Posted tagged ‘Universalism’

Do We Really Believe What We’re Saying?

March 23, 2011

David Platt, currently ministering in northern India, asks a really important question.  May we answer with our lives.

[vimeo 21387696]

Rob Bell Briefing

March 14, 2011

There’s no way to keep up with (or link to) all the articles, blogs, videos, and reviews coming out about Rob Bell’s book Love Wins, which is scheduled to release tomorrow (March 15).  Currently, his book is #8 in all of Amazon–a rarity for any “Christian” book.  I do not recall in my six years of blogging a controversy as heated and widespread as this one which just about every major secular media outlet is inquiring and every major evangelical theologian going on record by article, review, or just a tweet or two.

Today, there were several things that came out recently worthy of your attention.

1.  Here is a video of Rob Bell explaining why he wrote the book, in particular his controlling belief and presupposition that God is love.

I will just mention briefly that I believe the doctrine of the love of God has been historically the gateway to many heresies, and what Rob Bell is doing here is consistent with the convictions of liberal theologians for centuries. Bell is simply making an old heresy available to a new audience, and making it with style.

2.  Three substantive reviews came out today regarding the book.  The first one is by Kevin DeYoung, and it is a beast.  His review, though considerably long, is careful and rather comprehensive.  It is a must-read.  The second one is by Denny Burk.  Denny breaks down his review by addressing each chapter in Bell’s book.  A third review came from Christianity Today’s Mark Galli who takes more of a middle-of-the-road approach, expressing appreciation for Bell raising the issues but also challenging Bell at certain points.

3.  Doug Wilson makes his usually insightful observation about the denial of the existence of hell not as a matter of mere consequence in the afterlife, but making your life now a literal hell.  He explains:

What is less obvious is how those who deny the future reality of Hell are much more likely to create hellish situations in the here and now. Rob Bell believes that hell is what we create when we reject God’s love. Amen. But I would want to add the absolutely critical proviso that this love of God (that is so rejected) must be defined as He defines it in the Bible, and not as we would wish it might be defined in our Big Rock Candy Mountain versions of Heaven. In the Bible, love is defined as Christ bearing the brunt of God’s wrath against our sin. “Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins” (1 Jn. 4:10). A denial of the wrath of God is therefore a denial of propitiation (which is bearing the wrath of God), and this in its turn is a denial of love as biblically defined. This means that to deny the reality of Hell is to deny the love of God which saves us from the wrath of that Hell, and to deny the love of God is the first step in creating our own little microcosm of that Hell, which Rob Bell is engaged in doing. He is the pastor of Mars Hill Bible Church in Grand Rapids, and if he is right about what rejecting the love of God does (and he is), then it would appear that someone is trying to turn that place into Mars Hell.

4.   I was taken back by the comments of Richard Mouw.  I find these words to be very “mysterious.”  In today’s USA TODAY (13B), you will read the following:

But Richard Mouw, president of the world’s largest Protestant seminary, Fuller Theological Seminary based in Pasadena, Calif., calls Love Wins “a great book, well within the bounds of orthodox Christianity and passionate about Jesus.”  The real hellacious fight, says Mouw, a friend of Bell, a Fuller graduate, is between “generous orthodoxy and stingy orthodoxy. There are stingy people who just want to consign many others to hell and only a few to heaven and take delight in the idea. But Rob Bell allows for a lot of mystery in how Jesus reaches people.”

5.  Rob Bell shared on Twitter that the book release party in NYC’s Center for Ethical Culture will be streamed live beginning at 7PM EST.  So if you would like to hear more from Rob Bell himself, this would be a good opportunity.

6.  Lastly, Southern Seminary is hosting a conversation about the book this Thursday (March 17) from 2:30-4:00PM EST. The panelists will include Justin Taylor, Denny Burk, Albert Mohler, and Russell Moore.  This event will also be livestreamed and available through their website.

Revising God by Hating Hell

March 2, 2011

Clark Pinnock commenting on why he rejects the classical position of hell as eternal punishment:

“I am rejecting the traditional view of hell in part out of a sense of moral and theological revulsion to it.  The idea that a conscious creature should have to undergo physical and mental torture through unending time is profoundly disturbing, and the thought that this is inflicted upon them by divine decree offends my conviction about God’s love” (emphasis mine).

– Clark Pinnock, “The Conditional View” in Four Views on Hell, edd. Stanley Gundry and William Crockett (Zondervan: Grand Rapids, 1996), 164.

From the comments and questions on Rob Bell’s video trailer to his book, I’m guessing that Bell shares a lot of the same sentiments that Pinnock does.  Here’s an excerpt from Bell in his video:

See, what we believe about heaven and hell is incredibly important because it exposes what we believe about who God is, and what God is like.

