So I notice, probably belatedly, that Rob Bell is a Universalist. Actually, I may have to explain that sentence. Rob Bell is one of the poster boys for the American ‘Ermergent’ church, and perhaps the epitome of Famous Christianity. He is most well known for his ‘Nooma’ series of DVDs, a series of short DVD films where he engages the audience using his vast storehouse of anecdotes. He also wrote ‘Velvet Elvis’, which, although I’ve never read it, is apparently very good, by which I mean the world and his dog have read it. His most recent publication, ‘Love Wins’ is rather controversial, because he happened to suggest that he thought that God was kind enough to offer forgiveness to everyone, so that anyone could go to heaven. I know, I’ve never heard anything so absurd.
Universalism is this belief that everyone will be forgiven and go to heaven. Bell is one of the first ‘Famous Christians‘ to take up this idea, mainly because anyone who has tried it before has been shot down by the Evangelical movement, who clearly hate the idea of anyone going to heaven who isn’t them. Probably because they realise how much of their lives they have wasted standing on street corners shouting damnation at everyone, and also because they were looking forward to being able to watch the sinners burn. Don’t let anyone tell you Christians can’t be really cruel when they feel like it.
But is Universalism a terrible thing? More importantly, are the arguments against it watertight? The key one I’ve heard, other than looking through the Bible and picking out all your favourite quotes, is that we as Christians were told (the Great Commission) to go out and preach the gospel, and Universalism would end that. Would it? I think not.
(Alright, I’m just warning you that this is a heavily Christian-oriented post, and anyone who gets bored of things like Songs of Praise, or doesn’t listen to Thought For The Day on Radio Four might get slightly bored. Sorry…)
It all comes down to Christian mission. What is it? What is it’s purpose? Is the aim to grab as many people as possible and bundle them through the pearly gates, or are we called to something more complex?
We can start simply by looking at the name we give to the story of Jesus Christ: The Gospels, or Good News. We are spreading good news, and we’re doing so out of love. Indeed, the second greatest commandment was to love your neighbour. And the greatest sign of love was, of course, the Gospel story of Jesus’ sacrifice. John 3:16 says “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only son[…]”. It’s a circle. We love others, so we share the Good News, which is a story of love.
So what does this mean for evangelism? Well, it means that we are not preaching about an afterlife, but a relationship with God. And not just a heavenly relationship, but a relationship here on earth that allows us to make, in the words of the Lord’s Prayer, “[…]Your kingdom come, Your will be done[…]”.
In some ways, it doesn’t even matter who gets to heaven. Heaven is just a by-product of a perfect relationship. What we must do as Christians here on earth is spread this relationship. We should be preaching love, even if they still get to heaven in the end. Joel 2 tells us that God is love, and 1 John 4:8 tells us that if you do not know love, you don’t know God, and thus, if you don’t know God, you cannot know love.
Spreading the word is quite literally spreading the love. We don’t need to worry about heaven at all, because we are stewards of the earth, the first commission of humanity, from the moment we were created in the Garden of Eden. And what earth is there without love? So let us spread love. I think I’m repeating myself. You get the picture anyway. Our command is love, not judgement, so let’s not worry about heaven, and instead spread the love. This might be heresy.