Exploring Love Wins 6

Exploring Love Wins 6 April 13, 2011

Today’s topic, from Rob Bell’s book, Love Wins: A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived, is the one of the big ones — is Rob a univeralist? — and our post begins with a prayer. I am asking that you pause quietly and slow down enough to pray this prayer as the way to approach this entire series:

O Lord, you have taught us that without love whatever we do is worth nothing:
Send your Holy Spirit and pour into my heart your greatest gift,
which is love, the true bond of peace and of all virtue,
without which whoever lives is accounted dead before you.
Grant this for the sake of your only Son Jesus Christ,
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God,
now and for ever. Amen.

Rob Bell is not a universalist, and he can’t be if he is as committed to freedom as he says. Now to explain…

What “category” do you think Rob fits into when it comes to his view of how gets in and how many get into The Age to Come? Do you think there’s biblical grounds for “second chances”? What texts would you use in this discussion? Do you think it is right and good to hope for the salvation of all?

I will say this again: what Rob is asking in this question is one of the most important questions being asked today. Will God’s grace and love eventually compel all to turn to him or not?

The chapter is titled and it begins with this question: Does God get what God wants? Of course, this all depends on what “wants” means, and Rob narrows God’s “wants” to his desire, found in 1 Timothy 2:3-4: “This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.”

Others might define God’s “wants” in ways that permit other factors, but this is Rob’s book and this is what he focuses on. He asks some almost facetious questions – like “How great is God?” – meaning is God great if he doesn’t get what he wants and what he wants is the salvation of all. By Rob’s own logic, though, and this needs to be listened to, as this chp unfolds God doesn’t necessarily get what he “wants”.

Bell opens up the universalism question here, which means that all humans — every last one of them in the past, present and future — will in the end be saved. He quotes passages in the Bible that have both “gospel going to all people” and reconciliation of all themes. The verses can’t be denied. Colossians 1 can’t be ignored: “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.” But that’s not the end for Rob Bell in this chp.

Yes, he has some “Is history tragic?” questions and some “Will God shrug God-size shoulders?”  And then discusses various options beside the universalism option.

1. We have one life and one life only to decide, and then eternity is settled. It’s rooted in freedom and God won’t override human freedom. That’s standard exclusivism.
2. Another view can be called diminishment to the point of dissolution.
3. Others believe after death people will get a second chance, and he misuses Luther here but that’s been pointed out by others already. Some, not many, do believe in second chances. (The Roman Catholic view of purgatory, though, is not about second chances.)
4. He offers yet another option: endless opportunities to choose. Endless second chances. And given enough time, everyone will choose. This is a kind of compatibilist universalism with God’s grace being just too good to resist eternally.

Bell then trots out some theologians who have been more or less universalist, including Clement of Alexandria, Origen, Gregory of Nyssa, Eusebius, … and observes that others (like classic Reformed theologians of the 19th and 20th Century) think many if not most will be saved, like Jerome and Basil, and Augustine said at his time many thought this way. [I’ve not seen this in Augustine but would appreciate a reference if someone knows it.]

This leads Bell to three observations:

1. There is diversity in the church on this one. He’s right, but I’d appreciate it if he’d say very few have been universalist and many of them got into hot, hot water for it. It’s not as simple as variety. Exclusivism has ruled, with other options but they are minority with various degrees of trouble for proponents.
2. A theoretical point, one not often seen as theoretical by Bell’s readers, is his view that the story of some going to hell forever is not as a good a story as everyone going to heaven.
3. Whatever view you have, it is “fitting, proper and Christian to long for” the better story. [I recently talked with a significant Christian evangelical leader in the USA who said this to me: “If you don’t long for that, you need to spend more time with God.” And he was most decidedly not a universalist.]

This leads him to Revelation, and it is here that I will engage him a bit:

First, “But the letter does not end with blood and violence” (112). Well, I’m unconvinced because Revelation 20 is part of the end of this book and it is “violence” if you consider being thrown into the Lake of Fire violence. So there are two ends in Revelation: the Lake of Fire end and the New Heavens/New Earth end. But it is true that the final ending in Revelation is the New Heavens and New Earth.

Second, the new creation of Revelation 21 eliminates murder, destruction and deceit. He goes back to his freedom theme here, and I can’t tell if he’s ignoring the elimination of those who reject God in Rev 20 or leaving open the option for those in the new creation to choose against God. It appears to me he’s assuming the validity of the endless second chance theory. (Without arguing for it.) But he asks here how someone could not leave the old ways … and suggests some will/can choose that option.

Third, this is where I believe Bell overtly denies universalism: “So will those who have said no to God’s love in this life continue to say no in the next?” [Again, he seems to avoid what happened in Rev 20.] He goes on: “Love demands freedom, and freedom provides that [to say no to God] possibility. People take that option now, and we can assume it will be taken in the future.” This is non universalist. Universalist is an option for Bell, but it’s up to humans. And since they have freedom, one can’t know for sure.

Fourth, the gates of the new heavens and new earth — the new Jerusalem — are open. He sees choice in these open gates, but I disagree: the gates were for protection, and open gates means there is no need for protection. Why? Because the New Heavens and New Earth are Shalom, everywhere, forever. Again, leaving the gates open is caused by Rev 20, the elimination of those who reject God and do evil. But Rob wonders if people can be banished — he doesn’t say where but perhaps he means in the Lake of Fire (it’s not clear) — and at the same time there can be gates open for them to return. He goes on…

Fifth and here we have another non universalist position: Rob Bell says we can’t know. “Will everybody be saved…? Those are questions, or more accurately, those are tensions we are free to leave fully intact. We don’t need to resolve them or answer them because we can’t, and so we simply respect them, creating space for freedom that love requires” (115). Love wins. This is definitely not universalism. Bell is open to it, he hopes for it, but it’s up to humans to decide. If you can’t know, you can’t be universalist because universalism knows.

Sixth, and I like this one: the new heavens and the new earth are full of endless possibilities and potentialities for God. It will be new and keep on being new.

Finally… he answers does God get what God wants? This is the universalism question. His answer: the question is not Does God get what God wants but “Do we get what we want?” The answer to that is “a resounding, affirming, sure and positive yes” (116). We get what we want.

This is not universalism. It is pure emphasis on libertarian free will. In the heart of Grand Rapids, Michigan.

Exploring Love Wins 1, part 2, part 3, part 4, part 5,

For other posts, see Tony Jones, Greg Boyd.

Jeff Cook compares Rob Bell with C.S. Lewis.

Early Rob Bell reviews.

Waiting for Rob Bell part one and part two.

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  • Rick

    “He asks some almost facetious questions – like “How great is God?” – meaning is God great if he doesn’t get what he wants and what he wants is the salvation of all. By Rob’s own logic, though, and this needs to be listened to, as this chp unfolds God doesn’t necessarily get what he “wants”.”

    So if he is not a univeralist, then he sees God as not that great?

  • SuperStar

    Thanks for reading the book carefully and coming to a conclusion on this particular topic that is fair and respectful. Most of Rob’s critics on this issue have not been careful in their reading and understanding.

  • You’re posts have been by far the most balanced over the last few weeks, Scot.

    But, can you clairify, is Rob Bell proposing that we get more chances after we die to respond to the love of God or not? (from your point 4 above, it seems that you’re saying he is saying that). He was vague on this question in the Martin Bashir interview. If this is the case, how does he deal with the parable of the rich man and Lazarus?

    I haven’t had a chance to get my hands on a copy of the book yet.

  • Scot McKnight


    In a word, Yes. Rob endorses endless second chances. In this chp he sketches that as the last option, and then assumes that view in what follows … and the theme of “love wins” … and how he sees the New Jerusalem, etc … these make me think he believes in second chances after the purgatorial fires.

    In this book he does not set out his reasons one by one and then draw the conclusion “I believe in second chances” … instead he probes it, suggests it and then assumes it.

    But I’m also not convinced he comes out and tells us if it is most or many or all or almost all who will in the end respond to God positively. His conclusion is that we can’t know because it’s up to the human to response. Love demands freedom.

  • Scot,
    You honestly think the only issue happening in this chapter is libertarian free will? I really don’t think you’re being honest enough about universalistic implications of Bell’s teachings.

    He clearly believes that all will in the end win. No one can resist God’s pursuit forever (108); God will eventually melt the heart of even the hardest of hearts (108); he believes that all will be reconciled to God (whole chapter!); this is the case because there is postmortem salvation (114); and the question itself, “Does God get what God wants,” and barrage of God-insulting responses to that question imply as such (96-98)

    It seems like Bell wants to have it both ways: humans can infinitely reject him and are hyper-free, but in the end God get’s what he wants. And regarding his libertarian freedom discounting any universalism, the leading Christian universalists, Talbot and Perry, seem to ague for both human freedom and a form of divine sovereignty.

    Robin Perry (aka Greg MacDonald) argues that you can hold to a non-determinist view of human freedom and still make sense of the claim that God will bring it about that all people freely choose to accept salvation in the end. He argues there are no grounds to deny that God wants to save all people and that he can and indeed will save all people without violating their freedom.

    Thomas Talbot has an interesting view of balancing HF and DS, because he argues that a person fully informed about sin and Christ’s offer of salvation would do only the rational thing anyone could do under these circumstances: turn to God in repentance and faith in Christ. All God has to do is ensure at some point everyone will be fully informed, therefore he can guarantee they will freely accept Christ. Thus God can ensure all will in the end win, in this world or the next, by presenting the truth so compellingly. He argues that 1) God’s love extends to all humanity and wants all to be redeemed; and 2) No one can finally defeat God’s redemptive love or resist it forever, God will get what he wants in the end by accomplishing the redemption of all…even in the context of free will.

    (Not to mention, Schleiermacher’s universalism defended a view of human freedom that makes our choices compatible with total divine determination.)

