Topical Tuesday: Hell? Yes.
We’re in the middle of our spring series of Topical Tuesday posts, where you pick the topic (i.e., ask a question) and I start typing. As if I’m some sort of authority or something.
Want to ask a question about anything – ministry, theology, life in general? Comment here.
Laura asks: How does the Summit feel about Wider Mercy Doctrine and what is their position on it? I ask because there have been big names in the evangelical world who believed in this, and I found it a little shocking.
I should start by once again confirming some shocking news: I’m not a theologian. Nor do I play one on TV. That’s why I want to stress the words ministry and life in general in paragraph two above. Feel free to ask how I feel about Cook Out milkshakes (passionate), or how I would minister to people who eat Cook Out milkshakes (teach them about generosity). But since Laura is the newest member of our administrative team here at the Summit, I’ll answer this question so that she won’t start the rumor that I’m not all that smart.
Editor’s note: Too late.
The Wider Mercy Doctrine (another type of WMD) is the old theory of Universalism outfitted in a new prom dress and some teeth whiteners. Universalism came to the forefront over the weekend, when it was revealed that Michigan pastor Rob Bell is releasing a new book, and then the interwebs exploded. Calvinists were yelling at Arminians, Arminians were yelling at the Calvinists, and Rob Bell’s publisher was yelling at his real estate agent: “No! I want the beach house with the indoor golf course! And upgrade the hardwoods to gold leaf!”
Let me be clear: we don’t know for sure that Rob Bell is a Universalist. It’s hard to know exactly what Rob Bell is, because he always talks in riddles. If you’re at Burger King with Rob Bell and you ask him if he wants french fries, he’ll say something like, “What is this conglomeration of affinity within the paper sleeve of immediate satisfaction? Have we become too salty in a never ending quest for tastiness? Or have we simply embraced the cholesterol of our culture?”
So it’s hard to know exactly what he believes, but I’m not jumping on the Whack-A-Bell Bandwagon just yet. Let’s wait on the book to come out before we label him a heretic. Or before his publisher installs the private helicopter pad.
But back to universalism. I think the best way to tackle this is going to be with a Q&A with myself, which could get me committed in most states. This is kind of an Idiot’s Guide to Universalism, which should remind you that I’m not a theologian.
Editor’s note: Once again, too late.
So what is universalism, anyway? In a nutshell, it’s the belief that everybody gets into heaven eventually. Christians, non-Christians, perhaps even your hamster who escaped the cage and chewed up your baseboards. Explicit faith in Jesus isn’t necessary, and God changes his mind and says, “Hey, that whole wrath thing? I was just kidding. Get on up here, you wacky kids.”
Isn’t that…um…not at all biblical? Abso-stinkin-lutely. Open your Bible. Throw a dart. You’ll likely hit a passage that talks about the necessity of Jesus for salvation (on second thought, don’t throw a dart. Use your finger. It’s less destructive.). No one comes to the Father except through Jesus (John 14:6), forgiveness of sins and access to heaven comes through Jesus (Romans 6:23), there’s no other alternative to salvation besides Jesus (Acts 4:12), the gospel calls us to repentance and faith in Jesus (Acts 20:21).
So you’re saying it’s Jesus. Yep.
Then why do universalists believe it’s not Jesus? Because that sounds so much more loving, more tolerant, and more in line with today’s “everybody gets a gold star” culture. 2 Corinthians 4:4 talks about people being blinded so they cannot see the truth that is found in Jesus.
So what about hell? Fictional? If the universalists are correct, it becomes sort of like a big ghost town. Or Circuit City after the bankruptcy.
Do you have a list of six closing statements you’d like to make? Yep. Here goes…
- If universalism is true, then God is a liar. In Luke 9:35, God said, “This is my beloved Son, my chosen one. Listen to him!” If everybody gets in, then Jesus was wrong about his exclusivity, which means that God knowingly misled people to follow and listen to Jesus, who didn’t need to die.
- If universalism is true, then the cross wasn’t necessary. The purpose of the cross was the redemption of sins. If our sins are ultimately wiped clean and Jesus had nothing to do with it, then the centerpiece of Christianity was unneeded.
- You don’t want a judge who is ultimately loving but not ultimately just. The cross was where God’s justice and mercy met. It allowed God to both punish and forgive sin at the same time. Jesus received the Father’s justice, we received his love.
- The gospel doesn’t begin and end with our understanding. It begins and ends with God’s sovereignty. I learned a long time ago that I’ll never completely understand God. As our pastor is fond of saying, our mind has the capacity of a tin can, and God’s love is the ocean. Just because a doctrine doesn’t make sense to us doesn’t mean it’s in error.
- A man-centered theology starts with the assumption that we are innocent and must be proven guilty. A gospel-centered theology starts with the assumption that we’re guilty and have been declared innocent. Forgiveness of sins is available, free, and abundant. But we gain that forgiveness through Jesus, and Jesus alone.
- This isn’t a doctrine to gloat over. I fear that many pastors, bloggers, and armchair theologians will use the Rob Bell controversy to prove once again that they’re cackling pharisees waiting to blast someone for error. If Bell proves to be a universalist, that’s most certainly an error. But universalism isn’t something for us to be self-righteous over, it’s something for us to weep over. Heaven and hell are on the line, and we can’t waste our time getting into heated debates in blog comments. We must be all the more passionate about clearly sharing the gospel and calling people to repentance.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to pre-order Rob Bell’s book. His publisher needs to drop a deposit on the beach house.