Francis Chan is writing a new book about hell. As the book won’t be out until July 5th, I have not yet read it and therefore can’t endorse it. However, I was impressed with what he had to say on this video, and I would encourage you to hear his thoughts. As he says, we can’t afford to get this issue wrong.
Universalism (and all of its cousins) is one of the most troubling aspects of Postmodern Theology. We must stand on the Word of God, and not on the shifting sand of public opinion.
The popular author’s controversial book Love Wins celebrates God’s love but drifts dangerously into Universalism.
I’m usually quick to speak my mind. But in the case of Rob Bell’s controversial book Love Wins, I’ve withheld comment until now because (1) I don’t think Christians should judge books before reading them; (2) the theological issues addressed require careful analysis; and (3) I have many young friends who are fans of Bell’s books, and they may write me off if I don’t treat him fairly.
So I’ll begin with a compliment. Bell is a masterful writer whose prose is poetic. As pastor of the 7,000-member Mars Hill Bible Church in Michigan, Bell has gained a following because of his casual style, his ultra-cool Nooma videos and the previous books he’s released with Christian publisher Zondervan (especially Velvet Elvis).
With Love Wins, he’s taking his message mainstream. HarperCollins published it, and Time magazine featured a cover story in April about the firestorm Bell has triggered among conservative Christian leaders who have accused him of heresy. So what’s all the fuss about?
Bell’s core theme is that Christians have been too narrow in their view of God and His mercy. He argues that God loves people too much to banish them to hell. In the end, he says, after this life is over, everybody will find ultimate reconciliation in Christ. Bell claims this is what the Bible teaches, and he suggests that Christian theologians have promoted the idea for centuries.
He writes: “At the center of the Christian tradition … have been a number who insist that history is not tragic, hell is not forever and love, in the end, wins and all will be reconciled to God.”
That sounds a lot like Universalism, the idea that all spiritual paths ultimately lead to heaven. But pinning the Universalist label on Bell isn’t easy because he doesn’t write authoritatively. He muses, hints, speculates and suggests his views, so not to offend. Rather than preach with conviction, he invites his readers to a “conversation.” It feels friendly and non-confrontational.
Near the end of the book Bell sounds solidly evangelical when he emphasizes that people must receive the grace God has offered to us. But he sounds more like Oprah when he asks: “Has God created millions of people over tens of thousands of years who are going to spend eternity in anguish? Can God do this, or even allow this, and claim to be a loving God?”
I can appreciate Bell’s desire to distance himself from the mean-spirited side of American fundamentalism. Young people today are horrified (so am I) by self-righteous, Bible-toting believers who burn Qurans or spew hatred toward immigrants or homosexuals. Bell despises the “turn or burn” attitude that has made Christians look judgmental. He also believes we’ve trivialized salvation by turning conversion into a formulaic prayer, and by focusing the Christian life on the idea of “getting into heaven.” I agree with him on those points.
But Bell is also guilty of trivializing salvation. He writes about an ooey-gooey God of love but leaves out God’s justice and holiness. His gospel, at times, sounds squishy and spineless. You can’t correct the abuses of fundamentalism by disregarding the severe side of God’s nature. You can’t bring balance by swinging the pendulum too far the other way.
Because of Bell’s popularity, Love Wins could steer the American church into dangerous waters. You can ignore the book if you want, but you can’t ignore the fact that younger Christians are turned off by certain attitudes in the church, and they need solid answers. We must address the key doctrinal issues that Bell raises:
1. The reality of hell. Bell downplays Scriptural support for the existence of hell while admitting that Jesus talked about it more than anyone in the New Testament. At times he suggests that hell is just a state of mind, or maybe a manifestation of evil on earth. He also questions whether God would send anyone to hell since He’s so forgiving.
Yet when the apostle Paul preached the gospel he warned of “the judgment to come” (Acts 24:25, NASB). The essence of the gospel is that Jesus came to save us from eternal separation from God. Don’t we still believe this?
2. The exclusivity of Christianity. Bell makes a strong case that Jesus died to reconcile all people to God, but then he suggests that not everyone will realize it was Jesus they were praying to. The inference is that Muslims, Hindus or Buddhists will show up in heaven since they were responding to a divine impulse they didn’t understand.
If that’s true, why did Jesus Himself say the road to salvation was exclusively narrow and the road to destruction was wide? (see Matt. 7:13-14). Why did He command us to take the message of salvation to the nations? Why did the early apostles preach that salvation was only in His name? Were they narrow-minded fundamentalists too?
3. The necessity of evangelism. Bell comes close to ridiculing Christians who share their faith, and he wonders if it’s really necessary for missionaries to share the gospel abroad. He asks: “If our salvation … is dependent on others bringing the message to us–teaching us, showing us–what happens if they don’t do their part? What if the missionary gets a flat tire?”
I’m sure Bell gets laughs when he repeats that line in a sermon. But it’s really not funny. He’s suggesting that there’s no urgency about preaching the gospel, and that lives aren’t at stake when we ignore our responsibility to evangelize. Tell that to the apostle Paul, who wasn’t laughing when he said he felt an overwhelming obligation to preach so he could save sinners (see Rom. 1:14).
Bell says he asked Jesus into his heart when he was a child, so I’m treating him as a brother in Christ. I’m not picking a fight with him. But I can’t endorse Love Wins. The doctrines of heaven, hell, salvation and damnation are too serious to be treated haphazardly. May the Lord help us to reclaim a truly New Testament gospel in an hour of spiritual compromise.
