Universalism: For Whom the Bell Tolls? – It Tolls for Thee

The anticipation of the release of Rob Bell's new book continues to grow. If the title of the book – Love Wins : Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived - is any indication of Bell's future theological trajectory we will see the precursor of what will become full-blown universalism. Bell's defenders will accuse his opponents of overstating the dangers of the questions Bell is asking concerning God's love, the reality of the nature of our eternal destinies, and the seeming incongruity between a belief in a loving God and the radical punishment (eternal hell) for those who reject God's love; Bell's detractors will act as if Bell is the first person to wander off the theological reservation.

If Bell is headed toward a full-blown universalism that is wrapped in Christian garb, I have but one statement and one major question for Bell.

My statement is rather personal, so let me address it directly to Rob Bell: "Rob, when I heard about your book, watched some of your video clips, and read some of the numerous responses to your proposals I had this vision of you standing on a white sand beach, sun-tan oil and towel in hand, sunning yourself in the rays of God's warm sun, oblivious to the fact that a tsunamic tidal-wave was rising up out of the ocean ready to sweep away everything and everyone in its path, including you. Don't you realize that the beach of universalism on which you're stepping has been tried before and that, just as before, a tidal-wave of biblical truth and historical/theological consensus will sweep you away? You will become a footnote in the history of the church as just another well-intentioned 'theologian' who tried to spit into God's powerful whirlwind of truth. Rob, I've never met you, but please, get off the beach before your stellar career is swept away."

My questions are rather personal, as well: "Rob, if Love Wins in the way you are reported to say that it does, why be a Christian at all? I don't get it. If, in the end, nothing really matters (how I live or who I serve) because God will save the worst of us even if we refused to follow Jesus in this life, why follow Jesus in this life at all? Why live holy or make any attempt to really love my neighbor? This is one thing I've never understood about universalism. If there's nothing at stake, if everyone wins, if God's holiness is actually meaningless and can be co-opted by my hubris, if love alone defines God apart from His holiness, righteousness, wrath, and judgment, then why make any attempt to follow Jesus in this life in the first place? By the way, Rob, if universalism is true don't ever speak of church discipline to your church members or your kids – in the end, it doesn't matter. Don't ever speak of truth – it doesn't matter. Please don't tell me that following the 'Jesus way' will make my life smoother, easier, or better in this life. Who cares? If universalism is true, then truth is determined by the autonomous self that will get the good side of both time and eternity no matter what."

But, Rob, I have more questions. If universalism is true, I'm going for the best of what both worlds have to offer – eat, drink, and be merry in this life for tomorrow I will die, and when I do die I get heaven no matter what happened this side of eternity. And what's my reward? I get away with it! Fantastic! Again, please don't tell me that I should still follow Jesus in this life because it will make my life better. Are you kidding! I'm a 'stinkin' sinner' who is already uninterested in and struggling with changing my ways, so if I don't have to and I can still get heaven and if thumbing my self-important finger in God's face has no eternal consequences, this is awesome and I for one am all about it. If universalism is true I may or may not be faithful to my wife, depending on if it benefits me; I may or may not love my kinds, etc. You get the picture. Oh, by the way, it's nice that Jesus lived, said some amazing words, 'died for sinners', rose from the dead, etc. – if you still believe all that stuff. But if universalism is true then I'm not going to miss whatever 'it' is in this life because I'll get 'it' in the long run. I must say, your orthodoxy has truly become generous."

"I join John Piper in bidding you farewell, Rob Bell. Let me be prophetic. The crowds will still attend your church and your conferences, your book will sell (I bought one myself), and you will become even more rich and famous than you are now. But you have become what Jesus said of the Pharisees of old (Mt. 23:13-15): 'Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you travel across sea and land to make a single proselyte, and when he becomes a proselyte, you make him twice as much a child of hell as yourselves.' Be well and be safe on your journeys across the universalistic high seas. So long, Rob Bell, so long. Only remember but one question: For whom does the bell toll? Rob, it tolls for thee."

Dr. Kevin Shrum has been in ministry for 29 years, currently pastors Inglewood Baptist Church in Nashville, Tennessee, and is an Adjunct Professor of Theology for Union University in Jackson, Tennessee.

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