Mishaps & Corruption // Rob Bell & Universalism – Part 1

Posted in Christian Universalism by Stephen Stonestreet on June 27, 2011

For the last several months, I’ve been focusing a lot on several subjects of interest that have really stemmed some great conversation and wisdom from advisors and mentors of mine, helping me question many “fundamental” beliefs of the Christian faith that many of us have followed and history has debated for centuries. I would really like to start of this post by saying that this is just the beginning of much writing on my part that will be “fleshed out” in the next several months, and on into the years to come.

In the beginning months of this year, I heard of a book that was being released by one pastor who I have greatly respected and looked to for a renewing of old wisdom and ways we ought to be living. His name is Rob Bell, Pastor of Mars Hill Bible Church in Grand Rapids, MI.

I know many of my friends and family, and those who I love dearly, will respond with possibly a different outlook, and that is fine. We all are on a path, seeking truth and wisdom on how we ought to live and be and act, and questions like the ones Bell brings up need to be asked and need to be answered. The reason – much of my generation, many of my friends and acquaintances, have left the Christian “religion” because of these exact topics – “How could a loving God torment people in hell forever?” is one of the many question that have caused death to faith in many people, including myself (and not completely, apparently… ha).

I know I’m a little delayed, but I wanted to spend quality time in the topic, reading not only Bell’s book, but many others, to truly search out the truth in these matters before I openly discuss them. I approached Bell’s book with a certainty that he was wrong, and that what he was saying (via “Universalism”) was false and full of heresy. But I still wanted to read it so I knew where he was coming from and I could discuss it, and correct or agree… the latter being the least possible possibility at that point. But, what I found in Bell’s book, Love Wins, and several other books (Who Will Be Saved? by William H. Willimon, The Parables of the Kingdom by Robert Farrar Capon, among others) and online blogs (Chad Holtz and Crystal St. Marie Lewis), was overwhelmingly life changing.

When I picked up Bell’s book in Louisville, KY at one of my favorite spots, Quills Coffee (as well as Sunergos Coffee), I just couldn’t take my hands (and eyes) off of it. What I ended up doing was sitting there in the coffee shops and reading for 7 straight hours (possibly longer – time was flying by), completing his entire book within that 7 hour period.

I cried, I laughed, I contemplated, I prayed like I never had before, I worshipped and praised God like never before, I questioned, God answered many of those questions, and still is. I smoked a lot of cigarettes, and drank a lot of coffee (A LOT), and God met me. He broke me, and molded me back together. He set me free, and caused my lack of understanding to be enlightened by His Truth. I was torn into two pieces, then four, then my heart was diced into little particles that seemed to never come back together again, but they did. God restored me, broke my walls down, building up His overwhelming joy within me. Oh, the joy that overtook my grey and dark heart that had lost sight of His great love and mercy. His grace is so beyond words. I had never be able to truly grasp His grace like I did in those moments and accept it into my heart forever.

I felt like I was going crazy, like I was insane. I thought to myself, “If these things are true, then this changes everything!” It was so unsettling, disturbing. It was like I was struck by a supernatural lightning, breaking a part all I had believed before, that had lead me into 4 years of deep depression and sorrow. In those 7 hours filled with many moments of healing, I was literally set free from guilt, shame, depression, despair, fear, anxiety and so so much more. It completely and utterly changed my entire life. I could accept God has Father, a loving Father who disciplines his children in order to bring them closer to himself. Like when a shepherd sometimes had to break the leg of one of his sheep, because they kept running away, and the only way for them to get back is if the Shepherd would break their legs, and then carry then on his back, heading back to the flock, loving and speaking softly to the sheep all the way back, molding its little heart back to Love.

“Glory to God!” I said so many times. It was freaking ridiculous how life-altering it all was. But now to move on to one of the controversial topics, and to straighten out a few things…

Rob Bell is not Universalist, as our modern understanding of the word is taken. Universalism is understood as a belief that all paths lead to the same God. That Islam, Buddhism, Humanism, Hinduism, and Christianity all lead to the same source – God. Everything is God, and everything is not evil, but good. This is not the same as what Bell is talking about.

