Gabriel Vahanian, the French-born theologian most remembered for his work in the death of God movement of the 60s and 70s, once observed that every “death of God” theologian (known as “theothanatologists”, in case you were wondering) began their career as Neo-Orthodox theologians. John Gerstner famously observed that the motto of Neo-Orthodoxy was “There is no God and Jesus Christ is His Son” (due to Neo-Orthodoxy’s insistence against any “evidence” for or against God’s existence). Both Vahanian’s and Gerstner’s point was the same. There comes a moment when such people “wake up” and realize that the internal contradictions of their position force them to the obvious and logical conclusion: “God is dead”.
Enter Rob Bell and his new book, “Love Wins: A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived”. The book is out, so are the reviews . . . and the interviews. Bell appeared with Martin Bashir of MSNBC and it was quickly apparent that Martin Bashir was a better theologian than Rob Bell, taking Bell to task on the apparent (to everyone except Bell) inconsistencies of his position. Take a look for yourself:
Bell came away looking like a Neo-Orthodox theologian denying Universalism on the one hand but affirming God’s saving love for everyone on the other. Bashir questioning Bell’s position and Bell trying to explain it looked like someone trying to nail jello to a tree. Vahanian would have enjoyed the exchange immensely.
My “observation” for what it is worth is that Bell – like the conflicted Neo-orthodox theologians described by Vahanian and Gerstner – will eventually be forced by the obvious inconsistencies of his position to either repudiate his own book, or repudiate and openly break with orthodoxy. You can only play theological dodge ball for so long, especially with people who are better at it than you are – and Martin Bashir is only the beginning of Bell’s woes. Unfortunately, if I were to lick my finger and place it into the cultural breeze for direction, I would conclude that Bell will probably break in the direction of the prevailing Postmodern wind of doubt and skepticism and turn his back on Orthodoxy (protesting all the way). This has ramifications for both the Church at large, as well as for the organic house church movement. This current brouhaha over Rob Bell’s book has once again forced the issue of Universalism into the spotlight. It will quickly become a rallying point for those people in the church who were already sympathetic and leaning in this direction. I am more convinced than ever that Universalism will probably become the watershed theological issue of our generation. I believe that the proponents of Universalism have a momentum that has been significantly underestimated by the evangelical community. This is why we have established this “Universalism” page, to post resources that you can use in response to this issue. More will be coming. In addition, I have begun posting regular thoughts and excerpts from our book “All Dogs Go To Heaven, Don’t They?” on a dedicated Facebook Page (I hope to have an electronic Kindle version of the book available soon, so stay tuned!). These Facebook posts also post to my Twitter account. I would encourage you to join in on this discussion as it develops.