    I actually think he’s an amalgamation of postmortem salvation, universalism, and pluralism: other religions contain remnants of the revelation of the Christ; there is certainly a postmortem salvation; it seems clear to me that in the end everyone wins, everyone will eventually come to enjoy “heaven” (even if it takes 10,000 years), as God’s love is a “punishing love” that will burn away the negative and keep the positive and God gets what God wants (the rescue of every created human); and pluralistic in that Christianity (which I think is a lame rhetorical device used by many like him—McLaren, Selmanovic—to side-step the exclusivity of the Christian faith…i.e. faith exclusively in Jesus Christ) is not the only container of the Christ.

    The implications of Rob Bell’s theology is universalism stuffed through the lens of postmortem salvation and religious pluralism. The book he recommended by Huston Smith to know who and what God is would certainly imply as much: he was a raging universalist who is THE pluralism cheerleader. If he doesn’t imply universalism, why then would he recommend a book by one?

  • John W Frye

    You observe, “Exclusivism has ruled, with other options but they are minority with various degrees of trouble for proponents.” How much weight does tradition get in a conversation like this? We’ve got, for example, Luke 16, Rev 21 and tradition that support primarily exclusivism. Using the quadrilateral, is reason being too elevated in the current debate beyond the other components? I do not intend by this comment to squelch creativity and theological innovation.

  • Bell is inconsistent in this passage. He’s a universalist if you read the first half, and a theoretical universalist if you read the second.

    I can’t tell if he’s inconsistent in his writing (didn’t realize he was contradicting himself in the way he wrote) or inconsistent in his theology (actually believes both)… I tend to think it’s the latter because he constructs this contradiction and then cops out to say “we are free to leave the tension unresoled.” Why are traditional (Reformed) theologians not free to leave the tension between God wanting all to be saved and not all being saved vs. sovereignty unresolved? Why does Bell levels at us that our image of God isn’t “great” but he doesn’t have to face that same issue?

  • Scot,

    I think this is the Augustine quote you are referencing:

    “It is quite in vain, then, that some- indeed very many- yield to merely human feelings and deplore the notion of eternal punishment of the damned and their interminable and perpetual misery. They do not believe that such things will be. Not that they would go counter to divine Scripture- but, yielding to their own human feelings, they soften what seems harsh and give a milder emphasis to statements they believe are meant more to terrify than to express the literal truth.” (Augustine, Enchiridion, Ch XXIX, 112)

    This can be accessed here: http://www.ccel.org/ccel/pearse/morefathers/files/augustine_enchiridion_02_trans.htm#C29

    This quite is commonly used by universalists thinkers in the literature to substantiate the credibility of their position being widely held before Augustine. Thomas Talbott has an interesting discussion on Augustine in his work, “The Inescapable Love of God,” which for the money is a much better discussion of an evangelical universalist position than Bell’s book.

    In terms of saying that the universalists thinkers usually got in hot water, on my reading, I would say that yes, as we discussed in the comments here previously (see comments here: http://www.patheos.com/community/jesuscreed/2011/03/23/rob-bell-and-c-s-lewis-by-jeff-cook/#comments), Origen’s thought has a shady history surrounding it. I don’t know if you saw my last comment in the series there, but the quote you posted was not actually from the Council of Constantinople (553), but from Justinian’s condemnation of Origen prior to the council proper. I won’t rehash what I wrote there again; if you’d like check it out.

    Even with all that in mind, as I understand it, Gregory of Nyssa is revered amongst the Fathers and was never condemned in subsequent history, yet he held to a universalistic framework of thought very similar to Origen’s own (without the heavy neo-Platonic emphasis). And throughout history, some universalists were definitely more towards the fringes of the faith, separating themselves from their congregations and forming new ones, and ultimately ending up with some heretical thought. This thought included unitarianism and I would conjecture this is one reason for the lack of viability surrounding at least some universalist thought at least in later history.

    I am very interested in relationship between the political situation and the dissemination of doctrine at the time of Augustine and how this relates to the demise of universalist thought during and after his lifetime. Some universalists thinkers posit this as the key to the demise of the thought of Nyssa and Origen; the situation of Origen highlights the political nature of the demise for me.

  • Michael

    Scot states “Again, leaving the gates open is caused by Rev 20, the elimination of those who reject God and do evil. ” BUT the nations rejected the Lamb up to chapter 20 BUT we find them (at least some of them) coming into the new city for healing in chapter 22. The nations being healed are not ones redeemed throughout the book of Revelation because they (those redeemed in this life) reign with Christ. Who do they reign over? They reign over those in the nations that DID not join the lamb in this life but are won over by God’s love in the age to come. This is my hope.

  • scotmcknight

    Jeremy, you are entering into some topics for future posts. I don’t think I’d say the “only issue happening” is libertarian free will, but I would say he’s got a theory of libertarian free will that is determinative. Perhaps I’m wrong, but this strong sense of libertarian free will precludes being dogmatic about universalism, though it can leave universalism as an option — if all choose God.

    I will not disagree with you at all that Rob Bell cites Scripture at times and says things at time that are universalist. So, he has universalist statements. At the end of this chp he changes the questions from “Does God get what God wants?” to “Do we get what we want?” and he says Yes. And that is his libertarian free will.

  • scotmcknight


    Good question. The view in this chp/book has precursors in the tradition so it is not thoroughly untraditional but clearly a part of the dissenting minority.

  • scotmcknight

    Michael, your view requires that after the Lake of Fire there are “nations” that are healed by entering into the New Jerusalem through the open gates and who partake of the tree (leaves?) and are healed, right? Do you think all of that can be found in 22:2?

  • Wonderful analysis Scot. I am enjoying your take on Bell’s book. I love that you mentioned this: [I recently talked with a significant Christian evangelical leader in the USA who said this to me: “If you don’t long for that, you need to spend more time with God.” And he was most decidedly not a universalist.]
    When I have the oppurtunity to be around much older (more seasoned) men and women that have lived lives pursuing Christ – I find that they are so overwhelmed by the grace and love that has been freely extended to them – they most often want to tell me about God’s relentless pursuit of them… the sentiments of this pastor ring true to me.

  • Brian

    Jeremy, Bell is hopeful but there is no way you can call him a universalist based on this book. (If you called him a “hopeful universalist” that would be fair.) But a straight up “all people will be saved” universalist? No way.

    Will everybody be saved…? Those are questions, or more accurately, those are tensions we are free to leave fully intact. We don’t need to resolve them or answer them because we can’t, and so we simply respect them, creating space for freedom that love requires” (115).

    For all the criticism Rob has received for “dodging questions,” he’s been consistent and clear on this issue. He isn’t a universalist in his book and when asked the question directly in interviews his answer has been “no”.

  • Scot

    Bell ends up with “I don’t know” but he can’t really state another outcome without contradicting his own arguments. Either God would have to sweep all people in (which goes against strongly his view of God’s love and man’s freedom), or some will choose forever to say no and thwart God’s will (making Him really close to great, but not completely great). The only other outcome is that hell will eventually be empty – which is functional universalism.

    I actually liked your definition of ‘evangelical universalist’ from your post ‘Waiting for Rob Bell.’ He’s trying to stay connected with the evangelical view of the necessity and exclusivity of Christ’s sacrifice as a means unto salvation, while allowing eternal choice so that in the end his version of love wins.

    Thanks for the ongoing thoughtful discussion on your blog.

  • Richard


    Would it be accurate to describe your view of the end of Revelation (two ends as you put it) as an actual chronological progression as in “these things happen in Revelation 20 and are then followed by Revelation 21-22.” To make it clearer, the opposite of what I’m understanding you to say would be, “Revelation 20 is one cosmic scene and then John sees another cosmic scene in Revelation 21-22.”

    The first view, if it is what you’re saying, seems to suggest that John’s vision was chronological/progression rather than the second suggesting that John’s record of his vision is chronological but the scenes he witnesses are not necessarily a chronology (hence Rev. 12 being about incarnation and not something that actually follows the 7th Trumpet). If that’s not clear I’ll try and clarify after I get back from morning meetings.

    Regarding interpreting the “gates being open” as a sign of security – why are there even walls then? Would saying the city has no walls be any less shocking than saying it has no temple? I think security is definitely part of this but I don’t think it’s the only thing – gates were centers of economic and cultural exchange as well as protective measures.

    “The nations” is a loaded prophetic term also – it’s always referring to the enemies of God, or at the very least, those who refused his rule and submitted to idols. We tend to think in geopolitical terms with good and bad nations (and a mix of people within them) but the Jewish segment of the early church, the ones that would be excited about a heavenly Jerusalem, would’ve only known one good nation and a host of evil ones, and they would recognize that the one good nation had turned once for all when it crucified God’s anointed one.

    The issue is not just the words on the page but what the listener would hear when those words were read.

    BTW, thanks again for hosting this blog and the way you’re handling this issue specifically. It gives much comfort to know a place where I can exchange very different views and still be regarded as a brother in Christ. Christ is honored here.


  • Adam

    In the last post, there was a lot of talk about Gehenna, but no one really talked about the stories and parables surrounding Gehenna. How does a statement like “it is better to enter the kingdom blind, than the whole body by thrown into the fire” affect our view of hell and heaven?

    Is it really a “you’re in and you’re out” scenario? Or, is it possible that everyone has something that will be “cast into the fire”? Some people then choosing to never be separated from their own stuff and the whole body goes with it.

  • Steve Berthiaume

    I think that when we wake up and find our selves dead and looking into the face of God everything about our “free will” will change.
    Saul was on his way to Damascus to persecute and murder Christians when Jesus appeared to him in such an explosive and powerful way that he fell to the ground and was convinced that he needed to accept, worship and serve him. God did reach Saul but did he violate his free will. No. Saul freely said,”Yes” to Jesus . But was Saul free to reject Jesus and keep on doing down the road? Maybe,in this life. I doubt it can happen in the next life. I mean, when you look into the face of God you are changed by it. You really can’t refuse him.

    As Jonathan Blocher once put it ;

    “If a single unveiled glance at His wonderful face isn’t enough to melt the hardest heart, then He’s not the all-majestic God I believe He must be.”

    Also, William Lane Craig has written in his book, “Only Wise God”, that Gods sovereignty can choose or predestine people to salvation without interfering with their “free will” to choose him. This begs the question, ”If God can allow us freedom and still ensure that he gets His will done, why is it that he allows anyone to go to hell?” If Craig is right, God could save everyone without violating our free will.

