Zürich - Kunsthaus - Rodin's Höllentor IMG 7384 ShiftNEvangelicals around the US have gone into fits of apoplexy over a book that hasn’t even been released yet, by a well-known Christian pastor, Rob Bell. The controversy began when a Christian blogger determined — based on blurbs about the book released by its publisher, in advance of publication — that it contains the horrific idea that all of humanity will be saved. This assumption on the part of a lone blogger has turned into full-scale theological war among evangelical Christians, as CNN’s Belief Blog explains (WebCite cached article):

[Christian blogger Justin] Taylor’s claim — based on a description of the book released by publisher HarperOne and a promotional video — ignited a wave of criticism against, and a counter-wave of support for, Bell. Some critics went so far as to label Bell a heretic. Prominent evangelical pastors on both the right and left rushed to condemn or defend the Michigan pastor. …

The controversy even caught the staff at Bell’s church off-guard. On Sunday, Brian Mucchi, an assistant pastor, told the church they knew a controversy could come, they just didn’t expect it to come so soon, according to a church member who was at the service but did not want to be identified.

Bell’s latest book is so disturbing to evangelical Christians, that it caused him to have to jump publishers:

“Love Wins” is Bell’s first book since his break from Zondervan, the Christian publisher based in Grand Rapids, Michigan, that published Bell’s first four books and also publishes the New International Version of the Bible, one of the most popular translations of the Bible among evangelicals.

Bell’s split from Zondervan came in part over this new book. “The break with Zondervan was amicable,” Tauber said. “In the end the president of Zondervan made the decision. The proposal came in and they said, ‘This proposal doesn’t fit in with our mission.’ “

Criticism of Bell comes from a lot of the usual suspects, like Al Mohler, as well as from others. What these people find disturbing is that Bell’s “universalism” undermines the presumed exclusivity of Christianity; the idea that salvation and eternal life can only come from Jesus Christ and only in a certain way. Evangelicals, who can only see things in an “all or nothing,” black-&-white way, are aghast. For them, “universalism” renders all of Jesus’ career meaningless … because if salvation comes to everyone, with or without Christ, then what good is anything he said or did, and what good is it to believe in him at all?

This is all predicated on the idea that the only purpose of Jesus’ career was to bring eternal life; that he had nothing to say of any value or substance, which is not directly related to salvation. This assumption sells Jesus short — immensely! He taught many things, including humility, charity, compassion, and more. Do these cease to have any value, if it should turn out that salvation will come to everyone and not just those who believe in him in a certain way? Of course not! Humility, charity and compassion are all important and they all have value, even if no one achieves life after death.

The truth about evangelicals is that they use their presumed exclusivity, coupled with the threat of eternal perdition, as a bludgeon to get others to believe as they do: “If you don’t accept Jesus Christ as your Personal Lord and Savior™, you’ll burn in hell forever!” Their campaign of psychological terror, however, bears no resemblance to Jesus’ career. What it does do, is give them a lever by which they can control others.

At the moment, though, we don’t know what’s in Rob Bell’s book. The assumption that it promotes “universalism” is exactly that — an assumption. So all of this speculation may turn out to be a tempest in a teapot. But even if that’s the case, the nation’s evangelicals will have revealed themselves as the control-freaks and psychological terrorists they are.

Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons / Roland zh.

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  • So, what Bell is propounding here is that we're ALL going to win the lottery? Well, what fun is that?

    • PsiCop

      What fun, indeed! Christianity as a whole has rather consistently opposed universalism in all its forms. For example, Origen of Alexandria — in other respects a mostly-orthodox Christian thinker — was posthumously condemned in the 6th century over it. This put later Christians in quite a bind, since prior to his denunciation, Origen's commentaries and sermons had been widely used to support various notions. They had to cast about looking for other doctrinal anchors to cling to. It's kind of amusing when Christians tie themselves into knots over matters like this. Yet they do it all the time, and aren't even aware of how idiotic it looks to outsiders.

  • Yes. I have some friends/family who are somewhat fundie-oriented. When they start preaching about the rapture this and 144,000 that, I always say, "Hmmm… you mean your god is only going to save 144K of all the souls on this earth? That's not too merciful of him, I don't think." This usually shuts them up and gets them to change topics quickly; sadly, to some other fundie bunkum, more than likely.

    With my lottery luck, there isn't a chance in HELL that I'd win the Rapture Lotto. 😉

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  • SoM

    "A man hears what he wants to hear and disregards the rest" Simon and Garfunkle-The Boxer.

    • PsiCop

      … and I have to say, few truer words have ever been spoken — or sung!