Myth: Universalists think that all roads lead to God
Here is Kevin Mullins’ definition of universalism in his discussion of Bell: ‘Universalism - the belief that everyone, regardless of faith or behavior, will be counted as God’s people in the end. All roads lead to Him. All religions are just different expressions of the same Truth.’
That idea is what underlies crparke’s comment that, ‘If Rob Bell denies hell then he denies the need for a “savior” and makes the sacrifice of Jesus irrelevant.’
Here our Internet conversation partners have confused universalism (the view that God will one day save all people through Christ) with pluralism (the view that there are many paths to God and that Jesus is simply one of them). But Christian universalists deny pluralism. They insist that salvation is found only through the atoning work of Christ. Without Jesus nobody would be redeemed!
Now there is a disagreement between Christians about whether one needs to have explicit faith in Jesus to share in the salvation he has bought. Some Christians, called exclusivists, think that only those who put their trust in the gospel can be saved.
Others, called inclusivists, think that it is possible to be saved through Christ even without explicit faith in him.
Thus, for inclusivists it is possible to be saved even if, for instance, you have never heard the gospel. Inclusivists would maintain that if someone responds in humility, love, and faith to the truncated divine revelation that they have received then God can unite them to Christ and they may be considered as, perhaps, ‘anonymous Christians’.
But we need to be careful not to confuse the discussion between exclusivists and inclusivists with the issue of universalism. Many people make that mistake. The former debate concerns how people can experience the salvation won by Christ while the latter concerns how many people will be saved. Two different questions.
Thus, some universalists are inclusivists (eg, Rob Bell) but others are exclusivists, maintaining that only people who trust in the gospel can be saved. (Obviously exclusivist universalists have to believe that salvation is possible after death.)
But whether one is speaking of exclusivist or inclusivist universalists, neither relegate Jesus to the sidelines.