    God knows how to get what He wants and still give us what we want. Which is Him…once you see Him!

  • Michael

    Yes, I might be putting a lot into that one verse but the big question is who is John referring to when he says the nations are healed by the leaves. Other than those who come out of the nations, throughout the book the nations are portrayed as being against the lamb.

    And now there is something in the hoy city (which is symbolic of the redeemed) that is meant for the healing of the nations. If anyone needs healing, it would be those who were deceived and who have experienced God’s punishment.

  • Daniel

    In the name of human freedom, Bell talks about endless second chances to get out of hell. I wonder what he thinks about second chances in “new creation.” Does the potential for a second fall hang over our heads for all eternity?

    In other words, given free will, can people in “heaven” choose to leave heaven and go to hell? (I know, who would want to, but the church tradition says that Satan and his angels make such a choice.)

  • DRT

    It seems to me that the biggest problem between Rob and his detractors is that the detractors are a fan of certainty and Rob really does not cater to that need. Here is how I see Rob’s approach.

    Rob has hope that love will universally win in the end and he lays out lots of reasons for this view. I find the evidence compelling. Then Rob acknowledges that we don’t and can’t know for sure, and that there is more evidence that there is a hell. Then he does not take a position. He lives in this point of balance, and that drives black and white thinking people nuts.

    I regularly get chastised by people I work with for living in the gray space in every aspect of my life and work. I feel quite comfortable there since I believe there is no black or white. That’s a modernist construct that is probably not true.

  • DRT

    …and I know (I think) Rob does not bring this in, but what about Romans 6:7

    We know that 3 our old man was crucified with him so that the body of sin would no longer dominate us, 4 so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. 6:7 (For someone who has died has been freed from sin.

  • After reading this post, I am more convinced of the view of my faculty advisor at TEDS, Keith Wells. He said once to someone who was wondering some of the same things raised in “Love Wins” that “Everyone’s eternal destiny rests in the hands of God.” I believe faith in Christ assures one of life in the Age to Come. I also believe that the destiny of those who lack faith rests in the hands of God. Tension? Yes, and I’m comfortable with it. I’ll let God decide where everyone will spend eternity. I’ll let the ambiguity of the knowledge of the Age to Come remain. I’ll continue to invite people to follow Jesus.

  • scotmcknight

    But could not one appeal to Rev 5:9 where we read that people “from every tribe and language and people and nation”? There we have people of the nations who have been redeemed by the blood of the lamb. Also Rev 7:9, and in 14:6 the nations hear the gospel. And 21:24, 26 has nations worshiping in the Temple. Those, I would suggest are sufficient indications that nations have been healed, not in total but some from every nation.

  • I see Bell as someone who values the mystery of God and mystery of the age to come (the afterlife), diversity in the body of Christ, and libertarian free will; and I think of him as a “hopeful universalist”, not a “convinced universalist”. And he’s not a “convinced universalist” because he affirms the “possibility” that someone could be so obstinant as to unendingly reject the love of God, though the love of God continues unendingly to seek reconciliation.

    As for me, I am NOT a proponent of libertarian free will; I just do not believe that we humans are “free”. We did not choose… to be born, our parents, if we have parents, our culture, our hair color, athletic abilities, physcial or mental handicaps, IQ, if or if not we’re loved even as a child, spiritual aptitude, etc. etc. etc. 99.9% of who we are we do not choose but is chosen for us either by God (I believe) or by random chance. And most importantly, we did not choose to be born in sin, born separated from God and oppressed by evil from within and without!

    I see humanity without Christ as slaves of sin, unrighteousness, fear, and death, slaves who need redeeming. We are dead in our trespasses and need raising to life. Only the living have choices! People are born (completely apart from their will) into this present evil age, slaves in the kingdom of darkness, and it is Christ who saves us from this present evil age and translates us into His Kingdom of Light where we are citizens, slaves no longer!

    To Bell’s ultimate question, “Do we get what we want?” I believe we do. I believe that we were created by God to want a relationship with Him. We were created for righteousness, wholeness, and joy in the Holy Spirit! We were created to be loved and to love! This is what we were created for. This is what everyone wants deep down inside once all the layers of deception are peeled away. And this is what God ultimately saves and delivers us into! Relationship with Him!

    We were born with a God-sized vacuum in our hearts and are not satisfied until that void is filled. Until then we are forever searching, longing, looking, starving for the reality of God in our lives!

    So ultimately do we get what we want? And does God get what He wants? I believe we do in that I believe that reconciliation is what we both ultimately want! God is the good shepherd who is not satisfied until 100% are safe in His fold. He’s the faithful father who keeps looking, searching the horizon until He see’s his son coming home! And man is not satisfied until that God-sized vacuum in his heart is filled and he is freed from slavery to sin, unrighteousness, and death, freed to love God and others!

  • bbaltrus

    I have to agree completely with Mark E Smith and DRT. God is the judge. No human however right they may think they are knows the ultimate ending.

    Following Jesus results in a completely changed perspective on life and those who are here earth.

    Why not try to spread a little Love and see what develops?

    Friendships, questions, results.

    Leading with Love almost always results in a person asking why do you care? Why does it matter? The answer is simple, because Jesus said it did. Again the result may be someone who wants to know more, who wants to be experience the Love of God. I have yet to meet a person who responds to the instances by me of their need to repent. The Love we seek is not with just the words we speak, but with our hearts.

    Rob Bell’s sermons helped me understand this, and I am eternally grateful to have had the opportunity to listen to his thoughts and questions, and draw my own conclusions through Bible study and experience.

    Grace and Peace!

  • Dave T.

    I suppose if the gates of heaven and hell stay open, we can choose to leave heaven after a while like the Prodigal Son left the side of his father. If Rob is going to go that far with liberty in hell, then it seems like it should extend into the new heavens and earth as well.

    However, it seems problematic that I could choose to murder someone in heaven. Does liberty end once I choose God? If those in hell get second chances, do those in heaven also get second chances to rebel? And how would it be possible to have second chances to choose to rebel in heaven without causing tears, pain, sin, etc.?

  • keo

    Yes, the gates are open, but Revelation 22:14-15 says that there are still wicked people outside the walls. Unless we throw out chronology and give preferential treatment to a belief that the Lake of Fire episode is the last act in the play, it appears that the Lake of Fire does not destroy or contain all the unsaved, and is not their final destination.

    This suggests that the Lake of Fire — all of what? four verses in the whole Bible? is a shaky doctrine to rest much weight on. Leaving us with Jesus’ metaphorical references to Gehenna (because Hebrew didn’t even have a word for the concept of hell) and no backup from any of Paul’s writings. Oh — and the suggestion that Greek mythology got it right with the Hades underworld thing. Amazing! And purgatory has been taught for how many centuries now?

    So why should we be impressed by the traditions on the question of hell, or surprised that some of the universalists — Fathers and others — got in “hot, hot water” for their views? 2,000 years later and this is as far as we’ve gotten? And anyone expects the unsaved and uneducated to figure this out correctly to make a valid decision for the destiny of their souls? Scandalous!

    That’s the best argument for universalism and against exclusivism yet: that God couldn’t possibly have left something that important that muddied for that long.

  • “Do you think there’s biblical grounds for “second chances”? What texts would you use in this discussion? Do you think it is right and good to hope for the salvation of all?”

    I don’t come at this so much from specific passages (though I think there are some) as I do from the broad narrative sweep of Scripture. There is a sharpening of focus as we move Adam to Noah to Abraham to Moses to Jesus to the Church. Israel was convinced they had the final word on God’s plans. For many in Jesus’ day, the final word included the destruction of the gentiles and the vindication of Israel. Then came Jesus. The gentiles weren’t destroyed but were made the object of evangelism. Jesus was resurrected but everyone else was not yet resurrected. There was more time added to the clock.

    Jesus and the NT Church seemed to think that Jesus’ vindication and judgment of humanity would come within a generation. Jesus was vindicated in 70 CE with the destruction of the temple but … surprise … the judgment was decoupled. More time added to the clock.

    Prophecy is opaque. It gives what we need in order to come to faith but it routinely messes with us when we try forecast with precision. Just looking at OT prophecy, the timetables they assumed were frequently not the timetables God had in mind and the precise fulfillment could not always be understood without hindsight. Jesus and the NT church were correct about the coming vindication and judgment, but the timing of vindication and judgment was unexpected, opening up yet new vistas on God’s plans.

    So why do we think we now, unlike Israel, unlike the NT church, have the final word on how the rest of the story plays out? The historical witness is that we seem to keep underestimating God’s vision.

    Christopher Wright builds the case that God is at work in the world. The church is God’s visible witness in the world but it is only the visible part. Salvation is through Christ alone and we have been given only one gospel to preach. But God is free to apply the atonement accomplished in Christ in ways not yet made clear to us and at times and places not on our horizon.

    It would indeed be peculiar that the God who has persevered with humanity, exhibiting such love and compassion, leaves those out of the Kingdom who would otherwise have come but simply didn’t get the invitation. Are there second and third invitations? Does God credit them with acceptance of an invitation they didn’t know they had? I have no clue. But I think we do know something of the character of God and our continued underestimation of his vision.

  • John W Frye

    Michael (#29),
    You write, “But God is free to apply the atonement accomplished in Christ in ways not yet made clear to us and at times and places not on our horizon.” That is a hopeful, grace-filled statement, but other than wishful speculation, do we have evidence (from the Bible) for it other than the gracious perseverance of God’s character?

  • scotmcknight


    Good come back. But here’s how I read it: the list of sinners in 22:14-15 is nearly identical to those tossed into the Lake of Fire in 21:8. Here are the texts:

    Rev. 21:8 But as for the cowardly, the faithless, the polluted, the murderers, the fornicators, the sorcerers, the idolaters, and all liars, their place will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death.”

    Rev. 22:14   Blessed are those who wash their robes, so that they will have the right to the tree of life and may enter the city by the gates. 15 Outside are the dogs and sorcerers and fornicators and murderers and idolaters, and everyone who loves and practices falsehood.

