The Twitterverse is abuzz with talk of Rob Bell’s new book “Love Wins: A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived.” From the promo put out by the publisher and the promo video of Bell himself talking about the book it seems to have leanings towards Universalism. I sincerely hope that is not the case but I have read many posts from guys who have read pre-released excerpts and feel Bell has moved towards Universalism. Perhaps the best posting on this issue is by Justin Taylor. His blog response to Bell’s new book can be found at http://thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/justintaylor/2011/02/26/rob-bell-universalist/ If it is true that Bell is departing from the Biblical position that those without Christ end up in hell then he could be looking at a serious decline in his church membership. That in turn will impact what comes in to the offering plate.
While there are certainly larger issues than the offering in a story about a preacher abandoning theology this is after all a stewardship blog. I will leave the theology to guys like Taylor and others who are addressing the slippery slope Bell appears to be on. For my part, thinking of stewardship, this move could well be the beginning of the end for his church.
I was reminded of Carlton Pearson who was the evangelical pastor of Higher Dimensions Family Church, a megachurch in Tulsa, Ok closely tied to the Oral Roberts ministries. His church grew quickly and attracted national attention. He was both a gifted communicator and a fabulous Gospel singer. Yet he lost nearly all of his members and his building when he became a universalist, preaching that all mankind will be go to heaven and that there is no hell. The contemporary Christian musician Carman famously attended this church but parted with Pearson after he declared there was no hell. Pearson found that when it comes to offerings theology matters.
Here in the Atlanta area Church in the Now grew rapidly under the direction of James Swilley. He recently was quoted in an Atlanta Journal Constitution article about church foreclosures. Swilley was quoted as saying that he over built and took out an $18 million dollar loan that they now are struggling to meet. Swilley blamed first the recession but did say that some members have left due to his “very liberal” view of theology. The articles next sentence says, “Membership also took a dip after Swilley announced last October that he is gay.” You think? It is not the economy that is his problem. It is his life of sin and his open acceptance of that lifestyle that has cost him thousands of members and multiple thousands of dollars and will soon cost him his building.
While espousing views of universalism is not the same as embracing homosexuality they both none the less are a radical departure from theological truth. Bell, Pearson and Swilley have the right to chose whatever path they might want to pursue. They should not however be surprised when members vote with their feet and their dollars. Our theology matters in so many ways. Espousing universalism could lead many to feel safe without ever accepting Jesus as their savior. That is the greatest tragedy. Yet realize also that theology does matter when it comes to the offering. I am praying the Twitter hype over Bell’s new book is wrong. However if it is true expect his star to fade and his church to decline. Don’t let this happen to you.
Mark Brooks- The Stewardship Coach
Founder and President, The Charis Group and Charis Giving Solutions