John wrote in his gospel that Jesus came,
. . . full of grace and truth.
I love that balance in our God.
Rob Bell is founding pastor of Mars Hill Bible Church in Grand Rapids, Michigan, USA and has written a number of books and his latest entitled Love wins (2011 - UK) is why I've entitled this article Love and truth wins. It is a response and a short critique of Love Wins.
Love Wins stands somewhere in between a dialogue in C.S. Lewis' last book in the Narnia series The last battle and Clarke Pinnock's book A wideness in God's mercy: The dialogue in view is the one between Aslan the lion representing Jesus and the enemy soldier who found himself with Aslan in the final garden. By being in between I am mostly referring to the manner of teaching and conveying of thoughts as Love Wins is less 'heavy in theology and solid' than Pinnock, but not so illustrative to be hard to grasp as the Narnia tales can be. But in part, I am also referring to the doctrine contained in both those other books although that would be mostly true of the 2nd half of Love wins.
However complimentary this comparison is - and it is meant to be - Love wins is distant from Pinnock and Lewis in that universalism is taught: neither Pinnock nor Lewis advocated universalism. Universalism is the belief that all will eventually be saved and it is clearly inferred and thus advocated in Love wins. It is a shame that such a good work also on the wideness in God's mercy should be tragically mixed with error. The first half of the book deals with hell and heaven, what these represent, and in the everlasting possibility of these or lack thereof. It is perhaps in the retelling of the use of the Greek word AIÓN that the error is most telling. It is also seen in the taking of passages out of context that are then used - strung together - to suggest that all things will eventually be reconciled to God. Texts out of contexts strung together are the nets of all false doctrine: A classic tool of the enemy to deceive the saints.
I was glad to see the second half of the book with less deviation from good doctrine since that described more the reality of God's heart and inclusion of the many as Pinnock does well to explain in A Wideness in God's Mercy for his type of audience.
So, allow me to outline the above errors in regards to universalism whilst recommending that all do not throw away the baby with the bathwater. Let's identify this dirty water and then reveal the baby.
The word AIÓN is Greek for 'age', 'ever' and is retold us in Love Wins as something that is also - and is, in particular in regards to heaven and hell - about 'intensity': the very eternal or everlasting meaning of the word in regards to time is denied. The purpose of this denial is to remove from hell its existence as permanent. First it is preceded by the idea that when time is understood by this word it is always with a limit and never 'forever'.
. . . "They were gone for ages." When we use the word "age" like this, we are referring less to a precise measurement of time, like an hour or a day or a year, and more to a period or era of time. This is crucial to our understanding of the word aion, because it doesn't mean "forever" as we think of forever . . . That's not this word. The first meaning of this word aion refers to a period of time with a beginning and an end.
Love Wins pages 31-32
Having 'settled' in his discourse that aion in terms of time has always an 'end' Bell introduces the intensity understanding for the word.
. . . let's return to that Greek word aion, the one that we translate as "age" in English. We saw earlier how aion refers to a period of time with a beginning and an end. Another meaning of aion is a bit more complex and nuanced, because it refers to a particular intensity of experience that transcends time.
Love Wins page 57
I will therefore expound the solid truth that AIÓN means 'forever' in a certain setting of words in regards to time and also speak a little on hell. Love Wins in fact tends not to look at the lake of fire described in Revelation as the final home of 'hell'. And it is this I wish to attract the reader's attention to alongside the meaning of the word AIÓN as mentioned.
Lake of fire
The bible does not tell us that 'hell' in the various 'words' for it will be permanent, but that the lake of fire will be: it tells us instead all (other) hell/s will be cast into this lake of fire. It is also explicit that it is an 'other' place: it is elsewhere - geographically distant from life now - and that it is permanent: this 'hell' will remain forever and ever.
The sea gave up the dead who were in it, and Death and Hades delivered up the dead who were in them. And they were judged, each one according to his works. Then Death and Hades were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death. And anyone not found written in the Book of Life was cast into the lake of fire.
Here we read that HADES, which is sometimes translated as 'hell', and also 'death' gave up all who are there and then judged. Then these 2 entities 'hell' and 'death' are cast into the lake of fire. So, of course hell in that sense is no longer relevant. But the new 'hell' as per our everyday language is thereby the lake of fire. And the bible is explicit in that this final hell is permanent by use of the word AIÓN within the specific phrase 'forever and ever'.
The devil, who deceived them, was cast into the lake of fire and brimstone where the beast and the false prophet are. And they will be tormented day and night forever and ever.
Forever and ever
This is how the phrase 'forever and ever' works. In the Old Testament - written in Hebrew - the first 'ever' within the phrase 'for ever and ever' is translated from the Hebrew OWLAM meaning distant in time as in 'out of sight/beyond view' and the second 'ever' comes from the Hebrew AD meaning forever as in 'perpetually so' - and together - these two different words for 'ever' represent the meaning of 'eternal' and 'perpetual'. This is why it is used of the reign and authority of God - it will never end.
The LORD shall reign forever and ever.
