Is the God of Universalism More Merciful or Less?

Universalists make the point that at the end of the day God will redeem everyone whether they wanted to be redeemed in this life or not. The question I have is why on earth did God allow any brokenness in the first place? They say the only way God can be completely loving and merciful is to create the perfect world, allow us to goof it up, and not restore it all then and there but instead allow millenia of pain, suffering, disease, spiritual warfare, sin, rebellion, alienation from God, degradation and abuse of children, and so much more to pass but that at the end of it all he is going to restore everything and everyone back after we have suffered all of that. We know none of these issues are an issue with God’s power, right? Universalists are all about the power of God and his power to save. God is the one who chooses when to do the redeeming and restoring. If it is going to be everyone, all the way…why not now?

Is it just me or does that actually sound more cruel, not less? If the end result is complete redemption of every single person who has ever lived and God is all loving and all powerful, why not get on with it? At the moment of the very first sin or even before that…take the tree out of the garden and live in bliss forever. Why allow anyone else to suffer? Why allow one more tear? Does the God of universal salvation actually depict a more merciful God or a less merciful one? I really am asking so please fill me in if you have an answer.


Ten Questions I Have for Christian Universalists

I have been studying hell for the past several months and wanted to share a few questions I have for those who say either there is no such thing as hell or that hell is a temporary place designed to bring us to God. I hope none of this comes across as uncaring. It is not intended to do that. These are just questions that have crossed my mind that I wonder how people who are of the anti-hell persuasion would answer. If anyone has an answer they feel is appropriate, please share. I am here to learn…that is why I am asking questions.

  1. If hell is there to correct us so that all ultimately end up in heaven, wouldn’t it have been a lot more humane for God to just stick us in hell the first time around rather than have us live this life and then have hell too?
  2. How do you teach pathways out of hell when scripture repeatedly teaches that there are no pathways out of hell (Luke 16:26) ?
  3. How can you teach both an eternal heaven and a temporary hell when the same language is used of both places often set side-by-side. If you teach a temporary hell why not teach a temporary heaven? At least be consistent.
  4. How can you teach an inclusive heaven but exclusive hell when scripture teaches the opposite (narrow and broad were Jesus’ words)?
  5. When you ask the same question that was asked of Jesus in Luke 13:23, “Lord, are only a few people going to be saved?” How can you come up with a different answer than Jesus but then claim Jesus has the same belief as you do? See 13:24ff
  6. How do you teach that people can pound on God’s door from hell and God allow them out of hell when Jesus laid out exactly that scenario and taught exactly what God would do given those circumstances (Luke 13:22-30) and it is opposite of Christian universalism?
  7. If there is no hell, why did Jesus die for our sins? Chad Holtz weighed in on this recently. His answer was in two parts:
    1. Jesus did not die to save us from an eternity in hell after death.  Jesus died because hell cannot stand the presence of God.   Our sin killed Christ.  All of us nailed him to the cross.”
    2. “The question is not, “Is there hell?”   The question is, “Does hell win?” – There are several problems with Chad’s line of reasoning here. This is framed all wrong. Scripture never postures hell against God. Scripture postures God against the forces of evil and darkness in the world. In fact, in Revelation 20 hell is a place used by God to judge death, sin, the devil, the beast, Hades and those not in the book of life and all are cast into hell. My question is, who is doing the casting? If it is God, then is hell God’s enemy or are sin, death, and Satan God’s enemies? Hell is not judged. Hell is a place of judgment. Matthew 25:41 seems to say that hell is prepared or created by God so you end up in one of those Luke 11:14-28 moments where people were accusing Jesus of casting out demons by the power of the devil. Jesus taught a house divided against itself won’t stand. That is the problem I have with the question “Does hell win” if scripture teaches that hell is something either God created and/or uses for his own purposes.
  8. Why do people make the hell issue a “God’s power issue”? It always seems people are trying to prove that the existence of hell and an all powerful God are mutually exclusive. If I am interpreting Revelation 20 accurately it seems to me God is the one who puts people in hell (as we also see in Matthew 25 and many other places). So people are in hell by the power of God. It is not that the existence of hell would prove God has any shortcoming in the power department.
  9. Why turn hell into something that we only experience here and now when that doesn’t have any scriptural basis at all? Are we just coming up with whatever we want to here or will the hell discussion actually include solid exegesis/interpretation?
  10. What questions do you have that could be put here as #10…I couldn’t have an un-catchy title that only had 9 things could I?

