On to chapter 4 and the really big question of Love Wins:
Does God get what God wants?
Another way of unpacking this is to ask two questions:
- Does God want all people to be saved or not?
- Does God have to get everything he wants in order for “love wins” to be true?
Rob Bell seems to answer yes to both questions. I say seems to because (as I mentioned in an earlier post) just when you think Rob is about to hop on the universalism bus, he takes a step back and says something like:
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. (p. 114)
Will everybody be saved, or will some perish apart from God forever because of their choices? Those are questions… we are free to leave fully intact. We don’t need to resolve them or answer them because we can’t. (p. 115)
Rob leaves room for the possibility that everyone might be saved in the end, but he stops short of saying everyone WILL be saved.
Anyway, back to the questions…
1. Does God want all people to be saved or not?
Rob alludes to this on p. 97, quoting a well-known passage from 1 Timothy:
This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all people to be saved and come to a knowledge of the truth.
Pretty straightforward, right?
Except there are some — particularly those who believe in a limited atonement (i.e. Christ died to save only the “elect”) — who would say, “Hang on… ‘all people’ must really mean all kinds of people!”
This is the approach Kevin DeYoung takes in his review of Love Wins, for example.
And it’s disgraceful.
You want to talk about twisting Scripture to fit your theological presuppositions?
You want to talk about “preaching a different gospel”?
Even John Calvin allowed that, on some level, “all people” means what it says. And as he noted in a sermon on this very text, if this is God wants, then we should want it, too — even if, like Calvin, we don’t think it will turn out this way in the end.
And if it isn’t obvious enough, the context makes clear that “all people” means all people. Paul’s argument to Timothy (and by extension, to the church he pastored) was basically this:
There’s no one you should exclude from your prayers, not even the cruelest dictator. [Bear in mind Paul had just been released from prison, so these were anything but hollow words for him.] Why? Because God wants all people to be saved. Because our one and only mediator, Jesus, gave himself as a ransom for the entire human race.
No, Paul is not saying here that every individual will be saved. But he IS saying that Jesus had the whole world — no exceptions, no exclusions — in mind when he came to rescue us from sin and death.
In fact, the whole biblical story moves in this direction. God’s redemptive plan starts with one guy, Abraham. Then it grows into an entire nation. A chosen people. But get this: the chosen nation is supposed to be a “kingdom of priests” (Exodus 19) — a light for the whole world, illuminating the path to God.
Then God really blows the lid off things in the New Testament. Salvation is no longer just a Jewish thing (not that it ever was, if you read carefully). It’s for Gentiles, too. It’s for outsiders. It’s “all nations.” “The whole world.” “All people.”
In contrast to the picture Calvinism paints, one in which a select few are predestined for heaven while the rest of us are simply out of luck, the Bible presents a picture of salvation that’s ever-expanding.
Just look at how the book of Acts unfolds. It starts with a band of Jesus-followers based in Jerusalem. But it can’t be contained there. Soon it spills into Samaria, which was hard enough for some Jews to swallow. But then, Gentiles start believing too. Pretty soon the good news is spreading into Asia (modern-day Turkey) and Europe and Rome itself.
It’s ever expanding. The circle grows ever wider to include more and more people who were previously (and mistakenly) regarded as being outside the circle. Outside of God’s plan. Beyond the reach of his love.
To the extent that Scripture does talk about predestination, it’s always about people being chosen so they can share the blessing with others. It’s a lot like being an ambassador. (In fact, Paul says something just like this.) You’re not chosen for your own benefit, so you can have something nice to put on your CV. You’re chosen so you can spread the message of whatever kingdom you represent far and wide.
So does God want the whole world to be saved? Or is he only interested in a select few? Which story is truer to the picture painted in the Bible?
I’ll save the second question (Does God have to get everything he wants in order for “love wins” to be true?) for another post.