Rob Bell’s latest book isn’t even published but is already making waves in the US. No doubt this is exactly what the publishers wanted when they wrote this blurb (source Amazon.com):
Fans flock to his Facebook page, his NOOMA videos have been viewed by millions, and his Sunday sermons are attended by 10,000 parishioners—with a downloadable podcast reaching 50,000 more. An electrifying, unconventional pastor whom Time magazine calls “a singular rock star in the church world,” Rob Bell is the most vibrant, central religious leader of the millennial generation. Now, in Love Wins: Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived, Bell addresses one of the most controversial issues of faith—the afterlife—arguing that a loving God would never sentence human souls to eternal suffering. With searing insight, Bell puts hell on trial, and his message is decidedly optimistic—eternal life doesn’t start when we die; it starts right now. And ultimately, Love Wins.
There is of course the question of whether it is right to judge something no one has read, but that hasn’t stopped people getting their retaliation in first. In fairness it should be said that most comments have been about the issues raised by Bell’s promotional DVD rather than the book itself but it does feel as if people are already lining up on both sides of the debate.
Rob Bell’s promotional video
Questions of universalism and where it might fit into an orthodox or evangelical faith are not new. Spurgeon’s college recently held a conference (report) and Robin Parry among others has written on the subject. But Bell has, in a similar way to Steve Chalke’s book on the atonement, taken the subject from academic discussion and propelled it into church life.
The background question is of course what kind of God do we believe in. And in the context of the universalist debate what kind of God allows his good purpose for creation to be thwarted? What kind of God never says ‘no’? What kind of God doesn’t allow humanity to reject him?
I would want to read Bell’s book before commenting on what he says. My fear is that this has the potential to be another divisive issue for Christians (particularly evangelicals) and that rather than being hard on issues and soft on people we are in danger of segregation into those who are ‘in’ and those who are ‘out’. It may be time to reach for the hard hat.