Not long ago Rob Bell released a video (here) promoting his newest book, Love Wins (reviews here and here). The video caused quite a controversy because, while Rob Bell had been, up to this point, considered a pastor within the evangelical movement, in the video he seemed to be promoting universalism. For those of you not familiar with the term, universalism is a teaching that takes several different forms but, at its core, holds that everyone (or almost everyone) will eventually be saved. That means Hitler and Nero and Stalin and Vlad Dracula and a host of other desperately wicked men could all eventually be in Heaven, even if they died in an unrepentant state.
Now, Rob Bell denies that he is a universalist. I would humbly submit that Bell find someone to explain to him what universalism is. For my part, I wasn’t at all surprised by the video. For years I’ve thought he was a closet universalist. But none of that is what I really wanted to address in this post.
This morning I was thinking about something Bell says at one point in the video, “What gets subtly sort of caught and taught is that Jesus rescues you from God… How could that God ever be good? How can that ever be good news?” In all the controversy swirling around whether or not Bell is a universalist, I haven’t heard anyone address this particular argument being made by Bell. Here Bell is questioning the nature of the Good News, of the Gospel, and the very goodness of God. Is he saying that the Gospel, as it is commonly taught, is actually bad news and that the God presented in that Gospel is not good? Those are strong charges.
Is he right? How shall we answer? How do we know what the Gospel is? Bell himself professes to teach what the Bible teaches, so what does the Bible say? There are a number of different passages that we could look to but I think that Romans 5:8-10 deals most directly with a number of the concerns that Bell raises.
“but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life.”
Bell disapproves of the idea that “Jesus rescues you from God” but what does this passage say? Whose wrath is it that we are saved from? Does it not state very clearly it is the wrath of God from which we are saved? If it is indeed true that “Jesus rescues you from God”, that is, from His wrath, then how are we to answer Bell’s questions about the goodness of God and the goodness of the Gospel? Does the fact that we are saved from God’s wrath mean that God isn’t good or that the Gospel is not good news?
To be continued…