Posted by: religionthink | March 14, 2011

Rob Bell Is Swell: Thoughts On The “Love Wins” Scare

Rob Bell Is Swell: Thoughts On The “Love Wins” Scare

by A. D. Wayman

I used the term “Swell” for no other reason then because it rhymed. I am writing this article previous to the book “Love Wins” being released. Across the evangelical blogs the early warning alarm system is going off and everyone is running for cover. As for me, I am rereading the story of “Chicken Little” as I wait for the theological apocalypse to descend. Many evangelicals are taking sides to zip up the theological tents to protect themselves and the little ones from a rain of “New Age Universalism” they feel will pour down and flood fundamentalism with heresy. However will it be that bad? I plan on waking up tomorrow like normal, reading, and going to work. I’ll possibility stop at the store to buy a loaf of bread and a few other things I may need for the rest of the week.

Why could I care less? Because Rob Bell is a Christian philosopher and I am glad we have an individual who is thinking and asking questions. Why am I chuckling to myself about the claims of “new ground breaking ideas”? Because they are not new at all and anyone who has read the classics of ancient Near East, Greek, and Roman literature, and philosophy know these ideas are not new. As a matter of fact, each theological concept developed by the early church fathers have a “Theological Darwinism” aspect to them. To think that the version of hell we have today was started by Christ is quite absurd. Below is a sample out of the dialogues of Plato.

“Such is the name of the other world; and when the dead arrive at the place to which the genius of each severally conveys them, first of all they have sentence passed upon them, as they have lived well and piously or not. And those who appear to have lived neither well nor ill, go to the river Acheron, and mount such conveyances as they can get, and are carried in them to the lake, and there they dwell and are purified of their evil deeds, and suffer the penalty of the wrongs which they have done to others, and are absolved, and receive the rewards of their good deeds according to their deserts. But those who appear to be incurable by reason of the greatness of their crimes-who have committed many and terrible deeds of sacrilege, murders foul and violent, or the like-such are hurled into Tartarus, which is their suitable destiny, and they never come out. Those again who have committed crimes, which, although great, are not unpardonable-who in a moment of anger, for example, have done violence to a father or mother, and have repented for the remainder of their lives, or who have taken the life of another under like extenuating circumstances-these are plunged into Tartarus, the pains of which they are compelled to undergo for a year, but at the end of the year the wave casts them forth-mere homicides by way of Cocytus, parricides and matricides by Pyriphlegethon-and they are borne to the Acherusian Lake, and there they lift up their voices and call upon the victims whom they have slain or wronged, to have pity on them, and to receive them, and to let them come out of the river into the lake. And if they prevail, then they come forth and cease from their troubles; but if not, they are carried back again into Tartarus and from thence into the rivers unceasingly, until they obtain mercy from those whom they have wronged: for that is the sentence inflicted upon them by their judges. Those also who are remarkable for having led holy lives are released from this earthly prison, and go to their pure home which is above, and dwell in the purer earth; and those who have duly purified themselves with philosophy live henceforth altogether without the body, in mansions fairer far than these, which may not be described, and of which the time would fail me to tell. “

-Phadeo, By Plato. Translated by Benjamin Jowett

So here already in 360 BCE we have such concepts of the underworld as we find in New Testament themes, not exact, but built upon. And when we look in the Jewish literature at this time period we can see the influences of Greek Hellenization and Roman influence in the literature of Enoch and the New Testament. In the above translation we see the New Testament parable of the rich man in the underworld looking to the poor man for relief and comfort. Platonism and Hellenization saturates early Christian literature from Paul, through the Early church fathers, to the current day. And at each juncture the concepts and theologies and philosophies were built upon.

Another example around 60-100 A.C.E., is the excellent description of the underworld from the very cultural mixture we described. Josephus, a Hellenistic Jew, writing while being supported by Rome, wrote the text “Discourse to the Greeks concerning Hades”. Below is a quote from that text, an English translation by William Whiston.

