Rob Bell: Universal Atonement?

Again, I state that Rob Bell (pastor at Mars Hill Bible Church in Grand Rapids, MI) has been the target of much criticism in the blogosphere. I’ve written some about it here – linking in some audio comments by D.A. Carson.

As I’ve stated before, I typically have not quite understood all the flurry of furry against Bell and I’ve also noted that our Small Group has been going through the Nooma Series and having excellent God-centered discussions (see my post titled Rob Bell on Death).

With that said, a couple of factors have brought me to write this post. The first was the most recent Nooma video titled Breath (watch the video for yourself in two parts on YouTube: Part 1, Part 2). Some of the comments that Bell made in this video were a little disturbing and confusing – obscure is perhaps a better way of stating it. The confusion surrounded his use of the word “spirit” and he seemed to imply – or perhaps could be heard as saying that all humans have the Spirit of God in them. Like I said: confusing and obscure.

The second driving factor for me writing this post is an article I stumbled across by Geoff Thomas over at Banner of Truth. The article is on the topic of Limited Atonement and you can read it here. Now for many, when you hear the words “Limited Atonement,” your Hyper-Calvinist red alarms start going off and so you shine the bat symbol to all of Gotham and run and hide. Please don’t do that. I do consider myself a Calvinist, but the message here is something that all Christians need to hear.

See the following excerpt from Geoff Thomas’ article and note the stuff I’ve tried to bold face (note: I do wish that he would have made a better reference to the specific stuff he was reading from Bell, but nonetheless). I realize that some reading this might not fully subscribe to the doctrine of “Limited Atonement,” (the “L” in TULIP for those of you with the bat symbol still blaring) but ask you to also strongly consider the alternative (universal atonement). If you’ve got time, I’d love to hear your comments.

I was recently reading some words of a preacher preaching a universal atonement. He was trying to impose that faulty logic, that philosophical system, upon the New Testament. This is what he said, and it made me quite ill to read it. The speaker was a man named Rob Bell, the founding pastor of Mars Hill Bible Church in Grand Rapids, Michigan, one of the American mega-churches and a leader in the Emerging Church movement. He said this:

When Christ died on the cross he died for everybody.
Every tribe, every nation, every tongue, every people group.
Jesus said that when he was lifted up, he would draw all men to himself.
All people. Everywhere.
Everybody’s sins on the cross with Jesus.
Forgiveness is true for everybody.

And then Bell goes on . . .

And this reality extends beyond this life.
Heaven is full of forgiven people.
Hell is full of forgiven people.
Heaven is full of forgiven people God loves, whom Jesus died for.
Hell is full of forgiven people God loves, whom Jesus died for.
The difference is how we choose to live, which story we choose to live in, which version of reality we trust. Ours or God’s.

I find that so shocking because what good does this man think the blood of Christ has done for him or for anyone? He thinks that the blood of Christ actually saves no one from hell. Jesus can die for you but you can still go to the place of woe. The damned in hell were as much an object of Jesus Christ’s forgiveness as the saved in heaven, and so for all those in hell Christ died in vain, so ineffectual was Jesus’ dying. He loved them; he gave himself for them and yet they ended up in the lake of fire with the beast and the false prophet. Such an atonement I despise. I reject it. As Spurgeon once said, ‘I had rather believe a limited atonement that is efficacious for all men for whom it was intended, than a universal atonement that is not efficacious for anybody, except the will of man be joined with it.’ What a religion that magnifies the will of man above the power of God! What saves from hell according to Rob Bell? It is man’s choice with his free will that did it. That man was a smart cat! That’s what made the difference. He got to heaven because he made a good choice, and he will have eternity to preen himself on that. Heaven was not decisively gained by the blood of Christ but by human decision.

We have been taught by the Spirit and by the Bible of the power of the blood of God the Son who gave himself up that we saved sinners might be his bride. Jesus died to ‘to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless.’

That is what the dying love of Christ has accomplished. If he died to redeem a sinner by hanging in the place of a sinner, propitiating the wrath of God towards a favoured sinner, reconciling God to us by his royal death, then we shall never perish; not one of all these blood-bought sinners shall end in hell. The blood of Christ will forbid it.

Dear dying Lamb Thy precious blood
Shall never lose its power
Till all the ransomed church of God
Be saved to sin no more.

Men and women, cling to the Bible’s teaching on the limited and definite and effectual purpose of the blood of Christ. That will then be your comfort both in life and in death.


~ by toddbumgarner on April 22, 2008 12:26 pm.

7 Responses to “Rob Bell: Universal Atonement?”

  1. Thanks for sharing that. It’s so patently clear to me that either Christ died for some of the sins of all men (the one sin He didn’t die for was the sin of not choosing Him, cause that’s still on our heads) or Christ died for all of the sins of some men (Limited atonement) which means his death accomplished something. Of course there’s a third way: Christ died for all of the sins of all of the men, which means all men will be in heaven, which is Universal Redemption. I’d heard that’s what Bell believes, and it’s hinted at in The Shack book. One of these days, I will find an awesome paper I read on the subject by JI Packer and find a way to post it on my blog.

  2. Oh, the joys of the Internet. I do believe I found that paper:

  3. Longing for Holiday:

    Thanks for linking the paper in. I’ll take a look at it later today. Also, in your first comment you made reference to “The Shack book”. What is “The Shack book?”

  4. Go to and enter The Shack. Read the reviews (pro and con). It’s wildly popular.

  5. It seems that he has misunderstood the “sufficiency” of the atonement versus the “application” of it. Of course we teach that Christ died for all. However, the payment does not become “applied” until someone believes in Christ.

  6. Amen, “sufficient” for all (that means for everyone, as to its power or ability), but “efficient” (effective) for the elect alone. Indeed this is sort of a scholastic statement, but covers the biblical truth nonetheless.

  7. I think Rob Bell has followed the only logical conclusion that any student of the Bible can approach without Reformed Theology. Notice what he’s doing: He’s still affirming that people die and go to hell. And if, instead of saying “the difference is how we choose to live” he said “the difference is whether we choose to believe,” I don’t think people would have had as much problem with it. So, he’s still affirming that people die and face that wrath of God (whether or not they are loved is a question too deep for me). But the only logical conclusion (excepting a Reformed answer) to the two statements “Jesus died for everyone” and “People go to hell” is that there are people in Hell that Jesus died for.

    Rob Bell is an interesting person. Some of the things he says are good. Sometimes, I’m afraid he has little scriptural support. But as followers of Jesus I think we should avoid the desire to shoot shadows (not saying the author is doing this). We don’t need to criticise if the problem doesn’t concern us. Or, at least, we can deal with the issue and not name names.

    Love them like Jesus.

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