Francis Chan – Erasing Hell

Much of the discussion of hell has been framed by trying to ask better questions. In this video, Chan asks some questions of his own that are relevant and helpful in shaping our perspective on keeping God in his proper place. We have to let God shape us and not the other way around. Chan says that when we get to difficult passages in the Bible it is important to remember that maybe God knows something that we don’t. I look forward to his new book coming out in July – Erasing Hell.

There are a few things that I find interesting in the current debate about hell.

  1. No one is questioning heaven. Jesus said he was preparing a place for us but he also said there was a place for those who disbelieve and are in rebellion. He separates sheep and goats, each to their own place. Much of the language about “heaven” also includes language about hell. If you question hell then why not question heaven?
  2. Revelation 20 is often taken to be so figurative that even the fiery torment forever and ever either is not forever and ever or is just a fire to purify the rebellious into heaven. If all will be saved, what about the devil? That passage mentions his judgment as well. Will the devil be saved too through his fiery judgment?
  3. I agree with Chan that there are some passages that don’t say what I thought and then other passages that weigh in on hell that I didn’t realize were there…can we honestly and objectively lay all the cards on the table and come to some solid conclusions?
  4. It seems some have a hard time with free will. Love requires a choice. Something forced is not love. If out of God’s perfect love he gives all a choice of who they will follow is it possible that all will eventually, if given enough time, choose him? That defies the very definition of choice. We either have choice or we don’t. Some are saying that all will eventually turn to God even if it is postmortem (what about Luke 16:26?).

HT Philip C

Tim Challies’ Review of Rob Bell’s Book “Love Wins”

Thanks to Terry for pointing out Tim Challies recent review of Rob Bell’s new book. I have a lot of respect for Tim Challies but even if I didn’t, he quotes Bell’s book in numerous places in his review and Bell says some very troubling things. Tim is not one to take things out of context but is one who is usually very careful to be fair with people so his review troubles me all the more about Bell’s new book. To sum it all up, it seems Bell is saying that based on his own carefully constructed definition of things there is basically no place called hell and universalism is the way things go. Sounds like he jumps through lots of hoops to make it sound like that is not what he saying but probably is what he is saying.

Here is how Tim ends his post,

Christians do not need more confusion. They need clarity. They need teachers who are willing to deal honestly with what the Bible says, no matter how hard that truth is. And let’s be honest—many truths are very, very hard to swallow.

Love does win, but not the kind of love that Bell talks about in this book. The love he describes is one that is founded solely on the idea that the primary object of God’s love is man; indeed, the whole story, he writes, can be summed up in these words: “For God so loved the world.” But this doesn’t hold a candle to the altogether amazing love of God as actually shown in the Bible. The God who “shows His love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8), who acts on our behalf not so much because His love for us is great, but because He is great (Isaiah 48:9, Ezekiel 20:9,14,22,44, 36:22; John 17:1-5).

That’s the kind of love that wins. That’s the kind of love that motivates us to love our neighbors enough to compel them to flee from the wrath to come. And our love for people means nothing if we do not first and foremost love God enough to be honest about Him.

Rob Bell is Stirring it Up and His New Book is Not Even Out Yet

Rob Bell has a new book coming out this month called Love Wins: Heaven, Hell and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived and it is already gaining a ton of attention. It has been one of the most popular topics on twitter. It has hit the CNN religion blogs. It has been blasted by guys like Justin Taylor and reviewed from a more optimistic perspective by Kurt Willems. What has caused all the stir has not been an actual reading of the book. It hasn’t come out yet. The stir has come from information put out by the publisher and a few small snippets from the book itself and from this Promotional video:

I can’t respond to the book since it isn’t out yet but I can respond to the points he is making in this video that I assume mirror some of the contents of the book.

The Gandhi Example:
The Gandhi example seems like a straw man or a loop hole. He picks someone that the majority of of Christians would say, “Yes, I really would love if Gandhi were in heaven” because if anyone deserves to be in heaven it would be Gandhi, right? So does Gandhi make it to heaven by his own good works? I am not playing the judge here but we can’t wish Gandhi to heaven just because he did some great things. There are other scriptures we could turn to that might point us to God’s mercy on people like Gandhi (Romans 2:12-16). But what it appears to me that Bell is doing here is to pick the most likable non-Christian we all are familiar with and use him as a “loophole” of sorts that it opens up our thinking of how we want heaven to be or who we want to be there and in the process jetison what scripture actually teaches. 2 Peter 3:9 teaches us about who God wants to save – “He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.” God wants to save Gandhi. He wants to save Hitler. He wants to save everyone. That leads us to his next point but before we get there…if God is going to save everyone (which we don’t know that is what he is saying but lets assume he is for a moment) why not use Hitler as your example because he is part of the “every person” group right? Again, I am not saying that is what he is teaching here until we can all read the book for ourselves.

