Saturday, March 05, 2011

Hopeful universalism

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. 

Moving along:

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.


  1. I know I am getting old, 50 next year, but these word games get confusing.

    So a hopeful universalist is not a universalist?

  2. Or a hopeful dogmatic universalist or a ....

  3. I take it to mean one doesn't hold the universalist position, but the amount of certainty they have about exclusivity leaves room for hope that they are wrong. Of course, it probably leaves room for other less hopeful options too. ;-)

  4. On a more serious note, Paul expresses hope for the salvation of Israel but was quite clear I think that not everyone is getting in.

    And this repeated atempt to excuse Rob Bell by saying he is an artist type and not dogmatic. We all subscribe to views that are part of our dogmatics/philosophy. The honest ones admit that they do.

  5. I'm not sure why the sunny notion that God predestines everyone for salvation (eventually) is so offensive and distasteful to some.

    If someone preached the notion of universal damnation (or for all but a few), it would probably be met with less hostility.

    Can anyone explain why this is? In universalism, God is still sovereign and is the ultimate defeater of death, evil and sin, no?

  6. I've explained that on many occasions.

  7. Peter Lumpkins?

    Oh, yeah, I remember he played "Hymie" the robot on "Get Smart"right?

  8. "Rob Bell by saying he is an artist type"

    He claims to be a pastor. Unless he is just play-acting, he has no excuse:

    Teach and urge these things. If anyone teaches a different doctrine and does not agree with the sound words of our Lord Jesus Christ and the teaching that accords with godliness, he is puffed up with conceit and understands nothing. He has an unhealthy craving for controversy and for quarrels about words, which produce envy, dissension, slander, evil suspicions, and constant friction among people who are depraved in mind and deprived of the truth, imagining that godliness is a means of gain. Now there is great gain in godliness with contentment, for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world. But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content. But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs.

    That fairly well sums it up.

  9. "In universalism, God is still sovereign"

    Not in the universalism that Boyd describes as that of Bell. There is no finiteness about it, no sovereign knowledge of the final tally. Hopeful universalism then undermines the sovereignty of God by undermining his knowledge of futurity. In that sense, it is even worse than the openness of Arminianism and Molinism, it is purely openness, for not even God can know the final outcome.

    "While its clear from Love Wins that Rob believes (as do I ) that God wants all to be saved, it’s also clear Rob believes (as do I) that humans [and, I would add, angels] have free will and that God will never coerce someone to accept his love and be “saved.” Rob doesn’t himself argue this way in his book, but it seems to me that if God will not coerce people into heaven, then hell (which, by the way, Rob does emphatically believe in) cannot have a pre-set, definitive, terminus point. That is, hell is not, at present, finite. Hence, in this sense, hell is, at present, infinite (= not finite). 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."

    Note the anti-Calvinist caricatures. But more, note how he defines universalism as indeterminism. Thus it is hopeful that more will get in than can be fitted within a finiteness. So the now becomes infinite, and the future finite. By presdigitation, Boyd and Bell by Boyd's assessment, destroys meaning then reconstructs it to fit an agnostic set of beliefs. (What is not finite isn't necessarily infinite, but may only be indeterminate.) Man cannot know because God cannot know the future or it would be finite, which to them means finished. In doing that, Boyd confuses categories, i.e., infinitude with eternality, sequential necessity and therefore numerical essentiality with nonsequential existence, without number, the essential attribute of eternality. The effect being that only in the now is Hell eternal, because that numbering is still adding up, but when the end comes, it will reach terminus status and be finite. It will end. The problem, of course is why isn't that the case with heaven. And thus raises the other head of this brand of hopeful universalism, anihilationism, and that of an eternal life that also has terminus, if indeed infiniteness is the same as eternality and only exists in the now. It means than only now, and this is clearly Bell, is there, or can there be, heaven on Earth. What comes next cannot be gauranteed, cannot be understood as real, for all that can be known is what is being. And if the finite = not infinite definition of futurity is true, then the end of time is the end of all for all. Univesal anihilationism. It is also a kind of universalism, since all will be saved from hell.

  10. I said tow years ago that I don't think Rob Bell is a universalist; he seems to be leaning toward Universal Reconciliation:

  11. "I'm not sure why the sunny notion that God predestines everyone for salvation (eventually) is so offensive and distasteful to some."

    Sure, it's a sunny notion.....only, it doesn't line up with Scripture. Hell is not a place that anyone is excited about, nor is it a place that anyone is hoping others will end up. But that's why we are commanded to go into the world, preaching the message of repentance and faith in Jesus' atoning death for the forgiveness of sins.

    A loving and merciful God has made a way for wretched and depraved sinners to be reconciled to himself, and the parameters are very clear:

    "Jesus answered him, 'I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.'" John 14:6