The former founding pastor of Mars Hill Bible Church in Grand Rapids, MI and a popular icon in the emergent church movement, Rob Bell grew his following in part by being a friend of the world. Bell often uses suggestive questions rather than declarations to challenge traditional Christian doctrine and the Bible’s authority.
In typical emergent fashion, Bell often creates more ambiguity instead of clarity, having no genuine commitment to absolute truth. So it’s no surprise to many of us that Bell came out in favor of homosexuality last week:
I am for marriage. I am for fidelity. I am for love, whether it’s a man and woman, a woman and a woman, a man and a man. I think the ship has sailed and I think the church needs — I think this is the world we are living in and we need to affirm people wherever they are.
I’d say that’s a bit different from Jesus’ definition of marriage. Of course God loves every one of us, but nowhere in Scripture does He tolerate sin – any sin. He’s holy; He’s God, and we’re not. You might recall in 2011 when MSNBC’s Martin Bashir grilled Bell over his mushy position on Hell and eternal judgment. Even Bashir, a liberal cable TV host, referred to Bell’s teachings as unbiblical and historically unreliable. Bashir confronted Bell and said he was “amending the gospel so that it’s palatable,” and “much easier to swallow.”
It’s easy to see that Bell is giving our culture exactly what it wants: nothing too confrontational, convicting, or absolute. In the Gospels, Jesus described hell as a fiery furnace, outer darkness, a place of destruction, agony, torment, and weeping and gnashing of teeth. Bell, on the other hand claims:
For Jesus, heaven and hell were present realities. Ways of living we can enter into here and now. He talked very little of the life beyond this one… No amount of clever marketing will attract people if we teach that ‘God will punish people for all of eternity.’
Because of sin, judgment must come. The Word of God leaves no doubt about the existence of hell and severity of it. God has provided everything we need to know about hell and how to avoid it through faith in the sacrifice and resurrection of Christ. Bell is an example of the product of Protestant Liberalism that evolved back in the nineteenth century. When the message is watered-down, it can be confusing to the biblically illiterate.
This brings us to Universalism, which teaches that all people will ultimately be saved no matter what they believe here on earth. You can live the way you want: sin, curse God or deny Christ, and still make it into heaven. Some Universalists say their salvation is through the atonement of Jesus Christ while others think everybody will go to heaven eventually regardless of whether or not they have put their faith in Christ.
Apparently, this universal redemption will be realized either during a person’s lifetime or after their death in some future state. Since there are many variations of Universalists, it’s not possible to place them all in one doctrinal category.
Rob Bell stated “What Jesus does is declare that he, and he alone, is saving everybody. And then he leaves the door way, way open.” But, in Matthew 7:13-14, Jesus Christ said:
“Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.”
Christian Universalism, however, holds that all of mankind will ultimately be saved through Jesus, whether we place our faith in Him as the Son of God or not. This salvation is not from hell, but from sin, thus pretty much eliminating the truth about a future Judgment Day. As you can imagine, this is a very appealing teaching to young people; and an entire generation of evangelicals has already been poisoned with this unbiblical doctrine.
After all, who wouldn’t want to accept a God of love without having to hear about repentance, holiness, judgment, and justice?
Some Universalists believe they will make it to heaven because a loving God would never create a place like hell. They think they will have to make up for their sins in some way – in heaven – and that they are disciplined and purified in this life for their sins. Most believe punishment for sin is moral, not physical since there is no eternal damnation. Christian Universalism boils down to the claim that any doctrine about a literal hell is wrong.
There are those who also split hairs over the essential doctrine of Christ’s physical resurrection, believing He was taken into heaven by God instead of actually rising from the dead and coming out of the tomb. Groups that deny the physical resurrection of Jesus are not Christian, nor are groups who deny the teaching of the Trinity. One of the more dangerous Universalist beliefs is a type of reincarnation in which those who have rejected Christ get a second chance and can still come to faith in the next life. These teachings should be avoided, and it’s always best to test all things by the living Word of God.
Dear friends, although I was very eager to write to you about the salvation we share, I felt I had to write and urge you to contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints. For certain men whose condemnation was written about long ago have secretly slipped in among you. They are godless men, who change the grace of our God into a license for immorality and deny Jesus Christ our only Sovereign and Lord. Jude 3-4
For more on the emergent church, counterfeit Christianity, and other false teachings, see chapters 12-13 in Eradicate: Blotting Out God in America.
Photo credit: p_c_w (Creative Commons)
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