As I've gone deeper with Rob Bell's Love Wins, I realize that it's easier to be misunderstood... or frankly mislabeled. I've now read at least Love Wins three or four times, and despite the assertion of CT, I cannot conclude that Bell is a universalist. In fact, he even denies being a universalist. (See http://www.christianpost.com/news/rob-bell-denies-being-a-universalist-49417.) In the Love Wins Companion, which Bell co-edited, it confirms that he "teaches that hell is real, both in this life and in the life after death" (47).
In fact, in Love Wins, he writes this,
To be honest, I'm not getting this assertion that Bell is a universalist.
If we want hell,
if we want heaven,they are ours.That's how love works. It can't be forced, manipulated, or coerced.It always leaves room for the other to decide.God says yes,we can have what we want,because love wins.
I'm not denying that Bell is a bit slippery in his language, and even seems to enjoy being a provocateur. Nonetheless, I have difficulty with his critics, who don't seem to constrain their ire by anything like rules of fair play. Consider this quote from Erasing Hell by Francis Chan and Preston Sprinkle: "Bell suggests that every single person will embrace Jesus--in not in this life, then certainly in the next" (24). The authors then cite Bell describing universalism as if it's his position. A straight-forward reading, they assert, is that Bell is a universalist. And yet, Chan and Sprinkle add a surprisingly significant concession in an endnote. It states,
To be fair, he is not explicitly arguing for this position but listing it as a valid view that would help explain a lot of the tension that we feel when thinking about the hard realities of hell. (Erasing Hell, 40, n. 5; italics mine).They then assert that Bell "implies" that the universalist position is better. For that reason, they can conclude it's his position.
My jaw drops just a bit here. Those words "To be fair" disturb me, especially when they come from Christians. What is fair about quoting someone with you you disagree in a way that's, in the vernacular, "damning"? Why stick the actual fact in an endnote (which people tend to read even less than footnotes)? I'm confused about the fairness of this whole affair.
The sad thing is in many ways, I have some respect Chan. We've used his Crazy Love in our college group. I've shown YouTube videos. He's a powerful communicator with challenging insights. Erasing Hell makes some great points. But now, at least a modicum of doubt has slipped in when I read him. Put simply, what he wrote doesn't make me doubt Bell as much as it makes me doubt Chan.
To repeat: Though Bell's a bit slippery, I cannot find the texts that make him a universalist. If one wants to disagree with universalism, that's fine. In fact I do. But misquoting is something that hardly seems "fair."