    Let me then make this suggestion: (1) these texts are not absolute chronology but overlapping visions; (2) the lake of fire and “outside” (a word perhaps to be connected to a cognate used by Jesus, for instance, of those who will experience weeping and gnashing of teeth — Matt 8:12) are overlapping ways of describing exclusion. There is here a clear Insiders and Outsiders, and no indication that the Outsiders can walk through the gate.

    Rev 22:10ff is a final exhortation … putting that exhortation to people alive for the author as a warning of the soon coming of the Lord.

    A point: I want to be clear that there is plenty about all this that is not clear; there is plenty room for mystery and plenty room for us to admit ignorance. But to make a case on the basis of the Bible requires that we be fair and faithful, and so whatever we think about the future and who gets in and how many get in, let’s make sure what we say is harmonious with the fullness of what the Bible does tell us. In this case, while I like what Michael Kruse says in the comment above, let’s not let our speculation override what God has already said. I’m open, to be sure, for God to surprise us all … but don’t we want to begin with the belief that he will surprise us in light of what he has already said and not against what has already been written?

  • Bo Welch

    So, It sounds like only someone with a Calvinistic understanding could truly be a “universalist” whereas an Armenian can only be a “hopeful universalist?” Since Rob Bell believes in human freedom then he can’t be a universalist. Am I understanding this correctly?

  • scotmcknight

    Bo, I would say that is right at one level, but there are a whole lot of theologians who are universalists who’d never claim the word “Calvinist” or “Reformed.” So it’s not so much a sovereignty of God or a determinist thing as much as it is a goodness-of-God thing. But there is a determinism in all forms of genuine universalism.

  • I think Dave T. brings up a nasty but important question about libertarian freedom extending into the afterlife. Does anyone who holds this position, or understands it well, have an answer? What keeps sin from entering the Garden a second time if we have libertarian free will in the New Jerusalem? And if there is something, why was this something missing in the original Garden?

  • Randy Gabrielse

    DRT @ 21:

    I appreciate your insight into how people deal with certainty and uncertainty as they engage scripture. Being a divergent thinker myself, I agree that we can see Rob as addressing a divergent-thinking group that long to have someone address their questions and concerns. I also agree that this tends to drive people seeking black and white answers a bit crazy, and often a bit mad at me.

    I myself tend to read scripture by considering words and verses as multi-faceted jewels that reflect meanings differently when held up to the light differently, creating many-splendored stories and images for us.

    Randy G.

  • Scot, your comment reminded me of this quote I came across a few years back: “In other words, synergists can hope for universal salvation, but only the God of monergism can guarantee it” (Terrance L. Tiessen, Who Can Be Saved?, 91).

  • After reading Bell’s book, I so wanted to find a place where I could weigh in on a discussion. In the beginning all I heard was very influencial people making harsh comments about a book very few of them had even read.Many of them quoting theologians that at one time had been contraversial in their own right. Can we honestly say that all theology is present and accounted for. That there is no room to question what we have been brought up to believe, and yes much of what we believe is grounded in the essence of how we were brought up.

    It has been hard for me to find a place to discuss this book. For those in my small town in rural Texas, many have never heard of Rob Bell, much less read his book, nor would they. They are content at where they are in their spiritual journey. It was only because of my need and want to grow closer to God that I ventured out into a technical world of twitter that brought me Lucado and Swindoll. From there I found the Andrews, the Stanleys, the MacArthurs, and the Adams, which in turn lead me to the Furticks, the Platts, the Chans, the Campolos, the Claibornes and the McLarens, Driscals, and the Catts.

    Someone mentioned in an earlier post that if Bell wasn’t a universalist then why was he recommending a book by a universalist? For me it is enough for Bell to say he isn’t a universalist. That settles it for me, although it doesn’t make a difference to me on whether God can speak to me by the reading of Bell’s books. Maybe that’s how Bell feels also, that he can learn from anyone, regardless if he ends up agreeing with them or not. In my life I’m not afraid of any book. As you can tell by the list of those I have read, they aren’t’ exactly all compatable,but I also know that God can teach me something through the reading of all people. What I fear is not growing and learning.

    I’ve read 25 post before writing this, and I understood less than half of them. I’m not a theologian…can barely spell it, and I have no clue as to what many of you are saying. All I know is that I see responses to Bell’s book out in the twitter world that reminds me of Jonah’s attitude when he ran from God and after God had changed His mind about destroying the people of Ninevah. Jonah was upset because he knew God would change His mind and Jonah didn’t believe the people deserved God’s grace. I wonder sometimes if we aren’t like Jonah. If we aren’t upset at what Bell says, as much as we are upset that God’s love and grace, in the end, will be suffienct for love to win!

    Like Matt said in an earlier post, I too love this part of Scot’s blog:

    Whatever view you have, it is “fitting, proper and Christian to long for” the better story. [I recently talked with a significant Christian evangelical leader in the USA who said this to me: “If you don’t long for that, you need to spend more time with God.” And he was most decidedly not a universalist.]

    Thanks for having a place where everyone can feel free, no matter their opinions, to discuss openly and honestly!

  • scotmcknight

    Peter G., I know of no one who has examined this. It seems clear that Rob Bell says “Not here you won’t!” So in the New Jerusalem, etc, there will no longer be sin. The will is also redeemed in this view, and so far as I know that has been a standard idea for Christian thinking. It appears that once you give in to God you are healed to become a fully functioning human who fully loves God and others — so no sin and no death.

  • Sean LeRoy

    The what we can know vs. what we do know vs. what we hope we know aside, I think we get caught in our own web of question asking, when those questions are based on false (or half true) Scriptural assumptions. The 1 Timmy passage above does not provide the launching pad for the questions that Bell asks; ask questions of the text – fine! – but if we fail to get the meaning of the text, the questions we ask beyond that point of misunderstanding, will be misguided at best. The old adage – “A Text w/o a context…” – is true in Bell’s handling of I Tim 2.3-4.

  • David P Himes

    Okay, I admit I’m a simpleton. What I don’t see is how this debate … as interesting as it may be, academically speaking … glorifies God, or encourages unbelievers to seek Jesus.

    And the amount of speculation required to engage in this discussion is almost “beyond the pale.”

    If God chooses to provide us with additional opportunities to accept his grace after we depart this earthly life. It is his to do. But that takes nothing away from Jesus’ call to accept him during this life.

  • Randy L.

    My confusion over this chapter in Bell’s book is what does the term “second chances” mean after death? I have no difficulty imagining that one who was faithful to the truth revealed to him/her in this life may respond fully to the complete revelation of God post-death. I have difficulty imagining how someone who chooses death over life in this world will turn around after the resurrection of the dead (I’m not saying it can’t happen — I just don’t have a way of understanding how it would happen).
    One image comes to mind: When Annie Sullivan ran the pump water over Helen Keller’s hands, Helen remembered what “wa-wa” was and the truth deeply embedded beneath her untamed exterior blossomed like a long-dormant seed suddenly given nurture. So it may be with many of us when God pours His grace over us more fully than ever before.
    Does Love lose if people reject it? Or does Love win simply by giving people the opportunity to chose it? And doesn’t Love win because, after all that is perishable is gone, Love endures?

  • To me, Paul’s writings and the historical narratives of the Gospels and Acts are much “clearer” than the prophetic, apocalyptic, metaphorical language of John’s Revelation; and thus I do not seek to understand the rest of scripture through the lense of Revelation, but understand Revelation through the lense of the rest of scripture. Is Revelation meant to be understood from the Preterist, historical, metaphorical, or futuristic perspectives? I see validity in all four perspectives, but challenges for all four. Is Revelation meant to be interpreted literally or poetically, technically or in techni-color? I lean towards the later. And thus the universalistic statements of Jesus and Paul influence my understanding (or misunderstanding) of scripture much more than Revelation, the lake of fire, and being outside the city. For example, if Revelation is meant to be understood metaphorically as the ongoing struggle of good and evil within man and within cultures, those outside, those in the lake of fire are the ones who are currently excluded from the kingdom of God. They are overlapping visions of the present reality, the present evil age, the present kingdom of darkness and the present kingdom of light – “if” one interprets Revelation from a metaphorical perspective.

    Imo, what I’ve come to believe thus far does best harmonize “the fullness of what the Bible does tell us” (though of course I recognize I could be absolutely wrong!) There is still plenty of mytery, plenty that is unclear, especially about judgment and punishment in the Age to Come; but based on my understanding and acceptance in faith of the universalistic statements of Jesus and Paul, and based on the character of God as I have experienced Him and as I believe is revealed in scripture, I understand and interpret the passages on judgment assuming that they are part of God’s plan to reconcile all of creation as revealed in the rest of scripture.

    I’m sure there will be plenty of “surprise” for us all, but I fear that the “surprise” will be that those of us who think we got it all together, have much to learn about the grace, mercy, holiness, and love of God! The ones who think we are part of the inner circle, are farther from the throne than we realize; and those who think little of themselves but have great faith in God are right there at His side! And we realize that ultimately we’ve all been consigned over to disobedience, so that God can have mercy on us all.

  • keo

    Scot @31,

    Yes, overlapping visions could reconcile that. But now we’re speculating about how to interpret apocalyptic literature. And sure, we could boil down all the metaphor and symbolism and say that it’s really just In or Out, and hope that the oversimplification is justified. And there are other Out passages, of course, such as Romans 3:9-20; these passages bring us full circle by saying that all are Out and none can be saved without Christ.

    What I’m saying is that the fullness of what the Bible says — and I agree with using that lens — is not so clear on hell or the timeline but a lot more clear on Jesus and the scope of his atonement and resurrection. And here we get all the universal sounding verses — that God has said — without all the Revelation mystery timeline to decode. Eph. 1:9-10, Col. 1:19-20, 1 Cor. 15:20-26, Romans 5:15-21, etc. If it’s Revelation or Paul, I know which one requires less speculation to understand.

    Mostly I’m just shocked at the house of cards we appear to have built around our hell speculations. A house of cards that has made so many of us so willing to be confident in declaring the destiny of all who don’t hear the 4 spiritual laws.

