The furorer started with Justin Taylor's post about Bell's promotional video. Piper responded with a tweet: "Farewell Rob Bell". What he meant by that is anybody's guess -- farewell from Christianity, from evangelicalism, from new calvinism, from Zondervan (the book was Bell's first from Harper Collins)? I don't know about love winning but the publicity certainly meant that the publishers won!
Why the fear? What is wrong with posing questions? I don't agree with all Bell's answers, but the questions he raises are important and need to be addressed.
How biblical is the so-called 'traditional' view of hell? Many evangelicals have taken different views on this topic - does that stop them being evangelicals or even Christian? Why the concern over boundaries - who is and who isn't an evangelical? Since when has a correct view of hell been an indicator of whether one is 'in' or 'out'? Since when has a literal reading of the Bible been an indicator of whether one is an evangelical or not?
There are many types of universalism - some may have some biblical warrant others clearly do not. Likewise, there are many views of hell - some may have biblical warrant others don't.
Here's my rough draft of a range of views:
1. Hell as a place of eternal torment/ punishment (either mental or physical or both)
2. Hell as a place of separation from God
3.1 Conditional immortality
3.1.1 Those in Christ are resurrected the rest are annihilated
3.1.2 All are resurrected – then face judgment those not in Christ are then annihilated
3.2 All are created immortal after the resurrection the unbelievers are punished and then annihilated.
4. Purgatorial view
4.1 Hell as a place of discipline
4.2 Hell as the opportunity for post-mortem decision
5. Inclusivism – some may be saved - even if they have not heard of Jesus - based on the revelation they have received
6.1 Christian universalism: all will be saved through what Christ has done
6.2 Pluralistic universalism: all will be saved – no matter what
Bell seems to hold to a version of 6.1; for example:
What Jesus does is declare that he,but and it’s a big but with a form of 4.2. But it seems that human free will trumps all that God has done:
and he alone
is saving everybody (p. 155)
God gives us what we want, and if that's hell, we can have it.
We have that kind of freedom, that kind of choice. We are that free. (p. 72)
And that's what we find in Jesus's teaching about hell - a volatile mixture of images, pictures, and metaphors that describe the very real experiences and consequences of rejecting out God-given goodness and humanity. Something we are free to do, anytime, anywhere, with anyone. (p. 73)
Bell is then no universalist - we have the freedom to reject what God has done.
On the other hand he seems to be arguing as follows:
1. God is sovereign and in control of all things
2. God wants all to be saved
3. Therefore, all will be saved.
If 1 and 2 are true then 3 must follow. However, Bell seems to want to add
4. Unless we want to reject the offer of salvation
Bell is obviously questioning evangelical shibboleths- he is an iconoclast, and doesn't mind whose toes he steps on - more power to him!
The focus of the criticism has been on Bell's view of hell. This misses some of the excellent points he makes, particularly in chapter 2. This is a brilliant chapter: for example this extract:
education,making a home,
tending a garden --
they're all sacred tasks to be done in partnership with God now, because they will all go on in the age to come.
Ultimately, Bell's message is that free will is sovereign: we get what we want.