Disclaimer: I have not read Rob Bell’s latest book, Love Wins, but I have read many reviews of the book, and they all seem to agree that Bell is pointing towards Universalism. That’s the idea that everyone goes to heaven, regardless of belief. This blog post isn’t directly about Bell’s book; it is about Universalism. If all the reviewers are wrong (myself included) then this post doesn’t necessarily have to correlate to Bell.
In the current trend of bashing Rob Bell, many folks have spoken out about his apparent hell-denying theology. There is an extensive review from Kevin DeYoung. Justin Taylor provides a great Selective Roundup, and of course there is the interview with MSNBC. I realize that both DeYoung and Taylor are reformed and come from The Gospel Coalition, but I think it’s safe to say that their views on Universalism are quite orthodox.
What I want to do, briefly is explain the logical result of Universalism. The idea behind the statement “Love Wins” is to show that God’s love saves every person from damnation in hell. God cannot be a loving God and still send people to hell. That implies that it is actually God sending people. Maybe another way to put it is that God cannot be a loving God and still allow people to go to hell. Let’s look at that.
First, we need to look at who God is. He is the Maximally Perfect Being. Perfect in all His ways and essence. If God is imperfect in any way, then He is not God.
Sin is imperfection. In archery, the term basically means “missing the bullseye.” So, if any human being sins just once, we are now imperfect. God cannot accept imperfection as perfect. If He did, He would no longer be God. Let me repeat that: if God accepts sin, He ceases to be God. This is logical nonsense, as God cannot be not God. Therefore, He cannot accept sin. All sin must be apart from God for as long as He is God. This is the essence of Hell – separation from God. The Bible describes it as eternal torment. I take that to mean it is tortuous to be completely separated from our Creator. Instead of splitting hairs, we can just say that Hell is horrible, and it must last for as long as God is God, i.e. forever.
Since none of us is perfect, we are all deserving of Hell. God created a way for us to “move the arrow to the bullseye” and be accepted as perfect – He paid the price for us. That’s the whole point of Jesus – that He came as the One who could pay the price. Perfect in all His ways, Christ died and paid the debt that we owed. Now God can accept us as righteous – because our sin has been accounted for. IF we accept Christ, then our sins are accounted for. (Not going to push election vs free choice here. If we accept, then we are elect, and if we are elect then we accept.)
This is where the Universalist says “Love Wins!” and we all go to Heaven! But what does that mean? If no one goes to Hell, does Hell really exist? I say no. The essence of Hell is the torment. It’s not some uninhabited lake of fire somewhere. That would simply be a “Hot Springs” of sorts. Kind of like a riverbed without water isn’t a river – it’s a riverbed. I can go to “a party” but only if other people are there. If I get there and I’m alone, I’m not at “a party” I’m at a decorated room, alone. The idea of Hell *requires* persons. If there are no persons in Hell, then Hell does not exist. (The Bible says Hell was created for Satan, who has personhood.)
This now goes against the Gospel. If Hell does not exist, what did Jesus save us from? Why did God have His Son die on the cross? To save us from the potential Hell? If there is no Hell, then there is no danger, and Jesus’ sacrifice on the Cross was pointless. The Bible says in John 3:16 that God sent His Son that whoever believes in Him (Jesus) would not perish but have eternal life. If there really is no Hell, then that verse is a lie.
We can say “God is Love” because we know we are deserving of Hell. Jesus’ sacrifice was a sacrifice of Love for US. If there is no Hell, then God doesn’t love us. We are just pawns on this planet that He plays with and lies to. At the end of time, He will gather us up into His giant toybox. In the meantime, He is performing a huge elaborate play with us as the actors, and nothing we do matters. If there is no Hell, then God has lied to us. He hasn’t saved us, because we were never in danger. If He’s lied to us about salvation, what can we trust Him for? Nothing. This is obviously wrong.
If we, with the Univeralists, cry “Love Wins!” implying that there is no hell, then what we are saying is “Love Loses.” There is no loving God – just a liar.
What I’m saying is that if there is no Hell, then Love, Salvation, God, and we – all lose.