  • DRT

    Another point, first, is it possible that the “other books” contain the person’s deeds, but the “book of life” is something else that is not specified. Perhaps those who are in the “book of life” are those who have experienced eternal life, or a life of the ages while on earth. So, a person could commit many sins as is shown in the first books, but also have their name in the book of life. So this death is strictly whether people have the divine light in them.

    20:12 And I saw the dead, the great and the small, standing before the throne. Then 33 books were opened, and another book was opened – the book of life. 34 So 35 the dead were judged by what was written in the books, according to their deeds. 36 20:13 The 37 sea gave up the dead that were in it, and Death 38 and Hades gave up the dead that were in them, and each one was judged according to his deeds. 20:14 Then 39 Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death – the lake of fire. 20:15 If 40 anyone’s name 41 was not found written in the book of life, that person 42 was thrown into the lake of fire.

    So, in 21:7 then, the people who commit all those sins but have not had their name in the book of life will be thrown into the pit. But those who commit those sins are on the outside of the city walls. First, the unrepentant sinners go to hell:

    21:7 The one who conquers 15 will inherit these things, and I will be his God and he will be my son. 21:8 But to the cowards, unbelievers, detestable persons, murderers, the sexually immoral, and those who practice magic spells, 16 idol worshipers, 17 and all those who lie, their place 18 will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur. 19 That 20 is the second death.”

    Now, the repentant sinners (robe washers) are outside of the wall, but need to be purified before they can enter the city.

    22:14 Blessed are those who wash their robes so they can have access 32 to the tree of life and can enter into the city by the gates. 22:15 Outside are the dogs and the sorcerers 33 and the sexually immoral, and the murderers, and the idolaters and everyone who loves and practices falsehood! 34

    So that is those in purgatory.

    All in all, I don’t see the chance for washing your robe after death…but I am hopeful!

  • T

    John (30) and Michael (29),

    I think we have precedent that establish both that God surprises his people with the reach of Christ’s atonement, and his sovereign right to relent on promised judgment. (FWIW, I think Bell goes too far in this book) For the former, we have the surprise by the whole early (jewish) church for how far the atonement of Christ went in including the Gentiles at all, let alone including them without becoming otherwise “Jewish” and even giving his Spirit to them. That surprise nearly tore the young Church apart (and did cost Paul and his companions dearly).

    On the latter issue, I think both the story of Jonah and the story of David and the census give us solid precedent that God is free to reduce (even forego) promised punishment.

    Again, all that said, I think Bell goes to far. It’s one thing to hope for the good of all, even after death in sin, it’s another to create the belief (presumption?) that such second chances will be granted when they’ve not been promised.

  • PeterG, @36, thanks for the quote,

    “In other words, synergists can hope for universal salvation, but only the God of monergism can guarantee it” (Terrance L. Tiessen, Who Can Be Saved?, 91).”

    Sadly, most synergists and monergists believe that it’s wrong, somehow evil, to even hope for, much less believe in, universal salvation because they are so certain of the damnation of some/most of humantity. And sadder still imo is the reality that many Christians are more “certain” of the damnation of “others” than they are “certain” of their own salvation in Christ (I’ve been there). And if someone questions, much less denounces, the docrine of the certainty of damnation of others, then all hell breaks loose for that person, and they get in hot, hot water! As Bell is now experiencing! It’s as if the doctrine of damnation is as foundational to Christianity as faith in Christ for salvation.

    When I questioned the doctrine of Hell and shared with others my questions and the things I was uncovering in my studies, all hell did break loose. The heat though pushed me to study more, to seek God in prayer more, to seek the counsel of others more. The more heat, the more I sought/seek relief in and strength from the presence of the Lord. I progressively moved from the certainty of damnation, to questioning damnation, to hopeful universalism, to now trusting that Jesus really is the savior of all humanity, in deed not just in title!

  • I remember a discussion that I had with an old friend, Mark Mittelberg, about this very subject, a long time ago – and Mark, who is not a Universalist, made a very good and balanced observation about God’s judgement. I’ll paraphrase, (because it was a long time ago!)

    Basically Mark raised the point that no one really knows what happens during the moment of death. Is it not possible that God reveals himself fully to the dying person, who may have rejected Him all their life, and at that moment; like the encounter with the thief on the Cross, the dying person accepts God’s love?

    I like this view very much. I can’t claim it as being authoritative – and I know Mark wouldn’t either – but given that God exists outside of time, I’d like to think that the moment of death perhaps could be another “lifetime” to embrace the unbelievable love of God.

  • #30 John


    “wishful speculation”

    I would distinguish between “wish” and “hope.” Wish is a desire for an outcome that is rooted in nothing other than personal preference. Hope is anticipation of an outcome based on evidence or based on trust in someone who is capable of achieving the outcome.

    As I said, I’m coming at this from a narrative angle. No, I know of no silver bullet passage that would clinch my position. But this is just my point. There is no silver bullet passage that would have clued you into the precise nature of Jesus’ advent, the church, and the extended mission to the gentiles. Strict adherence to only explicit passages about God’s plans would have led you astray. But what if Israel had instead truly embraced God? Would they have come to naturally anticipate something like what Jesus unfolded … something that was beyond what was explicitly revealed?

    Along with theologians going back centuries, I’m inclined to believe that a child who dies from malaria at nine months old is not condemned to hell. There has to at least be some accountability. I’m guessing you likely have a similar view. Can you point to any silver bullet Scripture that supports this? I can’t. But we reason our way there based on what we know of the character and of mission of God. I don’t see that what I have suggested is much different.

    I see a God who is holy and just, who demands righteousness and will ultimately not tolerate sin. I see a God who calls us to repentance in this life, to become a part of His eternal Kingdom. I see a God who promises judgment, eternal life for those who embrace him and damnation for those who ultimately refuse him. I see a God who has a passionate desire for all to be brought into the Kingdom. That leaves a disturbing gap between what we often construe as revelation about the fate of those who have not heard (presuming an exclusivist view about those who have never heard in this life) and what we know of God’s mission and desire. Just like the case of the dying infant, it cries for reconciliation … but it is a mystery. For whatever reason, God has not revealed to us the fate of those who don’t hear in this life, one way or the other. So when I look at the mystery, I reflect on God’s character. For that reason my view is based more on hope than on wish.

  • Allen

    Martin .. @47 you’ve made the most sense so far on this topic.. Also to add to it…. Are all things not possible in God?

    Are we with our limited human minds always going to come up short in understanding God’s grace. Isnt that why we are taught to be humble. Where has the humility been in all this?

    Also .. I TRUST God’s goodness… God isnt flawed…. The Dalai Lama visited Ireland today. There is man who preaches peace on earth and good will to all people. The God I believe in will not “cast him out” just because the Dalai Lama is not a Christian. God sees the whole story… the whole person…

    I think this whole debate shows the lack of TRUST in us all (me included).

    If God is Good all Good will come from Him… A lot of people met Jesus and didnt know who he was until he revealed Himself…Maybe a lot of people will recogise Jesus and embrace him in the world to come – even if they did not know his Name in this life.. They knew of His spirit…

    If we don’t TRUST God that everything will work out in a just and fare way… What does that say about us?

    I pray that we will all learn to trust in the goodness of God more…

  • #45 T

    I haven’t read the book but based on what Scot has presented here I would be inclined to agree that Bell goes too far. I think there is considerable hope for future unexpected interventions by God but none are explicitly revealed to us.

  • jim

    Michael #48– that will preach!

  • Phil

    I appreciate that this book and the seemingly endless reviews of it has brought up good healthy dialogue within the church. I think Scot’s critique of Rob is incredibly helpful and I appreciate that Rob leaves us hoping that all might be somehow someday saved.

    But, to be honest, if you read the very introduction to Rob’s book, you see who it is for. He is explicitly clear. This book is for those who want nothing to do with the church because of the inconsistencies within the church on issues like this. Why is that important? Because I think we are reminded that we need to have this discussion, but we need to keep it accessible to everyone. (And when I read the comments, many times they are not accessible) We need to stop using antiquated language and purely academic words that create an unnecessary distance between the people this book was written for and the people who offer their criticism. Let’s keep it a conversation. Certainly, in the interest of honoring those outside our academic circles who want to listen and weigh in on these things, we can do the hard work of finding more accessible language to say the same thing, can we not?

  • Percival

    One again Michael Kruse expresses what I think even before I knew I thought it!

  • I’ve loved your Rob Bell series. Thank you.

  • Percival

    That is, after I read it, I knew I thought it even though I hadn’t read it yet so I hadn’t thought it yet. Is that clearer?

  • I just found an article I was looking for that offers the Eastern Orthodox view on Judgement – it is by Fr. Thomas Hopko, who is Dean Emeritus of St. Vladimir’s Seminary in New York…it is from his “Rainbow Series” on Orthodox Christianity.

    “The doctrine of eternal hell, therefore, does not mean that God actively tortures people by some unloving and perverse means. It does not mean that God takes delight in the punishment and pain of His people whom He loves. Neither does it mean that God “separates Himself” from His people, thus causing them anguish in this separation (for indeed if people hate God, separation would be welcome, and not abhorred!). It means rather that God continues to allow all people, saints and sinners alike, to exist forever. All are raised from the dead into everlasting life: “those who have done good, to the resurrection of judgment” (John 5:29). In the end, God will be “all and in all” (1 Cor 15:28). For those who love God, resurrection from the dead and the presence of God will be paradise. For those who hate God, resurrection from the dead and the presence of God will be hell. This is the teaching of the fathers of the Church.”

  • Charlie O

    “2. A theoretical point, one not often seen as theoretical by Bell’s readers, is his view that the story of some going to hell forever is not as a good a story as everyone going to heaven.
    3. Whatever view you have, it is “fitting, proper and Christian to long for” the better story.”

    Isn’t it also a better story for those in heaven to have playing in the back of their minds (so to speak) that God is forever offering those in hell another chance… even if in the freedom love affords, they continually refuse? This is a better sidebar for eternity than the redeemed learning how to rejoice in (or rejoice despite) knowing that somewhere over there, in some corner, eternal conscious torment “wins.”

