While I overall didn’t find Rob Bell’s arguments in Love Wins to be terribly convincing, it did open the door for me to investigate the doctrine of universal salvation further.  Within all the debate and hoopla surrounding the book, the voices of several cogent universalists started surfacing, and it became clear to me that there was more to this universalism thing than Rob Bell’s thoughtful questions and vague answers.  Since reading Rob Bell’s book, I’ve read through plenty of blogs and websites on universalism, and have now just finished reading the excellent book, “Universal Salvation?  The Current Debate.”  I haven’t landed anywhere as far my own decision in the matter goes, but here are some observations I’ve had so far:

1)  Most people don’t understand Christian Universalism.  I’m reminded of when a year ago I started investigating open theism.  After reading about and coming to a good understanding of open theism, it was difficult to find any good rebuttals to the doctrine, as barely anyone understood it, even those that had written full books refuting the idea.  It was frustrating trying to find good debate on the issue between people who both understood what it was about, and I find the same thing with universalism.  Most people don’t understand the difference between pluralistic universalism (all roads lead to Heaven) and Christian universalism (salvation is only through faith in Christ and his saving work on the cross, but all will eventually come to that faith.)  They don’t understand that Christian universalists have quite a bit of Biblical support, believe in Hell, God’s judgement and holiness, and that sin is a serious matter.  Thus, most arguments I see against universalism totally miss the mark, as they are not even targetted at Christian universalism, but some other quite different idea instead.  I would highly recommend the article, “Bell’s Hells: seven myths about universalism”, as it clarifies much of these misconceptions.  Certainly to label universalism as heresy is to misunderstand it.

2)  People think that universalism is too good to be true.  I’m finding that there are a large number of “hopeful universalists”, those that hope universalism is true but wouldn’t bank on it.  I’d say there are a lot more of these kinds of universalists than convinced universalists.  They see universalism as a real possibility, and see the road-markers towards it in scripture, but feel that (a) it’s too good to be true, and (b) what if they’re wrong?  I can totally understand this, and at the moment feel like that might be what’s primarily holding me back from embracing the belief, but in the end I really hope this isn’t what holds me back.  I don’t want to hedge my bets when it comes to my faith in God’s abilities.  If I really believe that God wants everyone saved, and also that God is sovereign, and that he eventually will be victorious in his plans, then I can’t chicken out and say, “I hope that means he saves everyone”, because if those two propositions are true, then it means he definitely does, and I should have the faith to speak on those convictions.

3)  That said, I find this to be a really deep, complex subject, and I might not be able to come to a conclusion.  While I empathize greatly with the emerging church movement, their philosophy of “living in the mystery” does not really appeal to me, I must say.  I like to survey all the available information, and then make a decision and stick with it unless and until I am convinced to change my mind, and am not comfortable feeling like I’m in the dark.  But in this case, it’s easy to come up with plenty of proof-texts for whatever view you want to espouse, whether it be eternal conscious torment, annihilationism, or universalism.  Digging through all of them and trying to come out of it with a coherent doctrine is not an easy task.  Regardless of what view one holds, I can only believe that the Bible is much more concerned with how we live life now, rather than what’s going to happen when we die, and perhaps it’s not trying to be crystal clear on the afterlife, and I shouldn’t demand clarity where (perhaps) it does not exist.

As I dig deeper into this topic, my next read is “The Evangelical Universalist”, by Gregory McDonald.  It is supposed to be the most in-depth, scripturally-based argument for universalism out there, and hopefully it will shed even more light on things.  One thing I can be glad of, and that’s that God is the judge, not me.  Whatever we believe about the afterlife, we must have faith, and be content that God’s justice, love, and mercy will rule and He will do exactly what is right.

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