I'm still in the beginning of reading Rob Bell's new book, Love Wins: A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived. Meanwhile, the controversy over Rob Bell's book and whether or not he's a Universalist continues. Now, Rob Bell has come out and said he's not a Universalist. There are those who will say he is anyway, of course. But it's not so clear. The universalism he denies is one where, "a giant cosmic arm that swoops everybody in at some point whether you want to be there or not." It's easier to not be something that you paint as ridiculous, of course. I've been accused of doing that with theism, so I know. I also know this because I teach the straw man logical fallacy in English composition classes to first-year college students.
Rob Bell set himself up a bit as a straw man by saying that he's not a theologian and also "I'm not very smart but I do know that there is good news." But that's too easy and not very fair to just use that. I've said all that myself at times--except the not very smart bit (not that I think I'm a genius or anything).
So is he a Universalist?
He thinks God's grace is not limited to just Christians. He thinks that Hell is what we make on earth, but Heaven is a real place we go to when we die. He doesn't clarify what happens to someone if there is no eternal Hell, but yet someone doesn't choose to go to Heaven. He'll leave that to God to sort out. And it's hard to concieve of the person standing at the pearly gates and being invited in and saying, "Nah, I'll go to the eternal coffee shop instead. I hear it has good music." Although many Universalists might--they do like their coffee.
You could argue Universalism as universal salvation, and Bell seems to believe that this takes away our free will (although I would argue no more than birth or death, which his God seems content to take away choice of), or you could argue Universalism as the lack of Hell, which Bell seems to agree with.
If there's a life after death but no Hell, there has to be a third option, or Heaven is just the default afterlife. Bell doesn't argue for pergatory, or my coffee shop idea, but his theology seems to require it, or for him to admit what many believe--that he really is a Universalist. And if Universalism is not the answer, has love truly won?
I'll leave that to Rob Bell to sort out. Over here with our heritage and living faith of Universalism, we know what it means that Love Wins.