Does Rob Bell believe in universalism? His newly released book “Love Wins” has thrown Christian circles into mayhem. Is it worth a read?
Certain Christian bookstores have refused to carry the book based on the controversy surrounding it and the theology within.
Bell’s popular video series NOOMA has been shown at Christian gatherings for the last several years, and yet, his most recent book, “Love Wins,” has cast doubt on his leadership and wisdom.
In his book, Bell claims, “At the center of the Christian tradition since the first church have been a number who insist that history is not tragic, hell is not forever, and love, in the end, wins and all will be reconciled to God” (pg. 109).
Claims like these have helped to fuel the controversy over Bell’s beliefs. Although he does not explicitly claim to be a universalist, Bell does talk extensively about the ideas presented.
In response to whether hell is a literal place, Bell describes children maimed during the issues of genocide in Rwanda, and writes, “Do I believe in a literal hell? Of course. Those aren’t metaphorical missing arms and legs” (pg. 71).
This quote could naturally be construed to fit several different doctrines and belief systems.
One often-quoted C.S. Lewis statement that has been used in comparison to Bell comes from “The Problem of Pain,” in which Lewis says, “I willingly believe that the damned are, in one sense, successful, rebels to the end; that the doors of hell are locked on the inside.”
ORU theology professor Jimmy Shaw, however, vehemently disagrees with the comparison.
“I think comparing Bell to C.S. Lewis is [like] comparing my 2-year-old’s crayon drawings to the Mona Lisa,” Shaw said. “The only thing they have in common is that they apparently both enjoyed writing fiction.”
Bell’s book presents chapters of inquisitive, probing questions about Christianity while talks around various answers and beliefs.
Shaw described Bell’s method.
“It is hard to know precisely what Bell believes about any one issue,” he commented. “He is a master of asking probing and suggestive questions that undermine traditional understandings, but he retreats into the vague when pressed for clarity on his positions.”
Shaw also commented on whether he thinks Bell was a universalist.
“Bell stated explicitly in a recent interview that he is not a universalist; however, Bell’s understanding of sin, wrath, and judgment as portrayed in “Love Wins” are so deficient and exegetically misguided [that] it would not be inaccurate to describe his eschatology as functionally universalist,” Shaw said.
So, is it worth reading? Shaw challenged students to decide for themselves.
“Love Wins’ is a marginally-entertaining read that asks some great questions and mocks all of the people young disgruntled Christians like to mock,” he said. “But you will find more biblically faithful exegetical work in a Pixar film.”