Jesus Rescues You From God:
Bell said this is a subtle teaching in our churches because we teach Jesus had to die so that God wouldn’t send us to hell. Again, Bell has twisted things up into a strawman approach to make his point. We don’t become Christians to keep God from sending us to hell. Some may teach that somewhere and scare people toward faith. I am sure that happens. But that is not a fundamental teaching of Christianity. Jesus followers didn’t follow him out of fear. They followed him out of love. So do we. Jesus and God aren’t at odds. Jesus didn’t die to keep God from sending people to hell. Jesus died to reconcile us with God because God wants to bring all people love and life and light and wholeness. He is making all things new. Unfortunately some people, whether they have heard the Gospel or not, will continue to choose death via their lifestyle even though there is a better way.

The Good News is that Love Wins:
I agree. Love does win. I am not certain where he is going with that. I hope he is not saying all people have to be saved by God because love wins in a way that changes the free will of those who have chosen something other than love in the way the view God and neighbor. We know that in the end God is love and that God and his people are victorious over sin and death and everything that is wrong with this world. But will that undo people who choose to live lives far from God, who embraced a lifestyle and culture of sin and death in an unrepentant, harsh and uncaring way?

I am not writing this to judge a guy out of context and based on a book that I haven’t read. That is not my point. But I do think it is fair to evaluate what he has put out there for what it is worth and try to avoid making assumptions beyond that. I hope this goes well. I hope Bell thoroughly embraces scripture and let what the Bible says develop and grow our views of who God is and what his plans are for mankind rather than who we hope will be saved. And I hope he doesn’t use straw man arguments throughout his book. Time will tell.

Last, read Greg Boyd’s post on the book…he has already read it and shares his thoughts.

HT: Philip Cunningham

Where We Exist vs. Where We Belong as Christians

“In the world but not of the world” is a popular phrase used by Christians to describe how we fit into the world around us. You often hear people say that we are citizens of another kingdom. And yet, here we are right in the middle of the world. There is a distinction in scripture between where we exist and where we belong. Here is a chart I made up to work through the possibilities:


Where do we exist?
It is obvious that we exist in the world. We see it, smell it, touch it, etc. No doubt about it. But we also exist in God’s kingdom. Ephesians 2:6 says we are “seated with Christ in heavenly realms.” Jesus said the kingdom of God was near and that some would not taste death before it came (Mtt 16:28). The New Testament is clear that God’s kingdom exists here and now and that as Christians, we are already a part of it. So we exist in this world and in the kingdom of God, simultaneously. Some have taken either extreme and missed the point of the dual-nature of Christian existence. On the one hand, a unitarian/universalist approach would say all that exists in the world also exists in God’s kingdom. On the other extreme, a monastic approach would be to remove oneself from existing in the world to a great a degree as possible and try to separate the spheres of what is is in the world and what is in God’s kingdom. But the middle option is what we see in scripture. We exist in the overlap of both realms. Not all that is in the world is in the kingdom of God (sin for example). Not all that is in God’s kingdom is a part of this world.

Where do we belong?
Jesus said we can’t serve two masters (Mtt 6:24). He also prayed for his disciples to remain in the world and yet be protected from the evil/evil one of the world (John 17:11-17). In that passage, Jesus says his followers are not “of the world.” That is an important point to consider. “Of” usually denotes possession. Jesus’ followers are not to be possessed by the world or exhibit the qualities the world exhibits. Colossians 1:21 says that before we were Christians we were “alienated” from God. But when we become a Christian, things change. We go from being alien to God to being an alien/stranger to the world. The Hebrew writer tells us that God’s people are “aliens and strangers” on the earth, looking for “a country of their own.” (Heb 11:13-16). Peter addresses his readers as aliens and strangers (1 Peter 1:1, 2:11). The New Testament makes it clear that we don’t belong to this world even though we exist in it. We belong to God and God’s kingdom and so we live as a citizen of the kingdom to which we belong.