Thursday, March 3, 2011

Rob Bell and Universalism

UPDATE: Read Kevin DeYoung's review of the entire book here.

There is a firestorm brewing over Rob Bell's newest book: Love Wins. It is early in the conversation, but it appears that Bell has cast aside any doctrine that teaches that God is wrathful toward sinners at all. Justin Taylor, from The Gospel Coalition, has written on his blog here. There is also an interesting response to Bell's introductory video by Denny Burk here. I particularly liked Denny Burk's example as follows:

Bell: But how could that God [so wrathful that we must be saved from Him] ever be good? How could that God ever be trusted? And how could that ever be good news?

Answer: You are asking how can God be good if He sentences sinners to eternal damnation, but I think you have the question backwards. The real question is how can God be good if He doesn't send sinners to judgment. In other words, how can God be good while forgiving sinners? This is the question Paul wrestled with in Romans 3, and he concluded that God set forth His son Jesus as a propitiation for sin. That means that all of the wrath and anguish that would have taken us an eternity in hell to endure, God poured out on His Son in the moment of the cross. God is good because He settles our sin debt in the cross of Christ, our substitute. This is good news because God clears away guilt through the cross and offers eternal life through the resurrection of Jesus. Anyone who believes in Jesus in this way can have forgiveness and eternal life. This is more than good news; it's the best of news.

Bell: This is why lots of people want nothing to do with the Christian faith. They see it has an endless list of absurdities and inconsistencies, and they say, "Why would I ever want to be a part of that?"

Answer: Sin will always appear as a trifle to those whose view of God is small. If you were to discover a little boy pulling the legs off of a grasshopper, you would think it strange and perhaps a little bizarre. If the same little boy were pulling the legs off of a frog, that would be a bit more disturbing. If it were a bird, you would probably scold him and inform his parents. If it were a puppy, that would be too shocking to tolerate. You would intervene. If it were a baby, it would be so reprehensible and tragic that you would risk your own life to protect the baby. What's the difference in each of these scenarios? The sin is the same (pulling the limbs off). The only difference is the one sinned against (from a grasshopper to a baby). The more noble and valuable the creature, the more heinous and reprehensible the sin. And so it is with God.

If God were a grasshopper, then to sin against Him wouldn't be such a big deal and eternal punishment wouldn't be necessary. But God isn't a grasshopper, He's the most precious, valuable, beautiful being in the universe. His glory and worth are infinite and eternal. Thus to sin against an infinitely glorious being is an infinitely heinous offense that is worthy of an infinitely heinous punishment.

We don't take sin seriously because we don't take God seriously. We have so imbibed on the banality of our God-belittling spirit of the age that our sins hardly trouble us at all. Our sin seems small because we regard God as small. And thus the penalty of hell - eternal conscious suffering under the wrath of God - always seems like an overreaction on God's part. If we knew God better, we wouldn't think like that.