Fifty Million Rob Bell Fans Can’t Be Wrong

In 1959 RCA releasedFifty Million Elvis Fans Can’t Be Wrong—Elvis’ Gold Records Vol. 2.1 Elvis Presley was an exceptionally popular entertainer who was also one of the most controversial public figures of the late 1950s. The title of his second greatest hits album indicates a popular sentiment: It must be right, because millions of people believe it. But this sentiment does not translate to theology. Though many church fathers and theologians throughout the ages may have believed in a particular doctrine, it’s correctness is not established by that fact alone.

Rob Bell is the founding pastor of Mars Hill Bible Church in Grand Rapids, Michigan and is the author of such books as Velvet Elvis, Sex God, Jesus Wants to Save Christians, and Drops Like Stars. Many evangelical Christians are familiar with his Nooma series of videos.2 Bell is influential in Emerging Church circles and is a popular speaker. Though his previous books have sold well, Love Wins is especially popular.

The twin premises of Love Wins are that God is a God of love and that the evangelical Christian view of God is too narrow. “Has God created billions of people over thousands of years only to select a few to go to heaven and everyone else to suffer forever in hell?”3 Bell asks. Love Wins challenges the traditional views concerning heaven, hell, and salvation. For the sake of brevity this review concentrates on Bell’s view of salvation.

Universalism

Simply stated, Rob Bell is a universalist. Baptist theologian Millard Erickson’s description of universalism also describe’s Bell’s views: “From time to time, however, a contrary position has been espoused in the Church, namely, that all will be saved. This position (is) known as universalism.”4 Some years ago Erickson noted this tendency in a list of trends within liberal evangelical circles: “A hope for near-universal salvation. God has not left Himself without a witness in all cultures, sufficient to bring people to salvation if they earnestly seek it.”5

Bell does not concern himself with “earnest seekers.” Instead, he arranges a list of passages from both the Old and New Testaments to describe God’s love for human beings.6 God must save everyone, reasons Bell:

How great is God?
Great enough to achieve what God sets out to do,
or kind of great,
medium great,
great most of the time,
but in this,
the fate of billions of people,
not totally great.
Sort of great.
A little great.7

Bell sees God as a failure if He doesn’t save everyone: “Will all people be saved, or will God not get what He wants? Does this magnificent, mighty, marvelous God fail in the end?”8

One could call this “God is a failure” argument “extreme pathos.” Evangelical theology answers this dilemma, “Will all be saved? The church’s usual position throughout history has been that while some or even many will be saved, some will not.”9 At least two theological arguments stand against the universal salvation espoused in Love Wins.

The nature of the atonement

Bell’s view of the extent of Christ’s atonement is apparently informed by the “Moral-Influence Theory.” This view was originally developed by Peter Abelard (1079-1142), a theologian and professor at the University of Paris.10 Abelard “emphasized the primacy of God’s love and insisted that Christ did not make some sort of sacrificial payment (i.e. ransom) to the Father to satisfy His dignity. Rather, Jesus demonstrated to humanity the full extent of God’s love for them.”11

The Moral Influence Theory was further developed at a much later date by Horace Bushnell (1802-1876) in the US and Hastings Rashdall in the UK.12 Bushnell wrote, “It is not that the suffering appeased God, but that it expresses God—displays, in open history, the unconquerable love of God’s heart.”13 Lewis and Demarest summarize this theory: “At bottom, then, people are saved by the compelling power of God’s self-giving love.”14

Bell views the traditional evangelical view of salvation as “God in the end doesn’t get what God wants”15 because God “wants all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (NASB, 1 Tim. 2:4). What will be the outcome of the lives of billions of human beings?

To be clear, again, an untold number of serious disciples of Jesus across hundreds of years have assumed, affirmed, and trusted that no one can resist God’s pursuit forever, because God’s love will eventually melt even the hardest of hearts.16

This is universalism, clearly presented and concisely stated.

The means and extent of salvation

The second theological problem with Love Wins is Bell’s view of the means and extent of salvation. How far does the death of Christ extend to all human beings?

Rsearch on this topic reveals a “kindred spirit” to Rob Bell: Nels Ferré of Sweden.17 As a youth Ferré was troubled by his father’s conservative understanding of the Scriptures, especially his eschatology. Ferré eventually immigrated to the US where “he built his own theology on the central thought of divine love.”18 “It is his understanding of God’s love that governs his interpretation of Scriptures and the issue as a whole.”19 Ferré described the means and extent of a universalist salvation in these terms:

The logic of the New Testament at its highest and deepest point is the logic of God’s sovereign love… Those who worship the sovereign Lord dare proclaim nothing less than the total victory of His love. No other position can be consistently Christian. All other positions limit either God’s goodness or His power, in which case both Fundamentalism and modern Liberalism have their own varieties of the finite God.20

Bell’s conclusions are mirror-images to those of Ferré. Concerning the love of God, he writes:

Which is stronger and more powerful, the hardness of the human heart or God’s unrelenting, infinite, expansive love? Thousands through the years have answered that question with the resounding response, “God’s love, of course.”21

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.22

Indeed, theologians throughout the centuries have written about universalism. Origen (ca. 185-254) probably first systematized universalism: “Origen also adopted with some enthusiasm the idea of apokatastasis or universal restoration, according to which every creature, including both humanity and Satan, will be saved.”23 But universalism is not the prevalent theological concept of salvation. Over the centuries a few writers and theologians followed Origen’s lead. Far more theologians have not.

