Robin: Is Bell really a universalist?


Just for fun, do you think Rob Bell is a Universalist??

  • Yes, a confident Universalist
  • Yes, but just a hopeful Universalist
  • No, more of a soft annihilationist (God keeps loving but eventually some will reject themselves out of existence)
  • No, something else

0 voters

On the Q&A launch he said he wasn’t a universalist **IF **you define it as the interviewer did e.g. more like pluralism.

On the Bashir interview he said he wasn’t a universalist but Robin think this means he wasn’t comfortable being labeled a confident universalist (as he’s just a hopeful universalist).

Hopefully, he reads Talbott & Robin’s books and becomes a confident, as that would clear the waters a lot! :slight_smile:


He seems a bit stuck between soft annihilationism (of the Lewisian type) and hopeful universalism (of the Bathasarian type.)


Yeah, and seems to be so focused on the here-and-now that he can’t quite make a choice. I don’t have much of a problem with that because he’s working on allowing the spirit of grace to be known through his ministry. We are, after all, as a whole on the path to reclaiming the original message and reality of Christ.


The Spirit of Grace is the Spirit of Truth. I only see two options for anyone. Either speak what you actually believe (ie the Truth as you see it) or be silent. I have no problem with anyone remaining ‘in the closet’ (ie choosing silence).
To continue ministering and to get money and publicity out of one’s ministry whilst not having the integrity of ones convictions, this is hypocrisy.
I have not read Bell and so I do not personally make this charge against him, but if he is behaving as some here suggest then he is neither being true to himself nor any of his readers.


I think he qualifies as some kind of a hopeful universalist–without having read the book. But I think he’s right to deny the label since he merely believes in the possibility of the salvation of all, not it’s certainty. And surely most non-Calvinist (and even many Calvinist) Christians would agree that we should at least hope for the salvation of all even if we don’t believe in its possibility.

If he once to submits to that label, people will stop asking what he believes, disregard everything he says, and brand him a live-any-way-you-like-God-won’t-punish-you-all-religions-are-the-same-everyone-gets-a-free-pass-to-heaven HERETIC!!! And they’ll NEVER let him out of that box. They don’t like him and they’re out to get him.

I’m not quite sure I like him–there’s so much of “performer” about him sometimes that it makes me suspicious. But that’s probably not fair. And on the other hand, in his unscripted interviews he seems very genuine and “real”-- so I don’t know what to make of him. A man has to have some charisma to build a megachurch. Time will tell what he’s made of. Meanwhile, we’re fighting on the same side: for a God who really loves – even his enemies – and doesn’t give up on people, so he has my support and prayers.



I’m pretty sure that RB has read Talbott from the way he talked, in that last interview online, about justice and love being side by side. Maybe he got that somewhere else?

From his church site’s theology statement:

He sounds so much more than hopeful to me. This speaks of great conviction about what God is up to… “restoring all things”, “creation will be whole”, “all will fourish as God intends”, and as he admits “we are giving our lives to living out that future reality now.”

I think, Alex, he throws out that number 3 to get people off the scent of his tracks. For whatever reason he thinks coming out and telling people directly of his conviction is too costly. And it probably is. He might not have the audience he has now if he did that. He does not have me fooled! It takes one to know one. :wink: I voted confident Universalist, obviously.

I don’t think you have that clear a picture, go out on a limb the way he has, if you don’t have more than just a hope or suspicion that God will actually be able to restore all things, make creation whole. He’s got the Talbott fever!


:smiley: I hope you’re proven right.


This seems the most concise diagnosis to me. I voted “hopeful” but can see and probably make the case (though maybe weakly!) for RB to fall into ANY of these categories! And I must say as I read the growing number of articles and interviews online about this it really does seem to me that RB is playing a rather coy and slippery PR and marketing and “spin” game. I hate to be that cynical but that’s the way he comes across. He seems to enjoy creating these cracks and then hiding in them. (I think Jason made a similar observation somewhere back) :smiley:

Sonia seems to have a very similar instinct about him as he really does seem hard to pin down! That sort of slyness always makes me a wee bit skeptical! ie would I buy a used car from someone who talked like that??? :question: :question:

Yes, I love honesty and pushing the boundaries and being open to all possibilities and all that… And he HAS used his pulpit to bring this topic to the fore-front; at least for a time… And Sonia is right that it may BE best for the cause of UR that RB is acting this way. Being hopeful is a very crucial and important step I think… It at least means one has not swept the idea away forever…



I wouldn’t even buy a new car from someone who talked like that. :imp:

And keep in mind, I’m gung-ho about the car he’s maybe possibly but not but sort of trying to sell. Really!

I realize his approach appeals to the mindset of a large number of people. So does the similar approach of a bunch of popular authors and speakers who are selling what I believe to be false (and sometimes wretchedly false) ideas to the popular audience. I don’t know how I can accept him doing the same thing in good conscience.

