Rob Bell is NOT a Universalist (and I actually read “Love Wins”)
On the basis of a publisher’s promotional paragraph and an advertising video in which Rob Bell questions someone’s certainty that Ghandi [sic.] is in hell, Justin Taylor sounded the web-wide alarm that Rob Bell’s forthcoming book Love Wins espouses universalism (the doctrine that everyone will eventually be saved)...I suspect I have a slight advantage over some who have expressed strong opinions on Love Wins inasmuch as I have actually read the book (I received an advanced copy).
Second, given Rob’s poetic/artistic/non-dogmatic style, Love Wins cannot be easily filed into pre-established theological categories (viz. “universalism” vs “eternal conscious suffering” vs. “annihilationism,” etc.)...I strongly doubt Rob would describe himself as a “Universalist.”...And this holds true even if Rob believes he has warrant to hope everyone will eventually be saved. And for this reason, I would argue that Rob cannot hold to Universalism as a doctrine: he cannot be, in the classic sense of the word, a Universalist.
Addendum: As I’ve said, I don’t think it’s accurate to describe Rob’s book as a defense of Universalism, though it expresses a hope for all to be saved. If you’re looking for defenses of Universalism as a doctrine, the best I’ve found are...Gregory MacDonald, The Evangelical Universalist...
i) As a matter of fact, there is a “preestablished theological category” in which to fit Bell’s book (as Boyd himself describes it). There are varieties of universalism. And in the typology of universalism, there’s a distinction between “hopeful universalism,” “dogmatic universalism,” and “hopeful dogmatic universalism”:
Is universal salvation something that Christians can reasonably hope for or is it something they can be certain of? Ludlow and Walls point out that most Christian theologians who have been universalists had held to a form of “hopeful universalism,” whilst both Talbott and Reitan in this volume defend a form of “certain” or “dogmatic universalism,” R. Parry & C. Partridge, eds. Universal Salvation: The Current Debate (Eerdmans 2003), xviii.
Some Christians describe themselves as “hopeful universalists.” By this they mean that Scripture gives good grounds for real hope that all will be saved, but there is no certainty…Other Christians are dogmatic universalists. They argue that it is certain that God will save all. I agree but with a qualification. The theology outlined in this book is one that espouses a dogmatic universalism, but I must confess to not being 100% certain that it is correct. Thus I am a hopeful dogmatic universalist, a non-dogmatic dogmatic universalist, if you will G. MacDonald, The Evangelical Universalist: The biblical hope that God’s love will save us all (SPCK 2008), 4.
I said right at the start that I am a hopeful dogmatic universalist. That is to say that, although, according to my theological system, God will save all people, I am not 100% certain that my system is correct,” ibid. 176.
I believe that Jason Pratt, of the CADRE, is another hopeful universalist. And I think Randal Rauser also identifies himself as a hopeful universalist. So this is well-established usage in universalist circles.
It’s odd that Boyd would mischaracterize universalism when, in fact, he cites a book (which he says he read) that draws that very distinction (more than once).
ii) Boyd also perpetuates the falsehood that Justin Taylor had no firsthand knowledge of the book.
The stew keeps cooking on controversial mega-church pastor, Rob Bell, and his latest book, Love Wins. Today, Greg Boyd, hardly a non-controversial figure himself among evangelicals with his open theistic views, went on record saying Bell is no universalist.
Sometimes the best test for discovering what someone really believes is right or wrong is observing how he or she reacts when another person treats him or her in a particular way.
Notice that Lumpkins relies on secondhand information. He continues his attack on Justin Taylor and others based, not on his own reading of Love Wins, but based on hearsay information–what Boyd says Bell says.
Lumpkins is guilty of the very thing he faults in others. So he flunks his own test.
Lumpkins is a bigot. And because he’s a bigot, he’s oblivious to his own bigotry. A bigot thinks the other guy is the bigot.
In Lumpkins’ priority system, if a man who happens to be a Calvinist says something right about a heretic, then it’s more important to attack the Calvinist and defend the heretic, than vice versa.