Theological method

At this point we must ask the question, “How does Rob Bell do theology?” In the case of his universalism, Bell assembles a number of verses in an effort to support of the dominance of God’s love over all His other attributes. He then adds a number of “traditions” to the mixture and concludes that everyone must be saved from destruction.

On the one hand Bell does not consider many of the Scripture passages that obstruct his assertions. On the other hand Bell paints the opposing views in stark, evil terms. In response to some church doctrinal statements concerning the condemnation of unbelievers, Bell writes:

So, in the first statement, the “unsaved” won’t be with God. In the second, not only will they not be with God, but they’ll be sent somewhere else to be punished. And in the third, we’re told that not only will these “unsaved” be punished forever, but they will be fully aware of it—in case we were concerned they might down an Ambien or two when God wasn’t looking…24

Bell does not attempt to balance the opposing views against universalism. He makes little effort to compare and synthesize the data of the biblical passages and word studies and the biblical, systematic, and historical theology—and then determine a measured conclusion. This is not to say that Bell did not do any theological research, word studies and analysis. But his presuppositions allow no other conclusion than that Love Wins. In the final analysis, Bell’s theological method is careless and prejudiced.

What may the reader conclude from Love Wins?

Love Wins is as much a book about American popular culture as it is about theology. Bell’s underlying assumptions about salvation are probably based on the prevailing concept of “fairness,” that is, there are no losers and the authorities ensure an equality of outcomes—the authority in this case being God.

It is not unreasonable to conclude that Bell perceives the traditional view of salvation as unfair because some are saved but others aren’t. Though Bell wishes the reader to think he is defending God’s honor, in reality he creates a god who is forced to serve human beings “because He loves them.” In this sense Love Wins is man-centered, or anthropocentric. Here salvation is a right and not the gift of God.

Is Love Wins a polemic against the evangelical view of the gospel? In response to the evangelical view that some are saved but others aren’t, Bell writes:

What kind of faith is that? Or, more important: What kind of God is that?25

This belief raises a number of issues, one of them being the risk each new life faces. If every new baby being born could grow up to not believe the right things and go to hell forever, then prematurely terminating a child anytime from conception to twelve years of age could actually be the loving thing to do, guaranteeing that the child ends up in heaven, and not hell, forever. Why run the risk?26

This statement is part of his “extreme pathos,” a prejudiced opinion against conservative evangelical Christianity. One might hope that Bell is merely overstating his case for emphasis and not revealing his true beliefs. However, though he makes many other harsh statements, Love Wins is not really a polemic.

The God who is revealed in the Bible is most certainly a God of love, but He is not limited to love. This is the major error of Love Wins. He is also the God of justice, mercy, forgiveness, and grace. He is infinite in His wisdom, eternal in His being, sovereign over the Universe, both transcendent and imminent, and yet He is not limited in any way by our finite understanding of these qualities or attributes. There is much we cannot understand about our great God: “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways and My thoughts than your thoughts.” (NASB, Isa. 55:9).

Perhaps the combination of Rob Bell’s writings, videos, personal appearances, large church and cultural influence has gained him millions of fans. But his personal popularity does not make him correct—nor does the popular culture he represents make him correct. Love Wins is poorly-done theology and a caricature of evangelical Christianity. How evangelicals wish that universalism was true! But it is not. The Bible is clear that not everyone receives salvation.

And no one’s heart breaks more for the lost than God’s.

Notes

2 Love Wins, dust jacket.

3 Quote from Love Wins dust jacket; “If you don’t have that (a personal relationship with God), you will die apart from God and spend eternity in torment in hell,” p. 10.

4 Millard J. Erickson, Christian Theology, 2nd ed. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1998, p. 1025.

5 Millard J. Erickson, The Evangelical Left: Encountering Postconservative Evangelical Theology. Carlisle (UK): Paternoster Press, 1998, p. 21. Though Erickson was describing the Evangelical Left’s openness to salvation through general revelation, Bell argues that salvation is indeed universal (p. 100).

6 Love Wins, pp. 98-103. Though the dust jacket describes Love Wins as “a deeply biblical vision for rediscovering a richer, grander, truer, and more spiritually-satisfying way,” the book consistently does not utilize standard biblical book, chapter and verse citations. Instead, Bell simply refers to chapters (Psalm 22, Philippians 4, etc.). It is frustratingly difficult to find the listed verses without the standard references.

7 Love Wins, pp. 97-98.

8 Love Wins, p. 98, author’s emphasis.

9 Christian Theology, p. 1025.

10 Alister E. McGrath, Historical Theology: An Introduction to the History of Christian Thought. Oxford (UK): Blackwell, 1998, p. 138.