Here’s something else that deeply annoys me in how the marketing is playing out. It seems like every year around this time Christian apologists (including myself) find ourselves having to gear up to deal with some sloppy popularized anti-Christian mishmash riding the holiday coat-tails. Where is that this year? A lot of Christians would say it’s Rob Bell this year!!

So a gospel hope I ardently believe in, is hitting all-time modern exposure highs this year, by taking the slot occupied in previous years by crap I’ve had to spend time fighting against, and using similar dodgy marketing tactics. I just about become nauseous from frustration thinking about that.

It wouldn’t be so bad if he was meeting criticism from experts (including the ones he has publicly inveighed against) with answers indicating some expertise on the topic himself. Maybe I’ll start seeing that eventually. I haven’t been able (from scheduling and annoyance) to bring myself to watch the live QA session he did. I hear variable things about it.


This is, I imagine, is what Pharisees felt about Jesus, that he was hard to pin down? That said, RB also struck me as very winsome and it had me a bit worried. He was confident, but wouldn’t you have to be to bring this on yourself? Confident of something, either yourself or your hope in God’s reconciliation. Let’s hope it’s the latter.


It seems to me that Bell values the mystery of God, mystical theology (for lack of a better phrase) above systematic theology. And thus he sees the age to come as a mystery, vague and undistinquished, but one that He hopes is based on the reality of God being love. Bell also seems to value practical theology above systematic theology, and thus is reticent to hold a hard line on systematic theology. He also seems to value ecclectic theology, recognizing the breadth of the various systematic theologies, not wanting to exclude any group. If you believe in ECT, I still value you and will seriously consider your beliefs, though I lean towards UR because of my understanding of the love of God. What I haven’t seen much in his presentations is an appeal to biblical theology.
This practical, ecclectic, and mystical philosophy is forms a significantly different approach than systematic theology. So I trust that Bell is doing the best to present his beliefs and values as best he can. And though I tend to think more systematically, I’ve grown to think more biblically, practically, and ecclectically, and to recognize the mystical side of God too.
If you have better words to speak of the different theological perspectives, please note them for me.


But wasn’t Jesus quite easy to pin down on many issues? When He had “cleansed the temple”, for instance, He seemed quite clear. And when He said that he was the way to the Father, He seems rather easy to pin down. But Bell seems to be much harder to pin down…a question here of degrees!


I still haven’t read Rob Bell’s new book - (come on Amazon!) - but I have to stick up for him and say he is usually VERY CLEAR and challenging. We use his Nooma DVDs and other books, especially “Jesus wants to Save Christians” a lot. He doesn’t have or claim to have all the answers, but he is a good communicator and has helped a lot of people break out of old patterns and grow in their faith. I also think he has a lot more integrity than some people are insinuating.



I would respect all that, if he wasn’t in fact dissing the ECTers while doing so (when that seems rhetorically convenient). And if he wasn’t sometimes taking really strong positive stances (when those seem rhetorically convenient) and then backing off them again (when that seems rhetorically convenient).

After a while, all I can hear is the rhetorical convenience. If he wants to be more than rhetorically convenient, he can start anytime. Until then, I have a lot of sympathy with his opponents who are complaining about his presentation being primarily rhetorical with little evidence of it being anything more than rhetorical.

Granted, that may be protection for his other ministry efforts. But you know who else adds up to universalism with a massively huge and important ministry effort? Beth Moore. And you know who hasn’t marketed a book banking on the controversy it would generate by someone of her stature stating that she will reveal on the cover THE FATE OF EVERY PERSON WHO HAS EVER LIVED? Beth Moore.

BM protects her ministry efforts by not cashing in on the controversy. Rob is throwing the controversy forward (with massive marketing efforts) and then trying to protect… what…? …by dodging and unclearness.

(Incidentally, the fact that a universalist calls Beth Moore a universalist should in no way be construed as meaning that Beth Moore is a universalist. She is certainly an Arminian and/or a Calvinistic teacher instead. :mrgreen: )




This is very kind and gracious of you to say Sherman! I like that in a Universalist!
And truth be known, while we all sense that Bell wants to make the leap into full throated Universalism, it’s just a fact that for a great many, this is simply too far to travel in one move and so may take the form of many smaller steps. So while, with Jason, I have a sort of dislike for the drama and muddled thinking (I mean so much of what Bell says screams UR – yet he steps back from the obvious conclusions!) I think it’s prudent and wise and kind to acknowledge even the baby steps toward UR that some are taking. Bells step are further along than a babies steps, but it does seem a bit like a dance in which he tries to keep his feet in everyones circles of approval.

