So the first book-length response to Rob Bell’s Love Wins has come out. Michael Wittmer, who resides with Bell in the Mecca of Evangelicalism, Grand Rapids, Michigan, wrote a book called Christ Alone: An Evangelical Response to Rob Bell’s Love Wins. A cynic might argue that it is a good way to ride Bell’s coat-tails, but I believe he sincerely wants to make a response to Bell.
Anyway, I will only comment on the title, as I have not read both books. (So, yeah, you don’t need to read this post further.) Don’t judge a book by its cover, or worse by its title, but nonetheless title matters. For me what’s interesting is actually Bell, too, believes that salvation is in Christ alone. As Jamie Smith has noted, this is not the usual many-roads-to-heaven universalism or many-heavens universalism. Bell believes in Christocentric universalism: “If all will be saved, they will be saved in Christ, because of the work of Christ as the Incarnate God who has triumphed over the power of sin and death (the new universalist Christ is a victor, not a redeemer).” So, it is not the matter of Wittmer believes in Christ alone while Bell does not. No, both of them do. It is the matter of what the claim of Christ alone entails.
For example, a passage which can be interpreted towards Bell’s direction is Phil 2.9-11:
“Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
and gave him the name that is above every name,
that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.”
This passage has a royal flavor to it. Jesus is the King and eventually every knee will bow (OK, it reads “should”), and every tongue acknowledge (no “should” now, it is plainly described as such) that indeed he is Lord. So, you can imagine a scene of final judgment where all humans eventually confess that Jesus is indeed the King and they are his subjects. What does a king do after his enemies have become his subjects? Will he slay them anyway? Is there a possibility that the King will then welcome his subjects to his kingdom?
(It is, indeed, similar to what Jamie Smith said that “the new universalist Christ is a victor, not a redeemer.” So I wonder whether this clash might be caused by different controlling center for the theory of atonement: penal substitution vs. Christus Victor. One must also note that Bell is heavily influenced by Wright, who champions Christus Victor — the Israelized version, of course, although Wright himself, I must quickly add, does not hold Bell’s popularized version of C. S. Lewis’ universalism.)
I am not saying that this passage should hold a final say on this topic. Indeed, I don’t think any passage will be able to do that, as we do find tensions in the Scripture itself about the reality of final judgment. Most of the times, however, unfortunately your pre-conceived theology will influence how you read certain passages which might not cohere with it. And that’s why there is a reason to believe that perhaps we have ignored or suppressed the universalistic potential of this passage.