Question: Are you familiar with Rob Bell's book Love Wins? It is subtitled, "a book about heaven, hell, and the fate of every person who ever lived." It seems to teach universalism, although I have seen Bell deny that he is a universalist.
Response: We first addressed Rob Bell's heresies in a December 2005 TBC review of Velvet Elvis. Although professing fidelity to Scripture, the content of both Velvet Elvis and Love Wins clearly denies the sufficiency of Scripture. "This is part of the problem with continually insisting that one of the absolutes of the Christian faith must be a belief that 'Scripture alone' is our guide. It sounds nice, but it is not true" (Bell, Velvet Elvis, p. 67). His denial of scriptural authority has turned him from God's specific revelation, and he must therefore look elsewhere for insights that only God can and has provided.
His denial of the biblical doctrine of hell begins with misrepresentation, "A staggering number of people have been taught that a select few Christians will spend forever in a peaceful, joyous place called heaven while the rest of humanity spends forever in torment and punishment in hell," which he then characterizes as "...misguided, toxic, and ultimately subvert[ing] the contagious spread of Jesus' message of love, peace, forgiveness and joy that our world desperately needs to hear" (Bell, Love Wins: A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived, Harper One, 2011, viii).
Bell seems to be blind to the numerous Bible verses that categorically deny his thesis, such as, "And to you who are troubled rest with us, when the Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven with his mighty angels, In flaming fire taking vengeance on them that know not God, and that obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ: Who shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of his power" (2 Thes:1:7-9). Furthermore, five times in chapter 9 of the Gospel of Mark (vv. 43-48) Jesus repeats that the fires of hell will not be quenched.
Bell seeks to offer a message without offense, but not the biblical gospel. However, the Apostle Paul wrote clearly of the offense of the Cross: "And I, brethren, if I yet preach circumcision, why do I yet suffer persecution? then is the offence of the cross ceased" (Gal:5:11).
Bell admits that Jesus was "unbelievably exclusive," [our emphasis] with his declaration that "I am the way, the truth and the life, no one comes to the Father but through me" (Ibid.). Still, he argues, "He's also fantastically inclusive," pointing to other statements that Jesus made such as "I, if I am lifted up, ... will draw all people to myself" and that there will be a "renewal of all things" [author's emphasis] (Lillian Kwon, "Rob Bell Denies Being a Universalist," Christian Post, 3/15/11). Although Christ indeed draws all people to himself, Bell implies that the drawing is unconditional. No! Here is the condition: "He that believeth not shall be damned" (Mk 16:16).
Bell's low view of Scripture was evident during an interview with Pakistani-born Christian journalist Martin Bashir. "I'm asking you, is it irrelevant, as to how you respond to Christ in your life now, to determine your eternal destiny, that is irrelevant? Is it immaterial?" (Bashir, MSNBC Interview, March 15, 2011 transcript). Bell's answer is double-talk at best. "It is terribly relevant and terribly important. How exactly it works out and how it works out in the future, when you die we are in the realm of speculation. And my experience has been a lot of Christians built whole dogmas about what happens when you die and we have to be very careful we don't build whole doctrines and dogmas on what is speculation" (Ibid.).
Speculation? That is what a person is left with when he turns from the Word of God, which is epidemic among many who profess to be evangelical Christians. No doubt we are seeing the prophetic fulfillment of Paul's last day's warning: "For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine" (2 Tm 4:3).