In chapter 4 of Love Wins, Rob Bell argues that universalism is a legitimate stream within the historic Christian faith (see pages 106-108).
Rob’s critics argue that he overstates his case.
For example, at least one of the early church fathers cited by Rob was later branded a heretic. Though of course, this begs the question of whether history is written by the winners — and, if so, whether the “losers” (i.e. those branded as heretics) get a fair shake.
On the one hand, Rob isn’t just making this stuff up. Luther DID write a letter in which he asked, “Who would doubt God’s ability to [save people after death]?”
On the other hand, critics point to the very next line (not mentioned in Rob’s book), which says, “No one, however, can prove [God] does do this.”
The neo-Reformed read the second line and declare victory.
And so they miss the point: Luther had an opportunity to say categorically that God will not save people after death, and he refused to do so.
Luther was writing to a fellow reformer named Hans von Rechenberg who wanted to know whether anyone can be saved without faith. Luther insisted this would be impossible; otherwise God would be a liar.
But then Luther says, “It would be quite a different question whether God can impart faith to some… after death.”
In other words, when asked about salvation without faith, Luther says absolutely not.
But he’s far less dogmatic when asked whether those already dead get a second chance. At the very least, Luther doesn’t find this idea is as objectionable as the prospect of salvation without faith.
But Luther goes even further and says:
God forbid that I should limit the time of acquiring faith to the present life. In the depth of the Divine mercy there may be opportunity to win it in the future.