My desire to write this book was born after I read Rob Bell's book, Love Wins, published in 2011. His claim that all mankind is finally saved created a stir among Christians that prompted me to investigate his ideas for comparison with my own. Since you are reading my thoughts, I would also encourage you to read his also, and then compare everything to the Bible.
Do read his book rather than base your conclusions on second hand opinions from me. I do not intend to do a detailed review of his work, quoting his propositions and then defending agreement or disagreement. Instead the purpose of this book is to share my own opinions about salvation. I would rather get into trouble myself for being in the arena than merely critiquing Bell from the sideline! However, here are a few quick thoughts about his book.
First, he has my salute. He has shown an enthusiasm for salvation that prompted him to write a book, speak, and preach! He believed something strongly enough to do something. He also attempted to explain the riddle of salvation that has divided Christians for millennia. Sadly, most Christians do not even share their faith. Most do not believe anything strongly enough to try to persuade others. Bell did something, at least. Moreover, he recognized a weakness in Christian orthodoxies that has resulted in divisions with no sides squaring perfectly with Scripture, at least to his satisfaction, or mine, for that matter. Our PART and ALL Salvation Evaluator has exposed that much about Arminianism and Calvinism. So Bell did his own homework and proposed a solution. For that he has my kudos. Frankly, we might debate just how far Bell's errors actually fall from the errors found in Arminianism and Calvinism. One thing is certain, salvation doctrines cannot be so different and all be right! So at a minimum the Arminians, the Calvinists, Bell, or even all three need to exit stage left now that Bell has sounded.
That said, I do agree with those concerned that Bell's theology has fallen too far away from Christianity to be accepted as orthodox. For example in Chapter 3, titled Hell, he concludes that Hell is not a specific place beyond earth for the punishment of unbelievers after judgment. Instead he says it is the suffering endured in this life and the next for rejecting Christ. Bell sees Hell only as the natural suffering for sinful choices, but not as the active punishment of God upon unbelievers. He is not the only Christian who holds this view, wrong as it is. Yet a careful study of Luke 16:19-31 and Revelation 20:11-15 makes it clear that Hell, called Hades in the Greek language, is a place distinct from Heaven and Earth, designed by God for the punishment of unbelievers after their death.
I should also note here that Hades is not the same place as the Lake of Fire, which is an important component of my own view to be explained later. Unfortunately, the English word Hell is commonly understood to mean the place of eternal punishment. Yet Hell is not consistently translated in most English Bibles, referring sometimes to Hades, other times to Gehenna, and rarely to the Lake of Fire. Please note that if I use the word Hell in this book I am referring to Hades and not to the Lake of Fire.
In Chapter 4, titled "Does God Get What God Wants?" Bell concludes that since the book of Revelation says the gates of the New Jerusalem "never shut," people will be able to sin in eternity. The open gate implies that people can choose to stay inside and be holy or leave God and sin. However, since the gate remains open, they can always come back at any time throughout all eternity. Whoa! I am so looking forward to the day that God transforms my humble existence into sinless glory with all of God's people around his throne. Bell's interpretation of Heaven does not sound very Heavenly to me, nor does it square with the Biblical picture of the glorification of the redeemed. Bell has been vilified for suggesting a type of universal salvation, but his views ultimately are not even that hopeful! He should not be vilified, but instead pitied. How does Bell reason out this conclusion? In a nutshell he argues that the heart of God's love is giving people the freedom to choose, even to the point of choosing evil in Heaven. This is an unfortunate definition of love, and strangely also held by many Christians.
A Christian friend once insisted to me that we must have free will because God is a gentleman that would never force his grace upon us. To be sure, God does not coerce us, but just as surely he breathed life, uninvited, into the spiritually dead! Spiritually dead people cannot be coerced, but Jesus can choose to breathe life into anyone he chooses... by his grace.
However, I did greatly appreciate Bell's chapter title, "Does God Get What God Wants?" While I do not agree with most of Bell's conclusions in the chapter, I am comforted that the title was headed in the right direction. His chapter title should have led us instead to Romans 9:18-21 (WEB). If there ever was a hammer-and-anvil verse in the Bible to transform rebellious men with the sovereignty of God, this is it.
18) So then, he has mercy on whom he desires, and he hardens whom he desires. 19) You will say then to me, 'Why does he still find fault? For who withstands his will?' 20) But indeed, O man, who are you to reply against God? Will the thing formed ask him who formed it, 'Why did you make me like this?' 21) Or hasn’t the potter a right over the clay, from the same lump to make one part a vessel for honor, and another for dishonor?
God does get what God wants. However, Bell falls far short of seeing the glory that God will get as the savior of all mankind, removing our every blemish in heaven by his mighty hand of grace.
Perhaps God will lead Rob to reconsider. Perhaps you will reconsider as well.