Rob Bell: Universalist or Annihilationist?
I was watching a recent discussion on the Unbelievable radio program with host Justin Brierley that involved Rob Bell, author of the recent book Love Wins, and Christian blogger, Adrian Warnock. you can watch it as well at the Unbelievable site:
On a side issue, Rob Bell may not simply be a unorthodox with regard to the doctrine of hell. He may also be a pluralist. (Starting at 2:50)
Rob: This book is part of an ongoing discussion. It’s not the last word. I never thought it was and I assume nobody else thinks it’s the last word. So, I’m taking part of the ongoing discussion and it’s okay. The other opinions and perspectives are beautiful, good, wonderful.
But on to the universalism question:
When asked if he was a Universalist according a specific (but poorly worded) definition he responds (Starting at 7:36):
Justin: But is it fair to say you do believe in a universalism in the sense of that everyone will ultimately freely choose to be won over by the love of God?
Rob: I don’t know. Do you?
Adrian’s response to that was this:
Adrian: Well, it’s interesting because I don’t think Jesus did because Jesus talks about hell and He talks about fire that won’t go out, torment that’s unending. And certainly in your book you say that no one can resist God’s pursuit forever because God’s love will eventually melt the hardest hearts.
Rob doesn’t deny that he wrote that in his book. And there came a time in the discussion where the definition of universalism was investigated and Rob disagreed with the key option to universalism, that God condemns people for infinite time. Justin asked a listener question at 42:52 and sparked a portion of the discussion that ended with this admission:
Justin: And another person asks – this is more directed at you, Adrian, and your view of hell. “If we believe God is justice, how can a finite human being with a finite ability to reason come to earn infinite punishment? Surely justice demands that the time fits the crime. How can you believe in eternal conscious torment?” I mean, obviously a lot of people struggle with this and you’ve mentioned already another option, Rob, which isn’t really featured in your book, but annihilationism: this idea that people…
Rob: Yeah. There’s a section on the book, a sort of ex-human, post-human, formerly-human – that’s one of the sort-of – that the way people…
Justin: Sure. Are you more comfortable with that than the eternal conscious torment view? I mean, it really seems to me like you rule that out as being even considered. You know, that view is totally out of kilter with the idea of God’s love.
Rob: Well, it just raises questions. So like when I’m asking Adrian – those are legitimate, honest, straightforward – tell me more when you say that.
Justin: But tell me an answer to the question…
Justin: What do you think is the answer to that question?
Rob: Well, when he says, like in the questioner who says a finite being in a finite segment of time receives infinite punishment that has to be sort of kept up and maintained by God, that says something about the nature of God. So, let’s say a seventeen-year-old rejects Christ, dies, and seventeen million years from now, if you want to say that (that’s some obviously over-the-top language, right?), God is still punishing that person. Is God like that? And I think it’s a totally legitimate question.
Adrian: Do you think God is like that, Rob?
Rob: No! I don’t think God is like that.
And I love Justin’s response to this:
Justin: So, I’m taking from that answer that you definitely do not believe in an eternal kind of torment. I mean, I can’t draw any other conclusion that you don’t believe that.
And I think most reasonable people would arrive at that conclusion as well. If God doesn’t condemn people forever, then all will either be saved or annihilated. And when the question came to annihilationism, Rob dodged it and landed squarely back in the Universalist camp by denying that God punishes people forever.
And if one should argue that Perhaps Rob Bell is just an annihilationist because he never denied that, then we have another problem on our hands.