11 Christian Theology, p. 803.

12 Ibid.

13 Quoted in Gordon R. Lewis and Bruce A. Demarest, Integrative Theology. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1990, Vol. 2, pp. 373-374 . It must be stated that neither Abelard nor Bushnell were universalists.

14 Ibid.

15 Love Wins, p. 103.

16 Love Wins, p. 108.

17 See Nels Ferré, “The Third Conversion Never Fails,” in These Found the Way, ed. David Wesley Soper (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1951) and The Christian Understanding of God (New York: Harper, 1951, p. 228).

18 Christian Theology, p. 1028.

19 Christian Theology, pp. 1028-1029.

20 The Christian Understanding of God, pp. 246-247.

21 Love Wins, p. 109.

22 Ibid.

23 Historical Theology, p. 25.

24 Love Wins, p. 96.

25 Love Wins, p. 4.

26 Ibid.

[node:bio/jimfrank body]

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There are 82 Comments

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

Jim,
Thanks for sharing your work with us on this.

For me, the burning question is why should God's love win? Why shouldn't His holiness win? Or His justice? Or of His other perfections? As I read the article, it occurred to me that part of the problem is that Bell (and his theological predecessors) define God's "goodness" too narrowly. The reasoning in a few places is that if God's love does not "win," He is either less "good" or less powerful. But that reasoning presupposes that His goodness must be measured solely by the quantity of grace He disperses (basically the percentage of people He redeems).
If I could chat with those guys, I'd simply ask "Why?"

What if His "goodness" is revealed in the "quantity" of His own glory that He reveals?
Or, if we want to use "goodness" exclusively for what He does for His creatures, why can't the infinite quality of His grace be the measure of that goodness? Measure the grace by what it cost Him to provide it and by the preciousness of receiving it (which depends in part on a kind of scarcity--it's revealed to be more precious by the relative few who obtain it in contrast to the many who don't.)

Just musing, but the point is that there are many ways to measure "goodness."

Jim is right that Bell's thought is deeply man-centered from the start.

Dan Burrell's picture

Jim...this was an excellent response. Bell's book is one more indicator of the lack of discernment in today's evangelical world and what we have created through mushy thinking, relativistic philosophy, church-growth movement idolatry and the absence of fundamental and orthodox voices (due largely to the insistence many of those voices have in fighting each other rather than confronting unsound theology). Well done and Amen.

My friend and pastor, Bobby Conway, (aka, the " http://oneminuteapologist.com/ One-Minute Apologist ") has recently released an e-book on Bell's book as well and it can be found http://www.amazon.com/Hell-Bell-Happens-People-ebook/dp/B0052FD3FM/ref=s... ]HERE . It is not intended to be a deep theological response, but one for lay people who need to see the danger of Bell's universalistic bent. It has a gentle tone, but is direct about the error. He's a DTS and Southern Evangelical Seminary grad and has a good grasp of orthodox theology in a contemporary setting with an apologetics emphasis.

Great article!

Dan Burrell Cornelius, NC Visit my Blog "Whirled Views" @ www.danburrell.com

G. N. Barkman's picture

Great article. Thanks!

As a Calvinist, I can't help but notice that Bell has taken a Calvinist argument in an opposite direction. He reasons that if God desires to save everyone, but fails to accomplish His purpose, he loses. Conclusion: in the end, everyone will be saved, because in the end, love wins. (and correspondingly, God wins. He accomplishes His plan. He succeeds.)

This, of course, is the doctrine of Particular Redemption (Definite Atonement, or Limited Atonement), turned on it's head. The correct solution is to acknowledge that God succeeds because he accomplished exactly what He intended to do, namely save His chosen people. He selected them in Eternity past, and is bringing everyone one of them to Heaven in time, without failure. God wins (yes, love wins) because God succeeds in doing perfectly and without failure what He intended to accomplish.

Bell's argument seems to me to highlight the weakness of the doctrine of Universal Atonement, that God desires to save everyone, and Christ died to provide atonement for everyone, but only some will be saved. That does raise some legitimate questions about the nature and character of God. Should we conceive of God as failing to accomplish what He desires to do? Should we conceive of Christ as desiring the salvation of all and paying the price for the redemption of all, and yet only succeeding in in saving some?

Perhaps Bell's book will help Evengelicals and Fundemantalists alike think more deeply about these questions. If so, it may serve a helpful purpose after all.

Cordially,
Greg Barkman

G. N. Barkman

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

Greg… hadn’t looked at it that way.
Bell’s is kind of a sovereignty of God argument in which love (as he understands it) is the focus rather God’s glory.

You reminded me of a book just out (or maybe not yet out)
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Ted Bigelow's picture

Bell’s god deserves our pity. Like the death angel in Egypt who passed over the Hebrew homes, Bell’s god passes over the house of justice, righteousness, and holiness. He wins at his own expense. He is the ultimate unrighteous steward who makes eternal friends for himself by selling his glory at a discount.