Bell is right about that, but unfortunately, he along with Pinnock and others are willing to reduce the character of God to one attribute and subject all of his other perfections secondarily to the love of God.  This God-revision is necessary on account of what they have determined to be moral and loving. Consequently, when you start with your sentiments rather than the God who has the right of self-revelation, you are left to reveal the god of your sentiments rather than the God who is.  And it is hubris is the highest degree to define God to our liking rather than the way God has chosen to reveal Himself to us.

The bottom line is this: universalists (or inclusivists) want to believe that all the world will be (eventually) saved.  Their wishful thinking is determinative, and the justification of such thinking warrants an understanding of God that makes His love incongruent with and unaccountable to the rest of his attributes. Carl Henry correctly asserted,

“The subordination of divine righteousness to divine love leads to arbitrary conceptions of agape in which God’s judgment and wrath do not come to full scriptural expression, and from which grossly unbiblical consequences are still deduced” (Aspects of Christian Social Ethics, 168).

Furthermore, in order to make room for the many/all, they reduce the character of God to love and fail to give account for His glory, holiness, justice, righteousness, and wrath.  The manifold perfections of God which shine so brilliantly are shrouded by cloudy sentimentalism, as Ajith Fernando states,

“The universalist idea of the whole (message of the Bible) contradicts such a significant portion of the parts that it simply cannot be regarded as a legitimate representation of the whole. . . . When we ignore those parts of Scripture which we find unpleasant, we will end up with an understanding of the message of the Scriptures that has no place for wrath and hell” (Crucial Questions About Hell, 120).

In the end, it is not simply that love wins. Glory wins. Justice wins. Righteousness wins. Holiness wins. And why is this?  Because God is holy, righteous, just, and altogether glorious in all of his perfections.  And only such a picture of God can tell the whole story of the Bible and adequately portray the drama of redemption in which Christ our King as the lamb who is our righteousness, who absorbed the wrath of God, and vindicated the justice of a perfectly holy God adopting sinners into His family.

When we are left with the God of the Bible in all of His excellencies and perfections, we are brought low to the ground in woe because of His glory, in worship because of His grace.  And no one will be wringing their hands wishing they did not have a God like this.

“Closet Universalists”

March 2, 2011

* Updated 03.02.2011

One of the things that the Rob Bell saga is doing is shining the light on the encroachment of universalism in the sphere of biblical orthodoxy.  I have no idea whether Rob Bell is a universalist or not, but my guess is if he is, then universalism will de facto become a cool and acceptable tenet by virtue of Bell’s dominant influence among those in his wide domain.  I even saw where Matthew Paul Turner (Jesus Needs New PR) on Twitter making the claim that “Jesus universalism has deep roots in Christian history” and has “been around since the beginning.”  Additionally, Scot McKnight argued, “My own estimation is that somewhere near 75% of my students, many if not most of them nurtured in the church, are more or less universalist.”

Reading the responses not so much in defense of Bell as much as a defense of “Christian universalism” (an oxymoron in my book), I was taken back to a quote by Ajith Fernando about “closet universalists.”  In his chapter on “the decline of hell,” he wrote the following:

“Many in the church today have universalism simply as a hope.  Though they may not preach it dogmatically, they don’t eliminate the possibility that all will be saved in the end.  We may call them the ‘wishful universalists.’

I have been told numerous times that there are many ‘closet universalists’ in evangelical churches today. These are people who believe that all will be saved, but are afraid of being public about this belief as it is considered a heresy in orthodox Christian circles, and also because the idea that all will be saved could add to the spiritual apathy of this generation.

Related to the above question is that of evangelicals who are ashamed of hell. They are bound to believe everything the Bible explicitly teaches, so they believe in an eternal hell.  But they wish that they did not have to believe it.  If they speak about the topic, which is not very often, they do so with a sense of shame, as if it were something very unjust, and they keep saying that they wish it were not true.”*

Methinks that if universalism gets the positive PR of Bell and Turner (among others), there will likely be many who “come out of the closet” with their abhorrence of hell and conviction that all will be saved.  If Bell writes a book and communicates it with such eloquence and oratory skill that he is known for, perhaps many people will no long be “afraid of being public about this belief.”

As I stated elsewhere, I believe that universalism is the sentimentalism of the unregenerate heart searching for hope, riding on the clipped wings of (a form of) love that is not generously sacrificial because God is not appreciated as supremely holy and just.

In one sense, I am glad that the attention is being drawn to the subject of universalism, because if Fernando is right, there are many who silently adhere to dangerous heresy and could be greatly helped with a better and more accurate understanding of God and salvation.  In another sense, it grieves me how quickly and easily biblical orthodoxy is subjugated to the theological whims of our weightless generation.  May God help us hold the line on the character of God and His gospel message, openly proclaiming the public scandal of the cross where love is demonstrated and justice is vindicated in the substitutionary death of Jesus.

*Ajith Fernando, Crucial Questions About Hell (Wheaton: Crossway, 1991), 22-23.