Rob Bell is a universalist.
At least according to Justin Taylor and his reading of Bell’s forthcoming book Love Wins. The subsequent conversation has been loud, emotional, and the coverage has been all encompassing in the church world (our version of Charlie Sheen coverage). You can read a very measured response at Christianity Today.
I am not as interested in the theology (I’ll wait to read the book) what I am interested in is the fact that Bell engaged this issue. In the interest of full disclosure I admire Rob Bell. I have read his books, heard him speak, and been to a conference he hosted.
Tony Jones, someone who knows controversy within Christian subculture, wrote that Rob Bell simply doesn’t care if people call him a heretic. I disagree, Rob Bell does care what people think just like the rest of us.
The difference is that Bell is willing to take the criticism. Criticism is nothing new for Bell and he had to know that talking about the issue of eternity he would rile up his detractors, he may not have approved the blurb released by Harper Collins but he couldn’t have been surprised.
Bell took this risk because he understands the centrality of the question. Eternal conscious suffering for those who refused the salvation from Christ is more or less the orthodox understanding of Hell. Questions regarding various scenarios of never hearing the Gospel or being misled by family or culture are soon to follow and a tension emerges. What it appears Bell is doing is engaging that tension.
I strongly doubt there are many followers of Christ who revel in the idea of people experiencing the fire and agony of hell. In fact I think that many (including myself) hold out some hope that God’s love does indeed transcend our understanding and that there are more in heaven than we assume.
Hell bothers me, and I guess it should. In fact I would be more than happy to be proven wrong on this. My guess is that Bell realizes that this is a common sentiment and decided to ask some questions out loud.