Does Rob Bell Teach Universal Salvation?

In Rob Bell’s book Love Wins, he addresses what I call “expansive salvation”. How wide is the scope of God’s salvation? Does Bell teach universal salvation? Does Bell teach the possibility of salvation for those in hell? Is it possible for Satan and demons to be saved from hell?

How wide is the scope of God’s salvation?

Following the lead of N.T. Wright in his brilliant book Surprised By Hope, Bell rightly emphasizes that the scope of God’s salvation includes all of creation, and that the Christian’s ultimate hope is not heaven (an intermediate stopover, a rest in the journey), but a new heaven and a new earth. Notice I didn’t say heaven is not a Christian hope, it just is not the ultimate hope. This is a biblical distinction that Bell doesn’t handle correctly in Love Wins.

Although Bell redefines and disorders biblical terms like heaven, eternal life, and the kingdom of God, he is correct to emphasize that God’s salvation has a wide scope that includes his entire creation.

Take a look at these Bible passages:

“I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. For the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God (Romans 8:18-21).

God made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ, to be put into effect when the times reach their fulfillment—to bring unity to all things in heaven and on earth under Christ (Ephesians 1:9-10).

“Then I saw “a new heaven and a new earth,” for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away” (Revelation 21:1).

Although Bell downplays personal salvation, I applaud Bell for emphasizing that the scope of God’s salvation includes the entire cosmos.

From my perspective, the greatest interpretive weakness of Love Wins, however, is that Bell uses, or should I say misuses, Bible passages that refer to cosmic salvation, such as Colossians 1:20, and suggests that the scope of reconciling all things through Christ includes every person, and extends to those who’ll eventually live in hell in the “age to come.”

It is important for readers to recognize what Bell is doing in Love Wins. If you aren’t, then you’ll swallow the whole ensalada without realizing it. When Bell writes about salvation including the entire cosmos, he infers that this includes everyone in this age, and in the age to come. It is this expansive view of God’s salvation, although he uses the word love, that Bell wants his readers to “hope for” and “envision” (page 111).

This is why Bell quotes 1 Timothy 2:4, “God wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth,” and then inserts this rhetorical question, “So does God get what God wants?” (page 97). Bell’s inferred answer is, “yes, he will.”

This should help you understand what Bell means when he uses the phrase “the expansive love of God.” It is Bell’s story about God’s expansive love that blurs, and crosses over, the biblical distinctions of belief and unbelief, and ‘this age’ and the ‘age to come.’

Does Bell teach universal salvation?

Bell denies that he teaches universalism in Love Wins. It is true that Bell doesn’t teach a guaranteed universalism. A universalism defined as all people will be saved, regardless of their faith. From my reading of Love Wins, however, he does teach a “potential or a hopeful universalism.” He hopes that God’s love is so expansive that the invitation to God’s grace will extend into hell so that all people will have the potential of being saved.

I believe Bell generally teaches the form of universalism that N.T. Wright defines as, “God will endlessly offer to the unrepentant the choice of faith until all succumb to the wooing of divine love” (Surprised By Hope, 181). The only difference is that Bell emphasizes that some people in hell might continue to freely choose not to put their faith in Jesus. However, Bell does suggest in Love Wins that God’s love will eventually melt all hearts, whether in “this age” or in “the age to come.”

Does Bell teach the possibility of salvation for those in hell?

On the first page of Love Wins, Bell tells us, “I believe that Jesus’s story is first and foremost about the love of God for every single one of us. It is a stunning, beautiful, expansive love, and it is for everybody, everywhere.” (Preface vii).

When Bell uses the word “everywhere,” he includes hell. He writes, “So will those who have said no to God’s love in this life continue to say no in the next? Love demands freedom, and freedom provides that possibility. People take that option now, and we can assume it will be taken in the future” (page 114). He continues, “The indestructible love of God is unfolding, dynamic reality and that every single one of us is endlessly being invited to trust, believe, embrace, and experience it.”

Bell suggests that people who say “no” to Jesus in this life, will have an opportunity to say “yes” to Jesus in hell, and be saved. As Bell emphasizes, “the gates of the city in the new world will “never shut” (pages 114-115). Bell infers that the gate will remain open if people in hell decide to put their faith in Jesus. They will be able to exit hell, and enter the new Jerusalem.

In Love Wins, Bell teaches a second chance for salvation beyond God’s final judgment. His imaginative teaching is generally not that far off from Joseph Smith’s teaching concerning a second chance for Mormon salvation from “Spirit Prison” after one dies.

According to Bell, the salvation of Hitler, Mao, and Stalin in hell is a hopeful possibility. What about Satan and demons?

Is it possible for Satan and demons to be saved from hell?

I find it interesting that people, with Bell’s help, now believe that God can’t be loving if he sends people into hell for rejecting and rebelling against Jesus. Answer this question, is God loving to send millions of angels, including Lucifer, into eternal hell for rebelling against him in heaven? Why do people have difficulty with God sending people to hell, but not angels? Angels are God’s special creation.

Will God’s ever-expansive love win Satan and demons from hell? Using Bell’s imaginative hope, I guess it must remain a possibility.