For a little history note, a very important history note, look at when this idea of Universalism was started.

Christian Universalist ideas are first undisputedly documented in 17th-century England and 18th-century Europe and America. Gerrard Winstanley (1648), Richard Coppin (1652), Jane Leade (1697), and then George de Benneville in America, taught that God would grant all human beings salvation.

The title, Christian Universalism, was first labeled to those who believed that God would reconcile all things to Himself through the blood of Christ in the 1770s by Adams Streeter (1735–1786). This doesn’t mean that this belief started them. It was just named “Christian Universalism” in that time. In fact, Christian Universalism (as we label it – I hate labels), has gone back as far a Origen Adamantius, 184–253 AD, Titus Flavius Clemens (known as Clement of Alexandria), 150 – 215 AD and St. Gregory of Nyssa, 335 – 394 AD. If you read of Clement of Alexandria, you will see that he knew Paul, the writer of the letters to the Church in the NT, and they had many discussions on topics like these. Clement even had a book that was almost included in the canon books of Scripture called “The First Epistle of Clement”. Very interesting, indeed. Many of the early Church leaders wanted this book included in what we now know as the 66 books of the Bible, but it was left out (not because it was wrong, but because they didn’t feel it was needed in the Bible).

Then we have modern day Universalism. According to Wikipedia (like the information above), “Unitarian Universalism historically grew out of Christian Universalism but is not a Christian denomination. It formed from a 1961 merger of two historically Christian denominations, the Universalist Church of America and the American Unitarian Association, both based in the United States.”

So, interestingly enough, our modern understanding of Universalism (that is, Unitarian), that all paths and religions are good and lead to the same outcome, was founded out of the Christian Universalist Church in 1961! But understand, it is not accepted by the Christian Universalist Churches. Funny enough, the term Christian Universalism was coined in the 1700s. CRAZY!

And now we call Rob Bell a Universalist. We call him this without understanding history and what the facts are about the terms and belief systems. We think we are so right in condemning Bell as a heretic, yet we are being heretics ourselves by not even knowing what the hell we’re talking about!

That is why Bell is no Universalist. He is 100% a follower of Christ, believing in the atonement of Christ’s blood for the whole world, knowing that salvation only comes from this same blood, not from other pagan Gods and religions. He is a Christian, and he is a good person with many great questions and important discussions to be raised to further our understanding of what Christ did, who God is, what He is like and what He is doing in our world.

I’d encourage, with boldness, Joshua Harris, John Piper and many other well-known pastors, authors, and Christian leaders to look at the facts, and don’t be quick to judge or condemn, but always uplift and encourage. I still regard many of these leaders to have much to add to the Churches understanding of Christ and what we are to be doing in the world. I respect them and honor them for their diligence and stern passion. But seriously, at least read the book first.

So there are my thoughts and studies so far on these discussions. I’ve seen many other posts on this subject, and definitely better written. I think it is important to continue to repeat these thoughts and discussions, and to encourage further conversation on this topic.

To Be Continued…


2 Responses

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  1. Becky Lowery said, on June 27, 2011 at 7:38 pm

    That, sir, is amazing! The link to your blog showed up on Rob Bell’s FB fan page. I have another friend who had the same experience as you with “Love Wins.” His faith was restored and he felt like he had been born again for the first time. Thank you for your thoughtfulness in your post. I can’t wait to read what you have to say next!

    Becky Lowery

  2. Stephen Stonestreet said, on June 30, 2011 at 3:35 am

    Becky, thanks for the comment!

    I’ve heard similar stories, which I thought was highly probable anyways. I had read it the day after it was released. Such a beautiful and inspiring read for sure!

    I think there is a great divide between many who ascribe to the name “Christian” and say they are “born again”, but it seems that term is so much more about eternal life than it is about being “saved” – two completely different things. I’ll be posting on that subject more soon :D

    I am happy to say, I have and am born again in even deeper Light and Love everyday, entering Life more and more every morning.

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