  • keo

    Links to Parts 2 and 3 of this series both point to Part 3, by the way. Same error on the other pages. Part 2 is http://www.patheos.com/community/jesuscreed/2011/04/04/exploring-love-wins-4/

  • DRT

    Phil#52 said:

    ……introduction to Rob’s book…This book is for those who want nothing to do with the church because of the inconsistencies within the church on issues like this. ……..Certainly, in the interest of honoring those outside our academic circles who want to listen and weigh in on these things, we can do the hard work of finding more accessible language to say the same thing, can we not?

    Precisely why Rob left out the Lake of Fire. I could just see someone like that wrestling with whether the Lak of Fire means there is or is not a hell…..many other things would need to be decided first.

  • Kaleb


    What texts would you use in this discussion? Do you think it is right and good to hope for the salvation of all?

    I believe, as you have said earlier, that there is more than enough in Scripture that walk the line of some sort of universal salvation. In this case I really like Rob’s term he has used that Jesus is in-ex-clusive. That some verses the road that all things will be made new and other verses that Jesus says the road of salvation is narrow. We have to live in that tension because both are present in scripture.

    No one has brought this up so far as a way to advocate for second chances, but what about Christ between death and resurrection and Jesus going to preach to those in prison. This has been a widely held church doctrine from my understanding in many different denominations and I think it is in one of the creeds. Wouldn’t this be adequate revelation that Jesus gave a second chance before. Because the people that Jesus goes to were not in Abraham’s bosom; they were in ‘prison’ (Hell/Hades/Tartarus). Isn’t this grounds enough to say that second chances is more than pure speculation and no Scripture reveals it? I would not carry the full weight of second chances on this verse alone, but I definitely think if Jesus did it once we have plenty of reason to hope, and even speculate, for it again. What do you think?

  • Thanks, Scot (#38). That’s the answer I’ve always heard and it seems like a good one. But it does seem to imply that Adam and Eve were not “fully functioning humans” in the garden. This gets into the larger question of the origins of evil, but it is sort of pertinent to Bell’s post-mortem libertarian freedom.

    So thanks!

  • When I’m asked about universalism – I tend to respond with, “I don’t know what I am but I pray that G_d is!”

  • Richard

    “Let me then make this suggestion: (1) these texts are not absolute chronology but overlapping visions; (2) the lake of fire and “outside” (a word perhaps to be connected to a cognate used by Jesus, for instance, of those who will experience weeping and gnashing of teeth — Matt 8:12) are overlapping ways of describing exclusion. There is here a clear Insiders and Outsiders, and no indication that the Outsiders can walk through the gate.”

    Is there any indication that an outsider that decided to leave behind those vile sins would be refused entry through the gates? We can debate the probability of that prospect into eternity but is there anything in the text that prevents that possibility? Afterall, I’m pretty partial to recognizing that without cleansing by Christ, we are all cowardly unbelievers that dabble in murder, immorality, impurity, lies, and idolatry. Isn’t that Paul’s point in Romans (and pretty much everything he wrote)?

    I think the part we can’t stomach is the possibility of post-mortem “second-chances” (even thought those might be first chances for some). Yet there are some knotty passages that allude to that sort of second-chance (1 Peter 3 and 4 having two of those references). How much of a barrier is death/hades if Christ has conquered the grave? [btw, that was Rob’s sole point in quoting Luther – That if God wants to save after the grave, he can of course; not suggesting Luther believed that was the case]

  • John W Frye

    Michael Kruse (#48),
    I appreciate your thorough answer. As always I admire the way you process issues like this. God bless!

  • keo

    Kaleb @60,

    Jesus says that the road that leads to “life,” not “salvation” or “eternal life,” is narrow. Maybe the same thing, but not necessarily.

  • Michael

    In this debate we are saying that the church is the full number of those who will be redeemed. What about these verses that describe the church as ‘firstfruits’? See below:

    2 Thessalonians – 3 But we ought always to thank God for you, brothers and sisters loved by the Lord, because God chose you as firstfruits to be saved through the sanctifying work of the Spirit and through belief in the truth.

    James 1:8 – He chose to give us birth through the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of all he created.

    Revelation 14:4 These are those who did not defile themselves with women, for they remained virgins. They follow the Lamb wherever he goes. They were purchased from among mankind and offered as firstfruits to God and the Lamb. (this passage is referring to the 144000 but I along with many believe this is a symbol of the church)

    My point is that ‘firstfruits’ implies more of a harvest. This would mean that others must have a second chance after the judgment.

  • Kaleb @ 60,

    Of course scripture is primarily about life now, in the present. And salvation and repentance are presented as now options. But there are a few scriptures that seem to indicate that physical death does not seal one in one state or another endlessly.

    You noted Peter’s affirmation that Jesus went and preached to the spirits in prison, those who died having rejected the salvation of God through the ministry of Noah, preaching to them so that they might be judged according to what they did in the flesh, but live according to the Spirit.

    Jonah, having rebelled against God, died, and with his soul in torment in Sheol, repented and God apparently not only forgave him but raised him to life and gave him a second chance to obey.

    Paul mentions baptism for the dead affirmatively, and even speaks of turning a brother over to Satan for the destruction of his flesh so that his spirit might be saved.

    I believe in three great teachers – the Holy Spirit, Time, and Experience; and in the Age to Come I see no limit to any of the three!

  • JoeyS

    To quote Heschel (which I’m convinced Bell is leaning on):

    “An essential feature of anger as pronounced by the prophets is its contingency and nonfinality. It is man who provokes it, and it is man who may revoke it.”

    He goes on to explain that this is the reason why repentance exists – to revoke God’s anger.

    This is what Bell means by “we get what we want.”

    “Severity must tame whom love cannot win.” -Abraham J. Heschel

  • Richard

    @ 66

    Great point re: firstfruits. Only way I can think of that making sense in the ECT understanding of the afterlife is if Paul is referring to the first generation Christians as firstfruits but I haven’t studies the passages enough to know.

  • Michael

    @69 – Scot should be able to give us some insight on the James passage in light of his recent commentary on James.

  • John and others, I’m glad what I wrote made sense and connected. I wouldn’t pretend to have studied this topic to the extent others here have but it is what makes sense to me.

  • Scot,

    I don’t have anything to contribute to the dialogue except a huge thank you for crafting these posts and leading these discussions. Civil discourse about some of the most important matters facing us today. Thanks for leading us this way – we need it


  • David Hancock

    I must confess, as a pastor, I don’t walk into many Christian bookstores. I reluctantly go, because the circle of what we call evangelicalism seems to get smaller in thought and scope. And as an evangelical it angers me. But, today I ventured out and walked into a national “Christian” bookstore against my better judgment. I noticed that the “best-seller” shelf was conspicuously missing Rob Bell’s “Love Wins.” I have already read Bell’s book, but my curiosity set in, as I began to look around to see what where it may be hiding. I thought I was looking in the wrong place, so I walked up to the counter and asked innocently, “I can’t find a current best selling book titled ‘Love Wins’ by Rob Bell… could you help me locate it?” She then shocked me as she said in hushed tones, “Our upper management has made a decision not to carry any of his books, because it doesn’t line up with our values.” I slowly let the words seep in, as I reeled with a “Fahrenheit 451” gaze. Did I hear her correctly? I wondered, is this how we deal with our own, who raise questions that we are all uncomfortable with? What values drive that decision? And then my fog cleared, as I noticed the featured end cap within the store.

    The end cap was titled, “How to Rout Demons!” Are you kidding me??? Really???? Value-driven decisions??? But, I think I’m getting it… We shut out our brothers who are asking the right questions; what is Hell? How does God love? Etc… but we embrace the sensationalism of demons and fear mongering with some God talk wrapped around it? Really??? Is this where our evangelicalism has evolved???

    The circle is closing on the evangelical world as it grows smaller and smaller. I don’t have to agree with everything Rob proposes, but I count Rob as my brother, and applaud Bell who has so much to lose in this debate. I’m so thankful that Rob has the guts to raise the difficult questions that trouble us all. I like what a spiritual leader said, “We must not spend our time answering questions that no one is asking, but answering the ones they are.”

  • DRT

    Nice David#73

    I was in a bible study today where someone complained that I brought up the alternative to pisti” Cristou by saying “no one today speaks greek and we should not allow that in our bible study”. Nice.

  • Edward Vos

    Has anyone considered the idea that God may truly want to save everyone and can’t because we individually will not let Him, and thus our fall from grace.

    The grace of God is always there and we can receive it any time we want to. It seems to be that the universalistic point of view is that God would bend His own rules and accept everyone. But part of me thinks that God truly would love to save us all He however, can’t break the rules of nature. Therefore He sent His Son do that so that all who do believe in Him may find the way home.

    Just a thought.

  • “I’m open, to be sure, for God to surprise us all … but don’t we want to begin with the belief that he will surprise us in light of what he has already said and not against what has already been written?”

    Excellent point, Scot. We have the Scriptures, which is our starting point for knowing about God and his ways. And true to the Reformation, fresh understandings of Scripture are what challenge accepted tradition, particularly on our beliefs about hell.

    Reason + Scripture sometimes reinforce tradition, but then there are those moments where it subverts tradition. I think that is what is happening to the traditional understanding of hell. Rob has used his understanding of the OT and NT (reason + Scripture) to carve out a carefully nuanced view of hell that goes against accepted tradition for the masses.

    As you indicate, he has every right to do so. And we have every right to push back against his interpretations of Scripture and to challenge his reasoning. I appreciate that you graciously let others challenge your interpretations. Thanks for the good example.

  • Alastair

    Edward, I think I agree with your thoughts. (god obviously sets up what ‘nature’ is, but your simple statement connects with me. And also with how I understood god at first as a child

  • Crazyrufus

    I’ve got to say I loved “Love Wins” as a great narrative, the questions it raised that we must be prepared to answer and felt even more in love with Jesus when I finished it and more committed to live for the kingdom now as well as hope for the future when Christ returns and dwells here in a restored earth. I appreciate Scot, your even review to not throw Rob under the bus but to wrestle with, disagree with when you feel necessary, but to continue to love Rob as a fellow believer.