“This is the discourse concerning Hades, wherein the souls of all men are confined until a proper season, which God hath determined, when he will make a resurrection of all men from the dead, not procuring a transmigration of souls from one body to another, but raising again those very bodies, which you Greeks, seeing to be dissolved, do not believe [their resurrection]. But learn not to disbelieve it; for while you believe that the soul is created, and yet is made immortal by God, according to the doctrine of Plato, and this in time, be not incredulous; but believe that God is able, when he hath raised to life that body which was made as a compound of the same elements, to make it immortal; for it must never be said of God, that he is able to do some things, and unable to do others. We have therefore believed that the body will be raised again; for although it be dissolved, it is not perished; for the earth receives its remains, and preserves them; and while they are like seed, and are mixed among the more fruitful soil, they flourish, and what is sown is indeed sown bare grain, but at the mighty sound of God the Creator, it will sprout up, and be raised in aclothed and glorious condition, though not before it has been dissolved, and mixed [with the earth]. So that we have not rashly believed the resurrection of the body; for although it be dissolved for a time on account of the original transgression, it exists still, and is cast into the earth as into a potter’s furnace, in order to be formed again, not in order to rise again such as it was before, but in a state of purity, and so as never to he destroyed any more. And to every body shall its own soul be restored. And when it hath clothed itself with that body, it will not be subject to misery, but, being itself pure, it will continue with its pure body, and rejoice with it, with which it having walked righteously now in this world, and never having had it as a snare, it will receive it again with great gladness. But as for the unjust, they will receive their bodies not changed, not freed from diseases or distempers, nor made glorious, but with the same diseases wherein they died; and such as they were in their unbelief, the same shall they be when they shall be faithfully judged. “

In the text above we even see Plato’s name. Josephus is building on the concept by adding his own views where he believes the Greeks err. So it is plain that throughout history such ideas were discussed and such questions were asked.

There is one more topic I would like to cover and that is the idea that only evangelicals will be in heaven. I found this quote from the blog Sola Sisters:

“So let’s look at Universalism, that is to say, the straight up, New Age, Oprah kind of Universalism that most people have at lease some understanding of:

UNIVERSALISM: ALL paths leads to God. You can be a Muslim, Buddhist, Christian, Hindu, Jew, whatever, and you get to God through your own path, whatever that looks like according to your faith tradition.Absolutely no Jesus necessary. (Please note that this is the main point that distinguishes Universalism from Universal Reconciliation)”-

While many preach the “Christ Only” doctrine, poor Elijah and Enoch must be sneaking about the heavenly realms so as not to disappoint those of said ideas. And while I pity those who were a part of the religion OF Jesus, before the religion ABOUT Jesus became the rule of law, those of that ABOUT crowd forget what Christ had to say when asked point blank how one might gain eternal life.

“And when he was gone forth into the way, there came one running, and kneeled to him, and asked him, Good Master, what shall I do that I may inherit eternal life? And Jesus said unto him, Why callest thou me good? there is none good but one, that is, God. Thou knowest the commandments, Do not commit adultery, Do not kill, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Defraud not, Honour thy father and mother. And he answered and said unto him, Master, all these have I observed from my youth. Then Jesus beholding him loved him, and said unto him, One thing thou lackest: go thy way, sell whatsoever thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come, take up the cross, and follow me.” (Mar 10:17-21, KJV)

In the above reference Jesus did not quote Romans 10:9-10. I am familiar with the type of movement the Sola Sisters evolved from. I find it houmous that the same people who criticize Rob Bell as being a “Oprah king of Universalism”, have their church libraries full of  Joel Osteen self-help and inspirational material.

So what would I recommend Rob Bell do? We will end with a quote from Plato once more from the “Dialogue of Crito”, translated by Benjamin Jowett :

“Listen, then, Socrates, to us who have brought you up. Think not of life and children first, and of justice afterwards, but of justice first, that you may be justified before the princes of the world below. For neither will you nor any that belong to you be happier or holier or juster in this life, or happier in another, if you do as Crito bids. Now you depart in innocence, a sufferer and not a doer of evil; a victim, not of the laws, but of men. But if you go forth, returning evil for evil, and injury for injury, breaking the covenants and agreements which you have made with us, and wronging those whom you ought least of all to wrong, that is to say, yourself, your friends, your country, and us, we shall be angry with you while you live, and our brethren, the laws in the world below, will receive you as an enemy; for they will know that you have done your best to destroy us. Listen, then, to us and not to Crito.”

This, dear Crito, is the voice which I seem to hear murmuring in my ears, like the sound of the flute in the ears of the mystic; that voice, I say, is humming in my ears, and prevents me from hearing any other. And I know that anything more which you may say will be vain. Yet speak, if you have anything to say.”

So be well Rob Bell. It might be cold outside the tent. Some of the best philosophers slept alone on the ground.

p.s. Sorry about the formatting issues.


  1. […] Rob Bell Is Swell: Thoughts On The “Love Wins” Scare by A. D. Wayman I used the term “Swell” for no other reason then because it rhymed. I am writing this article previous to the book “Love Wins” being released. Across the evangelical blogs the early warning alarm system is going off and everyone is running for cover. As for me, I am rereading the story of “Chicken Little” as I wait for the theological apocalypse to descend. Many evangelicals are … Read More […]

  2. Most excellent post X. So many ideas taken and reformed to fit new thoughts for a new religion.

  3. Excellent article, X. As usual, you have come with facts and fun to ease us through the tedious parts of looking for the truth.

    Live long and prosper.

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