Rob Bell is founder of Mars Hill Bible Church in Grand Rapids, Michigan, one of the most successful evangelical churches in the United States. Over 10,000 attend his church's worship services every Sunday. Rob Bell, however, does not fit the stereotype that many people hold of evangelicals. When a recent attendee at his church declared that Ghandi was in hell, Bell reportedly responded (see "Something Game-Changing"),
"Really? We have confirmation of this? Somebody knows this? Without a doubt?"
This encounter helped prompt Bell to pen a book that has generated considerable debate and consternation among evangelicals: Love Wins: A Book about Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived. Bell believes that in the end, God's grace reigns and everyone is saved (i.e., they will be reconciled to God and make it into heaven). He argues that his position is biblically sound and consistent with the proclamation of the early church. Whether he's historically correct is debatable. His position is certainly in line with the early church theologian Origen, but as Bart Ehrman reminds us, the early church was hardly monolithic (Lost Christianities).
Bell's universalism has angered a number of more traditional evangelicals, such as Albert Mohler, President of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky. Mohler recently argued that Bell's book is "theologically disastrous" because when "you adopt universalism... you don't need the cross... This is the tragedy of nonjudgmental mainline liberalism."
Bell, however, isn't a mainline liberal. He's an evangelical Protestant whose study of the Bible has led him to a very surprising conclusion. Whether his perspective is a "game-changer" as The Christian Century wants to believe (by which it means that Bell is one of handful of theologians who are discovering new ways of "being church" that resonate with contemporary Americans), or if it is another example of how sectarian movements slowly accommodate their views to the wider society (i.e., they become more secular) is a matter of debate. Nevertheless, his perspective is certainly one worth considering, and his book, one worth reading.