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Heaven, Hell, Universalism and Rob Bell - Part 1
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Heaven, Hell, Universalism and Rob Bell - Part 1


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This is part 1 of a presentation that examines Rob Bell's theology of universalism in his book "Love Wins".

This is part 1 of a presentation that examines Rob Bell's theology of universalism in his book "Love Wins".

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  • 1. A Look at the Theology of Rob Bell & “Love Wins” Part 1
  • 2. What are we Talking About? On March 15, 2011, HarperOne publishers releases Emergent Church leader Rob Bell‘s new book ―Love Wins‖. The promotional video for the book immediately raised speculations in Christendom that Rob Bell was a universalist, and what has followed since then hasbeen one of the largest theological firestorms in some time.
  • 3. What are we Talking About?Everything started with apromotional video that wasreleased of Bell‘s book ―LoveWins‖. The video promptedJustin Taylor of the GospelCoalition to speculate that Bellwas embracing and teachinguniversalism.
  • 4. Taylor‘s blog post on Rob Bell‘s book elicited a large response from many people including Dr. John Piper who simply remarked, ―Farewell Rob Bell.‖Piper‘s comments communicated that Bell had finally and fully set sail from orthodox Christianity.
  • 5.
  • 6. I was asked by to writea response to Bell‘s book and the conceptof universalism in general, which I did. Itwas posted on the gotquestions.orgwebsite, and I also posted it on mypersonal blog. But not everyone agreedwith my conclusions.
  • 7. The media frenzy caused by the major discussions happening in the Christian world caused Timemagazine to do a cover story that asked the question ―What if There‘s no Hell?‖ Speaking about the traditional view of Hell, the article says, ―Bell, a tall, 40-year-old son of a Michigan federal judge, begs to differ. He suggests that theredemptive work of Jesus may be universal — meaning that, as his books subtitle puts it, "every person who ever lived" couldhave a place in heaven, whatever that turns out to be.‖
  • 8. Bell‘s book ―Love Wins‖ and its accompanying controversy has landed him on Time‘s 2011 ―100 most influential people in the world‖ list. The reach of Rob Bell has far outgrown the 10,000+ members of his Mars Hill church, and therefore it is important we understandwhat his teaching is and how it affects people‘s spiritual thoughts and lives.
  • 9. Defining Terms and a Look Back at its History
  • 10. What is Universalism/Ultimate Reconciliation?Universalism (universal salvation), or its more technical term ―Ultimate Reconciliation‖ is a teaching that says every human being, at some point, will ultimately be reconciled to God.Because Jesus died for everyone (satisfying God‘s justice), each person will – either in this life or the next – be won over by God‘s love and spend eternity with Him.
  • 11. The Teachings of Origen Origen of Alexandria (185-254 A.D.) is widely thought to have been auniversalist. The African theologian, whotook an allegorical approach to Scripture and was heavily influenced by Greekphilosophy, did not believe in the eternal suffering of sinners in Hell. For Origen,all created beings, even demons and the devil, would eventually achieve salvation, no matter how long it took in the current life or in the life to come. He reasoned that because God‘s love is so powerful, it will eventually soften even the hardest heart.
  • 12. ―No one can resist God‘s pursuit forever becauseGod‘s love will eventually melt even the hardest hearts.‖ -Rob Bell (pg. 108)
  • 13. The Teachings of Origen ―So then, when the end has been restored to the beginning, and the termination of things compared with their commencement, that condition of things will be re-established in which rational nature was placed, when it had no need to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil; so that when all feeling of wickedness has been removed, and the individual has been purified and cleansed, He who alone is the one good God comes to him ‗all‘ and that not in the case of a few individuals, or of a considerable number, but He Himself is ‗all in all‘. And when death shall no longer anywhere exist, nor the sting of death, nor any evil at all, then verily God will be ‗all in all‘.‖ -Origen De Principiis, 3.6.3
  • 14. ―And so, beginning with the early church,there is a long tradition of Christians who believe that God will ultimately restore everything and everybody, because Jesus says in Matthew 19 that there willbe a ―renewal of all things,‖ Peter says in Acts 3 that Jesus will ―restoreeverything,‖ and Paul says in Colossians 1 that through Christ ―God was pleased to. . . .reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven.‖ - Rob Bell (pg. 107)
  • 15. The Teachings of Origen Origin‘s restoration of all beings,known as apokatastasis, is the Greek word used in Acts 3:21 for restoration, and can be traced back to the Greek philosopher Heraclitus, who stated that ―the beginning and end are common‖. Origen‘s belief in ultimate reconciliation were eventually refuted by Augustine and condemned in 543 A.D. in a council at Constantinople.
  • 16. What is Universalism/Ultimate Reconciliation? ―A universalist is someone who believes thatevery human being whom God has created or will create will finally come to enjoy the everlasting salvation into which Christians enter here andnow. Universalism is the recognized name for this belief. . . .Among Christian theological options it appears as an extreme optimism of grace, or perhaps of nature, and sometimes, it seems, or both. But in itself it is a revisionist challenge to orthodoxy, whether Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, or Protestant evangelical; for the church has officially rated universalism a heresy ever since the second Council of Constantinople (the fifth ecumenical council, A.D. 553), when the doctrine of apokatastasis (the universal return to God and restoration of all souls) that Origen taught was anathematized.‖ - J. I. Packer
