Is Bell’s Universalism
Worse Than Calvin’s?
Rob Bell’s book, “Love Wins,” recently hit the market, or maybe I should say the fan, based on the maelstrom that followed. It’s really making people think.
Not “believe” but think and I’m certain that’s a good thing. Only a thinking person can believe, right?
Even before the book was released the flurry of accusations, disavowals and condemnations – proclaimed, of course, with “hear I stand” affirmations of Rob’s unquestionable infidelity – made one think the anti-Christ had surely arrived. And these responses were based on nothing more than a pre-release video ad.
The ad was provocative, yes, but not the basis for laying criminal charges.
That didn’t matter though. With little evidence and no identifiable crime, stake burning mobs began gathering.
And after the release? Whooooooooooa! The barrage of heated acrimonious remarks was enough to melt glaciers.
I try to avoid universal everybody’s-doing-it statements but it definitely seems like “everyone” took aim at Rob. For all the right reasons, naturally. I don’t doubt a few hangers-on will keep the firestorm fueled for some time to come.
The question is how do you make sense of all the noise?
Providing a list of every naysayer or attempting to analyze every contrary remark would take an endless amount of time so I won’t go there. I will, however, focus on one review for discussion purposes. The writer is Kevin DeYoung who is reformed (lower case “r” for me – talk more about that just now). His remarks are representative of the negative reactions so he is a good place to start.
His first response – I feel more might be coming – was posted on The Gospel Coalition and I will excerpt a few remarks to illustrate the presumptuous ranting manner in which Bell’s ideas are being attacked.
My purpose, by the way, is not to encourage anyone to agree or disagree with Bell or DeYoung. These two men don’t represent the opposite ends of the good vs evil spectrum. Thankfully, one isn’t absolutely right and the other absolutely wrong.
There are more than just two possible conclusions and according to what Bell said in the book he understands that. The problem is DeYoung doesn’t. He and those like him allow for no divergence on certain ideas and assume Bell must be “completely” wrong because he opened up discussion on ideas that are “absolutely” fixed. Like so many others, his write-up is laced with the language of assumed-understandings from beginning to end.
His title reads: “God Is Still Holy And What You Learned In Sunday School Is Still True…”
And to mimic Rob’s approach to such absolutist remarks…
Really? Which Sunday School is that? The American one, the English one, the Scottish one, the Irish one, the Italian one, the German one, the one in Switzerland or Spain or the Eastern Orthodox one? Was it the Stone Age one or the Iron Age one or the Middle Ages one?
Let’s be clear. From what I understand some of those Sunday schools agree with Bell.
Truth? DeYoung, like so many others, speaks from a very narrow, near history perspective – mostly opinion – and quotes people who endorse that perspective. I’m being generous to call it perspective, a word that implies a long broad view.
His introduction provides a very generalized, hazy rendering of Rob’s primary point and includes a summary of his accusations, on which he expands in the interminably long exposé that follows:
The theology is heterodox. The history is inaccurate. The impact on souls is devastating. And the use of Scripture is indefensible.
I’ll talk more about it later but for the record, long winded statements are typical of reformed teachers and there is good reason for it. The heart of their teachings is so irrational, illogical and flaky they resort to long drawn out twist-and-turn, hard-to-follow discussions just to give the appearance of intellectual superiority. Taking this approach diverts attention from their senseless confusion to what seems to be excessive cerebral activity.
Who can argue against that?
However, not only is the good news better than that, as Rob would say, it really isn’t so complicated either.
DeYoung repeats or alludes to his accusation points ad nauseam throughout the article but only as assertions. Any proof he offers is from people whose opinions mirror his. At one point he says:
If Bell is right, then historic orthodoxy is toxic and terrible. But if the traditional view of heaven and hell are right, Bell is blaspheming. I do not use the word lightly, just like Bell probably chose “toxic” quite deliberately. Both sides cannot be right.
Several thoughts come to mind, if you’re thinking:
- Can’t both sides be wrong? DeYoung assumes he must be right if Rob is wrong. Even his use of terms like “historic,” “orthodoxy” and “traditional” assumes history is on his side, as if “truth” historically ran on only one track and it happens to be the one he is on. Sorry Mr. DeYoung. I’m not sure Rob is absolutely correct but it is certain you are neither absolutely right nor orthodox.
- Therefore, his choice of the word “blaspheming” is silly if not stupid and typically ungenerous, arrogant even. Exactly what you would expect from someone with a toxic mindset.
“Blaspheme” doesn’t really apply anyway. We use it to characterize actions or words intended to impugn God’s name or affront His person. Bell might be attacking ideas but he clearly isn’t defying God. He believes the Bible and works from it not around it. However, in the heat of the moment, with so many egging him on, how could DeYoung resist.
The history DeYoung learned, which he assures us Bell got wrong, is an interpretation sanitized by the religious institutions of the American west, which not only trained him but continually monitor his acceptance.
Does anyone who knows how the system works think he can be entirely honest? Even publicly considering a different – not new – idea, would immediately trigger disbarment proceedings. His (their) interpretations of history and the Bible are “inspired” and therefore set. There is no room for discussion.
But, for me, here is the real issue. DeYoung is a dedicated “calvinist.” So dedicated in fact that his seminary peers referred to him as Calvin’s clone.
For those who may not be aware of it, calvinism – not the Bible – teaches that God preselected certain individuals to go to heaven while assigning everyone else to hell and these selections were made before the universe was created. In case you didn’t know, “calvinism” is slang for “reformed.” [Read more…]