We who suffer with Christ in the present age are the biggest losers, since in Bell’s heaven the greatest sinner is the greatest winner: he got the ‘best’ of both worlds. Obeying Christ in this life earns the title “Fool!” since alongside the martyr in heaven stands the one who martyred him. Love wins, we who love the Lord lose.

But I almost find myself led to the same pity by the last line of the review, “And no one’s heart breaks more for the lost than God’s.” Since more people die in a day than there are seconds in a day, his heart is breaking all day long - and breaking badly. He definitely deserves pity. Apparently He has no glory in the judgment called death (Romans 6:23). Or does his heart "break" over that which brings Him glory? Either way, such a double-minded god likewise deserves our pity.

Perhaps this is the god Norman Geisler speaks of. When asked to summarize his Christian theology of the cross, he answered, "It is better to have loved and lost, than to never have loved at all."

StevenLee's picture

I had to read this book when I discovered my son-in-law quoting from it. It has actually its way into the "Bible Studies" of some churches, and they are leading folks to actually "think outside the box" of clear, Biblical theology. My challenges to a few of Bell's conclusions set off quite a firestorm. Clear Biblical doctrine finds no place in a great many 'churches' these days I'm afraid. I hope a great many people take the time to thoughtfully read your review. You hit the nail on the head!

Bro. Steve...

philiplazar's picture

It is very difficult and dangerous to follow Mr.Bell flow of thoughts on the winning Love of God. Mr. Bell do you believe Jesus loved Judas till the end Jh 13:1? affirm. Than Jesus loved the one whom he called a "satan" in Jh 6: 70. The love of Jesus send him to his place(hell) Acts 1:25. So Mr. Bell you should repent of your nonsense thoughts or both the blind and the his followers will end up in what they believe in the end the Love of God wins not in ending up in heaven but in hell. Beware of such teachers who are heaping up judgment on themselves. God's love is been hijacked by these "dogs" Phil 3:2 who distort the Highest character of God at the expanse and rejecting the other side of His Holiness, righteousness, justice.
I pray "God may perhaps grant them( Bell and all who supports such kind of distorted view about the trice Holy God whose Love is tough) repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, and they ( Bell and all who supports such kind of distorted view about the trice Holy God whose Love is tough)may escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will" 2 Tim 2:25-26.

Philiplazar, Pastor
India.

jimfrank's picture

Thanks to all who read this review and especially those who took the time to comment on it. We do indeed serve a great God who loves us more than we will ever know.

Jim Franklin

nbanuchi's picture

G. N. Barkman wrote:
As a Calvinist, I can't help but notice that Bell has taken a Calvinist argument in an opposite direction. He reasons that if God desires to save everyone, but fails to accomplish His purpose, he loses...This, of course, is the doctrine of Particular Redemption (Definite Atonement, or Limited Atonement), turned on it's head. The correct solution is to acknowledge that God succeeds because he accomplished exactly what He intended to do, namely save His chosen people...

Observation:

I have the impression it is in particular the Calvinist notion of salvation that Bell is opposing. If Greg is correct, Bell's denial of hell presupposes that Calvinism is the message of the Bible and, although his argument is faulty, his opposition to Calvinism is understandable.

I agree that "the correct solution is to acknowledge that God succeeds because he accomplished exactly what He intended to do," but what God intends is to save believers; it is those sinners who repent and believe that are chosen by God to be His people. At least, from my reading of the Bible, this seems to be the more Biblically correct view.

As such, I think it would be much harder for Bell to posit such an anti-scriptural position if he began on the presupposition that God's desire is to choose believers for salvation since this more justly frames God's revelatory character than the Calvinist premise that Bells seems to oppose.

nbanuchi's picture

Jim writes, "[God ] is infinite in His wisdom, eternal in His being, sovereign over the Universe, both transcendent and imminent, and yet He is not limited in any way by our finite understanding of these qualities or attributes."

I'm no scholar but it seems to me that, unless I misunderstood Jim's point, if God's character cannot be adequately and coherently understood, then we do not really know God. If such is the case, is it because God is not able to define Himself in terms we can understand and, therefore, fully rely on?

I owuld think God is the foundation upon which we define things like justice and mercy, and these things are seen clearly and adequately revealed in the life of his Son as he is presented to us in the Gospels and Acts and interpreted for us in the epistles. Such a limitation as Jim suggests makes God's character, e.g. His love, justice, mercy, wrath, sort of nebulous, no? If we are unable to understand "these qualities or attributes" of God, then, it seems to me, we cannot truly understand God and his actions in human history.

G. N. Barkman's picture

Dear nbanuchi,

Of course God intends to save believers. Nobody disputes that point. But many questions now arise. Are men innately able to believe? The Bible says no. (I Cor. 2:14) So how does a fallen son of Adam, deaf, blind, dead to spiritual truth, believe? Only by the prior operation of God's Spirit. Is God's Spirit resisted by sinful man? Always. Men love darkness rather than light. So how is this universal sinful resistance from men overcome? By the overcoming, irresistible, gracious operation of God's persevering Spirit. Does this operation work in all men? No, for if it did, all would believe. To whom does it come? To God's elect, chosen before the foundation of the world. By God's Spirit, His elect are brought to faith, and God has accomplished His purpose, namely to save believers. It can happen no other way, given the Bible's clear teaching about the depravity and spiritual inability of fallen humanity.

God is gloriously successful because He accomplishes exactly what He intended, namely to save His elect. Christ is satisfied, because every soul for whom He died is brought to faith and ultimately to glory.

It is Universal Atonement that has serious problems, which Bell has endeavored to solve by making salvation universal. If God desires (or intends) to save all men, and if Christ died for the purpose of saving all men, God has failed unless He saves all men ultimately. That is universalism.

To say that God intends to save believers, but that Christ died to save all men without exception, is to put the Father and the Son at cross purposes. To say that the atonement is universal in its scope and intention means that God endeavored to accomplish more than He was able to accomplish, unless Bell is correct, and all men are ultimately saved.

Universal atonement has problems, both logically as well as Biblically. Bell solves the problem at the expense of God's holiness and justice, and at the expense of the clear teaching of the Bible. Calvinists solve the problem by working through the apparent Biblical contradictions between the "all" , "every" and "world" statements in the Bible to recognize that, in spite of what may seem true on the surface, the Bible does, in fact, teach particular redemption, also known as definite atonement. Christ died to save His elect, and the Spirit of God works in the hearts of the elect to regenerate them, bring them to faith in Christ, and ultimately to glory. Mission accomplished!

Universal atonement teaches God sent Jesus to die for the salvation of all men, but only some will believe. This leaves us with a God Who has failed to accomplish what He intended to do. God appears to be disappointed and frustrated. This is not the God of the Bible, and thinking of God this way dishonors Him.

The question is, whose solution to this problem is correct, Bell's, or the Calvinist's? Each must study his Bible to decide. There are, it seems to me, three choices. 1) Bell's universalism. 2) Calvin's particular redemption. 3) The in-between, inconsistent, disappointed God.

Warm regards,
Greg Barkman

G. N. Barkman

nbanuchi's picture

Barkman,

1. My main pount was this: Bell is opposing the Biblical view of hell as eternal torment on the grounds of the mistaken view of Christian salvation as taught by Calvinism.

That is, it seems to me that Bell's book is actually objecting to Calvinism, to what he mistakenly thinks is the apostolic or early church view of Christian salvation. Rather than embrace the position that God elects specific individual to salvation and the rest God "foreordained to everlasting death". Bell, maintaining (this mistaken view of) God's sovereignty, decides that God chooses all - sooner or later - for salvation.

My point was not to object to Calvinism itself, but to note that Bell's objection of hell is informed by what I believe is a faulty theological view of Christian salvation.

2. As far as your comment, "Of course God intends to save believers", is that an accurate assessment of what Calvinism actually teaches? I realize that is what the Calvinist may claim but does that follow the logic of what Calvinism actually teaches? For example, the Westminster Confession does not state that God intends to save believers, but that he saves "some men". Since (unless I am mistaken in my reading of the WCF 3:5), faith is not a condition of salvation but something that God chooses to give so one can be saved, would it not be more accurate to say that God intends to save those particular men whom he has chosen to save. To say God intends to save believers really, as I see it, is addressing the means, not the object: God will give them faith, make them believers (no one in reality chooses of himself to be a believer) and, thereby save them.

Or, to come to a compromise, it might be better to say that God intends to make believers out of certain men and thereby save them.

The object of salvation is certain men divinely chosen; the means is, God-given (faith in Christ); that is, God intends to save. Or, as the WCF states, "By the decree of God, for the manifestation of his glory, some men...are predestinated unto everlasting life".

As such, unless I have misread or missed something in the WCF, would it not seem that your statement is inaccurate?

If I misunderstood, please accept my apology. Any clarification regarding what you mean by "God intends to save believers" is welcome.

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

@nbanuchi,
It doesn't ultimately matter much what Bell is reacting to. What he rejects is the biblical teaching regarding eternal judgment.
The only meaningful overlap is that Bell is interested in how God's sovereignty relates to saving people. To Bell, if God is powerful enough to be sovereign (in the sense of "in control"), and is also loving, His love must "win."

Can't see what "Calvinism" has to do with it beyond that. It's not like if we offered him a more free-will oriented view of salvation, he would change his mind and decide some people are ultimately doomed forever after all.

G. N. Barkman's picture

Aaron, I agree with your post. It hits the target perfectly.

nbanuchi, your expanded statement regarding who God intends to save, quoting from the WCF, is accurate as I understand it. Like so many doctrines, there is more than one way to state truth, each statement highlighting a different aspect, with every statement being accurate.

It is entirely correct to say that God intends to save believers. It is also correct to state that God intends to save those whom He chooses, the elect. It would also be correct to add that God will bring every elect person to faith, and justify those who believe. I'm not sure what you are objecting to.