  • 17. The Teachings of Socinus An Italian theologian named Laelius Socinus who lived in the 16th century, and his nephew Faustus, revived the 4th century heresy ofArianism - officially condemned at the council of Nicaea in 325 A.D. - and taught that the Trinity was a falsedoctrine and that Christ was not God.In that sense, they were ―Unitarian‖ in their teaching.
  • 18. The Teachings of SocinusBut Socinus went further and said that some of God‘s attributes (e.g. His omniscience, immutability, etc.) were optional and not necessary, meaning He didnt have to manifest them if He chose not to. Socinus claimed that God‘s justice was optional, butHis mercy is mandatory. In other words, God always had to be merciful, but He didnt always have to be just toward offenses committed against Him. Therefore, the logic of Socinus progressed as follows: if Gods justice is optional, but His mercy ismandatory, and if God loves all the world andChrist died for everyone who would ever live, then all people will be saved by God. In this respect, Socinus and his nephew were ―Universalists‖.
  • 19. The Majority Opinion on Hell ―Until the nineteenth century almost all Christian theologians taught the reality of eternal torment in hell. Here and there, outside the theological mainstream, weresome who believed that the wicked would be finally annihilated. . . . Even fewer were the advocates of universal salvation, though these few included some major theologians of the early church. Eternal punishment was firmly asserted in official creeds and confessions of the churches. It must have seemed as indispensable a part of the universal Christian belief as the doctrines of the Trinity and the incarnation.‖ -Richard Bauckham (―Universalism: A Historical Survey,‖ Themelios 4.2 [September 1978]: 47–54)
  • 20. Recent Poll: Is Universalism True?
  • 21. How Universalists View Hell
  • 22. What Purpose Does Hell Serve in Universalism? Origen saw the church as the great ―schoolof souls‖ in which erring pupils are instructed and disciplined, but for those who do not choose God in this life, they would continuetheir ‗tutelage‘ in the next through an atoning and sanctifying process of purging fire. Origen believed that Hell cannot be permanent for any soul because God could not abandon any creature. Since God respects human freedom, the process of winning over His created beings may take a long time in some cases, but God‘s love, Origen believed, will ultimately triumph. Or as Rob Bell puts it, Love Wins (pgs.197-8).
  • 23. ―There is a Hell because we see Hell everyday. Yeah we can resist and we can reject what it means to be fully human and good and decent and compassionate. Soyes, there is. And we have that choice now. And I assume we have that choice into the future. Yes.‖ -Initial promotional book interview―We can create all sorts of Hells right now if we want…‖ -ABC News Interview (never asked the question if he believed in a literal Hell) ―A heretic is someone who is able to choose…‖ -MSNBC News Interview (never asked the question if he believed in a literal Hell)
  • 24. Bell: ―To the question ‗are you a universalist‘, first and foremost, no…‖ Question: ―Is it irrelevant as to how you respond to Christ in your life now to determine your eternal destiny?‖ Answer: ―It is terribly relevant and terribly important. Now, how exactly that works out and how exactly it works out in the futurenow when you die, we are firmly in the realm of speculation.‖ Interviewer: ―What you‘ve done is you‘re amending the gospel, the Christian message, so that it‘s palatable for contemporary people who find the idea of Heaven and Hell very difficult to stomach.‖ -MSNBC News Interview
  • 25. Bell‘s view of Hell:• There are ―all kinds of hell because there are all kinds of ways to reject the good and the true and the beautiful and the human now, in this life, and so we can only assume we can do the same in the next‖ (pg. 79)• A ―period of pruning‖ (pg. 91)• ―An intense period of correction‖ (pg. 91)
  • 26. An important look at the Emerging Church’s view of Scripture
  • 27. Bell on the Clarity of the Bible ―The Bible is still in the center for us‖, Rob says, ―but it‘s a different kind of center. We want to embrace mystery, rather than conquer it.‖ ―I grew upthinking that we‘ve figured out the Bible,‖ Kristen says, ―that we knew what it means. Now I have no idea what most of it means. And yet, I feel like life is big again – like life used to be black and white, and now it‘s in color.‖ -Rob & Kristen Bell Interview in Christianity Today
  • 28. Tony Jones on Truth and the Bible ―We must stop looking for some objective truth that is available when we delve into the text of the Bible.‖ -Tony Jones Emergent Church Leader
  • 29. ―In the book, I write abouthow some have believedthat all will be reconciledand while I long for that as Ithink everybody should longfor it, I don‘t take a positionof certainty because, ofcourse, I don‘t know how itall turns out.‖ - Rob Bell Interview with Time Magazine
  • 30. ―Will everybody be saved, or will some perish apart from God forever because of their choices? Those are questions, or more accurately, thoseare tensions we are free to leave fullyintact. We don‘t need to resolve them or answer them because we can‘t, and so we simply respect them, creating space for the freedom that love requires.‖ -Rob Bell (pg. 115)
  • 31. But is that what Bell really thinks? ―A staggering number of people have been taught that a select few Christians will spend forever in a peaceful, joyous place called heaven, while the rest of humanity spends forever in torment and punishment in hell with no chance for anything better. It‘s beenclearly communicated to many that this belief is a central truth of the Christian faith and to reject it is, in essence, to reject Jesus. This is misguided and toxic and ultimately subverts the contagious spread of Jesus‘ message of love, peace, forgiveness, andjoy that our world desperately needs to hear‖ -Rob Bell Pg. viii, emphasis added
  • 32. But is that what Bell really thinks? Remember Bell entitled his book ―Love Wins‖. That alonecommunicates which side of the fence he falls on, which is the same side as Origen and Socinus.
  • 33. We’ll examine that in Part 2 of this series…