    My take on the book is that many are parsing his every word from a systematic breakdown which is very “greek” or “western”. Rob tends to write as a narrative and adopts more of an Eastern or “Rabbinical” approach by asking questions to lead to more questions to get to the substantive questions that reveals the answers. Many incorrectly infer (coming from the greek thought) that Rob is trying to change theology, etc. Here’s how I took Rob’s theology:

    1. Jesus is the only way to salvation (exclusive)
    2. When we follow Jesus, we aren’t “saved” so we can one day be evacuated from “here” to go “there” (heaven). We are saved to bring heaven “here” now and Christ will one day complete that fully with his return. (Someone above pointed this out in his comment of a Genesis 1-2 outlook vs. a Genesis 3 outlook)
    3. We can reject God now, and bring hell to earth now (literally) as well as die, go to a literal hell and continue to reject God.

    So far all pretty orthodox. The differences he makes with most reformed theologians as I see it is:

    4. Jesus will continue to reach out as His will is all to be saved, though will allow us freewill to reject Him. While Jesus is exclusive to salvation and not all roads lead to heaven, Jesus can be as inclusive as His love allows by continuing to pursue after death. Rob admits this is speculation, but one that has biblical basis and church history to back it. This does not mean its absolutely right but allows God to make such determinations.

    I think we agree on what matters: Christ alone. Rob is not a universalists, and his approach doesn’t allow for you to live how you want as if its cheap grace. I think he argues forcefully that God’s love will compel you to live even stronger for the kingdom so we can participate in what God is doing in restoring, reconciling, and renewing all things.

    Great discussion, and an encourging book!

  • @#34, Whatever answer you come up with, is the same answers the angels have known for quite some time… One-third rebelled. What keeps the two-thirds remaining? We don’t get any instances of angels seeking to be faithful so as not to fall. No anxiety about that from them. That doesn’t mean it isn’t there, but it does mean that isn’t revealed to us or isn’t a concern.

    I also think of the traditional view of “freedom”… freedom is the power to do what we ought, not permission to do what we want. While libertarian freedom is different from this traditional definition, perhaps the two marry in the New Earth.

    We can, perhaps, also think of Adam and Eve as babes in a sense… part of their sin was from doubt and ignorance, though they were deliberate in their sliver of knowledge and therefore guilty. In the New Earth all is revealed, the curtain pulled back, the story fully told, etc. Different scene entirely.

  • God has provided his church with a wonderful gospel through the cross and sent his Spirit to deliver it. I find it a bit churlish that a church, which has fairly seriously sat on its bum, gets upset that too many people end up on the wrong side of the judgement. Why blame God? Surely it is the Church that is lacking in love.

  • TJJ

    There is a great deal of effort made by some to deny that Bell is a universalist. Maybe in a very literal sense he is not.

    But in reading the book it strikes me that he is at least a soft universalist, with a small u. He almost ends up a soft calvinist at the end of the book where he makes Gods love, God’s grace, almost irresistible, eventually, given enough time, enough exposure, enough knowledge, experience, etc. (ala irresistible grace, the I in TULIP)

    The Calvinists it seems to me, developed the election theology in ni small part because they recognized that if God is loving and wants all to be saved, but most, the vast majority, are not, despite God’s best efforts and best sacrifice, then God does indeed seem weak and ineffective. Bell ends up with a very similar line of thought: if God is loving and merciful and full, then the vast majority, most, if not all, must somehow come to grace, forgivness, life, salvation, otherwise God, the Gospel, the Cross, Jesus, it has all essentially failed.
    Or God is not truly love, and God does not truly want many to come to salvation.

    I do not agree with this line of thinking, but that is what I take away from Bell in the book

  • amp004

    I have been lurking here for a few days and looking into all the posts on universalism. A little background, I am a missionary to a muslim country with my family. We have been here almost 10 years, and honestly, this whole universalism debate has taken me by surprise. That is probably because we are a little out of the loop! I did not realize that universalism (or people rejecting ECT) had such a significant following and upon the release of this book, which I have not read, for the first time I really started to consider the implications of what I have always believed. To make a very long story as short as possible, this debate has broken my heart. It has caused me to doubt my faith, doubt God’s goodness, lose sleep at night. I am tired of thinking about it. And when we talk about the motivation for missions and evangelism, honestly, if any form of universalism is true, my first inclination is to want to go home. And I feel wretched for feeling that way. I realize that is more a problem with me than with God. This place is hard, hard, hard spiritually and we see very little fruit. I could say a whole lot more on that, but I don’t want to write a book. 🙂

    I think what I have come to is that any position on the eternal destination of souls whether it be a universalist position, limited atonement, etc., has weaknesses that may (or may not) contradict scripture or go against our moral sensibilities (however trustworthy those are). I think it was commenter #7 Tony that hit at what has been bothering me. It seems to me that there are “tensions” in every position if carried out to their logical conclusions.In all of this, I feel like for the first time in my life, I can understand where an atheist is coming from, and it grieves me to admit it.

    In all of this, I have to cling to what I know is true about Him according to His word. He is good, faithful, loving, just, holy in every way and in all that He does. I officially do not know where I stand on the issue of hell, but I know He is revealing Himself to people in ways that that most of us in the West cannot even begin to understand. Almost all of the believers in our country have had a dream of Jesus at some time or another in their journey. Their stories are amazing. If not a dream, then they encountered some unexplainable, supernatural circumstances that caused them to seek out Jesus. The obstacles are huge given that any follower of Jesus faces tremendous persecution, but He is working.

    And to the commenter above #80, I 100% agree.

  • Rick

    Tim #76-

    Well said.

    Blessed #80-

    Good point.

  • Scott in the OP you mentioned that Bell notes that Augustine said many in his day were Universalists and asked if anyone knew of a reference for such. In Enchiridion, Ch. XXIX he somewhat condescendingly refers to them as “certain tender hearts”:

    “It is quite vain, then, that some-indeed very many-yield to merely human feelings and deplore the notion of the eternal punishment of the damned and their interminable and perpetual misery. They do not believe that such things will be. Not that they would go counter to divine Scripture-but, yielding to their own human feelings, they soften what seems harsh and give a milder emphasis to statements they believe are meant more to terrify than to express the literal truth.”

    Of course Augustine apparently believed that even non-elect children who died were rejected by God and eternally separated from Him, even some who die in infancy because the are drawn from a corrupt mass (Enchiridion XXIV and XXV).

    I don’t know, maybe it was his heart that needed a little tenderizing.

    Anyhow, as Bell pointed out, Universal Reconciliation was believed by some very prominent church Fathers, and apparently very many believers. Some Christians throughout history have found the faith to not only believe in Christ for their own salvation, but for the salvation of all humanity. I mean, He does say “If I be lifted up, I will drag all humanity to myself.” and Paul does affirm, quoting twice an OT prophecy, that ultimately every knee shall bow and every tongue confess that Jesus is Lord. And he writes that (my paraphrase) that just like the sin of Adam got us all into this mess with sin and death, even so the sacrifice of Christ gets us out and gets us into righteousness and life. These and many other passages have given me hope, even faith, that Jesus is not only the savior of us who now believe, but is the savior of all humanity, savior not just in title but in deed!

    Of course, I could not embrace in faith these passages as stated until I studied the passages on Hell and suprisingly found the support for ECT to be so lacking, sparse in scripture. And the more I studied the passages on the judgment and punishment of sin, the more I came to believe that such judgment and punishment of sin was rooted in the love of God for us, and it was the punishment inflicted by a loving father or a good shepherd. I mean, even the famous Mt.25 separation of the nations (or peoples) is illustrated by a shepherd separating the kids from the rest of the flock. The kids were valuable members of the flock, not wolves in sheeps clothing. And of course the word kolasis in 25:49 can be understood as correction or chastizement. So the passage can (I believe it does) warn of chastizement in the Age to Come, remedial punishment, and not endless torture.

    I suppose I would thus be clasified as one of Augustine’s “certain tender hearts.” But I’m thankful to know I’m not alone, that “many” in his day believed the same.

  • Richard

    @80 Normally I’m all with you but I think God is committed enough to this mission that he will work despite our reluctance.

    @81 There’s a big difference between “hopeful” universalist and universalist. My wife couldn’t stand me when we were in college (hate might be too strong a word but only slightly). As our friendship persisted she began to see me in a different light and now we’re lovingly committed to one another. Her choice and heart was changed as she encountered me in a different light and context and got to know me and not just what people said about me. I didn’t make her love me but she did come around given time and better understanding.

    I think wrestling with the following statements would help you understand where Bell and others are coming from in asking these questions. Which of these statements would you affirm?

    God wants all to be saved
    God gets what he wants
    Most will not be saved

    Two of those are clearly taught in Scripture and the remaining one is understood to be true by many today. And while we can kick it up to “it’s a mystery” that still doesn’t resolve the tension for many of us who are wrestling with this.

  • amp004 @ 82, thank you very much for sharing and being so open with your own struggles. A prime motivation for missions has traditionally been the belief that the unreached will die and go to Hell unless we take them the Gospel. In fact, for most of the church Hell is a foundational belief that colors every doctrine and nuances every motivation. Calvinists must limit the Atonement in scope because if it wasn’t limited in scope and Jesus died for eveyone then everyone would be saved. Arminianists limit the Atonement in power, elevating human will above God’s will, because if concerning salvation God’s will ruled supreme then all would be saved.

    I understand how the belief in Hell is a prime motivation for missionaries. Being an evangelist (wanna-be missionary) myself it was a prime motivation for me as well. And coming to believe in UR was challenging for me because belief in Hell was a core belief and motivation for me. Having now come to believe in UR though, I found my fears allayed. Because of believing in UR I now have a greater faith in the power of the Gospel, the power of love, and personally have more love for people. I’m bolder in sharing my love for God with people, and certainly bolder in sharing the Good News for it is certainly Good News, “You might not know this yet, but God loves you, has saved you by the cross, is saving by the work of the Holy Spirit and His Body today, and will fully save you one day through the power of His love! You are created by God and loved by God and loved by me too!” Oh what a joyful hope. What Good News to those who live all their lives under the bondage of fear and shame, especially the fear of the god of Islam!

