him not to say that. Can he hope for it? Who is to say he can’t?
The point is–universalism is the assertion that eventually all will be saved. Nowhere does Bell assert that.
Bell continues in that chapter to say that hell is getting what we want. This is simply another way of saying “Hell’s door is locked on the inside”–something I think C. S. Lewis said. (Or it may be someone’s summary of Lewis’ The Great Divorce.)
Chapter 6 is about what is usually called inclusivism–that salvation through Jesus Christ is not limited to those who hear his name. (I’ve discussed problems with restrictivism here before.) I find nothing in that chapter that Billy Graham has not said. (Go to youtube.com and look up Graham’s responses to questions from Robert Schuler.)While reading Love Wins I kept thinking “This sounds like C. S. Lewis!” In his Acknowledgments Bell thanks someone for “suggesting when I was in high school that I read C. S. Lewis.”
One thing I disagree with in Love Wins (and I disagreed with it in The Shack) is Bell’s affirmation that God has already forgiven everyone through Jesus Christ. I believe God has provided everything for forgiveness, but forgiveness depends on acceptance of God’s provision. I don’t know how to reconcile universal forgiveness with Jesus’ statement that the Father will not forgive those who refuse to forgive. Of course, if “forgive” means “forgive everyone of the guilt of original sin,” then I can accept universal forgiveness (which is how I and most Arminians interpret Romans 5). But I don’t think that’s what Bell means.
Those who accused Bell of teaching universalism based on promotion of Love Wins jumped the gun and owe him an apology. I won’t hold my breath.
Vilifying anyone based on what you think they are going to say is clear evidence of bad judgment; it breaks all the rules of civil discourse. It is part of what I mean by “evangelicals behaving badly” and illustrates what I call the fundamentalist ethos.
Perhaps the time has come for moderate and progressive evangelicals to say “Farewell neo-fundamentalists.” There’s no point in prolonging the long kiss goodbye. We are two movements now–fundamentalists and neo-fundamentalists, on the one hand, and moderate to progressive evangelicals on the other hand. This painful parting of the ways happened between the movement fundamentalists and the new evangelicals in the 1940s and 1950s. It is happening again (among people who call themselves “evangelicals”) and the time has come to acknowledge it as, for all practical purposes, done. It’s just a matter now of dividing the property.