And I agree that for Bell, the realm of “MYSTERY” looms large. But mystery is a funny thing really. While for him it seems a mystery that God might actually win all (implied) for me the mystery is not that He does, but how!
And of course I’m saddened to note as well that a great many employ “mystery” to “explain” why God must torture or annihilate the lost.

Last, we’ve discussed so many times the way language and words can be used and abused. While we may prefer words like LOVE and WINS to be big and bright and clarifying concepts, in reality lots and lots of folks have been quite capable of fitting all sorts of nastiness into the concept of “love”. And what might a “win” actually look like? (Just got Bell’s book so details await!) Many seem to have no trouble with ECT and God “winning” going hand in hand! That kind of “winning” is more like the might and power of overwhelming opposition. Except the bible presents an utterly weak version of God winning: He comes as a vulnerable Baby, lives the life of a Servant, dies the death of a criminal, and is in all ways humans can ponder, a failure…
Except the glory of our Christ is that through all this weakness and vulnerability and restraint, He wields a sort of saving power that is infinitely more stunning and powerful and winsome than the ability to commit ECT on the lost rebels. THAT is the mystery and wonder of our God…

I would like to think that, should Bell every happen upon our little UR site, he would find it a place where he is welcomed and blessed and that it would warm his heart and that he would know that he was home – among friends!!!



Excellent post Bobx3! I like Rob Bell and think he is going in the right direction, however, I think he is being wise in taking it slowly (although, of course I find that frustrating). It’s been a journey for most of us and a lot of us still haven’t been able to come out fully yet, for all sorts of reasons.


among family even :slight_smile:

You never know, maybe he’s already lurking :wink:


I would totally agree with that. Except that worldwide-major-marketing a book like “Love Wins” is not taking it slowly. Except when, conveniently, he wants to take it slowly. But not when taking it slowly means not throwing down on other Christian teachers and promoting himself and/or his ministry.

Something he said in one of the more recent interviews indicates that he has only just recently edged into universalism. Maybe he was really really reaaaaaaalllllly excited about this and couldn’t wait several years to get a better handle on why he should believe it or not or how far so or whatever, and so pulled the trigger on a little book about the topic–which the publisher saw fit to capitalize on. (And given Rob’s draw and the controversy of the topic, if it wasn’t this publisher it would be another one.)

But compare that to someone who seems to have about the same position (so far as Rob’s position can be found), Hans Urs Von Balthasar. He waited until he had pondered the topic for decades, establishing himself meanwhile as a hugely respected systematic theologian, before commenting on the topic. That’s going slowly. (And at the time, in Catholic circles anyway, the result was just as upheaving.)


Finally my copy of Bell’s Love Wins arrived and I finished it in a couple of hours. I won’t bore you with a longwinded critique. I got this, OK? Couple of comments.

First, by all means get the book. If you can borrow it and save yourself the money, even better. It won’t be a book you read twice. Trust me. But if you get a copy, just read from the middle of page 103 to the middle of page 111. That’s pretty much the core of the core. Trust me. You won’t be missing anything crucial. Read those pages and you’ll know what Bell is trying to say. If you want a bit more, there are other interesting things he says from the middle of page 173 to the bottom of page 177. That’s it. Trust me. And there is NOTHING new in the book. But Bell tells you that up front.

Here’s what Bell essentially wants to say:

On pages 103-111 it’s this: God’s love will never stop pursuing those in hell. They can renew their rejection of God if that’s what they want. We’re THAT free. But God is free to continue to pursue us. As long as it takes, God will pursue us until we are all his. How long? Don’t know. Doesn’t matter. As long as people are not locked in irrevocable torture, it doesn’t matter. There’s always hope, and that is Bell’s point. Bell doesn’t say God draws a line in the sand and eventually says, “Enough is enough, I’m saving you whether you wanna be saved or not.” We can say ‘no’. But we’re also free to say ‘yes’. And that’s what’s important for Bell.

On pages 173-177 it’s this: Jesus doesn’t have to be known by name, race, or other historical particularities (lived in Palestine, was Jewish, died on a Roman cross, etc.) in order to be experienced in a ways that can and do redeem. When people embrace genuine repentance, faith, compassion, etc.—they’re embracing Jesus, for those virtues are the differentiated truth of Jesus. They’ll find out eventually what his name is; and if they’re repentance and sense of trust in ultimate truth is genuine, they won’t be surprised when they meet him.

The book is not that well-written. I’ve read Bell’s stuff before and was very impressed and inspired. This book left me underwhelmed. Greg Boyd called it “a bold, prophetic, and poetic masterpiece.” I’m very careful about disagreeing with Greg, but I gotta get him some new reading material. A masterpiece? I don’t think so. The only masterpiece here is HarperCollins’s marketting campaign!

I’ve read a good bit on universalism and this was the least compelling treatment I’ve read.