For those of you who do not use Twitter (like myself) or do not pay any attention to the Evangelical Christian pop culture sphere, you may not have heard about the rock star
pastor Rob Bell and his new book Love Wins: A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived. Now a highly anticipated volume, Rob Bell owes the book’s advance hype to his unruly opponents, the neo-Calvinists. Despite Rob’s praise of many neo-Calvinists such as John Piper, they consistently write him off for being an open theist, a feminist, or, now, an universalist. Furthermore, they ground all of their major critiques on Bell’s perspective being not “biblical”. The neo-Calvinists have come out and just hammered the man. A simple Google search will give a hint as to the level of critique he is facing and the level of publicity he received due to their snide comments. A man named Justin Taylor started all this with this blog post. Everything went downhill from there.
Nonetheless, I am not writing to chronicle this ongoing saga concerning Rob Bell. What I am doing is dispelling the idea that universalism is not biblical. Something we must admit about all of our readings of the Bible is that they come through a particular lens. One of these lenses is called Reformed. This lens takes its faith from the teachings of Martin Luther and John Calvin
(although, more Calvin than Luther). Nonetheless, those two guys pretty much recapitulated the ideas of Thomas Aquinas and St. Augustine. Anyway, the Calvinists base their entire raison d’etre on the belief that some people are chosen by G-d to be saved and some are chosen to not be saved. Hence, universalism, which claims that everyone gets to go to heaven, looks like the ultimate heresy to them (on a side note, when you consider yourself to be one of the chosen, isn’t it convenient that since you are the chosen you get to decide what is and is not orthodox belief, especially concerning those beliefs that might imply you are not the only chosen, and isn’t it nice that you can convince people to come to your church so they can prove they are one of chosen, unless of course they hear the idea that they’re not the only chosen…). With this lens, they read the Bible, and every little verse that might support them suddenly becomes what the Gospel of Jesus is all about. That is why there have been so many comments about Rob Bell (who is not an universalist, by the way) distorting the Gospel. Quite honestly it is pathetic. I mean who in their right mind would write such scathing blog posts about a book they have never read?!
I cannot say if I am an universalist or not (maybe on good days), but I can say right honestly that unversalism is not absent from the Bible. Thus, for people who want to throw a wrench in any Calvinist’s cogs, here is a list (albeit not exhaustive) of universalist verses in the Bible:
1) The entire Hebrew Bible.
Yep. That’s right. Read from Genesis to Malachi and you will find not a lick about heaven or hell. The afterlife beliefs of the Hebrew Bible writers consisted primarily of a place called Sheol, a place underground where everyone–good or bad, didn’t matter–went after they died. Sounds pretty universal to me.
2) Luke 23.34a
Then Jesus said, “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.”
That would be Jesus asking for forgiveness of the people who are killing him. If Jesus wants forgiveness for the people who killed him, how much more for everyone else?
3) John 8.1-11
Early in the morning he came again to the temple. All the people came to him and he sat down and began to teach them. The scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in adultery; and making her stand before all of them, they said to him, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the very act of committing adultery. Now in the law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?” They said this to test him, so that they might have some charge to bring against him. Jesus bent down and wrote with his finger on the ground. When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, “Let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” And once again he bent down and wrote on the ground. When they heard it, they went away, one by one, beginning with the elders; and Jesus was left alone with the woman standing before him. Jesus straightened up and said to her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” She said, “No one, sir.” And Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you. Go your way, and from now on do not sin again.”
What’s that? Oh, it’s only Jesus (who, if you believe in the Trinity, is G-d) refusing to condemn a woman to death despite her sin. I guess she was one of the chosen?
4) Romans 5.18-21
Therefore just as one man’s trespass led to condemnation for all, so one man’s act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all. For just as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous. But law came in, with the result that the trespass multiplied; but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, so that, just as sin exercised dominion in death, so grace might also exercise dominion through justification leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.
This is so huge I just have to repeat that first sentence again, “Therefore just as one man’s trespass led to condemnation for ALL, so one man’s act of righteousness leads to justification and life for ALL.” Romans is the handbook for Calvinists and their belief in the doctrine of predestination, but somehow they miss these verses which seems to imply that Jesus saves everyone not just a few.
5) 2 Peter 3.8-9
But do not ignore this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like one day. The Lord is not slow about his promise, as some think of slowness, but is patient with you, not wanting any to perish, but all to come to repentance.
Yep, in the end, G-d wants everyone to come to repentance, and as my professor Dr. Rob Wall once said about this passage, “Do you know what he’s arguing for here? He’s arguing for universal salvation. Because the Lord wants all to be saved, and the Lord gets what the Lord wants.” Thanks Rob for teaching us that. I certainly do hope that all come to repentance. A hope we should all have.