If you follow religious commentary, keep up with Christian publishing, or follow just about any pastor on Twitter, you’re probably aware of the firestorm that started a few weeks ago about Rob Bell’s new book, Love Wins.
The controversy started when Bell released a video and the covers of his book, both of which seemed to suggest he was going to promote universalism. In other words, he was going to argue that everyone gets into heaven.
And after watching the video and reading the excerpts, I certainly could see how that conclusion could be drawn.
For his part, Bell didn’t come out to refute anything during the buildup, probably because all the mystery and attention was going to lead to some pretty lofty sales (the book is still No. 10 on the Amazon.com bestsellers list, even a month after its release).
Once the book was out, critics had a chance to read the whole thing – context and all – and Bell finally came out to try to defend himself.
Now, I’ll admit that I haven’t had a chance to read the book yet. I’ve read reviews of it from multiple sources – which I’ll link below – and the consensus is that Bell is questioning the traditional Christian view of what happens when we die. From what I can gather, his take is that we will get a second chance after death to either choose Christ and heaven or not, in some ways making the way we live pointless.
After all, if we get one more shot after we’re dead and it would be almost impossible to turn down God’s grace at that point, where’s the incentive to follow God wholeheartedly in this life and actively seek forgiveness and repent?
While I certainly disagree with Bell’s take (it seems clear to me from the Bible that we have to make our decision to follow Christ in this life), the most fascinating thing to me in this whole deal was the firestorm it created and how quickly that spread.
I first saw the topic raised on Twitter by Southern Theological Seminary President Al Mohler, who posted on March 1 “New at Marked Urgent: “Universalism as Lure? The Emerging Case of Rob Bell.” The Gospel is too precious to be played with http://ow.ly/45k8q.” That link took you to a blog where he took Bell to task.
Mohler was the only one to go after Bell from the get-go, as other prominent church leaders from one of my favorites, John Piper, to Justin Taylor of the Gospel Coalition, to Mark Driscoll of Mars Hill in Seattle.
Again, while I agree with all of them theologically, it was fascinating to see how quickly they all came out against a book that hadn’t even been released yet. I firmly believe in holding on to solid biblical truth and confronting heresy in all forms when we see it, but no one was sure what EXACTLY Bell was going to say when all the initial reaction happened.
That naturally drew a strong reaction from many other Christians, sort of summed up in this post from Red Letter Christians. They took the angle of, “How dare you attack an interpretation of one of our brothers, who is primarily raising questions that many people are already asking.”
Granted, we’re not here to be judge and jury. But again, it’s important for the church to rise up and call out false doctrine when it is there. Sure, there are some in the Christian community who feel that hell and even satan himself aren’t real, but they are in the vast minority.
And it’s also true that no one has actually been to the other side of this life and reported back on what exactly happens when we die. It’s also nice to think that God will ultimately save everyone. Heck, I’m all for it if He is.
But we can’t separate God’s love from his judgment, and we can’t ignore verses from Jesus Himself such as, “For the gate is small and the way is narrow that leads to life, and there are few who find it” (Matthew 7:14), “Not everyone who says to me Lord, Lord will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father” (Matthew 7:21), “If anyone does not abide in Me he is thrown away as a branch and dries up; and they gather them, and cast them into the fire and they are burned” (John 15:6).
So, I appreciate Rob Bell for starting this conversation and allowing God’s Word the chance to prove itself true once again. And thanks to everyone out there who had a take and provided plenty of entertainment and information over the past few weeks.
And in case you’re interested, you can check out Bell’s book here.
Here are some well-written reviews of the full book, and also of the controversy itself: