Universalism, Rob Bell, and Why You Should Care

Posted on March 4, 2011. Filed under: Apologetics, Atheism, Religion, Rob Bell, Universalism |

Some of you may have heard of Rob Bell.  If you are a professing Christian, there is a 100%

He even LOOKS like the Devil, or a guy I see at Starbucks all the time, I'm not sure...

chance that you have heard of Rob Bell.  If you are a RealChristian™, there is a 100% chance you think he’s a heretic who will burn in Hell.

For the uninformed in our audience- What, do you suppose, would warrant RealChristians™ bypassing the judgement of their Savior and being certain of his impending fate?

Is he an atheist?  Well, no.  An abortion doctor? Nope.  An evolutionist?  I’m not certain.  He must be saying that Jesus was just a really great guy? Not even close.

He’s a Universalist…..well, maybe.

Bell is a pastor at a Michigan church and a Christian author.  His new book, LOVE WINS: A Book About Heaven, Hell, And The Fate Of Every Person Who Ever Lived, Bell supposedly argues for Universalism- that heretic doctrine that God will bring every person into His

LOVE WINS

Kingdom.  I say supposedly because the book has not even been released yet.  Christians have decided that the provocative title and even more provocative publisher’s blurb (and promotional video) are enough to sentence Bell to an eternity of torment.  No need to read the book, say many Christians, we can judge the whole book based on a title, blurb, and video.

It is the intellectual equivalent of saying that Kurt Vonnegut is the worst author in history based solely on watching the trailer for “Breakfast Of Champions”.

Universalism…Explained

So what is the big deal with Universalism?  What makes this particular disagreement so foundational that you have to turn in your membership card to even consider it?  The Christian Church is rife with tons of other disagreements.   God’s Sovereignty  vs. Free Will,  Young Earth vs. Old Earth Creationism, Calvinist vs. Armenian Election, Faith vs. Grace vs. Both (but never works)….the list goes on and on and on.

Is every single Christian who disagrees with another Christian not A RealChristian™ in the others eyes?  What makes this such a fundamental issue?

The answer is twofold.  First, if you are a Universalist, you don’t believe in a literal Hell.  At least not one where sinners wallow away for eternity.  This causes some immediate problems for RealChristians™.  If God isn’t going to torment the unfaithful mercilessly for eternity, then what real motivation does a sinner have to be good?  I mean, isn’t eternal torment entirely just given the smack in the face these people deal to God on Earth?

The second problem….the BIG problem is that Universalists believe that Jesus’ sacrifice was universal.  He didn’t just die for the good guys, He died for the bad guys too.  He doesn’t really care if you have never heard His name, or heard it and don’t give a hoot, or call yourself a Christian and do unspeakable things….everyone eventually gets to join the Kingdom.   Now that is blasphemy.  It is Heresy.   What possible motivation is there to even be good at that point, let alone be a Christian?  Surely some people are so wicked that they don’t deserve to see the Kingdom, right?

The first and most immediate objection to Universalism is exactly this.  Every RealChristian™ believes that he/she is a sinner.  They just don’t believe they are that bad of a sinner.  They believe that there is a weighted scale where some sins are worse than others, where enough properly directed repentence can counterbalance a few misguided mistakes.  They believe that none of us are worthy, but certainly some of us are a little closer to worthy than others.  We are all sinners, but some of us are SINNERS!

They use the word “gift” when they mean “reward”.

You are rewarded for giving your life to Jesus.  He didn’t give a “gift”, there is no free ride, you earn his “reward”.  RealChristians™ will even tell you that some level of sin, just beyond their personal threshold of sin, makes you not a RealChristian™, regardless of how “personal” your relationship with Jesus is.  That pastor who got charged with statutory rape? Not a RealChristian™.  That MegaChurch minister who has meth-induced sex with a male escort? Not a RealChristian™.  That guy who implies that God might be gracious enough to bring every one of His children to His Kingdom?  You guessed it….Not a RealChristian™.

A RealChristian™, for those who might be confused by this system, is someone who a RealChristian™ hasn’t been bothered enough to pass judgement on.

Why bother explaining all this to you?  This, after all, is an atheist blog.  What should any one of us care about any of this stuff?  It is a big pile of fairy tales, wrapped in dogma, with a giant bow woven out of faith on top….right?  Yep.  I think though, that atheists can get a peek into the dark nether regions of fundamentalist Christianity- and maybe learn a thing or two- by watching the cards fall.

Bell Gives an Elegant Rebuke Of Pascal’s Wager

I discuss faith with RealChristians™ all the time.  Where we always end up at some point is talking about the fate of my eternal soul.  They love to offer up some variation, implied or explicit, of Pascal’s Wager.  “What if you’re wrong?” , they ask.  “I’ve got nothing to lose, you have everything to lose.”

Rob Bell, and more specifically the backlash against him, shows us why this argument is entirely lazy and ridiculous.  It isn’t enough to believe that God sent His only Son, that Jesus died for the sins of man, that the Bible is the inspired Word of God.

It’s not the red or black square you put your chips down on at the roulette table.  It’s double-zero or nothing, and all your chips are riding on it.  That someone who gives God too much credit to His Grace, or too little credit to His Wrath is surely Hell-bound should immediately explain to you where the fault lies in the wager.  You could be so damn close to “the Truth” and still be headed to a future of eternal torment.  You have everything to lose, even if you make the “safe” bet.

Next time some pious RealChristian™ rolls out Pascal’s Wager, I just found a very relevant and reasonable example of what the odds really are.

Christians Show Us What They Think A “Fact” Is

The other thing that every one of us should take away from this is just how reasonable the other side of the fence is.  Rob Bell’s book isn’t even published yet.  This whole clusterfuck started because of a three word tweet by John Piper that read “Farewell Rob Bell”, that near as anyone can tell was based entirely on the book title, the blurb, and a short promotional video.  It certainly wasn’t based on talking to Bell, and not from talking to any of the people who got advanced copies of the book. Piper’s tweet was based on this article by Justin Taylor, from The Gospel Coalition, which convicts Bell of heresy based on a series of questions he asks in the promotional video.

What RealChristians™ want you to know is that it’s not even O.K. to ask questions, even if you eventually fall in line with them in your answers.  It is decidedly not alright to use a rhetorical device like “the rhetorical question” if that question is entirely outside of traditional Christian doctrine.  EVEN IF you have a book that might answer these questions to their satisfaction.  Don’t ask questions, got that?

We should also note that this speaks to the rationality of those RealChristians™.  They don’t need to read your resources.  Those sources are wrong because they ask off-limits questions.  You won’t get them to read a study, or a book, or a paper, or even a comment, if it can be easily brushed aside as not even promoting but considering a controversial position.

The RealChristians™ are going to eat crow when Bell’s book is published.  Get your screen shots now folks, because quite a few of these guys are not going to want to own those opinions later.  The reviews by people who got advanced copies indicate that Bell is nowhere near a Universalist. All this prideful damnation is going to be egg on the face of a group of people who claim that they are open minded and open to different ideas.  People who claim that they believe much of their faith on evidence, yet show us that their burden of proof is so profoundly different from ours.

As atheists, we will get to learn from their mistakes, watch them scramble around with egg on their face trying to justify why they couldn’t wait to hear Bell’s case before they convicted him.

Scrambled Eggs and Schadenfreude- Now that is the Breakfast of Champions.

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13 Responses to “Universalism, Rob Bell, and Why You Should Care”

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>>We should also note that this speaks to the rationality of those RealChristians™. They don’t need to read your resources. Those sources are wrong because they ask off-limits questions. You won’t get them to read a study, or a book, or a paper, or even a comment…

This is the single most frustrating element to me when trying to discuss thoughtful perspectives on Scriptures (or discuss inconsistencies and contradictions). People are so unable or unwilling to think for themselves, that they completely dismiss everything you have to say (or anything you give them to read) as “heresy” before giving it a chance. I have to be honest and admit that I have undoubtedly been just as guilty of this kind of closed-minded ignorance in the past. As well as anyone, I understand how the brainwashed or narrow mind sabotages a person from growing and deepening their revelation into spiritual things.

That has been one huge and delightful contrast in having conversations with people like you, George. Though you disagree with me on many of my beliefs, you are so open-minded and thoughtful, and I can tell you really listen to people. May I portray the same spirit of grace and open-mindedness in the way I interact with others.

Were they to let you, you could/would be a great example to RealChristians™.

Aw, shucks, Jules…..
Flattery will get you everywhere.
I look forward to the conversation I hope this post will start, I’m honored that it be you who starts it off.

>>The first and most immediate objection to Universalism is exactly this. Every RealChristian™ believes that he/she is a sinner. They just don’t believe they are that bad of a sinner.

I see the greater problem (after having shared my own universal reconciliation beliefs with hundreds of people) as that of RealChristians™ feeling the disappointment and threat that they are no longer “special.” If Christ died for everyone, what was the point, they ask? Obviously, if Jesus died for everyone (“the testimony to be completed in due season” as Paul states), the value of His blood exponentially increases, not decreases.

What I believe I hear behind their words is not that Jesus’ death becomes less significant or valuable, but that their efforts in this lifetime becomes less valuable. Deep down, salvation really is a matter of works to these people, and not a matter of grace or a free gift to all.

If Jesus were fair, why would He offer a free gift–no strings attached–to some, but not to others?

Jesus spoke about this very thing in His parables, about the jealousy of those who who had been working all day but were paid the same as those who came in at the end of the day.

It comes down the human pride. “I was smart enough to say yes to Jesus. I made choices to live my life by the Bible. I humbled myself before it was too late…” the list goes on. This argument doesn’t go very far in light of human nature, location, and life circumstances. It’s great if you were born in the Bible belt, but it sucks if you were born in 95% of the world and either didn’t get the chance to hear or had horrendous life circumstances.

I have yet to hear one person even attempt to refute any one of dozens of verses that plainly state all people will be saved from the curse of Adam (death) and given the same status and process of reconciliation and restoration with God and people.

See Romans 5:18 and 1 Cor. 15:22-23 as a couple of examples.

Jules,
I know how strongly you feel about this. I think rather than refute your verses, many Christians will want you to refute their verses which state Jesus is the only way to salvation or, as Dr. Dixon pointed out, how universalism fits given Daniel 12:2. I’m undecided on the biblical grounding of universalism, but I do believe that it is more consistent with the “spirit” of Jesus’ character. If you want to make a case for it, then you need to solve the problems as well as show the evidence supporting it.

yeah, I try to show them how I answer to their verses, but they also don’t listen. That’s why I wrote a book…offer the pathway through by building my case step-by-step, and it is there for those who want to consider the possibilities.

I don’t have to read this post to know that it’s awesome, so I’m not going to bother. You’re an atheist and I trust that you fell in line with our atheist code.

Even without reading it, you will achieve three main goals:

1) Swear a lot
2) Pummel the hell out of Christianity
3) Make yourself look smart doing it

I kid!

I read it. It’s very good.

I appreciated the final section the most as that is one of my most frustrating complaints about RealChristians™. They don’t read. And the books they do read are coloring books. Even their most dire attempts at sounding smart end up sounding not intelligent.

Where I think we excel is we say things rather simply. Many believers muddy their logic with too many ideas or burden them with a lot of excess verbiage that looks philosophical, but is in fact, ridiculous.

I think it works against them. But what I do I know … I put a lot of money on “nothing” apparently. I’m obviously the crazy one.

I’m subscribing to comments so I can stay abreast of the conversation that is about to explode …

C’mon Jeremy, don’t you believe there are three gods but they are really one god. One is the father of the son, one is the son of the father, but they are the same person and sometimes they even talk to each other. And then there’s this third one, a spirit really and you can’t see him but he is a god in his own right–er, um that is one god, well, one of three gods. We’ve been over this before, aren’t you getting it yet?? What’s so difficult for you to understand? We Christians make perfect sense.

Now that you put it that way, I denounce atheism and shall follow whatever convoluted trinity thingama-story you can come up with.

I am now at one with theism.

Shame about the Christians who are being judgemental and short-sighted. But shame, too, about your stereotyping of Christians. There are many more who , because we believe in grace, are open-minded and accepting of those with whom we disagree. Stereotyping seems a cheap way of attack – some Christians are guilty of it too (I admit), but nevertheless . . . not a good basis for argument or conviction.

Mike,
You may not have noticed, but I distinctly took the lighthearted tack of differentiating between Christians-of whom I have numerous very close friends-and RealChristians™-who are those who are using their faith to be shortsighted and judgmental.
I think you completely missed my point. I don’t have a problem with Christians-of my five closest friends, one is a Young Earth Creationist, one is a Revivalist, and one is a Catholic Priest. Only two of them are atheists. Two of my favorite people in cyber-space are also Christians, Julie (who commented on this post already) and Kate (who authors the blog Just Another Inkling). I didn’t and wouldn’t stereotype Christians. I might deserve a heap of trouble if I did!
I was quite explicit in my post that I don’t lump all Christians into one stereotypical group. The closest you could come to a stereotype might be that of an “Evangelical”, since that group comprises the lions share of people embarrassing themselves and their faith over the Rob Bell issue, yet even still, you would have to assume that all Evangelicals exhibit the behavior I attribute to RealChristians™, and I would ask you then-who’s stereotyping now?
Stereotyping is a cheap way of attack- I could not agree more with your point- I just think you’re pointing the finger in the wrong direction here.
Ask around, I’m not anti-Christian, I’m anti-Lazy-Logic.
So I agree with you-stereotyping is cheap, it is not a good basis for argument or conviction- I just would prefer you build a case that I did any such thing….

[…] his book.  This rightfully prompted a strong reaction from Christians and Non-Christians alike (including me),  who implored these people to wait for Love Wins to be released before jumping to conclusions […]

Hey there

Hope you don’t mind me popping in here
Found though John’ blog
He said you were good, so I checked you out

Since I have a great deal of frustrations with those idiots who
so quickly started throwing preposterous names in the direction of Pastor Bell, I wanted to see what an atheist had to say (after I saw that you had two “universalism” posts).

If you would allow me to say so,
I think everything you have written here is quite brilliant
I’ve dug through a few other posts and enjoy what you have to contribute
Granted you’re a tad degrading to that poor Dan fellow (eh, he may deserve it), but I enjoy a little cynicism from time to time

At any rate,

Thanks for being a clear minded and free thinking individual

William,
Thank you for the nice comments. I do give Dan a tough ride, but once you take the time to read his comments, you will find that I’m only responding in kind to someone who really has no sense of decorum in a debate. I enjoy dissenting opinions here, and John is always good for one, yet John is respectful and reasoned- this is all I ask.

I know my bible, and I know that the issues brought up by universalists are quite possibly wrong but also founded in a exegesis that is no more convoluted than many of the mainstream doctrines. I think that the reactionary attitude of many in the evangelical community will serve more to draw open-minded Christians away from the faith and not towards it. They are turning an important and valid debate into a “pissing match”, and it serves no-one well.
Stay tuned, I plan a few more posts on universalism in the future.

I’m glad you stopped by, and I hope that it becomes a habit.


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