    Anyhow, thanks again for sharing, and be encouraged. The sacrifices you’ve made and are making out of love for God and others will not go unrewarded! And though God ultimately saves everyone it in no ways lessens the reality of this present evil age; just like, though a life guard saves 100 out of 100 drowning victims, it in no way lessens the real potential of drowning. Because God is working to reconcile all, we work with Him; this is our joy and privaledge.

  • David #73, great post! I had the same experience. I actually purchased my copy of Bell’s book in a secular chain store, but both Christian book store’s in my neighboring town told me the same thing about why they didn’t carry it, except they were more open about letting everyone know about the disgust they had for “Love Wins”. I asked them if they had read the book…not one of them had. Thanks for your post!

  • So many great voices that make up the Bride! Absolutely thrilled with the civil discourse here. Thanks so much.

    One thing I want to add in regards to @82 – in a roundabout way – is this idea that if Universalism or Hopeful Universalism or just plain “Hopeful” is true, this in NO way detracts from the need for “missions” or “evangelism” or any of the sort.

    If we begin with the idea that we need to do this so people can be saved: it may be true, but not accurate.

    Yeshua said, If you love me, you will obey me. He then offers only one command at his departure, Make disciples. That’s it. The rest is contingent upon that, but “Make disciples” is the only imperative command – that’s what we are, among other things, to obey.

    If we love him, we will obey him.

    This has got to be the accurate starting point for “Evangelism” or “Missions” or whatever you may call it – there are broad strokes here and differing opinions on missiology > Christology > Ecclesiology and the whole circle therein, but I think Yeshua’s words remain steadfast there.

    On a bit of a side note – this whole “evangelism” thing is so funny because, isn’t the message we proclaim and sing: “The enemy has been defeated / death couldn’t hold him down / we’re gonna lift our voice in victory / we’re gonna make our praises loud” ? This is the banner we carry to the nations: Did you know!? The enemy has been defeated! Have you not heard!? The enemy has been defeated!

    This would be much more aligned to the understanding of “evangelism” in the early Church Age – proclamation of a truth/new state identity, etc.: “Hey, Small Village Number 47, Rome has conquered this land, Caesar is Lord! All hail!” There was no question that Caesar had not conquered the land, it just was what it was. It was true.

    This is not a blanket statement for/against certain methodologies, or even a conversation toward orthopraxy-orthodoxy, but – it’s funny how vastly different we now understand “evangelism.”

  • Justin @88, thanks for your post. Yes, proclaiming Jesus has won, is the victory, has triumphed over death and the grave, had dealt crushing, defeating blow to evil is good news. Repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand, within reach. And it is love that motivates us, love and faith.

    It’s similar to the mop-up efforts after any great war. Though the oppressive government has been defeated, there might still be prisoner-of-war camps in operation. It’s our job to liberate those who are still in those camps. The war has been won, but our loved ones are still prisoners! We are the elect, having been chosen from amoung our brothers, counted worthy to participate in this great campaign. Election is to be understood in the context of mission and inclusion, not exclusion, I believe. Some are chosen/elected so that all might be blessed. Abraham was chosen so that the whole world might be blessed. Some are chosen as apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers so that all might be equiped. Some are elected so that all might be saved!

    Love is the foundation of Christ’s mission and our’s! Loving our brother as ourself! The Gospel truly is Good News! God wins and His Kingdom knows no end!

  • Indeed, my friend, indeed.

  • Bob

    Hi, Dr. McKnight,
    I took classes from you at Trinity. Thanks for your discussion here. My favorite Scot McKnight quote: “If you know that, you might know too much.”
    This might be more of a general question to all: Has anyone used this book and discussion in their (maybe rather liberal leaning) church to teach about hell, and maybe to challenge their (maybe rather liberal leaning) church to reconsider their current (maybe Universalist or Libertarian free will) teaching on hell? I wonder if this might be a part of a larger phenomenon that could encourage us (OK, me) to carry on the proclamation of Good News more mindfully. If anyone has some thoughts or suggestions, I am happy to hear them. (Or you can just email me to bob@recoveryjumpstart.com)

  • Timothy

    After reading the book, the review, and this conversation, I wonder:

    When does God finally give up on a person and/or humanity?

  • Percival

    ampo004 #82,
    I would have liked to email with you since we are in the same line of work, but I can’t figure out how to get my email to you without exposing my identity. Too bad.

    One of the things I have had to put on the cross is the unworthy notion that what we are doing out here is heroic work. So, if we are not rescuing doomed people from hell, what’s the point? I think it is a better perspective to understand that we are “unprofitable servants” and if we serve with humility we can take the shaking of our theology and the shaking of everything really. Stand and see the Lord at work. Enjoy His presence. Be compassionate for those in darkness. Remember God’s grace toward you. Hold on, brother.

  • Randall

    I want to tell every one of you that are on mission in a Muslim country that I am praying for you and your family even though I don’t know you, we’re brothers and God knows your name. I believe the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ is the only really good news this sad ole world has ever had and on occasion I think it is much better news than we even generally believe it to be, namely that God was in Christ reconciling the world unto Himself, not counting men’s sins against them.

    The work you are doing is a high calling for the One who gave Himself for our healing. Don’t let doubt discourage or dissuade you in your labor. I am so thankful for your willingness to serve in this. I don’t think anything that has been said by anyone here should be taken as diminishing the need for missions or for spreading the Good News. I have spent some time in Romania and I love telling people about Jesus, I think my saviour is worth living for even if I didn’t know about hell. Without knowing that God is for us, I think the world is a drab place full of sorrow.

    I want to encourage you and ask God’s presence to envelope you and your family and you word to increase His fame.


  • Dana Ames

    ask Scot to forward your email address to ampo004, or his to you. He has done this in the past for me, in between his classes, writing, etc.


  • TJJ


    “God wants all to be saved
    God gets what he wants
    Most will not be saved”

    Yes, propositions like these do not seem to fit together; something seems amiss. Calvinists attempted to “fix it” by coming up with the doctine of election, it tweaks the first statement a little, God wants all to be saved, but only elects some, because, well, that is also the way he wants it,(see statement two). Have a problem with what he wants, well, don’t, the Calvinist might say, because God is sovereign, perfect, just, etc.

    That kind of theology IMHO is what gives rise to books like this, because it does not satisfy the notion of God is also Love, and merciful, full of grace, etc.

    Bell goes to the other side of the issue, and proposes that God does indeed want all to be saved, does all he can do to save all, but allows the limitation of human choice, or free will, if you will. God does not elect people to be lost, people do. People choose/elect to be lost themselves, at least for a season, and maybe forever, and maybe not forever, but at some point, most, if not all will choose/elect life with God.

    Well, that does indeed fit well culturally with the 21 century, western, prosperous, democratic, individualistic, human rights, politically correct, post modern society we in the US live in. And that, among other things, makes me question/doubt it.

    My question is: if that is true, then why does God drag the whole thing out so long with pergatory and whatnot, why not just make the case and the evidence for salvaton in/through Jesus compelling now, with overwhelming signs and wonders that unmistakably says: I am here,

  • TJJ wrote, “My question is: if that is true, then why does God drag the whole thing out so long with pergatory and whatnot, why not just make the case and the evidence for salvaton in/through Jesus compelling now, with overwhelming signs and wonders that unmistakably says: I am here.”

    I appreciate the kindness with which you write – and this response certainly has genuine laughter behind it, as I can only think to say,

    Have you ever witnessed a baby being born? And a thousand other questions of signs and wonders?

    Haha. Again, this is not with arrogance, by any means. I guess I do see compelling signs and wonders – or, at least I try to always be aware ;]

    Blessings on you, TJJ.

  • amp004

    I appreciate the encouragement, and I in no way think that I am heroic for what I am doing. There is the tendency for those that aren’t serving overseas to assume that those that do, have it all together and think they are doing something great for God. The longer I am here, the more I am confronted by my inability to accomplish even the least of God’s tasks apart from His enabling. It is a privilege to serve the Lord no matter where you live.

    I have so much more I could say about this, but I am going to leave it at that. Percival, I appreciate you wanting to correspond more on this, but I truly don’t have the time so I am going to have to pass. I will keep reading when I have time, and will comment when I feel necessary. Blessings to you.

  • TJJ

    Justin, yeah, my point was really that maybe there is a reason justification is by faith. Point being, God could overwhelm creation the truth of who Jesus is and what Jesus did and what we must do, to the point that even christopher Hitchens and the NYTimes editorial page would be compelled intellectually to believe. Point is, that is noit what God has done. There might be wisdom and understanding in asking why?

  • GARY

    Thank you scot for always being someone who helps me wade through the bologna that is sometimes put out there as history and language studies. I have followed this discussion very closely, and am now re-reading your posts and the book itself.

    So far I can say that you have been more than fair and I love the input and clarification you have put out there. The only point of interpretation that I have had issue with in your assessment is in the contention that Rob was in some way saying that Martin Luther, and others, were “universalists”. I am on my third reading of the book and I just don’t see where he every said that. The only thing he raises is the simple point that “see, these guys had questions too”. True, and you are correct in pointing out that these tendancies where silenced and these men, much like Rob has been, were possibly treated poorly. But at the same time, we still look to the works and words of Martin Luther with a sense of respect EVEN if he had these questions that seemed to open the door for universalism.

  • Chris G

    I just finished this chapter and apparently I am about two months behind the rest of the world in reading this book. My biggest issue so far is Rob continues to talk about the greatness, grace and love of God in both the OT and NT, but completely ignores the time in the OT when God directs the Israelites to go into the Promisedland and annihilate the people (men, women, children and even the animals). It doesn’t seem to fit the loving image of God that Rob is trying to portray.

    While not finished the danger I see is some people reading this book an seeing as a license to sin, because I can make the choice later on to come to God, even though I think Rob would argue that proceeding down that sinful path would likely lead you to the point where you might choose that destructive nature post physical death.