Universalism, Rob Bell, and Why You Should Care
Some of you may have heard of Rob Bell. If you are a professing Christian, there is a 100%
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
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”.
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.