Rob Bell, Heretic?
Well, amidst what I am sure will be the general deluge of reviews on Rob Bells most recent book, Love Wins, I thought I would add my own.
What the biggest question most Christians have about Bell’s book is, is he a heretic? The simplest answer I can give to that question is no. What Bell presents in Love Wins is not some kind of Unitarian Universalism where all roads lead to a proverbial Rome, that is, Heaven. Bell makes it clear, salvation, life in God in the resurrection comes only through the salvific act of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, God in flesh. The question, however, is not that simple.
While Bell presents views that are similar to those presented by C. S. Lewis in The Last Battle and The Great Divorce, he does what Lewis does not, he writes an entire book dedicated to the subject and calls others to believe as he does.
Also, on the question of heresy, it is true that the Early Church might have condemned him, but probably more specifically his views, as heresy, but I think they would have been wrong. Today, the label of heresy should be saved for those who deny Jesus as God incarnate, who died for the sins of the world and was resurrected three days later, ascending to the Father forty days later and denies that salvation comes through Jesus alone. This Bell does not do.
Therefore, even if you disagree with Bell’s understanding of grace, I would not recommend that you condemn him to Hell for his views. First, that is God’s decision alone. Second, he says nothing that I think should keep him from God’s grace in Jesus Christ.
Rob Bell and Grace
This brings us to just what Bell does say about grace. Without giving too much away, Bell states that not only do all have the opportunity to come to God’s grace in this life, but that God’s persistent love extends beyond this life into the life to come. As I said above, Lewis shows something similar to Emeth the Calormene who finds himself in Aslan’s Country when he has served Tash his entire life. Origen, in the third century, goes even further saying that eventually everyone will turn to Jesus, either in this life, pre-resurrection, or in the life to come, post-resurrection. For Origen, this extends even to Satan and his angels.
The people Bell seems to upset the most are those who have a Calvinistic or Augustinian understanding of grace, where God only chooses a select, elect few to spend eternity with Him, the rest He condemns (or they condemn themselves) to Hell. This needs to be kept in mind when reading Love Wins. (Frankly, I think they both get it wrong but that Bell might possibly be closer.
What do I think?
Personally, I disagree with Bell. I don’t think the Scriptures, or the majority of Church tradition are clear on this issue. I don’t think it is completely evident that all people will always have a choice. I have a hard time reconciling certain passages (especially parables) with Bell’s view (or Calvin’s for that matter). Nevertheless, I hope he’s right. Yes, I hope that all people will always have a choice, that they will not only be able to, but will choose Jesus in the end. I want it to be true, even if I don’t see it in Scripture. Since I want it to be true, and I don’t think it is, that spurs me on even more to help spread the Gospel to all people. That is love and God is love. This is what Bell calls us to, even though all people will always have a choice, we must help them see that there are real consequences now and in the life to come for our decisions now and as Christians we must help people make the right decisions and accept God’s love.Also, check out my friend Peter’s review Love Wins.