Bell argues that in the end love will win. In other words, even those who reject God in this life will have the opportunity in the next life to accept him. And if they still reject him, they will be given more chances.
Again and Again.
More and more.
As much as it takes.
“At the heart of this perspective is the belief that, given enough time, everybody will turn to God and find themselves in the joy and peace of God’s presence” (p. 107). This is how love wins. Love will win when God, who is love, will conquer the hard hearts and sinful impulses of every human who has ever lived. “The love of God will melt every hard heart, and even the most ‘depraved sinners’ will eventually give up their resistance and turn to God” (p. 107).
The backbone of Bell’s argument is a whole string of passages from the OT and NT that speak of God restoring “the nations,” “all people,” and “all the ends of the earth” (pp. 97-103). While the Bible speaks of God’s judgment, it concludes not with judgment but with restoration. And not just restoration, but the restoration of “all the nations”—everybody.
Apparently, Bell takes these “all nations” passages (e.g. Isa 46; 52; 59; Jer 32; Ezek 36; Ps 30; 145; and many, many others) to refer to those who reject God in this life.
In their life.
Their entire life.
So here’s my response to Bell’s argument.
First, the passages from the OT that Bell draws upon refer to the inclusion of Gentiles (or “nations”) into God’s plan, a plan that was promised way back in Gen 12:3 (cf. 22:18, and many others). But this inclusion, according to the NT, happens in Christ, through Christ, by faith in Christ; yes, faith in this life. I hesitate belaboring the point since it’s so very clear in the NT.
So here’s just one example. Amos 9 is one of those many passages that refer to “all nations” or “the rest of people” coming to know God when He brings restoration (see Bell, p. 87). But Acts 15 cites this passage and applies it to the large influx of Gentiles who believe in Jesus in the first century. There is nothing in Amos nor in Acts that suggests that these “nations” are those who didn’t believe in Jesus in this life who are given a chance in the afterlife to receive God’s love.
Second, what’s so dangerous about Bell’s argument is that many people—100’s of 1000’s of people—who may not be aware of this “Gentile inclusion” motif from Gen 12 through the prophets, right up through the NT, will probably buy into Bell’s argument hook, line, and sinker. And that’s sad. It’s sad that Bell either isn’t aware of this “alternative” view (I can’t imagine), or he simply hid it from his audience. An audience whom he’s not able to shepherd through these issues (that’s for another blog).
Third, Bell is not—again—being consistent to his own theological bent toward narrative theology. Bell insists on reading the Bible as an unfolding story, a narrative, rather than a collection of proof texts used to support your favorite doctrine (see the Mars Hill website). But I’m afraid that Bell, in his argument for the salvation of “everybody,” is using the Bible as a collection of proof texts used to support his favorite doctrine. I’m genuinely disappointed.
Disappointed because I actually really loved Bell’s previous emphasis on reading the Bible as a story, a story with an overarching narrative, a narrative that hangs together and shapes its context. But Bell ignores the narrative context of virtually every verse (or chapter) that he cites.
Take Ezek 36 for example, where the prophet says “the nations will know that I am the LORD” (36:23, 36, 38). This is one of the many passages Bell cites to show that after judgment there will be restoration for everyone. The context of Ezek 36 is God’s restoration of Israel by giving them a new heart and new Spirit—by giving them life (Ezek 37)! The NT writers clearly applied this restoration to the first century through Christ and the Spirit (Rom 8:1-11; 2 Cor 3:3-6), who saves the nations, the Gentiles, everyone—who believes in Jesus.
But after Ezek 36-37 comes 38-39, where God quite gruesomely crushes and destroys his enemies. The nations (38:2-6). Those nations who oppose God. And interestingly, Ezekiel says several times in this passage that the reason for his invasive judgment on those nations is so that “they may know that I am Yahweh” (38:16, 23; 39:7, 21-22). This phrase, then, points to the self-revelation of God’s power and glory in salvation and in judgment. (Of the 70 + times this phrase is used in Ezek, it often comes on the heels of God’s judgment.)
No, Ezek 38-39 doesn’t speak of eternal torment in hell, but it does speak of a judgment after restoration. It also speaks of judgment for the nations, or those who oppose God in this life. But both of these points are either denied by Bell or simply not mentioned in his book.
In summary, one of the main biblical arguments that Bell gives to support his view of restoration is significantly flawed. All of those passages that have to do with God saving “the nations,” “all peoples,” and the like, have to do with the theme of Gentile inclusion into the promises of God through faith in Jesus and not the ultimate salvation of every single person.