“Reprinted from Charisma, 600 Rinehart Rd., Lake Mary, FL 32746. www.fireinmybones.com. Used by permission.
This past week I spent four days preaching at Emmanuel College, a Christian liberal arts school in northeast Georgia. I love speaking to college students because they are spiritually hungry, they love passionate worship and I don’t have to wear a tie.
On the third night (after a young man got saved and delivered of drug addiction—yeah God!) I told the kids I needed to get brutally honest. They gave me permission to shoot straight. Because I genuinely care about them—and because they will be spiritual leaders before too long—I warned them about four lies they must confront.
Every Christian in this country must learn to dissect these lies using the Word of God. The devil is working overtime today to gain control of our nation’s soul. We are in a life-and-death struggle. This is not a time for Christians to be squishy in their faith or spineless in their convictions. We must plant our feet on the bedrock principles of the Bible and oppose each of these lies: “We must start preaching about hell again instead of worrying about who might leave our church or how it might affect our TV ratings.”
1. Hell does not exist. Jesus preached about hell more than anyone in the Bible. His words dripped with love, but He didn’t soft-pedal when addressing the eternal consequences of sin. When He began His ministry, he read from the book of Isaiah, announcing that He had come not only to “proclaim the favorable year of the Lord” but also “the day of vengeance of our God” (Is. 61:2, NASB).
The real gospel is a double-edged sword that offers both the “kindness and severity of God” (Rom. 11:22, emphasis added). That’s why hell is one four-letter word we should use more often—not to condemn people in mean-spirited judgment but to warn them that mercy has a time limit.
The world rejects the concept of hell because it’s too exclusive. Our Oprah-ized culture insists that everyone deserves a warm and fuzzy life free of consequences. “How can a loving God send anyone to hell?” people ask. If we truly love them we will explain that hell is not a metaphor—it is a real place of dreadful separation from God that sinners choose when they reject Him. We must start preaching about hell again instead of worrying about who might leave our church or how our unpopular message might affect our TV ratings.
2. God didn’t create the world. 2009 was the 150th anniversary of the publication of Charles Darwin’s The Origin of Species, so you can be sure the scientific community will bombard us this year with more “proof” of this sketchy theory. The mainstream media and academia insist that evolution is pure fact. Anyone who dares to challenge it is considered a religious idiot.
What people don’t realize is that Darwinism, besides being laughably lacking in scientific basis, has roots in spiritualism. Welsh naturalist Alfred Russel Wallace shared many of Darwin’s beliefs and encouraged him to publish his book. Wallace believed in spirit guides, participated in séances and was intrigued by all things paranormal. He promoted the “science” of evolution because it supported his anti-God views. Is it any wonder, then, that this doctrine he and Darwin propagated has been used to undermine Christianity ever since?
The world does not want to believe in a Creator because if He is real, then He has ultimate authority over His creation. On the flip side, man has no moral responsibility if he crawled out of a primordial soup, grew fins, then legs, and then became a talking ape. Evolution is not really about science at all—it is about rebellion against God’s rule over us.
3. All religions lead to God. This isn’t a new lie, but it is enjoying a revival today. President Bush has obviously flirted with the idea, since he has told reporters that Muslims and Christians worship the same God. Barack Obama attended a church for 20 years that teaches that Jesus is not the only way to salvation—and he has publicly acknowledged that he believes this.
The doctrine of universalism—which states that all people will ultimately gain salvation and enjoy heaven—has become the religion of the masses. Even some charismatic and Pentecostal preachers such as Carlton Pearson of Oklahoma and D.E. Paulk of Atlanta have abandoned biblical orthodoxy to embrace this heresy. They are now on a crusade to rewrite Christian theology—and they have allies in some mainline denominations (such as the Episcopal Church) where the authority of Scripture is denied.
Christians who embrace universalism are like the prophets of Baal in Jezebel’s court who had been neutered. They preach a powerless message that cannot change anyone. We must arise in the spirit of Elijah to confront this deception and prove to the world that the one true God answers by fire.
4. Man can redefine morality. This is perhaps the most deadly lie of all. Everywhere we look today, leaders in media, politics, education and entertainment are plotting the virtual overthrow of conventional morals. They want a hedonistic world with no rules and no guilt. This was most obvious last month when Newsweek published a cover story brazenly claiming that the Bible approves of same-sex marriage.
A lying spirit has invaded many mainline churches and is convincing weak Christians to change their views about homosexuality, abortion and fornication. Evil is called good while those who stand for the biblical values of purity and traditional marriage are labeled bigots.
If we ignore these lies they will engulf us. We need a zero-tolerance policy for spiritual compromise. While we must demonstrate overwhelming compassion and love for sinners, God requires us to oppose cultural brainwashing. We cannot be silent on the issues the devil is attacking.
If you are wavering in your faith on any of these four fundamentals, get honest about your doubts, repent of your lukewarmness and dig in God’s Word until your mind is renewed. Don’t become a brainwash victim.
J. Lee Grady, Charisma’s editor, has been involved in Christian journalism since 1981 and has faced a monthly deadline ever since. A native of Atlanta, he has been with Charisma since 1992, serving as news editor, managing editor and then becoming editor in 1999. He and his wife, Deborah, have four daughters. Lee has won three first-place reporting awards from the Evangelical Press Association, and his monthly column in Charisma, “Fire in My Bones,” has won awards from the Florida Magazine Association.
“Reprinted from Charisma, 600 Rinehart Rd., Lake Mary, FL 32746. www.fireinmybones.com. Used by permission.