Cordially,
Greg

G. N. Barkman

nbanuchi's picture

Aaron Blumer wrote:
@nbanuchi,
It doesn't ultimately matter much what Bell is reacting to. What he rejects is the biblical teaching regarding eternal judgment.
The only meaningful overlap is that Bell is interested in how God's sovereignty relates to saving people. To Bell, if God is powerful enough to be sovereign (in the sense of "in control"), and is also loving, His love must "win."

Can't see what "Calvinism" has to do with it beyond that. It's not like if we offered him a more free-will oriented view of salvation, he would change his mind and decide some people are ultimately doomed forever after all.


But, that may be the problem. Bell is rejecting a concept that, as far as I can understand the Bible, is not what the Bible teaches. Well, I really should read the book, so I apologize if I am responding ahead of the game. But, it seems to me from little about the book that I've read, Bell may be reacting to the kind of sovereignty Calvinism espouses, that is, the kind that chooses for salvation certain ones unconditionally and that does all to ensure it while choosing to damn the rest by "passing over" them; and all that are saved or damned are merely by God's unfathomable choice - no rhyme, no reason as far as why/who (except to glorify God).

Your right, it can be said that Bell is arguing from this premise, that "if God is powerful enough to be sovereign (in the sense of 'in control'), and is also loving, His love must 'win'." And that might be Bell's dilemma as far as Calvinism is concerned. maybe Bell is saying, "If God is so powerful as to make such unconditional choices and his love is so great as to encompass all the world, then why cannot not all be saved." Maybe the only difference between Bell and Calvinism is not so much his sovereignty - that God is powerful enough to do all that He intends to do - but whereas Calvinism limits God's love to the elect and, therefore, intending and, thereby, securing the salvation of only the elect; Bell includes all men as being so loved by God as to intend and secure the salvation of every person.

And, you just may be right that maybe if Bell understood that the Bible actually does teach "a more free-will oriented view of salvation", then, "he would [correctly ] change his mind and decide some people are ultimately doomed forever after all," and be more in line with what the Bible teaches.

As such, you have just implied that the teaching of Calvinism was the catalyst that sent Bell to the extreme. It seems such a view of divine sovereignty in salvation, as Calvinism teaches, just might just provide the thinking person whose moral sensibilities are (rightly) offended by the idea that God would foreordain certain ones to everlasting damnation an avenue for espousing Univeralism.

I could be wrong as I am not a scholar, but it seems this may be the case. I'll need to sit down and read the book to confirm my assumptions of what is informing Bell to enbrace Universalism.

nbanuchi's picture

G. N. Barkman wrote:
nbanuchi, your expanded statement regarding who God intends to save, quoting from the WCF, is accurate as I understand it. Like so many doctrines, there is more than one way to state truth, each statement highlighting a different aspect, with every statement being accurate.

It is entirely correct to say that God intends to save believers. It is also correct to state that God intends to save those whom He chooses, the elect... I'm not sure what you are objecting to.

Hi Greg, I apologize for not being clear.

What I am saying is the your phrase, "God intends to save believers" refers merely to the character of those who God intends to save, and not the ultimate reason why they are saved. God's ultimately intends to save certain ones. I think it would be more accurate to say, according to Calvinism, that God intends (foreordains) to save certain ones of whom He intends to give them faith.

Salvation is not based on their faith, it is only a means to actualize the salvation of those whom are already divinely chosen before they actually actualize the gift of faith (if one takes in the notion the regeneration precedes faith...but I won't go any further for that gets confusing!).

Is this clearer? "God intends the save those whom he has chosen to save", I think, more accurately describes the ultimate intention Calvinism gives for God in explaining salvation.

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

nbanuchi wrote:
And, you just may be right that maybe if Bell understood that the Bible actually does teach "a more free-will oriented view of salvation", then, "he would [correctly ] change his mind and decide some people are ultimately doomed forever after all," and be more in line with what the Bible teaches.

As such, you have just implied that the teaching of Calvinism was the catalyst that sent Bell to the extreme.


I think you missed my point there.
Bell is not rejecting Calvinism. He is rejecting the historic doctrine that
a. Not all people will be saved.
b. Those who are not saved suffer eternal wrath.

Neither Calvinism nor Arminianism (or its relatives) have anything to do with it.
Bell does argue partly on the basis God is sovereign and will accomplish what He wants to--but this is not Calvinism (Arminius taught this as well). So I don't think he is even reacting to Calvinism, much less rejecting it.
It makes no difference to him whether those who believe are elect conditionally or unconditionally... his view is that they are all loved into some kind of redemption in the end.
It's hard to see how election could really have any meaning at all in Bell's thought.

