Why I believe most Evangelical Christians are practical universalists. Did that get your attention?

With all the attention of Rob Bell’s new book “Love Wins” and the label by some that he is a universalist, many evangelicals have come out to condemn the book (even before it was published) and call him a heretic and even bid him “farewell” on Twitter.   I, personally, found how this was/is being handled deeply troubling on many levels (theologically, historically, biblically and practically).  Although I will tackle why I think we, as the Evangelical church, responded the way we did in my next post (coming soon), I want to tackle the more practical side of the universalist debate.

To do so, I want to begin with the concept that our actions stem from our beliefs.  What we believe matters and what we truly believe is demonstrated in our subsequent actions.  For example, I believe that putting my finger in an electrical socket is bad, so I avoid it at all cost.  Now let’s take this to theology and our view of Hell.  Most Evangelicals say they believe in a literal hell with eternal fire and unimaginable suffering and Evangelicals, on mass, believe that to avoid said reality, we must have a personal relationship with Christ (John 14:6).  However, if we really believed this, why do so many Evangelicals not share this Good News with others?  If we truly believe that people who don’t know Christ will spend eternity in constant torment, how much do we have to hate them to not share the Good News of Jesus with them (this point is made aptly by Penn Teller (an atheist) in a Vlog he did a while ago – look specifically beginning at the 3:00 mark).

It seems to me that it is disingenuous to condemn someone like Rob Bell for asking questions about Hell, while our actions demonstrate that we, on a practical level, are universalists ourselves (Am I being provocative enough for you?).  In as much as some would call Rob Bell’s theology heretical and un-orthodox (right belief), could we not call our practice (or lack there of) heretical as it smells of un-orthopraxy (right practice)?

You may argue and say that I am abusing hyperbole and that our actions don’t matter as much as our belief but I would argue back and ask where in Scripture are we allowed to separate the two?  Jesus was pretty clear on this.   Jesus teaches in Matthew 25 about Hell and eternal destiny.  Jesus teaches here that he will separate the metaphoric sheep from the goats and teaches that the questions asked/criteria used will be action orientated rather than belief orientated.  (“I was hungry and you didn’t feed me…”)  Don’t get me wrong, I believe that faith in Christ (and not works) is the only way to eternal relationship with God (John 14:6) but it MUST be worked out with action!  This is the point James makes in his epistle – Faith without works (actions) is dead!!! (James 2:17)

Therefore, is it not disingenuous for Evangelicals who demonstrate through their action, the unwillingness to share the Good News with others in spite of their belief and passion in their view of Hell, to speak negatively about others who are asking questions (good questions) about their belief of it?

I hope my heart comes through in the post!  My hope is that we would see the plank in our own eye before we try and help Rob Bell with the sawdust in his!

3 thoughts on “Why I believe most Evangelical Christians are practical universalists. Did that get your attention?”

  1. Perceptive point Bryce!

    I wonder, would you want to leverage this to have us be more urgent in our evangelism or less dogmatic in (and dependent on) our views about the ‘afterlife’? Or both? Just egging you on a bit here…

    Also, I wonder if there is a problem on the other hand, when the orthopraxy in this regard *does* match the orthodoxy, so that the urgent concern about hell clouds the ability to trust and rest in God’s timing and pushes a person to a gospel-sharing that is more fear-based than loving and patient and gentle and humble?

    Also, is hell really the motive for missions? Is that how the Bible uses the hell passages?

    Thanks for the post Bryce.

  2. Fair critiques…I am not arguing for fear based evangelism here (Jesus never practiced this). There are obviously holes in my reasoning but my desire was to drive home my final point. Withall the upheaval happening because someone is questioning the doctrine of eternal punishment, is it not ironic that this fundamental truth really isn’t having any major bearing on the lives of those who are loudly calling out “heretic.”

    On a personal note, I don’t believe in fear based evangelism but because I believe in Hell and Christ as the only way to salvation, shouldn’t this have a bearing on my impetus for it, my willingness to dialogue about it, my desire for people to have an eternal relationship with the living God?

  3. I don’t know that I meant them as critiques, just questions. Definitely I agree with you. As I consider the possibilities, I do want to say that I’m not sure hell has to only be defined as an eternity of conscious torment for us to be driven to evangelize because of it. I’m sure that one could argue that the view of ‘hell on earth’ is also plenty of reason to pray for the kingdom of heaven to come on earth and to align our lives and our activities accordingly.

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