With the representation of God's reign given by the word 'throne' we also read it in the Psalms,
Your throne, O God, is forever and ever...
Suffice to say that the meaning is clear, God is told us as in control and that He will be so - for eternity: there will be no end to His reign. These two Hebrew words are found together in 18 places to say 'for ever and ever' and mean for eternity - perpetually so.
Now the latter quote of Psalm 45:6 is written as a translated passage in Greek in the New Testament:
Ho thronos sou ho THeos eis ton aióna tou aiónos...
I am using an anglicized format for the Greek letters.
Here we see AIÓN used twice to translate OWLAM and AD together.
That is to say that both Hebrew words OWLAM and AD are translated by the one Greek word AIÓN and because there are two of them together, they represent exactly the same meaning as in the Hebrew phrase: for ever and ever: for perpetuity. This use of AIÓN twice in this phrase occurs 21 times in the New Testament. It is an exact equivalent in meaning to the two Hebrew words together.
We saw above the lake of fire as the final 'hell' and all other representation of hell to be cast into this lake of fire. And also above we read how 3 specific persons will be in that place 'forever and ever' - the devil, the beast and the false prophet - and at least two of these are humans: the beast and the false prophet.
Tragically we also read a little later that they will be joined by many more (Revelation 20:15).
Here is the Greek for how long they will be there 'day and night forever and ever'
. . . hémeras kai nuktos eis tous aiónas tón aiónón.
AIÓN + AIÓN = OWLAM + AD = perpetually so, for eternity.
It is impossible therefore to hold as sound doctrine that all will be saved: universalism is not taught in the bible.
Texts out of context
I also mentioned a list of texts out of context strung together. This is how they appear in Love Wins:
In Psalm 65 it's written that "all people will come" to God.
In Ezekiel 36 God says, "The nations will know that I am the LORD,"
The prophet Isaiah says, "All the ends of the earth will see the salvation of our God" (chap. 52)
Zephaniah quotes God as saying, "Then I will purify the lips of the peoples, that all of them may call on the name of the LORD and serve him shoulder to shoulder" (chapter. 3).
And Paul writes in Philippians 2, "Every knee should bow . . . and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is LORD, to the glory of God the Father."
Love Wins page 99
Here they are in context (Love wins quotes the TNIV and I quote the NKJV):
O You who hear prayer, to You all flesh will come.
And I will sanctify My great name, which has been profaned among the nations, which you have profaned in their midst; and the nations shall know that I am the LORD," says the Lord GOD, "when I am hallowed in you before their eyes."
The LORD has made bare His holy arm in the eyes of all the nations; and all the ends of the earth shall see the salvation of our God.
My determination is to gather the nations to My assembly of kingdoms, to pour on them My indignation, all My fierce anger; all the earth shall be devoured with the fire of My jealousy. For then I will restore to the peoples a pure language, that they all may call on the name of the LORD, to serve Him with one accord. From beyond the rivers of Ethiopia My worshipers, the daughter of My dispersed ones, shall bring My offering.
Therefore God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
In Love Wins this set of texts out of context is preceded by statements to prepare the reader to then approach these texts out of context (together) to be felt as meaning God will bring all to Him:
Will all people be saved,
Or will God not get what God wants?
Does this magnificent, mighty, marvellous God fail in the end?
Love Wins page 98
So that at the point of the 'quotes' (out of context) they are introduced with these words:
The writers of the bible have a lot to say about this love:
Love wins page 99
Subtle, but effective!
But, sadly, deceitful and untrue!
The book fails in the above, but it succeeds in opening the mind to the wideness in God's mercy. It is not just Christians who are saved. It is a great many more.
I have written on this in my own book on this subject Will there be Non-Christians in heaven? And indeed also have re-published the chapter The meaning of born again in my latest book Serious mistranslations of the bible (March 2011) since it is so needful to understand that by 'believing in the name' Jesus' title is not in view, but His character as I explain how it is that 'the righteous' among non-Christians are already born again. But in context of my full book on the subject I make clear that no one can have assurance of salvation whilst alive without knowing Jesus as their personal Lord. Hence the ongoing need for evangelism. But many who are non-Christian now we know are accepted by God if they are those who practise righteousness: They are seen by God like this, when we read,
If you know that He is righteous, you know that everyone who practices righteousness is born of Him.
1 John 2:29
So it appears that I agree with Bell in part of his book, but I also depart from Love Wins in that God is misunderstood in suggesting hell means He ceases to love those there. Although this is not explicit, it is implied in that God is seen to change persona if it is believed he sends anyone to hell at all (Love Wins pages 173-176).
The truth is God does not change and people in hell are not there because God wants them there, but because they do not want God and there is nowhere else. It is not His will they are there, it is theirs.
. . . 'As I live', says the Lord GOD, 'I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked . . .'
It is the wicked who have chosen to exclude God from their lives by turning their back on the light. That is the clear choice they have made.
. . . [They] are those who rebel against the light; they do not know its ways nor abide in its paths.
Will there be Non-Christians in heaven? Pages 126-127
Love and truth wins.