G. N. Barkman's picture

Aaron,

Again, I think you have analyzed this well, and stated it correctly.

nbanuchi, although it is not at all necessary that Bell's errors are in reference to Calvinism, my original response to this article simply pointed out that Bell has taken one of the Calvinist's arguments for "limited atonement" (or particular redemption), and turned it upside down. I did not intend to imply that I thought he was specifically responding to this doctrine of Calvinism. I only intended to show that he was dealing with the same problem, but that Bell has proposed an entirely different solution. The problem is, if Christ's blood was shed for the purpose of paying for the sins of every individual who ever lived, and yet multitudes are not saved, doesn't that make God a "loser"? Bell recognizes the problem. He says, No, God is not a loser. "Love wins" because ultimately, everyone is saved. If God desires to save everyone without exception, and Christ died to pay for the sins of everyone without exception, it must follow that an almighty sovereign God will ultimately save everyone. If that is what He desires, that is what He will accomplish.

I am certain that Bell could easily have recognized this problem without specifically considering the Calvinist solution. It is a problem. Calvinism has a solution. God never intended to save everyone. God intends to save a vast number of specifically chosen individuals out of the mass of fallen humanity, sent Christ to die for them, and has dispatched the Holy Spirit to bring every one of them to repentance and faith and into union with Christ. Bell's "god" wins, but at the expense of His holiness, justice, and the clear statements of God's intentions in the Bible. This is no solution for the serious Bible believer. Calvinism's God wins, because He accomplishes exactly what He intended to do without failure. Not one of God's elect will be lost. The Arminian God loses, because He desires to do more than He succeeds in doing, and because Christ paid for the sins of multitudes of sinners who are ultimately lost.

I trust this helps make my point more clear.

Cordially,
Greg Barkman

G. N. Barkman

Mike Durning's picture

Without touching the Calvinism theme in this thread (Yikes, can we find some way to put CCM into it too?), I would be interested to see how this has impacted or will impact Bell's preaching over the years.
Has anybody listened to his sermons enough to know what he does with passages like "Narrow is the way that leads to life, and few find it." [Matthew 7:14, roughly ]? Such statements by Christ provide a sharp dividing line that make Christianity far more offensive to the modern ear than people like Bell would like to make it sound.

nbanuchi's picture

Hi Aaron and Barkman,

Thanks for clarifying things for me and I apologize for any misunderstandings on my part.

Aaron said, "It's hard to see how election could really have any meaning at all in Bell's thought." I'll just need to read the book to see if Bell is rejecting your points "a" and "b" but specifically from from the Calvinistic perspective.

Barkman said, "I am certain that Bell could easily have recognized this problem without specifically considering the Calvinist solution. It is a problem. Calvinism has a solution. God never intended to save everyone." Well, aside from Bell (and, as I said, I'll need to read his book to see exactly what is informing his rejecting of eternal damnation), that "God never intended to save everyone" is, from my reading of the Bible, faulty thinking. It might be more accurate to state that God intended to save anyone who reoents and believes in the message of the Gospel. Since Christ died for the world (that is, all men) then, if all men did believe, all men would be saved. Of course, that is not the reality, that all men believe, but it is the divine intention expressed where the Bible somewhere reads something to the effect that God's desire all men be saved, coming to the knowledge of the truth. As such, Calvinism, as I understand the Bible, is not a solution but rather further aggravates the problem.

However, that's for another debate and I should forego any further discussion until I've read Bell's book.

In any case, I appreciate the manner in which the comments were made; I realize that with me, since I am not a scholar or, at least, properly knowledgeable enough of the wider scope of pro/con arguments, more patience in responding to my comments may be required and I do appreciate it. Thanks, again, guys.

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

Yes, another debate entirely.... the "what God ever intended" debate.
There's something I'd really like to say about that specifically but it doesn't really belong here so... (and it's not like thousands of people haven't already said it over the millennia Smile )

G. N. Barkman's picture

Dear nbanuchi,

By the reasoning of that article, Calvinism may lead to virtually anything! There is nothing remotely Calvinistic about the theologies of the men he references, nor does the author himself show much understanding of Calvinism. One reason Calvinism cannot lead to Universalism is because Calvinism is first and foremost Biblical. It does not, may not, and cannot reason its way to conclusions that are contrary to Biblical teaching. However, I am accustomed to Calvinism being blamed for nearly everything that's bad, so why not throw Universalism into the mix? Smile

Cordially,
Greg Barkman

G. N. Barkman

Greg Long's picture

G. N. Barkman wrote:
One reason Calvinism cannot lead to Universalism is because Calvinism is first and foremost Biblical. It does not, may not, and cannot reason its way to conclusions that are contrary to Biblical teaching. However, I am accustomed to Calvinism being blamed for nearly everything that's bad, so why not throw Universalism into the mix? Smile

Cordially,
Greg Barkman


C'mon, Greg, you basically said unlimited atonement can (should?) lead to universalism, so don't be surprised if someone says the same thing about Calvinism. And your reasoning that Calvinism can't lead to universalism is "because Calvinism is first and foremost biblical"...well as a four-point Calvinist I could say the same thing about unlimited atonement: Unlimited atonement can't lead to universalism because unlimited atonement is first and foremost biblical.

