A spectrum of belief on hell and salvation – Is Rob Bell a Universalist?

A spectrum of belief on hell and salvation – Is Rob Bell a Universalist? April 18, 2011

This week Rob Bell is in the UK and will be speaking at a number of evening events around the country. I trust many will see through his emotional appeals to the error that lies beneath.

Rob argues in his book Love Wins that “No one can resist God’s pursuit forever because God’s love will eventually melt even the hardest hearts” (page 108). Yet elswhere he claims not to be a universalist. Therefore, to be fair to him and in the spirit of my Arminocalvinist Spectrum and Evolution vs Creationism Spectrum I thought I would construct a similar outline of different perspectives on this fundemental issue of whether there is a hell or not and hence whether everyone is saved.

Five possible positions about hell and whether all are saved:

  1. All are saved irrespective of what they do or believe in this life or the next. I.e. Faith in Jesus is in no way necessary for salvation, and God saves all however they respond to him.
  2. All are saved irrespective of what they do or believe in this life, but because of  some kind of reponse to God in the next.  In this view there may even be a hell, but it is temporary and people have an opportunity for post-mortum repentance and faith that eventually all accept.
  3. All are saved due to some kind of faith expressed in this life, even if such faith is only present during their dying moments.
  4. Many are saved but not all. Under this view it is impossible to know for sure that a departed loved one did not respond in faith to Christ during their dying moments. Salvation is still through faith alone, and not everyone will be saved, but many more will be saved than seems likely from the evidence of what we currently see in the West.  Often proponents of this view will also believe in large revivals still to come and that there will be more in heaven than in hell. Usually they will believe that babies and children who die will also be saved, through Christ.
  5. Few are saved. The vast majority of the human race will end up in hell for ever.

From reading Love Wins, and from all that he has so far said about it, I cannot see how anyone can come to any other conclusion than that Bell holds to the second position I list above.  To me, having carefully read his book, it is clear that Rob Bell does not hold to the first of these positions, which is presumably also why he claims not to be a universalist. But, I think most people would agree that any of the first three positions are in fact universalist in that salvation is therefore universal to all. So despite his denials, I do believe that Rob Bell is a universalist.

Unlike the Arminocalvinist spectrum, I do not believe it is possible to take the Bible seriously and believe any of these views other than the 4th or 5th.

We must let our Lord Jesus speak for himself and follow him. It is Jesus himself who makes it clear that there will be some people in hell. Hell is according to Jesus a ”place of torment” (Luke 16:28), “where their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched” (Mark 9:48).

Personally, I hold to the fourth view, but can respect there are many Christians who hold to the fifth. I am far from alone in my thoughts, however. Spurgeon was clearly an optimist when it comes to the extent of salvation, as are many others who hold to the exclusive claims of Christ. If only that was all that Rob Bell was saying!

In the midst of all the controversy, it seems to me that there is a very simple question we should ask ourselves: Do we agree with the simple, clear words of Jesus about hell? There is an important subsidiary question, which is if we DO believe in it, why do we live as though we do not? Why do we not warn people more frequently of their faith and introduce them to our Saviour? That is a question that has been troubling me personally as I consider all this.

I will close this post with the following clear words from Paul which surely apply to the current situation, as it is impossible to reject the doctrine of hell without also rejecting the clear meaning of the words of Jesus himself:

“If anyone steaches a different doctrine and does not agree with the sound words of our Lord Jesus Christ . . . he is puffed up with conceit and understands nothing.” (1 Timothy 6:3–4)

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