In the Aftermath of the Rob Bell Controversy

In the aftermath of the Rob Bell controversy on universalism, the instigator, Justin Taylor, continues to stoke the fires of his exclusivist agenda:

Taylor’s sidekick at The Gospel Coalition, Kevin DeYoung, has also chimed in:

Pitch a tent at The Gospel Coalition and you’ll only hear exclusivist voices denounce universalists and marginalize inclusivists. In the midst of all this clamor, a quiet, respectful, and measured voice emerges: Mark Galli, senior managing editor at Christianity Today. See his online essay:

Another sane voice in the mix is Scot McKnight, professor of biblical and theological studies at North Park University Chicago:

I profited from the balanced perspective of Timothy Dalrymple, Associate Director of Content at Patheos:

Finally, check out John Dyer’s article on how social media changed theological debate:

In the coming days I’ll contribute some posts at Bensonian with an alternative view that you won’t hear at The Gospel Coalition.

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4 Replies to “In the Aftermath of the Rob Bell Controversy”

  1. Thanks for pushing the conversation forward and continuing to examine the intricacies of a difficult doctrine. The debate has become over polarized and middle ground must be sought. Sam

    1. Stayed tuned, Sam. Today I’ll have a post on Karl Barth’s view of hell and tomorrow a post on C. S. Lewis’ view of hell.

  2. On the contrary, though, we shouldn’t fall in love with the middle ground simply because it makes us feel like we are the most sensible.

    We should be painstakingly clear that what Rob Bell is doing is not “inclusivism” as it is properly understood. Inclusivism involves primarily the situation of someone who has never really heard about Jesus before, and might never.

    What Bell is doing should be called “Christocentric universalism.” And whether Bell knows it or not, he’s hearkening back to one of Barth’s distinctives. The neo-orthoxian crowd subscribes to “objective forgiveness” on the cross. Where Calvinists would talk of “limited atonement” and Arminians would talk of “provisional forgiveness” until salvation is appropriated by faith, neo-orthoxians take a step outside of formal orthodoxy as it has been conceived for 1800 years (see the controversy on Origen for this).

    Thus, Rob Bell isn’t so much concerned with the person who has never heard of Jesus before. In Bell’s theology, it appears that he thinks that those who actively oppose Jesus for their entire lives will one day be with Jesus for eternity. This is problematic. We shouldn’t be trying to correct the “exclusivist” crowd by posturing a middle ground. The “exclusivist” crowd is, in fact, the orthodox crowd. Any Christian in the 3rd century would have called Bell a heretic.

    1. With all due respect, Dave, I haven’t fallen “in love with the middle ground simply because it makes [me] feel like [I’m] the most sensible.” My view is closer to inclusivism than exclusivism based on reasoning, not feeling. Aristotle’s theory of the golden mean cannot be applied to everything, but in terms of soteriology I think it works: universalism is the excess (“everyone is accepted”), exclusivism is the deficiency (“few are accepted”), and inclusivism is the golden mean (“everyone is accepted, but not all have accepted their acceptance”).

      Without having read Rob Bell’s book, I’m not in a position to emphatically call him a universalist. Nevertheless, he’s definitely flirting with universalism in his promotional video.

      Karl Barth is commonly misunderstood as a universalist. A former classmate of mine at Wheaton College, Matt Milliner, has written a blog post that addresses this mistake. Read the whole post. Here’s a salient excerpt:

      God, according to Barth, did not select certain individuals to perish before the world was made, but willed, in perfect freedom, to save them. Is this universalism? No. That’s what Calvinists tell you about Barth so you don’t have to read him. Barth just means that someone’s choosing to continue to resist their election involves the impossible possibility of resisting who they actually are. As Bruce McCormack so helpfully explained in his 2007 Barth conference lecture, Barth preserves the Pauline tension between limited atonement and universalism, neither of which should be taught as official church doctrine; it is a tension the Bible does not permit us to collapse.

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