Thursday, April 21, 2011
So I've just finished reading Love Wins: A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived by Rob Bell. The book has caused a fair bit of controversy and conversation: first by the Christians who attack his theology and second by the Unitarian Universalists who debate how close he has come to Universalism.
Universalism started as the message that in the end, everyone - Universally - everyone - would be "saved" and go to heaven. There wasn't necessarily no hell. I have read old Universalist catechisms from the 1800's that skirt around the idea that those who are really bad - the real sinners - would go to hell for some time of punishment and while there they would undergo some kind of lesson and then they would get to go to heaven after that. So, maybe a short-term hell. Just no eternal hell.
Universalism today has joined with Unitarianism, and now a modern Universalist may or may not believe in any kind of "heaven", any kind of "God", or any sort of "hell". But they probably believe that everyone is inherently worthy and loved, and that whatever happens to us after we die, there will not be one group singled out for special treatment - it's going to happen to us all.
Does Rob Bell's book bring his Christian theology to Universalism? It seems to bring it to the historical Universalism, yes. I think he and John Murray would have been fine calling themselves colleagues. And many modern Universalists may also agree with him - he is preaching universalism (small u).
In Love Wins, Bell explains the scriptures as being about a heaven that will come to this earth, and that for most of us heaven or hell is right here, right now, and the choice is whether or not we live in a state of trust in God and experience of God's love. He also points out that those who are focused on some heaven or hell as "out there" or separate from life here and now are frequently those who fail to work to make this earth better and bring us closer to heaven on earth.
As to whether those who are "really bad" will still suffer some sort of hell, he is vague. Perhaps he believes, like those historical Universalists, that there is a place of punishment for those who have chosen to act in evil ways, and that after that punishment they can still be redeemed and reunited with God's love. He doesn't really spell it out exactly, but he does say he believes in evil and in sin.
And what about all the non-Christians? He says "Christ is the only way" but then he says that Christ could be acting mysteriously - even anonymously - and so people of other beliefs could still be saved. That part seems dubious to me - he uses Gandhi as an example, so is he saying Christ was somehow acting on Gandhi's heart and so Gandhi is with Love/God somehow through Christ even though he was not a Christian?
Despite my quibbles, it was a fascinating read, and I appreciate his theology as being much more loving and inclusive than most Christian thought. I'm thrilled to see this conversation happening within evangelicalism, as well.
Very interesting stuff.