Question: "Is Rob Bell teaching Universalism? Are people saved after death?”
Answer: Rob Bell’s book, Love Wins: A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived, caused quite a bit of controversy, even before its official release. The early criticism it received was due in part to advance copies of the book being issued to various church leaders who took it apart in their reviews, and in part to some controversial promotional videos Bell made and interviews he gave during his publicity tour for the book.
Love Wins has been comprehensively analyzed and critiqued by a variety of pastors and theologians coming from different theological perspectives, with Bell being taken to task for a wide range of problematic issues found within the book (theological, exegetical, linguistic, and historical errors, to name just a few). These thorough assessments can be found in reliable sources all over the internet, in both print and video format. So with such a wealth of in-depth examinations of Bell’s book already available, what you see here isn’t going to be an exhaustive exercise.
But it need not be.
From a Biblical perspective, all one really needs to counter Bell’s claim that there is the possibility of a sinner coming to saving faith in Christ after death is to look at one verse, to see if that hypothesis holds any water. That verse is Hebrews 9:27.
"And as it is appointed for men to die once, but after this the judgment."
This is a key verse in refuting Bell’s claim, and when viewing Scripture as a whole it is abundantly clear that Universalism in any guise does not stand up to Biblical examination. The Bible clearly states over and over again that our eternal destiny is determined by what takes place before we die, not afterwards. God’s Word rules out any chance of the doctrines of Universalism , Annihilationism, Purgatory, Reincarnation, and even Atheism as being true. God’s Word is crystal clear about this, and what has been understood and expounded upon for centuries by historical, orthodox Christianity remains the standard.
Humanity faces two (and only two) completely different eternal destinies. There is no Biblical support whatsoever for theorizing about any type of after-death evangelism, probation, or conversion. The only way one can find “support” for such doctrines that run contrary to Scripture is to ignore or distort any and all evidence that says otherwise. There are only two types of people, saved and lost, to be found in the pages of God’s Word, and there is indeed a “great gulf fixed,” (Luke 16:25-26, NKJV) between Heaven and Hell, forever separating the two. What happens during our time on this Earth makes all the difference.
Digging A Little Deeper…
If you notice, at the end of (Hebrews 9:27), there is a comma -- the thought continues after the verse, into v28. And that’s where it gets really interesting, as it puts to bed any credence to Universalism.
"And as it is appointed for men to die once, but after this the judgment, 28 so Christ was offered once to bear the sins of many. To those who eagerly wait for Him He will appear a second time, apart from sin, for salvation," (Heb. 9:27-28, NKJV).
Verse 28 says "so Christ was offered once to bear the sins of many.” This deals with one of the harder doctrines of the Christian faith, as it deals with the doctrines of Predestination, Election, and for whom Christ died. It’s as difficult a verse as when the Bible says that God hardened Pharaoh’s heart, or that God hates the wicked (not the actions of the wicked, but the wicked themselves), or when God declares “Jacob I have loved, but Esau I have hated” in Romans 9:10-13, NKJV, that the purpose of God’s “election might stand.”
These doctrines are difficult, but they are there, and we must take God’s Word in its entirety. We must take into account the whole counsel of God’s revealed Word without exception. We will either affirm that every word of the Bible is true, trustworthy, and authoritative -- or we will create our own Bible according to our own preferences. But we don’t want to do that. We need not be afraid to tackle the difficult questions of the faith.
Hebrews 9:28 not only shows that not everyone will be saved (which dismantles Bell’s premise in one fell swoop), but it also states that Christ’s atonement wasn’t even intended for everyone -- but for the “many.” Christ wasn’t offered as a sacrifice for the sins of everyone, let alone paying the penalty for everyone’s sins.
What this verse shows is that Christ’s atonement for the sins of those who would believe on Him are indeed paid for. Christ’s love is for those who are His triumphed when He paid the penalty for their sins on the Cross.
So, in a way never intended by Rob Bell, “Love Wins” after all. In the end, God’s Love does win. But so does God’s Justice. And His Mercy. And His Holiness wins too. As much as Bell would like to focus solely on God’s Love, it cannot be divorced from His Justice and Mercy and Holiness. All these things -- and more -- will be perfectly satisfied in the end, just as He planned before the foundation of the world (Ephesians 1:3-6, NKJV), all to His glory.
In the end, God Wins.
For more information on some of the issues dealt with in this article:
- What does the Bible Say About Purgatory?
- Does Purgatory Deny the Sufficiency of Christ's Sacrifice?
- Purgatory and 1 Cor. 3:15
- Can a Christian believe in reincarnation?
- Do Job 1:21 and Ecc. 5:15 teach reincarnation?
- What is the difference between Reincarnation and Resurrection?
- I believe in reincarnation, so why do I need Christianity?
- More objections answered to: Is it God's will that all people be saved?
- If predestination is true, then how can there be free will?
- What is free will?
- If God knows our free will choices, do we still have free will?
- If God is all knowing and he knows our future, then how is that free will?
- Open theism and libertarian free will
- What is libertarian free will?
- What is compatibilist free will?
- If election is true what is the danger in universalism?