-------
Greg Long, Ed.D. (SBTS)

Pastor of Adult Ministries
Grace Church, Des Moines, IA

Adjunct Instructor
School of Divinity
Liberty University

nbanuchi's picture

Hello Barkman, re: your comments on #27, note the following:

1. The author stated that Calvinism does not lead inevitably to Universalism but that scholars who leaned into Calvinism did end up as Universalist, a choice that is the logical step in rejecting unconditional election/reprobation.

2. The author did admit that his examples would be rejected by Calvinist as Calvinist but that they espoused "strong Calvinist principles".

3. I don't know if one's notion that "Calvinism is first and foremost Biblical", etc., is necessarily a guarantee against being led into error or else no Calvinist would ever have fallen into it, which is historically not the case (or is it?); at the moment, I'm thinking of Harold Camping. Respectfully, it seems to me that this objection is trivial and not at all warranted; it is merely personal opinion.

4. I may have misunderstood the article but I think the author's point is that the only way to get away from the Calvinisticl teaching of unconditional election, and all that it entails respecting the foreordination of certain one's to hell, without sacrificing God's absolute sovereignty, is to posit Universalism.

Unless one seeks to maintain God's unconditional election to damnation of certain individuals, Universalism is the logical next step (I am aware that some Calvinists deny "double predestination" but if God deliberately and freely "passed over" certain one's for no reason than it was the "good pleasure of His will", such a denial is doublespeak): "Barth saw rightly that the inner logic of Calvinism must lead to unversalism IF it takes seriously love as God’s nature."

5. I do not see how unlimited atonement can lead to Universalism when coupled with libertarian free will as the condition on man's part for it's actualization (unlike Calvinism, this does not deny the premise that God intends to save believers, but confirms it). The denial of free will and the thought that "faith" is something given an lead some one to accept Univeralism; for if God can do it for the "few", will not love compel him to do so for "all"?

G. N. Barkman's picture

nbanuchi,

I understand what you are saying. (At least I think I do. If I have missed it, feel free to help me better understand.)

You may well be correct that a rejection of Definite Atonement leads logically to Universalism. That was your argument regarding Bell's Universalism, though I have seen no evidence that he was ever a Calvinist, nor that he was responding to the doctrine of Definite Atonement. However, he did take one of the logical arguments supporting Definite Atonement (Particular Redemption, or Limited Atonement), and turn it completely around. My contention from the beginning has been that if one rejects Definite Atonement, Universalism is the most logical position, since the doctrine of Universal Atonement undermines the sovereignty of God to accomplish what He purposes to do. Either God succeeds by saving everyone ("Love wins" since God desires to save everyone), or God succeeds by accomplishing His intended purpose to save His elect. To posit God desiring to save everyone, but only succeeding in saving some means that God "loses."

But to say that Universalism is the logical result of Calvinism is, again, to turn logic upside down. What you may legitimately conclude is that those who REJECT Calvinism (specifically Definite Atonement) are driven, logically, to Universalism. It is no doubt true that some with a background of Calvinism have done exactly that, as the cited article contends. But that doesn't demonstrate that Calvinism leads to such a conclusion. It demonstrates two things: 1) that those who understand the problem of God failing to accomplish what He desires, and who are unwilling to accept the Calvinist solution of Definite Atonement, are driven to Universalism as the only acceptable solution, and 2) that those who accept Universalism as an acceptable solution must first abandon the Calvinist solution. In other words, some Universalists may have been brought up within Calvinism, or influenced by Calvinistic thought, but they have to reject Calvinism, at least in part, in order to become Universalists.

Maybe what you are observing is this, namely that those who believe in Universal Redemption but reject Universalism, are very inconsistent, but less likely to see their inconsistency if they have never had a serious exposure to Calvinism. Calvinistic thought clarifies the necessity of the doctrines of election and definite atonement to preserve God's sovereignty, His certainty to succeed in everything He intends to do. In that sense, it may lead to Universalism, but only when Calvinism is first rejected. My contention is that is it impossible to be a Calvinist, in any meaningful sense of the word, and a Universalist at the same time, because the Bible is too clear about the eternal punishment of unbelievers. The doctrine of damnation forces one to believe in "free will", which absolves God of responsibility for the damnation of sinners, but at the expense of His sovereignty, or else acknowledge that God is glorified in the damnation of sinners (which demonstrates His holiness and justice) as much as in the salvation of sinners (demonstrating His love and mercy).

I would be very reluctant to accuse God of being a "moral monster" (or similar language) to prop up one's doctrine of Universal Redemption. Such language reveals a lower view of the enormity of sin against the holy Creator than the Bible teaches. In truth, the only way to completely escape such a charge is to resort to Universalism, since even Arminians concede that God could prevent sinners from going to Hell by, for example, ending their lives prematurely. If He allows them to proceed to eternal damnation, how does "free will" absolve God from all responsibility? If He could have prevented it, but chooses not to, He is, in some way, at least partly responsible for their damnation. The Arminian "solution" turns out to be unsatisfactory after all. That leaves two choices: either Universalism, or election. Either God's love prevents Him from allowing anyone to go to Hell, or God's justice demands that some be allowed to go.

Cordially,
Greg Barkman

G. N. Barkman

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