Wednesday, January 18, 2012

The Allusive Nature of Rob Bell’s Alleged Universalism

I was wondering if you would be able to help me.  It has been some time, as I suspect it has been for many of us, since I have read Love Wins.  As the dust has settled and everyone has actualized their deep need to let everyone know what they thought of it, a lingering question remains for me?  Does Rob Bell explicitly embrace or objectively state something that necessarily makes him a universalist in the book?

As I surfed the tide of the world wide web via youtube I found this video in which Rob says that he does not think that God is like that.  “That” being someone who would upkeep the punishment for 17 million years of a 17 year who rejected Christ and then died.  The video ends before the answer is completely unpacked.  Perhaps Bobby Conway is more accurate when at the beginning of this video he suggests that Bell is a “post-mortem nuanced purgatorial inclusivist.”  How he would explain that I do not know because I turned the video off after the first few minutes when he prayed God would correct Bell. 

What I should do is reread the book and scan it with this specific question in mind.  What I did do was quickly scour the chapter “Does God Get What God Wants.”  In that chapter I found this statement:

“Will everybody be saved,
or will some perish apart from God forever because of their choices?

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 the freedom that love requires.” (p. 115)

This statement only reaffirms my first impression about the book.  Love Wins is not about universalism. It is about participationist soteriology.  It argues that choices we make actually form us and that the sum of the choices make us someone who is either compatible or incompatible with heaven or more explicitly the kingdom described and embodied by Christ.  So will some people who make Christ conforming choices without knowing Christ be in heaven?  “Those are questions … we simply respect.”

But with your help I could see something I did not before.  So if you would be willing and you remember reading something that renders universalism undeniably present in the book, please share and include a page number.  Would be much obliged for the help.



  1. It seems the universalist tag is often assigned to those bearing participationist soteriological tendencies. I have rarely read purely universalist work quite frankly. I just finished McLaren's "The Story We Find Ourselves In" and it contains a very similar soteriology. I find it more likely (I'm reading it so late I don't know what controversy surrounded it at the time)to receive criticism for "works righteousness," which you addressed in your previous post. I wonder how you might apply the former to this conversation.

  2. Sharyl, great question. Now I will be completely obnoxious and vulnerable. I am working on a book without a publishers knowledge or remote interest that addresses this issue. If by some miracle I ever finish and get some sorry sucker interested in publishing it, I will give you a copy :)

  3. Well, the first part of a good book is a relevant question, and I stumbled upon it without your coaxing so you must be doing something right. I'll be your sounding board anytime. Seriously.