Lance, Are You a Universalist?

Disclaimer: This is only me dipping my toe into the waters of the Rob Bell discussion. I have yet to read the book. I have watched most of the television interviews he’s participated in, including the LiveStream archives of his panel dicussions. This is not a rebuttal or counter to any explicit topic, especially Bell’s book, Love Wins, but is related to the overall discussion about universalism.

A Definition

To start, a definition is in order so we’re starting on the same page. Webster defines Universalism as a theological doctrine that all human beings will eventually be saved.” I want to believe this. I really do. My humanity wants me to believe that Love Wins and God would not send people to an eternal suffering. How unfair of a loving God to judge people so harshly! Anyone with a conscience probably wants to believe that.

The Savior of All People?

A discussion with a great friend this morning brought up some tough to grasp scripture that may lead to some of this contention. 1 Timothy 4:10 (ESV) says “For to this end we toil and strive, because we have our hope set on the living God, who is the Savior of all people, especially of those who believe.” If you leave off those last five words, you’ll see the difficulty in reconciling God’s judgment the fact that He is truly the “Savior of all people”. In addition to those five clarifying words, you also must understand the context of this statement. Timothy was preaching to overcome Jewish dogma and false teachings, in that physical rights such as circumcision lead to salvation. In this context, these words mean that Jesus is the Savior, sent for all, but it is our responsibility to accept and obey the teachings of that Savior.

Another tough passage brought up this morning is Titus 4:11 (ESV) which says “For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people”. Again, though, it is important to read this in context. Keep reading through verse 14. “training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.” It’s pretty easy to see our responsibility in the rest of this passage as living “self-controlled, upright and godly lives in the present age.” This isn’t a universalist belief at all.

Three Categories of Belief

In an extremely simplistic view of the world, I see three categories of belief. There are those who have heard The Gospel and believe, those who have heard and denied it, and those who have not heard at all. Please, please, please hear me when I say that’s an “extremely simplistic view”. The first two of those categories are easy for me. The Bible is extremely clear on those. It’s even clear in Revelation 3:16 (ESV) that the gray area that may exist in between is worse.

Where I trip up is the third category, those who haven’t heard at all. For that, another BFF pointed me to Romans 1:20 (ESV) which says “For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse.” Wow, “without excuse”? Interesting. That is all I can say on that topic.

Lance, Are You a Universalist?

In my opinion, universalism and Christianity are mutually exclusive. If you believe that everyone will be saved/redeemed at any point, dead or alive, currently in Heaven or Hell, then the Gospel is irrelevant. The Great Commission is irrelevant. Yes, Jesus died for all people, but it is our responsibility to respond, as seen in John 3:16. “For God so loved the world (everyone) that He gave his only Son that whoever believes in Him (not everyone) should not perish, but have everlasting life.”

All of that said, judgment is not ours. Those gray areas in between should not distract us from our mission. Rob Bell brings up a situation of a woman molested by a pastor/priest. Is it fair to assume that in her situation, we should assume she should just get over it and disconnect that “man of God” from God Himself? Good question. If grace is truly irresistible (a Calvanist doctrine), then yes, we can assume that, but only because “with God, all things are possible” – Matthew 19:26 (ESV).

While we may want to lean towards universalism, we must look at scripture before putting our own desires above the teachings of Christ.

Closing Disclaimer: Please remember, I don’t direct this at Rob Bell, but only discuss conversation topics I’ve participated in recently. I have yet to read his book and can not speculate and don’t want to come across as rebutting text/comments I have yet to read.

If there was ever a post I wanted feedback on, this is it. Please comment!

5 thoughts on “Lance, Are You a Universalist?”

  1. Good post Lance. I agree with your assertion that Christianity and universalism are mutually exclusive. As unpopular as it may be, Christianity is an exclusive religion. Christ said “No man comes to the Father except through me.” That is pretty exclusive.

    So I am very disturbed by Rob Bell. He may not be a univeralist but he seems too close for comfort. I watched his interview with Martin Bashir and was struck by his inability to debate his ideas very convincingly.

  2. Thanks, Greg. Many Christians fear being arrogant by ignoring scripture like that you mention. But, you’re exactly right, Christianity is pretty exclusive. If I’d transcribed all my notes into this post, I may have included that specific reference, but I tried to focus on the opposite view.

    The Martin Bashir interview was pretty intense. If you listen to the follow up interview Mr. Bashir did with radio host Paul Edwards, you learn a lot more about his motives behind the interview. Good stuff.

  3. I’d prefer not to become a Rob Bell apologist, but I don’t think it’s fair to put much stock in his ability (or inability) to respond eloquently to Bashir’s cross-examination. I think Bashir did what is par for the course for television journalism and took a more adversarial position than was necessary to discuss the issue of what Bell truly believes. Starting the interview with asking whether the tragedy in Japan was indicative of God not caring about the suffering of Japanese people, and ending the rest of his rambling, leading questions with “that’s true, isn’t it?” put Bell in a position that was difficult to recover from. The question about why Bell would chose to quote Origen but not other, writers with inflammatory opinions was complete nonsense from Bashir. That said, by this point, Bell knows people are looking for every opportunity to blow holes in his book and should have been better prepared to defend himself.

  4. Fair point, Bill. Personally, I agree that, given the controversy, he seemed extremely unprepared to answer the, admittedly prodding, questions. I wasn’t in his chair, but as a casual observer, there were “right” and “wrong” answers to those questions and he didn’t really give either. The stammering leads to lessen his credibility. I do agree on the point of why he chose one writing over the other being irrelevant, however. All that said, I prefer Bashir’s interview over all the others because the others seemed to be asking prepared questions allowing for Bell’s talking points to shine. Of course, I don’t want this post to become a critique of Bashir’s interviewing style. I know, I brought it up.

  5. Romans 1:20 makes me think that it might be possible for someone to be saved without actually believing in the name of Jesus in this life as long as he acknowledges the one true God’s “invisible attributes”. I don’t think the Bible has a clear answer on this. If God wants someone to hear the name Jesus in this life he will make it happen.

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