Rob Bell has certainly ratcheted up the question of eternity in Christian and secular discussion with his book Love Wins: A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived . Many know that when I was younger I was an atheist and came to faith once I realized that Jesus was an actual historical person, He was physically raised from the dead and the Bible is fundamentally true. As I viewed his interview with Martin Bashir: I was struck Rob Bell’s assortment of non-answers. Does it matter how we live? Perhaps. Is salvation by grace alone, through faith alone in Christ alone? We aren’t sure. Rob Bell wonders about those who haven’t heard. His claim is that doctrine we have about salvation is “all speculation.” In other places he has said that he believes Christ is the only means by which we are saved but we may call on Him without knowing it. Does that mean we can reach Him by calling on Buddha? Bell, like any good politician, doesn’t commit himself one way of the other.
As an atheist, it didn’t really matter how I lived for I would die and that would be the end of it. Sort of standard Darwinism. Is Bell teaching this annihilationist view? We are unsure, he doesn’t really say. Will all eventually be reconciled to God? Will they be tormented to the point that they realize the love of God and are redeemed post-mortem? Again, no clear answer. Bell seems to be more enamored with heretics like Origen and the Gnostic writings than biblical teaching but I suggest that he will remain unable to answer basic questions about the faith and continue on his to trip to joining the Jesus Seminar.
The Bible does make exclusive claims. It is clear that all are sinners (Romans 3:23; 5:12). As a result we are spiritually dead. That means we are separated from God. By definition dead means separated, it does not mean non-existent. When we die in this life, our spirit is separated from our body. When we are spiritually dead we are separated from God. We may all be God’s creation but by definition we are not all God’s children. This is not my opinion but comes directly from the mouth of Jesus to religious leaders of His day in John 8:44:
You are of your father the devil, and you want to do the desires of your father He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth because there is no truth in him Whenever he speaks a lie, he speaks from his own nature, for he is a liar and the father of lies.
We are born into the family of the first Adam and are by nature at enmity with God. By faith we are adopted into the second Adam Who is a life giving spirit (1 Corinthians 15:45). That is Jesus Christ. His death, burial and resurrection provided the means by which we may be saved. However, one must call on the name of the Lord to be saved (Romans 10:13; For a fuller treatment of this see The Princess and the Pauper).
What about those who have never heard? That is a valid question. Hebrews 11:6 tells us that God is a rewarded of those that seek Him. What does that look like? Well, we have examples in Scripture of those who are seeking for God and God sends one of His people to proclaim the gospel. A dramatic example is in Acts 10. Although I am not personally inclined to the view that the sign gifts are extent today I do believe and have been part of coming into contact with people who had been praying for an accurate knowledge of God and had the great opportunity to clearly lay out the gospel and they believed. How God does things are not as clear as what He does.
We find it clear in Scripture that this life is where our eternal decision is made. To be with God or to remain separated. We don’t find anything like postmortem conversions. As the writer to Hebrews states it in Hebrews 9:27:
And inasmuch as it is appointed for men to die once and after this comes judgment,
But then, if Rob Bell is to be believed, the Scriptures are “all speculation.” The apostolic writers would simply bemusing “what if” sorts of questions. The Scriptures are not really inspired and inerrant. Martin Bashir pointed out that one reviewer said that Bell’s history is inaccurate and his use of Scripture is abominable. I am not sure who that was, but they were correct.
As an atheist I knew that the Bible was “all speculation,” myth and fantasy. Bell isn’t really saying anything that an atheist, Wiccan, or New Ager may say. They too would say that claims of absolutes in doctrine are wrong and we should just allow the questions to go unanswered so that no one will feel bad.